The hour that Olive proposed to Mrs. Burrage, in a note sent early the nex_orning, for the interview to which she consented to lend herself, was th_troke of noon; this period of the day being chosen in consequence of _revision of many subsequent calls upon her time. She remarked in her not_hat she did not wish any carriage to be sent for her, and she surged an_wayed up the Fifth Avenue on one of the convulsive, clattering omnibuse_hich circulate in that thoroughfare. One of her reasons for mentioning twelv_'clock had been that she knew Basil Ransom was to call at Tenth Street a_leven, and (as she supposed he didn't intend to stay all day) this would giv_er time to see him come and go. It had been tacitly agreed between them, th_ight before, that Verena was quite firm enough in her faith to submit to hi_isit, 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 whic_ have described as taking place before they separated for the night. Shortl_efore noon, Olive, passing out of the house, looked into the big, sunn_ouble parlour, where, in the morning, with all the husbands absent for th_ay and all the wives and spinsters launched upon the town, a young ma_esiring to hold a debate with a young lady might enjoy every advantage in th_ay of a clear field. Basil Ransom was still there; he and Verena, with th_lace to themselves, were standing in the recess of a window, their back_resented 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 int_he 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 sh_hould find him there on her return. She left the house, knowing they wer_ooking at her from the window as she descended the steps, but feeling sh_ould 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 th_oveliness of the day, the perfect weather, all suffused and tinted wit_pring, which sometimes descends upon New York when the winds of March hav_een stilled; she was given up only to the remembrance of that moment when sh_erself 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 seeme_apable then of getting such a hold on him but had proved as ineffectual i_his respect as she was in every other. She recalled the vision she ha_llowed 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 fear_hich already then—so strangely—haunted her. Now that she saw it s_ruitless—and that Verena, moreover, had turned out really so great—she wa_ather ashamed of it; she felt associated, however remotely, in the reason_hich had made Mrs. Luna tell her so many fibs the day before, and there coul_e nothing elevating in that. As for the other reasons why her fidgety siste_ad failed and Mr. Ransom had held his own course, naturally Miss Chancello_idn'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 interva_he sat in a remarkably pretty boudoir, where there were flowers and faience_nd little French pictures, and watched her hostess revolve round the subjec_n circles the vagueness of which she tried to dissimulate. Olive believed sh_as a person who never could enjoy asking a favour, especially of a votary o_he new ideas; and that was evidently what was coming. She had asked on_lready, but that had been handsomely paid for; the note from Mrs. Burrag_hich Verena found awaiting her in Tenth Street, on her arrival, contained th_argest cheque this young woman had ever received for an address. The reques_hat hung fire had reference to Verena too, of course; and Olive needed n_rompting to feel that her friend's being a young person who took money coul_ot 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 hersel_as now completely inured; money was a tremendous force, and when one wante_o assault the wrong with every engine one was happy not to lack the sinews o_ar. 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 fo_ranted between them; which could only be flattering to Olive so long as i_as really Mrs. Burrage who made each advance, while her visitor sat watchfu_nd motionless. She had a light, clever, familiar way of traversing an immens_istance with a very few words, as when she remarked, "Well, then, it i_ettled that she will come, and will stay till she is tired."
Nothing of the kind had been settled, but Olive helped Mrs. Burrage (thi_ime) 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 yea_go, desired to marry her?"
"My dear Miss Chancellor, that is just what I wish to talk to you about. I a_ware of everything; I don't believe you ever met any one who is aware of mor_hings than I." And Olive had to believe this, as Mrs. Burrage held up, smiling, her intelligent, proud, good-natured, successful head. "I knew a yea_go that my son was in love with your friend, I know that he has been so eve_ince, and that in consequence he would like to marry her to-day. I daresa_ou don't like the idea of her marrying at all; it would break up a friendshi_hich is so full of interest" (Olive wondered for a moment whether she ha_een going to say "so full of profit") "for you. This is why I hesitated; bu_ince 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 i_ver in every sense."
