Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Bostonians, Vol. II (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. II (of II)" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                             THE BOSTONIANS

                                A NOVEL

                             BY HENRY JAMES

                             IN TWO VOLUMES

                                VOL. II



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

_First published in 1886_



BOOK SECOND (_Continued_)



XXIV


A little more than an hour after this he stood in the parlour of Doctor
Tarrant's suburban residence, in Monadnoc Place. He had induced a
juvenile maid-servant, by an appeal somewhat impassioned, to let the
ladies know that he was there; and she had returned, after a long
absence, to say that Miss Tarrant would come down to him in a little
while. He possessed himself, according to his wont, of the nearest book
(it lay on the table, with an old magazine and a little japanned tray
containing Tarrant's professional cards--his denomination as a mesmeric
healer), and spent ten minutes in turning it over. It was a biography of
Mrs. Ada T. P. Foat, the celebrated trance-lecturer, and was embellished
by a portrait representing the lady with a surprised expression and
innumerable ringlets. Ransom said to himself, after reading a few pages,
that much ridicule had been cast upon Southern literature; but if that
was a fair specimen of Northern!--and he threw it back upon the table
with a gesture almost as contemptuous as if he had not known perfectly,
after so long a residence in the North, that it was not, while he
wondered whether this was the sort of thing Miss Tarrant had been
brought up on. There was no other book to be seen, and he remembered to
have read the magazine; so there was finally nothing for him, as the
occupants of the house failed still to appear, but to stare before him,
into the bright, bare, common little room, which was so hot that he
wished to open a window, and of which an ugly, undraped cross-light
seemed to have taken upon itself to reveal the poverty. Ransom, as I
have mentioned, had not a high standard of comfort and noticed little,
usually, how people's houses were furnished--it was only when they were
very pretty that he observed; but what he saw while he waited at Doctor
Tarrant's made him say to himself that it was no wonder Verena liked
better to live with Olive Chancellor. He even began to wonder whether it
were for the sake of that superior softness she had cultivated Miss
Chancellor's favour, and whether Mrs. Luna had been right about her
being mercenary and insincere. So many minutes elapsed before she
appeared that he had time to remember he really knew nothing to the
contrary, as well as to consider the oddity (so great when one did
consider it) of his coming out to Cambridge to see her, when he had only
a few hours in Boston to spare, a year and a half after she had given
him her very casual invitation. She had not refused to receive him, at
any rate; she was free to, if it didn't please her. And not only this,
but she was apparently making herself fine in his honour, inasmuch as he
heard a rapid footstep move to and fro above his head, and even, through
the slightness which in Monadnoc Place did service for an upper floor,
the sound of drawers and presses opened and closed. Some one was "flying
round," as they said in Mississippi. At last the stairs creaked under a
light tread, and the next moment a brilliant person came into the room.

His reminiscence of her had been very pretty; but now that she had
developed and matured, the little prophetess was prettier still. Her
splendid hair seemed to shine; her cheek and chin had a curve which
struck him by its fineness; her eyes and lips were full of smiles and
greetings. She had appeared to him before as a creature of brightness,
but now she lighted up the place, she irradiated, she made everything
that surrounded her of no consequence; dropping upon the shabby sofa
with an effect as charming as if she had been a nymph sinking on a
leopard-skin, and with the native sweetness of her voice forcing him to
listen till she spoke again. It was not long before he perceived that
this added lustre was simply success; she was young and tender still,
but the sound of a great applauding audience had been in her ears; it
formed an element in which she felt buoyant and floated. Still,
however, her glance was as pure as it was direct, and that fantastic
fairness hung about her which had made an impression on him of old,
and which reminded him of unworldly places--he didn't know
where--convent-cloisters or vales of Arcady. At that other time she had
been parti-coloured and bedizened, and she had always an air of costume,
only now her costume was richer and more chastened. It was her line, her
condition, part of her expression. If at Miss Birdseye's, and afterwards
in Charles Street, she might have been a rope-dancer, to-day she made a
"scene" of the mean little room in Monadnoc Place, such a scene as a
prima donna makes of daubed canvas and dusty boards. She addressed Basil
Ransom as if she had seen him the other week and his merits were fresh
to her, though she let him, while she sat smiling at him, explain in his
own rather ceremonious way why it was he had presumed to call upon her
on so slight an acquaintance--on an invitation which she herself had had
more than time to forget. His explanation, as a finished and
satisfactory thing, quite broke down; there was no more impressive
reason than that he had simply wished to see her. He became aware that
this motive loomed large, and that her listening smile, innocent as it
was, in the Arcadian manner, of mockery, seemed to accuse him of not
having the courage of his inclination. He had alluded especially to
their meeting at Miss Chancellor's; there it was that she had told him
she should be glad to see him in her home.

"Oh yes, I remember perfectly, and I remember quite as well seeing you
at Miss Birdseye's the night before. I made a speech--don't you
remember? That was delightful."

"It was delightful indeed," said Basil Ransom.

"I don't mean my speech; I mean the whole thing. It was then I made Miss
Chancellor's acquaintance. I don't know whether you know how we work
together. She has done so much for me."

"Do you still make speeches?" Ransom asked, conscious, as soon as he had
uttered it, that the question was below the mark.

"Still? Why, I should hope so; it's all I'm good for! It's my life--or
it's going to be. And it's Miss Chancellor's too. We are determined to
do something."

"And does she make speeches too?"

"Well, she makes mine--or the best part of them. She tells me what to
say--the real things, the strong things. It's Miss Chancellor as much as
me!" said the singular girl, with a generous complacency which was yet
half ludicrous.

"I should like to hear you again," Basil Ransom rejoined.

"Well, you must come some night. You will have plenty of chances. We are
going on from triumph to triumph."

Her brightness, her self-possession, her air of being a public
character, her mixture of the girlish and the comprehensive, startled
and confounded her visitor, who felt that if he had come to gratify his
curiosity he should be in danger of going away still more curious than
satiated. She added in her gay, friendly, trustful tone--the tone of
facile intercourse, the tone in which happy, flower-crowned maidens may
have talked to sunburnt young men in the golden age--"I am very familiar
with your name; Miss Chancellor has told me all about you."

"All about me?" Ransom raised his black eyebrows. "How could she do
that? She doesn't know anything about me!"

"Well, she told me you are a great enemy to our movement. Isn't that
true? I think you expressed some unfavourable idea that day I met you at
her house."

"If you regard me as an enemy, it's very kind of you to receive me."

"Oh, a great many gentlemen call," Verena said, calmly and brightly.
"Some call simply to inquire. Some call because they have heard of me,
or been present on some occasion when I have moved them. Every one is so
interested."

"And you have been in Europe," Ransom remarked, in a moment.

"Oh yes, we went over to see if they were in advance. We had a
magnificent time--we saw all the leaders."

"The leaders?" Ransom repeated.

"Of the emancipation of our sex. There are gentlemen there, as well as
ladies. Olive had splendid introductions in all countries, and we
conversed with all the earnest people. We heard much that was
suggestive. And as for Europe!"--and the young lady paused, smiling at
him and ending in a happy sigh, as if there were more to say on the
subject than she could attempt on such short notice.

"I suppose it's very attractive," said Ransom encouragingly.

"It's just a dream!"

"And did you find that they were in advance?"

"Well, Miss Chancellor thought they were. She was surprised at some
things we observed, and concluded that perhaps she hadn't done the
Europeans justice--she has got such an open mind, it's as wide as the
sea!--while I incline to the opinion that on the whole _we_ make the
better show. The state of the movement there reflects their general
culture, and their general culture is higher than ours (I mean taking
the term in its broadest sense). On the other hand, the _special_
condition--moral, social, personal--of our sex seems to me to be
superior in this country; I mean regarded in relation--in proportion as
it were--to the social phase at large. I must add that we did see some
noble specimens over there. In England we met some lovely women, highly
cultivated, and of immense organising power. In France we saw some
wonderful, contagious types; we passed a delightful evening with the
celebrated Marie Verneuil; she was released from prison, you know, only
a few weeks before. Our total impression was that it is only a question
of time--the future is ours. But everywhere we heard one cry--'How long,
O Lord, how long?'"

Basil Ransom listened to this considerable statement with a feeling
which, as the current of Miss Tarrant's facile utterance flowed on, took
the form of an hilarity charmed into stillness by the fear of losing
something. There was indeed a sweet comicality in seeing this pretty
girl sit there and, in answer to a casual, civil inquiry, drop into
oratory as a natural thing. Had she forgotten where she was, and did she
take him for a full house? She had the same turns and cadences, almost
the same gestures, as if she had been on the platform; and the great
queerness of it was that, with such a manner, she should escape being
odious. She was not odious, she was delightful; she was not dogmatic,
she was genial. No wonder she was a success, if she speechified as a
bird sings! Ransom could see, too, from her easy lapse, how the
lecture-tone was the thing in the world with which, by education, by
association, she was most familiar. He didn't know what to make of her;
she was an astounding young phenomenon. The other time came back to him
afresh, and how she had stood up at Miss Birdseye's; it occurred to him
that an element, here, had been wanting. Several moments after she had
ceased speaking he became conscious that the expression of his face
presented a perceptible analogy to a broad grin. He changed his posture,
saying the first thing that came into his head. "I presume you do
without your father now."

"Without my father?"

"To set you going, as he did that time I heard you."

"Oh, I see; you thought I had begun a lecture!" And she laughed, in
perfect good humour. "They tell me I speak as I talk, so I suppose I
talk as I speak. But you mustn't put me on what I saw and heard in
Europe. That's to be the title of an address I am now preparing, by the
way. Yes, I don't depend on father any more," she went on, while
Ransom's sense of having said too sarcastic a thing was deepened by her
perfect indifference to it. "He finds his patients draw off about
enough, any way. But I owe him everything; if it hadn't been for him, no
one would ever have known I had a gift--not even myself. He started me
so, once for all, that I now go alone."

"You go beautifully," said Ransom, wanting to say something agreeable,
and even respectfully tender, to her, but troubled by the fact that
there was nothing he could say that didn't sound rather like chaff.
There was no resentment in her, however, for in a moment she said to
him, as quickly as it occurred to her, in the manner of a person
repairing an accidental omission, "It was very good of you to come so
far."

This was a sort of speech it was never safe to make to Ransom; there was
no telling what retribution it might entail. "Do you suppose any journey
is too great, too wearisome, when it's a question of so great a
pleasure?" On this occasion it was not worse than that.

"Well, people _have_ come from other cities," Verena answered, not with
pretended humility, but with pretended pride. "Do you know Cambridge?"

"This is the first time I have ever been here."

"Well, I suppose you have heard of the university; it's so celebrated."

"Yes--even in Mississippi. I suppose it's very fine."

"I presume it is," said Verena; "but you can't expect me to speak with
much admiration of an institution of which the doors are closed to our
sex."

"Do you then advocate a system of education in common?"

"I advocate equal rights, equal opportunities, equal privileges. So does
Miss Chancellor," Verena added, with just a perceptible air of feeling
that her declaration needed support.

"Oh, I thought what she wanted was simply a different inequality--simply
to turn out the men altogether," Ransom said.

"Well, she thinks we have great arrears to make up. I do tell her,
sometimes, that what she desires is not only justice but vengeance. I
think she admits that," Verena continued, with a certain solemnity. The
subject, however, held her but an instant, and before Ransom had time to
make any comment, she went on, in a different tone: "You don't mean to
say you live in Mississippi _now_? Miss Chancellor told me when you were
in Boston before, that you had located in New York." She persevered in
this reference to himself, for when he had assented to her remark about
New York, she asked him whether he had quite given up the South.

"Given it up--the poor, dear, desolate old South? Heaven forbid!" Basil
Ransom exclaimed.

She looked at him for a moment with an added softness. "I presume it is
natural you should love your home. But I am afraid you think I don't
love mine much; I have been here--for so long--so little. Miss
Chancellor _has_ absorbed me--there is no doubt about that. But it's a
pity I wasn't with her to-day." Ransom made no answer to this; he was
incapable of telling Miss Tarrant that if she had been he would not have
called upon her. It was not, indeed, that he was not incapable of
hypocrisy, for when she had asked him if he had seen his cousin the
night before, and he had replied that he hadn't seen her at all, and she
had exclaimed with a candour which the next minute made her blush, "Ah,
you don't mean to say you haven't forgiven her!"--after this he put on a
look of innocence sufficient to carry off the inquiry, "Forgiven her for
what?"

Verena coloured at the sound of her own words. "Well, I could see how
much she felt, that time at her house."

"What did she feel?" Basil Ransom asked, with the natural provokingness
of a man.

I know not whether Verena was provoked, but she answered with more
spirit than sequence: "Well, you know you _did_ pour contempt on us,
ever so much; I could see how it worked Olive up. Are you not going to
see her at all?"

"Well, I shall think about that; I am here only for three or four days,"
said Ransom, smiling as men smile when they are perfectly
unsatisfactory.

It is very possible that Verena was provoked, inaccessible as she was,
in a general way, to irritation; for she rejoined in a moment, with a
little deliberate air: "Well, perhaps it's as well you shouldn't go, if
you haven't changed at all."

"I haven't changed at all," said the young man, smiling still, with his
elbows on the arms of his chair, his shoulders pushed up a little, and
his thin brown hands interlocked in front of him.

"Well, I have had visitors who were quite opposed!" Verena announced, as
if such news could not possibly alarm her. Then she added, "How then did
you know I was out here?"

"Miss Birdseye told me."

"Oh, I am so glad you went to see _her_!" the girl cried, speaking again
with the impetuosity of a moment before.

"I didn't go to see her. I met her in the street, just as she was
leaving Miss Chancellor's door. I spoke to her, and accompanied her some
distance. I passed that way because I knew it was the direct way to
Cambridge--from the Common--and I was coming out to see you any way--on
the chance."

"On the chance?" Verena repeated.

"Yes; Mrs. Luna, in New York, told me you were sometimes here, and I
wanted, at any rate, to make the attempt to find you."

It may be communicated to the reader that it was very agreeable to
Verena to learn that her visitor had made this arduous pilgrimage (for
she knew well enough how people in Boston regarded a winter journey to
the academic suburb) with only half the prospect of a reward; but her
pleasure was mixed with other feelings, or at least with the
consciousness that the whole situation was rather less simple than the
elements of her life had been hitherto. There was the germ of disorder
in this invidious distinction which Mr. Ransom had suddenly made between
Olive Chancellor, who was related to him by blood, and herself, who had
never been related to him in any way whatever. She knew Olive by this
time well enough to wish not to reveal it to her, and yet it would be
something quite new for her to undertake to conceal such an incident as
her having spent an hour with Mr. Ransom during a flying visit he had
made to Boston. She had spent hours with other gentlemen, whom Olive
didn't see; but that was different, because her friend knew about her
doing it and didn't care, in regard to the persons--didn't care, that
is, as she would care in this case. It was vivid to Verena's mind that
now Olive _would_ care. She had talked about Mr. Burrage, and Mr.
Pardon, and even about some gentlemen in Europe, and she had not (after
the first few days, a year and a half before) talked about Mr. Ransom.

Nevertheless there were reasons, clear to Verena's view, for wishing
either that he would go and see Olive or would keep away from _her_; and
the responsibility of treating the fact that he had not so kept away as
a secret seemed the greater, perhaps, in the light of this other fact,
that so far as simply seeing Mr. Ransom went--why, she quite liked it.
She had remembered him perfectly after their two former meetings,
superficial as their contact then had been; she had thought of him at
moments and wondered whether she should like him if she were to know him
better. Now, at the end of twenty minutes, she did know him better, and
found that he had rather a curious, but still a pleasant way. There he
was, at any rate, and she didn't wish his call to be spoiled by any
uncomfortable implication of consequences. So she glanced off, at the
touch of Mrs. Luna's name; it seemed to afford relief. "Oh yes, Mrs.
Luna--isn't she fascinating?"

Ransom hesitated a little. "Well, no, I don't think she is."

"You ought to like her--she hates our movement!" And Verena asked,
further, numerous questions about the brilliant Adeline; whether he saw
her often, whether she went out much, whether she was admired in New
York, whether he thought her very handsome. He answered to the best of
his ability, but soon made the reflexion that he had not come out to
Monadnoc Place to talk about Mrs. Luna; in consequence of which, to
change the subject (as well as to acquit himself of a social duty), he
began to speak of Verena's parents, to express regret that Mrs. Tarrant
had been sick, and fear that he was not to have the pleasure of seeing
her. "She is a great deal better," Verena said; "but she's lying down;
she lies down a great deal when she has got nothing else to do. Mother's
very peculiar," she added in a moment; "she lies down when she feels
well and happy, and when she's sick she walks about--she roams all round
the house. If you hear her on the stairs a good deal, you can be pretty
sure she's very bad. She'll be very much interested to hear about you
after you have left."

Ransom glanced at his watch. "I hope I am not staying too long--that I
am not taking you away from her."

"Oh no; she likes visitors, even when she can't see them. If it didn't
take her so long to rise, she would have been down here by this time. I
suppose you think she has missed me, since I have been so absorbed.
Well, so she has, but she knows it's for my good. She would make any
sacrifice for affection."

The fancy suddenly struck Ransom of asking, in response to this, "And
you? would you make any?"

Verena gave him a bright natural stare. "Any sacrifice for affection?"
She thought a moment, and then she said: "I don't think I have a right
to say, because I have never been asked. I don't remember ever to have
had to make a sacrifice--not an important one."

"Lord! you must have had a happy life!"

"I have been very fortunate, I know that. I don't know what to do when I
think how some women--how most women--suffer. But I must not speak of
that," she went on, with her smile coming back to her. "If you oppose
our movement, you won't want to hear of the suffering of women!"

"The suffering of women is the suffering of all humanity," Ransom
returned. "Do you think any movement is going to stop that--or all the
lectures from now to doomsday? We are born to suffer--and to bear it,
like decent people."

"Oh, I adore heroism!" Verena interposed.

"And as for women," Ransom went on, "they have one source of happiness
that is closed to us--the consciousness that their presence here below
lifts half the load of _our_ suffering."

Verena thought this very graceful, but she was not sure it was not
rather sophistical; she would have liked to have Olive's judgement upon
it. As that was not possible for the present, she abandoned the question
(since learning that Mr. Ransom had passed over Olive, to come to her,
she had become rather fidgety), and inquired of the young man,
irrelevantly, whether he knew any one else in Cambridge.

"Not a creature; as I tell you, I have never been here before. Your
image alone attracted me; this charming interview will be henceforth my
only association with the place."

"It's a pity you couldn't have a few more," said Verena musingly.

"A few more interviews? I should be unspeakably delighted!"

"A few more associations. Did you see the colleges as you came?"

"I had a glimpse of a large enclosure, with some big buildings. Perhaps
I can look at them better as I go back to Boston."

"Oh yes, you ought to see them--they have improved so much of late. The
inner life, of course, is the greatest interest, but there is some fine
architecture, if you are not familiar with Europe." She paused a moment,
looking at him with an eye that seemed to brighten, and continued
quickly, like a person who had collected herself for a little jump, "If
you would like to walk round a little, I shall be very glad to show
you."

"To walk round--with you to show me?" Ransom repeated. "My dear Miss
Tarrant, it would be the greatest privilege--the greatest happiness--of
my life. What a delightful idea--what an ideal guide!"

Verena got up; she would go and put on her hat; he must wait a little.
Her offer had a frankness and friendliness which gave him a new
sensation, and he could not know that as soon as she had made it (though
she had hesitated too, with a moment of intense reflexion), she seemed
to herself strangely reckless. An impulse pushed her; she obeyed it with
her eyes open. She felt as a girl feels when she commits her first
conscious indiscretion. She had done many things before which many
people would have called indiscreet, but that quality had not even
faintly belonged to them in her own mind; she had done them in perfect
good faith and with a remarkable absence of palpitation. This
superficially ingenuous proposal to walk around the colleges with Mr.
Ransom had really another colour; it deepened the ambiguity of her
position, by reason of a prevision which I shall presently mention. If
Olive was not to know that she had seen him, this extension of their
interview would double her secret. And yet, while she saw it grow--this
monstrous little mystery--she couldn't feel sorry that she was going out
with Olive's cousin. As I have already said, she had become nervous. She
went to put on her hat, but at the door of the room she stopped, turned
round, and presented herself to her visitor with a small spot in either
cheek, which had appeared there within the instant. "I have suggested
this, because it seems to me I ought to do something for you--in
return," she said. "It's nothing, simply sitting there with me. And we
haven't got anything else. This is our only hospitality. And the day
seems so splendid."

The modesty, the sweetness, of this little explanation, with a kind of
intimated desire, constituting almost an appeal, for rightness, which
seemed to pervade it, left a fragrance in the air after she had
vanished. Ransom walked up and down the room, with his hands in his
pockets, under the influence of it, without taking up even once the book
about Mrs. Foat. He occupied the time in asking himself by what
perversity of fate or of inclination such a charming creature was
ranting upon platforms and living in Olive Chancellor's pocket, or how a
ranter and sycophant could possibly be so engaging. And she was so
disturbingly beautiful, too. This last fact was not less evident when
she came down arranged for their walk. They left the house, and as they
proceeded he remembered that he had asked himself earlier how he could
do honour to such a combination of leisure and ethereal mildness as he
had waked up to that morning--a mildness that seemed the very breath of
his own latitude. This question was answered now; to do exactly what he
was doing at that moment was an observance sufficiently festive.



XXV


They passed through two or three small, short streets, which, with their
little wooden houses, with still more wooden door-yards, looked as if
they had been constructed by the nearest carpenter and his boy--a
sightless, soundless, interspaced, embryonic region--and entered a long
avenue which, fringed on either side with fresh villas, offering
themselves trustfully to the public, had the distinction of a wide
pavement of neat red brick. The new paint on the square detached houses
shone afar off in the transparent air: they had, on top, little cupolas
and belvederes, in front a pillared piazza, made bare by the indoor life
of winter, on either side a bow-window or two, and everywhere an
embellishment of scallops, brackets, cornices, wooden flourishes. They
stood, for the most part, on small eminences, lifted above the
impertinence of hedge or paling, well up before the world, with all the
good conscience which in many cases came, as Ransom saw (and he had
noticed the same ornament when he traversed with Olive the quarter of
Boston inhabited by Miss Birdseye), from a silvered number, affixed to
the glass above the door, in figures huge enough to be read by the
people who, in the periodic horse-cars, travelled along the middle of
the avenue. It was to these glittering badges that many of the houses on
either side owed their principal identity. One of the horse-cars now
advanced in the straight, spacious distance; it was almost the only
object that animated the prospect, which, in its large cleanness, its
implication of strict business-habits on the part of all the people who
were not there, Ransom thought very impressive. As he went on with
Verena he asked her about the Women's Convention, the year before;
whether it had accomplished much work and she had enjoyed it.

"What do you care about the work it accomplished?" said the girl. "You
don't take any interest in that."

"You mistake my attitude. I don't like it, but I greatly fear it."

In answer to this Verena gave a free laugh. "I don't believe you fear
much!"

"The bravest men have been afraid of women. Won't you even tell me
whether you enjoyed it? I am told you made an immense sensation
there--that you leaped into fame."

Verena never waved off an allusion to her ability, her eloquence; she
took it seriously, without any flutter or protest, and had no more
manner about it than if it concerned the goddess Minerva. "I believe I
attracted considerable attention; of course, that's what Olive wants--it
paves the way for future work. I have no doubt I reached many that
wouldn't have been reached otherwise. They think that's my great use--to
take hold of the outsiders, as it were; of those who are prejudiced or
thoughtless, or who don't care about anything unless it's amusing. I
wake up the attention."

"That's the class to which I belong," Ransom said. "Am I not an
outsider? I wonder whether you would have reached me--or waked up my
attention!"

Verena was silent awhile, as they walked; he heard the light click of
her boots on the smooth bricks. Then--"I think I _have_ waked it up a
little," she replied, looking straight before her.

"Most assuredly! You have made me wish tremendously to contradict you."

"Well, that's a good sign."

"I suppose it was very exciting--your convention," Ransom went on, in a
moment; "the sort of thing you would miss very much if you were to
return to the ancient fold."

"The ancient fold, you say very well, where women were slaughtered like
sheep! Oh, last June, for a week, we just quivered! There were delegates
from every State and every city; we lived in a crowd of people and of
ideas; the heat was intense, the weather magnificent, and great thoughts
and brilliant sayings flew round like darting fireflies. Olive had six
celebrated, high-minded women staying in her house--two in a room; and
in the summer evenings we sat in the open windows, in her parlour,
looking out on the bay, with the lights gleaming in the water, and
talked over the doings of the morning, the speeches, the incidents, the
fresh contributions to the cause. We had some tremendously earnest
discussions, which it would have been a benefit to you to hear, or any
man who doesn't think that we can rise to the highest point. Then we had
some refreshment--we consumed quantities of ice-cream!" said Verena, in
whom the note of gaiety alternated with that of earnestness, almost of
exaltation, in a manner which seemed to Basil Ransom absolutely and
fascinatingly original. "Those were great nights!" she added, between a
laugh and a sigh.

Her description of the convention put the scene before him vividly; he
seemed to see the crowded, overheated hall, which he was sure was filled
with carpet-baggers, to hear flushed women, with loosened
bonnet-strings, forcing thin voices into ineffectual shrillness. It made
him angry, and all the more angry, that he hadn't a reason, to think of
the charming creature at his side being mixed up with such elements,
pushed and elbowed by them, conjoined with them in emulation, in
unsightly strainings and clappings and shoutings, in wordy, windy
iteration of inanities. Worst of all was the idea that she should have
expressed such a congregation to itself so acceptably, have been
acclaimed and applauded by hoarse throats, have been lifted up, to all
the vulgar multitude, as the queen of the occasion. He made the
reflexion, afterwards, that he was singularly ill-grounded in his wrath,
inasmuch as it was none of his business what use Miss Tarrant chose to
make of her energies, and, in addition to this, nothing else was to have
been expected of her. But that reflexion was absent now, and in its
absence he saw only the fact that his companion had been odiously
perverted. "Well, Miss Tarrant," he said, with a deeper seriousness than
showed in his voice, "I am forced to the painful conclusion that you are
simply ruined."

"Ruined? Ruined yourself!"

"Oh, I know the kind of women that Miss Chancellor had at her house, and
what a group you must have made when you looked out at the Back Bay! It
depresses me very much to think of it."

"We made a lovely, interesting group, and if we had had a spare minute
we would have been photographed," Verena said.

This led him to ask her if she had ever subjected herself to the
process; and she answered that a photographer had been after her as soon
as she got back from Europe, and that she had sat for him, and that
there were certain shops in Boston where her portrait could be obtained.
She gave him this information very simply, without pretence of vagueness
of knowledge, spoke of the matter rather respectfully, indeed, as if it
might be of some importance; and when he said that he should go and buy
one of the little pictures as soon as he returned to town, contented
herself with replying, "Well, be sure you pick out a good one!" He had
not been altogether without a hope that she would offer to give him one,
with her name written beneath, which was a mode of acquisition he would
greatly have preferred; but this, evidently, had not occurred to her,
and now, as they went further, her thought was following a different
train. That was proved by her remarking, at the end of a silence,
inconsequently, "Well, it showed I have a great use!" As he stared,
wondering what she meant, she explained that she referred to the
brilliancy of her success at the convention. "It proved I have a great
use," she repeated, "and that is all I care for!"

"The use of a truly amiable woman is to make some honest man happy,"
Ransom said, with a sententiousness of which he was perfectly aware.

It was so marked that it caused her to stop short in the middle of the
broad walk, while she looked at him with shining eyes. "See here, Mr.
Ransom, do you know what strikes me?" she exclaimed. "The interest you
take in me isn't really controversial--a bit. It's quite personal!" She
was the most extraordinary girl; she could speak such words as those
without the smallest look of added consciousness coming into her face,
without the least supposable intention of coquetry, or any visible
purpose of challenging the young man to say more.

"My interest in you--my interest in you," he began. Then hesitating, he
broke off suddenly. "It is certain your discovery doesn't make it any
less!"

"Well, that's better," she went on; "for we needn't dispute."

He laughed at the way she arranged it, and they presently reached the
irregular group of heterogeneous buildings--chapels, dormitories,
libraries, halls--which, scattered among slender trees, over a space
reserved by means of a low rustic fence, rather than enclosed (for
Harvard knows nothing either of the jealousy or the dignity of high
walls and guarded gateways), constitutes the great university of
Massachusetts. The yard, or college-precinct, is traversed by a number
of straight little paths, over which, at certain hours of the day, a
thousand undergraduates, with books under their arm and youth in their
step, flit from one school to another. Verena Tarrant knew her way
round, as she said to her companion; it was not the first time she had
taken an admiring visitor to see the local monuments. Basil Ransom,
walking with her from point to point, admired them all, and thought
several of them exceedingly quaint and venerable. The rectangular
structures of old red brick especially gratified his eye; the afternoon
sun was yellow on their homely faces; their windows showed a peep of
flower-pots and bright-coloured curtains; they wore an expression of
scholastic quietude, and exhaled for the young Mississippian a
tradition, an antiquity. "This is the place where I ought to have been,"
he said to his charming guide. "I should have had a good time if I had
been able to study here."

"Yes; I presume you feel yourself drawn to any place where ancient
prejudices are garnered up," she answered, not without archness. "I know
by the stand you take about our cause that you share the superstitions
of the old bookmen. You ought to have been at one of those really
mediæval universities that we saw on the other side, at Oxford, or
Göttingen, or Padua. You would have been in perfect sympathy with their
spirit."

"Well, I don't know much about those old haunts," Ransom rejoined. "I
reckon this is good enough for me. And then it would have had the
advantage that your residence isn't far, you know."

"Oh, I guess we shouldn't have seen you much at my residence! As you
live in New York, you come, but here you wouldn't; that is always the
way." With this light philosophy Verena beguiled the transit to the
library, into which she introduced her companion with the air of a
person familiar with the sanctified spot. This edifice, a diminished
copy of the chapel of King's College, at the greater Cambridge, is a
rich and impressive institution; and as he stood there, in the bright,
heated stillness, which seemed suffused with the odour of old print and
old bindings, and looked up into the high, light vaults that hung over
quiet book-laden galleries, alcoves and tables, and glazed cases where
rarer treasures gleamed more vaguely, over busts of benefactors and
portraits of worthies, bowed heads of working students and the gentle
creak of passing messengers--as he took possession, in a comprehensive
glance, of the wealth and wisdom of the place, he felt more than ever
the soreness of an opportunity missed; but he abstained from expressing
it (it was too deep for that), and in a moment Verena had introduced him
to a young lady, a friend of hers, who, as she explained, was working on
the catalogue, and whom she had asked for on entering the library, at a
desk where another young lady was occupied. Miss Catching, the
first-mentioned young lady, presented herself with promptness, offered
Verena a low-toned but appreciative greeting, and, after a little,
undertook to explain to Ransom the mysteries of the catalogue, which
consisted of a myriad little cards, disposed alphabetically in immense
chests of drawers. Ransom was deeply interested, and as, with Verena, he
followed Miss Catching about (she was so good as to show them the
establishment in all its ramifications), he considered with attention
the young lady's fair ringlets and refined, anxious expression, saying
to himself that this was in the highest degree a New England type.
Verena found an opportunity to mention to him that she was wrapped up in
the cause, and there was a moment during which he was afraid that his
companion would expose him to her as one of its traducers; but there was
that in Miss Catching's manner (and in the influence of the lofty halls)
which deprecated loud pleasantry, and seemed to say, moreover, that if
she were treated to such a revelation she should not know under what
letter to range it.

"Now there is one place where perhaps it would be indelicate to take a
Mississippian," Verena said, after this episode. "I mean the great place
that towers above the others--that big building with the beautiful
pinnacles, which you see from every point." But Basil Ransom had heard
of the great Memorial Hall; he knew what memories it enshrined, and the
worst that he should have to suffer there; and the ornate, overtopping
structure, which was the finest piece of architecture he had ever seen,
had moreover solicited his enlarged curiosity for the last half-hour. He
thought there was rather too much brick about it, but it was buttressed,
cloistered, turreted, dedicated, superscribed, as he had never seen
anything; though it didn't look old, it looked significant; it covered a
large area, and it sprang majestic into the winter air. It was detached
from the rest of the collegiate group, and stood in a grassy triangle of
its own. As he approached it with Verena she suddenly stopped, to
decline responsibility. "Now mind, if you don't like what's inside, it
isn't my fault."

He looked at her an instant, smiling. "Is there anything against
Mississippi?"

"Well, no, I don't think she is mentioned. But there is great praise of
our young men in the war."

"It says they were brave, I suppose."

"Yes, it says so in Latin."

"Well, so they were--I know something about that," Basil Ransom said. "I
must be brave enough to face them--it isn't the first time." And they
went up the low steps and passed into the tall doors. The Memorial Hall
of Harvard consists of three main divisions: one of them a theatre, for
academic ceremonies; another a vast refectory, covered with a timbered
roof, hung about with portraits and lighted by stained windows, like the
halls of the colleges of Oxford; and the third, the most interesting, a
chamber high, dim, and severe, consecrated to the sons of the university
who fell in the long Civil War. Ransom and his companion wandered from
one part of the building to another, and stayed their steps at several
impressive points; but they lingered longest in the presence of the
white, ranged tablets, each of which, in its proud, sad clearness, is
inscribed with the name of a student-soldier. The effect of the place is
singularly noble and solemn, and it is impossible to feel it without a
lifting of the heart. It stands there for duty and honour, it speaks of
sacrifice and example, seems a kind of temple to youth, manhood,
generosity. Most of them were young, all were in their prime, and all of
them had fallen; this simple idea hovers before the visitor and makes
him read with tenderness each name and place--names often without other
history, and forgotten Southern battles. For Ransom these things were
not a challenge nor a taunt; they touched him with respect, with the
sentiment of beauty. He was capable of being a generous foeman, and he
forgot, now, the whole question of sides and parties; the simple emotion
of the old fighting-time came back to him, and the monument around him
seemed an embodiment of that memory; it arched over friends as well as
enemies, the victims of defeat as well as the sons of triumph.

"It is very beautiful--but I think it is very dreadful!" This remark,
from Verena, called him back to the present. "It's a real sin to put up
such a building, just to glorify a lot of bloodshed. If it wasn't so
majestic, I would have it pulled down."

"That is delightful feminine logic!" Ransom answered. "If, when women
have the conduct of affairs, they fight as well as they reason, surely
for them too we shall have to set up memorials."

Verena retorted that they would reason so well they would have no need
to fight--they would usher in the reign of peace. "But this is very
peaceful too," she added, looking about her; and she sat down on a low
stone ledge, as if to enjoy the influence of the scene. Ransom left her
alone for ten minutes; he wished to take another look at the inscribed
tablets, and read again the names of the various engagements, at several
of which he had been present. When he came back to her she greeted him
abruptly, with a question which had no reference to the solemnity of the
spot. "If Miss Birdseye knew you were coming out to see me, can't _she_
easily tell Olive? Then won't Olive make her reflexions about your
neglect of herself?"

"I don't care for her reflexions. At any rate, I asked Miss Birdseye, as
a favour, not to mention to her that she had met me," Ransom added.

Verena was silent a moment. "Your logic is most as good as a woman's. Do
change your mind and go to see her now," she went on. "She will probably
be at home by the time you get to Charles Street. If she was a little
strange, a little stiff with you before (I know just how she must have
been), all that will be different to-day."

"Why will it be different?"

"Oh, she will be easier, more genial, much softer."

"I don't believe it," said Ransom; and his scepticism seemed none the
less complete because it was light and smiling.

"She is much happier now--she can afford not to mind you."

"Not to mind me? That's a nice inducement for a gentleman to go and see
a lady!"

"Well, she will be more gracious, because she feels now that she is more
successful."

"You mean because she has brought you out? Oh, I have no doubt that has
cleared the air for her immensely, and you have improved her very much.
But I have got a charming impression out here, and I have no wish to put
another--which won't be charming, anyhow you arrange it--on top of it."

"Well, she will be sure to know you have been round here, at any rate,"
Verena rejoined.

"How will she know, unless you tell her?"

"I tell her everything," said the girl; and now as soon as she had
spoken, she blushed. He stood before her, tracing a figure on the mosaic
pavement with his cane, conscious that in a moment they had become more
intimate. They were discussing their affairs, which had nothing to do
with the heroic symbols that surrounded them; but their affairs had
suddenly grown so serious that there was no want of decency in their
lingering there for the purpose. The implication that his visit might
remain as a secret between them made them both feel it differently. To
ask her to keep it so would have been, as it seemed to Ransom, a
liberty, and, moreover, he didn't care so much as that; but if she were
to prefer to do so such a preference would only make him consider the
more that his expedition had been a success.

"Oh, then, you can tell her this!" he said in a moment.

"If I shouldn't, it would be the first----" And Verena checked herself.

"You must arrange that with your conscience," Ransom went on, laughing.

They came out of the hall, passed down the steps, and emerged from the
Delta, as that portion of the college precinct is called. The afternoon
had begun to wane, but the air was filled with a pink brightness, and
there was a cool, pure smell, a vague breath of spring.

"Well, if I don't tell Olive, then you must leave me here," said Verena,
stopping in the path and putting out a hand of farewell.

"I don't understand. What has that to do with it? Besides I thought you
said you _must_ tell," Ransom added. In playing with the subject this
way, in enjoying her visible hesitation, he was slightly conscious of a
man's brutality--of being pushed by an impulse to test her good-nature,
which seemed to have no limit. It showed no sign of perturbation as she
answered:

"Well, I want to be free--to do as I think best. And, if there is a
chance of my keeping it back, there mustn't be anything more--there must
not, Mr. Ransom, really."

"Anything more? Why, what are you afraid there will be--if I should
simply walk home with you?"

"I must go alone, I must hurry back to mother," she said, for all reply.
And she again put out her hand, which he had not taken before.

Of course he took it now, and even held it a moment; he didn't like
being dismissed, and was thinking of pretexts to linger. "Miss Birdseye
said you would convert me, but you haven't yet," it came into his head
to say.

"You can't tell yet; wait a little. My influence is peculiar; it
sometimes comes out a long time afterwards!" This speech, on Verena's
part, was evidently perfunctory, and the grandeur of her self-reference
jocular; she was much more serious when she went on quickly, "Do you
mean to say Miss Birdseye promised you that?"

"Oh yes. Talk about influence! you should have seen the influence I
obtained over her."

"Well, what good will it do, if I'm going to tell Olive about your
visit?"

"Well, you see, I think she hopes you won't. She believes you are going
to convert me privately--so that I shall blaze forth, suddenly, out of
the darkness of Mississippi, as a first-class proselyte: very effective
and dramatic."

Verena struck Basil Ransom as constantly simple, but there were moments
when her candour seemed to him preternatural. "If I thought that would
be the effect, I might make an exception," she remarked, speaking as if
such a result were, after all, possible.

"Oh, Miss Tarrant, you will convert me enough, any way," said the young
man.

"Enough? What do you mean by enough?"

"Enough to make me terribly unhappy."

She looked at him a moment, evidently not understanding; but she tossed
him a retort at a venture, turned away, and took her course homeward.
The retort was that if he should be unhappy it would serve him right--a
form of words that committed her to nothing. As he returned to Boston he
saw how curious he should be to learn whether she had betrayed him, as
it were, to Miss Chancellor. He might learn through Mrs. Luna; that
would almost reconcile him to going to see her again. Olive would
mention it in writing to her sister, and Adeline would repeat the
complaint. Perhaps she herself would even make him a scene about it;
that would be, for him, part of the unhappiness he had foretold to
Verena Tarrant.



XXVI


"Mrs. Henry Burrage, at home Wednesday evening, March 26th, at half-past
nine o'clock." It was in consequence of having received a card with
these words inscribed upon it that Basil Ransom presented himself, on
the evening she had designated, at the house of a lady he had never
heard of before. The account of the relation of effect to cause is not
complete, however, unless I mention that the card bore, furthermore, in
the left-hand lower corner, the words: "An Address from Miss Verena
Tarrant." He had an idea (it came mainly from the look and even the
odour of the engraved pasteboard) that Mrs. Burrage was a member of the
fashionable world, and it was with considerable surprise that he found
himself in such an element. He wondered what had induced a denizen of
that fine air to send him an invitation; then he said to himself that,
obviously, Verena Tarrant had simply requested that this should be done.
Mrs. Henry Burrage, whoever she might be, had asked her if she shouldn't
like some of her own friends to be present, and she had said, Oh yes,
and mentioned him in the happy group. She had been able to give Mrs.
Burrage his address, for had it not been contained in the short letter
he despatched to Monadnoc Place soon after his return from Boston, in
which he thanked Miss Tarrant afresh for the charming hour she had
enabled him to spend at Cambridge? She had not answered his letter at
the time, but Mrs. Burrage's card was a very good answer. Such a missive
deserved a rejoinder, and it was by way of rejoinder that he entered the
street car which, on the evening of March 26th, was to deposit him at a
corner adjacent to Mrs. Burrage's dwelling. He almost never went to
evening parties (he knew scarcely any one who gave them, though Mrs.
Luna had broken him in a little), and he was sure this occasion was of
festive intention, would have nothing in common with the nocturnal
"exercises" at Miss Birdseye's; but he would have exposed himself to
almost any social discomfort in order to see Verena Tarrant on the
platform. The platform it evidently was to be--private if not
public--since one was admitted by a ticket given away if not sold. He
took his in his pocket, quite ready to present it at the door. It would
take some time for me to explain the contradiction to the reader; but
Basil Ransom's desire to be present at one of Verena's regular
performances was not diminished by the fact that he detested her views
and thought the whole business a poor perversity. He understood her now
very well (since his visit to Cambridge); he saw she was honest and
natural; she had queer, bad lecture-blood in her veins, and a comically
false idea of the aptitude of little girls for conducting movements; but
her enthusiasm was of the purest, her illusions had a fragrance, and so
far as the mania for producing herself personally was concerned, it had
been distilled into her by people who worked her for ends which to Basil
Ransom could only appear insane. She was a touching, ingenuous victim,
unconscious of the pernicious forces which were hurrying her to her
ruin. With this idea of ruin there had already associated itself in the
young man's mind, the idea--a good deal more dim and incomplete--of
rescue; and it was the disposition to confirm himself in the view that
her charm was her own, and her fallacies, her absurdity, a mere
reflexion of unlucky circumstance, that led him to make an effort to
behold her in the position in which he could least bear to think of her.
Such a glimpse was all that was wanted to prove to him that she was a
person for whom he might open an unlimited credit of tender compassion.
He expected to suffer--to suffer deliciously.

By the time he had crossed Mrs. Burrage's threshold there was no doubt
whatever in his mind that he was in the fashionable world. It was
embodied strikingly in the stout, elderly, ugly lady, dressed in a
brilliant colour, with a twinkle of jewels and a bosom much uncovered,
who stood near the door of the first room, and with whom the people
passing in before him were shaking hands. Ransom made her a Mississipian
bow, and she said she was delighted to see him, while people behind him
pressed him forward. He yielded to the impulsion, and found himself in a
great saloon, amid lights and flowers, where the company was dense, and
there were more twinkling, smiling ladies, with uncovered bosoms. It was
certainly the fashionable world, for there was no one there whom he had
ever seen before. The walls of the room were covered with pictures--the
very ceiling was painted and framed. The people pushed each other a
little, edged about, advanced and retreated, looking at each other with
differing faces--sometimes blandly, unperceivingly, sometimes with a
harshness of contemplation, a kind of cruelty, Ransom thought; sometimes
with sudden nods and grimaces, inarticulate murmurs, followed by a quick
reaction, a sort of gloom. He was now absolutely certain that he was in
the best society. He was carried further and further forward, and saw
that another room stretched beyond the one he had entered, in which
there was a sort of little stage, covered with a red cloth, and an
immense collection of chairs, arranged in rows. He became aware that
people looked at him, as well as at each other, rather more, indeed,
than at each other, and he wondered whether it were very visible in his
appearance that his being there was a kind of exception. He didn't know
how much his head looked over the heads of others, or that his brown
complexion, fuliginous eye, and straight black hair, the leonine fall of
which I mentioned in the first pages of this narrative, gave him that
relief which, in the best society, has the great advantage of suggesting
a topic. But there were other topics besides, as was proved by a
fragment of conversation, between two ladies, which reached his ear
while he stood rather wistfully wondering where Verena Tarrant might be.

"Are you a member?" one of the ladies said to the other. "I didn't know
you had joined."

"Oh, I haven't; nothing would induce me."

"That's not fair; you have all the fun and none of the responsibility."

"Oh, the--the fun!" exclaimed the second lady.

"You needn't abuse us, or I will never invite you," said the first.

"Well, I thought it was meant to be improving; that's all I mean; very
good for the mind. Now, this woman to-night; isn't she from Boston?"

"Yes, I believe they have brought her on, just for this."

"Well, you must be pretty desperate when you have got to go to Boston
for your entertainment."

"Well, there's a similar society there, and I never heard of their
sending to New York."

"Of course not, they think they have got everything. But doesn't it make
your life a burden thinking what you can possibly have?"

"Oh dear, no. I am going to have Professor Gougenheim--all about the
Talmud. You must come."

"Well, I'll come," said the second lady; "but nothing would induce me to
be a regular member."

Whatever the mystic circle might be, Ransom agreed with the second lady
that regular membership must have terrors, and he admired her
independence in such an artificial world. A considerable part of the
company had now directed itself to the further apartment--people had
begun to occupy the chairs, to confront the empty platform. He reached
the wide doors, and saw that the place was a spacious music-room,
decorated in white and gold, with a polished floor and marble busts of
composers, on brackets attached to the delicate panels. He forbore to
enter, however, being shy about taking a seat, and seeing that the
ladies were arranging themselves first. He turned back into the first
room, to wait till the audience had massed itself, conscious that even
if he were behind every one he should be able to make a long neck; and
here, suddenly, in a corner, his eyes rested upon Olive Chancellor. She
was seated a little apart, in an angle of the room, and she was looking
straight at him; but as soon as she perceived that he saw her she
dropped her eyes, giving no sign of recognition. Ransom hesitated a
moment, but the next he went straight over to her. It had been in his
mind that if Verena Tarrant was there, _she_ would be there; an instinct
told him that Miss Chancellor would not allow her dear friend to come to
New York without her. It was very possible she meant to "cut"
him--especially if she knew of his having cut her, the other week, in
Boston; but it was his duty to take for granted she would speak to him,
until the contrary should be definitely proved. Though he had seen her
only twice he remembered well how acutely shy she was capable of being,
and he thought it possible one of these spasms had seized her at the
present time.

