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Chapter 15

  • Tarrant, however, kept an eye in that direction; he was solemnly civil to Mis_hancellor, handed her the dishes at table over and over again, and venture_o intimate that the apple-fritters were very fine; but, save for this,
  • alluded to nothing more trivial than the regeneration of humanity and th_trong hope he felt that Miss Birdseye would again have one of her delightfu_atherings. With regard to this latter point he explained that it was not i_rder that he might again present his daughter to the company, but simpl_ecause on such occasions there was a valuable interchange of hopeful thought,
  • a contact of mind with mind. If Verena had anything suggestive to contribut_o the social problem, the opportunity would come—that was part of thei_aith. They couldn't reach out for it and try and push their way; if they wer_anted, their hour would strike; if they were not, they would just keep stil_nd let others press forward who seemed to be called. If they were called,
  • they would know it; and if they weren't, they could just hold on to each othe_s they had always done. Tarrant was very fond of alternatives, and h_entioned several others; it was never his fault if his listeners failed t_hink him impartial. They hadn't much, as Miss Chancellor could see; she coul_ell by their manner of life that they hadn't raked in the dollars; but the_ad faith that, whether one raised one's voice or simply worked on in silence,
  • the principal difficulties would straighten themselves out; and they had als_ considerable experience of great questions. Tarrant spoke as if, as _amily, they were prepared to take charge of them on moderate terms. He alway_aid "ma'am" in speaking to Olive, to whom, moreover, the air had never bee_o filled with the sound of her own name. It was always in her ear, save whe_rs. Tarrant and Verena conversed in prolonged and ingenuous asides; this wa_till for her benefit, but the pronoun sufficed them. She had wished to judg_octor Tarrant (not that she believed he had come honestly by his title), t_ake up her mind. She had done these things now, and she expressed to hersel_he kind of man she believed him to be in reflecting that if she should offe_im ten thousand dollars to renounce all claim to Verena, keeping—he and hi_ife—clear of her for the rest of time, he would probably say, with hi_earful smile, "Make it twenty, money down, and I'll do it." Some image o_his transaction, as one of the possibilities of the future, outlined itsel_or Olive among the moral incisions of that evening. It seemed implied in th_ery place, the bald bareness of Tarrant's temporary lair, a wooden cottage,
  • with a rough front yard, a little naked piazza, which seemed rather to expos_han to protect, facing upon an unpaved road, in which the footway wa_verlaid with a strip of planks. These planks were embedded in ice or i_iquid thaw, according to the momentary mood of the weather, and the advancin_edestrian traversed them in the attitude, and with a good deal of th_uspense, of a rope-dancer. There was nothing in the house to speak of;
  • nothing, to Olive's sense, but a smell of kerosene; though she had _onsciousness of sitting down somewhere—the object creaked and rocked beneat_er—and of the table at tea being covered with a cloth stamped in brigh_olours.
  • As regards the pecuniary transaction with Selah, it was strange how she shoul_ave seen it through the conviction that Verena would never give up he_arents. Olive was sure that she would never turn her back upon them, woul_lways share with them. She would have despised her had she thought he_apable of another course; yet it baffled her to understand why, when parent_ere so trashy, this natural law should not be suspended. Such a questio_rought her back, however, to her perpetual enigma, the mystery she ha_lready turned over in her mind for hours together—the wonder of such peopl_eing Verena's progenitors at all. She had explained it, as we explain al_xceptional things, by making the part, as the French say, of the miraculous.
  • She had come to consider the girl as a wonder of wonders, to hold that n_uman origin, however congruous it might superficially appear, woul_ufficiently account for her; that her springing up between Selah and his wif_as an exquisite whim of the creative force; and that in such a case a fe_hades more or less of the inexplicable didn't matter. It was notorious tha_reat beauties, great geniuses, great characters, take their own times an_laces for coming into the world, leaving the gaping spectators to make them
  • "fit in," and holding from far-off ancestors, or even, perhaps, straight fro_he divine generosity, much more than from their ugly or stupid progenitors.
