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Chapter 11

  • "I was certain you would come—I have felt it all day—something told me!" I_as with these words that Olive Chancellor greeted her young visitor, comin_o her quickly from the window, where she might have been waiting for he_rrival. Some weeks later she explained to Verena how definite this previsio_ad been, how it had filled her all day with a nervous agitation so violent a_o be painful. She told her that such forebodings were a peculiarity of he_rganisation, that she didn't know what to make of them, that she had t_ccept them; and she mentioned, as another example, the sudden dread that ha_ome to her the evening before in the carriage, after proposing to Mr. Ranso_o go with her to Miss Birdseye's. This had been as strange as it had bee_nstinctive, and the strangeness, of course, was what must have struck Mr.
  • Ransom; for the idea that he might come had been hers, and yet she suddenl_eered round. She couldn't help it; her heart had begun to throb with th_onviction that if he crossed that threshold some harm would come of of it fo_er. She hadn't prevented him, and now she didn't care, for now, as sh_ntimated, she had the interest of Verena, and that made her indifferent t_very danger, to every ordinary pleasure. By this time Verena had learned ho_eculiarly her friend was constituted, how nervous and serious she was, ho_ersonal, how exclusive, what a force of will she had, what a concentration o_urpose. Olive had taken her up, in the literal sense of the phrase, like _ird of the air, had spread an extraordinary pair of wings, and carried he_hrough the dizzying void of space. Verena liked it, for the most part; like_o shoot upward without an effort of her own and look down upon all creation, upon all history, from such a height. From this first interview she felt tha_he was seized, and she gave herself up, only shutting her eyes a little, a_e do whenever a person in whom we have perfect confidence proposes, with ou_ssent, to subject us to some sensation.
  • "I want to know you," Olive said, on this occasion; "I felt that I must las_ight, as soon as I heard you speak. You seem to me very wonderful. I don'_now what to make of you. I think we ought to be friends; so I just asked yo_o come to me straight off, without preliminaries, and I believed you woul_ome. It is so right that you have come, and it proves how right I was." Thes_emarks fell from Miss Chancellor's lips one by one, as she caught her breath, with the tremor that was always in her voice, even when she was the leas_xcited, while she made Verena sit down near her on the sofa, and looked a_er all over in a manner that caused the girl to rejoice at having put on th_acket with the gilt buttons. It was this glance that was the beginning; i_as with this quick survey, omitting nothing, that Olive took possession o_er. "You are very remarkable; I wonder if you know how remarkable!" she wen_n, murmuring the words as if she were losing herself, becoming inadvertent i_dmiration.
  • Verena sat there smiling, without a blush, but with a pure, bright look which, for her, would always make protests unnecessary. "Oh, it isn't me, you know; it's something outside!" She tossed this off lightly, as if she were in th_abit of saying it, and Olive wondered whether it were a sincere disclaimer o_nly a phrase of the lips. The question was not a criticism, for she migh_ave been satisfied that the girl was a mass of fluent catch-words and ye_carcely have liked her the less. It was just as she was that she liked her; she was so strange, so different from the girls one usually met, seemed t_elong to some queer gipsy-land or transcendental Bohemia. With her bright, vulgar clothes, her salient appearance, she might have been a rope-dancer or _ortune-teller; and this had the immense merit, for Olive, that it appeared t_ake her belong to the "people," threw her into the social dusk of tha_ysterious democracy which Miss Chancellor held that the fortunate classe_now so little about, and with which (in a future possibly very near) the_ill have to count. Moreover, the girl had moved her as she had never bee_oved, and the power to do that, from whatever source it came, was a forc_hat one must admire. Her emotion was still acute, however much she migh_peak to her visitor as if everything that had happened seemed to her natural; and what kept it, above all, from subsiding was her sense that she found her_hat she had been looking for so long—a friend of her own sex with whom sh_ight have a union of soul. It took a double consent to make a friendship, bu_t was not possible that this intensely sympathetic girl would refuse. Oliv_ad the penetration to discover in a moment that she was a creature o_nlimited generosity. I know not what may have been the reality of Mis_hancellor's other premonitions, but there is no doubt that in this respec_he took Verena's measure on the spot. This was what she wanted; after tha_he rest didn't matter; Miss Tarrant might wear gilt buttons from head t_oot, her soul could not be vulgar.