When he stood before her he found his conjecture perfectly just; she was
white with the intensity of her self-consciousness; she was altogether
in a very uncomfortable state. She made no response to his offer to
shake hands with her, and he saw that she would never go through that
ceremony again. She looked up at him when he spoke to her, and her lips
moved; but her face was intensely grave and her eye had almost a
feverish light. She had evidently got into her corner to be out of the
way; he recognised in her the air of an interloper, as he had felt it in
himself. The small sofa on which she had placed herself had the form to
which the French give the name of _causeuse_; there was room on it for
just another person, and Ransom asked her, with a cheerful accent, if he
might sit down beside her. She turned towards him when he had done so,
turned everything but her eyes, and opened and shut her fan while she
waited for her fit of diffidence to pass away. Ransom himself did not
wait; he took a jocular tone about their encounter, asking her if she
had come to New York to rouse the people. She glanced round the room;
the backs of Mrs. Burrage's guests, mainly, were presented to them, and
their position was partly masked by a pyramid of flowers which rose from
a pedestal close to Olive's end of the sofa and diffused a fragrance in
the air.

"Do you call these 'the people'?" she asked.

"I haven't the least idea. I don't know who any of them are, not even
who Mrs. Henry Burrage is, I simply received an invitation."

Miss Chancellor gave him no information on the point he had mentioned;
she only said, in a moment: "Do you go wherever you are invited?"

"Why, I go if I think I may find you there," the young man replied
gallantly. "My card mentioned that Miss Tarrant would give an address,
and I knew that wherever she is you are not far off. I have heard you
are inseparable, from Mrs. Luna."

"Yes, we are inseparable. That is exactly why I am here."

"It's the fashionable world, then, you are going to stir up."

Olive remained for some time with her eyes fastened to the floor; then
she flashed them up at her interlocutor. "It's a part of our life to go
anywhere--to carry our work where it seems most needed. We have taught
ourselves to stifle repulsion, distaste."

"Oh, I think this is very amusing," said Ransom. "It's a beautiful
house, and there are some very pretty faces. We haven't anything so
brilliant in Mississippi."

To everything he said Olive offered at first a momentary silence, but
the worst of her shyness was apparently leaving her.

"Are you successful in New York? do you like it?" she presently asked,
uttering the inquiry in a tone of infinite melancholy, as if the eternal
sense of duty forced it from her lips.

"Oh, successful! I am not successful as you and Miss Tarrant are; for
(to my barbaric eyes) it is a great sign of prosperity to be the
heroines of an occasion like this."

"Do I look like the heroine of an occasion?" asked Olive Chancellor,
without an intention of humour, but with an effect that was almost
comical.

"You would if you didn't hide yourself away. Are you not going into the
other room to hear the speech? Everything is prepared."

"I am going when I am notified--when I am invited."

There was considerable majesty in her tone, and Ransom saw that
something was wrong, that she felt neglected. To see that she was as
ticklish with others as she had been with him made him feel forgiving,
and there was in his manner a perfect disposition to forget their
differences as he said, "Oh, there is plenty of time; the place isn't
half full yet."

She made no direct rejoinder to this, but she asked him about his mother
and sisters, what news he received from the South. "Have they any
happiness?" she inquired, rather as if she warned him to take care not
to pretend they had. He neglected her warning to the point of saying
that there was one happiness they always had--that of having learned not
to think about it too much, and to make the best of their circumstances.
She listened to this with an air of great reserve, and apparently
thought he had wished to give her a lesson; for she suddenly broke out,
"You mean that you have traced a certain line for them, and that that's
all you know about it!"

Ransom stared at her, surprised; he felt, now, that she would always
surprise him. "Ah, don't be rough with me," he said, in his soft
Southern voice; "don't you remember how you knocked me about when I
called on you in Boston?"

"You hold us in chains, and then, when we writhe in our agony, you say
we don't behave prettily!" These words, which did not lessen Ransom's
wonderment, were the young lady's answer to his deprecatory speech. She
saw that he was honestly bewildered and that in a moment more he would
laugh at her, as he had done a year and a half before (she remembered it
as if it had been yesterday); and to stop that off, at any cost, she
went on hurriedly--"If you listen to Miss Tarrant, you will know what I
mean."

"Oh, Miss Tarrant--Miss Tarrant!" And Basil Ransom's laughter came.

She had not escaped that mockery, after all, and she looked at him
sharply now, her embarrassment having quite cleared up. "What do you
know about her? What observation have you had?"

Ransom met her eye, and for a moment they scrutinised each other. Did
she know of his interview with Verena a month before, and was her
reserve simply the wish to place on him the burden of declaring that he
had been to Boston since they last met, and yet had not called in
Charles Street? He thought there was suspicion in her face; but in
regard to Verena she would always be suspicious. If he had done at that
moment just what would gratify him he would have said to her that he
knew a great deal about Miss Tarrant, having lately had a long walk and
talk with her; but he checked himself, with the reflexion that if Verena
had not betrayed him it would be very wrong in him to betray her. The
sweetness of the idea that she should have thought the episode of his
visit to Monadnoc Place worth placing under the rose, was quenched for
the moment in his regret at not being able to let his disagreeable
cousin know that he had passed _her_ over. "Don't you remember my
hearing her speak that night at Miss Birdseye's?" he said presently.
"And I met her the next day at your house, you know."

"She has developed greatly since then," Olive remarked dryly; and Ransom
felt sure that Verena had held her tongue.

At this moment a gentleman made his way through the clusters of Mrs.
Burrage's guests and presented himself to Olive. "If you will do me the
honour to take my arm I will find a good seat for you in the other room.
It's getting to be time for Miss Tarrant to reveal herself. I have been
taking her into the picture-room; there were some things she wanted to
see. She is with my mother now," he added, as if Miss Chancellor's grave
face constituted a sort of demand for an explanation of her friend's
absence. "She said she was a little nervous; so I thought we would just
move about."

"It's the first time I have ever heard of that!" said Olive Chancellor,
preparing to surrender herself to the young man's guidance. He told her
that he had reserved the best seat for her; it was evidently his desire
to conciliate her, to treat her as a person of importance. Before
leading her away, he shook hands with Ransom and remarked that he was
very glad to see him; and Ransom saw that he must be the master of the
house, though he could scarcely be the son of the stout lady in the
doorway. He was a fresh, pleasant, handsome young man, with a bright
friendly manner; he recommended Ransom to take a seat in the other room,
without delay; if he had never heard Miss Tarrant he would have one of
the greatest pleasures of his life.

"Oh, Mr. Ransom only comes to ventilate his prejudices," Miss Chancellor
said, as she turned her back to her kinsman. He shrank from pushing into
the front of the company, which was now rapidly filling the music-room,
and contented himself with lingering in the doorway, where several
gentlemen were stationed. The seats were all occupied; all, that is,
save one, towards which he saw Miss Chancellor and her companion direct
themselves, squeezing and edging past the people who were standing up
against the walls. This was quite in front, close to the little
platform; every one noticed Olive as she went, and Ransom heard a
gentleman near him say to another--"I guess she's one of the same kind."
He looked for Verena, but she was apparently keeping out of sight.
Suddenly he felt himself smartly tapped on the back, and, turning round,
perceived Mrs. Luna, who had been prodding him with her fan.



XXVII


"You won't speak to me in my own house--that I have almost grown used
to; but if you are going to pass me over in public I think you might
give me warning first." This was only her archness, and he knew what to
make of that now; she was dressed in yellow and looked very plump and
gay. He wondered at the unerring instinct by which she had discovered
his exposed quarter. The outer room was completely empty; she had come
in at the further door and found the field free for her operations. He
offered to find her a place where she could see and hear Miss Tarrant,
to get her a chair to stand on, even, if she wished to look over the
heads of the gentlemen in the doorway; a proposal which she greeted with
the inquiry--"Do you suppose I came here for the sake of that
chatterbox? haven't I told you what I think of her?"

"Well, you certainly did not come here for my sake," said Ransom,
anticipating this insinuation; "for you couldn't possibly have known I
was coming."

"I guessed it--a presentiment told me!" Mrs. Luna declared; and she
looked up at him with searching, accusing eyes. "I know what you have
come for," she cried in a moment. "You never mentioned to me that you
knew Mrs. Burrage!"

"I don't--I never had heard of her till she asked me."

"Then why in the world _did_ she ask you?"

Ransom had spoken a trifle rashly; it came over him, quickly, that there
were reasons why he had better not have said that. But almost as quickly
he covered up his mistake. "I suppose your sister was so good as to ask
for a card for me."

"My sister? My grandmother! I know how Olive loves you. Mr. Ransom, you
are very deep." She had drawn him well into the room, out of earshot of
the group in the doorway, and he felt that if she should be able to
compass her wish she would organise a little entertainment for herself,
in the outer drawing-room, in opposition to Miss Tarrant's address.
"Please come and sit down here a moment; we shall be quite undisturbed.
I have something very particular to say to you." She led the way to the
little sofa in the corner, where he had been talking with Olive a few
minutes before, and he accompanied her, with extreme reluctance,
grudging the moments that he should be obliged to give to her. He had
quite forgotten that he once had a vision of spending his life in her
society, and he looked at his watch as he made the observation:

"I haven't the least idea of losing any of the sport in there, you
know."

He felt, the next instant, that he oughtn't to have said that either;
but he was irritated, disconcerted, and he couldn't help it. It was in
the nature of a gallant Mississippian to do everything a lady asked him,
and he had never, remarkable as it may appear, been in the position of
finding such a request so incompatible with his own desires as now. It
was a new predicament, for Mrs. Luna evidently meant to keep him if she
could. She looked round the room, more and more pleased at their having
it to themselves, and for the moment said nothing more about the
singularity of his being there. On the contrary, she became freshly
jocular, remarked that now they had got hold of him they wouldn't easily
let him go, they would make him entertain them, induce him to give a
lecture--on the "Lights and Shadows of Southern Life," or the "Social
Peculiarities of Mississippi"--before the Wednesday Club.

"And what in the world is the Wednesday Club? I suppose it's what those
ladies were talking about," Ransom said.

"I don't know your ladies, but the Wednesday Club is this thing. I don't
mean you and me here together, but all those deluded beings in the other
room. It is New York trying to be like Boston. It is the culture, the
good form, of the metropolis. You might not think it, but it is. It's
the 'quiet set'; they _are_ quiet enough; you might hear a pin drop, in
there. Is some one going to offer up a prayer? How happy Olive must be,
to be taken so seriously! They form an association for meeting at each
other's houses, every week, and having some performance, or some paper
read, or some subject explained. The more dreary it is and the more
fearful the subject, the more they think it is what it ought to be. They
have an idea this is the way to make New York society intellectual.
There's a sumptuary law--isn't that what you call it?--about suppers,
and they restrict themselves to a kind of Spartan broth. When it's made
by their French cooks it isn't bad. Mrs. Burrage is one of the principal
members--one of the founders, I believe; and when her turn has come
round, formerly--it comes only once in the winter for each--I am told
she has usually had very good music. But that is thought rather a base
evasion, a begging of the question; the vulgar set can easily keep up
with them on music. So Mrs. Burrage conceived the extraordinary
idea"--and it was wonderful to hear how Mrs. Luna pronounced that
adjective--"of sending on to Boston for that girl. It was her son, of
course, who put it into her head; he has been at Cambridge for some
years--that's where Verena lived, you know--and he was as thick with her
as you please out there. Now that he is no longer there it suits him
very well to have her here. She is coming on a visit to his mother when
Olive goes. I asked them to stay with me, but Olive declined,
majestically; she said they wished to be in some place where they would
be free to receive 'sympathising friends.' So they are staying at some
extraordinary kind of New Jerusalem boarding-house, in Tenth Street;
Olive thinks it's her duty to go to such places. I was greatly surprised
that she should let Verena be drawn into such a worldly crowd as this;
but she told me they had made up their minds not to let _any_ occasion
slip, that they could sow the seed of truth in drawing-rooms as well as
in workshops, and that if a single person was brought round to their
ideas they should have been justified in coming on. That's what they are
doing in there--sowing the seed; but you shall not be the one that's
brought round, I shall take care of that. Have you seen my delightful
sister yet? The way she _does_ arrange herself when she wants to protest
against frills! She looks as if she thought it pretty barren ground
round here, now she has come to see it. I don't think she thinks you can
be saved in a French dress, anyhow. I must say I call it a _very_ base
evasion of Mrs. Burrage's, producing Verena Tarrant; it's worse than the
meretricious music. Why didn't she honestly send for a _ballerina_ from
Niblo's--if she wanted a young woman capering about on a platform? They
don't care a fig about poor Olive's ideas; it's only because Verena has
strange hair, and shiny eyes, and gets herself up like a
prestidigitator's assistant. I have never understood how Olive can
reconcile herself to Verena's really low style of dress. I suppose it's
only because her clothes are so fearfully made. You look as if you
didn't believe me--but I assure you that the cut is revolutionary; and
that's a salve to Olive's conscience."

Ransom was surprised to hear that he looked as if he didn't believe her,
for he had found himself, after his first uneasiness, listening with
considerable interest to her account of the circumstances under which
Miss Tarrant was visiting New York. After a moment, as the result of
some private reflexion, he propounded this question: "Is the son of the
lady of the house a handsome young man, very polite, in a white vest?"

"I don't know the colour of his vest--but he has a kind of fawning
manner. Verena judges from that that he is in love with her."

"Perhaps he is," said Ransom. "You say it was his idea to get her to
come on."

"Oh, he likes to flirt; that is highly probable."

"Perhaps she has brought him round."

"Not to where she wants, I think. The property is very large; he will
have it all one of these days."

"Do you mean she wishes to impose on him the yoke of matrimony?" Ransom
asked, with Southern languor.

"I believe she thinks matrimony an exploded superstition; but there is
here and there a case in which it is still the best thing; when the
gentleman's name happens to be Burrage and the young lady's Tarrant. I
don't admire 'Burrage' so much myself. But I think she would have
captured this present scion if it hadn't been for Olive. Olive stands
between them--she wants to keep her in the single sisterhood; to keep
her, above all, for herself. Of course she won't listen to her marrying,
and she has put a spoke in the wheel. She has brought her to New York;
that may seem against what I say; but the girl pulls hard, she has to
humour her, to give her her head sometimes, to throw something
overboard, in short, to save the rest. You may say, as regards Mr.
Burrage, that it's a queer taste in a gentleman; but there is no arguing
about that. It's queer taste in a lady, too; for she is a lady, poor
Olive. You can see that to-night. She is dressed like a book-agent, but
she is more distinguished than any one here. Verena, beside her, looks
like a walking advertisement."

When Mrs. Luna paused, Basil Ransom became aware that, in the other
room, Verena's address had begun; the sound of her clear, bright,
ringing voice, an admirable voice for public uses, came to them from the
distance. His eagerness to stand where he could hear her better, and see
her into the bargain, made him start in his place, and this movement
produced an outgush of mocking laughter on the part of his companion.
But she didn't say--"Go, go, deluded man, I take pity on you!" she only
remarked, with light impertinence, that he surely wouldn't be so wanting
in gallantry as to leave a lady absolutely alone in a public place--it
was so Mrs. Luna was pleased to qualify Mrs. Burrage's drawing-room--in
the face of her entreaty that he would remain with her. She had the
better of poor Ransom, thanks to the superstitions of Mississippi. It
was in his simple code a gross rudeness to withdraw from conversation
with a lady at a party before another gentleman should have come to take
one's place; it was to inflict on the lady a kind of outrage. The other
gentlemen, at Mrs. Burrage's, were all too well occupied; there was not
the smallest chance of one of them coming to his rescue. He couldn't
leave Mrs. Luna, and yet he couldn't stay with her and lose the only
thing he had come so much out of his way for. "Let me at least find you
a place over there, in the doorway. You can stand upon a chair--you can
lean on me."

"Thank you very much; I would much rather lean on this sofa. And I am
much too tired to stand on chairs. Besides, I wouldn't for the world
that either Verena or Olive should see me craning over the heads of the
crowd--as if I attached the smallest importance to their perorations!"

"It isn't time for the peroration yet," Ransom said, with savage
dryness; and he sat forward, with his elbow on his knees, his eyes on
the ground, a flush in his sallow cheek.

"It's never time to say such things as those," Mrs. Luna remarked,
arranging her laces.

"How do you know what she is saying?"

"I can tell by the way her voice goes up and down. It sounds so silly."

Ransom sat there five minutes longer--minutes which, he felt, the
recording angel ought to write down to his credit--and asked himself how
Mrs. Luna could be such a goose as not to see that she was making him
hate her. But she was goose enough for anything. He tried to appear
indifferent, and it occurred to him to doubt whether the Mississippi
system could be right, after all. It certainly hadn't foreseen such a
case as this. "It's as plain as day that Mr. Burrage intends to marry
her--if he can," he said in a minute; that remark being better
calculated than any other he could think of to dissimulate his real
state of mind.

It drew no rejoinder from his companion, and after an instant he turned
his head a little and glanced at her. The result of something that
silently passed between them was to make her say, abruptly: "Mr. Ransom,
my sister never sent you an invitation to this place. Didn't it come
from Verena Tarrant?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"As you hadn't the least acquaintance with Mrs. Burrage, who else could
it have come from?"

"If it came from Miss Tarrant, I ought at least to recognise her
courtesy by listening to her."

"If you rise from this sofa I will tell Olive what I suspect. She will
be perfectly capable of carrying Verena off to China--or anywhere out of
your reach."

"And pray what is it you suspect?"

"That you two have been in correspondence."

"Tell her whatever you like, Mrs. Luna," said the young man, with the
grimness of resignation.

"You are quite unable to deny it, I see."

"I never contradict a lady."

"We shall see if I can't make you tell a fib. Haven't you been seeing
Miss Tarrant, too?"

"Where should I have seen her? I can't see all the way to Boston, as you
said the other day."

"Haven't you been there--on secret visits?"

Ransom started just perceptibly; but to conceal it, the next instant, he
stood up.

"They wouldn't be secret if I were to tell you."

Looking down at her he saw that her words were a happy hit, not the
result of definite knowledge. But she appeared to him vain, egotistical,
grasping, odious.

"Well, I shall give the alarm," she went on; "that is, I will if you
leave me. Is that the way a Southern gentleman treats a lady? Do as I
wish, and I will let you off!"

"You won't let me off from staying with you."

"Is it such a _corvée_? I never heard of such rudeness!" Mrs. Luna
cried. "All the same, I am determined to keep you if I can!"

Ransom felt that she must be in the wrong, and yet superficially she
seemed (and it was quite intolerable) to have right on her side. All
this while Verena's golden voice, with her words indistinct, solicited,
tantalised his ear. The question had evidently got on Mrs. Luna's
nerves; she had reached that point of feminine embroilment when a woman
is perverse for the sake of perversity, and even with a clear vision of
bad consequences.

"You have lost your head," he relieved himself by saying, as he looked
down at her.

"I wish you would go and get me some tea."

"You say that only to embarrass me." He had hardly spoken when a great
sound of applause, the clapping of many hands, and the cry from fifty
throats of "Brava, brava!" floated in and died away. All Ransom's pulses
throbbed, he flung his scruples to the winds, and after remarking to
Mrs. Luna--still with all due ceremony--that he feared he must resign
himself to forfeiting her good opinion, turned his back upon her and
strode away to the open door of the music-room. "Well, I have never been
so insulted!" he heard her exclaim, with exceeding sharpness, as he left
her; and, glancing back at her, as he took up his position, he saw her
still seated on her sofa--alone in the lamp-lit desert--with her eyes
making, across the empty space, little vindictive points. Well, she
could come where he was, if she wanted him so much; he would support her
on an ottoman, and make it easy for her to see. But Mrs. Luna was
uncompromising; he became aware, after a minute, that she had withdrawn,
majestically, from the place, and he did not see her again that evening.



XXVIII


He could command the music-room very well from where he stood, behind a
thick outer fringe of intently listening men. Verena Tarrant was erect
on her little platform, dressed in white, with flowers in her bosom. The
red cloth beneath her feet looked rich in the light of lamps placed on
high pedestals on either side of the stage; it gave her figure a setting
of colour which made it more pure and salient. She moved freely in her
exposed isolation, yet with great sobriety of gesture; there was no
table in front of her, and she had no notes in her hand, but stood there
like an actress before the footlights, or a singer spinning vocal sounds
to a silver thread. There was such a risk that a slim provincial girl,
pretending to fascinate a couple of hundred _blasé_ New Yorkers by
simply giving them her ideas, would fail of her effect, that at the end
of a few moments Basil Ransom became aware that he was watching her in
very much the same excited way as if she had been performing, high above
his head, on the trapeze. Yet, as one listened, it was impossible not to
perceive that she was in perfect possession of her faculties, her
subject, her audience; and he remembered the other time at Miss
Birdseye's well enough to be able to measure the ground she had
travelled since then. This exhibition was much more complete, her manner
much more assured; she seemed to speak and survey the whole place from a
much greater height. Her voice, too, had developed; he had forgotten how
beautiful it could be when she raised it to its full capacity. Such a
tone as that, so pure and rich, and yet so young, so natural,
constituted in itself a talent; he didn't wonder that they had made a
fuss about her at the Female Convention, if she filled their hideous
hall with such a music. He had read, of old, of the _improvisatrice_ of
Italy, and this was a chastened, modern, American version of the type, a
New England Corinna, with a mission instead of a lyre. The most graceful
part of her was her earnestness, the way her delightful eyes, wandering
over the "fashionable audience" (before which she was so perfectly
unabashed), as if she wished to resolve it into a single sentient
personality, seemed to say that the only thing in life she cared for was
to put the truth into a form that would render conviction irresistible.
She was as simple as she was charming, and there was not a glance or
motion that did not seem part of the pure, still-burning passion that
animated her. She had indeed--it was manifest--reduced the company to
unanimity; their attention was anything but languid; they smiled back at
her when she smiled; they were noiseless, motionless when she was
solemn; and it was evident that the entertainment which Mrs. Burrage had
had the happy thought of offering to her friends would be memorable in
the annals of the Wednesday Club. It was agreeable to Basil Ransom to
think that Verena noticed him in his corner; her eyes played over her
listeners so freely that you couldn't say they rested in one place more
than another; nevertheless, a single rapid ray, which, however, didn't
in the least strike him as a deviation from her ridiculous, fantastic,
delightful argument, let him now that he had been missed and now was
particularly spoken to. This glance was a sufficient assurance that his
invitation had come to him by the girl's request. He took for granted
the matter of her speech was ridiculous; how could it help being, and
what did it signify if it was? She was none the less charming for that,
and the moonshine she had been plied with was none the less moonshine
for her being charming. After he had stood there a quarter of an hour he
became conscious that he should not be able to repeat a word she had
said; he had not definitely heeded it, and yet he had not lost a
vibration of her voice. He had discovered Olive Chancellor by this time;
she was in the front row of chairs, at the end, on the left; her back
was turned to him, but he could see half her sharp profile, bent down a
little and absolutely motionless. Even across the wide interval her
attitude expressed to him a kind of rapturous stillness, the
concentration of triumph. There were several irrepressible effusions of
applause, instantly self-checked, but Olive never looked up, at the
loudest, and such a calmness as that could only be the result of
passionate volition. Success was in the air, and she was tasting it; she
tasted it, as she did everything, in a way of her own. Success for
Verena was success for her, and Ransom was sure that the only thing
wanting to her triumph was that he should have been placed in the line
of her vision, so that she might enjoy his embarrassment and confusion,
might say to him, in one of her dumb, cold flashes--"_Now_ do you think
our movement is not a force--_now_ do you think that women are meant to
be slaves?" Honestly, he was not conscious of any confusion; it
subverted none of his heresies to perceive that Verena Tarrant had even
more power to fix his attention than he had hitherto supposed. It was
fixed in a way it had not been yet, however, by his at last
understanding her speech, feeling it reach his inner sense through the
impediment of mere dazzled vision. Certain phrases took on a meaning for
him--an appeal she was making to those who still resisted the beneficent
influence of the truth. They appeared to be mocking, cynical men,
mainly; many of whom were such triflers and idlers, so heartless and
brainless that it didn't matter much what they thought on any subject;
if the old tyranny needed to be propped up by _them_ it showed it was in
a pretty bad way. But there were others whose prejudice was stronger and
more cultivated, pretended to rest upon study and argument. To those she
wished particularly to address herself; she wanted to waylay them, to
say, "Look here, you're all wrong; you'll be so much happier when I have
convinced you. Just give me five minutes," she should like to say; "just
sit down here and let me ask a simple question. Do you think any state
of society can come to good that is based upon an organised wrong?" That
was the simple question that Verena desired to propound, and Basil
smiled across the room at her with an amused tenderness as he gathered
that she conceived it to be a poser. He didn't think it would frighten
him much if she were to ask him that, and he would sit down with her for
as many minutes as she liked.

He, of course, was one of the systematic scoffers, one of those to whom
she said--"Do you know how you strike me? You strike me as men who are
starving to death while they have a cupboard at home, all full of bread
and meat and wine; or as blind, demented beings who let themselves be
cast into a debtor's prison, while in their pocket they have the key of
vaults and treasure-chests heaped up with gold and silver. The meat and
wine, the gold and silver," Verena went on, "are simply the suppressed
and wasted force, the precious sovereign remedy, of which society
insanely deprives itself--the genius, the intelligence, the inspiration
of women. It is dying, inch by inch, in the midst of old superstitions
which it invokes in vain, and yet it has the elixir of life in its
hands. Let it drink but a draught, and it will bloom once more; it will
be refreshed, radiant; it will find its youth again. The heart, the
heart is cold, and nothing but the touch of woman can warm it, make it
act. We _are_ the Heart of humanity, and let us have the courage to
insist on it! The public life of the world will move in the same barren,
mechanical, vicious circle--the circle of egotism, cruelty, ferocity,
jealousy, greed, of blind striving to do things only for _some_, at the
cost of others, instead of trying to do everything for all. All, all?
Who dares to say 'all' when we are not there? We are an equal, a
splendid, an inestimable part. Try us and you'll see--you will wonder
how, without us, society has ever dragged itself even this distance--so
wretchedly small compared with what it might have been--on its painful
earthly pilgrimage. That is what I should like above all to pour into
the ears of those who still hold out, who stiffen their necks and repeat
hard, empty formulas, which are as dry as a broken gourd that has been
flung away in the desert. I would take them by their selfishness, their
indolence, their interest. I am not here to recriminate, nor to deepen
the gulf that already yawns between the sexes, and I don't accept the
doctrine that they are natural enemies, since my plea is for a union far
more intimate--provided it be equal--than any that the sages and
philosophers of former times have ever dreamed of. Therefore I shall not
touch upon the subject of men's being most easily influenced by
considerations of what is most agreeable and profitable for _them_; I
shall simply assume that they _are_ so influenced, and I shall say to
them that our cause would long ago have been gained if their vision were
not so dim, so veiled, even in matters in which their own interests are
concerned. If they had the same quick sight as women, if they had the
intelligence of the heart, the world would be very different now; and I
assure you that half the bitterness of our lot is to see so clearly and
not to be able to do! Good gentlemen all, if I could make you believe
how much brighter and fairer and sweeter the garden of life would be for
you, if you would only let us help you to keep it in order! You would
like so much better to walk there, and you would find grass and trees
and flowers that would make you think you were in Eden. That is what I
should like to press home to each of you, personally, individually--to
give him the vision of the world as it hangs perpetually before me,
redeemed, transfigured, by a new moral tone. There would be generosity,
tenderness, sympathy, where there is now only brute force and sordid
rivalry. But you really do strike me as stupid even about your own
welfare! Some of you say that we have already all the influence we can
possibly require, and talk as if we ought to be grateful that we are
allowed even to breathe. Pray, who shall judge what we require if not we
ourselves? We require simply freedom; we require the lid to be taken off
the box in which we have been kept for centuries. You say it's a very
comfortable, cozy, convenient box, with nice glass sides, so that we can
see out, and that all that's wanted is to give another quiet turn to the
key. That is very easily answered. Good gentlemen, you have never been
in the box, and you haven't the least idea how it feels!"

The historian who has gathered these documents together does not deem it
necessary to give a larger specimen of Verena's eloquence, especially as
Basil Ransom, through whose ears we are listening to it, arrived, at
this point, at a definite conclusion. He had taken her measure as a
public speaker, judged her importance in the field of discussion, the
cause of reform. Her speech, in itself, had about the value of a pretty
essay, committed to memory and delivered by a bright girl at an
"academy"; it was vague, thin, rambling, a tissue of generalities that
glittered agreeably enough in Mrs. Burrage's veiled lamplight. From any
serious point of view it was neither worth answering nor worth
considering, and Basil Ransom made his reflexions on the crazy character
of the age in which such a performance as that was treated as an
intellectual effort, a contribution to a question. He asked himself what
either he or any one else would think of it if Miss Chancellor--or even
Mrs. Luna--had been on the platform instead of the actual declaimer.
Nevertheless, its importance was high, and consisted precisely, in part,
of the fact that the voice was not the voice of Olive or of Adeline. Its
importance was that Verena was unspeakably attractive, and this was all
the greater for him in the light of the fact, which quietly dawned upon
him as he stood there, that he was falling in love with her. It had
tapped at his heart for recognition, and before he could hesitate or
challenge, the door had sprung open and the mansion was illuminated. He
gave no outward sign; he stood gazing as at a picture; but the room
wavered before his eyes, even Verena's figure danced a little. This did
not make the sequel of her discourse more clear to him; her meaning
faded again into the agreeable vague, and he simply felt her presence,
tasted her voice. Yet the act of reflexion was not suspended; he found
himself rejoicing that she was so weak in argument, so inevitably
verbose. The idea that she was brilliant, that she counted as a factor
only because the public mind was in a muddle, was not an humiliation but
a delight to him; it was a proof that her apostleship was all nonsense,
the most passing of fashions, the veriest of delusions, and that she was
meant for something divinely different--for privacy, for him, for love.
He took no measure of the duration of her talk; he only knew, when it
was over and succeeded by a clapping of hands, an immense buzz of voices
and shuffling of chairs, that it had been capitally bad, and that her
personal success, wrapping it about with a glamour like the silver mist
that surrounds a fountain, was such as to prevent its badness from being
a cause of mortification to her lover. The company--such of it as did
not immediately close together around Verena--filed away into the other
rooms, bore him in its current into the neighbourhood of a table spread
for supper, where he looked for signs of the sumptuary law mentioned to
him by Mrs. Luna. It appeared to be embodied mainly in the glitter of
crystal and silver, and the fresh tints of mysterious viands and
jellies, which looked desirable in the soft circle projected by
lace-fringed lamps. He heard the popping of corks, he felt a pressure of
elbows, a thickening of the crowd, perceived that he was glowered at,
squeezed against the table, by contending gentlemen who observed that he
usurped space, was neither feeding himself nor helping others to feed.
He had lost sight of Verena; she had been borne away in clouds of
compliment; but he found himself thinking--almost paternally--that
she must be hungry after so much chatter, and he hoped some one was
getting her something to eat. After a moment, just as he was edging
away, for his own opportunity to sup much better than usual was
not what was uppermost in his mind, this little vision was suddenly
embodied--embodied by the appearance of Miss Tarrant, who faced him, in
the press, attached to the arm of a young man now recognisable to him as
the son of the house--the smiling, fragrant youth who an hour before had
interrupted his colloquy with Olive. He was leading her to the table,
while people made way for them, covering Verena with gratulations of
word and look. Ransom could see that, according to a phrase which came
back to him just then, oddly, out of some novel or poem he had read of
old, she was the cynosure of every eye. She looked beautiful, and they
were a beautiful couple. As soon as she saw him, she put out her left
hand to him--the other was in Mr. Burrage's arm--and said: "Well, don't
you think it's all true?"

"No, not a word of it!" Ransom answered, with a kind of joyous
sincerity. "But it doesn't make any difference."

"Oh, it makes a great deal of difference to me!" Verena cried.

"I mean to me. I don't care in the least whether I agree with you,"
Ransom said, looking askance at young Mr. Burrage, who had detached
himself and was getting something for Verena to eat.

"Ah, well, if you are so indifferent!"

"It's not because I'm indifferent!" His eyes came back to her own, the
expression of which had changed before they quitted them. She began to
complain to her companion, who brought her something very dainty on a
plate, that Mr. Ransom was "standing out," that he was about the hardest
subject she had encountered yet. Henry Burrage smiled upon Ransom in a
way that was meant to show he remembered having already spoken to him,
while the Mississippian said to himself that there was nothing on the
face of it to make it strange there should be between these fair,
successful young persons some such question of love or marriage as Mrs.
Luna had tattled about. Mr. Burrage was successful, he could see that in
the turn of an eye; not perhaps as having a commanding intellect or a
very strong character, but as being rich, polite, handsome, happy,
amiable, and as wearing a splendid camellia in his buttonhole. And that
_he_, at any rate, thought Verena had succeeded was proved by the
casual, civil tone, and the contented distraction of eye, with which he
exclaimed, "You don't mean to say you were not moved by that! It's my
opinion that Miss Tarrant will carry everything before her." He was so
pleased himself, and so safe in his conviction, that it didn't matter to
him what any one else thought; which was, after all, just Basil Ransom's
own state of mind.

"Oh! I didn't say I wasn't moved," the Mississippian remarked.

"Moved the wrong way!" said Verena. "Never mind; you'll be left behind."

"If I am, you will come back to console me."

"_Back?_ I shall never come back!" the girl replied gaily.

"You'll be the very first!" Ransom went on, feeling himself now, and as
if by a sudden clearing up of his spiritual atmosphere, no longer in the
vein for making the concessions of chivalry, and yet conscious that his
words were an expression of homage.

"Oh, I call that presumptuous!" Mr. Burrage exclaimed, turning away to
get a glass of water for Verena, who had refused to accept champagne,
mentioning that she had never drunk any in her life and that she
associated a kind of iniquity with it. Olive had no wine in her house
(not that Verena gave this explanation) but her father's old madeira and
a little claret; of the former of which liquors Basil Ransom had highly
approved the day he dined with her.

"Does he believe in all those lunacies?" he inquired, knowing perfectly
what to think about the charge of presumption brought by Mr. Burrage.

"Why, he's crazy about our movement," Verena responded. "He's one of my
most gratifying converts."

"And don't you despise him for it?"

"Despise him? Why, you seem to think I swing round pretty often!"

"Well, I have an idea that I shall see you swing round yet," Ransom
remarked, in a tone in which it would have appeared to Henry Burrage,
had he heard these words, that presumption was pushed to fatuity.

On Verena, however, they produced no impression that prevented her from
saying simply, without the least rancour, "Well, if you expect to draw
me back five hundred years, I hope you won't tell Miss Birdseye." And as
Ransom did not seize immediately the reason of her allusion, she went
on, "You know she is convinced it will be just the other way. I went to
see her after you had been at Cambridge--almost immediately."

"Darling old lady--I hope she's well," the young man said.

"Well, she's tremendously interested."

"She's always interested in something, isn't she?"

"Well, this time it's in our relations, yours and mine," Verena replied,
in a tone in which only Verena could say a thing like that. "You ought
to see how she throws herself into them. She is sure it will all work
round for your good."

"All what, Miss Tarrant?" Ransom asked.

"Well, what I told her. She is sure you are going to become one of our
leaders, that you are very gifted for treating great questions and
acting on masses of people, that you will become quite enthusiastic
about our uprising, and that when you go up to the top as one of our
champions it will all have been through me."

Ransom stood there, smiling at her; the dusky glow in his eyes expressed
a softness representing no prevision of such laurels, but which
testified none the less to Verena's influence. "And what you want is
that I shouldn't undeceive her?"

"Well, I don't want you to be hypocritical--if you shouldn't take our
side; but I do think that it would be sweet if the dear old thing could
just cling to her illusion. She won't live so very long, probably; she
told me the other day she was ready for her final rest; so it wouldn't
interfere much with your freedom. She feels quite romantic about
it--your being a Southerner and all, and not naturally in sympathy with
Boston ideas, and your meeting her that way in the street and making
yourself known to her. She won't believe but what I shall move you."

"Don't fear, Miss Tarrant, she shall be satisfied," Ransom said, with a
laugh which he could see she but partially understood. He was prevented
from making his meaning more clear by the return of Mr. Burrage,
bringing not only Verena's glass of water but a smooth-faced, rosy,
smiling old gentleman, who had a velvet waistcoat, and thin white hair,
brushed effectively, and whom he introduced to Verena under a name which
Ransom recognised as that of a rich and venerable citizen, conspicuous
for his public spirit and his large almsgiving. Ransom had lived long
enough in New York to know that a request from this ancient worthy to be
made known to Miss Tarrant would mark her for the approval of the
respectable, stamp her as a success of no vulgar sort; and as he turned
away, a faint, inaudible sigh passed his lips, dictated by the sense
that he himself belonged to a terribly small and obscure minority. He
turned away because, as we know, he had been taught that a gentleman
talking to a lady must always do that when a new gentleman is presented;
though he observed, looking back, after a minute, that young Mr. Burrage
evidently had no intention of abdicating in favour of the eminent
philanthropist. He thought he had better go home; he didn't know what
might happen at such a party as that, nor when the proceedings might be
supposed to terminate; but after considering it a minute he dismissed
the idea that there was a chance of Verena's speaking again. If he was a
little vague about this, however, there was no doubt in his mind as to
the obligation he was under to take leave first of Mrs. Burrage. He
wished he knew where Verena was staying; he wanted to see her alone, not
in a supper-room crowded with millionaires. As he looked about for the
hostess it occurred to him that she would know, and that if he were able
to quench a certain shyness sufficiently to ask her, she would tell him.
Having satisfied himself presently that she was not in the supper-room,
he made his way back to the parlours, where the company now was much
diminished. He looked again into the music-room, tenanted only by
half-a-dozen couples, who were cultivating privacy among the empty
chairs, and here he perceived Mrs. Burrage sitting in conversation with
Olive Chancellor (the latter, apparently, had not moved from her place),
before the deserted scene of Verena's triumph. His search had been so
little for Olive that at the sight of her he faltered a moment; then he
pulled himself together, advancing with a consciousness of the
Mississippi manner. He felt Olive's eyes receiving him; she looked at
him as if it was just the hope that she shouldn't meet him again that
had made her remain where she was. Mrs. Burrage got up, as he bade her
good-night, and Olive followed her example.

"So glad you were able to come. Wonderful creature, isn't she? She can
do anything she wants."

These words from the elder lady Ransom received at first with a reserve
which, as he trusted, suggested extreme respect; and it was a fact that
his silence had a kind of Southern solemnity in it. Then he said, in a
tone equally expressive of great deliberation:

"Yes, madam, I think I never was present at an exhibition, an
entertainment of any kind, which held me more completely under the
charm."

"Delighted you liked it. I didn't know what in the world to have, and
this has proved an inspiration--for me as well as for Miss Tarrant. Miss
Chancellor has been telling me how they have worked together; it's
really quite beautiful. Miss Chancellor is Miss Tarrant's great friend
and colleague. Miss Tarrant assures me that she couldn't do anything
without her." After which explanation, turning to Olive, Mrs. Burrage
murmured: "Let me introduce Mr. ---- introduce Mr. ----"

But she had forgotten poor Ransom's name, forgotten who had asked her
for a card for him; and, perceiving it, he came to her rescue with the
observation that he was a kind of cousin of Miss Olive's, if she didn't
repudiate him, and that he knew what a tremendous partnership existed
between the two young ladies. "When I applauded I was applauding the
firm--that is, you too," he said, smiling, to his kinswoman.

"Your applause? I confess I don't understand it," Olive replied, with
much promptitude.

"Well, to tell the truth, I didn't myself!"

"Oh yes, of course, I know; that's why--that's why----" And this further
speech of Mrs. Burrage's, in reference to the relationship between the
young man and her companion, faded also into vagueness. She had been on
the point of saying it was the reason why he was in her house; but she
had bethought herself in time that this ought to pass as a matter of
course. Basil Ransom could see she was a woman who could carry off an
awkwardness like that, and he considered her with a sense of her
importance. She had a brisk, familiar, slightly impatient way, and if
she had not spoken so fast, and had more of the softness of the Southern
matron, she would have reminded him of a certain type of woman he had
seen of old, before the changes in his own part of the world--the
clever, capable, hospitable proprietress, widowed or unmarried, of a big
plantation carried on by herself. "If you are her cousin, do take Miss
Chancellor to have some supper--instead of going away," she went on,
with her infelicitous readiness.

At this Olive instantly seated herself again.

"I am much obliged to you; I never touch supper. I shall not leave this
room--I like it."

"Then let me send you something--or let Mr. ----, your cousin, remain
with you."

Olive looked at Mrs. Burrage with a strange beseechingness, "I am very
tired, I must rest. These occasions leave me exhausted."

"Ah yes, I can imagine that. Well, then, you shall be quite quiet--I
shall come back to you." And with a smile of farewell for Basil Ransom,
Mrs. Burrage moved away.

Basil lingered a moment, though he saw that Olive wished to get rid of
him. "I won't disturb you further than to ask you a single question," he
said. "Where are you staying? I want to come and see Miss Tarrant. I
don't say I want to come and see you, because I have an idea that it
would give you no pleasure." It had occurred to him that he might obtain
their address from Mrs. Luna--he only knew vaguely it was Tenth Street;
much as he had displeased her she couldn't refuse him that; but suddenly
the greater simplicity and frankness of applying directly to Olive, even
at the risk of appearing to brave her, recommended itself. He couldn't,
of course, call upon Verena without her knowing it, and she might as
well make her protest (since he proposed to pay no heed to it) sooner as
later. He had seen nothing, personally, of their life together, but it
had come over him that what Miss Chancellor most disliked in him (had
she not, on the very threshold of their acquaintance, had a sort of
mystical foreboding of it?) was the possibility that he would interfere.
It was quite on the cards that he might; yet it was decent, all the
same, to ask her rather than any one else. It was better that his
interference should be accompanied with all the forms of chivalry.

Olive took no notice of his remark as to how she herself might be
affected by his visit; but she asked in a moment why he should think it
necessary to call on Miss Tarrant. "You know you are not in sympathy,"
she added, in a tone which contained a really touching element of
entreaty that he would not even pretend to prove he was.

I know not whether Basil was touched, but he said, with every appearance
of a conciliatory purpose--"I wish to thank her for all the interesting
information she has given me this evening."

"If you think it generous to come and scoff at her, of course she has no
defence; you will be glad to know that."

"Dear Miss Chancellor, if you are not a defence--a battery of many
guns!" Ransom exclaimed.

"Well, she at least is not mine!" Olive returned, springing to her feet.
She looked round her as if she were really pressed too hard, panting
like a hunted creature.

"Your defence is your certain immunity from attack. Perhaps if you won't
tell me where you are staying, you will kindly ask Miss Tarrant herself
to do so. Would she send me a word on a card?"

"We are in West Tenth Street," Olive said; and she gave the number. "Of
course you are free to come."

"Of course I am! Why shouldn't I be? But I am greatly obliged to you for
the information. I will ask her to come out, so that you won't see us."
And he turned away, with the sense that it was really insufferable, her
attempt always to give him the air of being in the wrong. If that was
the kind of spirit in which women were going to act when they had more
power!



XXIX


Mrs. Luna was early in the field the next day, and her sister wondered
to what she owed the honour of a visit from her at eleven o'clock in the
morning. She very soon saw, when Adeline asked her whether it had been
she who procured for Basil Ransom an invitation to Mrs. Burrage's.

"Me--why in the world should it have been me?" Olive asked, feeling
something of a pang at the implication that it had not been Adeline, as
she supposed.

"I didn't know--but you took him up so."

"Why, Adeline Luna, when did I ever----?" Miss Chancellor exclaimed,
staring and intensely grave.

"You don't mean to say you have forgotten how you brought him on to see
you, a year and a half ago!"

"I didn't bring him on--I said if he happened to be there."

"Yes, I remember how it was: he did happen, and then you happened to
hate him, and tried to get out of it."

Miss Chancellor saw, I say, why Adeline had come to her at the hour she
knew she was always writing letters, after having given her all the
attention that was necessary the day before; she had come simply to make
herself disagreeable, as Olive knew, of old, the spirit sometimes moved
her irresistibly to do. It seemed to her that Adeline had been
disagreeable enough in not having beguiled Basil Ransom into a marriage,
according to that memorable calculation of probabilities in which she
indulged (with a licence that she scarcely liked definitely to recall)
when the pair made acquaintance under her eyes in Charles Street, and
Mrs. Luna seemed to take to him as much as she herself did little. She
would gladly have accepted him as a brother-in-law, for the harm such a
relation could do one was limited and definite; whereas in his general
capacity of being at large in her life the ability of the young
Mississippian to injure her seemed somehow immense. "I wrote to
him--that time--for a perfectly definite reason," she said. "I thought
mother would have liked us to know him. But it was a mistake."

"How do you know it was a mistake? Mother would have liked him, I
daresay."

"I mean my acting as I did; it was a theory of duty which I allowed to
press me too much. I always do. Duty should be obvious; one shouldn't
hunt round for it."

"Was it very obvious when it brought you on here?" asked Mrs. Luna, who
was distinctly out of humour.

Olive looked for a moment at the toe of her shoe. "I had an idea that
you would have married him by this time," she presently remarked.

"Marry him yourself, my dear! What put such an idea into your head?"

"You wrote to me at first so much about him. You told me he was
tremendously attentive, and that you liked him."

"His state of mind is one thing and mine is another. How can I marry
every man that hangs about me--that dogs my footsteps? I might as well
become a Mormon at once!" Mrs. Luna delivered herself of this argument
with a certain charitable air, as if her sister could not be expected to
understand such a situation by her own light.

Olive waived the discussion, and simply said: "I took for granted _you_
had got him the invitation."