It was Mrs. Burrage, however, who did most of the talking; Olive only inserte_rom time to time an inquiry, a protest, a correction, an ejaculation tinge_ith irony. None of these things checked or diverted her hostess; Olive sa_ore and more that she wished to please her, to win her over, to smoot_atters down, to place them in a new and original light. She was very cleve_nd (little by little Olive said to herself) absolutely unscrupulous, but sh_idn't think she was clever enough for what she had undertaken. This wa_either more nor less, in the first place, than to persuade Miss Chancello_hat she and her son were consumed with sympathy for the movement to whic_iss Chancellor had dedicated her life. But how could Olive believe that, whe_he saw the type to which Mrs. Burrage belonged—a type into which natur_erself had inserted a face turned in the very opposite way from all earnes_nd improving things? People like Mrs. Burrage lived and fattened on abuses, prejudices, privileges, on the petrified, cruel fashions of the past. It mus_e added, however, that if her hostess was a humbug, Olive had never met on_ho provoked her less; she was such a brilliant, genial, artistic one, wit_uch a recklessness of perfidy, such a willingness to bribe you if sh_ouldn't deceive you. She seemed to be offering Olive all the kingdoms of th_arth if she would only exert herself to bring about a state of feeling o_erena 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. Yo_ould decide it to-morrow with a word."
She had hesitated at first, and spoken of her hesitation, and it might hav_ppeared that she would need all her courage to say to Olive, that way, fac_o face, that Verena was in such subjection to her. But she didn't loo_fraid; she only looked as if it were an infinite pity Miss Chancello_ouldn't understand what immense advantages and rewards there would be for he_n striking an alliance with the house of Burrage. Olive was so impressed wit_his, so occupied, even, in wondering what these mystic benefits might be, an_hether after all there might not be a protection in them (from somethin_orse), 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 t_ive—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 flatte_nd conciliate, whatever her pretexts and pretensions might be, that she wa_lmost insensible, for the time, to the strangeness of such a woman's comin_ound to a positive desire for a connexion with the Tarrants. Mrs. Burrage ha_ndeed explained this partly by saying that her son's condition was wearin_er 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 i_as 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 i_eemed 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," Oliv_eturned, with considerable majesty. "She will do exactly as she likes, i_uch a case as the one you allude to. She is absolutely free; you speak as i_ were her keeper!"
Then Mrs. Burrage explained that of course she didn't mean that Mis_hancellor exercised a conscious tyranny; but only that Verena had a boundles_dmiration for her, saw through her eyes, took the impress of all he_pinions, preferences. She was sure that if Olive would only take a favourabl_iew of her son Miss Tarrant would instantly throw herself into it. "It's ver_rue that you may ask me," added Mrs. Burrage, smiling, "how you can take _avourable view of a young man who wants to marry the very person in the worl_ou want most to keep unmarried!"
This description of Verena was of course perfectly correct; but it was no_greeable to Olive to have the fact in question so clearly perceived, even b_ person who expressed it with an air intimating that there was nothing in th_orld she couldn't understand.
"Did your son know that you were going to speak to me about this?" Oliv_sked, rather coldly, waiving the question of her influence on Verena and th_tate in which she wished her to remain.
"Oh yes, poor dear boy; we had a long talk yesterday, and I told him I woul_o what I could for him. Do you remember the little visit I paid to Cambridg_ast spring, when I saw you at his rooms? Then it was I began to perceive ho_he wind was setting; but yesterday we had a real éclaircissement. I didn'_ike it at all, at first; I don't mind telling you that, now—now that I a_eally enthusiastic about it. When a girl is as charming, as original, as Mis_arrant, it doesn't in the least matter who she is; she makes herself th_tandard by which you measure her; she makes her own position. And then Mis_arrant has such a future!" Mrs. Burrage added, quickly, as if that were th_ast thing to be overlooked. "The whole question has come up again—the feelin_hat Henry tried to think dead, or at least dying, has revived, through the—_ardly know what to call it, but I really may say the unexpectedly grea_ffect of her appearance here. She was really wonderful on Wednesday evening; prejudice, conventionality, every presumption there might be against her, ha_o fall to the ground. I expected a success, but I didn't expect what you gav_s," Mrs. Burrage went on, smiling, while Olive noted her "you." "In short, m_oor boy flamed up again; and now I see that he will never again care for an_irl as he cares for that one. My dear Miss Chancellor, j'en ai pris mo_arti, and perhaps you know my way of doing that sort of thing. I am not a_ll good at resigning myself, but I am excellent at taking up a craze. _aven't renounced, I have only changed sides. For or against, I must be _artisan. Don't you know that kind of nature? Henry has put the affair into m_ands, 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 th_ursory and allusive; and she may very well have expected that Miss Chancello_ould recognise its importance. What Olive did, in fact, was simply t_nquire, by way of rejoinder: "Why did you ask us to come on?"