  • "Mother told me I had better come right in," said Verena, looking now abou_he room, very glad to find herself in so pleasant a place, and noticing _reat many things that she should like to see in detail.
  • "Your mother saw that I meant what I said; it isn't everybody that does me th_onour to perceive that. She saw that I was shaken from head to foot. I coul_nly say three words—I couldn't have spoken more! What a power—what a power, Miss Tarrant!"
  • "Yes, I suppose it is a power. If it wasn't a power, it couldn't do much wit_e!"
  • "You are so simple—so much like a child," Olive Chancellor said. That was th_ruth, and she wanted to say it because, quickly, without forms o_ircumlocutions, it made them familiar. She wished to arrive at this; he_mpatience was such that before the girl had been five minutes in the room sh_umped to her point—inquired of her, interrupting herself, interruptin_verything: "Will you be my friend, my friend of friends, beyond every one, everything, for ever and for ever?" Her face was full of eagerness an_enderness.
  • Verena gave a laugh of clear amusement, without a shade of embarrassment o_onfusion. "Perhaps you like me too much."
  • "Of course I like you too much! When I like, I like too much. But of cours_t's another thing, your liking me," Olive Chancellor added. "We must wait—w_ust wait. When I care for anything, I can be patient." She put out her han_o Verena, and the movement was at once so appealing and so confident that th_irl instinctively placed her own in it. So, hand in hand, for some moments, these two young women sat looking at each other. "There is so much I want t_sk you," said Olive.
  • "Well, I can't say much except when father has worked on me," Verena answere_ith an ingenuousness beside which humility would have seemed pretentious.
  • "I don't care anything about your father," Olive Chancellor rejoined ver_ravely, with a great air of security.
  • "He is very good," Verena said simply. "And he's wonderfully magnetic."
  • "It isn't your father, and it isn't your mother; I don't think of them, an_t's not them I want. It's only you—just as you are."
  • Verena dropped her eyes over the front of her dress. "Just as she was" seeme_o her indeed very well.
  • "Do you want me to give up——?" she demanded, smiling.
  • Olive Chancellor drew in her breath for an instant, like a creature in pain; then, with her quavering voice, touched with a vibration of anguish, she said;
  • "Oh, how can I ask you to give up? I will give up—I will give up everything!"
  • Filled with the impression of her hostess's agreeable interior, and of wha_er mother had told her about Miss Chancellor's wealth, her position in Bosto_ociety, Verena, in her fresh, diverted scrutiny of the surrounding objects, wondered what could be the need of this scheme of renunciation. Oh no, indeed, she hoped she wouldn't give up—at least not before she, Verena, had had _hance to see. She felt, however, that for the present there would be n_nswer for her save in the mere pressure of Miss Chancellor's eager nature, that intensity of emotion which made her suddenly exclaim, as if in a nervou_cstasy of anticipation, "But we must wait! Why do we talk of this? We mus_ait! All will be right," she added more calmly, with great sweetness.
  • Verena wondered afterward why she had not been more afraid of her—why, indeed, she had not turned and saved herself by darting out of the room. But it wa_ot in this young woman's nature to be either timid or cautious; she had a_et to make acquaintance with the sentiment of fear. She knew too little o_he world to have learned to mistrust sudden enthusiasms, and if she had had _uspicion it would have been (in accordance with common worldly knowledge) th_rong one—the suspicion that such a whimsical liking would burn itself out.
  • She could not have that one, for there was a light in Miss Chancellor'_agnified face which seemed to say that a sentiment, with her, might consum_ts object, might consume Miss Chancellor, but would never consume itself.
  • Verena, as yet, had no sense of being scorched; she was only agreeably warmed.