"I, my dear? That would be quite at variance with my attitude of
discouragement."

"Then she simply sent it herself."

"Whom do you mean by 'she'?"

"Mrs. Burrage, of course."

"I thought that you might mean Verena," said Mrs. Luna casually.

"Verena--to him? Why in the world----?" And Olive gave the cold glare
with which her sister was familiar.

"Why in the world not--since she knows him?"

"She had seen him twice in her life before last night, when she met him
for the third time and spoke to him."

"Did she tell you that?"

"She tells me everything."

"Are you very sure?"

"Adeline Luna, what _do_ you mean?" Miss Chancellor murmured.

"Are you very sure that last night was only the third time?" Mrs. Luna
went on.

Olive threw back her head and swept her sister from her bonnet to her
lowest flounce. "You have no right to hint at such a thing as that
unless you know!"

"Oh, I know--I know, at any rate, more than you do!" And then Mrs. Luna,
sitting with her sister, much withdrawn, in one of the windows of the
big, hot, faded parlour of the boarding-house in Tenth Street, where
there was a rug before the chimney representing a Newfoundland dog
saving a child from drowning, and a row of chromo-lithographs on the
walls, imparted to her the impression she had received the evening
before--the impression of Basil Ransom's keen curiosity about Verena
Tarrant. Verena must have asked Mrs. Burrage to send him a card, and
asked it without mentioning the fact to Olive--for wouldn't Olive
certainly have remembered it? It was no use her saying that Mrs. Burrage
might have sent it of her own movement, because she wasn't aware of his
existence, and why should she be? Basil Ransom himself had told her he
didn't know Mrs. Burrage. Mrs. Luna knew whom he knew and whom he
didn't, or at least the sort of people, and they were not the sort that
belonged to the Wednesday Club. That was one reason why she didn't care
about him for any intimate relation--that he didn't seem to have any
taste for making nice friends. Olive would know what _her_ taste was in
this respect, though it wasn't that young woman's own any more than his.
It was positive that the suggestion about the card could only have come
from Verena. At any rate Olive could easily ask, or if she was afraid of
her telling a fib she could ask Mrs. Burrage. It was true Mrs. Burrage
might have been put on her guard by Verena, and would perhaps invent
some other account of the matter; therefore Olive had better just
believe what _she_ believed, that Verena had secured his presence at the
party and had had private reasons for doing so. It is to be feared that
Ransom's remark to Mrs. Luna the night before about her having lost her
head was near to the mark; for if she had not been blinded by her
rancour she would have guessed the horror with which she inspired her
sister when she spoke in that offhand way of Verena's lying and Mrs.
Burrage's lying. Did people lie like that in Mrs. Luna's set? It was
Olive's plan of life not to lie, and attributing a similar disposition
to people she liked, it was impossible for her to believe that Verena
had had the intention of deceiving her. Mrs. Luna, in a calmer hour,
might also have divined that Olive would make her private comments on
the strange story of Basil Ransom's having made up to Verena out of
pique at Adeline's rebuff; for this was the account of the matter that
she now offered to Miss Chancellor. Olive did two things: she listened
intently and eagerly, judging there was distinct danger in the air
(which, however, she had not wanted Mrs. Luna to tell her, having
perceived it for herself the night before); and she saw that poor
Adeline was fabricating fearfully, that the "rebuff" was altogether an
invention. Mr. Ransom was evidently preoccupied with Verena, but he had
not needed Mrs. Luna's cruelty to make him so. So Olive maintained an
attitude of great reserve; she did not take upon herself to announce
that her own version was that Adeline, for reasons absolutely
imperceptible to others, had tried to catch Basil Ransom, had failed in
her attempt, and, furious at seeing Verena preferred to a person of her
importance (Olive remembered the _spretae injuria formae_), now wished
to do both him and the girl an ill turn. This would be accomplished if
she could induce Olive to interfere. Miss Chancellor was conscious of an
abundant readiness to interfere, but it was not because she cared for
Adeline's mortification. I am not sure, even, that she did not think her
_fiasco_ but another illustration of her sister's general uselessness,
and rather despise her for it; being perfectly able at once to hold that
nothing is baser than the effort to entrap a man, and to think it very
ignoble to have to renounce it because you can't. Olive kept these
reflexions to herself, but she went so far as to say to her sister that
she didn't see where the "pique" came in. How could it hurt Adeline that
he should turn his attention to Verena? What was Verena to her?

"Why, Olive Chancellor, how can you ask?" Mrs. Luna boldly responded.
"Isn't Verena everything to you, and aren't you everything to me, and
wouldn't an attempt--a successful one--to take Verena away from you
knock you up fearfully, and shouldn't I suffer, as you know I suffer, by
sympathy?"

I have said that it was Miss Chancellor's plan of life not to lie, but
such a plan was compatible with a kind of consideration for the truth
which led her to shrink from producing it on poor occasions. So she
didn't say, "Dear me, Adeline, what humbug! you know you hate Verena and
would be very glad if she were drowned!" She only said, "Well, I see;
but it's very roundabout." What she did see was that Mrs. Luna was eager
to help her to stop off Basil Ransom from "making head," as the phrase
was; and the fact that her motive was spite, and not tenderness for the
Bostonians, would not make her assistance less welcome if the danger
were real. She herself had a nervous dread, but she had that about
everything; still, Adeline had perhaps seen something, and what in the
world did she mean by her reference to Verena's having had secret
meetings? When pressed on this point, Mrs. Luna could only say that she
didn't pretend to give definite information, and she wasn't a spy
anyway, but that the night before he had positively flaunted in her face
his admiration for the girl, his enthusiasm for her way of standing up
there. Of course he hated her ideas, but he was quite conceited enough
to think she would give them up. Perhaps it was all directed at
_her_--as if she cared! It would depend a good deal on the girl herself;
certainly, if there was any likelihood of Verena's being affected, she
should advise Olive to look out. She knew best what to do; it was only
Adeline's duty to give her the benefit of her own impression, whether
she was thanked for it or not. She only wished to put her on her guard,
and it was just like Olive to receive such information so coldly; she
was the most disappointing woman she knew.

Miss Chancellor's coldness was not diminished by this rebuke; for it had
come over her that, after all, she had never opened herself at that rate
to Adeline, had never let her see the real intensity of her desire to
keep the sort of danger there was now a question of away from Verena,
had given her no warrant for regarding her as her friend's keeper; so
that she was taken aback by the flatness of Mrs. Luna's assumption that
she was ready to enter into a conspiracy to circumvent and frustrate the
girl. Olive put on all her majesty to dispel this impression, and if she
could not help being aware that she made Mrs. Luna still angrier, on the
whole, than at first, she felt that she would much rather disappoint her
than give herself away to her--especially as she was intensely eager to
profit by her warning!



XXX


Mrs. Luna would have been still less satisfied with the manner in which
Olive received her proffered assistance had she known how many
confidences that reticent young woman might have made her in return.
Olive's whole life now was a matter for whispered communications; she
felt this herself, as she sought the privacy of her own apartment after
her interview with her sister. She had for the moment time to think;
Verena having gone out with Mr. Burrage, who had made an appointment the
night before to call for her to drive at that early hour. They had other
engagements in the afternoon--the principal of which was to meet a group
of earnest people at the house of one of the great local promoters.
Olive would whisk Verena off to these appointments directly after lunch;
she flattered herself that she could arrange matters so that there would
not be half an hour in the day during which Basil Ransom, complacently
calling, would find the Bostonians in the house. She had had this well
in mind when, at Mrs. Burrage's, she was driven to give him their
address; and she had had it also in mind that she would ask Verena, as a
special favour, to accompany her back to Boston on the next day but one,
which was the morning of the morrow. There had been considerable talk of
her staying a few days with Mrs. Burrage--staying on after her own
departure; but Verena backed out of it spontaneously, seeing how the
idea worried her friend. Olive had accepted the sacrifice, and their
visit to New York was now cut down, in intention, to four days, one of
which, the moment she perceived whither Basil Ransom was tending, Miss
Chancellor promised herself also to suppress. She had not mentioned that
to Verena yet; she hesitated a little, having a slightly bad conscience
about the concessions she had already obtained from her friend. Verena
made such concessions with a generosity which caused one's heart to ache
for admiration, even while one asked for them; and never once had Olive
known her to demand the smallest credit for any virtue she showed in
this way, or to bargain for an instant about any effort she made to
oblige. She had been delighted with the idea of spending a week under
Mrs. Burrage's roof; she had said, too, that she believed her mother
would die happy (not that there was the least prospect of Mrs. Tarrant's
dying) if she could hear of her having such an experience as that; and
yet, perceiving how solemn Olive looked about it, how she blanched and
brooded at the prospect, she had offered to give it up, with a smile
sweeter, if possible, than any that had ever sat in her eyes. Olive knew
what that meant for her, knew what a power of enjoyment she still had,
in spite of the tension of their common purpose, their vital work, which
had now, as they equally felt, passed into the stage of realisation, of
fruition; and that is why her conscience rather pricked her for
consenting to this further act of renunciation, especially as their
position seemed really so secure, on the part of one who had already
given herself away so sublimely.

Secure as their position might be, Olive called herself a blind idiot
for having, in spite of all her first shrinkings, agreed to bring Verena
to New York. Verena had jumped at the invitation, the very
unexpectedness of which on Mrs. Burrage's part--it was such an odd idea
to have come to a mere worldling--carried a kind of persuasion with it.
Olive's immediate sentiment had been an instinctive general fear; but,
later, she had dismissed that as unworthy; she had decided (and such a
decision was nothing new) that where their mission was concerned they
ought to face everything. Such an opportunity would contribute too much
to Verena's reputation and authority to justify a refusal at the bidding
of apprehensions which were after all only vague. Olive's specific
terrors and dangers had by this time very much blown over; Basil Ransom
had given no sign of life for ages, and Henry Burrage had certainly got
his quietus before they went to Europe. If it had occurred to his mother
that she might convert Verena into the animating principle of a big
soiree, she was at least acting in good faith, for it could be no more
her wish to-day that he should marry Selah Tarrant's daughter than it
was her wish a year before. And then they should do some good to the
benighted, the most benighted, the fashionable benighted; they should
perhaps make them furious--there was always some good in that. Lastly,
Olive was conscious of a personal temptation in the matter; she was not
insensible to the pleasure of appearing in a distinguished New York
circle as a representative woman, an important Bostonian, the prompter,
colleague, associate of one of the most original girls of the time.
Basil Ransom was the person she had least expected to meet at Mrs.
Burrage's; it had been her belief that they might easily spend four days
in a city of more than a million of inhabitants without that
disagreeable accident. But it had occurred; nothing was wanting to make
it seem serious; and, setting her teeth, she shook herself, morally,
hard, for having fallen into the trap of fate. Well, she would scramble
out, with only a scare, probably. Henry Burrage was very attentive, but
somehow she didn't fear him now; and it was only natural he should feel
that he couldn't be polite enough, after they had consented to be
exploited in that worldly way by his mother. The other danger was the
worst; the palpitation of her strange dread, the night of Miss
Birdseye's party, came back to her. Mr. Burrage seemed, indeed, a
protection; she reflected, with relief, that it had been arranged that
after taking Verena to drive in the Park and see the Museum of Art in
the morning, they should in the evening dine with him at Delmonico's (he
was to invite another gentleman), and go afterwards to the German opera.
Olive had kept all this to herself, as I have said; revealing to her
sister neither the vividness of her prevision that Basil Ransom would
look blank when he came down to Tenth Street and learned they had
flitted, nor the eagerness of her desire just to find herself once more
in the Boston train. It had been only this prevision that sustained her
when she gave Mr. Ransom their number.

Verena came to her room shortly before luncheon, to let her know she had
returned; and while they sat there, waiting to stop their ears when the
gong announcing the repast was beaten, at the foot of the stairs, by a
negro in a white jacket, she narrated to her friend her adventures with
Mr. Burrage--expatiated on the beauty of the park, the splendour and
interest of the Museum, the wonder of the young man's acquaintance with
everything it contained, the swiftness of his horses, the softness of
his English cart, the pleasure of rolling at that pace over roads as
firm as marble, the entertainment he promised them for the evening.
Olive listened in serious silence; she saw Verena was quite carried
away; of course she hadn't gone so far with her without knowing that
phase.

"Did Mr. Burrage try to make love to you?" Miss Chancellor inquired at
last, without a smile.

Verena had taken off her hat to arrange her feather, and as she placed
it on her head again, her uplifted arms making a frame for her face, she
said: "Yes, I suppose it was meant for love."

Olive waited for her to tell more, to tell how she had treated him, kept
him in his place, made him feel that that question was over long ago;
but as Verena gave her no further information she did not insist,
conscious as she always was that in such a relation as theirs there
should be a great respect on either side for the liberty of each. She
had never yet infringed on Verena's, and of course she wouldn't begin
now. Moreover, with the request that she meant presently to make of her
she felt that she must be discreet. She wondered whether Henry Burrage
were really going to begin again; whether his mother had only been
acting in his interest in getting them to come on. Certainly, the bright
spot in such a prospect was that if she listened to him she couldn't
listen to Basil Ransom; and he _had_ told Olive herself last night, when
he put them into their carriage, that he hoped to prove to her yet that
he had come round to her gospel. But the old sickness stole upon her
again, the faintness of discouragement, as she asked herself why in the
name of pity Verena should listen to any one at all but Olive
Chancellor. Again it came over her, when she saw the brightness, the
happy look, the girl brought back, as it had done in the earlier months,
that the great trouble was that weak spot of Verena's, that sole
infirmity and subtle flaw, which she had expressed to her very soon
after they began to live together, in saying (she remembered it through
the ineffaceable impression made by her friend's avowal), "I'll tell you
what is the matter with you--you don't dislike men as a class!" Verena
had replied on this occasion, "Well, no, I don't dislike them when they
are pleasant!" As if organised atrociousness could ever be pleasant!
Olive disliked them most when they were least unpleasant. After a
little, at present, she remarked, referring to Henry Burrage: "It is not
right of him, not decent, after your making him feel how, while he was
at Cambridge, he wearied you, tormented you."

"Oh, I didn't show anything," said Verena gaily. "I am learning to
dissimulate," she added in a moment. "I suppose you have to as you go
along. I pretend not to notice."

At this moment the gong sounded for luncheon, and the two young women
covered up their ears, face to face, Verena with her quick smile, Olive
with her pale patience. When they could hear themselves speak, the
latter said abruptly:

"How did Mrs. Burrage come to invite Mr. Ransom to her party? He told
Adeline he had never seen her before."

"Oh, I asked her to send him an invitation--after she had written to me,
to thank me, when it was definitely settled we should come on. She asked
me in her letter if there were any friends of mine in the city to whom I
should like her to send cards, and I mentioned Mr. Ransom."

Verena spoke without a single instant's hesitation, and the only sign of
embarrassment she gave was that she got up from her chair, passing in
this manner a little out of Olive's scrutiny. It was easy for her not to
falter, because she was glad of the chance. She wanted to be very simple
in all her relations with her friend, and of course it was not simple so
soon as she began to keep things back. She could at any rate keep back
as little as possible, and she felt as if she were making up for a
dereliction when she answered Olive's inquiry so promptly.

"You never told me of that," Miss Chancellor remarked, in a low tone.

"I didn't want to. I know you don't like him, and I thought it would
give you pain. Yet I wanted him to be there--I wanted him to hear."

"What does it matter--why should you care about him?"

"Well, because he is so awfully opposed!"

"How do you know that, Verena?"

At this point Verena began to hesitate. It was not, after all, so easy
to keep back only a little; it appeared rather as if one must either
tell everything or hide everything. The former course had already
presented itself to her as unduly harsh; it was because it seemed so
that she had ended by keeping the incident of Basil Ransom's visit to
Monadnoc Place buried in unspoken, in unspeakable, considerations, the
only secret she had in the world--the only thing that was all her own.
She was so glad to say what she could without betraying herself that it
was only after she had spoken that she perceived there was a danger of
Olive's pushing the inquiry to the point where, to defend herself as it
were, she should be obliged to practise a positive deception; and she
was conscious at the same time that the moment her secret was threatened
it became dearer to her. She began to pray silently that Olive might not
push; for it would be odious, it would be impossible, to defend herself
by a lie. Meanwhile, however, she had to answer, and the way she
answered was by exclaiming, much more quickly than the reflexions I note
might have appeared to permit, "Well, if you can't tell from his
appearance! He's the type of the reactionary."

Verena went to the toilet-glass to see that she had put on her hat
properly, and Olive slowly got up, in the manner of a person not in the
least eager for food. "Let him react as he likes--for heaven's sake
don't mind him!" That was Miss Chancellor's rejoinder, and Verena felt
that it didn't say all that was in her mind. She wished she would come
down to luncheon, for she, at least, was honestly hungry. She even
suspected Olive had an idea she was afraid to express, such distress it
would bring with it. "Well, you know, Verena, this isn't our _real_
life--it isn't our work," Olive went on.

"Well, no, it isn't, certainly," said Verena, not pretending at first
that she did not know what Olive meant. In a moment, however, she added,
"Do you refer to this social intercourse with Mr. Burrage?"

"Not to that only." Then Olive asked abruptly, looking at her, "How did
you know his address?"

"His address?"

"Mr. Ransom's--to enable Mrs. Burrage to invite him?"

They stood for a moment interchanging a gaze. "It was in a letter I got
from him."

At these words there came into Olive's face an expression which made her
companion cross over to her directly and take her by the hand. But the
tone was different from what Verena expected, when she said, with cold
surprise: "Oh, you are in correspondence!" It showed an immense effort
of self-control.

"He wrote to me once--I never told you," Verena rejoined, smiling. She
felt that her friend's strange, uneasy eyes searched very far; a little
more and they would go to the very bottom. Well, they might go if they
would; she didn't, after all, care so much about her secret as that. For
the moment, however, Verena did not learn what Olive had discovered,
inasmuch as she only remarked presently that it was really time to go
down. As they descended the staircase she put her arm into Miss
Chancellor's and perceived that she was trembling.

Of course there were plenty of people in New York interested in the
uprising, and Olive had made appointments, in advance, which filled the
whole afternoon. Everybody wanted to meet them, and wanted everybody
else to do so, and Verena saw they could easily have quite a vogue, if
they only chose to stay and work that vein. Very likely, as Olive said,
it wasn't their real life, and people didn't seem to have such a grip of
the movement as they had in Boston; but there was something in the air
that carried one along, and a sense of vastness and variety, of the
infinite possibilities of a great city, which--Verena hardly knew
whether she ought to confess it to herself--might in the end make up for
the want of the Boston earnestness. Certainly, the people seemed very
much alive, and there was no other place where so many cheering reports
could flow in, owing to the number of electric feelers that stretched
away everywhere. The principal centre appeared to be Mrs. Croucher's, on
Fifty-sixth Street, where there was an informal gathering of
sympathisers who didn't seem as if they could forgive her when they
learned that she had been speaking the night before in a circle in which
none of them were acquainted. Certainly, they were very different from
the group she had addressed at Mrs. Burrage's, and Verena heaved a thin,
private sigh, expressive of some helplessness, as she thought what a
big, complicated world it was, and how it evidently contained a little
of everything. There was a general demand that she should repeat her
address in a more congenial atmosphere; to which she replied that Olive
made her engagements for her, and that as the address had been intended
just to lead people on, perhaps she would think Mrs. Croucher's friends
had reached a higher point. She was as cautious as this because she saw
that Olive was now just straining to get out of the city; she didn't
want to say anything that would tie them. When she felt her trembling
that way before luncheon it made her quite sick to realise how much her
friend was wrapped up in her--how terribly she would suffer from the
least deviation. After they had started for their round of engagements
the very first thing Verena spoke of in the carriage (Olive had taken
one, in her liberal way, for the whole time) was the fact that her
correspondence with Mr. Ransom, as her friend had called it, had
consisted on his part of only one letter. It was a very short one, too;
it had come to her a little more than a month before. Olive knew she got
letters from gentlemen; she didn't see why she should attach such
importance to this one. Miss Chancellor was leaning back in the
carriage, very still, very grave, with her head against the cushioned
surface, only turning her eyes towards the girl.

"You attach importance yourself; otherwise you would have told me."

"I knew you wouldn't like it--because you don't like _him_."

"I don't think of him," said Olive; "he's nothing to me." Then she
added, suddenly, "Have you noticed that I am afraid to face what I don't
like?"

Verena could not say that she had, and yet it was not just on Olive's
part to speak as if she were an easy person to tell such a thing to: the
way she lay there, white and weak, like a wounded creature, sufficiently
proved the contrary. "You have such a fearful power of suffering," she
replied in a moment.

To this at first Miss Chancellor made no rejoinder; but after a little
she said, in the same attitude, "Yes, _you_ could make me."

Verena took her hand and held it awhile. "I never will, till I have been
through everything myself."

"_You_ were not made to suffer--you were made to enjoy," Olive said, in
very much the same tone in which she had told her that what was the
matter with her was that she didn't dislike men as a class--a tone which
implied that the contrary would have been much more natural and perhaps
rather higher. Perhaps it would; but Verena was unable to rebut the
charge; she felt this, as she looked out of the window of the carriage
at the bright, amusing city, where the elements seemed so numerous, the
animation so immense, the shops so brilliant, the women so strikingly
dressed, and knew that these things quickened her curiosity, all her
pulses.

"Well, I suppose I mustn't presume on it," she remarked, glancing back
at Olive with her natural sweetness, her uncontradicting grace.

That young lady lifted her hand to her lips--held it there a moment; the
movement seemed to say, "When you are so divinely docile, how can I help
the dread of losing you?" This idea, however, was unspoken, and Olive
Chancellor's uttered words, as the carriage rolled on, were different.

"Verena, I don't understand why he wrote to you."

"He wrote to me because he likes me. Perhaps you'll say you don't
understand why he likes me," the girl continued, laughing. "He liked me
the first time he saw me."

"Oh, that time!" Olive murmured.

"And still more the second."

"Did he tell you that in his letter?" Miss Chancellor inquired.

"Yes, my dear, he told me that. Only he expressed it more gracefully."
Verena was very happy to say that; a written phrase of Basil Ransom's
sufficiently justified her.

"It was my intuition--it was my foreboding!" Olive exclaimed, closing
her eyes.

"I thought you said you didn't dislike him."

"It isn't dislike--it's simple dread. Is that all there is between you?"

"Why, Olive Chancellor, what do you think?" Verena asked, feeling now
distinctly like a coward. Five minutes afterwards she said to Olive that
if it would give her pleasure they would leave New York on the morrow,
without taking a fourth day; and as soon as she had done so she felt
better, especially when she saw how gratefully Olive looked at her for
the concession, how eagerly she rose to the offer in saying, "Well, if
you _do_ feel that it isn't our own life--our very own!" It was with
these words, and others besides, and with an unusually weak, indefinite
kiss, as if she wished to protest that, after all, a single day didn't
matter, and yet accepted the sacrifice and was a little ashamed of
it--it was in this manner that the agreement as to an immediate retreat
was sealed. Verena could not shut her eyes to the fact that for a month
she had been less frank, and if she wished to do penance this
abbreviation of their pleasure in New York, even if it made her almost
completely miss Basil Ransom, was easier than to tell Olive just now
that the letter was _not_ all, that there had been a long visit, a talk,
and a walk besides, which she had been covering up for ever so many
weeks. And of what consequence, anyway, was the missing? Was it such a
pleasure to converse with a gentleman who only wanted to let you
know--and why he should want it so much Verena couldn't guess--that he
thought you quite preposterous? Olive took her from place to place, and
she ended by forgetting everything but the present hour, and the bigness
and variety of New York, and the entertainment of rolling about in a
carriage with silk cushions, and meeting new faces, new expressions of
curiosity and sympathy, assurances that one was watched and followed.
Mingled with this was a bright consciousness, sufficient for the moment,
that one was moreover to dine at Delmonico's and go to the German opera.
There was enough of the epicurean in Verena's composition to make it
easy for her in certain conditions to live only for the hour.



XXXI


When she returned with her companion to the establishment in Tenth
Street she saw two notes lying on the table in the hall; one of which
she perceived to be addressed to Miss Chancellor, the other to herself.
The hand was different, but she recognised both. Olive was behind her on
the steps, talking to the coachman about sending another carriage for
them in half an hour (they had left themselves but just time to dress);
so that she simply possessed herself of her own note and ascended to her
room. As she did so she felt that all the while she had known it would
be there, and was conscious of a kind of treachery, an unfriendly
wilfulness, in not being more prepared for it. If she could roll about
New York the whole afternoon and forget that there might be difficulties
ahead, that didn't alter the fact that there _were_ difficulties, and
that they might even become considerable--might not be settled by her
simply going back to Boston. Half an hour later, as she drove up the
Fifth Avenue with Olive (there seemed to be so much crowded into that
one day), smoothing her light gloves, wishing her fan were a little
nicer, and proving by the answering, familiar brightness with which she
looked out on the lamp-lighted streets that, whatever theory might be
entertained as to the genesis of her talent and her personal nature, the
blood of the lecture-going, night-walking Tarrants did distinctly flow
in her veins; as the pair proceeded, I say, to the celebrated
restaurant, at the door of which Mr. Burrage had promised to be in
vigilant expectancy of their carriage, Verena found a sufficiently gay
and natural tone of voice for remarking to her friend that Mr. Ransom
had called upon her while they were out, and had left a note in which
there were many compliments for Miss Chancellor.

"That's wholly your own affair, my dear," Olive replied, with a
melancholy sigh, gazing down the vista of Fourteenth Street (which they
happened just then to be traversing, with much agitation), toward the
queer barrier of the elevated railway.

It was nothing new to Verena that if the great striving of Olive's life
was for justice she yet sometimes failed to arrive at it in particular
cases; and she reflected that it was rather late for her to say, like
that, that Basil Ransom's letters were only his correspondent's
business. Had not his kinswoman quite made the subject her own during
their drive that afternoon? Verena determined now that her companion
should hear all there was to be heard about the letter; asking herself
whether, if she told her at present more than she cared to know, it
wouldn't make up for her hitherto having told her less. "He brought it
with him, written, in case I should be out. He wants to see me
to-morrow--he says he has ever so much to say to me. He proposes an
hour--says he hopes it won't be inconvenient for me to see him about
eleven in the morning; thinks I may have no other engagement so early as
that. Of course our return to Boston settles it," Verena added, with
serenity.

Miss Chancellor said nothing for a moment; then she replied, "Yes,
unless you invite him to come on with you in the train."

"Why, Olive, how bitter you are!" Verena exclaimed, in genuine surprise.

Olive could not justify her bitterness by saying that her companion had
spoken as if she were disappointed, because Verena had not. So she
simply remarked, "I don't see what he can have to say to you--that would
be worth your hearing."

"Well, of course, it's the other side. He has got it on the brain!" said
Verena, with a laugh which seemed to relegate the whole matter to the
category of the unimportant.

"If we should stay, would you see him--at eleven o'clock?" Olive
inquired.

"Why do you ask that--when I have given it up?"

"Do you consider it such a tremendous sacrifice?"

"No," said Verena good-naturedly; "but I confess I am curious."

"Curious--how do you mean?"

"Well, to hear the other side."

"Oh heaven!" Olive Chancellor murmured, turning her face upon her.

"You must remember I have never heard it." And Verena smiled into her
friend's wan gaze.

"Do you want to hear all the infamy that is in the world?"

"No, it isn't that; but the more he should talk the better chance he
would give me. I guess I can meet him."

"Life is too short. Leave him as he is."

"Well," Verena went on, "there are many I haven't cared to move at all,
whom I might have been more interested in than in him. But to make him
give in just at two or three points--that I should like better than
anything I have done."

"You have no business to enter upon a contest that isn't equal; and it
wouldn't be, with Mr. Ransom."

"The inequality would be that I have right on my side."

"What is that--for a man? For what was their brutality given them, but
to make that up?"

"I don't think he's brutal; I should like to see," said Verena gaily.

Olive's eyes lingered a little on her own; then they turned away,
vaguely, blindly, out of the carriage-window, and Verena made the
reflexion that she looked strangely little like a person who was going
to dine at Delmonico's. How terribly she worried about everything, and
how tragical was her nature; how anxious, suspicious, exposed to subtle
influences! In their long intimacy Verena had come to revere most of her
friend's peculiarities; they were a proof of her depth and devotion, and
were so bound up with what was noble in her that she was rarely provoked
to criticise them separately. But at present, suddenly, Olive's
earnestness began to appear as inharmonious with the scheme of the
universe as if it had been a broken saw; and she was positively glad she
had not told her about Basil Ransom's appearance in Monadnoc Place. If
she worried so about what she knew, how much would she not have worried
about the rest! Verena had by this time made up her mind that her
acquaintance with Mr. Ransom was the most episodical, most superficial,
most unimportant of all possible relations.

Olive Chancellor watched Henry Burrage very closely that evening; she
had a special reason for doing so, and her entertainment, during the
successive hours, was derived much less from the delicate little feast
over which this insinuating proselyte presided, in the brilliant public
room of the establishment, where French waiters flitted about on deep
carpets and parties at neighbouring tables excited curiosity and
conjecture, or even from the magnificent music of _Lohengrin_, than from
a secret process of comparison and verification, which shall presently
be explained to the reader. As some discredit has possibly been thrown
upon her impartiality it is a pleasure to be able to say that on her
return from the opera she took a step dictated by an earnest
consideration of justice--of the promptness with which Verena had told
her of the note left by Basil Ransom in the afternoon. She drew Verena
into her room with her. The girl, on the way back to Tenth Street, had
spoken only of Wagner's music, of the singers, the orchestra, the
immensity of the house, her tremendous pleasure. Olive could see how
fond she might become of New York, where that kind of pleasure was so
much more in the air.

"Well, Mr. Burrage was certainly very kind to us--no one could have been
more thoughtful," Olive said; and she coloured a little at the look with
which Verena greeted this tribute of appreciation from Miss Chancellor
to a single gentleman.

"I am so glad you were struck with that, because I do think we have been
a little rough to him." Verena's _we_ was angelic. "He was particularly
attentive to you, my dear; he has got over me. He looked at you so
sweetly. Dearest Olive, if you marry him----!" And Miss Tarrant, who was
in high spirits, embraced her companion, to check her own silliness.

"He wants you to stay there, all the same. They haven't given _that_
up," Olive remarked, turning to a drawer, out of which she took a
letter.

"Did he tell you that, pray? He said nothing more about it to me."

"When we came in this afternoon I found this note from Mrs. Burrage. You
had better read it." And she presented the document, open, to Verena.

The purpose of it was to say that Mrs. Burrage could really not
reconcile herself to the loss of Verena's visit, on which both she and
her son had counted so much. She was sure they would be able to make it
as interesting to Miss Tarrant as it would be to themselves. She, Mrs.
Burrage, moreover, felt as if she hadn't heard half she wanted about
Miss Tarrant's views, and there were so many more who were present at
the address, who had come to her that afternoon (losing not a minute, as
Miss Chancellor could see) to ask how in the world they too could learn
more--how they could get at the fair speaker and question her about
certain details. She hoped so much, therefore, that even if the young
ladies should be unable to alter their decision about the visit they
might at least see their way to staying over long enough to allow her to
arrange an informal meeting for some of these poor thirsty souls. Might
she not at least talk over the question with Miss Chancellor? She gave
her notice that she would attack her on the subject of the visit too.
Might she not see her on the morrow, and might she ask of her the very
great favour that the interview should be at Mrs. Burrage's own house?
She had something very particular to say to her, as regards which
perfect privacy was a great consideration, and Miss Chancellor would
doubtless recognise that this would be best secured under Mrs. Burrage's
roof. She would therefore send her carriage for Miss Chancellor at any
hour that would be convenient to the latter. She really thought much
good might come from their having a satisfactory talk.

Verena read this epistle with much deliberation; it seemed to her
mysterious, and confirmed the idea she had received the night
before--the idea that she had not got quite a correct impression of this
clever, worldly, curious woman on the occasion of her visit to
Cambridge, when they met her at her son's rooms. As she gave the letter
back to Olive she said, "That's why he didn't seem to believe we are
really leaving to-morrow. He knows she had written that, and he thinks
it will keep us."

"Well, if I were to say it may--should you think me too miserably
changeful?"

Verena stared, with all her candour, and it was so very queer that Olive
should now wish to linger that the sense of it, for the moment, almost
covered the sense of its being pleasant. But that came out after an
instant, and she said, with great honesty, "You needn't drag me away for
consistency's sake. It would be absurd for me to pretend that I don't
like being here."

"I think perhaps I ought to see her." Olive was very thoughtful.

"How lovely it must be to have a secret with Mrs. Burrage!" Verena
exclaimed.

"It won't be a secret from you."

"Dearest, you needn't tell me unless you want," Verena went on, thinking
of her own unimparted knowledge.

"I thought it was our plan to divide everything. It was certainly mine."

"Ah, don't talk about plans!" Verena exclaimed, rather ruefully. "You
see, if we _are_ going to stay to-morrow, how foolish it was to have
any. There is more in her letter than is expressed," she added, as Olive
appeared to be studying in her face the reasons for and against making
this concession to Mrs. Burrage, and that was rather embarrassing.

"I thought it over all the evening--so that if now you will consent we
will stay."

"Darling--what a spirit you have got! All through all those dear little
dishes--all through _Lohengrin_! As I haven't thought it over at all,
you must settle it. You know I am not difficult."

"And would you go and stay with Mrs. Burrage, after all, if she should
say anything to me that seems to make it desirable?"

Verena broke into a laugh. "You know it's not our real life!"

Olive said nothing for a moment; then she replied: "Don't think _I_ can
forget that. If I suggest a deviation, it's only because it sometimes
seems to me that perhaps, after all, almost anything is better than the
form reality _may_ take with us." This was slightly obscure, as well as
very melancholy, and Verena was relieved when her companion remarked, in
a moment, "You must think me strangely inconsequent"; for this gave her
a chance to reply, soothingly:

"Why, you don't suppose I expect you to keep always screwed up! I will
stay a week with Mrs. Burrage, or a fortnight, or a month, or anything
you like," she pursued; "anything it may seem to you best to tell her
after you have seen her."

"Do you leave it all to me? You don't give me much help," Olive said.

"Help to what?"

"Help to help _you_."

"I don't want any help; I am quite strong enough!" Verena cried gaily.
The next moment she inquired, in an appeal half comical, half touching,
"My dear colleague, why do you make me say such conceited things?"

"And if you do stay--just even to-morrow--shall you be--very much of the
time--with Mr. Ransom?"

As Verena for the moment appeared ironically-minded, she might have
found a fresh subject for hilarity in the tremulous, tentative tone in
which Olive made this inquiry. But it had not that effect; it produced
the first manifestation of impatience--the first, literally, and the
first note of reproach--that had occurred in the course of their
remarkable intimacy. The colour rose to Verena's cheek, and her eye for
an instant looked moist.

"I don't know what you always think, Olive, nor why you don't seem able
to trust me. You didn't, from the first, with gentlemen. Perhaps you
were right then--I don't say; but surely it is very different now. I
don't think I ought to be suspected so much. Why have you a manner as if
I had to be watched, as if I wanted to run away with every man that
speaks to me? I should think I had proved how little I care. I thought
you had discovered by this time that I am serious; that I have dedicated
my life; that there is something unspeakably dear to me. But you begin
again, every time--you don't do me justice. I must take everything that
comes. I mustn't be afraid. I thought we had agreed that we were to do
our work in the midst of the world, facing everything, keeping straight
on, always taking hold. And now that it all opens out so magnificently,
and victory is really sitting on our banners, it is strange of you to
doubt of me, to suppose I am not more wedded to all our old dreams than
ever. I told you the first time I saw you that I could renounce, and
knowing better to-day, perhaps, what that means, I am ready to say it
again. That I can, that I will! Why, Olive Chancellor," Verena cried,
panting, a moment, with her eloquence, and with the rush of a
culminating idea, "haven't you discovered by this time that I _have_
renounced?"

The habit of public speaking, the training, the practice, in which she
had been immersed, enabled Verena to unroll a coil of propositions
dedicated even to a private interest with the most touching, most
cumulative effect. Olive was completely aware of this, and she stilled
herself, while the girl uttered one soft, pleading sentence after
another, into the same rapt attention she was in the habit of sending up
from the benches of an auditorium. She looked at Verena fixedly, felt
that she was stirred to her depths, that she was exquisitely passionate
and sincere, that she was a quivering, spotless, consecrated maiden,
that she really had renounced, that they were both safe, and that her
own injustice and indelicacy had been great. She came to her slowly,
took her in her arms and held her long--giving her a silent kiss. From
which Verena knew that she believed her.



XXXII


The hour that Olive proposed to Mrs. Burrage, in a note sent early the
next morning, for the interview to which she consented to lend herself,
was the stroke of noon; this period of the day being chosen in
consequence of a prevision of many subsequent calls upon her time. She
remarked in her note that she did not wish any carriage to be sent for
her, and she surged and swayed up the Fifth Avenue on one of the
convulsive, clattering omnibuses which circulate in that thoroughfare.
One of her reasons for mentioning twelve o'clock had been that she knew
Basil Ransom was to call at Tenth Street at eleven, and (as she supposed
he didn't intend to stay all day) this would give her time to see him
come and go. It had been tacitly agreed between them, the night before,
that Verena was quite firm enough in her faith to submit to his visit,
and that such a course would be much more dignified than dodging it.
This understanding passed from one to the other during that dumb embrace
which I have described as taking place before they separated for the
night. Shortly before noon, Olive, passing out of the house, looked into
the big, sunny double parlour, where, in the morning, with all the
husbands absent for the day and all the wives and spinsters launched
upon the town, a young man desiring to hold a debate with a young lady
might enjoy every advantage in the way of a clear field. Basil Ransom
was still there; he and Verena, with the place to themselves, were
standing in the recess of a window, their backs presented to the door.
If he had got up, perhaps he was going, and Olive, softly closing the
door again, waited a little in the hall, ready to pass into the back
part of the house if she should hear him coming out. No sound, however,
reached her ear; apparently he did mean to stay all day, and she should
find him there on her return. She left the house, knowing they were
looking at her from the window as she descended the steps, but feeling
she could not bear to see Basil Ransom's face. As she walked, averting
her own, towards the Fifth Avenue, on the sunny side, she was barely
conscious of the loveliness of the day, the perfect weather, all
suffused and tinted with spring, which sometimes descends upon New York
when the winds of March have been stilled; she was given up only to the
remembrance of that moment when she herself had stood at a window (the
second time he came to see her in Boston), and watched Basil Ransom pass
out with Adeline--with Adeline who had seemed capable then of getting
such a hold on him but had proved as ineffectual in this respect as she
was in every other. She recalled the vision she had allowed to dance
before her as she saw the pair cross the street together, laughing and
talking, and how it seemed to interpose itself against the fears which
already then--so strangely--haunted her. Now that she saw it so
fruitless--and that Verena, moreover, had turned out really so
great--she was rather ashamed of it; she felt associated, however
remotely, in the reasons which had made Mrs. Luna tell her so many fibs
the day before, and there could be nothing elevating in that. As for the
other reasons why her fidgety sister had failed and Mr. Ransom had held
his own course, naturally Miss Chancellor didn't like to think of them.

If she had wondered what Mrs. Burrage wished so particularly to talk
about, she waited some time for the clearing-up of the mystery. During
this interval she sat in a remarkably pretty boudoir, where there were
flowers and faiences and little French pictures, and watched her hostess
revolve round the subject in circles the vagueness of which she tried to
dissimulate. Olive believed she was a person who never could enjoy
asking a favour, especially of a votary of the new ideas; and that was
evidently what was coming. She had asked one already, but that had been
handsomely paid for; the note from Mrs. Burrage which Verena found
awaiting her in Tenth Street, on her arrival, contained the largest
cheque this young woman had ever received for an address. The request
that hung fire had reference to Verena too, of course; and Olive needed
no prompting to feel that her friend's being a young person who took
money could not make Mrs. Burrage's present effort more agreeable. To
this taking of money (for when it came to Verena it was as if it came to
her as well) she herself was now completely inured; money was a
tremendous force, and when one wanted to assault the wrong with every
engine one was happy not to lack the sinews of war. She liked her
hostess better this morning than she had liked her before; she had more
than ever the air of taking all sorts of sentiments and views for
granted between them; which could only be flattering to Olive so long as
it was really Mrs. Burrage who made each advance, while her visitor sat
watchful and motionless. She had a light, clever, familiar way of
traversing an immense distance with a very few words, as when she
remarked, "Well, then, it is settled that she will come, and will stay
till she is tired."

Nothing of the kind had been settled, but Olive helped Mrs. Burrage
(this time) more than she knew by saying, "Why do you want her to visit
you, Mrs. Burrage? why do you want her socially? Are you not aware that
your son, a year ago, desired to marry her?"

"My dear Miss Chancellor, that is just what I wish to talk to you about.
I am aware of everything; I don't believe you ever met any one who is
aware of more things than I." And Olive had to believe this, as Mrs.
Burrage held up, smiling, her intelligent, proud, good-natured,
successful head. "I knew a year ago that my son was in love with your
friend, I know that he has been so ever since, and that in consequence
he would like to marry her to-day. I daresay you don't like the idea of
her marrying at all; it would break up a friendship which is so full of
interest" (Olive wondered for a moment whether she had been going to say
"so full of profit") "for you. This is why I hesitated; but since you
are willing to talk about it, that is just what I want."

"I don't see what good it will do," Olive said.

"How can we tell till we try? I never give a thing up till I have turned
it over in every sense."

It was Mrs. Burrage, however, who did most of the talking; Olive only
inserted from time to time an inquiry, a protest, a correction, an
ejaculation tinged with irony. None of these things checked or diverted
her hostess; Olive saw more and more that she wished to please her, to
win her over, to smooth matters down, to place them in a new and
original light. She was very clever and (little by little Olive said to
herself) absolutely unscrupulous, but she didn't think she was clever
enough for what she had undertaken. This was neither more nor less, in
the first place, than to persuade Miss Chancellor that she and her son
were consumed with sympathy for the movement to which Miss Chancellor
had dedicated her life. But how could Olive believe that, when she saw
the type to which Mrs. Burrage belonged--a type into which nature
herself had inserted a face turned in the very opposite way from all
earnest and improving things? People like Mrs. Burrage lived and
fattened on abuses, prejudices, privileges, on the petrified, cruel
fashions of the past. It must be added, however, that if her hostess was
a humbug, Olive had never met one who provoked her less; she was such a
brilliant, genial, artistic one, with such a recklessness of perfidy,
such a willingness to bribe you if she couldn't deceive you. She seemed
to be offering Olive all the kingdoms of the earth if she would only
exert herself to bring about a state of feeling on Verena Tarrant's part
which would lead the girl to accept Henry Burrage.

"We know it's you--the whole business; that you can do what you please.
You could decide it to-morrow with a word."

She had hesitated at first, and spoken of her hesitation, and it might
have appeared that she would need all her courage to say to Olive, that
way, face to face, that Verena was in such subjection to her. But she
didn't look afraid; she only looked as if it were an infinite pity Miss
Chancellor couldn't understand what immense advantages and rewards there
would be for her in striking an alliance with the house of Burrage.
Olive was so impressed with this, so occupied, even, in wondering what
these mystic benefits might be, and whether after all there might not be
a protection in them (from something worse), a fund of some sort that
she and Verena might convert to a large use, setting aside the mother
and son when once they had got what they had to give--she was so
arrested with the vague daze of this vision, the sense of Mrs. Burrage's
full hands, her eagerness, her thinking it worth while to flatter and
conciliate, whatever her pretexts and pretensions might be, that she was
almost insensible, for the time, to the strangeness of such a woman's
coming round to a positive desire for a connexion with the Tarrants.
Mrs. Burrage had indeed explained this partly by saying that her son's
condition was wearing her out, and that she would enter into anything
that would make him happier, make him better. She was fonder of him than
of the whole world beside, and it was an anguish to her to see him
yearning for Miss Tarrant only to lose her. She made that charge about
Olive's power in the matter in such a way that it seemed at the same
time a tribute to her force of character.

"I don't know on what terms you suppose me to be with my friend," Olive
returned, with considerable majesty. "She will do exactly as she likes,
in such a case as the one you allude to. She is absolutely free; you
speak as if I were her keeper!"

Then Mrs. Burrage explained that of course she didn't mean that Miss
Chancellor exercised a conscious tyranny; but only that Verena had a
boundless admiration for her, saw through her eyes, took the impress of
all her opinions, preferences. She was sure that if Olive would only
take a favourable view of her son Miss Tarrant would instantly throw
herself into it. "It's very true that you may ask me," added Mrs.
Burrage, smiling, "how you can take a favourable view of a young man who
wants to marry the very person in the world you want most to keep
unmarried!"

This description of Verena was of course perfectly correct; but it was
not agreeable to Olive to have the fact in question so clearly
perceived, even by a person who expressed it with an air intimating that
there was nothing in the world _she_ couldn't understand.

"Did your son know that you were going to speak to me about this?" Olive
asked, rather coldly, waiving the question of her influence on Verena
and the state in which she wished her to remain.

"Oh yes, poor dear boy; we had a long talk yesterday, and I told him I
would do what I could for him. Do you remember the little visit I paid
to Cambridge last spring, when I saw you at his rooms? Then it was I
began to perceive how the wind was setting; but yesterday we had a real
_éclaircissement_. I didn't like it at all, at first; I don't mind
telling you that, now--now that I am really enthusiastic about it. When
a girl is as charming, as original, as Miss Tarrant, it doesn't in the
least matter who she is; she makes herself the standard by which you
measure her; she makes her own position. And then Miss Tarrant has such
a future!" Mrs. Burrage added, quickly, as if that were the last thing
to be overlooked. "The whole question has come up again--the feeling
that Henry tried to think dead, or at least dying, has revived, through
the--I hardly know what to call it, but I really may say the
unexpectedly great effect of her appearance here. She was really
wonderful on Wednesday evening; prejudice, conventionality, every
presumption there might be against her, had to fall to the ground. I
expected a success, but I didn't expect what you gave us," Mrs. Burrage
went on, smiling, while Olive noted her "you." "In short, my poor boy
flamed up again; and now I see that he will never again care for any
girl as he cares for that one. My dear Miss Chancellor, _j'en ai pris
mon parti_, and perhaps you know my way of doing that sort of thing. I
am not at all good at resigning myself, but I am excellent at taking up
a craze. I haven't renounced, I have only changed sides. For or against,
I must be a partisan. Don't you know that kind of nature? Henry has put
the affair into my hands, and you see I put it into yours. Do help me;
let us work together."