  • They were incalculable phenomena, anyway, as Selah would have said. Verena,
  • for Olive, was the very type and model of the "gifted being"; her qualitie_ad not been bought and paid for; they were like some brilliant birthday-
  • present, left at the door by an unknown messenger, to be delightful for eve_s an inexhaustible legacy, and amusing for ever from the obscurity of it_ource. They were superabundantly crude as yet—happily for Olive, who promise_erself, as we know, to train and polish them—but they were as genuine a_ruit and flowers, as the glow of the fire or the plash of water. For he_crutinising friend Verena had the disposition of the artist, the spirit t_hich all charming forms come easily and naturally. It required an effort a_irst to imagine an artist so untaught, so mistaught, so poor in experience;
  • but then it required an effort also to imagine people like the old Tarrants,
  • or a life so full as her life had been of ugly things. Only an exquisit_reature could have resisted such associations, only a girl who had som_atural light, some divine spark of taste. There were people like that, fres_rom the hand of Omnipotence; they were far from common, but their existenc_as as incontestable as it was beneficent.
  • Tarrant's talk about his daughter, her prospects, her enthusiasm, was terribl_ainful to Olive; it brought back to her what she had suffered already fro_he idea that he laid his hands upon her to make her speak. That he should b_ixed up in any way with this exercise of her genius was a great injury to th_ause, and Olive had already determined that in future Verena should dispens_ith his co-operation. The girl had virtually confessed that she lent hersel_o it only because it gave him pleasure, and that anything else would do a_ell, anything that would make her quiet a little before she began to "giv_ut." Olive took upon herself to believe that she could make her quiet,
  • though, certainly, she had never had that effect upon any one; she would moun_he platform with Verena if necessary, and lay her hands upon her head. Why i_he world had a perverse fate decreed that Tarrant should take an interest i_he affairs of Woman—as if she wanted his aid to arrive at her goal; _harlatan of the poor, lean, shabby sort, without the humour, brilliancy,
  • prestige, which sometimes throw a drapery over shallowness? Mr. Pardo_vidently took an interest as well, and there was something in his appearanc_hat seemed to say that his sympathy would not be dangerous. He was much a_is ease, plainly, beneath the roof of the Tarrants, and Olive reflected tha_hough Verena had told her much about him, she had not given her the idea tha_e was as intimate as that. What she had mainly said was that he sometime_ook her to the theatre. Olive could enter, to a certain extent, into that;
  • she herself had had a phase (some time after her father's death—her mother'_ad preceded his—when she bought the little house in Charles Street and bega_o live alone), during which she accompanied gentlemen to respectable place_f amusement. She was accordingly not shocked at the idea of such adventure_n Verena's part; than which, indeed, judging from her own experience, nothin_ould well have been less adventurous. Her recollections of these expedition_ere as of something solemn and edifying—of the earnest interest in he_elfare exhibited by her companion (there were few occasions on which th_oung Bostonian appeared to more advantage), of the comfort of other friend_itting near, who were sure to know whom she was with, of serious discussio_etween the acts in regard to the behaviour of the characters in the piece,
  • and of the speech at the end with which, as the young man quitted her at he_oor, she rewarded his civility—"I must thank you for a very pleasan_vening." She always felt that she made that too prim; her lips stiffene_hemselves as she spoke. But the whole affair had always a primness; this wa_iscernible even to Olive's very limited sense of humour. It was not s_eligious as going to evening-service at King's Chapel; but it was the nex_hing to it. Of course all girls didn't do it; there were families that viewe_uch a custom with disfavour. But this was where the girls were of the rompin_ort; there had to be some things they were known not to do. As a genera_hing, moreover, the practice was confined to the decorous; it was a sign o_ulture and quiet tastes. All this made it innocent for Verena, whose life ha_xposed her to much worse dangers; but the thing referred itself in Olive'_ind to a danger which cast a perpetual shadow there—the possibility of th_irl's embarking with some ingenuous youth on an expedition that would las_uch longer than an evening. She was haunted, in a word, with the fear tha_erena would marry, a fate to which she was altogether unprepared to surrende_er; and this made her look with suspicion upon all male acquaintance.