  • She also had dreamed of a friendship, though it was not what she had dreame_f most, and it came over her that this was the one which fortune might hav_een keeping. She never held back.
  • "Do you live here all alone?" she asked of Olive.
  • "I shouldn't if you would come and live with me!"
  • Even this really passionate rejoinder failed to make Verena shrink; sh_hought it so possible that in the wealthy class people made each other suc_asy proposals. It was a part of the romance, the luxury, of wealth; i_elonged to the world of invitations, in which she had had so little share.
  • But it seemed almost a mockery when she thought of the little house i_ambridge, where the boards were loose in the steps of the porch.
  • "I must stay with my father and mother," she said. "And then I have my work, you know. That's the way I must live now."
  • "Your work?" Olive repeated, not quite understanding.
  • "My gift," said Verena, smiling.
  • "Oh yes, you must use it. That's what I mean; you must move the world with it; it's divine."
  • It was so much what she meant that she had lain awake all night thinking o_t, and the substance of her thought was that if she could only rescue th_irl from the danger of vulgar exploitation, could only constitute herself he_rotectress and devotee, the two, between them, might achieve the grea_esult. Verena's genius was a mystery, and it might remain a mystery; it wa_mpossible to see how this charming, blooming, simple creature, all youth an_race and innocence, got her extraordinary powers of reflexion. When her gif_as not in exercise she appeared anything but reflective, and as she sat ther_ow, for instance, you would never have dreamed that she had had a vivi_evelation. Olive had to content herself, provisionally, with saying that he_recious faculty had come to her just as her beauty and distinction (to Oliv_he was full of that quality) had come; it had dropped straight from heaven, without filtering through her parents, whom Miss Chancellor decidedly did no_ancy. Even among reformers she discriminated; she thought all wise peopl_anted great changes, but the votaries of change were not necessarily wise.
  • She remained silent a little, after her last remark, and then she repeate_gain, as if it were the solution of everything, as if it represented wit_bsolute certainty some immense happiness in the future—"We must wait, we mus_ait!" Verena was perfectly willing to wait, though she did not exactly kno_hat they were to wait for, and the aspiring frankness of her assent shone ou_f her face, and seemed to pacify their mutual gaze. Olive asked he_nnumerable questions; she wanted to enter into her life. It was one of thos_alks which people remember afterwards, in which every word has been given an_aken, and in which they see the signs of a beginning that was to b_ustified. The more Olive learnt of her visitor's life the more she wanted t_nter into it, the more it took her out of herself. Such strange lives are le_n America, she always knew that; but this was queerer than anything she ha_reamed of, and the queerest part was that the girl herself didn't appear t_hink it queer. She had been nursed in darkened rooms, and suckled in th_idst of manifestations; she had begun to "attend lectures," as she said, whe_he was quite an infant, because her mother had no one to leave her with a_ome. She had sat on the knees of somnambulists, and had been passed from han_o hand by trance-speakers; she was familiar with every kind of "cure," an_ad grown up among lady-editors of newspapers advocating new religions, an_eople who disapproved of the marriage-tie. Verena talked of the marriage-ti_s she would have talked of the last novel—as if she had heard it a_requently discussed; and at certain times, listening to the answers she mad_o her questions, Olive Chancellor closed her eyes in the manner of a perso_aiting till giddiness passed. Her young friend's revelations actually gav_er a vertigo; they made her perceive everything from which she should hav_escued her. Verena was perfectly uncontaminated, and she would never b_ouched by evil; but though Olive had no views about the marriage-tie excep_hat she should hate it for herself—that particular reform she did not propos_o consider—she didn't like the "atmosphere" of circles in which suc_nstitutions were called into question. She had no wish now to enter into a_xamination of that particular one; nevertheless, to make sure, she would jus_sk Verena whether she disapproved of it.
  • "Well, I must say," said Miss Tarrant, "I prefer free unions."
  • Olive held her breath an instant; such an idea was so disagreeable to her.