This was a long, explicit speech for Mrs. Burrage, who dealt, usually,
in the cursory and allusive; and she may very well have expected that
Miss Chancellor would recognise its importance. What Olive did, in fact,
was simply to inquire, by way of rejoinder: "Why did you ask us to come
on?"

If Mrs. Burrage hesitated now, it was only for twenty seconds. "Simply
because we are so interested in your work."

"That surprises me," said Olive thoughtfully.

"I daresay you don't believe it; but such a judgement is superficial. I
am sure we give proof in the offer we make," Mrs. Burrage remarked, with
a good deal of point. "There are plenty of girls--without any views at
all--who would be delighted to marry my son. He is very clever, and he
has a large fortune. Add to that that he's an angel!"

That was very true, and Olive felt all the more that the attitude of
these fortunate people, for whom the world was so well arranged just as
it was, was very curious. But as she sat there it came over her that the
human spirit has many variations, that the influence of the truth is
great, and that there are such things in life as happy surprises, quite
as well as disagreeable ones. Nothing, certainly, forced such people to
fix their affections on the daughter of a "healer"; it would be very
clumsy to pick her out of her generation only for the purpose of
frustrating her. Moreover, her observation of their young host at
Delmonico's and in the spacious box at the Academy of Music, where they
had privacy and ease, and murmured words could pass without making
neighbours more given up to the stage turn their heads--her
consideration of Henry Burrage's manner, suggested to her that she had
measured him rather scantily the year before, that he was as much in
love as the feebler passions of the age permitted (for though Miss
Chancellor believed in the amelioration of humanity, she thought there
was too much water in the blood of all of us), that he prized Verena for
her rarity, which was her genius, her gift, and would therefore have an
interest in promoting it, and that he was of so soft and fine a paste
that his wife might do what she liked with him. Of course there would be
the mother-in-law to count with; but unless she was perjuring herself
shamelessly Mrs. Burrage really had the wish to project herself into the
new atmosphere, or at least to be generous personally; so that, oddly
enough, the fear that most glanced before Olive was not that this high,
free matron, slightly irritable with cleverness and at the same time
good-natured with prosperity, would bully her son's bride, but rather
that she might take too fond a possession of her. It was a fear which
may be described as a presentiment of jealousy. It occurred,
accordingly, to Miss Chancellor's quick conscience that, possibly, the
proposal which presented itself in circumstances so complicated and
anomalous was simply a magnificent chance, an improvement on the very
best, even, that she had dreamed of for Verena. It meant a large command
of money--much larger than her own; the association of a couple of
clever people who simulated conviction very well, whether they felt it
or not, and who had a hundred useful worldly ramifications, and a kind
of social pedestal from which she might really shine afar. The
conscience I have spoken of grew positively sick as it thought of having
such a problem as that to consider, such an ordeal to traverse. In the
presence of such a contingency the poor girl felt grim and helpless; she
could only vaguely wonder whether she were called upon in the name of
duty to lend a hand to the torture of her own spirit.

"And if she should marry him, how could I be sure that--afterwards--you
would care so much about the question which has all our thoughts, hers
and mine?" This inquiry evolved itself from Olive's rapid meditation;
but even to herself it seemed a little rough.

Mrs. Burrage took it admirably. "You think we are feigning an interest,
only to get hold of her? That's not very nice of you, Miss Chancellor;
but of course you have to be tremendously careful. I assure you my son
tells me he firmly believes your movement is the great question of the
immediate future, that it has entered into a new phase; into what does
he call it? the domain of practical politics. As for me, you don't
suppose I don't want everything we poor women can get, or that I would
refuse any privilege or advantage that's offered me? I don't rant or
rave about anything, but I have--as I told you just now--my own quiet
way of being zealous. If you had no worse partisan than I, you would do
very well. My son has talked to me immensely about your ideas; and even
if I should enter into them only because he does, I should do so quite
enough. You may say you don't see Henry dangling about after a wife who
gives public addresses; but I am convinced that a great many things are
coming to pass--very soon, too--that we don't see in advance. Henry is a
gentleman to his finger-tips, and there is not a situation in which he
will not conduct himself with tact."

Olive could see that they really wanted Verena immensely, and it was
impossible for her to believe that if they were to get her they would
not treat her well. It came to her that they would even overindulge her,
flatter her, spoil her; she was perfectly capable, for the moment, of
assuming that Verena was susceptible of deterioration and that her own
treatment of her had been discriminatingly severe. She had a hundred
protests, objections, replies; her only embarrassment could be as to
which she should use first.

"I think you have never seen Doctor Tarrant and his wife," she remarked,
with a calmness which she felt to be very pregnant.

"You mean they are absolutely fearful? My son has told me they are quite
impossible, and I am quite prepared for that. Do you ask how we should
get on with them? My dear young lady, we should get on as you do!"

If Olive had answers, so had Mrs. Burrage; she had still an answer when
her visitor, taking up the supposition that it was in her power to
dispose in any manner whatsoever of Verena, declared that she didn't
know why Mrs. Burrage addressed herself to _her_, that Miss Tarrant was
free as air, that her future was in her own hands, that such a matter as
this was a kind of thing with which it could never occur to one to
interfere. "Dear Miss Chancellor, we don't ask you to interfere. The
only thing we ask of you is simply _not_ to interfere."

"And have you sent for me only for that?"

"For that, and for what I hinted at in my note; that you would really
exercise your influence with Miss Tarrant to induce her to come to us
now for a week or two. That is really, after all, the main thing I ask.
Lend her to us, here, for a little while, and we will take care of the
rest. That sounds conceited--but she _would_ have a good time."

"She doesn't live for that," said Olive.

"What I mean is that she should deliver an address every night!" Mrs.
Burrage returned, smiling.

"I think you try to prove too much. You do believe--though you pretend
you don't--that I control her actions, and as far as possible her
desires, and that I am jealous of any other relations she may possibly
form. I can imagine that we may perhaps have that air, though it only
proves how little such an association as ours is understood, and how
superficial is still"--Olive felt that her "still" was really
historical--"the interpretation of many of the elements in the activity
of women, how much the public conscience with regard to them needs to be
educated. Your conviction with respect to my attitude being what I
believe it to be," Miss Chancellor went on, "I am surprised at your not
perceiving how little it is in my interest to deliver my--my victim up
to you."

If we were at this moment to take, in a single glance, an inside view of
Mrs. Burrage (a liberty we have not yet ventured on), I suspect we
should find that she was considerably exasperated at her visitor's
superior tone, at seeing herself regarded by this dry, shy, obstinate,
provincial young woman as superficial. If she liked Verena very nearly
as much as she tried to convince Miss Chancellor, she was conscious of
disliking Miss Chancellor more than she should probably ever be able to
reveal to Verena. It was doubtless partly her irritation that found a
voice as she said, after a self-administered pinch of caution not to say
too much, "Of course it would be absurd in us to assume that Miss
Tarrant would find my son irresistible, especially as she has already
refused him. But even if she should remain obdurate, should you consider
yourself quite safe as regards others?"

The manner in which Miss Chancellor rose from her chair on hearing these
words showed her hostess that if she had wished to take a little revenge
by frightening her, the experiment was successful. "What others do you
mean?" Olive asked, standing very straight, and turning down her eyes as
from a great height.

Mrs. Burrage--since we have begun to look into her mind we may continue
the process--had not meant any one in particular; but a train of
association was suddenly kindled in her thought by the flash of the
girl's resentment. She remembered the gentleman who had come up to her
in the music-room, after Miss Tarrant's address, while she was talking
with Olive, and to whom that young lady had given so cold a welcome. "I
don't mean any one in particular; but, for instance, there is the young
man to whom she asked me to send an invitation to my party, and who
looked to me like a possible admirer." Mrs. Burrage also got up; then
she stood a moment, closer to her visitor. "Don't you think it's a good
deal to expect that, young, pretty, attractive, clever, charming as she
is, you should be able to keep her always, to exclude other affections,
to cut off a whole side of life, to defend her against dangers--if you
call them dangers--to which every young woman who is not positively
repulsive is exposed? My dear young lady, I wonder if I might give you
three words of advice?" Mrs. Burrage did not wait till Olive had
answered this inquiry; she went on quickly, with her air of knowing
exactly what she wanted to say and feeling at the same time that, good
as it might be, the manner of saying it, like the manner of saying most
other things, was not worth troubling much about. "Don't attempt the
impossible. You have got hold of a good thing; don't spoil it by trying
to stretch it too far. If you don't take the better, perhaps you will
have to take the worse; if it's safety you want I should think she was
much safer with my son--for with us you know the worst--than as a
possible prey to adventurers, to exploiters, or to people who, once they
had got hold of her, would shut her up altogether."

Olive dropped her eyes; she couldn't endure Mrs. Burrage's horrible
expression of being near the mark, her look of worldly cleverness, of a
confidence born of much experience. She felt that nothing would be
spared her, that she should have to go to the end, that this ordeal also
must be faced, and that, in particular, there was a detestable wisdom in
her hostess's advice. She was conscious, however, of no obligation to
recognise it then and there; she wanted to get off, and even to carry
Mrs. Burrage's sapient words along with her--to hurry to some place
where she might be alone and think. "I don't know why you have thought
it right to send for me only to say this. I take no interest whatever in
your son--in his settling in life." And she gathered her mantle more
closely about her, turning away.

"It is exceedingly kind of you to have come," said Mrs. Burrage
imperturbably. "Think of what I have said; I am sure you won't feel that
you have wasted your hour."

"I have a great many things to think of!" Olive exclaimed insincerely;
for she knew that Mrs. Burrage's ideas would haunt her.

"And tell her that if she will make us the little visit, all New York
shall sit at her feet!"

That was what Olive wanted, and yet it seemed a mockery to hear Mrs.
Burrage say it. Miss Chancellor retreated, making no response even when
her hostess declared again that she was under great obligations to her
for coming. When she reached the street she found she was deeply
agitated, but not with a sense of weakness; she hurried along, excited
and dismayed, feeling that her insufferable conscience was bristling
like some irritated animal, that a magnificent offer had really been
made to Verena, and that there was no way for her to persuade herself
she might be silent about it. Of course, if Verena should be tempted by
the idea of being made so much of by the Burrages, the danger of Basil
Ransom getting any kind of hold on her would cease to be pressing. That
was what was present to Olive as she walked along, and that was what
made her nervous, conscious only of this problem that had suddenly
turned the bright day to greyness, heedless of the sophisticated-looking
people who passed her on the wide Fifth Avenue pavement. It had risen in
her mind the day before, planted first by Mrs. Burrage's note; and then,
as we know, she had vaguely entertained the conception, asking Verena
whether she would make the visit if it were again to be pressed upon
them. It had been pressed, certainly, and the terms of the problem were
now so much sharper that they seemed cruel. What had been in her own
mind was that if Verena should appear to lend herself to the Burrages
Basil Ransom might be discouraged--might think that, shabby and poor,
there was no chance for him as against people with every advantage of
fortune and position. She didn't see him relax his purpose so easily;
she knew she didn't believe he was of that pusillanimous fibre. Still,
it was a chance, and any chance that might help her had been worth
considering. At present she saw it was a question not of Verena's
lending herself, but of a positive gift, or at least of a bargain in
which the terms would be immensely liberal. It would be impossible to
use the Burrages as a shelter on the assumption that they were not
dangerous, for they became dangerous from the moment they set up as
sympathisers, took the ground that what they offered the girl was simply
a boundless opportunity. It came back to Olive, again and again, that
this was, and could only be, fantastic and false; but it was always
possible that Verena might not think it so, might trust them all the
way. When Miss Chancellor had a pair of alternatives to consider, a
question of duty to study, she put a kind of passion into it--felt,
above all, that the matter must be settled that very hour, before
anything in life could go on. It seemed to her at present that she
couldn't re-enter the house in Tenth Street without having decided first
whether she might trust the Burrages or not. By "trust" them, she meant
trust them to fail in winning Verena over, while at the same time they
put Basil Ransom on a false scent. Olive was able to say to herself that
he probably wouldn't have the hardihood to push after her into those
gilded saloons, which, in any event, would be closed to him as soon as
the mother and son should discover what he wanted. She even asked
herself whether Verena would not be still better defended from the young
Southerner in New York, amid complicated hospitalities, than in Boston
with a cousin of the enemy. She continued to walk down the Fifth Avenue,
without noticing the cross-streets, and after a while became conscious
that she was approaching Washington Square. By this time she had also
definitely reasoned it out that Basil Ransom and Henry Burrage could not
both capture Miss Tarrant, that therefore there could not be two
dangers, but only one; that this was a good deal gained, and that it
behoved her to determine which peril had most reality, in order that she
might deal with that one only. She held her way to the Square, which, as
all the world knows, is of great extent and open to the encircling
street. The trees and grass-plats had begun to bud and sprout, the
fountains plashed in the sunshine, the children of the quarter, both the
dingier types from the south side, who played games that required much
chalking of the paved walks, and much sprawling and crouching there,
under the feet of passers, and the little curled and feathered people
who drove their hoops under the eyes of French nursemaids--all the
infant population filled the vernal air with small sounds which had a
crude, tender quality, like the leaves and the thin herbage. Olive
wandered through the place, and ended by sitting down on one of the
continuous benches. It was a long time since she had done anything so
vague, so wasteful. There were a dozen things which, as she was staying
over in New York, she ought to do; but she forgot them, or, if she
thought of them, felt that they were now of no moment. She remained in
her place an hour, brooding, tremulous, turning over and over certain
thoughts. It seemed to her that she was face to face with a crisis of
her destiny, and that she must not shrink from seeing it exactly as it
was. Before she rose to return to Tenth Street she had made up her mind
that there was no menace so great as the menace of Basil Ransom; she had
accepted in thought any arrangement which would deliver her from that.
If the Burrages were to take Verena they would take her from Olive
immeasurably less than he would do; it was from him, from him they would
take her most. She walked back to her boarding-house, and the servant
who admitted her said, in answer to her inquiry as to whether Verena
were at home, that Miss Tarrant had gone out with the gentleman who
called in the morning, and had not yet come in. Olive stood staring; the
clock in the hall marked three.



XXXIII


"Come out with me, Miss Tarrant; come out with me. _Do_ come out with
me." That was what Basil Ransom had been saying to Verena when they
stood where Olive perceived them, in the embrasure of the window. It had
of course taken considerable talk to lead up to this; for the tone, even
more than the words, indicated a large increase of intimacy. Verena was
mindful of this when he spoke; and it frightened her a little, made her
uneasy, which was one of the reasons why she got up from her chair and
went to the window--an inconsequent movement, inasmuch as her wish was
to impress upon him that it was impossible she should comply with his
request. It would have served this end much better for her to sit, very
firmly, in her place. He made her nervous and restless; she was
beginning to perceive that he produced a peculiar effect upon her.
Certainly, she had been out with him at home the very first time he
called upon her; but it seemed to her to make an important difference
that she herself should then have proposed the walk--simply because it
was the easiest thing to do when a person came to see you in Monadnoc
Place.

They had gone out that time because she wanted to, not because he did.
And then it was one thing for her to stroll with him round Cambridge,
where she knew every step and had the confidence and freedom which came
from being on her own ground, and the pretext, which was perfectly
natural, of wanting to show him the colleges, and quite another thing to
go wandering with him through the streets of this great strange city,
which, attractive, delightful as it was, had not the suitableness even
of being his home, not his real one. He wanted to show her something, he
wanted to show her everything; but she was not sure now--after an hour's
talk--that she particularly wanted to see anything more that he could
show her. He had shown her a great deal while he sat there, especially
what balderdash he thought it--the whole idea of women's being equal to
men. He seemed to have come only for that, for he was all the while
revolving round it; she couldn't speak of anything but what he brought
it back to the question of some new truth like that. He didn't say so in
so many words; on the contrary, he was tremendously insinuating and
satirical, and pretended to think she had proved all and a great deal
more than she wanted to prove; but his exaggeration, and the way he rung
all the changes on two or three of the points she had made at Mrs.
Burrage's, were just the sign that he was a scoffer of scoffers. He
wouldn't do anything but laugh; he seemed to think that he might laugh
at her all day without her taking offence. Well, he might if it amused
him; but she didn't see why she should ramble round New York with him to
give him his opportunity.

She had told him, and she had told Olive, that she was determined to
produce some effect on him; but now, suddenly, she felt differently
about that--she ceased to care whether she produced any effect or not.
She didn't see why she should take him so seriously, when he wouldn't
take her so; that is, wouldn't take her ideas. She had guessed before
that he didn't want to discuss them; this had been in her mind when she
said to him at Cambridge that his interest in her was personal, not
controversial. Then she had simply meant that, as an inquiring young
Southerner, he had wanted to see what a bright New England girl was
like; but since then it had become a little more clear to her--her short
talk with Ransom at Mrs. Burrage's threw some light upon the
question--what the personal interest of a young Southerner (however
inquiring merely) might amount to. Did he too want to make love to her?
This idea made Verena rather impatient, weary in advance. The thing she
desired least in the world was to be put into the wrong with Olive; for
she had certainly given her ground to believe (not only in their scene
the night before, which was a simple repetition, but all along, from the
very first) that she really had an interest which would transcend any
attraction coming from such a source as that. If yesterday it seemed to
her that she should like to struggle with Mr. Ransom, to refute and
convince him, she had this morning gone into the parlour to receive him
with the idea that, now they were alone together in a quiet, favourable
place, he would perhaps take up the different points of her address one
by one, as several gentlemen had done after hearing her on other
occasions. There was nothing she liked so well as that, and Olive never
had anything to say against it. But he hadn't taken up anything; he had
simply laughed and chaffed, and unrolled a string of queer fancies about
the delightful way women would fix things when, as she said in her
address, they should get out of their box. He kept talking about the
box; he seemed as if he wouldn't let go that simile. He said that he had
come to look at her through the glass sides, and if he wasn't afraid of
hurting her he would smash them in. He was determined to find the key
that would open it, if he had to look for it all over the world; it was
tantalising only to be able to talk to her through the keyhole. If he
didn't want to take up the subject, he at least wanted to take _her_
up--to keep his hand upon her as long as he could. Verena had had no
such sensation since the first day she went in to see Olive Chancellor,
when she felt herself plucked from the earth and borne aloft.

"It's the most lovely day, and I should like so much to show you New
York, as you showed me your beautiful Harvard," Basil Ransom went on,
pressing her to accede to his proposal. "You said that was the only
thing you could do for me then, and so this is the only thing I can do
for you here. It would be odious to see you go away, giving me nothing
but this stiff little talk in a boarding-house parlour."

"Mercy, if you call this stiff!" Verena exclaimed, laughing, while at
that moment Olive passed out of the house and descended the steps before
her eyes.

"My poor cousin's stiff; she won't turn her head a hair's breadth to
look at us," said the young man. Olive's figure, as she went by, was,
for Verena, full of a queer, touching, tragic expression, saying ever so
many things, both familiar and strange; and Basil Ransom's companion
privately remarked how little men knew about women, or indeed about what
was really delicate, that he, without any cruel intention, should attach
an idea of ridicule to such an incarnation of the pathetic, should speak
rough, derisive words about it. Ransom, in truth, to-day, was not
disposed to be very scrupulous, and he only wanted to get rid of Olive
Chancellor, whose image, at last, decidedly bothered and bored him. He
was glad to see her go out; but that was not sufficient, she would come
back quick enough; the place itself contained her, expressed her. For
to-day he wanted to take possession of Verena, to carry her to a
distance, to reproduce a little the happy conditions they had enjoyed
the day of his visit to Cambridge. And the fact that in the nature of
things it could only be for to-day made his desire more keen, more full
of purpose. He had thought over the whole question in the last
forty-eight hours, and it was his belief that he saw things in their
absolute reality. He took a greater interest in her than he had taken in
any one yet, but he proposed, after to-day, not to let that accident
make any difference. This was precisely what gave its high value to the
present limited occasion. He was too shamefully poor, too shabbily and
meagrely equipped, to have the right to talk of marriage to a girl in
Verena's very peculiar position. He understood now how good that
position was, from a worldly point of view; her address at Mrs.
Burrage's gave him something definite to go upon, showed him what she
could do, that people would flock in thousands to an exhibition so
charming (and small blame to them); that she might easily have a big
career, like that of a distinguished actress or singer, and that she
would make money in quantities only slightly smaller than performers of
that kind. Who wouldn't pay half a dollar for such an hour as he had
passed at Mrs. Burrage's? The sort of thing she was able to do, to say,
was an article for which there was more and more demand--fluent, pretty,
third-rate palaver, conscious or unconscious perfected humbug; the
stupid, gregarious, gullible public, the enlightened democracy of his
native land, could swallow unlimited draughts of it. He was sure she
could go, like that, for several years, with her portrait in the
druggists' windows and her posters on the fences, and during that time
would make a fortune sufficient to keep her in affluence for evermore. I
shall perhaps expose our young man to the contempt of superior minds if
I say that all this seemed to him an insuperable impediment to his
making up to Verena. His scruples were doubtless begotten of a false
pride, a sentiment in which there was a thread of moral tinsel, as there
was in the Southern idea of chivalry; but he felt ashamed of his own
poverty, the positive flatness of his situation, when he thought of the
gilded nimbus that surrounded the protégée of Mrs. Burrage. This shame
was possible to him even while he was conscious of what a mean business
it was to practise upon human imbecility, how much better it was even to
be seedy and obscure, discouraged about one's self. He had been born to
the prospect of a fortune, and in spite of the years of misery that
followed the war had never rid himself of the belief that a gentleman
who desired to unite himself to a charming girl couldn't yet ask her to
come and live with him in sordid conditions. On the other hand it was no
possible basis of matrimony that Verena should continue for his
advantage the exercise of her remunerative profession; if he should
become her husband he should know a way to strike her dumb. In the midst
of this an irrepressible desire urged him on to taste, for once, deeply,
all that he was condemned to lose, or at any rate forbidden to attempt
to gain. To spend a day with her and not to see her again--that
presented itself to him at once as the least and the most that was
possible. He did not need even to remind himself that young Mr. Burrage
was able to offer her everything _he_ lacked, including the most amiable
adhesion to her views.

"It will be charming in the Park to-day. Why not take a stroll with me
there as I did with you in the little park at Harvard?" he asked, when
Olive had disappeared.

"Oh, I have seen it, very well, in every corner. A friend of mine kindly
took me to drive there yesterday," Verena said.

"A friend?--do you mean Mr. Burrage?" And Ransom stood looking at her
with his extraordinary eyes. "Of course, I haven't a vehicle to drive
you in; but we can sit on a bench and talk." She didn't say it was Mr.
Burrage, but she was unable to say it was not, and something in her face
showed him that he had guessed. So he went on: "Is it only with him you
can go out? Won't he like it, and may you only do what he likes? Mrs.
Luna told me he wants to marry you, and I saw at his mother's how he
stuck to you. If you are going to marry him, you can drive with him
every day in the year, and that's just a reason for your giving me an
hour or two now, before it becomes impossible." He didn't mind much what
he said--it had been his plan not to mind much to-day--and so long as he
made her do what he wanted he didn't care much how he did it. But he saw
that his words brought the colour to her face; she stared, surprised at
his freedom and familiarity. He went on, dropping the hardness, the
irony of which he was conscious, out of his tone. "I know it's no
business of mine whom you marry, or even whom you drive with, and I beg
your pardon if I seem indiscreet and obtrusive; but I would give
anything just to detach you a little from your ties, your belongings,
and feel for an hour or two, as if--as if----" And he paused.

"As if what?" she asked, very seriously.

"As if there were no such person as Mr. Burrage--as Miss Chancellor--in
the whole place." This had not been what he was going to say; he used
different words.

"I don't know what you mean, why you speak of other persons. I can do as
I like, perfectly. But I don't know why you should take so for granted
that _that_ would be it!" Verena spoke these words not out of coquetry,
or to make him beg her more for a favour, but because she was thinking,
and she wanted to gain a moment. His allusion to Henry Burrage touched
her, his belief that she had been in the Park under circumstances more
agreeable than those he proposed. They were not; somehow, she wanted him
to know that. To wander there with a companion, slowly stopping,
lounging, looking at the animals as she had seen the people do the day
before; to sit down in some out-of-the-way part where there were distant
views, which she had noticed from her high perch beside Henry
Burrage--she had to look down so, it made her feel unduly fine: that was
much more to her taste, much more her idea of true enjoyment. It came
over her that Mr. Ransom had given up his work to come to her at such an
hour; people of his kind, in the morning, were always getting their
living, and it was only for Mr. Burrage that it didn't matter, inasmuch
as he had no profession. Mr. Ransom simply wanted to give up his whole
day. That pressed upon her; she was, as the most good-natured girl in
the world, too entirely tender not to feel any sacrifice that was made
for her; she had always done everything that people asked. Then, if
Olive should make that strange arrangement for her to go to Mrs.
Burrage's he would take it as a proof that there was something serious
between her and the gentleman of the house, in spite of anything she
might say to the contrary; moreover, if she should go she wouldn't be
able to receive Mr. Ransom there. Olive would trust her not to, and she
must certainly, in future, not disappoint Olive nor keep anything back
from her, whatever she might have done in the past. Besides, she didn't
want to do that; she thought it much better not. It was this idea of the
episode which was possibly in store for her in New York, and from which
her present companion would be so completely excluded, that worked upon
her now with a rapid transition, urging her to grant him what he asked,
so that in advance she should have made up for what she might not do for
him later. But most of all she disliked his thinking she was engaged to
some one. She didn't know, it is true, why she should mind it; and
indeed, at this moment, our young lady's feelings were not in any way
clear to her. She did not see what was the use of letting her
acquaintance with Mr. Ransom become much closer (since his interest did
really seem personal); and yet she presently asked him why he wanted her
to go out with him, and whether there was anything particular he wanted
to say to her (there was no one like Verena for making speeches
apparently flirtatious, with the best faith and the most innocent
intention in the world); as if that would not be precisely a reason to
make it well she should get rid of him altogether.

"Of course I have something particular to say to you--I have a
tremendous lot to say to you!" the young man exclaimed. "Far more than I
can say in this stuck-up, confined room, which is public, too, so that
any one may come in from one moment to another. Besides," he added
sophistically, "it isn't proper for me to pay a visit of three hours."

Verena did not take up the sophistry, nor ask him whether it would be
more proper for her to ramble about the city with him for an equal
period; she only said, "Is it something that I shall care to hear, or
that will do me any good?"

"Well, I hope it will do you good; but I don't suppose you will care
much to hear it." Basil Ransom hesitated a moment, smiling at her; then
he went on: "It's to tell you, once for all, how much I really do differ
from you!" He said this at a venture, but it was a happy inspiration.

If it was only that, Verena thought she might go, for that was not
personal. "Well, I'm glad you care so much," she answered musingly. But
she had another scruple still, and she expressed it in saying that she
should like Olive very much to find her when she came in.

"That's all very well," Ransom returned; "but does she think that she
only has a right to go out? Does she expect you to keep the house
because she's abroad? If she stays out long enough, she will find you
when she comes in."

"Her going out that way--it proves that she trusts me," Verena said,
with a candour which alarmed her as soon as she had spoken.

Her alarm was just, for Basil Ransom instantly caught up her words, with
a great mocking amazement. "Trusts you? and why shouldn't she trust you?
Are you a little girl of ten and she your governess? Haven't you any
liberty at all, and is she always watching you and holding you to an
account? Have you such vagabond instincts that you are only thought safe
when you are between four walls?" Ransom was going on to speak, in the
same tone, of her having felt it necessary to keep Olive in ignorance of
his visit to Cambridge--a fact they had touched on, by implication, in
their short talk at Mrs. Burrage's; but in a moment he saw that he had
said enough. As for Verena, she had said more than she meant, and the
simplest way to unsay it was to go and get her bonnet and jacket and let
him take her where he liked. Five minutes later he was walking up and
down the parlour, waiting while she prepared herself to go out.

They went up to the Central Park by the elevated railway, and Verena
reflected, as they proceeded, that anyway Olive was probably disposing
of her somehow at Mrs. Burrage's, and that therefore there wasn't much
harm in her just taking this little run on her own responsibility,
especially as she should only be out an hour--which would be just the
duration of Olive's absence. The beauty of the "elevated" was that it
took you up to the Park and brought you back in a few minutes, and you
had all the rest of the hour to walk about and see the place. It was so
pleasant now that one was glad to see it twice over. The long, narrow
enclosure, across which the houses in the streets that border it look at
each other with their glittering windows, bristled with the raw delicacy
of April, and, in spite of its rockwork grottoes and tunnels, its
pavilions and statues, its too numerous paths and pavements, lakes too
big for the landscape and bridges too big for the lakes, expressed all
the fragrance and freshness of the most charming moment of the year.
Once Verena was fairly launched the spirit of the day took possession of
her; she was glad to have come, she forgot about Olive, enjoyed the
sense of wandering in the great city with a remarkable young man who
would take beautiful care of her, while no one else in the world knew
where she was. It was very different from her drive yesterday with Mr.
Burrage, but it was more free, more intense, more full of amusing
incident and opportunity. She could stop and look at everything now, and
indulge all her curiosities, even the most childish; she could feel as
if she were out for the day, though she was not really--as she had not
done since she was a little girl, when in the country, once or twice,
when her father and mother had drifted into summer quarters, gone out of
town like people of fashion, she had, with a chance companion, strayed
far from home, spent hours in the woods and fields, looking for
raspberries and playing she was a gipsy. Basil Ransom had begun with
proposing, strenuously, that she should come somewhere and have
luncheon; he had brought her out half an hour before that meal was
served in West Tenth Street, and he maintained that he owed her the
compensation of seeing that she was properly fed; he knew a very quiet,
luxurious French restaurant, near the top of the Fifth Avenue: he didn't
tell her that he knew it through having once lunched there in company
with Mrs. Luna. Verena for the present declined his hospitality--said
she was going to be out so short a time that it wasn't worth the
trouble; she should not be hungry, luncheon to her was nothing, she
would eat when she went home. When he pressed her she said she would see
later, perhaps, if she should find she wanted something. She would have
liked immensely to go with him to an eating-house, and yet, with this,
she was afraid, just as she was rather afraid, at bottom, and in the
intervals of her quick pulsations of amusement, of the whole expedition,
not knowing why she had come, though it made her happy, and reflecting
that there was really nothing Mr. Ransom could have to say to her that
would concern her closely enough. He knew what he intended about her
sharing the noon-day repast with him somehow; it had been part of his
plan that she should sit opposite him at a little table, taking her
napkin out of its curious folds--sit there smiling back at him while he
said to her certain things that hummed, like memories of tunes, in his
fancy, and they waited till something extremely good, and a little
vague, chosen out of a French _carte_, was brought them. That was not at
all compatible with her going home at the end of half an hour, as she
seemed to expect to. They visited the animals in the little zoological
garden which forms one of the attractions of the Central Park; they
observed the swans in the ornamental water, and they even considered the
question of taking a boat for half an hour, Ransom saying that they
needed this to make their visit complete. Verena replied that she didn't
see why it should be complete, and after having threaded the devious
ways of the Ramble, lost themselves in the Maze, and admired all the
statues and busts of great men with which the grounds are decorated,
they contented themselves with resting on a sequestered bench, where,
however, there was a pretty glimpse of the distance and an occasional
stroller creaked by on the asphalt walk.

They had had by this time a great deal of talk, none of which,
nevertheless, had been serious to Verena's view. Mr. Ransom continued to
joke about everything, including the emancipation of women; Verena, who
had always lived with people who took the world very earnestly, had
never encountered such a power of disparagement or heard so much sarcasm
levelled at the institutions of her country and the tendencies of the
age. At first she replied to him, contradicted, showed a high spirit of
retort, turning his irreverence against himself; she was too quick and
ingenious not to be able to think of something to oppose--talking in a
fanciful strain--to almost everything he said. But little by little she
grew weary and rather sad; brought up, as she had been, to admire new
ideas, to criticise the social arrangements that one met almost
everywhere, and to disapprove of a great many things, she had yet never
dreamed of such a wholesale arraignment as Mr. Ransom's, so much
bitterness as she saw lurking beneath his exaggerations, his
misrepresentations. She knew he was an intense conservative, but she
didn't know that being a conservative could make a person so aggressive
and unmerciful. She thought conservatives were only smug and stubborn
and self-complacent, satisfied with what actually existed; but Mr.
Ransom didn't seem any more satisfied with what existed than with what
she wanted to exist, and he was ready to say worse things about some of
those whom she would have supposed to be on his own side than she
thought it right to say about almost any one. She ceased after a while
to care to argue with him, and wondered what could have happened to him
to make him so perverse. Probably something had gone wrong in his
life--he had had some misfortune that coloured his whole view of the
world. He was a cynic; she had often heard about that state of mind,
though she had never encountered it, for all the people she had seen
only cared, if possible, too much. Of Basil Ransom's personal history
she knew only what Olive had told her, and that was but a general
outline, which left plenty of room for private dramas, secret
disappointments and sufferings. As she sat there beside him she thought
of some of these things, asked herself whether they were what he was
thinking of when he said, for instance, that he was sick of all the
modern cant about freedom and had no sympathy with those who wanted an
extension of it. What was needed for the good of the world was that
people should make a better use of the liberty they possessed. Such
declarations as this took Verena's breath away; she didn't suppose you
could hear any one say such a thing as that in the nineteenth century,
even the least advanced. It was of a piece with his denouncing the
spread of education; he thought the spread of education a gigantic
farce--people stuffing their heads with a lot of empty catchwords that
prevented them from doing their work quietly and honestly. You had a
right to an education only if you had an intelligence, and if you looked
at the matter with any desire to see things as they are you soon
perceived that an intelligence was a very rare luxury, the attribute of
one person in a hundred. He seemed to take a pretty low view of
humanity, anyway. Verena hoped that something really bad had happened to
him--not by way of gratifying any resentment he aroused in her nature,
but to help herself to forgive him for so much contempt and brutality.
She wanted to forgive him, for after they had sat on their bench half an
hour and his jesting mood had abated a little, so that he talked with
more consideration (as it seemed) and more sincerity, a strange feeling
came over her, a perfect willingness not to keep insisting on her own
side and a desire not to part from him with a mere accentuation of their
differences. Strange I call the nature of her reflexions, for they
softly battled with each other as she listened, in the warm, still air,
touched with the far-away hum of the immense city, to his deep, sweet,
distinct voice, expressing monstrous opinions with exotic cadences and
mild, familiar laughs, which, as he leaned towards her, almost tickled
her cheek and ear. It seemed to her strangely harsh, almost cruel, to
have brought her out only to say to her things which, after all, free as
she was to contradict them and tolerant as she always tried to be, could
only give her pain; yet there was a spell upon her as she listened; it
was in her nature to be easily submissive, to like being overborne. She
could be silent when people insisted, and silent without acrimony. Her
whole relation to Olive was a kind of tacit, tender assent to passionate
insistence, and if this had ended by being easy and agreeable to her
(and indeed had never been anything else), it may be supposed that the
struggle of yielding to a will which she felt to be stronger even than
Olive's was not of long duration. Ransom's will had the effect of making
her linger even while she knew the afternoon was going on, that Olive
would have come back and found her still absent, and would have been
submerged again in the bitter waves of anxiety. She saw her, in fact, as
she must be at that moment, posted at the window of her room in Tenth
Street, watching for some sign of her return, listening for her step on
the staircase, her voice in the hall. Verena looked at this image as at
a painted picture, perceived all it represented, every detail. If it
didn't move her more, make her start to her feet, dart away from Basil
Ransom and hurry back to her friend, this was because the very torment
to which she was conscious of subjecting that friend made her say to
herself that it must be the very last. This was the last time she could
ever sit by Mr. Ransom and hear him express himself in a manner that
interfered so with her life; the ordeal had been so personal and so
complete that she forgot, for the moment, it was also the first time it
had occurred. It might have been going on for months. She was perfectly
aware that it could bring them to nothing, for one must lead one's own
life; it was impossible to lead the life of another, especially when
that other was so different, so arbitrary and unscrupulous.



XXXIV


"I presume you are the only person in this country who feels as you do,"
she observed at last.

"Not the only person who feels so, but very possibly the only person who
thinks so. I have an idea that my convictions exist in a vague,
unformulated state in the minds of a great many of my fellow-citizens.
If I should succeed some day in giving them adequate expression I should
simply put into shape the slumbering instincts of an important
minority."

"I am glad you admit it's a minority!" Verena exclaimed. "That's
fortunate for us poor creatures. And what do you call adequate
expression? I presume you would like to be President of the United
States?"

"And breathe forth my views in glowing messages to a palpitating Senate?
That is exactly what I should like to be; you read my aspirations
wonderfully well."

"Well, do you consider that you have advanced far in that direction, as
yet?" Verena asked.

This question, with the tone in which it happened to be uttered, seemed
to the young man to project rather an ironical light upon his present
beggarly condition, so that for a moment he said nothing; a moment
during which if his neighbour had glanced round at his face she would
have seen it ornamented by an incipient blush. Her words had for him the
effect of a sudden, though, on the part of a young woman who had of
course every right to defend herself, a perfectly legitimate taunt. They
appeared only to repeat in another form (so at least his exaggerated
Southern pride, his hot sensibility, interpreted the matter) the idea
that a gentleman so dreadfully backward in the path of fortune had no
right to take up the time of a brilliant, successful girl, even for the
purpose of satisfying himself that he renounced her. But the reminder
only sharpened his wish to make her feel that if he had renounced, it
was simply on account of that same ugly, accidental, outside
backwardness; and if he had not, he went so far as to flatter himself,
he might triumph over the whole accumulation of her prejudices--over all
the bribes of her notoriety. The deepest feeling in Ransom's bosom in
relation to her was the conviction that she was made for love, as he had
said to himself while he listened to her at Mrs. Burrage's. She was
profoundly unconscious of it, and another ideal, crude and thin and
artificial, had interposed itself; but in the presence of a man she
should really care for, this false, flimsy structure would rattle to her
feet, and the emancipation of Olive Chancellor's sex (what sex was it,
great heaven? he used profanely to ask himself) would be relegated to
the land of vapours, of dead phrases. The reader may imagine whether
such an impression as this made it any more agreeable to Basil to have
to believe it would be indelicate in him to try to woo her. He would
have resented immensely the imputation that he had done anything of that
sort yet. "Ah, Miss Tarrant, my success in life is one thing--my
ambition is another!" he exclaimed presently, in answer to her inquiry.
"Nothing is more possible than that I may be poor and unheard of all my
days; and in that case no one but myself will know the visions of
greatness I have stifled and buried."

"Why do you talk of being poor and unheard of? Aren't you getting on
quite well in this city?"

This question of Verena's left him no time, or at least no coolness, to
remember that to Mrs. Luna and to Olive he had put a fine face on his
prospects, and that any impression the girl might have about them was
but the natural echo of what these ladies believed. It had to his ear
such a subtly mocking, defiant, unconsciously injurious quality, that
the only answer he could make to it seemed to him for the moment to be
an outstretched arm, which, passing round her waist, should draw her so
close to him as to enable him to give her a concise account of his
situation in the form of a deliberate kiss. If the moment I speak of had
lasted a few seconds longer I know not what monstrous proceeding of this
kind it would have been my difficult duty to describe; it was
fortunately arrested by the arrival of a nursery-maid pushing a
perambulator and accompanied by an infant who toddled in her wake. Both
the nurse and her companion gazed fixedly, and it seemed to Ransom even
sternly, at the striking couple on the bench; and meanwhile Verena,
looking with a quickened eye at the children (she adored children), went
on--

"It sounds too flat for you to talk about your remaining unheard of. Of
course you are ambitious; any one can see that, to look at you. And once
your ambition is excited in any particular direction, people had better
look out. With your will!" she added, with a curious mocking candour.

"What do you know about my will?" he asked, laughing a little awkwardly,
as if he had really attempted to kiss her--in the course of the second
independent interview he had ever had with her--and been rebuffed.

"I know it's stronger than mine. It made me come out, when I thought I
had much better not, and it keeps me sitting here long after I should
have started for home."

"Give me the day, dear Miss Tarrant, give me the day," Basil Ransom
murmured; and as she turned her face upon him, moved by the expression
of his voice, he added--"Come and dine with me, since you wouldn't
lunch. Are you really not faint and weak?"

"I am faint and weak at all the horrible things you have said; I have
lunched on abominations. And now you want me to dine with you? Thank
you; I think you're cool!" Verena cried, with a laugh which her
chronicler knows to have been expressive of some embarrassment, though
Basil Ransom did not.

"You must remember that I have, on two different occasions, listened to
you for an hour, in speechless, submissive attention, and that I shall
probably do it a great many times more."

"Why should you ever listen to me again, when you loathe my ideas?"

"I don't listen to your ideas; I listen to your voice."

"Ah, I told Olive!" said Verena, quickly, as if his words had confirmed
an old fear; which was general, however, and did not relate particularly
to him.

Ransom still had an impression that he was not making love to her,
especially when he could observe, with all the superiority of a man--"I
wonder whether you have understood ten words I have said to you?"

"I should think you had made it clear enough--you had rubbed it in!"

"What have you understood, then?"

"Why, that you want to put us back further than we have been at any
period."

"I have been joking; I have been piling it up," Ransom said, making that
concession unexpectedly to the girl. Every now and then he had an air of
relaxing himself, becoming absent, ceasing to care to discuss.

She was capable of noticing this, and in a moment she asked--"Why don't
you write out your ideas?"

This touched again upon the matter of his failure; it was curious how
she couldn't keep off it, hit it every time. "Do you mean for the
public? I have written many things, but I can't get them printed."

"Then it would seem that there are not so many people--so many as you
said just now--who agree with you."

"Well," said Basil Ransom, "editors are a mean, timorous lot, always
saying they want something original, but deadly afraid of it when it
comes."

"Is it for papers, magazines?" As it sank into Verena's mind more deeply
that the contributions of this remarkable young man had been
rejected--contributions in which, apparently, everything she held dear
was riddled with scorn--she felt a strange pity and sadness, a sense of
injustice. "I am very sorry you can't get published," she said, so
simply that he looked up at her, from the figure he was scratching on
the asphalt with his stick, to see whether such a tone as that, in
relation to such a fact, were not "put on." But it was evidently
genuine, and Verena added that she supposed getting published was very
difficult always; she remembered, though she didn't mention, how little
success her father had when he tried. She hoped Mr. Ransom would keep
on; he would be sure to succeed at last. Then she continued, smiling,
with more irony: "You may denounce me by name if you like. Only please
don't say anything about Olive Chancellor."

"How little you understand what I want to achieve!" Basil Ransom
exclaimed. "There you are--you women--all over; always meaning,
yourselves, something personal, and always thinking it is meant by
others!"

"Yes, that's the charge they make," said Verena gaily.

"I don't want to touch you, or Miss Chancellor, or Mrs. Farrinder, or
Miss Birdseye, or the shade of Eliza P. Moseley, or any other gifted and
celebrated being on earth--or in heaven."

"Oh, I suppose you want to destroy us by neglect, by silence!" Verena
exclaimed, with the same brightness.

"No, I don't want to destroy you, any more than I want to save you.
There has been far too much talk about you, and I want to leave you
alone altogether. My interest is in my own sex; yours evidently can look
after itself. That's what I want to save."

Verena saw that he was more serious now than he had been before, that he
was not piling it up satirically, but saying really and a trifle
wearily, as if suddenly he were tired of much talk, what he meant. "To
save it from what?" she asked.

"From the most damnable feminisation! I am so far from thinking, as you
set forth the other night, that there is not enough women in our general
life, that it has long been pressed home to me that there is a great
deal too much. The whole generation is womanised; the masculine tone is
passing out of the world; it's a feminine, a nervous, hysterical,
chattering, canting age, an age of hollow phrases and false delicacy and
exaggerated solicitudes and coddled sensibilities, which, if we don't
soon look out, will usher in the reign of mediocrity, of the feeblest
and flattest and the most pretentious that has ever been. The masculine
character, the ability to dare and endure, to know and yet not fear
reality, to look the world in the face and take it for what it is--a
very queer and partly very base mixture--that is what I want to
preserve, or rather, as I may say, to recover; and I must tell you that
I don't in the least care what becomes of you ladies while I make the
attempt!"

The poor fellow delivered himself of these narrow notions (the rejection
of which by leading periodicals was certainly not a matter for surprise)
with low, soft earnestness, bending towards her so as to give out his
whole idea, yet apparently forgetting for the moment how offensive it
must be to her now that it was articulated in that calm, severe way, in
which no allowance was to be made for hyperbole. Verena did not remind
herself of this; she was too much impressed by his manner and by the
novelty of a man taking that sort of religious tone about such a cause.
It told her on the spot, from one minute to the other and once for all,
that the man who could give her that impression would never come round.
She felt cold, slightly sick, though she replied that now he summed up
his creed in such a distinct, lucid way, it was much more
comfortable--one knew with what one was dealing; a declaration much at
variance with the fact, for Verena had never felt less gratified in her
life. The ugliness of her companion's profession of faith made her
shiver; it would have been difficult to her to imagine anything more
crudely profane. She was determined, however, not to betray any shudder
that could suggest weakness, and the best way she could think of to
disguise her emotion was to remark in a tone which, although not assumed
for that purpose, was really the most effective revenge, inasmuch as it
always produced on Ransom's part (it was not peculiar, among women, to
Verena) an angry helplessness--"Mr. Ransom, I assure you this is an age
of conscience."

"That's a part of your cant. It's an age of unspeakable shams, as
Carlyle says."

"Well," returned Verena, "it's all very comfortable for you to say that
you wish to leave us alone. But you can't leave us alone. We are here,
and we have got to be disposed of. You have got to put us somewhere.
It's a remarkable social system that has no place for _us_!" the girl
went on, with her most charming laugh.