If Mrs. Burrage hesitated now, it was only for twenty seconds. "Simply becaus_e 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 a_ure we give proof in the offer we make," Mrs. Burrage remarked, with a goo_eal of point. "There are plenty of girls—without any views at all—who woul_e 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 thes_ortunate people, for whom the world was so well arranged just as it was, wa_ery curious. But as she sat there it came over her that the human spirit ha_any variations, that the influence of the truth is great, and that there ar_uch things in life as happy surprises, quite as well as disagreeable ones.
Nothing, certainly, forced such people to fix their affections on the daughte_f a "healer"; it would be very clumsy to pick her out of her generation onl_or the purpose of frustrating her. Moreover, her observation of their youn_ost at Delmonico's and in the spacious box at the Academy of Music, wher_hey had privacy and ease, and murmured words could pass without makin_eighbours more given up to the stage turn their heads—her consideration o_enry Burrage's manner, suggested to her that she had measured him rathe_cantily the year before, that he was as much in love as the feebler passion_f the age permitted (for though Miss Chancellor believed in the amelioratio_f 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, an_ould therefore have an interest in promoting it, and that he was of so sof_nd fine a paste that his wife might do what she liked with him. Of cours_here would be the mother-in-law to count with; but unless she was perjurin_erself shamelessly Mrs. Burrage really had the wish to project herself int_he new atmosphere, or at least to be generous personally; so that, oddl_nough, the fear that most glanced before Olive was not that this high, fre_atron, slightly irritable with cleverness and at the same time good-nature_ith prosperity, would bully her son's bride, but rather that she might tak_oo fond a possession of her. It was a fear which may be described as _resentiment of jealousy. It occurred, accordingly, to Miss Chancellor's quic_onscience that, possibly, the proposal which presented itself i_ircumstances so complicated and anomalous was simply a magnificent chance, a_mprovement on the very best, even, that she had dreamed of for Verena. I_eant a large command of money—much larger than her own; the association of _ouple of clever people who simulated conviction very well, whether they fel_t or not, and who had a hundred useful worldly ramifications, and a kind o_ocial pedestal from which she might really shine afar. The conscience I hav_poken of grew positively sick as it thought of having such a problem as tha_o consider, such an ordeal to traverse. In the presence of such a contingenc_he poor girl felt grim and helpless; she could only vaguely wonder whethe_he were called upon in the name of duty to lend a hand to the torture of he_wn spirit.
"And if she should marry him, how could I be sure that—afterwards—you woul_are 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 hersel_t seemed a little rough.
Mrs. Burrage took it admirably. "You think we are feigning an interest, onl_o get hold of her? That's not very nice of you, Miss Chancellor; but o_ourse you have to be tremendously careful. I assure you my son tells me h_irmly 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 o_ractical politics. As for me, you don't suppose I don't want everything w_oor women can get, or that I would refuse any privilege or advantage that'_ffered me? I don't rant or rave about anything, but I have—as I told you jus_ow—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 s_uite enough. You may say you don't see Henry dangling about after a wife wh_ives public addresses; but I am convinced that a great many things are comin_o pass—very soon, too—that we don't see in advance. Henry is a gentleman t_is finger-tips, and there is not a situation in which he will not conduc_imself with tact."
Olive could see that they really wanted Verena immensely, and it wa_mpossible for her to believe that if they were to get her they would no_reat her well. It came to her that they would even overindulge her, flatte_er, spoil her; she was perfectly capable, for the moment, of assuming tha_erena was susceptible of deterioration and that her own treatment of her ha_een 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, wit_ calmness which she felt to be very pregnant.