  • Then, for all answer, she murmured, irresolutely, "I wish you would let m_elp you!" Yet it seemed, at the same time, that Verena needed little help, for it was more and more clear that her eloquence, when she stood up that wa_efore a roomful of people, was literally inspiration. She answered all he_riend's questions with a good-nature which evidently took no pains to mak_hings plausible, an effort to oblige, not to please; but, after all, sh_ould give very little account of herself. This was very visible when Oliv_sked her where she had got her "intense realisation" of the suffering o_omen; for her address at Miss Birdseye's showed that she, too (like Oliv_erself), had had that vision in the watches of the night. Verena thought _oment, as if to understand what her companion referred to, and then sh_nquired, always smiling, where Joan of Arc had got her idea of the sufferin_f France. This was so prettily said that Olive could scarcely keep fro_issing her; she looked at the moment as if, like Joan, she might have ha_isits from the saints. Olive, of course, remembered afterwards that it ha_ot literally answered the question; and she also reflected on something tha_ade an answer seem more difficult—the fact that the girl had grown up amon_ady-doctors, lady-mediums, lady-editors, lady-preachers, lady-healers, wome_ho, having rescued themselves from a passive existence, could illustrate onl_artially the misery of the sex at large. It was true that they might hav_llustrated it by their talk, by all they had "been through" and all the_ould tell a younger sister; but Olive was sure that Verena's propheti_mpulse had not been stirred by the chatter of women (Miss Chancellor kne_hat sound as well as any one); it had proceeded rather out of their silence.
  • She said to her visitor that whether or no the angels came down to her i_littering armour, she struck her as the only person she had yet encountere_ho had exactly the same tenderness, the same pity, for women that she hersel_ad. Miss Birdseye had something of it, but Miss Birdseye wanted passion, wanted keenness, was capable of the weakest concessions. Mrs. Farrinder wa_ot weak, of course, and she brought a great intellect to the matter; but sh_as not personal enough—she was too abstract. Verena was not abstract; sh_eemed to have lived in imagination through all the ages. Verena said she di_hink she had a certain amount of imagination; she supposed she couldn't be s_ffective on the platform if she hadn't a rich fancy. Then Olive said to her, taking her hand again, that she wanted her to assure her of this—that it wa_he only thing in all the world she cared for, the redemption of women, th_hing she hoped under Providence to give her life to. Verena flushed a littl_t this appeal, and the deeper glow of her eyes was the first sign o_xaltation she had offered. "Oh yes—I want to give my life!" she exclaimed, with a vibrating voice; and then she added gravely, "I want to do somethin_reat!"
  • "You will, you will, we both will!" Olive Chancellor cried, in rapture. Bu_fter a little she went on: "I wonder if you know what it means, young an_ovely as you are—giving your life!"
  • Verena looked down for a moment in meditation.
  • "Well," she replied, "I guess I have thought more than I appear."
  • "Do you understand German? Do you know 'Faust'?" said Olive. "'Entsagen solls_u, sollst entsagen!'"
  • "I don't know German; I should like so to study it; I want to kno_verything."
  • "We will work at it together—we will study everything." Olive almost panted; and while she spoke the peaceful picture hung before her of still winte_venings under the lamp, with falling snow outside, and tea on a little table, and successful renderings, with a chosen companion, of Goethe, almost the onl_oreign author she cared about; for she hated the writing of the French, i_pite of the importance they have given to women. Such a vision as this wa_he highest indulgence she could offer herself; she had it only a_onsiderable intervals. It seemed as if Verena caught a glimpse of it too, fo_er face kindled still more, and she said she should like that ever so much.
  • At the same time she asked the meaning of the German words.
  • "'Thou shalt renounce, refrain, abstain!' That's the way Bayard Taylor ha_ranslated them," Olive answered.
  • "Oh, well, I guess I can abstain!" Verena exclaimed, with a laugh. And she go_p rather quickly, as if by taking leave she might give a proof of what sh_eant. Olive put out her hands to hold her, and at this moment one of th_ortières of the room was pushed aside, while a gentleman was ushered in b_iss Chancellor's little parlour-maid.