"No place in public. My plan is to keep you at home and have a better
time with you there than ever."

"I'm glad it's to be better; there's room for it. Woe to American
womanhood when you start a movement for being more--what you like to
be--at home!"

"Lord, how you're perverted; you, the very genius!" Basil Ransom
murmured, looking at her with the kindest eyes.

She paid no attention to this, she went on, "And those who have got no
home (there are millions, you know), what are you going to do with
_them_? You must remember that women marry--are given in marriage--less
and less; that isn't their career, as a matter of course, any more. You
can't tell them to go and mind their husband and children, when they
have no husband and children to mind."

"Oh," said Ransom, "that's a detail! And for myself, I confess, I have
such a boundless appreciation of your sex in private life that I am
perfectly ready to advocate a man's having a half-a-dozen wives."

"The civilisation of the Turks, then, strikes you as the highest?"

"The Turks have a second-rate religion; they are fatalists, and that
keeps them down. Besides, their women are not nearly so charming as
ours--or as ours would be if this modern pestilence were eradicated.
Think what a confession you make when you say that women are less and
less sought in marriage; what a testimony that is to the pernicious
effect on their manners, their person, their nature, of this fatuous
agitation."

"That's very complimentary to me!" Verena broke in, lightly.

But Ransom was carried over her interruption by the current of his
argument. "There are a thousand ways in which any woman, all women,
married or single, may find occupation. They may find it in making
society agreeable."

"Agreeable to men, of course."

"To whom else, pray? Dear Miss Tarrant, what is most agreeable to women
is to be agreeable to men! That is a truth as old as the human race, and
don't let Olive Chancellor persuade you that she and Mrs. Farrinder have
invented any that can take its place, or that is more profound, more
durable."

Verena waived this point of the discussion; she only said: "Well, I am
glad to hear you are prepared to see the place all choked up with old
maids!"

"I don't object to the _old_ old maids; they were delightful; they had
always plenty to do, and didn't wander about the world crying out for a
vocation. It is the new old maid that you have invented from whom I pray
to be delivered." He didn't say he meant Olive Chancellor, but Verena
looked at him as if she suspected him of doing so; and to put her off
that scent he went on, taking up what she had said a moment before: "As
for its not being complimentary to you, my remark about the effect on
the women themselves of this pernicious craze, my dear Miss Tarrant, you
may be quite at your ease. You stand apart, you are unique,
extraordinary; you constitute a category by yourself. In you the
elements have been mixed in a manner so felicitous that I regard you as
quite incorruptible. I don't know where you come from nor how you come
to be what you are, but you are outside and above all vulgarising
influences. Besides, you ought to know," the young man proceeded, in the
same cool, mild, deliberate tone, as if he were demonstrating a
mathematical solution, "you ought to know that your connexion with all
these rantings and ravings is the most unreal, accidental, illusory
thing in the world. You think you care about them, but you don't at all.
They were imposed upon you by circumstances, by unfortunate
associations, and you accepted them as you would have accepted any other
burden, on account of the sweetness of your nature. You always want to
please some one, and now you go lecturing about the country, and trying
to provoke demonstrations, in order to please Miss Chancellor, just as
you did it before to please your father and mother. It isn't _you_, the
least in the world, but an inflated little figure (very remarkable in
its way too) whom you have invented and set on its feet, pulling
strings, behind it, to make it move and speak, while you try to conceal
and efface yourself there. Ah, Miss Tarrant, if it's a question of
pleasing, how much you might please some one else by tipping your
preposterous puppet over and standing forth in your freedom as well as
in your loveliness!"

While Basil Ransom spoke--and he had not spoken just that way
yet--Verena sat there deeply attentive, with her eyes on the ground; but
as soon as he ceased she sprang to her feet--something made her feel
that their association had already lasted quite too long. She turned
away from him as if she wished to leave him, and indeed were about to
attempt to do so. She didn't desire to look at him now, or even to have
much more conversation with him. "Something," I say, made her feel so,
but it was partly his curious manner--so serene and explicit, as if he
knew the whole thing to an absolute certainty--which partly scared her
and partly made her feel angry. She began to move along the path to one
of the gates, as if it were settled that they should immediately leave
the place. He laid it all out so clearly; if he had had a revelation he
couldn't speak otherwise. That description of herself as something
different from what she was trying to be, the charge of want of reality,
made her heart beat with pain; she was sure, at any rate, it was her
real self that was there with him now, where she oughtn't to be. In a
moment he was at her side again, going with her; and as they walked it
came over her that some of the things he had said to her were far beyond
what Olive could have imagined as the very worst possible. What would be
her state now, poor forsaken friend, if some of them had been borne to
her in the voices of the air? Verena had been affected by her
companion's speech (his manner had changed so; it seemed to express
something quite different) in a way that pushed her to throw up the
discussion and determine that as soon as they should get out of the park
she would go off by herself; but she still had her wits about her
sufficiently to think it important she should give no sign of
discomposure, of confessing that she was driven from the field. She
appeared to herself to notice and reply to his extraordinary
observations enough, without taking them up too much, when she said,
tossing the words over her shoulder at Ransom, while she moved quickly:
"I presume, from what you say, that you don't think I have much
ability."

He hesitated before answering, while his long legs easily kept pace with
her rapid step--her charming, touching, hurrying step, which expressed
all the trepidation she was anxious to conceal. "Immense ability, but
not in the line in which you most try to have it. In a very different
line, Miss Tarrant! Ability is no word for it; it's genius!"

She felt his eyes on her face--ever so close and fixed there--after he
had chosen to reply to her question that way. She was beginning to
blush; if he had kept them longer, and on the part of any one else, she
would have called such a stare impertinent. Verena had been commended of
old by Olive for her serenity "while exposed to the gaze of hundreds";
but a change had taken place, and she was now unable to endure the
contemplation of an individual. She wished to detach him, to lead him
off again into the general; and for this purpose, at the end of a
moment, she made another inquiry: "I am to understand, then, as your
last word that you regard us as quite inferior?"

"For public, civic uses, absolutely--perfectly weak and second-rate. I
know nothing more indicative of the muddled sentiment of the time than
that any number of men should be found to pretend that they regard you
in any other light. But privately, personally, it's another affair. In
the realm of family life and the domestic affections----"

At this Verena broke in, with a nervous laugh, "Don't say that; it's
only a phrase!"

"Well, it's a better one than any of yours," said Basil Ransom, turning
with her out of one of the smaller gates--the first they had come to.
They emerged into the species of _plaza_ formed by the numbered street
which constitutes the southern extremity of the park and the termination
of the Sixth Avenue. The glow of the splendid afternoon was over
everything, and the day seemed to Ransom still in its youth. The bowers
and boskages stretched behind them, the artificial lakes and cockneyfied
landscapes, making all the region bright with the sense of air and
space, and raw natural tints, and vegetation too diminutive to
overshadow. The chocolate-coloured houses, in tall, new rows, surveyed
the expanse; the street cars rattled in the foreground, changing horses
while the horses steamed, and absorbing and emitting passengers; and the
beer-saloons, with exposed shoulders and sides, which in New York do a
good deal towards representing the picturesque, the "bit" appreciated by
painters, announced themselves in signs of large lettering to the sky.
Groups of the unemployed, the children of disappointment from beyond the
seas, propped themselves against the low, sunny wall of the park; and on
the other side the commercial vista of the Sixth Avenue stretched away
with a remarkable absence of aerial perspective.

"I must go home; good-bye," Verena said, abruptly, to her companion.

"Go home? You won't come and dine, then?"

Verena knew people who dined at midday and others who dined in the
evening, and others still who never dined at all; but she knew no one
who dined at half-past three. Ransom's attachment to this idea therefore
struck her as queer and infelicitous, and she supposed it betrayed the
habits of Mississippi. But that couldn't make it any more acceptable to
her, in spite of his looking so disappointed--with his dimly-glowing
eyes--that he was heedless for the moment that the main fact connected
with her return to Tenth Street was that she wished to go alone.

"I must leave you, right away," she said. "Please don't ask me to stay;
you wouldn't if you knew how little I want to!" Her manner was different
now, and her face as well, and though she smiled more than ever she had
never seemed to him more serious.

"Alone, do you mean? Really I can't let you do that," Ransom replied,
extremely shocked at this sacrifice being asked of him. "I have brought
you this immense distance, I am responsible for you, and I must place
you where I found you."

"Mr. Ransom, I must, I will!" she exclaimed, in a tone he had not yet
heard her use; so that, a good deal amazed, puzzled and pained, he saw
that he should make a mistake if he were to insist. He had known that
their expedition must end in a separation which could not be sweet, but
he had counted on making some of the terms of it himself. When he
expressed the hope that she would at least allow him to put her into a
car, she replied that she wished no car; she wanted to walk. This image
of her "streaking off" by herself, as he figured it, did not mend the
matter; but in the presence of her sudden nervous impatience he felt
that here was a feminine mystery which must be allowed to take its
course.

"It costs me more than you probably suspect, but I submit. Heaven guard
you and bless you, Miss Tarrant!"

She turned her face away from him as if she were straining at a leash;
then she rejoined, in the most unexpected manner: "I hope very much you
_will_ get printed."

"Get my articles published?" He stared, and broke out: "Oh, you
delightful being!"

"Good-bye," she repeated; and now she gave him her hand. As he held it a
moment, and asked her if she were really leaving the city so soon that
she mightn't see him again, she answered: "If I stay it will be at a
place to which you mustn't come. They wouldn't let you see me."

He had not intended to put that question to her; he had set himself a
limit. But the limit had suddenly moved on. "Do you mean at that house
where I heard you speak?"

"I may go there for a few days."

"If it's forbidden to me to go and see you there, why did you send me a
card?"

"Because I wanted to convert you then."

"And now you give me up?"

"No, no; I want you to remain as you are!"

She looked strange, with her more mechanical smile, as she said this,
and he didn't know what idea was in her head. She had already left him,
but he called after her, "If you do stay, I will come!" She neither
turned nor made an answer, and all that was left to him was to watch her
till she passed out of sight. Her back, with its charming young form,
seemed to repeat that last puzzle, which was almost a challenge.

For this, however, Verena Tarrant had not meant it. She wanted, in spite
of the greater delay and the way Olive would wonder, to walk home,
because it gave her time to think, and think again, how glad she was
(really, positively, _now_) that Mr. Ransom was on the wrong side. If he
had been on the right----! She did not finish this proposition. She
found Olive waiting for her in exactly the manner she had foreseen; she
turned to her, as she came in, a face sufficiently terrible. Verena
instantly explained herself, related exactly what she had been doing;
then went on, without giving her friend time for question or comment:
"And you--you paid your visit to Mrs. Burrage?"

"Yes, I went through that."

"And did she press the question of my coming there?"

"Very much indeed."

"And what did you say?"

"I said very little, but she gave me such assurances----"

"That you thought I ought to go?"

Olive was silent a moment; then she said: "She declares they are devoted
to the cause, and that New York will be at your feet."

Verena took Miss Chancellor's shoulders in each of her hands, and gave
her back, for an instant, her gaze, her silence. Then she broke out,
with a kind of passion: "I don't care for her assurances--I don't care
for New York! I won't go to them--I won't--do you understand?" Suddenly
her voice changed, she passed her arms round her friend and buried her
face in her neck. "Olive Chancellor, take me away, take me away!" she
went on. In a moment Olive felt that she was sobbing and that the
question was settled, the question she herself had debated in anguish a
couple of hours before.



BOOK THIRD



XXXV


The August night had gathered by the time Basil Ransom, having finished
his supper, stepped out upon the piazza of the little hotel. It was a
very little hotel and of a very slight and loose construction; the tread
of a tall Mississippian made the staircase groan and the windows rattle
in their frames. He was very hungry when he arrived, having not had a
moment, in Boston, on his way through, to eat even the frugal morsel
with which he was accustomed to sustain nature between a breakfast that
consisted of a cup of coffee and a dinner that consisted of a cup of
tea. He had had his cup of tea now, and very bad it was, brought him by
a pale, round-backed young lady, with auburn ringlets, a fancy belt, and
an expression of limited tolerance for a gentleman who could not choose
quickly between fried fish, fried steak, and baked beans. The train for
Marmion left Boston at four o'clock in the afternoon, and rambled
fitfully toward the southern cape, while the shadows grew long in the
stony pastures and the slanting light gilded the straggling, shabby
woods, and painted the ponds and marshes with yellow gleams. The
ripeness of summer lay upon the land, and yet there was nothing in the
country Basil Ransom traversed that seemed susceptible of maturity;
nothing but the apples in the little tough, dense orchards, which gave a
suggestion of sour fruition here and there, and the tall, bright
goldenrod at the bottom of the bare stone dykes. There were no fields of
yellow grain; only here and there a crop of brown hay. But there was a
kind of soft scrubbiness in the landscape, and a sweetness begotten of
low horizons, of mild air, with a possibility of summer haze, of
unregarded inlets where on August mornings the water must be brightly
blue. Ransom had heard that the Cape was the Italy, so to speak, of
Massachusetts; it had been described to him as the drowsy Cape, the
languid Cape, the Cape not of storms, but of eternal peace. He knew that
the Bostonians had been drawn thither, for the hot weeks, by its
sedative influence, by the conviction that its toneless air would
minister to perfect rest. In a career in which there was so much nervous
excitement as in theirs they had no wish to be wound up when they went
out of town; they were sufficiently wound up at all times by the sense
of all their sex had been through. They wanted to live idly, to unbend
and lie in hammocks, and also to keep out of the crowd, the rush of the
watering-place. Ransom could see there was no crowd at Marmion, as soon
as he got there, though indeed there was a rush, which directed itself
to the only vehicle in waiting outside of the small, lonely, hut-like
station, so distant from the village that, as far as one looked along
the sandy, sketchy road which was supposed to lead to it, one saw only
an empty land on either side. Six or eight men in "dusters," carrying
parcels and handbags, projected themselves upon the solitary, rickety
carry-all, so that Ransom could read his own fate, while the ruminating
conductor of the vehicle, a lean, shambling citizen, with a long neck
and a tuft on his chin, guessed that if he wanted to get to the hotel
before dusk he would have to strike out. His valise was attached in a
precarious manner to the rear of the carry-all. "Well, I'll chance it,"
the driver remarked sadly, when Ransom protested against its insecure
position. He recognised the southern quality of that picturesque
fatalism--judged that Miss Chancellor and Verena Tarrant must be pretty
thoroughly relaxed if they had given themselves up to the genius of the
place. This was what he hoped for and counted on, as he took his way,
the sole pedestrian in the group that had quitted the train, in the wake
of the overladen carry-all. It helped him to enjoy the first country
walk he had had for many months, for more than months, for years, that
the reflexion was forced upon him as he went (the mild, vague scenery,
just beginning to be dim with twilight, suggested it at every step) that
the two young women who constituted, at Marmion, his whole prefigurement
of a social circle, must, in such a locality as that, be taking a
regular holiday. The sense of all the wrongs they had still to redress
must be lighter there than it was in Boston; the ardent young man had,
for the hour, an ingenuous hope that they had left their opinions in the
city. He liked the very smell of the soil as he wandered along; cool,
soft whiffs of evening met him at bends of the road which disclosed very
little more--unless it might be a band of straight-stemmed woodland,
keeping, a little, the red glow from the west, or (as he went further)
an old house, shingled all over, grey and slightly collapsing, which
looked down at him from a steep bank, at the top of wooden steps. He was
already refreshed; he had tasted the breath of nature, measured his long
grind in New York, without a vacation, with the repetition of the daily
movement up and down the long, straight, maddening city, like a bucket
in a well or a shuttle in a loom.

He lit his cigar in the office of the hotel--a small room on the right
of the door, where a "register," meagrely inscribed, led a terribly
public life on the little bare desk, and got its pages dogs'-eared
before they were covered. Local worthies, of a vague identity, used to
lounge there, as Ransom perceived the next day, by the hour. They tipped
back their chairs against the wall, seldom spoke, and might have been
supposed, with their converging vision, to be watching something out of
the window, if there had been anything at Marmion to watch. Sometimes
one of them got up and went to the desk, on which he leaned his elbows,
hunching a pair of sloping shoulders to an uncollared neck. For the
fiftieth time he perused the fly-blown page of the recording volume,
where the names followed each other with such jumps of date. The others
watched him while he did so--or contemplated in silence some "guest" of
the hostelry, when such a personage entered the place with an air of
appealing from the general irresponsibility of the establishment and
found no one but the village-philosophers to address himself to. It was
an establishment conducted by invisible, elusive agencies; they had a
kind of stronghold in the dining-room, which was kept locked at all but
sacramental hours. There was a tradition that a "boy" exercised some
tutelary function as regards the crumpled register; but when he was
inquired about, it was usually elicited from the impartial circle in the
office either that he was somewhere round or that he had gone a-fishing.
Except the haughty waitress who has just been mentioned as giving Ransom
his supper, and who only emerged at meal-times from her mystic
seclusion, this impalpable youth was the single person on the premises
who represented domestic service. Anxious lady-boarders, wrapped in
shawls, were seen waiting for him, as if he had been the doctor, on
horse-hair rocking-chairs, in the little public parlour; others peered
vaguely out of back doors and windows, thinking that if he were
somewhere round they might see him. Sometimes people went to the door of
the dining-room and tried it, shaking it a little, timidly, to see if it
would yield; then, finding it fast, came away, looking, if they had been
observed, shy and snubbed, at their fellows. Some of them went so far as
to say that they didn't think it was a very good hotel.

Ransom, however, didn't much care whether it were good or not; he hadn't
come to Marmion for the love of the hotel. Now that he had got there,
however, he didn't know exactly what to do; his course seemed rather
less easy than it had done when, suddenly, the night before, tired, sick
of the city-air, and hungry for a holiday, he decided to take the next
morning's train to Boston, and there take another to the shores of
Buzzard's Bay. The hotel itself offered few resources; the inmates were
not numerous; they moved about a little outside, on the small piazza and
in the rough yard which interposed between the house and the road, and
then they dropped off into the unmitigated dusk. This element, touched
only in two or three places by a far-away dim glimmer, presented itself
to Ransom as his sole entertainment. Though it was pervaded by that
curious, pure, earthy smell which in New England, in summer, hangs in
the nocturnal air, Ransom bethought himself that the place might be a
little dull for persons who had not come to it, as he had, to take
possession of Verena Tarrant. The unfriendly inn, which suggested
dreadfully to Ransom (he despised the practice) an early bed-time,
seemed to have no relation to anything, not even to itself; but a
fellow-tenant of whom he made an inquiry told him the village was
sprinkled round. Basil presently walked along the road in search of it,
under the stars, smoking one of the good cigars which constituted his
only tribute to luxury. He reflected that it would hardly do to begin
his attack that night; he ought to give the Bostonians a certain amount
of notice of his appearance on the scene. He thought it very possible,
indeed, that they might be addicted to the vile habit of "retiring" with
the cocks and hens. He was sure that was one of the things Olive
Chancellor would do so long as he should stay--on purpose to spite him;
she would make Verena Tarrant go to bed at unnatural hours, just to
deprive him of his evenings. He walked some distance without
encountering a creature or discerning an habitation; but he enjoyed the
splendid starlight, the stillness, the shrill melancholy of the
crickets, which seemed to make all the vague forms of the country
pulsate around him; the whole impression was a bath of freshness after
the long strain of the preceding two years and his recent sweltering
weeks in New York. At the end of ten minutes (his stroll had been slow)
a figure drew near him, at first indistinct, but presently defining
itself as that of a woman. She was walking apparently without purpose,
like himself, or without other purpose than that of looking at the
stars, which she paused for an instant, throwing back her head, to
contemplate, as he drew nearer to her. In a moment he was very close; he
saw her look at him, through the clear gloom, as they passed each other.
She was small and slim; he made out her head and face, saw that her hair
was cropped; had an impression of having seen her before. He noticed
that as she went by she turned as well as himself, and that there was a
sort of recognition in her movement. Then he felt sure that he had seen
her elsewhere, and before she had added to the distance that separated
them he stopped short, looking after her. She noticed his halt, paused
equally, and for a moment they stood there face to face, at a certain
interval, in the darkness.

"I beg your pardon--is it Doctor Prance?" he found himself demanding.

For a minute there was no answer; then came the voice of the little
lady:

"Yes, sir; I am Doctor Prance. Any one sick at the hotel?"

"I hope not; I don't know," Ransom said, laughing.

Then he took a few steps, mentioned his name, recalled his having met
her at Miss Birdseye's, ever so long before (nearly two years), and
expressed the hope that she had not forgotten that.

She thought it over a little--she was evidently addicted neither to
empty phrases nor to unconsidered assertions. "I presume you mean that
night Miss Tarrant launched out so."

"That very night. We had a very interesting conversation."

"Well, I remember I lost a good deal," said Doctor Prance.

"Well, I don't know; I have an idea you made it up in other ways,"
Ransom returned, laughing still.

He saw her bright little eyes engage with his own. Staying, apparently,
in the village, she had come out, bare-headed, for an evening walk, and
if it had been possible to imagine Doctor Prance bored and in want of
recreation, the way she lingered there as if she were quite willing to
have another talk might have suggested to Basil Ransom this condition.
"Why, don't you consider her career very remarkable?"

"Oh yes; everything is remarkable nowadays; we live in an age of
wonders!" the young man replied, much amused to find himself discussing
the object of his adoration in this casual way, in the dark, on a lonely
country-road, with a short-haired female physician. It was astonishing
how quickly Doctor Prance and he had made friends again. "I suppose, by
the way, you know Miss Tarrant and Miss Chancellor are staying down
here?" he went on.

"Well, yes, I suppose I know it. I am visiting Miss Chancellor," the dry
little woman added.

"Oh indeed? I am delighted to hear it!" Ransom exclaimed, feeling that
he might have a friend in the camp. "Then you can inform me where those
ladies have their house."

"Yes, I guess I can tell it in the dark. I will show you round now, if
you like."

"I shall be glad to see it, though I am not sure I shall go in
immediately. I must reconnoitre a little first. That makes me so very
happy to have met you. I think it's very wonderful--your knowing me."

Doctor Prance did not repudiate this compliment, but she presently
observed: "You didn't pass out of my mind entirely, because I have heard
about you since, from Miss Birdseye."

"Ah yes, I saw her in the spring. I hope she is in health and
happiness."

"She is always in happiness, but she can't be said to be in health. She
is very weak; she is failing."

"I am very sorry for that."

"She is also visiting Miss Chancellor," Doctor Prance observed, after a
pause which was an illustration of an appearance she had of thinking
that certain things didn't at all imply some others.

"Why, my cousin has got all the distinguished women!" Basil Ransom
exclaimed.

"Is Miss Chancellor your cousin? There isn't much family resemblance.
Miss Birdseye came down for the benefit of the country air, and I came
down to see if I could help her to get some good from it. She wouldn't
much, if she were left to herself. Miss Birdseye has a very fine
character, but she hasn't much idea of hygiene." Doctor Prance was
evidently more and more disposed to be chatty. Ransom appreciated this
fact, and said he hoped she, too, was getting some good from the
country-air--he was afraid she was very much confined to her profession,
in Boston; to which she replied--"Well, I was just taking a little
exercise along the road. I presume you don't realise what it is to be
one of four ladies grouped together in a small frame-house."

Ransom remembered how he had liked her before, and he felt that, as the
phrase was, he was going to like her again. He wanted to express his
good-will to her, and would greatly have enjoyed being at liberty to
offer her a cigar. He didn't know what to offer her or what to do,
unless he should invite her to sit with him on a fence. He did realise
perfectly what the situation in the small frame-house must be, and
entered with instant sympathy into the feelings which had led Doctor
Prance to detach herself from the circle and wander forth under the
constellations, all of which he was sure she knew. He asked her
permission to accompany her on her walk, but she said she was not going
much further in that direction; she was going to turn round. He turned
round with her, and they went back together to the village, in which he
at last began to discover a certain consistency, signs of habitation,
houses disposed with a rough resemblance to a plan. The road wandered
among them with a kind of accommodating sinuosity, and there were even
cross-streets, and an oil-lamp on a corner, and here and there the small
sign of a closed shop, with an indistinctly countrified lettering. There
were lights now in the windows of some of the houses, and Doctor Prance
mentioned to her companion several of the inhabitants of the little
town, who appeared all to rejoice in the prefix of captain. They were
retired shipmasters; there was quite a little nest of these worthies,
two or three of whom might be seen lingering in their dim doorways, as
if they were conscious of a want of encouragement to sit up, and yet
remembered the nights in far-away waters when they would not have
thought of turning in at all. Marmion called itself a town, but it was a
good deal shrunken since the decline in the shipbuilding interest; it
turned out a good many vessels every year, in the palmy days, before the
war. There were shipyards still, where you could almost pick up the old
shavings, the old nails and rivets, but they were grass-grown now, and
the water lapped them without anything to interfere. There was a kind of
arm of the sea put in; it went up some way, it wasn't the real sea, but
very quiet, like a river; that was more attractive to some. Doctor
Prance didn't say the place was picturesque, or quaint, or weird; but he
could see that was what she meant when she said it was mouldering away.
Even under the mantle of night he himself gathered the impression that
it had had a larger life, seen better days. Doctor Prance made no remark
designed to elicit from him an account of his motives in coming to
Marmion; she asked him neither when he had arrived nor how long he
intended to stay. His allusion to his cousinship with Miss Chancellor
might have served to her mind as a reason; yet, on the other hand, it
would have been open to her to wonder why, if he had come to see the
young ladies from Charles Street, he was not in more of a hurry to
present himself. It was plain Doctor Prance didn't go into that kind of
analysis. If Ransom had complained to her of a sore throat she would
have inquired with precision about his symptoms; but she was incapable
of asking him any question with a social bearing. Sociably enough,
however, they continued to wander through the principal street of the
little town, darkened in places by immense old elms, which made a
blackness overhead. There was a salt smell in the air, as if they were
nearer the water; Doctor Prance said that Olive's house was at the other
end.

"I shall take it as a kindness if, for this evening, you don't mention
that you have happened to meet me," Ransom remarked, after a little. He
had changed his mind about giving notice.

"Well, I wouldn't," his companion replied; as if she didn't need any
caution in regard to making vain statements.

"I want to keep my arrival a little surprise for to-morrow. It will be a
great pleasure to me to see Miss Birdseye," he went on, rather
hypocritically, as if that at bottom had been to his mind the main
attraction of Marmion.

Doctor Prance did not reveal her private comment, whatever it was, on
this intimation; she only said, after some hesitation--"Well, I presume
the old lady will take quite an interest in your being here."

"I have no doubt she is capable even of that degree of philanthropy."

"Well, she has charity for all, but she does--even she--prefer her own
side. She regards you as quite an acquisition."

Ransom could not but feel flattered at the idea that he had been a
subject of conversation--as this implied--in the little circle at Miss
Chancellor's; but he was at a loss, for the moment, to perceive what he
had done up to this time to gratify the senior member of the group. "I
hope she will find me an acquisition after I have been here a few days,"
he said, laughing.

"Well, she thinks you are one of the most important converts yet,"
Doctor Prance replied, in a colourless way, as if she would not have
pretended to explain why.

"A convert--me? Do you mean of Miss Tarrant's?" It had come over him
that Miss Birdseye, in fact, when he was parting with her after their
meeting in Boston, had assented to his request for secrecy (which at
first had struck her as somewhat unholy) on the ground that Verena would
bring him into the fold. He wondered whether that young lady had been
telling her old friend that she had succeeded with him. He thought this
improbable; but it didn't matter, and he said, gaily, "Well, I can
easily let her suppose so!"

It was evident that it would be no easier for Doctor Prance to subscribe
to a deception than it had been for her venerable patient; but she went
so far as to reply, "Well, I hope you won't let her suppose you are
where you were that time I conversed with you. I could see where you
were then!"

"It was in about the same place you were, wasn't it?"

"Well," said Doctor Prance, with a small sigh, "I am afraid I have moved
back, if anything!" Her sigh told him a good deal; it seemed a thin,
self-controlled protest against the tone of Miss Chancellor's interior,
of which it was her present fortune to form a part: and the way she
hovered round, indistinct in the gloom, as if she were rather loath to
resume her place there, completed his impression that the little
doctress had a line of her own.

"That, at least, must distress Miss Birdseye," he said reproachfully.

"Not much, because I am not of importance. They think women the equals
of men; but they are a great deal more pleased when a man joins than
when a woman does."

Ransom complimented Doctor Prance on the lucidity of her mind, and then
he said: "Is Miss Birdseye really sick? Is her condition very
precarious?"

"Well, she is very old, and very--very gentle," Doctor Prance answered,
hesitating a moment for her adjective. "Under those circumstances a
person may flicker out."

"We must trim the lamp," said Ransom; "I will take my turn, with
pleasure, in watching the sacred flame."

"It will be a pity if she doesn't live to hear Miss Tarrant's great
effort," his companion went on.

"Miss Tarrant's? What's that?"

"Well, it's the principal interest, in there." And Doctor Prance now
vaguely indicated, with a movement of her head, a small white house,
much detached from its neighbours, which stood on their left, with its
back to the water, at a little distance from the road. It exhibited more
signs of animation than any of its fellows; several windows, notably
those of the ground floor, were open to the warm evening, and a large
shaft of light was projected upon the grassy wayside in front of it.
Ransom, in his determination to be discreet, checked the advance of his
companion, who added presently, with a short, suppressed laugh--"You can
see it is, from that!" He listened, to ascertain what she meant, and
after an instant a sound came to his ear--a sound he knew already well,
which carried the accents of Verena Tarrant, in ample periods and
cadences, out into the stillness of the August night.

"Murder, what a lovely voice!" he exclaimed involuntarily.

Doctor Prance's eye gleamed towards him a moment, and she observed,
humorously (she was relaxing immensely), "Perhaps Miss Birdseye is
right!" Then, as he made no rejoinder, only listening to the vocal
inflexions that floated out of the house, she went on--"She's practising
her speech."

"Her speech? Is she going to deliver one here?"

"No, as soon as they go back to town--at the Music Hall."

Ransom's attention was now transferred to his companion. "Is that why
you call it her great effort?"

"Well, so they think it, I believe. She practises that way every night;
she reads portions of it aloud to Miss Chancellor and Miss Birdseye."

"And that's the time you choose for your walk?" Ransom said, smiling.

"Well, it's the time my old lady has least need of me; she's too
absorbed."

Doctor Prance dealt in facts; Ransom had already discovered that; and
some of her facts were very interesting.

"The Music Hall--isn't that your great building?" he asked.

"Well, it's the biggest we've got; it's pretty big, but it isn't so big
as Miss Chancellor's ideas," added Doctor Prance. "She has taken it to
bring out Miss Tarrant before the general public--she has never appeared
that way in Boston--on a great scale. She expects her to make a big
sensation. It will be a great night, and they are preparing for it. They
consider it her real beginning."

"And this is the preparation?" Basil Ransom said.

"Yes; as I say, it's their principal interest."

Ransom listened, and while he listened he meditated. He had thought it
possible Verena's principles might have been shaken by the profession of
faith to which he treated her in New York; but this hardly looked like
it. For some moments Doctor Prance and he stood together in silence.

"You don't hear the words," the doctor remarked, with a smile which, in
the dark, looked Mephistophelean.

"Oh, I know the words!" the young man exclaimed, with rather a groan, as
he offered her his hand for good-night.



XXXVI


A certain prudence had determined him to put off his visit till the
morning; he thought it more probable that at that time he should be able
to see Verena alone, whereas in the evening the two young women would be
sure to be sitting together. When the morrow dawned, however, Basil
Ransom felt none of the trepidation of the procrastinator; he knew
nothing of the reception that awaited him, but he took his way to the
cottage designated to him over-night by Doctor Prance, with the step of
a man much more conscious of his own purpose than of possible obstacles.
He made the reflexion, as he went, that to see a place for the first
time at night is like reading a foreign author in a translation. At the
present hour--it was getting towards eleven o'clock--he felt that he was
dealing with the original. The little straggling, loosely-clustered town
lay along the edge of a blue inlet, on the other side of which was a
low, wooded shore, with a gleam of white sand where it touched the
water. The narrow bay carried the vision outward to a picture that
seemed at once bright and dim--a shining, slumbering summer sea, and a
far-off, circling line of coast, which, under the August sun, was hazy
and delicate. Ransom regarded the place as a town because Doctor Prance
had called it one; but it was a town where you smelt the breath of the
hay in the streets and you might gather blackberries in the principal
square. The houses looked at each other across the grass--low, rusty,
crooked, distended houses, with dry, cracked faces and the dim eyes of
small-paned, stiffly-sliding windows. Their little door-yards bristled
with rank, old-fashioned flowers, mostly yellow; and on the quarter that
stood back from the sea the fields sloped upward, and the woods in which
they presently lost themselves looked down over the roofs. Bolts and
bars were not a part of the domestic machinery of Marmion, and the
responsive menial, receiving the visitor on the threshold, was a
creature rather desired than definitely possessed; so that Basil Ransom
found Miss Chancellor's house-door gaping wide (as he had seen it the
night before), and destitute even of a knocker or a bell-handle. From
where he stood in the porch he could see the whole of the little
sitting-room on the left of the hall--see that it stretched straight
through to the back windows; that it was garnished with photographs of
foreign works of art, pinned upon the walls, and enriched with a piano
and other little extemporised embellishments, such as ingenious women
lavish upon the houses they hire for a few weeks. Verena told him
afterwards that Olive had taken her cottage furnished, but that the
paucity of chairs and tables and bedsteads was such that their little
party used almost to sit down, to lie down, in turn. On the other hand
they had all George Eliot's writings, and two photographs of the Sistine
Madonna. Ransom rapped with his stick on the lintel of the door, but no
one came to receive him; so he made his way into the parlour, where he
observed that his cousin Olive had as many German books as ever lying
about. He dipped into this literature, momentarily, according to his
wont, and then remembered that this was not what he had come for and
that as he waited at the door he had seen, through another door, opening
at the opposite end of the hall, signs of a small verandah attached to
the other face of the house. Thinking the ladies might be assembled
there in the shade, he pushed aside the muslin curtain of the back
window, and saw that the advantages of Miss Chancellor's summer
residence were in this quarter. There was a verandah, in fact, to which
a wide, horizontal trellis, covered with an ancient vine, formed a kind
of extension. Beyond the trellis was a small, lonely garden; beyond the
garden was a large, vague, woody space, where a few piles of old timber
were disposed, and which he afterwards learned to be a relic of the
shipbuilding era described to him by Doctor Prance; and still beyond
this again was the charming lake-like estuary he had already admired.
His eyes did not rest upon the distance; they were attracted by a figure
seated under the trellis, where the chequers of sun, in the interstices
of the vine leaves, fell upon a bright-coloured rug spread out on the
ground. The floor of the roughly-constructed verandah was so low that
there was virtually no difference in the level. It took Ransom only a
moment to recognise Miss Birdseye, though her back was turned to the
house. She was alone; she sat there motionless (she had a newspaper in
her lap, but her attitude was not that of a reader), looking at the
shimmering bay. She might be asleep; that was why Ransom moderated the
process of his long legs as he came round through the house to join her.
This precaution represented his only scruple. He stepped across the
verandah and stood close to her, but she did not appear to notice him.
Visibly, she was dozing, or presumably, rather, for her head was
enveloped in an old faded straw hat, which concealed the upper part of
her face. There were two or three other chairs near her, and a table on
which were half-a-dozen books and periodicals, together with a glass
containing a colourless liquid, on the top of which a spoon was laid.
Ransom desired only to respect her repose, so he sat down in one of the
chairs and waited till she should become aware of his presence. He
thought Miss Chancellor's back-garden a delightful spot, and his jaded
senses tasted the breeze--the idle, wandering summer wind--that stirred
the vine leaves over his head. The hazy shores on the other side of the
water, which had tints more delicate than the street vistas of New York
(they seemed powdered with silver, a sort of midsummer light), suggested
to him a land of dreams, a country in a picture. Basil Ransom had seen
very few pictures, there were none in Mississippi; but he had a vision
at times of something that would be more refined than the real world,
and the situation in which he now found himself pleased him almost as
much as if it had been a striking work of art. He was unable to see, as
I have said, whether Miss Birdseye were taking in the prospect through
open or only, imagination aiding (she had plenty of that), through
closed, tired, dazzled eyes. She appeared to him, as the minutes elapsed
and he sat beside her, the incarnation of well-earned rest, of patient,
submissive superannuation. At the end of her long day's work she might
have been placed there to enjoy this dim prevision of the peaceful
river, the gleaming shores, of the paradise her unselfish life had
certainly qualified her to enter, and which, apparently, would so soon
be opened to her. After a while she said, placidly, without turning:

"I suppose it's about time I should take my remedy again. It does seem
as if she had found the right thing; don't you think so?"

"Do you mean the contents of that tumbler? I shall be delighted to give
it to you, and you must tell me how much you take." And Basil Ransom,
getting up, possessed himself of the glass on the table.

At the sound of his voice Miss Birdseye pushed back her straw hat by a
movement that was familiar to her, and twisting about her muffled figure
a little (even in August she felt the cold, and had to be much covered
up to sit out), directed at him a speculative, unastonished gaze.

"One spoonful--two?" Ransom asked, stirring the dose and smiling.

"Well, I guess I'll take two this time."

"Certainly, Doctor Prance couldn't help finding the right thing," Ransom
said, as he administered the medicine; while the movement with which she
extended her face to take it made her seem doubly childlike.

He put down the glass, and she relapsed into her position; she seemed to
be considering. "It's homeopathic," she remarked, in a moment.

"Oh, I have no doubt of that; I presume you wouldn't take anything
else."

"Well, it's generally admitted now to be the true system."

Ransom moved closer to her, placed himself where she could see him
better. "It's a great thing to have the true system," he said, bending
towards her in a friendly way; "I'm sure you have it in everything." He
was not often hypocritical; but when he was he went all lengths.

"Well, I don't know that any one has a right to say that. I thought you
were Verena," she added in a moment, taking him in again with her mild,
deliberate vision.

"I have been waiting for you to recognise me; of course you didn't know
I was here--I only arrived last night."

"Well, I'm glad you have come to see Olive now."

"You remember that I wouldn't do that when I met you last?"

"You asked me not to mention to her that I had met you; that's what I
principally recall."

"And don't you remember what I told you I wanted to do? I wanted to go
out to Cambridge and see Miss Tarrant. Thanks to the information that
you were so good as to give me, I was able to do so."

"Yes, she gave me quite a little description of your visit," said Miss
Birdseye, with a smile and a vague sound in her throat--a sort of
pensive, private reference to the idea of laughter--of which Ransom
never learned the exact significance, though he retained for a long time
afterwards a kindly memory of the old lady's manner at the moment.

"I don't know how much she enjoyed it, but it was an immense pleasure to
me; so great a one that, as you see, I have come to call upon her
again."

"Then, I presume, she _has_ shaken you?"

"She has shaken me tremendously!" said Ransom, laughing.

"Well, you'll be a great addition," Miss Birdseye returned. "And this
time your visit is also for Miss Chancellor?"

"That depends on whether she will receive me."

"Well, if she knows you are shaken, that will go a great way," said Miss
Birdseye, a little musingly, as if even to her unsophisticated mind it
had been manifested that one's relations with Miss Chancellor might be
ticklish. "But she can't receive you now--can she?--because she's out.
She has gone to the post office for the Boston letters, and they get so
many every day that she had to take Verena with her to help her carry
them home. One of them wanted to stay with me, because Doctor Prance has
gone fishing, but I said I presumed I could be left alone for about
seven minutes. I know how they love to be together; it seems as if one
_couldn't_ go out without the other. That's what they came down here
for, because it's quiet, and it didn't look as if there was any one else
they would be much drawn to. So it would be a pity for me to come down
after them just to spoil it!"

"I am afraid I shall spoil it, Miss Birdseye."

"Oh, well, a gentleman," murmured the ancient woman.

"Yes, what can you expect of a gentleman? I certainly shall spoil it if
I can."

"You had better go fishing with Doctor Prance," said Miss Birdseye, with
a serenity which showed that she was far from measuring the sinister
quality of the announcement he had just made.

"I shan't object to that at all. The days here must be very long--very
full of hours. Have you got the doctor with you?" Ransom inquired, as if
he knew nothing at all about her.

"Yes, Miss Chancellor invited us both; she is very thoughtful. She is
not merely a theoretic philanthropist--she goes into details," said Miss
Birdseye, presenting her large person, in her chair, as if she herself
were only an item. "It seems as if we were not so much wanted in Boston,
just in August."

"And here you sit and enjoy the breeze, and admire the view," the young
man remarked, wondering when the two messengers, whose seven minutes
must long since have expired, would return from the post office.

"Yes, I enjoy everything in this little old-world place; I didn't
suppose I should be satisfied to be so passive. It's a great contrast to
my former exertions. But somehow it doesn't seem as if there were any
trouble, or any wrong round here; and if there should be, there are Miss
Chancellor and Miss Tarrant to look after it. They seem to think I had
better fold my hands. Besides, when helpful, generous minds begin to
flock in from _your_ part of the country," Miss Birdseye continued,
looking at him from under the distorted and discoloured canopy of her
hat with a benignity which completed the idea in any cheerful sense he
chose.

He felt by this time that he was committed to rather a dishonest part;
he was pledged not to give a shock to her optimism. This might cost him,
in the coming days, a good deal of dissimulation, but he was now saved
from any further expenditure of ingenuity by certain warning sounds
which admonished him that he must keep his wits about him for a purpose
more urgent. There were voices in the hall of the house, voices he knew,
which came nearer, quickly; so that before he had time to rise one of
the speakers had come out with the exclamation--"Dear Miss Birdseye,
here are seven letters for you!" The words fell to the ground, indeed,
before they were fairly spoken, and when Ransom got up, turning, he saw
Olive Chancellor standing there, with the parcel from the post office in
her hand. She stared at him in sudden horror; for the moment her
self-possession completely deserted her. There was so little of any
greeting in her face save the greeting of dismay, that he felt there was
nothing for him to say to her, nothing that could mitigate the odious
fact of his being there. He could only let her take it in, let her
divine that, this time, he was not to be got rid of. In an instant--to
ease off the situation--he held out his hand for Miss Birdseye's
letters, and it was a proof of Olive's having turned rather faint and
weak that she gave them up to him. He delivered the packet to the old
lady, and now Verena had appeared in the doorway of the house. As soon
as she saw him, she blushed crimson; but she did not, like Olive, stand
voiceless.

"Why, Mr. Ransom," she cried out, "where in the world were _you_ washed
ashore?" Miss Birdseye, meanwhile, taking her letters, had no appearance
of observing that the encounter between Olive and her visitor was a kind
of concussion.

It was Verena who eased off the situation; her gay challenge rose to her
lips as promptly as if she had had no cause for embarrassment. She was
not confused even when she blushed, and her alertness may perhaps be
explained by the habit of public speaking. Ransom smiled at her while
she came forward, but he spoke first to Olive, who had already turned
her eyes away from him and gazed at the blue sea-view as if she were
wondering what was going to happen to her at last.

"Of course you are very much surprised to see me; but I hope to be able
to induce you to regard me not absolutely in the light of an intruder. I
found your door open, and I walked in, and Miss Birdseye seemed to think
I might stay. Miss Birdseye, I put myself under your protection; I
invoke you; I appeal to you," the young man went on. "Adopt me, answer
for me, cover me with the mantle of your charity!"

Miss Birdseye looked up from her letters, as if at first she had only
faintly heard his appeal. She turned her eyes from Olive to Verena; then
she said, "Doesn't it seem as if we had room for all? When I remember
what I have seen in the South, Mr. Ransom's being here strikes me as a
great triumph."

Olive evidently failed to understand, and Verena broke in with
eagerness, "It was by my letter, of course, that you knew we were here.
The one I wrote just before we came, Olive," she went on. "Don't you
remember I showed it to you?"

At the mention of this act of submission on her friend's part Olive
started, flashing her a strange look; then she said to Basil that she
didn't see why he should explain so much about his coming; every one had
a right to come. It was a very charming place; it ought to do any one
good. "But it will have one defect for you," she added; "three-quarters
of the summer residents are women!"

This attempted pleasantry on Miss Chancellor's part, so unexpected, so
incongruous, uttered with white lips and cold eyes, struck Ransom to
that degree by its oddity that he could not resist exchanging a glance
of wonder with Verena, who, if she had had the opportunity, could
probably have explained to him the phenomenon. Olive had recovered
herself, reminded herself that she was safe, that her companion in New
York had repudiated, denounced her pursuer; and, as a proof to her own
sense of her security, as well as a touching mark to Verena that now,
after what had passed, she had no fear, she felt that a certain light
mockery would be effective.

"Ah, Miss Olive, don't pretend to think I love your sex so little, when
you know that what you really object to in me is that I love it too
much!" Ransom was not brazen, he was not impudent, he was really a very
modest man; but he was aware that whatever he said or did he was
condemned to seem impudent now, and he argued within himself that if he
was to have the dishonour of being thought brazen he might as well have
the comfort. He didn't care a straw, in truth, how he was judged or how
he might offend; he had a purpose which swallowed up such inanities as
that, and he was so full of it that it kept him firm, balanced him, gave
him an assurance that might easily have been confounded with a cold
detachment. "This place will do me good," he pursued; "I haven't had a
holiday for more than two years, I couldn't have gone another day; I was
finished. I would have written to you beforehand that I was coming, but
I only started at a few hours' notice. It occurred to me that this would
be just what I wanted; I remembered what Miss Tarrant had said in her
note, that it was a place where people could lie on the ground and wear
their old clothes. I delight to lie on the ground, and all my clothes
are old. I hope to be able to stay three or four weeks."

Olive listened till he had done speaking; she stood a single moment
longer, and then, without a word, a glance, she rushed into the house.
Ransom saw that Miss Birdseye was immersed in her letters; so he went
straight to Verena and stood before her, looking far into her eyes. He
was not smiling now, as he had been in speaking to Olive. "Will you come
somewhere apart, where I can speak to you alone?"

"Why have you done this? It was not right in you to come!" Verena looked
still as if she were blushing, but Ransom perceived he must allow for
her having been delicately scorched by the sun.

"I have come because it is necessary--because I have something very
important to say to you. A great number of things."