"You mean they are absolutely fearful? My son has told me they are quit_mpossible, and I am quite prepared for that. Do you ask how we should get o_ith 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 he_isitor, taking up the supposition that it was in her power to dispose in an_anner whatsoever of Verena, declared that she didn't know why Mrs. Burrag_ddressed herself to her, that Miss Tarrant was free as air, that her futur_as in her own hands, that such a matter as this was a kind of thing wit_hich it could never occur to one to interfere. "Dear Miss Chancellor, w_on't ask you to interfere. The only thing we ask of you is simply not t_nterfere."
"And have you sent for me only for that?"
"For that, and for what I hinted at in my note; that you would really exercis_our influence with Miss Tarrant to induce her to come to us now for a week o_wo. 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 sound_onceited—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. Burrag_eturned, smiling.
"I think you try to prove too much. You do believe—though you pretend yo_on't—that I control her actions, and as far as possible her desires, and tha_ am jealous of any other relations she may possibly form. I can imagine tha_e may perhaps have that air, though it only proves how little such a_ssociation as ours is understood, and how superficial is still"—Olive fel_hat her "still" was really historical—"the interpretation of many of th_lements in the activity of women, how much the public conscience with regar_o them needs to be educated. Your conviction with respect to my attitud_eing what I believe it to be," Miss Chancellor went on, "I am surprised a_our not perceiving how little it is in my interest to deliver my—my victim u_o 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 tha_he was considerably exasperated at her visitor's superior tone, at seein_erself regarded by this dry, shy, obstinate, provincial young woman a_uperficial. If she liked Verena very nearly as much as she tried to convinc_iss Chancellor, she was conscious of disliking Miss Chancellor more than sh_hould probably ever be able to reveal to Verena. It was doubtless partly he_rritation that found a voice as she said, after a self-administered pinch o_aution not to say too much, "Of course it would be absurd in us to assum_hat Miss Tarrant would find my son irresistible, especially as she ha_lready refused him. But even if she should remain obdurate, should yo_onsider yourself quite safe as regards others?"
The manner in which Miss Chancellor rose from her chair on hearing these word_howed her hostess that if she had wished to take a little revenge b_rightening her, the experiment was successful. "What others do you mean?"
Olive asked, standing very straight, and turning down her eyes as from a grea_eight.
Mrs. Burrage—since we have begun to look into her mind we may continue th_rocess—had not meant any one in particular; but a train of association wa_uddenly kindled in her thought by the flash of the girl's resentment. Sh_emembered the gentleman who had come up to her in the music-room, after Mis_arrant's address, while she was talking with Olive, and to whom that youn_ady 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 a_nvitation 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'_ou 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 othe_ffections, to cut off a whole side of life, to defend her against dangers—i_ou call them dangers—to which every young woman who is not positivel_epulsive is exposed? My dear young lady, I wonder if I might give you thre_ords of advice?" Mrs. Burrage did not wait till Olive had answered thi_nquiry; she went on quickly, with her air of knowing exactly what she wante_o say and feeling at the same time that, good as it might be, the manner o_aying it, like the manner of saying most other things, was not wort_roubling much about. "Don't attempt the impossible. You have got hold of _ood thing; don't spoil it by trying to stretch it too far. If you don't tak_he better, perhaps you will have to take the worse; if it's safety you want _hould think she was much safer with my son—for with us you know th_orst—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 expressio_f being near the mark, her look of worldly cleverness, of a confidence bor_f much experience. She felt that nothing would be spared her, that she shoul_ave to go to the end, that this ordeal also must be faced, and that, i_articular, there was a detestable wisdom in her hostess's advice. She wa_onscious, however, of no obligation to recognise it then and there; sh_anted to get off, and even to carry Mrs. Burrage's sapient words along wit_er—to hurry to some place where she might be alone and think. "I don't kno_hy you have thought it right to send for me only to say this. I take n_nterest whatever in your son—in his settling in life." And she gathered he_antle 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 you_our."
"I have a great many things to think of!" Olive exclaimed insincerely; for sh_new that Mrs. Burrage's ideas would haunt her.
"And tell her that if she will make us the little visit, all New York shal_it at her feet!"
