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Chapter 16

  • Mr. Pardon, as Olive observed, was a little out of this combination; but h_as not a person to allow himself to droop. He came and seated himself by Mis_hancellor and broached a literary subject; he asked her if she were followin_ny of the current "serials" in the magazines. On her telling him that sh_ever followed anything of that sort, he undertook a defence of the seria_ystem, which she presently reminded him that she had not attacked. He was no_iscouraged by this retort, but glided gracefully off to the question of Moun_esert; conversation on some subject or other being evidently a necessity o_is nature. He talked very quickly and softly, with words, and even sentences, imperfectly formed; there was a certain amiable flatness in his tone, and h_bounded in exclamations—"Goodness gracious!" and "Mercy on us!"—not much i_se among the sex whose profanity is apt to be coarse. He had small, fai_eatures, remarkably neat, and pretty eyes, and a moustache that he caressed, and an air of juvenility much at variance with his grizzled locks, and th_ree familiar reference in which he was apt to indulge to his career as _ournalist. His friends knew that in spite of his delicacy and his prattle h_as what they called a live man; his appearance was perfectly reconcilabl_ith a large degree of literary enterprise. It should be explained that fo_he most part they attached to this idea the same meaning as Selah Tarrant—_tate of intimacy with the newspapers, the cultivation of the great arts o_ublicity. For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between th_erson and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the perso_ood for newsboys, and everything and every one were every one's business. Al_hings, with him, referred themselves to print, and print meant simpl_nfinite reporting, a promptitude of announcement, abusive when necessary, o_ven when not, about his fellow-citizens. He poured contumely on their privat_ife, on their personal appearance, with the best conscience in the world. Hi_aith, again, was the faith of Selah Tarrant—that being in the newspapers is _ondition of bliss, and that it would be fastidious to question the terms o_he privilege. He was an enfant de la balle, as the French say; he had begu_is career, at the age of fourteen, by going the rounds of the hotels, to cul_lowers from the big, greasy registers which lie on the marble counters; an_e might flatter himself that he had contributed in his measure, and on behal_f a vigilant public opinion, the pride of a democratic State, to the grea_nd of preventing the American citizen from attempting clandestine journeys.
  • Since then he had ascended other steps of the same ladder; he was the mos_rilliant young interviewer on the Boston press. He was particularl_uccessful in drawing out the ladies; he had condensed into shorthand many o_he most celebrated women of his time—some of these daughters of fame wer_ery voluminous—and he was supposed to have a remarkably insinuating way o_aiting upon prime donne and actresses the morning after their arrival, o_ometimes the very evening, while their luggage was being brought up. He wa_nly twenty-eight years old, and, with his hoary head, was a thoroughly moder_oung man; he had no idea of not taking advantage of all the moder_onveniences. He regarded the mission of mankind upon earth as a perpetua_volution of telegrams; everything to him was very much the same, he had n_ense of proportion or quality; but the newest thing was what came neares_xciting in his mind the sentiment of respect. He was an object of extrem_dmiration to Selah Tarrant, who believed that he had mastered all the secret_f success, and who, when Mrs. Tarrant remarked (as she had done more tha_nce) that it looked as if Mr. Pardon was really coming after Verena, declare_hat if he was, he was one of the few young men he should want to see in tha_onnexion, one of the few he should be willing to allow to handle her. It wa_arrant's conviction that if Matthias Pardon should seek Verena in marriage, it would be with a view to producing her in public; and the advantage for th_irl of having a husband who was at the same time reporter, interviewer, manager, agent, who had the command of the principal "dailies," would writ_er up and work her, as it were, scientifically—the attraction of all this wa_oo obvious to be insisted on. Matthias had a mean opinion of Tarrant, though_im quite second-rate, a votary of played-out causes. It was his impressio_hat he himself was in love with Verena, but his passion was not a jealou_ne, and included a remarkable disposition to share the object of hi_ffection with the American people.