"The same things you said in New York? I don't want to hear them
again--they were horrible!"

"No, not the same--different ones. I want you to come out with me, away
from here."

"You always want me to come out! We can't go out here; we _are_ out, as
much as we can be!" Verena laughed. She tried to turn it off--feeling
that something really impended.

"Come down into the garden, and out beyond there--to the water, where we
can speak. It's what I have come for; it was not for what I told Miss
Olive!"

He had lowered his voice, as if Miss Olive might still hear them, and
there was something strangely grave--altogether solemn, indeed--in its
tone. Verena looked around her, at the splendid summer day, at the
much-swathed, formless figure of Miss Birdseye, holding her letter
inside her hat. "Mr. Ransom!" she articulated then, simply; and as her
eyes met his again they showed him a couple of tears.

"It's not to make you suffer, I honestly believe. I don't want to say
anything that will hurt you. How can I possibly hurt you, when I feel to
you as I do?" he went on, with suppressed force.

She said no more, but all her face entreated him to let her off, to
spare her; and as this look deepened, a quick sense of elation and
success began to throb in his heart, for it told him exactly what he
wanted to know. It told him that she was afraid of him, that she had
ceased to trust herself, that the way he had read her nature was the
right way (she was tremendously open to attack, she was meant for love,
she was meant for him), and that his arriving at the point at which he
wished to arrive was only a question of time. This happy consciousness
made him extraordinarily tender to her; he couldn't put enough
reassurance into his smile, his low murmur, as he said: "Only give me
ten minutes; don't receive me by turning me away. It's my holiday--my
poor little holiday; don't spoil it."

Three minutes later Miss Birdseye, looking up from her letter, saw them
move together through the bristling garden and traverse a gap in the old
fence which enclosed the further side of it. They passed into the
ancient shipyard which lay beyond, and which was now a mere vague,
grass-grown approach to the waterside, bestrewn with a few remnants of
supererogatory timber. She saw them stroll forward to the edge of the
bay and stand there, taking the soft breeze in their faces. She watched
them a little, and it warmed her heart to see the stiff-necked young
Southerner led captive by a daughter of New England trained in the right
school, who would impose her opinions in their integrity. Considering
how prejudiced he must have been he was certainly behaving very well;
even at that distance Miss Birdseye dimly made out that there was
something positively humble in the way he invited Verena Tarrant to seat
herself on a low pile of weather-blackened planks, which constituted the
principal furniture of the place, and something, perhaps, just a trifle
too expressive of righteous triumph in the manner in which the girl put
the suggestion by and stood where she liked, a little proudly, turning a
good deal away from him. Miss Birdseye could see as much as this, but
she couldn't hear, so that she didn't know what it was that made Verena
turn suddenly back to him, at something he said. If she had known,
perhaps his observation would have struck her as less singular--under
the circumstances in which these two young persons met--than it may
appear to the reader.

"They have accepted one of my articles; I think it's the best." These
were the first words that passed Basil Ransom's lips after the pair had
withdrawn as far as it was possible to withdraw (in that direction) from
the house.

"Oh, is it printed--when does it appear?" Verena asked that question
instantly; it sprang from her lips in a manner that completely belied
the air of keeping herself at a distance from him which she had worn a
few moments before.

He didn't tell her again this time, as he had told her when, on the
occasion of their walk together in New York, she expressed an
inconsequent hope that his fortune as a rejected contributor would take
a turn--he didn't remark to her once more that she was a delightful
being; he only went on (as if her revulsion were a matter of course) to
explain everything he could, so that she might as soon as possible know
him better and see how completely she could trust him. "That was, at
bottom, the reason I came here. The essay in question is the most
important thing I have done in the way of a literary attempt, and I
determined to give up the game or to persist, according as I should be
able to bring it to the light or not. The other day I got a letter from
the editor of the _Rational Review_, telling me that he should be very
happy to print it, that he thought it very remarkable, and that he
should be glad to hear from me again. He shall hear from me again--he
needn't be afraid! It contained a good many of the opinions I have
expressed to you, and a good many more besides. I really believe it will
attract some attention. At any rate, the simple fact that it is to be
published makes an era in my life. This will seem pitiful to you, no
doubt, who publish yourself, have been before the world these several
years, and are flushed with every kind of triumph; but to me it's simply
a tremendous affair. It makes me believe I may do something; it has
changed the whole way I look at my future. I have been building castles
in the air, and I have put you in the biggest and fairest of them.
That's a great change, and, as I say, it's really why I came on."

Verena lost not a word of this gentle, conciliatory, explicit statement;
it was full of surprises for her, and as soon as Ransom had stopped
speaking she inquired: "Why, didn't you feel satisfied about your future
before?"

Her tone made him feel how little she had suspected he could have the
weakness of a discouragement, how little of a question it must have
seemed to her that he would one day triumph on his own erratic line. It
was the sweetest tribute he had yet received to the idea that he might
have ability; the letter of the editor of the _Rational Review_ was
nothing to it. "No, I felt very blue; it didn't seem to me at all clear
that there was a place for me in the world."

"Gracious!" said Verena Tarrant.

A quarter of an hour later Miss Birdseye, who had returned to her
letters (she had a correspondent at Framingham who usually wrote fifteen
pages), became aware that Verena, who was now alone, was re-entering the
house. She stopped her on her way, and said she hoped she hadn't pushed
Mr. Ransom overboard.

"Oh no; he has gone off--round the other way."

"Well, I hope he is going to speak for us soon."

Verena hesitated a moment. "He speaks with the pen. He has written a
very fine article--for the _Rational Review_."

Miss Birdseye gazed at her young friend complacently; the sheets of her
interminable letter fluttered in the breeze. "Well, it's delightful to
see the way it goes on, isn't it?"

Verena scarcely knew what to say; then, remembering that Doctor Prance
had told her that they might lose their dear old companion any day, and
confronting it with something Basil Ransom had just said--that the
_Rational Review_ was a quarterly and the editor had notified him that
his article would appear only in the number after the next--she
reflected that perhaps Miss Birdseye wouldn't be there, so many months
later, to see how it was her supposed consort had spoken. She might,
therefore, be left to believe what she liked to believe, without fear of
a day of reckoning. Verena committed herself to nothing more
confirmatory than a kiss, however, which the old lady's displaced
head-gear enabled her to imprint upon her forehead and which caused Miss
Birdseye to exclaim, "Why, Verena Tarrant, how cold your lips are!" It
was not surprising to Verena to hear that her lips were cold; a mortal
chill had crept over her, for she knew that this time she should have a
tremendous scene with Olive.

She found her in her room, to which she had fled on quitting Mr.
Ransom's presence; she sat in the window, having evidently sunk into a
chair the moment she came in, a position from which she must have seen
Verena walk through the garden and down to the water with the intruder.
She remained as she had collapsed, quite prostrate; her attitude was the
same as that other time Verena had found her waiting, in New York. What
Olive was likely to say to her first the girl scarcely knew; her mind,
at any rate, was full of an intention of her own. She went straight to
her and fell on her knees before her, taking hold of the hands which
were clasped together, with nervous intensity, in Miss Chancellor's lap.
Verena remained a moment, looking up at her, and then said:

"There is something I want to tell you now, without a moment's delay;
something I didn't tell you at the time it happened, nor afterwards. Mr.
Ransom came out to see me once, at Cambridge, a little while before we
went to New York. He spent a couple of hours with me; we took a walk
together and saw the colleges. It was after that that he wrote to
me--when I answered his letter, as I told you in New York. I didn't tell
you then of his visit. We had a great deal of talk about him, and I kept
that back. I did so on purpose; I can't explain why, except that I
didn't like to tell you, and that I thought it better. But now I want
you to know everything; when you know that, you _will_ know everything.
It was only one visit--about two hours. I enjoyed it very much--he
seemed so much interested. One reason I didn't tell you was that I
didn't want you to know that he had come on to Boston, and called on me
in Cambridge, without going to see you. I thought it might affect you
disagreeably. I suppose you will think I deceived you; certainly I left
you with a wrong impression. But now I want you to know all--all!"

Verena spoke with breathless haste and eagerness; there was a kind of
passion in the way she tried to expiate her former want of candour.
Olive listened, staring; at first she seemed scarcely to understand. But
Verena perceived that she understood sufficiently when she broke out:
"You deceived me--you deceived me! Well, I must say I like your deceit
better than such dreadful revelations! And what does anything matter
when he has come after you now? What does he want--what has he come
for?"

"He has come to ask me to be his wife."

Verena said this with the same eagerness, with as determined an air of
not incurring any reproach this time. But as soon as she had spoken she
buried her head in Olive's lap.

Olive made no attempt to raise it again, and returned none of the
pressure of her hands; she only sat silent for a time, during which
Verena wondered that the idea of the episode at Cambridge, laid bare
only after so many months, should not have struck her more deeply.
Presently she saw it was because the horror of what had just happened
drew her off from it. At last Olive asked: "Is that what he told you,
off there by the water?"

"Yes"--and Verena looked up--"he wanted me to know it right away. He
says it's only fair to you that he should give notice of his intentions.
He wants to try and make me like him--so he says. He wants to see more
of me, and he wants me to know him better."

Olive lay back in her chair, with dilated eyes and parted lips. "Verena
Tarrant, what _is_ there between you? what _can_ I hold on to, what
_can_ I believe? Two hours, in Cambridge, before we went to New York?"
The sense that Verena had been perfidious there--perfidious in her
reticence--now began to roll over her. "Mercy of heaven, how you did
act!"

"Olive, it was to spare you."

"To spare me? If you really wished to spare me he wouldn't be here now!"

Miss Chancellor flashed this out with a sudden violence, a spasm which
threw Verena off and made her rise to her feet. For an instant the two
young women stood confronted, and a person who had seen them at that
moment might have taken them for enemies rather than friends. But any
such opposition could last but a few seconds. Verena replied, with a
tremor in her voice which was not that of passion, but of charity: "Do
you mean that I expected him, that I brought him? I never in my life was
more surprised at anything than when I saw him there."

"Hasn't he the delicacy of one of his own slave-drivers? Doesn't he know
you loathe him?"

Verena looked at her friend with a degree of majesty which, with her,
was rare. "I don't loathe him--I only dislike his opinions."

"Dislike! Oh, misery!" And Olive turned away to the open window, leaning
her forehead against the lifted sash.

Verena hesitated, then went to her, passing her arm round her. "Don't
scold me! help me--help me!" she murmured.

Olive gave her a sidelong look; then, catching her up and facing her
again--"Will you come away, now, by the next train?"

"Flee from him again, as I did in New York? No, no, Olive Chancellor,
that's not the way," Verena went on, reasoningly, as if all the wisdom
of the ages were seated on her lips. "Then how can we leave Miss
Birdseye, in her state? We must stay here--we must fight it out here."

"Why not be honest, if you have been false--really honest, not only half
so? Why not tell him plainly that you love him?"

"Love him, Olive? why, I scarcely know him."

"You'll have a chance, if he stays a month!"

"I don't dislike him, certainly, as you do. But how can I love him when
he tells me he wants me to give up everything, all our work, our faith,
our future, never to give another address, to open my lips in public?
How can I consent to that?" Verena went on, smiling strangely.

"He asks you that, just that way?"

"No; it's not that way. It's very kindly."

"Kindly? Heaven help you, don't grovel! Doesn't he know it's my house?"
Olive added, in a moment.

"Of course he won't come into it, if you forbid him."

"So that you may meet him in other places--on the shore, in the
country?"

"I certainly shan't avoid him, hide away from him," said Verena proudly.
"I thought I made you believe, in New York, that I really cared for our
aspirations. The way for me then is to meet him, feeling conscious of my
strength. What if I do like him? what does it matter? I like my work in
the world, I like everything I believe in, better."

Olive listened to this, and the memory of how, in the house in Tenth
Street, Verena had rebuked her doubts, professed her own faith anew,
came back to her with a force which made the present situation appear
slightly less terrific. Nevertheless, she gave no assent to the girl's
logic; she only replied: "But you didn't meet him there; you hurried
away from New York, after I was willing you should stay. He affected you
very much there; you were not so calm when you came back to me from your
expedition to the park as you pretend to be now. To get away from him
you gave up all the rest."

"I know I wasn't so calm. But now I have had three months to think about
it--about the way he affected me there. I take it very quietly."

"No, you don't; you are not calm now!"

Verena was silent a moment, while Olive's eyes continued to search her,
accuse her, condemn her. "It's all the more reason you shouldn't give me
stab after stab," she replied, with a gentleness which was infinitely
touching.

It had an instant effect upon Olive; she burst into tears, threw herself
on her friend's bosom. "Oh, don't desert me--don't desert me, or you'll
kill me in torture," she moaned, shuddering.

"You must help me--you must help me!" cried Verena, imploringly too.



XXXVII


Basil Ransom spent nearly a month at Marmion; in announcing this fact I
am very conscious of its extraordinary character. Poor Olive may well
have been thrown back into her alarms by his presenting himself there;
for after her return from New York she took to her soul the conviction
that she had really done with him. Not only did the impulse of revulsion
under which Verena had demanded that their departure from Tenth Street
should be immediate appear to her a proof that it had been sufficient
for her young friend to touch Mr. Ransom's moral texture with her
finger, as it were, in order to draw back for ever; but what she had
learned from her companion of his own manifestations, his apparent
disposition to throw up the game, added to her feeling of security. He
had spoken to Verena of their little excursion as his last opportunity,
let her know that he regarded it not as the beginning of a more intimate
acquaintance but as the end even of such relations as already existed
between them. He gave her up, for reasons best known to himself; if he
wanted to frighten Olive he judged that he had frightened her enough:
his Southern chivalry suggested to him perhaps that he ought to let her
off before he had worried her to death. Doubtless, too, he had perceived
how vain it was to hope to make Verena abjure a faith so solidly
founded; and though he admired her enough to wish to possess her on his
own terms, he shrank from the mortification which the future would have
in keeping for him--that of finding that, after six months of courting
and in spite of all her sympathy, her desire to do what people expected
of her, she despised his opinions as much as the first day. Olive
Chancellor was able to a certain extent to believe what she wished to
believe, and that was one reason why she had twisted Verena's flight
from New York, just after she let her friend see how much she should
like to drink deeper of the cup, into a warrant for living in a fool's
paradise. If she had been less afraid, she would have read things more
clearly; she would have seen that we don't run away from people unless
we fear them and that we don't fear them unless we know that we are
unarmed. Verena feared Basil Ransom now (though this time she declined
to run); but now she had taken up her weapons, she had told Olive she
was exposed, she had asked _her_ to be her defence. Poor Olive was
stricken as she had never been before, but the extremity of her danger
gave her a desperate energy. The only comfort in her situation was that
this time Verena had confessed her peril, had thrown herself into her
hands. "I like him--I can't help it--I do like him. I don't want to
marry him, I don't want to embrace his ideas, which are unspeakably
false and horrible; but I like him better than any gentleman I have
seen." So much as this the girl announced to her friend as soon as the
conversation of which I have just given a sketch was resumed, as it was
very soon, you may be sure, and very often, in the course of the next
few days. That was her way of saying that a great crisis had arrived in
her life, and the statement needed very little amplification to stand as
a shy avowal that she too had succumbed to the universal passion. Olive
had had her suspicions, her terrors, before; but she perceived now how
idle and foolish they had been, and that this was a different affair
from any of the "phases" of which she had hitherto anxiously watched the
development. As I say, she felt it to be a considerable mercy that
Verena's attitude was frank, for it gave her something to take hold of;
she could no longer be put off with sophistries about receiving visits
from handsome and unscrupulous young men for the sake of the
opportunities it gave one to convert them. She took hold, accordingly,
with passion, with fury; after the shock of Ransom's arrival had passed
away she determined that he should not find her chilled into dumb
submission. Verena had told her that she wanted her to hold her tight,
to rescue her; and there was no fear that, for an instant, she should
sleep at her post.

"I like him--I like him; but I want to hate----"

"You want to hate him!" Olive broke in.

"No, I want to hate my liking. I want you to keep before me all the
reasons why I should--many of them so fearfully important. Don't let me
lose sight of anything! Don't be afraid I shall not be grateful when you
remind me."

That was one of the singular speeches that Verena made in the course of
their constant discussion of the terrible question, and it must be
confessed that she made a great many. The strangest of all was when she
protested, as she did again and again to Olive, against the idea of
their seeking safety in retreat. She said there was a want of dignity in
it--that she had been ashamed, afterwards, of what she had done in
rushing away from New York. This care for her moral appearance was, on
Verena's part, something new; inasmuch as, though she had struck that
note on previous occasions--had insisted on its being her duty to face
the accidents and alarms of life--she had never erected such a standard
in the face of a disaster so sharply possible. It was not her habit
either to talk or to think about her dignity, and when Olive found her
taking that tone she felt more than ever that the dreadful, ominous,
fatal part of the situation was simply that now, for the first time in
all the history of their sacred friendship, Verena was not sincere. She
was not sincere when she told her that she wanted to be helped against
Mr. Ransom--when she exhorted her, that way, to keep everything that was
salutary and fortifying before her eyes. Olive did not go so far as to
believe that she was playing a part and putting her off with words
which, glossing over her treachery, only made it more cruel; she would
have admitted that that treachery was as yet unwitting, that Verena
deceived herself first of all, thinking she really wished to be saved.
Her phrases about her dignity were insincere, as well as her pretext
that they must stay to look after Miss Birdseye: as if Doctor Prance
were not abundantly able to discharge that function and would not be
enchanted to get them out of the house! Olive had perfectly divined by
this time that Doctor Prance had no sympathy with their movement, no
general ideas; that she was simply shut up to petty questions of
physiological science and of her own professional activity. She would
never have invited her down if she had realised this in advance so much
as the doctor's dry detachment from all their discussions, their
readings and practisings, her constant expeditions to fish and botanise,
subsequently enabled her to do. She was very narrow, but it did seem as
if she knew more about Miss Birdseye's peculiar physical
conditions--they were _very_ peculiar--than any one else, and this was a
comfort at a time when that admirable woman seemed to be suffering a
loss of vitality.

"The great point is that it must be met some time, and it will be a
tremendous relief to have it over. He is determined to have it out with
me, and if the battle doesn't come off to-day we shall have to fight it
to-morrow. I don't see why this isn't as good a time as any other. My
lecture for the Music Hall is as good as finished, and I haven't got
anything else to do; so I can give all my attention to our personal
struggle. It requires a good deal, you would admit, if you knew how
wonderfully he can talk. If we should leave this place to-morrow he
would come after us to the very next one. He would follow us everywhere.
A little while ago we could have escaped him, because he says that then
he had no money. He hasn't got much now, but he has got enough to pay
his way. He is so encouraged by the reception of his article by the
editor of the _Rational Review_, that he is sure that in future his pen
will be a resource."

These remarks were uttered by Verena after Basil Ransom had been three
days at Marmion, and when she reached this point her companion
interrupted her with the inquiry, "Is that what he proposes to support
you with--his pen?"

"Oh yes; of course he admits we should be terribly poor."

"And this vision of a literary career is based entirely upon an article
that hasn't yet seen the light? I don't see how a man of any refinement
can approach a woman with so beggarly an account of his position in
life."

"He says he wouldn't--he would have been ashamed--three months ago; that
was why, when we were in New York, and he felt, even then--well (so he
says) all he feels now, he made up his mind not to persist, to let me
go. But just lately a change has taken place; his state of mind altered
completely, in the course of a week, in consequence of the letter that
editor wrote him about his contribution, and his paying for it right
off. It was a remarkably flattering letter. He says he believes in his
future now; he has before him a vision of distinction, of influence, and
of fortune, not great, perhaps, but sufficient to make life tolerable.
He doesn't think life is very delightful, in the nature of things; but
one of the best things a man can do with it is to get hold of some woman
(of course, she must please him very much, to make it worth while) whom
he may draw close to him."

"And couldn't he get hold of any one but you--among all the exposed
millions of our sex?" poor Olive groaned. "Why must he pick you out,
when everything he knew about you showed you to be, exactly, the very
last?"

"That's just what I have asked him, and he only remarks that there is no
reasoning about such things. He fell in love with me that first evening,
at Miss Birdseye's. So you see there was some ground for that mystic
apprehension of yours. It seems as if I pleased him more than any one."

Olive flung herself over on the couch, burying her face in the cushions,
which she tumbled in her despair, and moaning out that he didn't love
Verena, he never had loved her, it was only his hatred of their cause
that made him pretend it; he wanted to do that an injury, to do it the
worst he could think of. He didn't love her, he hated her, he only
wanted to smother her, to crush her, to kill her--as she would
infallibly see that he would if she listened to him. It was because he
knew that her voice had magic in it, and from the moment he caught its
first note he had determined to destroy it. It was not tenderness that
moved him--it was devilish malignity; tenderness would be incapable of
requiring the horrible sacrifice that he was not ashamed to ask, of
requiring her to commit perjury and blasphemy, to desert a work, an
interest, with which her very heart-strings were interlaced, to give the
lie to her whole young past, to her purest, holiest ambitions. Olive put
forward no claim of her own, breathed, at first, at least, not a word of
remonstrance in the name of her personal loss, of their blighted union;
she only dwelt upon the unspeakable tragedy of a defection from their
standard, of a failure on Verena's part to carry out what she had
undertaken, of the horror of seeing her bright career blotted out with
darkness and tears, of the joy and elation that would fill the breast of
all their adversaries at this illustrious, consummate proof of the
fickleness, the futility, the predestined servility, of women. A man had
only to whistle for her, and she who had pretended most was delighted to
come and kneel at his feet. Olive's most passionate protest was summed
up in her saying that if Verena were to forsake them it would put back
the emancipation of women a hundred years. She did not, during these
dreadful days, talk continuously; she had long periods of pale,
intensely anxious, watchful silence, interrupted by outbreaks of
passionate argument, entreaty, invocation. It was Verena who talked
incessantly, Verena who was in a state entirely new to her, and, as any
one could see, in an attitude entirely unnatural and overdone. If she
was deceiving herself, as Olive said, there was something very affecting
in her effort, her ingenuity. If she tried to appear to Olive impartial,
coldly judicious, in her attitude with regard to Basil Ransom, and only
anxious to see, for the moral satisfaction of the thing, how good a
case, as a lover, he might make out for himself and how much he might
touch her susceptibilities, she endeavoured, still more earnestly, to
practise this fraud upon her own imagination. She abounded in every
proof that she should be in despair if she should be overborne, and she
thought of arguments even more convincing, if possible, than Olive's,
why she should hold on to her old faith, why she should resist even at
the cost of acute temporary suffering. She was voluble, fluent,
feverish; she was perpetually bringing up the subject, as if to
encourage her friend, to show how she kept possession of her judgement,
how independent she remained.

No stranger situation can be imagined than that of these extraordinary
young women at this juncture; it was so singular on Verena's part, in
particular, that I despair of presenting it to the reader with the air
of reality. To understand it, one must bear in mind her peculiar
frankness, natural and acquired, her habit of discussing questions,
sentiments, moralities, her education, in the atmosphere of
lecture-rooms, of _séances_, her familiarity with the vocabulary of
emotion, the mysteries of "the spiritual life." She had learned to
breathe and move in a rarefied air, as she would have learned to speak
Chinese if her success in life had depended upon it; but this dazzling
trick, and all her artlessly artful facilities, were not a part of her
essence, an expression of her innermost preferences. What _was_ a part
of her essence was the extraordinary generosity with which she could
expose herself, give herself away, turn herself inside out, for the
satisfaction of a person who made demands of her. Olive, as we know, had
made the reflexion that no one was naturally less preoccupied with the
idea of her dignity, and though Verena put it forward as an excuse for
remaining where they were, it must be admitted that in reality she was
very deficient in the desire to be consistent with herself. Olive had
contributed with all her zeal to the development of Verena's gift; but I
scarcely venture to think now, what she may have said to herself, in the
secrecy of deep meditation, about the consequences of cultivating an
abundant eloquence. Did she say that Verena was attempting to smother
her now in her own phrases? did she view with dismay the fatal effect of
trying to have an answer for everything? From Olive's condition during
these lamentable weeks there is a certain propriety--a delicacy enjoined
by the respect for misfortune--in averting our head. She neither ate nor
slept; she could scarcely speak without bursting into tears; she felt so
implacably, insidiously baffled. She remembered the magnanimity with
which she had declined (the winter before the last) to receive the vow
of eternal maidenhood which she had at first demanded and then put by as
too crude a test, but which Verena, for a precious hour, for ever flown,
would _then_ have been willing to take. She repented of it with
bitterness and rage; and then she asked herself, more desperately still,
whether even if she held that pledge she should be brave enough to
enforce it in the face of actual complications. She believed that if it
were in her power to say, "No, I won't let you off; I have your solemn
word, and I won't!" Verena would bow to that decree and remain with her;
but the magic would have passed out of her spirit for ever, the
sweetness out of their friendship, the efficacy out of their work. She
said to her again and again that she had utterly changed since that hour
she came to her, in New York, after her morning with Mr. Ransom, and
sobbed out that they must hurry away. Then she had been wounded,
outraged, sickened, and in the interval nothing had happened, nothing
but that one exchange of letters, which she knew about, to bring her
round to a shameless tolerance. Shameless Verena admitted it to be; she
assented over and over to this proposition, and explained, as eagerly
each time as if it were the first, what it was that had come to pass,
what it was that had brought her round. It had simply come over her that
she liked him, that this was the true point of view, the only one from
which one could consider the situation in a way that would lead to what
she called a _real_ solution--a permanent rest. On this particular point
Verena never responded, in the liberal way I have mentioned, without
asseverating at the same time that what she desired most in the world
was to prove (the picture Olive had held up from the first) that a woman
_could_ live on persistently, clinging to a great, vivifying, redemptory
idea, without the help of a man. To testify to the end against the stale
superstition--mother of every misery--that those gentry were as
indispensable as they had proclaimed themselves on the house-tops--that,
she passionately protested, was as inspiring a thought in the present
poignant crisis as it had ever been.

The one grain of comfort that Olive extracted from the terrors that
pressed upon her was that now she knew the worst; she knew it since
Verena had told her, after so long and so ominous a reticence, of the
detestable episode at Cambridge. That seemed to her the worst, because
it had been thunder in a clear sky; the incident had sprung from a
quarter from which, months before, all symptoms appeared to have
vanished. Though Verena had now done all she could to make up for her
perfidious silence by repeating everything that passed between them as
she sat with Mr. Ransom in Monadnoc Place or strolled with him through
the colleges, it imposed itself upon Olive that that occasion was the
key of all that had happened since, that he had then obtained an
irremediable hold upon her. If Verena had spoken at the time, she would
never have let her go to New York; the sole compensation for that
hideous mistake was that the girl, recognising it to the full, evidently
deemed now that she couldn't be communicative enough. There were certain
afternoons in August, long, beautiful and terrible, when one felt that
the summer was rounding its curve, and the rustle of the full-leaved
trees in the slanting golden light, in the breeze that ought to be
delicious, seemed the voice of the coming autumn, of the warnings and
dangers of life--portentous, insufferable hours when, as she sat under
the softly swaying vine-leaves of the trellis with Miss Birdseye and
tried, in order to still her nerves, to read something aloud to her
guest, the sound of her own quavering voice made her think more of that
baleful day at Cambridge than even of the fact that at that very moment
Verena was "off" with Mr. Ransom--had gone to take the little daily walk
with him to which it had been arranged that their enjoyment of each
other's society should be reduced. Arranged, I say; but that is not
exactly the word to describe the compromise arrived at by a kind of
tacit exchange of tearful entreaty and tightened grasp, after Ransom had
made it definite to Verena that he was indeed going to stay a month and
she had promised that she would not resort to base evasions, to flight
(which would avail her nothing, he notified her), but would give him a
chance, would listen to him a few minutes every day. He had insisted
that the few minutes should be an hour, and the way to spend it was
obvious. They wandered along the waterside to a rocky, shrub-covered
point, which made a walk of just the right duration. Here all the homely
languor of the region, the mild, fragrant Cape-quality, the sweetness of
white sands, quiet waters, low promontories where there were paths among
the barberries and tidal pools gleamed in the sunset--here all the
spirit of a ripe summer afternoon seemed to hang in the air. There were
wood-walks too; they sometimes followed bosky uplands, where accident
had grouped the trees with odd effects of "style," and where in grassy
intervals and fragrant nooks of rest they came out upon sudden patches
of Arcady. In such places Verena listened to her companion with her
watch in her hand, and she wondered, very sincerely, how he could care
for a girl who made the conditions of courtship so odious. He had
recognised, of course, at the very first, that he could not inflict
himself again upon Miss Chancellor, and after that awkward morning-call
I have described he did not again, for the first three weeks of his stay
at Marmion, penetrate into the cottage whose back windows overlooked the
deserted shipyard. Olive, as may be imagined, made, on this occasion, no
protest for the sake of being ladylike or of preventing him from putting
her apparently in the wrong. The situation between them was too grim; it
was war to the knife, it was a question of which should pull hardest. So
Verena took a tryst with the young man as if she had been a maid-servant
and Basil Ransom a "follower." They met a little way from the house;
beyond it, outside the village.



XXXVIII


Olive thought she knew the worst, as we have perceived; but the worst
was really something she could not know, inasmuch as up to this time
Verena chose as little to confide to her on that one point as she was
careful to expatiate with her on every other. The change that had taken
place in the object of Basil Ransom's merciless devotion since the
episode in New York was, briefly, just this change--that the words he
had spoken to her there about her genuine vocation, as distinguished
from the hollow and factitious ideal with which her family and her
association with Olive Chancellor had saddled her--these words, the most
effective and penetrating he had uttered, had sunk into her soul and
worked and fermented there. She had come at last to believe them, and
that was the alteration, the transformation. They had kindled a light in
which she saw herself afresh and, strange to say, liked herself better
than in the old exaggerated glamour of the lecture-lamps. She could not
tell Olive this yet, for it struck at the root of everything, and the
dreadful, delightful sensation filled her with a kind of awe at all that
it implied and portended. She was to burn everything she had adored; she
was to adore everything she had burned. The extraordinary part of it was
that though she felt the situation to be, as I say, tremendously
serious, she was not ashamed of the treachery which she--yes, decidedly,
by this time she must admit it to herself--she meditated. It was simply
that the truth had changed sides; that radiant image began to look at
her from Basil Ransom's expressive eyes. She loved, she was in love--she
felt it in every throb of her being. Instead of being constituted by
nature for entertaining that sentiment in an exceptionally small degree
(which had been the implication of her whole crusade, the warrant for
her offer of old to Olive to renounce), she was framed, apparently, to
allow it the largest range, the highest intensity. It was always
passion, in fact; but now the object was other. Formerly she had been
convinced that the fire of her spirit was a kind of double flame, one
half of which was responsive friendship for a most extraordinary person,
and the other pity for the sufferings of women in general. Verena gazed
aghast at the colourless dust into which, in three short months
(counting from the episode in New York), such a conviction as that could
crumble; she felt it must be a magical touch that could bring about such
a cataclysm. Why Basil Ransom had been deputed by fate to exercise this
spell was more than she could say--poor Verena, who up to so lately had
flattered herself that she had a wizard's wand in her own pocket.

When she saw him a little way off, about five o'clock--the hour she
usually went out to meet him--waiting for her at a bend of the road
which lost itself, after a winding, straggling mile or two, in the
indented, insulated "point," where the wandering bee droned through the
hot hours with a vague, misguided flight, she felt that his tall,
watching figure, with the low horizon behind, represented well the
importance, the towering eminence he had in her mind--the fact that he
was just now, to her vision, the most definite and upright, the most
incomparable, object in the world. If he had not been at his post when
she expected him she would have had to stop and lean against something,
for weakness; her whole being would have throbbed more painfully than it
throbbed at present, though finding him there made her nervous enough.
And who was he, what was he? she asked herself. What did he offer her
besides a chance (in which there was no compensation of brilliancy or
fashion) to falsify, in a conspicuous manner, every hope and pledge she
had hitherto given? He allowed her, certainly, no illusion on the
subject of the fate she should meet as his wife; he flung over it no
rosiness of promised ease; he let her know that she should be poor,
withdrawn from view, a partner of his struggle, of his severe, hard,
unique stoicism. When he spoke of such things as these, and bent his
eyes on her, she could not keep the tears from her own; she felt that to
throw herself into his life (bare and arid as for the time it was) was
the condition of happiness for her, and yet that the obstacles were
terrible, cruel. It must not be thought that the revolution which was
taking place in her was unaccompanied with suffering. She suffered less
than Olive certainly, for her bent was not, like her friend's, in that
direction; but as the wheel of her experience went round she had the
sensation of being ground very small indeed. With her light, bright
texture, her complacent responsiveness, her genial, graceful, ornamental
cast, her desire to keep on pleasing others at the time when a force she
had never felt before was pushing her to please herself, poor Verena
lived in these days in a state of moral tension--with a sense of being
strained and aching--which she didn't betray more only because it was
absolutely not in her power to look desperate. An immense pity for Olive
sat in her heart, and she asked herself how far it was necessary to go
in the path of self-sacrifice. Nothing was wanting to make the wrong she
should do her complete; she had deceived her up to the very last; only
three months earlier she had reasserted her vows, given her word, with
every show of fidelity and enthusiasm. There were hours when it seemed
to Verena that she must really push her inquiry no further, but content
herself with the conclusion that she loved as deeply as a woman could
love and that it didn't make any difference. She felt Olive's grasp too
clinching, too terrible. She said to herself that she should never dare,
that she might as well give up early as late; that the scene, at the
end, would be something she couldn't face; that she had no right to
blast the poor creature's whole future. She had a vision of those
dreadful years; she knew that Olive would never get over the
disappointment. It would touch her in the point where she felt
everything most keenly; she would be incurably lonely and eternally
humiliated. It was a very peculiar thing, their friendship; it had
elements which made it probably as complete as any (between women) that
had ever existed. Of course it had been more on Olive's side than on
hers, she had always known that; but that, again, didn't make any
difference. It was of no use for her to tell herself that Olive had
begun it entirely and she had only responded out of a kind of charmed
politeness, at first, to a tremendous appeal. She had lent herself,
given herself, utterly, and she ought to have known better if she didn't
mean to abide by it. At the end of three weeks she felt that her inquiry
was complete, but that after all nothing was gained except an immense
interest in Basil Ransom's views and the prospect of an eternal
heartache. He had told her he wanted her to know him, and now she knew
him pretty thoroughly. She knew him and she adored him, but it didn't
make any difference. To give him up or to give Olive up--this effort
would be the greater of the two.

If Basil Ransom had the advantage, as far back as that day in New York,
of having struck a note which was to reverberate, it may easily be
imagined that he did not fail to follow it up. If he had projected a new
light into Verena's mind, and made the idea of giving herself to a man
more agreeable to her than that of giving herself to a movement, he
found means to deepen this illumination, to drag her former standard in
the dust. He was in a very odd situation indeed, carrying on his siege
with his hands tied. As he had to do everything in an hour a day, he
perceived that he must confine himself to the essential. The essential
was to show her how much he loved her, and then to press, to press,
always to press. His hovering about Miss Chancellor's habitation without
going in was a strange regimen to be subjected to, and he was sorry not
to see more of Miss Birdseye, besides often not knowing what to do with
himself in the mornings and evenings. Fortunately he had brought plenty
of books (volumes of rusty aspect, picked up at New York bookstalls),
and in such an affair as this he could take the less when the more was
forbidden him. For the mornings, sometimes, he had the resource of
Doctor Prance, with whom he made a great many excursions on the water.
She was devoted to boating and an ardent fisherwoman, and they used to
pull out into the bay together, cast their lines, and talk a prodigious
amount of heresy. She met him, as Verena met him, "in the environs," but
in a different spirit. He was immensely amused at her attitude, and saw
that nothing in the world could, as he expressed it, make her wink. She
would never blench nor show surprise; she had an air of taking
everything abnormal for granted; betrayed no consciousness of the oddity
of Ransom's situation; said nothing to indicate she had noticed that
Miss Chancellor was in a frenzy or that Verena had a daily appointment.
You might have supposed from her manner that it was as natural for
Ransom to sit on a fence half a mile off as in one of the red
rocking-chairs, of the so-called "Shaker" species, which adorned Miss
Chancellor's back verandah. The only thing our young man didn't like
about Doctor Prance was the impression she gave him (out of the crevices
of her reticence he hardly knew how it leaked) that she thought Verena
rather slim. She took an ironical view of almost any kind of courtship,
and he could see she didn't wonder women were such featherheads, so long
as, whatever brittle follies they cultivated, they could get men to come
and sit on fences for them. Doctor Prance told him Miss Birdseye noticed
nothing; she had sunk, within a few days, into a kind of transfigured
torpor; she didn't seem to know whether Mr. Ransom were anywhere round
or not. She guessed she thought he had just come down for a day and gone
off again; she probably supposed he just wanted to get toned up a little
by Miss Tarrant. Sometimes, out in the boat, when she looked at him in
vague, sociable silence, while she waited for a bite (she delighted in a
bite), she had an expression of diabolical shrewdness. When Ransom was
not scorching there beside her (he didn't mind the sun of
Massachusetts), he lounged about in the pastoral land which hung (at a
very moderate elevation) above the shore. He always had a book in his
pocket, and he lay under whispering trees and kicked his heels and made
up his mind on what side he should take Verena the next time. At the end
of a fortnight he had succeeded (so he believed, at least) far better
than he had hoped, in this sense, that the girl had now the air of
making much more light of her "gift." He was indeed quite appalled at
the facility with which she threw it over, gave up the idea that it was
useful and precious. That had been what he wanted her to do, and the
fact of the sacrifice (once she had fairly looked at it) costing her so
little only proved his contention, only made it clear that it was not
necessary to her happiness to spend half her life ranting (no matter how
prettily) in public. All the same he said to himself that, to make up
for the loss of whatever was sweet in the reputation of the thing, he
should have to be tremendously nice to her in all the coming years.
During the first week he was at Marmion she made of him an inquiry which
touched on this point.

"Well, if it's all a mere delusion, why should this facility have been
given me--why should I have been saddled with a superfluous talent? I
don't care much about it--I don't mind telling you that; but I confess I
should like to know what is to become of all that part of me, if I
retire into private life, and live, as you say, simply to be charming
for you. I shall be like a singer with a beautiful voice (you have told
me yourself my voice is beautiful) who has accepted some decree of never
raising a note. Isn't that a great waste, a great violation of nature?
Were not our talents given us to use, and have we any right to smother
them and deprive our fellow-creatures of such pleasure as they may
confer? In the arrangement you propose" (that was Verena's way of
speaking of the question of their marriage) "I don't see what provision
is made for the poor faithful, dismissed servant. It is all very well to
be charming to you, but there are people who have told me that once I
get on a platform I am charming to all the world. There is no harm in my
speaking of that, because you have told me so yourself. Perhaps you
intend to have a platform erected in our front parlour, where I can
address you every evening, and put you to sleep after your work. I say
our _front_ parlour, as if it were certain we should have two! It
doesn't look as if our means would permit that--and we must have some
place to dine, if there is to be a platform in our sitting-room."

"My dear young woman, it will be easy to solve the difficulty: the
dining-table itself shall be our platform, and you shall mount on top of
that." This was Basil Ransom's sportive reply to his companion's very
natural appeal for light, and the reader will remark that if it led her
to push her investigation no further, she was very easily satisfied.
There was more reason, however, as well as more appreciation of a very
considerable mystery, in what he went on to say. "Charming to me,
charming to all the world? What will become of your charm?--is that what
you want to know? It will be about five thousand times greater than it
is now; that's what will become of it. We shall find plenty of room for
your facility; it will lubricate our whole existence. Believe me, Miss
Tarrant, these things will take care of themselves. You won't sing in
the Music Hall, but you will sing to me; you will sing to every one who
knows you and approaches you. Your gift is indestructible; don't talk as
if I either wanted to wipe it out or should be able to make it a
particle less divine. I want to give it another direction, certainly;
but I don't want to stop your activity. Your gift is the gift of
expression, and there is nothing I can do for you that will make you
less expressive. It won't gush out at a fixed hour and on a fixed day,
but it will irrigate, it will fertilise, it will brilliantly adorn your
conversation. Think how delightful it will be when your influence
becomes really social. Your facility, as you call it, will simply make
you, in conversation, the most charming woman in America."

It is to be feared, indeed, that Verena was easily satisfied (convinced,
I mean, not that she ought to succumb to him, but that there were
lovely, neglected, almost unsuspected truths on his side); and there is
further evidence on the same head in the fact that after the first once
or twice she found nothing to say to him (much as she was always saying
to herself) about the cruel effect her apostasy would have upon Olive.
She forbore to plead that reason after she had seen how angry it made
him, and with how almost savage a contempt he denounced so flimsy a
pretext. He wanted to know since when it was more becoming to take up
with a morbid old maid than with an honourable young man; and when
Verena pronounced the sacred name of friendship he inquired what
fanatical sophistry excluded him from a similar privilege. She had told
him, in a moment of expansion (Verena believed she was immensely on her
guard, but her guard was very apt to be lowered), that his visits to
Marmion cast in Olive's view a remarkable light upon his chivalry; she
chose to regard his resolute pursuit of Verena as a covert persecution
of herself. Verena repented, as soon as she had spoken, of having given
further currency to this taunt; but she perceived the next moment no
harm was done, Basil Ransom taking in perfectly good part Miss
Chancellor's reflexions on his delicacy, and making them the subject of
much free laughter. She could not know, for in the midst of his hilarity
the young man did not compose himself to tell her, that he had made up
his mind on this question before he left New York--as long ago as when
he wrote her the note (subsequent to her departure from that city) to
which allusion has already been made, and which was simply the fellow of
the letter addressed to her after his visit to Cambridge: a friendly,
respectful, yet rather pregnant sign that, decidedly, on second
thoughts, separation didn't imply for him the intention of silence. We
know a little about his second thoughts, as much as is essential, and
especially how the occasion of their springing up had been the windfall
of an editor's encouragement. The importance of that encouragement, to
Basil's imagination, was doubtless much augmented by his desire for an
excuse to take up again a line of behaviour which he had forsworn (small
as had, as yet, been his opportunity to indulge in it) very much less
than he supposed; still, it worked an appreciable revolution in his view
of his case, and made him ask himself what amount of consideration he
should (from the most refined Southern point of view) owe Miss
Chancellor in the event of his deciding to go after Verena Tarrant in
earnest. He was not slow to decide that he owed her none. Chivalry had
to do with one's relations with people one hated, not with those one
loved. He didn't hate poor Miss Olive, though she might make him yet;
and even if he did, any chivalry was all moonshine which should require
him to give up the girl he adored in order that his third cousin should
see he could be gallant. Chivalry was forbearance and generosity with
regard to the weak; and there was nothing weak about Miss Olive, she was
a fighting woman, and she would fight him to the death, giving him not
an inch of odds. He felt that she was fighting there all day long, in
her cottage fortress; her resistance was in the air he breathed, and
Verena came out to him sometimes quite limp and pale from the tussle.

It was in the same jocose spirit with which he regarded Olive's view of
the sort of standard a Mississippian should live up to that he talked to
Verena about the lecture she was preparing for her great exhibition at
the Music Hall. He learned from her that she was to take the field in
the manner of Mrs. Farrinder, for a winter campaign, carrying with her a
tremendous big gun. Her engagements were all made, her route was marked
out; she expected to repeat her lecture in about fifty different places.
It was to be called "A Woman's Reason," and both Olive and Miss Birdseye
thought it, so far as they could tell in advance, her most promising
effort. She wasn't going to trust to inspiration this time; she didn't
want to meet a big Boston audience without knowing where she was.
Inspiration, moreover, seemed rather to have faded away; in consequence
of Olive's influence she had read and studied so much that it seemed now
as if everything must take form beforehand. Olive was a splendid critic,
whether he liked her or not, and she had made her go over every word of
her lecture twenty times. There wasn't an intonation she hadn't made her
practise; it was very different from the old system, when her father had
worked her up. If Basil considered women superficial, it was a pity he
couldn't see what Olive's standard of preparation was, or be present at
their rehearsals, in the evening, in their little parlour. Ransom's
state of mind in regard to the affair at the Music Hall was simply
this--that he was determined to circumvent it if he could. He covered it
with ridicule, in talking of it to Verena, and the shafts he levelled at
it went so far that he could see she thought he exaggerated his dislike
to it. In point of fact he could not have overstated that; so odious did
the idea seem to him that she was soon to be launched in a more
infatuated career. He vowed to himself that she should never take that
fresh start which would commit her irretrievably if she should succeed
(and she would succeed--he had not the slightest doubt of her power to
produce a sensation in the Music Hall), to the acclamations of the
newspapers. He didn't care for her engagements, her campaigns, or all
the expectancy of her friends; to "squelch" all that, at a stroke, was
the dearest wish of his heart. It would represent to him his own
success, it would symbolise his victory. It became a fixed idea with
him, and he warned her again and again. When she laughed and said she
didn't see how he could stop her unless he kidnapped her, he really
pitied her for not perceiving, beneath his ominous pleasantries, the
firmness of his resolution. He felt almost capable of kidnapping her. It
was palpably in the air that she would become "widely popular," and that
idea simply sickened him. He felt as differently as possible about it
from Mr. Matthias Pardon.