  • Mr. Pardon was not the only one she knew; she had an example of the rest i_he persons of two young Harvard law-students, who presented themselves afte_ea on this same occasion. As they sat there Olive wondered whether Verena ha_ept something from her, whether she were, after all (like so many other girl_n Cambridge), a college-"belle," an object of frequentation t_ndergraduates. It was natural that at the seat of a big university ther_hould be girls like that, with students dangling after them, but she didn'_ant Verena to be one of them. There were some that received the Seniors an_uniors; others that were accessible to Sophomores and Freshmen. Certain youn_adies distinguished the professional students; there was a group, even, tha_as on the best terms with the young men who were studying for the Unitaria_inistry in that queer little barrack at the end of Divinity Avenue. Th_dvent of the new visitors made Mrs. Tarrant bustle immensely; but after sh_ad caused every one to change places two or three times with every one els_he company subsided into a circle which was occasionally broken by wanderin_ovements on the part of her husband, who, in the absence of anything to sa_n any subject whatever, placed himself at different points in listenin_ttitudes, shaking his head slowly up and down, and gazing at the carpet wit_n air of supernatural attention. Mrs. Tarrant asked the young men from th_aw School about their studies, and whether they meant to follow them u_eriously; said she thought some of the laws were very unjust, and she hope_hey meant to try and improve them. She had suffered by the laws herself, a_he time her father died; she hadn't got half the prop'ty she should have go_f they had been different. She thought they should be for public matters, no_or people's private affairs; the idea always seemed to her to keep you dow_f you were down, and to hedge you in with difficulties. Sometimes she though_t was a wonder how she had developed in the face of so many; but it was _roof that freedom was everywhere, if you only knew how to look for it.
  • The two young men were in the best humour; they greeted these sallies with _erriment of which, though it was courteous in form, Olive was by no mean_nable to define the spirit. They talked naturally more with Verena than wit_er mother; and while they were so engaged Mrs. Tarrant explained to her wh_hey were, and how one of them, the smaller, who was not quite so spruce, ha_rought the other, his particular friend, to introduce him. This friend, Mr.
  • Burrage, was from New York; he was very fashionable, he went out a great dea_n Boston ("I have no doubt you know some of the places," said Mrs. Tarrant);
  • his "fam'ly" was very rich.
  • "Well, he knows plenty of that sort," Mrs. Tarrant went on, "but he fel_nsatisfied; he didn't know any one like us. He told Mr. Gracie (that's th_ittle one) that he felt as if he must; it seemed as if he couldn't hold out.
  • So we told Mr. Gracie, of course, to bring him right round. Well, I hope he'l_et something from us, I'm sure. He has been reported to be engaged to Mis_inkworth; I have no doubt you know who I mean. But Mr. Gracie says he hasn'_ooked at her more than twice. That's the way rumours fly round in that set, _resume. Well, I am glad we are not in it, wherever we are! Mr. Gracie is ver_ifferent; he is intensely plain, but I believe he is very learned. You don'_hink him plain? Oh, you don't know? Well, I suppose you don't care, you mus_ee so many. But I must say, when a young man looks like that, I call hi_ainfully plain. I heard Doctor Tarrant make the remark the last time he wa_ere. I don't say but what the plainest are the best. Well, I had no idea w_ere going to have a party when I asked you. I wonder whether Verena hadn'_etter hand the cake; we generally find the students enjoy it so much."
  • This office was ultimately delegated to Selah, who, after a considerabl_bsence, reappeared with a dish of dainties, which he presented successivel_o each member of the company. Olive saw Verena lavish her smiles on Mr.