  • He talked some time to Olive about Mount Desert, told her that in his letter_e had described the company at the different hotels. He remarked, however, that a correspondent suffered a good deal to-day from the competition of the
  • "lady-writers"; the sort of article they produced was sometimes mor_cceptable to the papers. He supposed she would be glad to hear that—he kne_he was so interested in woman's having a free field. They certainly mad_ovely correspondents; they picked up something bright before you could tur_ound; there wasn't much you could keep away from them; you had to be livel_f you wanted to get there first. Of course, they were naturally more chatty, and that was the style of literature that seemed to take most to-day; onl_hey didn't write much but what ladies would want to read. Of course, he kne_here were millions of lady-readers, but he intimated that he didn't addres_imself exclusively to the gynecæum; he tried to put in something that woul_nterest all parties. If you read a lady's letter you knew pretty well i_dvance what you would find. Now, what he tried for was that you shouldn'_ave the least idea; he always tried to have something that would make yo_ump. Mr. Pardon was not conceited more, at least, than is proper when yout_nd success go hand in hand, and it was natural he should not know in wha_pirit Miss Chancellor listened to him. Being aware that she was a woman o_ulture his desire was simply to supply her with the pabulum that she woul_xpect. She thought him very inferior; she had heard he was intensely bright, but there was probably some mistake; there couldn't be any danger for Veren_rom a mind that took merely a gossip's view of great tendencies. Besides, h_asn't half educated, and it was her belief, or at least her hope, that a_ducative process was now going on for Verena (under her own direction) whic_ould enable her to make such a discovery for herself. Olive had a standin_uarrel with the levity, the good-nature, of the judgements of the day; man_f them seemed to her weak to imbecility, losing sight of all measures an_tandards, lavishing superlatives, delighted to be fooled. The age seemed t_er relaxed and demoralised, and I believe she looked to the influx of th_reat feminine element to make it feel and speak more sharply.
  • "Well, it's a privilege to hear you two talk together," Mrs. Tarrant said t_er; "it's what I call real conversation. It isn't often we have anything s_resh; it makes me feel as if I wanted to join in. I scarcely know whom t_isten to most; Verena seems to be having such a time with those gentlemen.
  • First I catch one thing and then another; it seems as if I couldn't take i_ll in. Perhaps I ought to pay more attention to Mr. Burrage; I don't want hi_o think we are not so cordial as they are in New York."
  • She decided to draw nearer to the trio on the other side of the room, for sh_ad perceived (as she devoutly hoped Miss Chancellor had not) that Verena wa_ndeavouring to persuade either of her companions to go and talk to her dea_riend, and that these unscrupulous young men, after a glance over thei_houlder, appeared to plead for remission, to intimate that this was not wha_hey had come round for. Selah wandered out of the room again with hi_ollection of cakes, and Mr. Pardon began to talk to Olive about Verena, t_ay that he felt as if he couldn't say all he did feel with regard to th_nterest she had shown in her. Olive could not imagine why he was called upo_o say or to feel anything, and she gave him short answers; while the poo_oung man, unconscious of his doom, remarked that he hoped she wasn't going t_xercise any influence that would prevent Miss Tarrant from taking the ran_hat belonged to her. He thought there was too much hanging back; he wanted t_ee her in a front seat; he wanted to see her name in the biggest kind o_ills and her portrait in the windows of the stores. She had genius, there wa_o doubt of that, and she would take a new line altogether. She had charm, an_here was a great demand for that nowadays in connexion with new ideas. Ther_ere so many that seemed to have fallen dead for want of it. She ought to b_arried straight ahead; she ought to walk right up to the top. There was _ant of bold action; he didn't see what they were waiting for. He didn'_uppose they were waiting till she was fifty years old; there were old one_nough in the field. He knew that Miss Chancellor appreciated the advantage o_er girlhood, because Miss Verena had told him so. Her father was dreadfull_lack, and the winter was ebbing away. Mr. Pardon went so far as to say tha_f Dr. Tarrant didn't see his way to do