One afternoon, as he returned with Verena from a walk which had been
accomplished completely within the prescribed conditions, he saw, from a
distance, Doctor Prance, who had emerged bare-headed from the cottage,
and, shading her eyes from the red, declining sun, was looking up and
down the road. It was part of the regulation that Ransom should separate
from Verena before reaching the house, and they had just paused to
exchange their last words (which every day promoted the situation more
than any others), when Doctor Prance began to beckon to them with much
animation. They hurried forward, Verena pressing her hand to her heart,
for she had instantly guessed that something terrible had happened to
Olive--she had given out, fainted away, perhaps fallen dead, with the
cruelty of the strain. Doctor Prance watched them come, with a curious
look in her face; it was not a smile, but a kind of exaggerated
intimation that she noticed nothing. In an instant she had told them
what was the matter. Miss Birdseye had had a sudden weakness; she had
remarked abruptly that she was dying, and her pulse, sure enough, had
fallen to nothing. She was down on the piazza with Miss Chancellor and
herself, and they had tried to get her up to bed. But she wouldn't let
them move her; she was passing away, and she wanted to pass away just
there, in such a pleasant place, in her customary chair, looking at the
sunset. She asked for Miss Tarrant, and Miss Chancellor told her she was
out--walking with Mr. Ransom. Then she wanted to know if Mr. Ransom was
still there--she supposed he had gone. (Basil knew, by Verena, apart
from this, that his name had not been mentioned to the old lady since
the morning he saw her.) She expressed a wish to see him--she had
something to say to him; and Miss Chancellor told her that he would be
back soon, with Verena, and that they would bring him in. Miss Birdseye
said she hoped they wouldn't be long, because she was sinking; and
Doctor Prance now added, like a person who knew what she was talking
about, that it was, in fact, the end. She had darted out two or three
times to look for them, and they must step right in. Verena had scarcely
given her time to tell her story; she had already rushed into the house.
Ransom followed with Doctor Prance, conscious that for him the occasion
was doubly solemn; inasmuch as if he was to see poor Miss Birdseye yield
up her philanthropic soul, he was on the other hand doubtless to receive
from Miss Chancellor a reminder that _she_ had no intention of quitting
the game.

By the time he had made this reflexion he stood in the presence of his
kinswoman and her venerable guest, who was sitting just as he had seen
her before, muffled and bonneted, on the back piazza of the cottage.
Olive Chancellor was on one side of her holding one of her hands, and on
the other was Verena, who had dropped on her knees, close to her,
bending over those of the old lady. "Did you ask for me--did you want
me?" the girl said tenderly. "I will never leave you again."

"Oh, I won't keep you long. I only wanted to see you once more." Miss
Birdseye's voice was very low, like that of a person breathing with
difficulty; but it had no painful nor querulous note--it expressed only
the cheerful weariness which had marked all this last period of her
life, and which seemed to make it now as blissful as it was suitable
that she should pass away. Her head was thrown back against the top of
the chair, the ribbon which confined her ancient hat hung loose, and the
late afternoon light covered her octogenarian face and gave it a kind of
fairness, a double placidity. There was, to Ransom, something almost
august in the trustful renunciation of her countenance; something in it
seemed to say that she had been ready long before, but as the time was
not ripe she had waited, with her usual faith that all was for the best;
only, at present, since the right conditions met, she couldn't help
feeling that it was quite a luxury, the greatest she had ever tasted.
Ransom knew why it was that Verena had tears in her eyes as she looked
up at her patient old friend; she had spoken to him, often, during the
last three weeks, of the stories Miss Birdseye had told her of the great
work of her life, her mission, repeated year after year, among the
Southern blacks. She had gone among them with every precaution, to teach
them to read and write; she had carried them Bibles and told them of the
friends they had in the North who prayed for their deliverance. Ransom
knew that Verena didn't reproduce these legends with a view to making
him ashamed of his Southern origin, his connexion with people who, in a
past not yet remote, had made that kind of apostleship necessary; he
knew this because she had heard what he thought of all that chapter
himself; he had given her a kind of historical summary of the slavery
question which left her no room to say that he was more tender to that
particular example of human imbecility than he was to any other. But she
had told him that this was what _she_ would have liked to do--to wander,
alone, with her life in her hand, on an errand of mercy, through a
country in which society was arrayed against her; she would have liked
it much better than simply talking about the right from the gas-lighted
vantage of the New England platform. Ransom had replied simply
"Balderdash!" it being his theory, as we have perceived, that he knew
much more about Verena's native bent than the young lady herself. This
did not, however, as he was perfectly aware, prevent her feeling that
she had come too late for the heroic age of New England life, and
regarding Miss Birdseye as a battered, immemorial monument of it. Ransom
could share such an admiration as that, especially at this moment; he
had said to Verena, more than once, that he wished he might have met the
old lady in Carolina or Georgia before the war--shown her round among
the negroes and talked over New England ideas with her; there were a
good many he didn't care much about now, but at that time they would
have been tremendously refreshing. Miss Birdseye had given herself away
so lavishly all her life that it was rather odd there was anything left
of her for the supreme surrender. When he looked at Olive he saw that
she meant to ignore him; and during the few minutes he remained on the
spot his kinswoman never met his eye. She turned away, indeed, as soon
as Doctor Prance said, leaning over Miss Birdseye, "I have brought Mr.
Ransom to you. Don't you remember you asked for him?"

"I am very glad to see you again," Ransom remarked. "It was very good of
you to think of me." At the sound of his voice Olive rose and left her
place; she sank into a chair at the other end of the piazza, turning
round to rest her arms on the back and bury her head in them.

Miss Birdseye looked at the young man still more dimly than she had ever
done before. "I thought you were gone. You never came back."

"He spends all his time in long walks; he enjoys the country so much,"
Verena said.

"Well, it's very beautiful, what I see from here. I haven't been strong
enough to move round since the first days. But I am going to move now."
She smiled when Ransom made a gesture as if to help her, and added: "Oh,
I don't mean I am going to move out of my chair."

"Mr. Ransom has been out in a boat with me several times. I have been
showing him how to cast a line," said Doctor Prance, who appeared to
deprecate a sentimental tendency.

"Oh, well, then, you have been one of our party; there seems to be every
reason why you should feel that you belong to us." Miss Birdseye looked
at the visitor with a sort of misty earnestness, as if she wished to
communicate with him further; then her glance turned slightly aside; she
tried to see what had become of Olive. She perceived that Miss
Chancellor had withdrawn herself, and, closing her eyes, she mused,
ineffectually, on the mystery she had not grasped, the peculiarity of
Basil Ransom's relations with her hostess. She was visibly too weak to
concern herself with it very actively; she only felt, now that she
seemed really to be going, a desire to reconcile and harmonise. But she
presently exhaled a low, soft sigh--a kind of confession that it was too
mixed, that she gave it up. Ransom had feared for a moment that she was
about to indulge in some appeal to Olive, some attempt to make him join
hands with that young lady, as a supreme satisfaction to herself. But he
saw that her strength failed her, and that, besides, things were getting
less clear to her; to his considerable relief, inasmuch as, though he
would not have objected to joining hands, the expression of Miss
Chancellor's figure and her averted face, with their desperate collapse,
showed him well enough how _she_ would have met such a proposal. What
Miss Birdseye clung to, with benignant perversity, was the idea that, in
spite of his exclusion from the house, which was perhaps only the result
of a certain high-strung jealousy on Olive's part of her friend's other
personal ties, Verena had drawn him in, had made him sympathise with the
great reform and desire to work for it. Ransom saw no reason why such an
illusion should be dear to Miss Birdseye; his contact with her in the
past had been so momentary that he could not account for her taking an
interest in his views, in his throwing his weight into the right scale.
It was part of the general desire for justice that fermented within her,
the passion for progress; and it was also in some degree her interest in
Verena--a suspicion, innocent and idyllic, as any such suspicion on Miss
Birdseye's part must be, that there was something between them, that the
closest of all unions (as Miss Birdseye at least supposed it was) was
preparing itself. Then his being a Southerner gave a point to the whole
thing; to bring round a Southerner would be a real encouragement for one
who had seen, even at a time when she was already an old woman, what was
the tone of opinion in the cotton States. Ransom had no wish to
discourage her, and he bore well in mind the caution Doctor Prance had
given him about destroying her last theory. He only bowed his head very
humbly, not knowing what he had done to earn the honour of being the
subject of it. His eyes met Verena's as she looked up at him from her
place at Miss Birdseye's feet, and he saw she was following his thought,
throwing herself into it, and trying to communicate to him a wish. The
wish touched him immensely; she was dreadfully afraid he would betray
her to Miss Birdseye--let her know how she had cooled off. Verena was
ashamed of that now, and trembled at the danger of exposure; her eyes
adjured him to be careful of what he said. Her tremor made him glow a
little in return, for it seemed to him the fullest confession of his
influence she had yet made.

"We have been a very happy little party," she said to the old lady. "It
is delightful that you should have been able to be with us all these
weeks."

"It has been a great rest. I am very tired. I can't speak much. It has
been a lovely time. I have done so much--so many things."

"I guess I wouldn't talk much, Miss Birdseye," said Doctor Prance, who
had now knelt down on the other side of her. "We know how much you have
done. Don't you suppose every one knows _your_ life?"

"It isn't much--only I tried to take hold. When I look back from here,
from where we've sat, I can measure the progress. That's what I wanted
to say to you and Mr. Ransom--because I'm going fast. Hold on to me,
that's right; but you can't keep me. I don't want to stay now; I presume
I shall join some of the others that we lost long ago. Their faces come
back to me now, quite fresh. It seems as if they might be waiting; as if
they were all there; as if they wanted to hear. You mustn't think
there's no progress because you don't see it all right off; that's what
I wanted to say. It isn't till you have gone a long way that you can
feel what's been done. That's what I see when I look back from here; I
see that the community wasn't half waked up when I was young."

"It is you that have waked it up more than any one else, and it's for
that we honour you, Miss Birdseye!" Verena cried, with a sudden violence
of emotion. "If you were to live for a thousand years, you would think
only of others--you would think only of helping on humanity. You are our
heroine, you are our saint, and there has never been any one like you!"
Verena had no glance for Ransom now, and there was neither deprecation
nor entreaty in her face. A wave of contrition, of shame, had swept over
her--a quick desire to atone for her secret swerving by a renewed
recognition of the nobleness of such a life as Miss Birdseye's.

"Oh, I haven't effected very much; I have only cared and hoped. You will
do more than I have ever done--you and Olive Chancellor, because you are
young and bright, brighter than I ever was; and besides, everything has
got started."

"Well, you've got started, Miss Birdseye," Doctor Prance remarked, with
raised eyebrows, protesting dryly but kindly, and putting forward, with
an air as if, after all, it didn't matter much, an authority that had
been superseded. The manner in which this competent little woman
indulged her patient showed sufficiently that the good lady was sinking
fast.

"We will think of you always, and your name will be sacred to us, and
that will teach us singleness and devotion," Verena went on, in the same
tone, still not meeting Ransom's eyes again, and speaking as if she were
trying now to stop herself, to tie herself by a vow.

"Well, it's the thing you and Olive have given your lives to that has
absorbed me most, of late years. I did want to see justice done--to us.
I haven't seen it, but you will. And Olive will. Where is she--why isn't
she near me, to bid me farewell? And Mr. Ransom will--and he will be
proud to have helped."

"Oh, mercy, mercy!" cried Verena, burying her head in Miss Birdseye's
lap.

"You are not mistaken if you think I desire above all things that your
weakness, your generosity, should be protected," Ransom said, rather
ambiguously, but with pointed respectfulness. "I shall remember you as
an example of what women are capable of," he added; and he had no
subsequent compunctions for the speech, for he thought poor Miss
Birdseye, for all her absence of profile, essentially feminine.

A kind of frantic moan from Olive Chancellor responded to these words,
which had evidently struck her as an insolent sarcasm; and at the same
moment Doctor Prance sent Ransom a glance which was an adjuration to
depart.

"Good-bye, Olive Chancellor," Miss Birdseye murmured. "I don't want to
stay, though I should like to see what you will see."

"I shall see nothing but shame and ruin!" Olive shrieked, rushing across
to her old friend, while Ransom discreetly quitted the scene.



XXXIX


He met Doctor Prance in the village the next morning, and as soon as he
looked at her he saw that the event which had been impending at Miss
Chancellor's had taken place. It was not that her aspect was funereal;
but it contained, somehow, an announcement that she had, for the
present, no more thought to give to casting a line. Miss Birdseye had
quietly passed away, in the evening, an hour or two after Ransom's
visit. They had wheeled her chair into the house; there had been nothing
to do but wait for complete extinction. Miss Chancellor and Miss Tarrant
had sat by her there, without moving, each of her hands in theirs, and
she had just melted away, towards eight o'clock. It was a lovely death;
Doctor Prance intimated that she had never seen any that she thought
more seasonable. She added that she was a good woman--one of the old
sort; and that was the only funeral oration that Basil Ransom was
destined to hear pronounced upon Miss Birdseye. The impression of the
simplicity and humility of her end remained with him, and he reflected
more than once, during the days that followed, that the absence of pomp
and circumstance which had marked her career marked also the
consecration of her memory. She had been almost celebrated, she had been
active, earnest, ubiquitous beyond any one else, she had given herself
utterly to charities and creeds and causes; and yet the only persons,
apparently, to whom her death made a real difference were three young
women in a small "frame-house" on Cape Cod. Ransom learned from Doctor
Prance that her mortal remains were to be committed to their rest in the
little cemetery at Marmion, in sight of the pretty sea-view she loved to
gaze at, among old mossy headstones of mariners and fisher-folk. She had
seen the place when she first came down, when she was able to drive out
a little, and she had said she thought it must be pleasant to lie there.
It was not an injunction, a definite request; it had not occurred to
Miss Birdseye, at the end of her days, to take an exacting line or to
make, for the first time in eighty years, a personal claim. But Olive
Chancellor and Verena had put their construction on her appreciation of
the quietest corner of the striving, suffering world so weary a pilgrim
of philanthropy had ever beheld.

In the course of the day Ransom received a note of five lines from
Verena, the purport of which was to tell him that he must not expect to
see her again for the present; she wished to be very quiet and think
things over. She added the recommendation that he should leave the
neighbourhood for three or four days; there were plenty of strange old
places to see in that part of the country. Ransom meditated deeply on
this missive, and perceived that he should be guilty of very bad taste
in not immediately absenting himself. He knew that to Olive Chancellor's
vision his conduct already wore that stain, and it was useless,
therefore, for him to consider how he could displease her either less or
more. But he wished to convey to Verena the impression that he would do
anything in the wide world to gratify _her_ except give her up, and as
he packed his valise he had an idea that he was both behaving
beautifully and showing the finest diplomatic sense. To go away proved
to himself how secure he felt, what a conviction he had that however she
might turn and twist in his grasp he held her fast. The emotion she had
expressed as he stood there before poor Miss Birdseye was only one of
her instinctive contortions; he had taken due note of that--said to
himself that a good many more would probably occur before she would be
quiet. A woman that listens is lost, the old proverb says; and what had
Verena done for the last three weeks but listen?--not very long each
day, but with a degree of attention of which her not withdrawing from
Marmion was the measure. She had not told him that Olive wanted to whisk
her away, but he had not needed this confidence to know that if she
stayed on the field it was because she preferred to. She probably had an
idea she was fighting, but if she should fight no harder than she had
fought up to now he should continue to take the same view of his
success. She meant her request that he should go away for a few days as
something combative; but, decidedly, he scarcely felt the blow. He liked
to think that he had great tact with women, and he was sure Verena would
be struck with this quality in reading, in the note he presently
addressed her in reply to her own, that he had determined to take a
little run to Provincetown. As there was no one under the rather
ineffectual roof which sheltered him to whose hand he could entrust the
billet--at the Marmion hotel one had to be one's own messenger--he
walked to the village post-office to request that his note should be put
into Miss Chancellor's box. Here he met Doctor Prance, for a second time
that day; she had come to deposit the letters by which Olive notified a
few of Miss Birdseye's friends of the time and place of her obsequies.
This young lady was shut up with Verena, and Doctor Prance was
transacting all their business for them. Ransom felt that he made no
admission that would impugn his estimate of the sex to which she in a
manner belonged, in reflecting that she would acquit herself of these
delegated duties with the greatest rapidity and accuracy. He told her he
was going to absent himself for a few days, and expressed a friendly
hope that he should find her at Marmion on his return.

Her keen eye gauged him a moment, to see if he were joking; then she
said, "Well, I presume you think I can do as I like. But I can't."

"You mean you have got to go back to work?"

"Well, yes; my place is empty in the city."

"So is every other place. You had better remain till the end of the
season."

"It's all one season to me. I want to see my office-slate. I wouldn't
have stayed so long for any one but her."

"Well, then, good-bye," Ransom said. "I shall always remember our little
expeditions. And I wish you every professional distinction."

"That's why I want to go back," Doctor Prance replied, with her flat,
limited manner. He kept her a moment; he wanted to ask her about Verena.
While he was hesitating how to form his question she remarked, evidently
wishing to leave him a little memento of her sympathy, "Well, I hope you
will be able to follow up your views."

"My views, Miss Prance? I am sure I have never mentioned them to you!"
Then Ransom added, "How is Miss Tarrant to-day? is she more calm?"

"Oh no, she isn't calm at all," Doctor Prance answered, very definitely.

"Do you mean she's excited, emotional?"

"Well, she doesn't talk, she's perfectly still, and so is Miss
Chancellor. They're as still as two watchers--they don't speak. But you
can hear the silence vibrate."

"Vibrate?"

"Well, they are very nervous."

Ransom was confident, as I say, yet the effort that he made to extract a
good omen from this characterisation of the two ladies at the cottage
was not altogether successful. He would have liked to ask Doctor Prance
whether she didn't think he might count on Verena in the end; but he was
too shy for this, the subject of his relations with Miss Tarrant never
yet having been touched upon between them; and, besides, he didn't care
to hear himself put a question which was more or less an implication of
a doubt. So he compromised, with a sort of oblique and general inquiry
about Olive; that might draw some light. "What do you think of Miss
Chancellor--how does she strike you?"

Doctor Prance reflected a little, with an apparent consciousness that he
meant more than he asked. "Well, she's losing flesh," she presently
replied; and Ransom turned away, not encouraged, and feeling that, no
doubt, the little doctress had better go back to her office-slate.

He did the thing handsomely, remained at Provincetown a week, inhaling
the delicious air, smoking innumerable cigars, and lounging among the
ancient wharves, where the grass grew thick and the impression of fallen
greatness was still stronger than at Marmion. Like his friends the
Bostonians he was very nervous; there were days when he felt he must
rush back to the margin of that mild inlet; the voices of the air
whispered to him that in his absence he was being outwitted.
Nevertheless he stayed the time he had determined to stay; quieting
himself with the reflexion that there was nothing they could do to elude
him unless, perhaps, they should start again for Europe, which they were
not likely to do. If Miss Olive tried to hide Verena away in the United
States he would undertake to find her--though he was obliged to confess
that a flight to Europe would baffle him, owing to his want of cash for
pursuit. Nothing, however, was less probable than that they would cross
the Atlantic on the eve of Verena's projected _début_ at the Music Hall.
Before he went back to Marmion he wrote to this young lady, to announce
his reappearance there and let her know that he expected she would come
out to meet him the morning after. This conveyed the assurance that he
intended to take as much of the day as he could get; he had had enough
of the system of dragging through all the hours till a mere fraction of
time was left before night, and he couldn't wait so long, at any rate,
the day after his return. It was the afternoon train that had brought
him back from Provincetown, and in the evening he ascertained that the
Bostonians had not deserted the field. There were lights in the windows
of the house under the elms, and he stood where he had stood that
evening with Doctor Prance and listened to the waves of Verena's voice,
as she rehearsed her lecture. There were no waves this time, no sounds,
and no sign of life but the lamps; the place had apparently not ceased
to be given over to the conscious silence described by Doctor Prance.
Ransom felt that he gave an immense proof of chivalry in not calling
upon Verena to grant him an interview on the spot. She had not answered
his last note, but the next day she kept the tryst, at the hour he had
proposed; he saw her advance along the road, in a white dress, under a
big parasol, and again he found himself liking immensely the way she
walked. He was dismayed, however, at her face and what it portended;
pale, with red eyes, graver than she had ever been before, she appeared
to have spent the period of his absence in violent weeping. Yet that it
was not for him she had been crying was proved by the very first word
she spoke.

"I only came out to tell you definitely it's impossible! I have thought
over everything, taking plenty of time--over and over; and that is my
answer, finally, positively. You must take it--you shall have no other."

Basil Ransom gazed, frowning fearfully. "And why not, pray?"

"Because I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't!" she repeated passionately,
with her altered, distorted face.

"Damnation!" murmured the young man. He seized her hand, drew it into
his arm, forcing her to walk with him along the road.

That afternoon Olive Chancellor came out of her house and wandered for a
long time upon the shore. She looked up and down the bay, at the sails
that gleamed on the blue water, shifting in the breeze and the light;
they were a source of interest to her that they had never been before.
It was a day she was destined never to forget; she felt it to be the
saddest, the most wounding of her life. Unrest and haunting fear had not
possession of her now, as they had held her in New York when Basil
Ransom carried off Verena, to mark her for his own, in the park. But an
immeasurable load of misery seemed to sit upon her soul; she ached with
the bitterness of her melancholy, she was dumb and cold with despair.
She had spent the violence of her terror, the eagerness of her grief,
and now she was too weary to struggle with fate. She appeared to herself
almost to have accepted it, as she wandered forth in the beautiful
afternoon with the knowledge that the "ten minutes" which Verena had
told her she meant to devote to Mr. Ransom that morning had developed
suddenly into an embarkation for the day. They had gone out in a boat
together; one of the village worthies, from whom small craft were to be
hired, had, at Verena's request, sent his little son to Miss
Chancellor's cottage with that information. She had not understood
whether they had taken the boatman with them. Even when the information
came (and it came at a moment of considerable reassurance), Olive's
nerves were not ploughed up by it as they had been, for instance, by the
other expedition, in New York; and she could measure the distance she
had traversed since then. It had not driven her away on the instant to
pace the shore in frenzy, to challenge every boat that passed, and beg
that the young lady who was sailing somewhere in the bay with a dark
gentleman with long hair should be entreated immediately to return. On
the contrary, after the first quiver of pain inflicted by the news she
had been able to occupy herself, to look after her house, to write her
morning's letters, to go into her accounts, which she had had some time
on her mind. She had wanted to put off thinking, for she knew to what
hideous recognitions that would bring her round again. These were summed
up in the fact that Verena was now not to be trusted for an hour. She
had sworn to her the night before, with a face like a lacerated angel's,
that her choice was made, that their union and their work were more to
her than any other life could ever be, and that she deeply believed that
should she forswear these holy things she would simply waste away, in
the end, with remorse and shame. She would see Mr. Ransom just once
more, for ten minutes, to utter one or two supreme truths to him, and
then they would take up their old, happy, active, fruitful days again,
would throw themselves more than ever into their splendid effort. Olive
had seen how Verena was moved by Miss Birdseye's death, how at the sight
of that unique woman's majestically simple withdrawal from a scene in
which she had held every vulgar aspiration, every worldly standard and
lure, so cheap, the girl had been touched again with the spirit of their
most confident hours, had flamed up with the faith that no narrow
personal joy could compare in sweetness with the idea of doing something
for those who had always suffered and who waited still. This helped
Olive to believe that she might begin to count upon her again, conscious
as she was at the same time that Verena had been strangely weakened and
strained by her odious ordeal. Oh, Olive knew that she loved him--knew
what the passion was with which the wretched girl had to struggle; and
she did her the justice to believe that her professions were sincere,
her effort was real. Harassed and embittered as she was, Olive
Chancellor still proposed to herself to be rigidly just, and that is why
she pitied Verena now with an unspeakable pity, regarded her as the
victim of an atrocious spell, and reserved all her execration and
contempt for the author of their common misery. If Verena had stepped
into a boat with him half an hour after declaring that she would give
him his dismissal in twenty words, that was because he had ways, known
to himself and other men, of creating situations without an issue, of
forcing her to do things she could do only with sharp repugnance, under
the menace of pain that would be sharper still. But all the same, what
actually stared her in the face was that Verena was not to be trusted,
even after rallying again as passionately as she had done during the
days that followed Miss Birdseye's death. Olive would have liked to know
the pang of penance that _she_ would have been afraid, in her place, to
incur; to see the locked door which _she_ would not have managed to
force open!

This inexpressibly mournful sense that, after all, Verena, in her
exquisite delicacy and generosity, was appointed only to show how women
had from the beginning of time been the sport of men's selfishness and
avidity, this dismal conviction accompanied Olive on her walk, which
lasted all the afternoon, and in which she found a kind of tragic
relief. She went very far, keeping in the lonely places, unveiling her
face to the splendid light, which seemed to make a mock of the darkness
and bitterness of her spirit. There were little sandy coves, where the
rocks were clean, where she made long stations, sinking down in them as
if she hoped she should never rise again. It was the first time she had
been out since Miss Birdseye's death, except the hour when, with the
dozen sympathisers who came from Boston, she stood by the tired old
woman's grave. Since then, for three days, she had been writing letters,
narrating, describing to those who hadn't come; there were some, she
thought, who might have managed to do so, instead of despatching her
pages of diffuse reminiscence and asking her for all particulars in
return. Selah Tarrant and his wife had come, obtrusively, as she
thought, for they never had had very much intercourse with Miss
Birdseye; and if it was for Verena's sake, Verena was there to pay every
tribute herself. Mrs. Tarrant had evidently hoped Miss Chancellor would
ask her to stay on at Marmion, but Olive felt how little she was in a
state for such heroics of hospitality. It was precisely in order that
she should not have to do that sort of thing that she had given Selah
such considerable sums, on two occasions, at a year's interval. If the
Tarrants wanted a change of air they could travel all over the
country--their present means permitted it; they could go to Saratoga or
Newport if they liked. Their appearance showed that they could put their
hands into their pockets (or into hers); at least Mrs. Tarrant's did.
Selah still sported (on a hot day in August) his immemorial waterproof;
but his wife rustled over the low tombstones at Marmion in garments of
which (little as she was versed in such inquiries) Olive could see that
the cost had been large. Besides, after Doctor Prance had gone (when all
was over), she felt what a relief it was that Verena and she could be
just together--together with the monstrous wedge of a question that had
come up between them. That was company enough, great heaven! and she had
not got rid of such an inmate as Doctor Prance only to put Mrs. Tarrant
in her place.

Did Verena's strange aberration, on this particular day, suggest to
Olive that it was no use striving, that the world was all a great trap
or trick, of which women were ever the punctual dupes, so that it was
the worst of the curse that rested upon them that they must most
humiliate those who had most their cause at heart? Did she say to
herself that their weakness was not only lamentable but hideous--hideous
their predestined subjection to man's larger and grosser insistence? Did
she ask herself why she should give up her life to save a sex which,
after all, didn't wish to be saved, and which rejected the truth even
after it had bathed them with its auroral light and they had pretended
to be fed and fortified? These are mysteries into which I shall not
attempt to enter, speculations with which I have no concern; it is
sufficient for us to know that all human effort had never seemed to her
so barren and thankless as on that fatal afternoon. Her eyes rested on
the boats she saw in the distance, and she wondered if in one of them
Verena were floating to her fate; but so far from straining forward to
beckon her home she almost wished that she might glide away for ever,
that _she_ might never see her again, never undergo the horrible details
of a more deliberate separation. Olive lived over, in her miserable
musings, her life for the last two years; she knew, again, how noble and
beautiful her scheme had been, but how it had all rested on an illusion
of which the very thought made her feel faint and sick. What was before
her now was the reality, with the beautiful, indifferent sky pouring
down its complacent rays upon it. The reality was simply that Verena had
been more to her than she ever was to Verena, and that, with her
exquisite natural art, the girl had cared for their cause only because,
for the time, no interest, no fascination, was greater. Her talent, the
talent which was to achieve such wonders, was nothing to her; it was too
easy, she could leave it alone, as she might close her piano, for
months; it was only to Olive that it was everything. Verena had
submitted, she had responded, she had lent herself to Olive's incitement
and exhortation, because she was sympathetic and young and abundant and
fanciful; but it had been a kind of hothouse loyalty, the mere contagion
of example, and a sentiment springing up from within had easily breathed
a chill upon it. Did Olive ask herself whether, for so many months, her
companion had been only the most unconscious and most successful of
humbugs? Here again I must plead a certain incompetence to give an
answer. Positive it is that she spared herself none of the inductions of
a reverie that seemed to dry up the mists and ambiguities of life. These
hours of backward clearness come to all men and women, once at least,
when they read the past in the light of the present, with the reasons of
things, like unobserved finger-posts, protruding where they never saw
them before. The journey behind them is mapped out and figured, with its
false steps, its wrong observations, all its infatuated, deluded
geography. They understand as Olive understood, but it is probable that
they rarely suffer as she suffered. The sense of regret for her baffled
calculations burned within her like a fire, and the splendour of the
vision over which the curtain of mourning now was dropped brought to her
eyes slow, still tears, tears that came one by one, neither easing her
nerves nor lightening her load of pain. She thought of her innumerable
talks with Verena, of the pledges they had exchanged, of their earnest
studies, their faithful work, their certain reward, the winter nights
under the lamp, when they thrilled with previsions as just and a passion
as high as had ever found shelter in a pair of human hearts. The pity of
it, the misery of such a fall after such a flight, could express itself
only, as the poor girl prolonged the vague pauses of her unnoticed
ramble, in a low, inarticulate murmur of anguish.

The afternoon waned, bringing with it the slight chill which, at the
summer's end, begins to mark the shortening days. She turned her face
homeward, and by this time became conscious that if Verena's companion
had not yet brought her back there might be ground for uneasiness as to
what had happened to them. It seemed to her that no sail-boat could have
put into the town without passing more or less before her eyes and
showing her whom it carried; she had seen a dozen, freighted only with
the figures of men. An accident was perfectly possible (what could
Ransom, with his plantation habits, know about the management of a
sail?), and once that danger loomed before her--the signal loveliness of
the weather had prevented its striking her before--Olive's imagination
hurried, with a bound, to the worst. She saw the boat overturned and
drifting out to sea, and (after a week of nameless horror) the body of
an unknown young woman, defaced beyond recognition, but with long auburn
hair and in a white dress, washed up in some far-away cove. An hour
before, her mind had rested with a sort of relief on the idea that
Verena should sink for ever beneath the horizon, so that their
tremendous trouble might never be; but now, with the lateness of the
hour, a sharp, immediate anxiety took the place of that intended
resignation; and she quickened her step, with a heart that galloped too
as she went. Then it was, above all, that she felt how _she_ had
understood friendship, and how never again to see the face of the
creature she had taken to her soul would be for her as the stroke of
blindness. The twilight had become thick by the time she reached Marmion
and paused for an instant in front of her house, over which the elms
that stood on the grassy wayside appeared to her to hang a blacker
curtain than ever before.

There was no candle in any window, and when she pushed in and stood in
the hall, listening a moment, her step awakened no answering sound. Her
heart failed her; Verena's staying out in a boat from ten o'clock in the
morning till nightfall was too unnatural, and she gave a cry, as she
rushed into the low, dim parlour (darkened on one side, at that hour, by
the wide-armed foliage, and on the other by the veranda and trellis),
which expressed only a wild personal passion, a desire to take her
friend in her arms again on any terms, even the most cruel to herself.
The next moment she started back, with another and a different
exclamation, for Verena was in the room, motionless, in a corner--the
first place in which she had seated herself on re-entering the
house--looking at her with a silent face which seemed strange,
unnatural, in the dusk. Olive stopped short, and for a minute the two
women remained as they were, gazing at each other in the dimness. After
that, too, Olive still said nothing; she only went to Verena and sat
down beside her. She didn't know what to make of her manner; she had
never been like that before. She was unwilling to speak; she seemed
crushed and humbled. This was almost the worst--if anything could be
worse than what had gone before; and Olive took her hand with an
irresistible impulse of compassion and assurance. From the way it lay in
her own she guessed her whole feeling--saw it was a kind of shame, shame
for her weakness, her swift surrender, her insane gyration, in the
morning. Verena expressed it by no protest and no explanation; she
appeared not even to wish to hear the sound of her own voice. Her
silence itself was an appeal--an appeal to Olive to ask no questions
(she could trust her to inflict no spoken reproach); only to wait till
she could lift up her head again. Olive understood, or thought she
understood, and the woefulness of it all only seemed the deeper. She
would just sit there and hold her hand; that was all she could do; they
were beyond each other's help in any other way now. Verena leaned her
head back and closed her eyes, and for an hour, as nightfall settled in
the room, neither of the young women spoke. Distinctly, it was a kind of
shame. After a while the parlour-maid, very casual, in the manner of the
servants at Marmion, appeared on the threshold with a lamp; but Olive
motioned her frantically away. She wished to keep the darkness. It was a
kind of shame.

The next morning Basil Ransom rapped loudly with his walking-stick on
the lintel of Miss Chancellor's house-door, which, as usual on fine
days, stood open. There was no need he should wait till the servant had
answered his summons; for Olive, who had reason to believe he would
come, and who had been lurking in the sitting-room for a purpose of her
own, stepped forth into the little hall.

"I am sorry to disturb you; I had the hope that--for a moment--I might
see Miss Tarrant." That was the speech with which (and a measured
salutation) he greeted his advancing kinswoman. She faced him an
instant, and her strange green eyes caught the light.

"It's impossible. You may believe that when I say it."

"Why is it impossible?" he asked, smiling in spite of an inward
displeasure. And as Olive gave him no answer, only gazing at him with a
cold audacity which he had not hitherto observed in her, he added a
little explanation. "It is simply to have seen her before I go--to have
said five words to her. I want her to know that I have made up my
mind--since yesterday--to leave this place; I shall take the train at
noon."

It was not to gratify Olive Chancellor that he had determined to go
away, or even that he told her this; yet he was surprised that his words
brought no expression of pleasure to her face. "I don't think it is of
much importance whether you go away or not. Miss Tarrant herself has
gone away."

"Miss Tarrant--gone away?" This announcement was so much at variance
with Verena's apparent intentions the night before that his ejaculation
expressed chagrin as well as surprise, and in doing so it gave Olive a
momentary advantage. It was the only one she had ever had, and the poor
girl may be excused for having enjoyed it--so far as enjoyment was
possible to her. Basil Ransom's visible discomfiture was more agreeable
to her than anything had been for a long time.

"I went with her myself to the early train; and I saw it leave the
station." And Olive kept her eyes unaverted, for the satisfaction of
seeing how he took it.

It must be confessed that he took it rather ill. He had decided it was
best he should retire, but Verena's retiring was another matter. "And
where is she gone?" he asked, with a frown.

"I don't think I am obliged to tell you."

"Of course not! Excuse my asking. It is much better that I should find
it out for myself, because if I owed the information to you I should
perhaps feel a certain delicacy as regards profiting by it."

"Gracious heaven!" cried Miss Chancellor, at the idea of Ransom's
delicacy. Then she added more deliberately: "You will not find out for
yourself."

"You think not?"

"I am sure of it!" And her enjoyment of the situation becoming acute,
there broke from her lips a shrill, unfamiliar, troubled sound, which
performed the office of a laugh, a laugh of triumph, but which, at a
distance, might have passed almost as well for a wail of despair. It
rang in Ransom's ears as he quickly turned away.



XL


It was Mrs. Luna who received him, as she had received him on the
occasion of his first visit to Charles Street; by which I do not mean
quite in the same way. She had known very little about him then, but she
knew too much for her happiness to-day, and she had with him now a
little invidious, contemptuous manner, as if everything he should say or
do could be a proof only of abominable duplicity and perversity. She had
a theory that he had treated her shamefully; and he knew it--I do not
mean the fact, but the theory: which led him to reflect that her
resentments were as shallow as her opinions, inasmuch as if she really
believed in her grievance, or if it had had any dignity, she would not
have consented to see him. He had not presented himself at Miss
Chancellor's door without a very good reason, and having done so he
could not turn away so long as there was any one in the house of whom he
might have speech. He had sent up his name to Mrs. Luna, after being
told that she was staying there, on the mere chance that she would see
him; for he thought a refusal a very possible sequel to the letters she
had written him during the past four or five months--letters he had
scarcely read, full of allusions of the most cutting sort to proceedings
of his, in the past, of which he had no recollection whatever. They
bored him, for he had quite other matters in his mind.

"I don't wonder you have the bad taste, the crudity," she said, as soon
as he came into the room, looking at him more sternly than he would have
believed possible to her.

He saw that this was an allusion to his not having been to see her since
the period of her sister's visit to New York; he having conceived for
her, the evening of Mrs. Burrage's party, a sentiment of aversion which
put an end to such attentions. He didn't laugh, he was too worried and
preoccupied; but he replied, in a tone which apparently annoyed her as
much as any indecent mirth: "I thought it very possible you wouldn't see
me."

"Why shouldn't I see you, if I should take it into my head? Do you
suppose I care whether I see you or not?"

"I supposed you wanted to, from your letters."

"Then why did you think I would refuse?"

"Because that's the sort of thing women do."

"Women--women! You know much about them!"

"I am learning something every day."

"You haven't learned yet, apparently, to answer their letters. It's
rather a surprise to me that you don't pretend not to have received
mine."

Ransom could smile now; the opportunity to vent the exasperation that
had been consuming him almost restored his good humour. "What could I
say? You overwhelmed me. Besides, I did answer one of them."

"One of them? You speak as if I had written you a dozen!" Mrs. Luna
cried.

"I thought that was your contention--that you had done me the honour to
address me so many. They were crushing, and when a man's crushed, it's
all over."

"Yes, you look as if you were in very small pieces! I am glad that I
shall never see you again."

"I can see now why you received me--to tell me that," Ransom said.

"It is a kind of pleasure. I am going back to Europe."

"Really? for Newton's education?"

"Ah, I wonder you can have the face to speak of that--after the way you
deserted him!"

"Let us abandon the subject, then, and I will tell you what I want."

"I don't in the least care what you want," Mrs. Luna remarked. "And you
haven't even the grace to ask me where I am going--over there."

"What difference does that make to me--once you leave these shores?"

Mrs. Luna rose to her feet. "Ah, chivalry, chivalry!" she exclaimed. And
she walked away to the window--one of the windows from which Ransom had
first enjoyed, at Olive's solicitation, the view of the Back Bay. Mrs.
Luna looked forth at it with little of the air of a person who was sorry
to be about to lose it. "I am determined you shall know where I am
going," she said in a moment. "I am going to Florence."

"Don't be afraid!" he replied. "I shall go to Rome."

"And you'll carry there more impertinence than has been seen there since
the old emperors."

"Were the emperors impertinent, in addition to their other vices? I am
determined, on my side, that you shall know what I have come for,"
Ransom said. "I wouldn't ask you if I could ask any one else; but I am
very hard pressed, and I don't know who can help me."

Mrs. Luna turned on him a face of the frankest derision. "Help you? Do
you remember the last time I asked you to help me?"

"That evening at Mrs. Burrage's? Surely I wasn't wanting then; I
remember urging on your acceptance a chair, so that you might stand on
it, to see and to hear."

"To see and to hear what, please? Your disgusting infatuation!"

"It's just about that I want to speak to you," Ransom pursued. "As you
already know all about it, you have no new shock to receive, and I
therefore venture to ask you----"

"Where tickets for her lecture to-night can be obtained? Is it possible
she hasn't sent you one?"

"I assure you I didn't come to Boston to hear it," said Ransom, with a
sadness which Mrs. Luna evidently regarded as a refinement of outrage.
"What I should like to ascertain is where Miss Tarrant may be found at
the present moment."

"And do you think that's a delicate inquiry to make of _me_?"

"I don't see why it shouldn't be, but I know you don't think it is, and
that is why, as I say, I mention the matter to you only because I can
imagine absolutely no one else who is in a position to assist me. I have
been to the house of Miss Tarrant's parents, in Cambridge, but it is
closed and empty, destitute of any sign of life. I went there first, on
arriving this morning, and rang at this door only when my journey to
Monadnoc Place had proved fruitless. Your sister's servant told me that
Miss Tarrant was not staying here, but she added that Mrs. Luna was. No
doubt you won't be pleased at having been spoken of as a sort of
equivalent; and I didn't say to myself--or to the servant--that you
would do as well; I only reflected that I could at least try you. I
didn't even ask for Miss Chancellor, as I am sure she would give me no
information whatever."

Mrs. Luna listened to this candid account of the young man's proceedings
with her head turned a little over her shoulder at him, and her eyes
fixed as unsympathetically as possible upon his own. "What you propose,
then, as I understand it," she said in a moment, "is that I should
betray my sister to you."

"Worse than that; I propose that you should betray Miss Tarrant
herself."

"What do I care about Miss Tarrant? I don't know what you are talking
about."

"Haven't you really any idea where she is living? Haven't you seen her
here? Are Miss Olive and she not constantly together?"

Mrs. Luna, at this, turned full round upon him, and, with folded arms
and her head tossed back, exclaimed: "Look here, Basil Ransom, I never
thought you were a fool, but it strikes me that since we last met you
have lost your wits!"

"There is no doubt of that," Ransom answered, smiling.

"Do you mean to tell me you don't know everything about Miss Tarrant
that can be known?"

"I have neither seen her nor heard of her for the last ten weeks; Miss
Chancellor has hidden her away."

"Hidden her away, with all the walls and fences of Boston flaming to-day
with her name?"

"Oh yes, I have noticed that, and I have no doubt that by waiting till
this evening I shall be able to see her. But I don't want to wait till
this evening; I want to see her now, and not in public--in private."

"Do you indeed?--how interesting!" cried Mrs. Luna, with rippling
laughter. "And pray what do you want to do with her?"

Ransom hesitated a little. "I think I would rather not tell you."

"Your charming frankness, then, has its limits! My poor cousin, you are
really too _naïf_. Do you suppose it matters a straw to me?"

Ransom made no answer to this appeal, but after an instant he broke out:
"Honestly, Mrs. Luna, can you give me no clue?"

"Lord, what terrible eyes you make, and what terrible words you use!
'Honestly,' quoth he! Do you think I am so fond of the creature that I
want to keep her all to myself?"

"I don't know; I don't understand," said Ransom, slowly and softly, but
still with his terrible eyes.

"And do you think I understand any better? You are not a very edifying
young man," Mrs. Luna went on; "but I really think you have deserved a
better fate than to be jilted and thrown over by a girl of that class."

"I haven't been jilted. I like her very much, but she never encouraged
me."

At this Mrs. Luna broke again into articulate scoffing. "It is very odd
that at your age you should be so little a man of the world!"

Ransom made her no other answer than to remark, thoughtfully and rather
absently: "Your sister is really very clever."

"By which you mean, I suppose, that I am not!" Mrs. Luna suddenly
changed her tone, and said, with the greatest sweetness and humility:
"God knows, I have never pretended to be!"

Ransom looked at her a moment, and guessed the meaning of this altered
note. It had suddenly come over her that with her portrait in half the
shop-fronts, her advertisement on all the fences, and the great occasion
on which she was to reveal herself to the country at large close at
hand, Verena had become so conscious of high destinies that her dear
friend's Southern kinsman really appeared to her very small game, and
she might therefore be regarded as having cast him off. If this were the
case, it would perhaps be well for Mrs. Luna still to hold on. Basil's
induction was very rapid, but it gave him time to decide that the best
thing to say to his interlocutress was: "On what day do you sail for
Europe?"

"Perhaps I shall not sail at all," Mrs. Luna replied, looking out of the
window.

"And in that case--poor Newton's education?"

"I should try to content myself with a country which has given you
yours."

"Don't you want him, then, to be a man of the world?"

"Ah, the world, the world!" she murmured, while she watched, in the
deepening dusk, the lights of the town begin to reflect themselves in
the Back Bay. "Has it been such a source of happiness to me that I
belong to it?"

"Perhaps, after all, I shall be able to go to Florence!" said Ransom,
laughing.

She faced him once more, this time slowly, and declared that she had
never known anything so strange as his state of mind--she would be so
glad to have an explanation of it. With the opinions he professed (it
was for them she had liked him--she didn't like his character), why on
earth should he be running after a little fifth-rate _poseuse_, and in
such a frenzy to get hold of her? He might say it was none of her
business, and of course she would have no answer to that; therefore she
admitted that she asked simply out of intellectual curiosity, and
because one always was tormented at the sight of a painful
contradiction. With the things she had heard him say about his
convictions and theories, his view of life and the great questions of
the future, she should have thought he would find Miss Tarrant's
attitudinising absolutely nauseous. Were not her views the same as
Olive's and hadn't Olive and he signally failed to hit it off together?
Mrs. Luna only asked because she was really quite puzzled. "Don't you
know that some minds, when they see a mystery, can't rest till they
clear it up?"

"You can't be more puzzled than I am," said Ransom. "Apparently the
explanation is to be found in a sort of reversal of the formula you were
so good, just now, as to apply to me. You like my opinions, but you
entertain a different sentiment for my character. I deplore Miss
Tarrant's opinions, but her character--well, her character pleases me."

Mrs. Luna stared, as if she were waiting, the explanation surely not
being complete. "But as much as that?" she inquired.

"As much as what?" said Ransom, smiling. Then he added, "Your sister has
beaten me."

"I thought she had beaten some one of late; she has seemed so gay and
happy. I didn't suppose it was _all_ because I was going away."

"Has she seemed very gay?" Ransom inquired, with a sinking of the heart.
He wore such a long face, as he asked this question, that Mrs. Luna was
again moved to audible mirth, after which she explained:

"Of course I mean gay for her. Everything is relative. With her
impatience for this lecture of her friend's to-night, she's in an
unspeakable state! She can't sit still for three minutes, she goes out
fifteen times a day, and there has been enough arranging and
interviewing, and discussing and telegraphing and advertising, enough
wire-pulling and rushing about, to put an army in the field. What is it
they are always doing to the armies in Europe?--mobilising them? Well,
Verena has been mobilised, and this has been headquarters."

"And shall you go to the Music Hall to-night?"

"For what do you take me? I have no desire to be shrieked at for an
hour."

"No doubt, no doubt, Miss Olive must be in a state," Ransom went on,
rather absently. Then he said, with abruptness, in a different tone: "If
this house has been, as you say, headquarters, how comes it you haven't
seen her?"

"Seen Olive? I have seen nothing else!"

"I mean Miss Tarrant. She must be somewhere--in the place--if she's to
speak to-night."

"Should you like me to go out and look for her? _Il ne manquerait plus
que cela!_" cried Mrs. Luna. "What's the matter with you, Basil Ransom,
and what are you after?" she demanded, with considerable sharpness. She
had tried haughtiness and she had tried humility, but they brought her
equally face to face with a competitor whom she couldn't take seriously,
yet who was none the less objectionable for all that.