  • Gracie and Mr. Burrage; the liveliest relation had established itself, and th_atter gentleman in especial abounded in appreciative laughter. It might hav_een fancied, just from looking at the group, that Verena's vocation was t_mile and talk with young men who bent towards her; might have been fancied,
  • that is, by a person less sure of the contrary than Olive, who had reason t_now that a "gifted being" is sent into the world for a very differen_urpose, and that making the time pass pleasantly for conceited young men i_he last duty you are bound to think of if you happen to have a talent fo_mbodying a cause. Olive tried to be glad that her friend had the richness o_ature that makes a woman gracious without latent purposes; she reflected tha_erena was not in the smallest degree a flirt, that she was only enchantingl_nd universally genial, that nature had given her a beautiful smile, whic_ell impartially on every one, man and woman, alike. Olive may have bee_ight, but it shall be confided to the reader that in reality she never knew,
  • by any sense of her own, whether Verena were a flirt or not. This young lad_ould not possibly have told her (even if she herself knew, which she didn't),
  • and Olive, destitute of the quality, had no means of taking the measure i_nother of the subtle feminine desire to please. She could see the differenc_etween Mr. Gracie and Mr. Burrage; her being bored by Mrs. Tarrant'_ttempting to point it out is perhaps a proof of that. It was a curiou_ncident of her zeal for the regeneration of her sex that manly things were,
  • perhaps on the whole, what she understood best. Mr. Burrage was rather _andsome youth, with a laughing, clever face, a certain sumptuosity o_pparel, an air of belonging to the "fast set"—a precocious, good-natured ma_f the world, curious of new sensations and containing, perhaps, the making o_ dilettante. Being, doubtless, a little ambitious, and liking to flatte_imself that he appreciated worth in lowly forms, he had associated himsel_ith the ruder but at the same time acuter personality of a genuine son of Ne_ngland, who had a harder head than his own and a humour in reality mor_ynical, and who, having earlier knowledge of the Tarrants, had undertaken t_how him something indigenous and curious, possibly even fascinating. Mr.
  • Gracie was short, with a big head; he wore eye-glasses, looked unkempt, almos_ustic, and said good things with his ugly lips. Verena had replies for a goo_any of them, and a pretty colour came into her face as she talked. Oliv_ould see that she produced herself quite as well as one of these gentleme_ad foretold the other that she would. Miss Chancellor knew what had passe_etween them as well as if she had heard it; Mr. Gracie had promised that h_ould lead her on, that she should justify his description and prove th_aciest of her class. They would laugh about her as they went away, lightin_heir cigars, and for many days afterwards their discourse would be enlivene_ith quotations from the "women's rights girl."
  • It was amazing how many ways men had of being antipathetic; these two wer_ery different from Basil Ransom, and different from each other, and yet th_anner of each conveyed an insult to one's womanhood. The worst of the cas_as that Verena would be sure not to perceive this outrage—not to dislike the_n consequence. There were so many things that she hadn't yet learned t_islike, in spite of her friend's earnest efforts to teach her. She had th_dea vividly (that was the marvel) of the cruelty of man, of his immemoria_njustice; but it remained abstract, platonic; she didn't detest him i_onsequence. What was the use of her having that sharp, inspired vision of th_istory of the sex (it was, as she had said herself, exactly like Joan o_rc's absolutely supernatural apprehension of the state of France) if sh_asn't going to carry it out, if she was going to behave as the ordinar_usillanimous, conventional young lady? It was all very well for her to hav_aid that first day that she would renounce: did she look, at such a moment a_his, like a young woman who had renounced? Suppose this glittering, laughin_urrage youth, with his chains and rings and shining shoes, should fall i_ove with her and try to bribe her, with his great possessions, to practis_enunciations of another kind—to give up her holy work and to go with him t_ew York, there to live as his wife, partly bullied, partly pampered, in th_ccustomed Burrage manner? There was as little comfort for Olive as there ha_een on the whole alarm in the recollection of that off-hand speech o_erena's about her preference for "free unions." This had been mere maide_lippancy; she had not known the meaning of what she said. Though she ha_rown up among people who took for granted all sorts of queer laxities, sh_ad kept the consummate innocence of the American girl, that innocence whic_as the greatest of all, for it had survived the abolition of walls and locks;
  • and of the various remarks that had dropped from Verena expressing thi_uality that startling observation certainly expressed it most. It implied, a_ny rate, that unions of some kind or other had her approval, and did no_xclude the dangers that might arise from encounters with young men in searc_f sensations.