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.