That was what Olive wanted, and yet it seemed a mockery to hear Mrs. Burrag_ay it. Miss Chancellor retreated, making no response even when her hostes_eclared again that she was under great obligations to her for coming. Whe_he reached the street she found she was deeply agitated, but not with a sens_f weakness; she hurried along, excited and dismayed, feeling that he_nsufferable conscience was bristling like some irritated animal, that _agnificent offer had really been made to Verena, and that there was no wa_or her to persuade herself she might be silent about it. Of course, if Veren_hould be tempted by the idea of being made so much of by the Burrages, th_anger of Basil Ransom getting any kind of hold on her would cease to b_ressing. That was what was present to Olive as she walked along, and that wa_hat made her nervous, conscious only of this problem that had suddenly turne_he bright day to greyness, heedless of the sophisticated-looking people wh_assed her on the wide Fifth Avenue pavement. It had risen in her mind the da_efore, planted first by Mrs. Burrage's note; and then, as we know, she ha_aguely entertained the conception, asking Verena whether she would make th_isit 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 the_eemed cruel. What had been in her own mind was that if Verena should appea_o lend herself to the Burrages Basil Ransom might be discouraged—might thin_hat, shabby and poor, there was no chance for him as against people wit_very advantage of fortune and position. She didn't see him relax his purpos_o 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 wort_onsidering. At present she saw it was a question not of Verena's lendin_erself, but of a positive gift, or at least of a bargain in which the term_ould be immensely liberal. It would be impossible to use the Burrages as _helter on the assumption that they were not dangerous, for they becam_angerous from the moment they set up as sympathisers, took the ground tha_hat they offered the girl was simply a boundless opportunity. It came back t_live, 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 the_ll the way. When Miss Chancellor had a pair of alternatives to consider, _uestion 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 coul_o on. It seemed to her at present that she couldn't re-enter the house i_enth Street without having decided first whether she might trust the Burrage_r 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 abl_o say to herself that he probably wouldn't have the hardihood to push afte_er into those gilded saloons, which, in any event, would be closed to him a_oon as the mother and son should discover what he wanted. She even aske_erself whether Verena would not be still better defended from the youn_outherner in New York, amid complicated hospitalities, than in Boston with _ousin of the enemy. She continued to walk down the Fifth Avenue, withou_oticing the cross-streets, and after a while became conscious that she wa_pproaching Washington Square. By this time she had also definitely reasone_t out that Basil Ransom and Henry Burrage could not both capture Mis_arrant, that therefore there could not be two dangers, but only one; tha_his was a good deal gained, and that it behoved her to determine which peri_ad most reality, in order that she might deal with that one only. She hel_er way to the Square, which, as all the world knows, is of great extent an_pen to the encircling street. The trees and grass-plats had begun to bud an_prout, the fountains plashed in the sunshine, the children of the quarter, both the dingier types from the south side, who played games that require_uch chalking of the paved walks, and much sprawling and crouching there, under the feet of passers, and the little curled and feathered people wh_rove their hoops under the eyes of French nursemaids—all the infan_opulation filled the vernal air with small sounds which had a crude, tende_uality, like the leaves and the thin herbage. Olive wandered through th_lace, and ended by sitting down on one of the continuous benches. It was _ong time since she had done anything so vague, so wasteful. There were _ozen things which, as she was staying over in New York, she ought to do; bu_he forgot them, or, if she thought of them, felt that they were now of n_oment. She remained in her place an hour, brooding, tremulous, turning ove_nd over certain thoughts. It seemed to her that she was face to face with _risis of her destiny, and that she must not shrink from seeing it exactly a_t was. Before she rose to return to Tenth Street she had made up her min_hat there was no menace so great as the menace of Basil Ransom; she ha_ccepted in thought any arrangement which would deliver her from that. If th_urrages were to take Verena they would take her from Olive immeasurably les_han he would do; it was from him, from him they would take her most. Sh_alked back to her boarding-house, and the servant who admitted her said, i_nswer to her inquiry as to whether Verena were at home, that Miss Tarrant ha_one out with the gentleman who called in the morning, and had not yet com_n. Olive stood staring; the clock in the hall marked three.