something, he should feel as if h_hould want to take hold himself. He expressed a hope at the same time tha_live had not any views that would lead her to bring her influence to bear t_ake Miss Verena hold back; also that she wouldn't consider that he pressed i_oo much. He knew that was a charge that people brought against newspaper- men—that they were rather apt to cross the line. He only worried because h_hought those who were no doubt nearer to Miss Verena than he could hope to b_ere not sufficiently alive. He knew that she had appeared in two or thre_arlours since that evening at Miss Birdseye's, and he had heard of th_elightful occasion at Miss Chancellor's own house, where so many of the firs_amilies had been invited to meet her. (This was an allusion to a smal_uncheon-party that Olive had given, when Verena discoursed to a dozen matron_nd spinsters, selected by her hostess with infinite consideration and man_piritual scruples; a report of the affair, presumably from the hand of th_oung Matthias, who naturally had not been present, appeared wit_xtraordinary promptness in an evening-paper.) That was very well so far as i_ent, but he wanted something on another scale, something so big that peopl_ould have to go round if they wanted to get past. Then lowering his voice _ittle, he mentioned what it was: a lecture in the Music Hall, at fifty cent_ ticket, without her father, right there on her own basis. He lowered hi_oice still more and revealed to Miss Chancellor his innermost thought, havin_irst assured himself that Selah was still absent and that Mrs. Tarrant wa_nquiring of Mr. Burrage whether he visited much on the new land. The trut_as, Miss Verena wanted to "shed" her father altogether; she didn't want hi_awing round her that way before she began; it didn't add in the least to th_ttraction. Mr. Pardon expressed the conviction that Miss Chancellor agree_ith him in this, and it required a great effort of mind on Olive's part, s_mall was her desire to act in concert with Mr. Pardon, to admit to hersel_hat she did. She asked him, with a certain lofty coldness—he didn't make he_hy, now, a bit—whether he took a great interest in the improvement of th_osition of women. The question appeared to strike the young man as abrupt an_rrelevant, to come down on him from a height with which he was not accustome_o hold intercourse. He was used to quick operations, however, and he had onl_ moment of bright blankness before replying:
  • "Oh, there is nothing I wouldn't do for the ladies; just give me a chance an_ou'll see."
  • Olive was silent a moment. "What I mean is—is your sympathy a sympathy wit_ur sex, or a particular interest in Miss Tarrant?"
  • "Well, sympathy is just sympathy—that's all I can say. It takes in Miss Veren_nd it takes in all others—except the lady-correspondents," the young ma_dded, with a jocosity which, as he perceived even at the moment, was lost o_erena's friend. He was not more successful when he went on: "It takes in eve_ou, Miss Chancellor!"
  • Olive rose to her feet, hesitating; she wanted to go away, and yet sh_ouldn't bear to leave Verena to be exploited, as she felt that she would b_fter her departure, that indeed she had already been, by those offensiv_oung men. She had a strange sense, too, that her friend had neglected her fo_he last half-hour, had not been occupied with her, had placed a barrie_etween them—a barrier of broad male backs, of laughter that verged upo_oarseness, of glancing smiles directed across the room, directed to Olive, which seemed rather to disconnect her with what was going forward on that sid_han to invite her to take part in it. If Verena recognised that Mis_hancellor was not in report, as her father said, when jocose young men rule_he scene, the discovery implied no great penetration; but the poor girl migh_ave reflected further that to see it taken for granted that she was unadapte_or such company could scarcely be more agreeable to Olive than to be dragge_nto it. This young lady's worst apprehensions were now justified by Mrs.
  • Tarrant's crying to her that she must not go, as Mr. Burrage and Mr. Graci_ere trying to persuade Verena to give them a little specimen of inspirationa_peaking, and she was sure her daughter would comply in a moment if Mis_hancellor would just tell her to compose herself. They had got to own up t_t, Miss Chancellor could do more with her than any one else; but Mr. Graci_nd Mr. Burrage had excited her so that she was afraid it would be rather a_nsuccessful effort. The whole group had got up, and Verena came to Olive wit_er hands outstretched and no signs of a bad conscience in her bright face.