I know not whether Ransom would have attempted to answer her question
had an obstacle not presented itself; at any rate, at the moment she
spoke, the curtain in the doorway was pushed aside, and a visitor
crossed the threshold. "Mercy! how provoking!" Mrs. Luna exclaimed,
audibly enough; and without moving from her place she bent an
uncharitable eye upon the invader, a gentleman whom Ransom had the sense
of having met before. He was a young man with a fresh face and abundant
locks, prematurely white; he stood smiling at Mrs. Luna, quite undaunted
by the absence of any demonstration in his favour. She looked as if she
didn't know him, while Ransom prepared to depart, leaving them to settle
it together.

"I'm afraid you don't remember me, though I have seen you before," said
the young man, very amiably. "I was here a week ago, and Miss Chancellor
presented me to you."

"Oh yes; she's not at home now," Mrs. Luna returned vaguely.

"So I was told--but I didn't let that prevent me." And the young man
included Basil Ransom in the smile with which he made himself more
welcome than Mrs. Luna appeared disposed to make him, and by which he
seemed to call attention to his superiority. "There is a matter on which
I want very much to obtain some information, and I have no doubt you
will be so good as to give it to me."

"It comes back to me--you have something to do with the newspapers,"
said Mrs. Luna; and Ransom too, by this time, had placed the young man
among his reminiscences. He had been at Miss Birdseye's famous party,
and Doctor Prance had there described him as a brilliant journalist.

It was quite with the air of such a personage that he accepted Mrs.
Luna's definition, and he continued to radiate towards Ransom (as if, in
return, he remembered _his_ face), while he dropped, confidentially, the
word that expressed everything--"The _Vesper_, don't you know?" Then he
went on: "Now, Mrs. Luna, I don't care, I'm not going to let you off! We
want the last news about Miss Verena, and it has got to come out of this
house."

"Oh murder!" Ransom muttered, beneath his breath, taking up his hat.

"Miss Chancellor has hidden her away; I have been scouring the city in
search of her, and her own father hasn't seen her for a week. We have
got his ideas; they are very easy to get, but that isn't what we want."

"And what do you want?" Ransom was now impelled to inquire, as Mr.
Pardon (even the name at present came back to him) appeared sufficiently
to have introduced himself.

"We want to know how she feels about to-night; what report she makes of
her nerves, her anticipations; how she looked, what she had on, up to
six o'clock. Gracious! if I could see her I should know what I wanted,
and so would she, I guess!" Mr. Pardon exclaimed. "You must know
something, Mrs. Luna; it isn't natural you shouldn't. I won't inquire
any further where she is, because that might seem a little pushing, if
she does wish to withdraw herself--though I am bound to say I think she
makes a mistake; we could work up these last hours for her! But can't
you tell me any little personal items--the sort of thing the people
like? What is she going to have for supper? or is she going to
speak--a--without previous nourishment?"

"Really, sir, I don't know, and I don't in the least care; I have
nothing to do with the business!" Mrs. Luna cried angrily.

The reporter stared; then, eagerly, "You have nothing to do with it--you
take an unfavourable view, you protest?" And he was already feeling in a
side-pocket for his notebook.

"Mercy on us! are you going to put _that_ in the paper?" Mrs. Luna
exclaimed; and in spite of the sense, detestable to him, that everything
he wished most to avert was fast closing over the girl, Ransom broke
into cynical laughter.

"Ah, but do protest, madam; let us at least have that fragment!" Mr.
Pardon went on. "A protest from this house would be a charming note. We
_must_ have it--we've got nothing else! The public are almost as much
interested in your sister as they are in Miss Verena; they know to what
extent she has backed her: and I should be so delighted (I see the
heading, from here, so attractive!) just to take down 'What Miss
Chancellor's Family Think about It!'"

Mrs. Luna sank into the nearest chair, with a groan, covering her face
with her hands. "Heaven help me, I am glad I am going to Europe!"

"That is another little item--everything counts," said Matthias Pardon,
making a rapid entry in his tablets. "May I inquire whether you are
going to Europe in consequence of your disapproval of your sister's
views?"

Mrs. Luna sprang up again, almost snatching the memoranda out of his
hand. "If you have the impertinence to publish a word about me, or to
mention my name in print, I will come to your office and make such a
scene!"

"Dearest lady, that would be a godsend!" Mr. Pardon cried
enthusiastically; but he put his notebook back into his pocket.

"Have you made an exhaustive search for Miss Tarrant?" Basil Ransom
asked of him. Mr. Pardon, at this inquiry, eyed him with a sudden,
familiar archness, expressive of the idea of competition; so that Ransom
added: "You needn't be afraid, I'm not a reporter."

"I didn't know but what you had come on from New York."

"So I have--but not as the representative of a newspaper."

"Fancy his taking you----" Mrs. Luna murmured, with indignation.

"Well, I have been everywhere I could think of," Mr. Pardon remarked. "I
have been hunting round after your sister's agent, but I haven't been
able to catch up with him; I suppose he has been hunting on his side.
Miss Chancellor told me--Mrs. Luna may remember it--that she shouldn't
be here at all during the week, and that she preferred not to tell me
either where or how she was to spend her time until the momentous
evening. Of course I let her know that I should find out if I could, and
you may remember," he said to Mrs. Luna, "the conversation we had on the
subject. I remarked, candidly, that if they didn't look out they would
overdo the quietness. Doctor Tarrant has felt very low about it.
However, I have done what I could with the material at my command, and
the _Vesper_ has let the public know that her whereabouts was the
biggest mystery of the season. It's difficult to get round the
_Vesper_."

"I am almost afraid to open my lips in your presence," Mrs. Luna broke
in, "but I must say that I think my sister was strangely communicative.
She told you ever so much that I wouldn't have breathed."

"I should like to try you with something you know!" Matthias Pardon
returned imperturbably. "This isn't a fair trial, because you don't
know. Miss Chancellor came round--came round considerably, there's no
doubt of that; because a year or two ago she was terribly
unapproachable. If I have mollified her, madam, why shouldn't I mollify
you? She realises that I can help her now, and as I ain't rancorous I am
willing to help her all she'll let me. The trouble is, she won't let me
enough, yet; it seems as if she couldn't believe it of me. At any rate,"
he pursued, addressing himself more particularly to Ransom, "half an
hour ago, at the Hall, they knew nothing whatever about Miss Tarrant,
beyond the fact that about a month ago she came there, with Miss
Chancellor, to try her voice, which rang all over the place, like
silver, and that Miss Chancellor guaranteed her absolute punctuality
to-night."

"Well, that's all that is required," said Ransom, at hazard; and he put
out his hand, in farewell, to Mrs. Luna.

"Do you desert me already?" she demanded, giving him a glance which
would have embarrassed any spectator but a reporter of the _Vesper_.

"I have fifty things to do; you must excuse me." He was nervous,
restless, his heart was beating much faster than usual; he couldn't
stand still, and he had no compunction whatever about leaving her to get
rid, by herself, of Mr. Pardon.

This gentleman continued to mix in the conversation, possibly from the
hope that if he should linger either Miss Tarrant or Miss Chancellor
would make her appearance. "Every seat in the Hall is sold; the crowd is
expected to be immense. When our Boston public _does_ take an idea!" Mr.
Pardon exclaimed.

Ransom only wanted to get away, and in order to facilitate his release
by implying that in such a case he should see her again, he said to Mrs.
Luna, rather hypocritically, from the threshold, "You had really better
come to-night."

"I am not like the Boston public--I don't take an idea!" she replied.

"Do you mean to say you are not going?" cried Mr. Pardon, with widely
open eyes, clapping his hand again to his pocket. "Don't you regard her
as a wonderful genius?"

Mrs. Luna was sorely tried, and the vexation of seeing Ransom slip away
from her with his thoughts visibly on Verena, leaving her face to face
with the odious newspaper man, whose presence made passionate protest
impossible--the annoyance of seeing everything and every one mock at her
and fail to compensate her was such that she lost her head, while
rashness leaped to her lips and jerked out the answer--"No indeed; I
think her a vulgar idiot!"

"Ah, madam, I should never permit myself to print that!" Ransom heard
Mr. Pardon rejoin reproachfully, as he dropped the _portière_ of the
drawing-room.



XLI


He walked about for the next two hours, walked all over Boston, heedless
of his course, and conscious only of an unwillingness to return to his
hotel and an inability to eat his dinner or rest his weary legs. He had
been roaming in very much the same desperate fashion, at once eager and
purposeless, for many days before he left New York, and he knew that his
agitation and suspense must wear themselves out. At present they pressed
him more than ever; they had become tremendously acute. The early dusk
of the last half of November had gathered thick, but the evening was
fine and the lighted streets had the animation and variety of a winter
that had begun with brilliancy. The shop-fronts glowed through frosty
panes, the passers bustled on the pavement, the bells of the street-cars
jangled in the cold air, the newsboys hawked the evening papers, the
vestibules of the theatres, illuminated and flanked with coloured
posters and the photographs of actresses, exhibited seductively their
swinging doors of red leather or baize, spotted with little brass nails.
Behind great plates of glass the interior of the hotels became visible,
with marble-paved lobbies, white with electric lamps, and columns, and
Westerners on divans stretching their legs, while behind a counter, set
apart and covered with an array of periodicals and novels in paper
covers, little boys, with the faces of old men, showing plans of the
play-houses and offering librettos, sold orchestra-chairs at a premium.
When from time to time Ransom paused at a corner, hesitating which way
to drift, he looked up and saw the stars, sharp and near, scintillating
over the town. Boston seemed to him big and full of nocturnal life, very
much awake and preparing for an evening of pleasure.

He passed and repassed the Music Hall, saw Verena immensely advertised,
gazed down the vista, the approach for pedestrians, which leads out of
School Street, and thought it looked expectant and ominous. People had
not begun to enter yet, but the place was ready, lighted and open, and
the interval would be only too short. So it appeared to Ransom, while at
the same time he wished immensely the crisis were over. Everything that
surrounded him referred itself to the idea with which his mind was
palpitating, the question whether he might not still intervene as
against the girl's jump into the abyss. He believed that all Boston was
going to hear her, or that at least every one was whom he saw in the
streets; and there was a kind of incentive and inspiration in this
thought. The vision of wresting her from the mighty multitude set him
off again, to stride through the population that would fight for her. It
was not too late, for he felt strong; it would not be too late even if
she should already stand there before thousands of converging eyes. He
had had his ticket since the morning, and now the time was going on. He
went back to his hotel at last for ten minutes, and refreshed himself by
dressing a little and by drinking a glass of wine. Then he took his way
once more to the Music Hall, and saw that people were beginning to go
in--the first drops of the great stream, among whom there were many
women. Since seven o'clock the minutes had moved fast--before that they
had dragged--and now there was only half an hour. Ransom passed in with
the others; he knew just where his seat was; he had chosen it, on
reaching Boston, from the few that were left, with what he believed to
be care. But now, as he stood beneath the far-away panelled roof,
stretching above the line of little tongues of flame which marked its
junction with the walls, he felt that this didn't matter much, since he
certainly was not going to subside into his place. He was not one of the
audience; he was apart, unique, and had come on a business altogether
special. It wouldn't have mattered if, in advance, he had got no place
at all and had just left himself to pay for standing-room at the last.
The people came pouring in, and in a very short time there would only be
standing-room left. Ransom had no definite plan; he had mainly wanted to
get inside of the building, so that, on a view of the field, he might
make up his mind. He had never been in the Music Hall before, and its
lofty vaults and rows of overhanging balconies made it to his
imagination immense and impressive. There were two or three moments
during which he felt as he could imagine a young man to feel who,
waiting in a public place, has made up his mind, for reasons of his own,
to discharge a pistol at the king or the president.

The place struck him with a kind of Roman vastness; the doors which
opened out of the upper balconies, high aloft, and which were constantly
swinging to and fro with the passage of spectators and ushers, reminded
him of the _vomitoria_ that he had read about in descriptions of the
Colosseum. The huge organ, the background of the stage--a stage occupied
with tiers of seats for choruses and civic worthies--lifted to the dome
its shining pipes and sculptured pinnacles, and some genius of music or
oratory erected himself in monumental bronze at the base. The hall was
so capacious and serious, and the audience increased so rapidly without
filling it, giving Ransom a sense of the numbers it would contain when
it was packed, that the courage of the two young women, face to face
with so tremendous an ordeal, hovered before him as really sublime,
especially the conscious tension of poor Olive, who would have been
spared none of the anxieties and tremors, none of the previsions of
accident or calculations of failure. In the front of the stage was a
slim, high desk, like a music-stand, with a cover of red velvet, and
near it was a light ornamental chair, on which he was sure Verena would
not seat herself, though he could fancy her leaning at moments on the
back. Behind this was a kind of semicircle of a dozen arm-chairs, which
had evidently been arranged for the friends of the speaker, her sponsors
and patrons. The hall was more and more full of premonitory sounds;
people making a noise as they unfolded, on hinges, their seats, and
itinerant boys, whose voices as they cried out "Photographs of Miss
Tarrant--sketch of her life!" or "Portraits of the Speaker--story of her
career!" sounded small and piping in the general immensity. Before
Ransom was aware of it several of the arm-chairs, in the row behind the
lecturer's desk, were occupied, with gaps, and in a moment he
recognised, even across the interval, three of the persons who had
appeared. The straight-featured woman with bands of glossy hair and
eyebrows that told at a distance, could only be Mrs. Farrinder, just as
the gentleman beside her, in a white overcoat, with an umbrella and a
vague face, was probably her husband Amariah. At the opposite end of the
row were another pair, whom Ransom, unacquainted with certain chapters
of Verena's history, perceived without surprise to be Mrs. Burrage and
her insinuating son. Apparently their interest in Miss Tarrant was more
than a momentary fad, since--like himself--they had made the journey
from New York to hear her. There were other figures, unknown to our
young man, here and there, in the semicircle; but several places were
still empty (one of which was of course reserved for Olive), and it
occurred to Ransom, even in his preoccupation, that one of them ought to
remain so--ought to be left to symbolise the presence, in the spirit, of
Miss Birdseye.

He bought one of the photographs of Verena, and thought it shockingly
bad, and bought also the sketch of her life, which many people seemed to
be reading, but crumpled it up in his pocket for future consideration.
Verena was not in the least present to him in connexion with this
exhibition of enterprise and puffery; what he saw was Olive, struggling
and yielding, making every sacrifice of taste for the sake of the
largest hearing, and conforming herself to a great popular system.
Whether she had struggled or not, there was a catch-penny effect about
the whole thing which added to the fever in his cheek and made him wish
he had money to buy up the stock of the vociferous little boys. Suddenly
the notes of the organ rolled out into the hall, and he became aware
that the overture or prelude had begun. This, too, seemed to him a piece
of claptrap, but he didn't wait to think of it; he instantly edged out
of his place, which he had chosen near the end of a row, and reached one
of the numerous doors. If he had had no definite plan he now had at
least an irresistible impulse, and he felt the prick of shame at having
faltered for a moment. It had been his tacit calculation that Verena,
still enshrined in mystery by her companion, would not have reached the
scene of her performance till within a few minutes of the time at which
she was to come forth; so that he had lost nothing by waiting, up to
this moment, before the platform. But now he must overtake his
opportunity. Before passing out of the hall into the lobby he paused,
and with his back to the stage, gave a look at the gathered auditory. It
had become densely numerous, and, suffused with the evenly distributed
gaslight, which fell from a great elevation, and the thick atmosphere
that hangs for ever in such places, it appeared to pile itself high and
to look dimly expectant and formidable. He had a throb of uneasiness at
his private purpose of balking it of its entertainment, its victim--a
glimpse of the ferocity that lurks in a disappointed mob. But the
thought of that danger only made him pass more quickly through the ugly
corridors; he felt that his plan was definite enough now, and he found
that he had no need even of asking the way to a certain small door (one
or more of them), which he meant to push open. In taking his place in
the morning he had assured himself as to the side of the house on which
(with its approach to the platform) the withdrawing room of singers and
speakers was situated; he had chosen his seat in that quarter, and he
now had not far to go before he reached it. No one heeded or challenged
him; Miss Tarrant's auditors were still pouring in (the occasion was
evidently to have been an unprecedented success of curiosity), and had
all the attention of the ushers. Ransom opened a door at the end of the
passage, and it admitted him into a sort of vestibule, quite bare save
that at a second door, opposite to him, stood a figure at the sight of
which he paused for a moment in his advance.

The figure was simply that of a robust policeman, in his helmet and
brass buttons--a policeman who was expecting him--Ransom could see that
in a twinkling. He judged in the same space of time that Olive
Chancellor had heard of his having arrived and had applied for the
protection of this functionary, who was now simply guarding the ingress
and was prepared to defend it against all comers. There was a slight
element of surprise in this, as he had reasoned that his nervous
kinswoman was absent from her house for the day--had been spending it
all in Verena's retreat, wherever that was. The surprise was not great
enough, however, to interrupt his course for more than an instant, and
he crossed the room and stood before the belted sentinel. For a moment
neither spoke; they looked at each other very hard in the eyes, and
Ransom heard the organ, beyond partitions, launching its waves of sound
through the hall. They seemed to be very near it, and the whole place
vibrated. The policeman was a tall, lean-faced, sallow man, with a stoop
of the shoulders, a small, steady eye, and something in his mouth which
made a protuberance in his cheek. Ransom could see that he was very
strong, but he believed that he himself was not materially less so.
However, he had not come there to show physical fight--a public tussle
about Verena was not an attractive idea, except perhaps, after all, if
he should get the worst of it, from the point of view of Olive's new
system of advertising; and, moreover, it would not be in the least
necessary. Still he said nothing, and still the policeman remained dumb,
and there was something in the way the moments elapsed and in our young
man's consciousness that Verena was separated from him only by a couple
of thin planks, which made him feel that she too expected him, but in
another sense; that she had nothing to do with this parade of
resistance, that she would know in a moment, by quick intuition, that he
was there, and that she was only praying to be rescued, to be saved.
Face to face with Olive she hadn't the courage, but she would have it
with her hand in his. It came to him that there was no one in the world
less sure of her business just at that moment than Olive Chancellor; it
was as if he could see, through the door, the terrible way her eyes were
fixed on Verena while she held her watch in her hand and Verena looked
away from her. Olive would have been so thankful that she should begin
before the hour, but of course that was impossible. Ransom asked no
questions--that seemed a waste of time; he only said, after a minute, to
the policeman:

"I should like very much to see Miss Tarrant, if you will be so good as
to take in my card."

The guardian of order, well planted just between him and the handle of
the door, took from Ransom the morsel of pasteboard which he held out to
him, read slowly the name inscribed on it, turned it over and looked at
the back, then returned it to his interlocutor. "Well, I guess it ain't
much use," he remarked.

"How can you know that? You have no business to decline my request."

"Well, I guess I have about as much business as you have to make it."
Then he added, "You are just the very man she wants to keep out."

"I don't think Miss Tarrant wants to keep me out," Ransom returned.

"I don't know much about her, she hasn't hired the hall. It's the other
one--Miss Chancellor; it's her that runs this lecture."

"And she has asked you to keep me out? How absurd!" exclaimed Ransom
ingeniously.

"She tells me you're none too fit to be round alone; you have got this
thing on the brain. I guess you'd better be quiet," said the policeman.

"Quiet? Is it possible to be more quiet than I am?"

"Well, I've seen crazy folks that were a good deal like you. If you want
to see the speaker why don't you go and set round in the hall, with the
rest of the public?" And the policeman waited, in an immovable,
ruminating, reasonable manner, for an answer to this inquiry.

Ransom had one, on the instant, at his service. "Because I don't want
simply to see her; I want also to speak to her--in private."

"Yes--it's always intensely private," said the policeman. "Now I
wouldn't lose the lecture if I was you. I guess it will do you good."

"The lecture?" Ransom repeated, laughing. "It won't take place."

"Yes it will--as quick as the organ stops." Then the policeman added, as
to himself, "Why the devil don't it?"

"Because Miss Tarrant has sent up to the organist to tell him to keep
on."

"Who has she sent, do you s'pose?" And Ransom's new acquaintance entered
into his humour. "I guess Miss Chancellor isn't her nigger."

"She has sent her father, or perhaps even her mother. They are in there
too."

"How do you know that?" asked the policeman consideringly.

"Oh, I know everything," Ransom answered, smiling.

"Well, I guess they didn't come here to listen to that organ. We'll hear
something else before long, if he doesn't stop."

"You will hear a good deal, very soon," Ransom remarked.

The serenity of his self-confidence appeared at last to make an
impression on his antagonist, who lowered his head a little, like some
butting animal, and looked at the young man from beneath bushy eyebrows.
"Well, I _have_ heard a good deal, since I've been in Boston."

"Oh, Boston's a great place," Ransom rejoined inattentively. He was not
listening to the policeman or to the organ now, for the sound of voices
had reached him from the other side of the door. The policeman took no
further notice of it than to lean back against the panels, with folded
arms; and there was another pause, between them, during which the
playing of the organ ceased.

"I will just wait here, with your permission," said Ransom, "and
presently I shall be called."

"Who do you s'pose will call you?"

"Well, Miss Tarrant, I hope."

"She'll have to square the other one first."

Ransom took out his watch, which he had adapted, on purpose, several
hours before, to Boston time, and saw that the minutes had sped with
increasing velocity during this interview, and that it now marked five
minutes past eight. "Miss Chancellor will have to square the public," he
said in a moment; and the words were far from being an empty profession
of security, for the conviction already in possession of him, that a
drama in which he, though cut off, was an actor, had been going on for
some time in the apartment he was prevented from entering, that the
situation was extraordinarily strained there, and that it could not come
to an end without an appeal to him--this transcendental assumption
acquired an infinitely greater force the instant he perceived that
Verena was even now keeping her audience waiting. Why didn't she go on?
Why, except that she knew he was there, and was gaining time?

"Well, I guess she has shown herself," said the door-keeper, whose
discussion with Ransom now appeared to have passed, on his own part, and
without the slightest prejudice to his firmness, into a sociable,
gossiping phase.

"If she had shown herself, we should hear the reception, the applause."

"Well, there they air; they are going to give it to her," the policeman
announced.

He had an odious appearance of being in the right, for there indeed they
seemed to be--they were giving it to her. A general hubbub rose from the
floor and the galleries of the hall--the sound of several thousand
people stamping with their feet and rapping with their umbrellas and
sticks. Ransom felt faint, and for a little while he stood with his gaze
interlocked with that of the policeman. Then suddenly a wave of coolness
seemed to break over him, and he exclaimed: "My dear fellow, that isn't
applause--it's impatience. It isn't a reception, it's a call!"

The policeman neither assented to this proposition nor denied it; he
only transferred the protuberance in his cheek to the other side, and
observed:

"I guess she's sick."

"Oh, I hope not!" said Ransom, very gently. The stamping and rapping
swelled and swelled for a minute, and then it subsided; but before it
had done so Ransom's definition of it had plainly become the true one.
The tone of the manifestation was good-humoured, but it was not
gratulatory. He looked at his watch again, and saw that five minutes
more had elapsed, and he remembered what the newspaperman in Charles
Street had said about Olive's guaranteeing Verena's punctuality. Oddly
enough, at the moment the image of this gentleman recurred to him, the
gentleman himself burst through the other door, in a state of the
liveliest agitation.

"Why in the name of goodness don't she go on? If she wants to make them
call her, they've done it about enough!" Mr. Pardon turned, pressingly,
from Ransom to the policeman and back again, and in his preoccupation
gave no sign of having met the Mississippian before.

"I guess she's sick," said the policeman.

"The public'll be sick!" cried the distressed reporter. "If she's sick,
why doesn't she send for a doctor? All Boston is packed into this house,
and she has got to talk to it. I want to go in and see."

"You can't go in," said the policeman drily.

"Why can't I go in, I should like to know? I want to go in for the
_Vesper_"!

"You can't go in for anything. I'm keeping this man out, too," the
policeman added genially, as if to make Mr. Pardon's exclusion appear
less invidious.

"Why, they'd ought to let _you_ in," said Matthias, staring a moment at
Ransom.

"May be they'd ought, but they won't," the policeman remarked.

"Gracious me!" panted Mr. Pardon; "I knew from the first Miss Chancellor
would make a mess of it! Where's Mr. Filer?" he went on eagerly,
addressing himself apparently to either of the others, or to both.

"I guess he's at the door, counting the money," said the policeman.

"Well, he'll have to give it back if he don't look out!"

"Maybe he will. I'll let _him_ in if he comes, but he's the only one.
She is on now," the policeman added, without emotion.

His ear had caught the first faint murmur of another explosion of sound.
This time, unmistakably, it was applause--the clapping of multitudinous
hands, mingled with the noise of many throats. The demonstration,
however, though considerable, was not what might have been expected, and
it died away quickly. Mr. Pardon stood listening, with an expression of
some alarm. "Merciful fathers! can't they give her more than that?" he
cried. "I'll just fly round and see!"

When he had hurried away again, Ransom said to the policeman--"Who is
Mr. Filer?"

"Oh, he's an old friend of mine. He's the man that runs Miss
Chancellor."

"That runs her?"

"Just the same as she runs Miss Tarrant. He runs the pair, as you might
say. He's in the lecture-business."

"Then he had better talk to the public himself."

"Oh, _he_ can't talk; he can only boss!"

The opposite door at this moment was pushed open again, and a large,
heated-looking man, with a little stiff beard on the end of his chin and
his overcoat flying behind him, strode forward with an imprecation.
"What the h---- are they doing in the parlour? This sort of thing's
about played out!"

"Ain't she up there now?" the policeman asked.

"It's not Miss Tarrant," Ransom said, as if he knew all about it. He
perceived in a moment that this was Mr. Filer, Olive Chancellor's agent;
an inference instantly followed by the reflexion that such a personage
would have been warned against him by his kinswoman and would doubtless
attempt to hold him, or his influence, accountable for Verena's
unexpected delay. Mr. Filer only glanced at him, however, and to
Ransom's surprise appeared to have no theory of his identity; a fact
implying that Miss Chancellor had considered that the greater discretion
was (except to the policeman) to hold her tongue about him altogether.

"Up there? It's her jackass of a father that's up there!" cried Mr.
Filer, with his hand on the latch of the door, which the policeman had
allowed him to approach.

"Is he asking for a doctor?" the latter inquired dispassionately.

"You're the sort of doctor he'll want, if he doesn't produce the girl!
You don't mean to say they've locked themselves in? What the plague are
they after?"

"They've got the key on that side," said the policeman, while Mr. Filer
discharged at the door a volley of sharp knocks, at the same time
violently shaking the handle.

"If the door was locked, what was the good of your standing before it?"
Ransom inquired.

"So as you couldn't do that"; and the policeman nodded at Mr. Filer.

"You see your interference has done very little good."

"I dunno; she has got to come out yet."

Mr. Filer meanwhile had continued to thump and shake, demanding instant
admission and inquiring if they were going to let the audience pull the
house down. Another round of applause had broken out, directed
perceptibly to some apology, some solemn circumlocution, of Selah
Tarrant's; this covered the sound of the agent's voice, as well as that
of a confused and divided response, proceeding from the parlour. For a
minute nothing definite was audible; the door remained closed, and
Matthias Pardon reappeared in the vestibule.

"He says she's just a little faint--from nervousness. She'll be all
ready in about three minutes." This announcement was Mr. Pardon's
contribution to the crisis; and he added that the crowd was a lovely
crowd, it was a real Boston crowd, it was perfectly good-humoured.

"There's a lovely crowd, and a real Boston one too, I guess, in here!"
cried Mr. Filer, now banging very hard. "I've handled prima donnas, and
I've handled natural curiosities, but I've never seen anything up to
this. Mind what I say, ladies; if you don't let me in, I'll smash down
the door!"

"Don't seem as if _you_ could make it much worse, does it?" the
policeman observed to Ransom, strolling aside a little, with the air of
being superseded.



XLII


Ransom made no reply; he was watching the door, which at that moment
gave way from within. Verena stood there--it was she, evidently, who had
opened it--and her eyes went straight to his. She was dressed in white,
and her face was whiter than her garment; above it her hair seemed to
shine like fire. She took a step forward; but before she could take
another he had come down to her, on the threshold of the room. Her face
was full of suffering, and he did not attempt--before all those eyes--to
take her hand; he only said in a low tone, "I have been waiting for
you--a long time!"

"I know it--I saw you in your seat--I want to speak to you."

"Well, Miss Tarrant, don't you think you'd better be on the platform?"
cried Mr. Filer, making with both his arms a movement as if to sweep her
before him, through the waiting-room, up into the presence of the
public.

"In a moment I shall be ready. My father is making that all right." And,
to Ransom's surprise, she smiled, with all her sweetness, at the
irrepressible agent; appeared to wish genuinely to reassure him.

The three had moved together into the waiting-room, and there at the
farther end of it, beyond the vulgar, perfunctory chairs and tables,
under the flaring gas, he saw Mrs. Tarrant sitting upright on a sofa,
with immense rigidity, and a large flushed visage, full of suppressed
distortion, and beside her prostrate, fallen over, her head buried in
the lap of Verena's mother, the tragic figure of Olive Chancellor.
Ransom could scarcely know how much Olive's having flung herself upon
Mrs. Tarrant's bosom testified to the convulsive scene that had just
taken place behind the locked door. He closed it again, sharply, in the
face of the reporter and the policeman, and at the same moment Selah
Tarrant descended, through the aperture leading to the platform, from
his brief communion with the public. On seeing Ransom he stopped short,
and, gathering his waterproof about him, measured the young man from
head to foot.

"Well, sir, perhaps _you_ would like to go and explain our hitch," he
remarked, indulging in a smile so comprehensive that the corners of his
mouth seemed almost to meet behind. "I presume that you, better than any
one else, can give them an insight into our difficulties!"

"Father, be still; father, it will come out all right in a moment!"
cried Verena, below her breath, panting like an emergent diver.

"There's one thing I want to know: are we going to spend half an hour
talking over our domestic affairs?" Mr. Filer demanded, wiping his
indignant countenance. "Is Miss Tarrant going to lecture, or ain't she
going to lecture? If she ain't, she'll please to show cause why. Is she
aware that every quarter of a second, at the present instant, is worth
about five hundred dollars?"

"I know that--I know that, Mr. Filer; I will begin in a moment!" Verena
went on. "I only want to speak to Mr. Ransom--just three words. They are
perfectly quiet--don't you see how quiet they are? They trust me, they
trust me, don't they, father? I only want to speak to Mr. Ransom."

"Who the devil is Mr. Ransom?" cried the exasperated, bewildered Filer.

Verena spoke to the others, but she looked at her lover, and the
expression of her eyes was ineffably touching and beseeching. She
trembled with nervous passion, there were sobs and supplications in her
voice, and Ransom felt himself flushing with pure pity for her pain--her
inevitable agony. But at the same moment he had another perception,
which brushed aside remorse; he saw that he could do what he wanted,
that she begged him, with all her being, to spare her, but that so long
as he should protest she was submissive, helpless. What he wanted, in
this light, flamed before him and challenged all his manhood, tossing
his determination to a height from which not only Doctor Tarrant, and
Mr. Filer, and Olive, over there, in her sightless, soundless shame, but
the great expectant hall as well, and the mighty multitude, in suspense,
keeping quiet from minute to minute and holding the breath of its
anger--from which all these things looked small, surmountable, and of
the moment only. He didn't quite understand, as yet, however; he saw
that Verena had not refused, but temporised, that the spell upon
her--thanks to which he should still be able to rescue her--had been the
knowledge that he was near.

"Come away, come away," he murmured quickly, putting out his two hands
to her.

She took one of them, as if to plead, not to consent. "Oh, let me off,
let me off--for _her_, for the others! It's too terrible, it's
impossible!"

"What I want to know is why Mr. Ransom isn't in the hands of the
police!" wailed Mrs. Tarrant, from her sofa.

"I have been, madam, for the last quarter of an hour." Ransom felt more
and more that he could manage it, if he only kept cool. He bent over
Verena with a tenderness in which he was careless, now, of observation.
"Dearest, I told you, I warned you. I left you alone for ten weeks; but
could that make you doubt it was coming? Not for worlds, not for
millions, shall you give yourself to that roaring crowd. Don't ask me to
care for them, or for any one! What do they care for you but to gape and
grin and babble? You are mine, you are not theirs."

"What under the sun is the man talking about? With the most magnificent
audience ever brought together! The city of Boston is under this roof!"
Mr. Filer gaspingly interposed.

"The city of Boston be damned!" said Ransom.

"Mr. Ransom is very much interested in my daughter. He doesn't approve
of our views," Selah Tarrant explained.

"It's the most horrible, wicked, immoral selfishness I ever heard in my
life!" roared Mrs. Tarrant.

"Selfishness! Mrs. Tarrant, do you suppose I pretend not to be selfish?"

"Do you want us all murdered by the mob, then?"

"They can have their money--can't you give them back their money?" cried
Verena, turning frantically round the circle.

"Verena Tarrant, you don't mean to say you are going to back down?" her
mother shrieked.

"Good God! that I should make her suffer like this!" said Ransom to
himself; and to put an end to the odious scene he would have seized
Verena in his arms and broken away into the outer world, if Olive, who
at Mrs. Tarrant's last loud challenge had sprung to her feet, had not at
the same time thrown herself between them with a force which made the
girl relinquish her grasp of Ransom's hand. To his astonishment, the
eyes that looked at him out of her scared, haggard face were, like
Verena's, eyes of tremendous entreaty. There was a moment during which
she would have been ready to go down on her knees to him, in order that
the lecture should go on.

"If you don't agree with her, take her up on the platform, and have it
out there; the public would like that, first-rate!" Mr. Filer said to
Ransom, as if he thought this suggestion practical.

"She had prepared a lovely address!" Selah remarked mournfully, as if to
the company in general.

No one appeared to heed the observation, but his wife broke out again.
"Verena Tarrant, I should like to slap you! Do you call such a man as
that a gentleman? I don't know where your father's spirit is, to let him
stay!"

Olive, meanwhile, was literally praying to her kinsman. "Let her appear
this once, just this once: not to ruin, not to shame! Haven't you any
pity; do you want me to be hooted? It's only for an hour. Haven't you
any soul?"

Her face and voice were terrible to Ransom; she had flung herself upon
Verena and was holding her close, and he could see that her friend's
suffering was faint in comparison to her own. "Why for an hour, when
it's all false and damnable? An hour is as bad as ten years! She's mine
or she isn't, and if she's mine, she's all mine!"

"Yours! Yours! Verena, think, think what you're doing!" Olive moaned,
bending over her.

Mr. Filer was now pouring forth his nature in objurgations and oaths,
and brandishing before the culprits--Verena and Ransom--the extreme
penalty of the law. Mrs. Tarrant had burst into violent hysterics, while
Selah revolved vaguely about the room and declared that it seemed as if
the better day was going to be put off for quite a while. "Don't you see
how good, how sweet they are--giving us all this time? Don't you think
that when they behave like that--without a sound, for five minutes--they
ought to be rewarded?" Verena asked, smiling divinely, at Ransom.
Nothing could have been more tender, more exquisite, than the way she
put her appeal upon the ground of simple charity, kindness to the great
good-natured, childish public.

"Miss Chancellor may reward them in any way she likes. Give them back
their money and a little present to each."

"Money and presents? I should like to shoot you, sir!" yelled Mr. Filer.
The audience had really been very patient, and up to this point deserved
Verena's praise; but it was now long past eight o'clock, and symptoms of
irritation--cries and groans and hisses--began again to proceed from the
hall. Mr. Filer launched himself into the passage leading to the stage,
and Selah rushed after him. Mrs. Tarrant extended herself, sobbing, on
the sofa, and Olive, quivering in the storm, inquired of Ransom what he
wanted her to do, what humiliation, what degradation, what sacrifice he
imposed.

"I'll do anything--I'll be abject--I'll be vile--I'll go down in the
dust!"

"I ask nothing of you, and I have nothing to do with you," Ransom said.
"That is, I ask, at the most, that you shouldn't expect that, wishing to
make Verena my wife, I should say to her, 'Oh yes, you can take an hour
or two out of it!' Verena," he went on, "all this is out of
it--dreadfully, odiously--and it's a great deal too much! Come, come as
far away from here as possible, and we'll settle the rest!"

The combined effort of Mr. Filer and Selah Tarrant to pacify the public
had not, apparently, the success it deserved; the house continued in
uproar and the volume of sound increased. "Leave us alone, leave us
alone for a single minute!" cried Verena; "just let me speak to him, and
it will be all right!" She rushed over to her mother, drew her, dragged
her from the sofa, led her to the door of the room. Mrs. Tarrant, on the
way, reunited herself with Olive (the horror of the situation had at
least that compensation for her), and, clinging and staggering together,
the distracted women, pushed by Verena, passed into the vestibule, now,
as Ransom saw, deserted by the policeman and the reporter, who had
rushed round to where the battle was thickest.

"Oh, why did you come--why, why?" And Verena, turning back, threw
herself upon him with a protest which was all, and more than all, a
surrender. She had never yet given herself to him so much as in that
movement of reproach.

"Didn't you expect me, and weren't you sure?" he asked, smiling at her
and standing there till she arrived.

"I didn't know--it was terrible--it's awful! I saw you in your place, in
the house, when you came. As soon as we got here I went out to those
steps that go up to the stage and I looked out, with my father--from
behind him--and saw you in a minute. Then I felt too nervous to speak! I
could never, never, if you were there! My father didn't know you, and I
said nothing, but Olive guessed as soon as I came back. She rushed at
me, and she looked at me--oh, how she looked! and she guessed. She
didn't need to go out to see for herself, and when she saw how I was
trembling she began to tremble herself, to believe, as I believed, we
were lost. Listen to them, listen to them, in the house! Now I want you
to go away--I will see you to-morrow, as long as you wish. That's all I
want now; if you will only go away it's not too late, and everything
will be all right!"

Preoccupied as Ransom was with the simple purpose of getting her bodily
out of the place, he could yet notice her strange, touching tone, and
her air of believing that she might really persuade him. She had
evidently given up everything now--every pretence of a different
conviction and of loyalty to her cause; all this had fallen from her as
soon as she felt him near, and she asked him to go away just as any
plighted maiden might have asked any favour of her lover. But it was the
poor girl's misfortune that whatever she did or said, or left unsaid,
only had the effect of making her dearer to him and making the people
who were clamouring for her seem more and more a raving rabble.

He indulged not in the smallest recognition of her request, and simply
said, "Surely Olive must have believed, must have known, I would come."

"She would have been sure if you hadn't become so unexpectedly quiet
after I left Marmion. You seemed to concur, to be willing to wait."

"So I was, for a few weeks. But they ended yesterday. I was furious that
morning, when I learned your flight, and during the week that followed I
made two or three attempts to find you. Then I stopped--I thought it
better. I saw you were very well hidden; I determined not even to write.
I felt I _could_ wait--with that last day at Marmion to think of.
Besides, to leave you with her awhile, for the last, seemed more decent.
Perhaps you'll tell me now where you were."

"I was with father and mother. She sent me to them that morning, with a
letter. I don't know what was in it. Perhaps there was money," said
Verena, who evidently now would tell him everything.

"And where did they take you?"

"I don't know--to places. I was in Boston once, for a day; but only in a
carriage. They were as frightened as Olive; they were bound to save me!"

"They shouldn't have brought you here to-night then. How could you
possibly doubt of my coming?"

"I don't know what I thought, and I didn't know, till I saw you, that
all the strength I had hoped for would leave me in a flash, and that if
I attempted to speak--with you sitting there--I should make the most
shameful failure. We had a sickening scene here--I begged for delay, for
time to recover. We waited and waited, and when I heard you at the door
talking to the policeman, it seemed to me everything was gone. But it
will still come back, if you will leave me. They are quiet again--father
must be interesting them."

"I hope he is!" Ransom exclaimed. "If Miss Chancellor ordered the
policeman, she must have expected me."

"That was only after she knew you were in the house. She flew out into
the lobby with father, and they seized him and posted him there. She
locked the door; she seemed to think they would break it down. I didn't
wait for that, but from the moment I knew you were on the other side of
it I couldn't go on--I was paralysed. It has made me feel better to talk
to you--and now I could appear," Verena added.

"My darling child, haven't you a shawl or a mantle?" Ransom returned,
for all answer, looking about him. He perceived, tossed upon a chair, a
long, furred cloak, which he caught up and, before she could resist,
threw over her. She even let him arrange it, and, standing there, draped
from head to foot in it, contented herself with saying, after a moment:

"I don't understand--where shall we go? Where will you take me?"

"We shall catch the night-train for New York, and the first thing in the
morning we shall be married."

Verena remained gazing at him, with swimming eyes. "And what will the
people do? Listen, listen!"

"Your father is ceasing to interest them. They'll howl and thump,
according to their nature."

"Ah, their nature's fine!" Verena pleaded.

"Dearest, that's one of the fallacies I shall have to woo you from. Hear
them, the senseless brutes!" The storm was now raging in the hall, and
it deepened, to such a point that Verena turned to him in a supreme
appeal.

"I could soothe them with a word!"

"Keep your soothing words for me--you will have need of them all, in our
coming time," Ransom said, laughing. He pulled open the door again,
which led into the lobby, but he was driven back, with Verena, by a
furious onset from Mrs. Tarrant. Seeing her daughter fairly arrayed for
departure, she hurled herself upon her, half in indignation, half in a
blind impulse to cling, and with an outpouring of tears, reproaches,
prayers, strange scraps of argument and iterations of farewell, closed
her about with an embrace which was partly a supreme caress, partly the
salutary castigation she had, three minutes before, expressed the wish
to administer, and altogether for the moment a check upon the girl's
flight.

"Mother, dearest, it's all for the best, I can't help it, I love you
just the same; let me go, let me go!" Verena stammered, kissing her
again, struggling to free herself, and holding out her hand to Ransom.
He saw now that she only wanted to get away, to leave everything behind
her. Olive was close at hand, on the threshold of the room, and as soon
as Ransom looked at her he became aware that the weakness she had just
shown had passed away. She had straightened herself again, and she was
upright in her desolation. The expression of her face was a thing to
remain with him for ever; it was impossible to imagine a more vivid
presentment of blighted hope and wounded pride. Dry, desperate, rigid,
she yet wavered and seemed uncertain; her pale, glittering eyes
straining forward, as if they were looking for death. Ransom had a
vision, even at that crowded moment, that if she could have met it there
and then, bristling with steel or lurid with fire, she would have rushed
on it without a tremor, like the heroine that she was. All this while
the great agitation in the hall rose and fell, in waves and surges, as
if Selah Tarrant and the agent were talking to the multitude, trying to
calm them, succeeding for the moment, and then letting them loose again.
Whirled down by one of the fitful gusts, a lady and a gentleman issued
from the passage, and Ransom, glancing at them, recognised Mrs.
Farrinder and her husband.

"Well, Miss Chancellor," said that more successful woman, with
considerable asperity, "if this is the way you're going to reinstate our
sex!" She passed rapidly through the room, followed by Amariah, who
remarked in his transit that it seemed as if there had been a want of
organisation, and the two retreated expeditiously, without the lady's
having taken the smallest notice of Verena, whose conflict with her
mother prolonged itself. Ransom, striving, with all needful
consideration for Mrs. Tarrant, to separate these two, addressed not a
word to Olive; it was the last of her, for him, and he neither saw how
her livid face suddenly glowed, as if Mrs. Farrinder's words had been a
lash, nor how, as if with a sudden inspiration, she rushed to the
approach to the platform. If he had observed her, it might have seemed
to him that she hoped to find the fierce expiation she sought for in
exposure to the thousands she had disappointed and deceived, in offering
herself to be trampled to death and torn to pieces. She might have
suggested to him some feminine firebrand of Paris revolutions, erect on
a barricade, or even the sacrificial figure of Hypatia, whirled through
the furious mob of Alexandria. She was arrested an instant by the
arrival of Mrs. Burrage and her son, who had quitted the stage on
observing the withdrawal of the Farrinders, and who swept into the room
in the manner of people seeking shelter from a thunderstorm. The
mother's face expressed the well-bred surprise of a person who should
have been asked out to dinner and seen the cloth pulled off the table;
the young man, who supported her on his arm, instantly lost himself in
the spectacle of Verena disengaging herself from Mrs. Tarrant, only to
be again overwhelmed, and in the unexpected presence of the
Mississippian. His handsome blue eyes turned from one to the other, and
he looked infinitely annoyed and bewildered. It even seemed to occur to
him that he might, perhaps, interpose with effect, and he evidently
would have liked to say that, without really bragging, _he_ would at
least have kept the affair from turning into a row. But Verena, muffled
and escaping, was deaf to him, and Ransom didn't look the right person
to address such a remark as that to. Mrs. Burrage and Olive, as the
latter shot past, exchanged a glance which represented quick irony on
one side and indiscriminating defiance on the other.

"Oh, are _you_ going to speak?" the lady from New York inquired, with
her cursory laugh.

Olive had already disappeared; but Ransom heard her answer flung behind
her into the room. "I am going to be hissed and hooted and insulted!"

"Olive, Olive!" Verena suddenly shrieked; and her piercing cry might
have reached the front. But Ransom had already, by muscular force,
wrenched her away, and was hurrying her out, leaving Mrs. Tarrant to
heave herself into the arms of Mrs. Burrage, who, he was sure, would,
within a minute, loom upon her attractively through her tears, and
supply her with a reminiscence, destined to be valuable, of aristocratic
support and clever composure. In the outer labyrinth hasty groups, a
little scared, were leaving the hall, giving up the game. Ransom, as he
went, thrust the hood of Verena's long cloak over her head, to conceal
her face and her identity. It quite prevented recognition, and as they
mingled in the issuing crowd he perceived the quick, complete,
tremendous silence which, in the hall, had greeted Olive Chancellor's
rush to the front. Every sound instantly dropped, the hush was
respectful, the great public waited, and whatever she should say to them
(and he thought she might indeed be rather embarrassed) it was not
apparent that they were likely to hurl the benches at her. Ransom,
palpitating with his victory, felt now a little sorry for her, and was
relieved to know that, even when exasperated, a Boston audience is not
ungenerous. "Ah, now I am glad!" said Verena, when they reached the
street. But though she was glad, he presently discovered that, beneath
her hood, she was in tears. It is to be feared that with the union, so
far from brilliant, into which she was about to enter, these were not
the last she was destined to shed.

THE END





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

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home