  • "I know you like me to speak so much—I'll try to say something if you want m_o. But I'm afraid there are not enough people; I can't do much with a smal_udience."
  • "I wish we had brought some of our friends—they would have been delighted t_ome if we had given them a chance," said Mr. Burrage. "There is an immens_esire throughout the University to hear you, and there is no such sympatheti_udience as an audience of Harvard men. Gracie and I are only two, but Graci_s a host in himself, and I am sure he will say as much of me." The young ma_poke these words freely and lightly, smiling at Verena, and even a little a_live, with the air of one to whom a mastery of clever "chaff" was commonl_ttributed.
  • "Mr. Burrage listens even better than he talks," his companion declared. "W_ave the habit of attention at lectures, you know. To be lectured by you woul_e an advantage indeed. We are sunk in ignorance and prejudice."
  • "Ah, my prejudices," Burrage went on; "if you could see them—I assure you the_re something monstrous!"
  • "Give them a regular ducking and make them gasp," Matthias Pardon cried. "I_ou want an opportunity to act on Harvard College, now's your chance. Thes_entlemen will carry the news; it will be the narrow end of the wedge."
  • "I can't tell what you like," Verena said, still looking into Olive's eyes.
  • "I'm sure Miss Chancellor likes everything here," Mrs. Tarrant remarked, wit_ noble confidence.
  • Selah had reappeared by this time; his lofty, contemplative person was frame_y the doorway. "Want to try a little inspiration?" he inquired, looking roun_n the circle with an encouraging inflexion.
  • "I'll do it alone, if you prefer," Verena said soothingly to her friend. "I_ight be a good chance to try without father."
  • "You don't mean to say you ain't going to be supported?" Mrs. Tarran_xclaimed, with dismay.
  • "Ah, I beseech you, give us the whole programme—don't omit any leadin_eature!" Mr. Burrage was heard to plead.
  • "My only interest is to draw her out," said Selah, defending his integrity. "_ill drop right out if I don't seem to vitalise. I have no desire to dra_ttention to my own poor gifts." This declaration appeared to be addressed t_iss Chancellor.
  • "Well, there will be more inspiration if you don't touch her," Matthias Pardo_aid to him. "It will seem to come right down from—well, wherever it does com_rom."
  • "Yes, we don't pretend to say that," Mrs. Tarrant murmured.
  • This little discussion had brought the blood to Olive's face; she felt tha_very one present was looking at her—Verena most of all—and that here was _hance to take a more complete possession of the girl. Such chances wer_gitating; moreover, she didn't like, on any occasion, to be so prominent. Bu_verything that had been said was benighted and vulgar; the place seemed thic_ith the very atmosphere out of which she wished to lift Verena. They wer_reating her as a show, as a social resource, and the two young men from th_ollege were laughing at her shamelessly. She was not meant for that, an_live would save her. Verena was so simple, she couldn't see herself; she wa_he only pure spirit in the odious group.
  • "I want you to address audiences that are worth addressing—to convince peopl_ho are serious and sincere." Olive herself, as she spoke, heard the grea_hake in her voice. "Your mission is not to exhibit yourself as a pastime fo_ndividuals, but to touch the heart of communities, of nations."
  • "Dear madam, I'm sure Miss Tarrant will touch my heart!" Mr. Burrage objected, gallantly.
  • "Well, I don't know but she judges you young men fairly," said Mrs. Tarrant, with a sigh.
  • Verena, diverted a moment from her communion with her friend, considered Mr.
  • Burrage with a smile. "I don't believe you have got any heart, and I shouldn'_are much if you had!"
  • "You have no idea how much the way you say that increases my desire to hea_ou speak."
  • "Do as you please, my dear," said Olive, almost inaudibly. "My carriage mus_e there—I must leave you, in any case."
  • "I can see you don't want it," said Verena, wondering. "You would stay if yo_iked it, wouldn't you?"
  • "I don't know what I should do. Come out with me!" Olive spoke almost wit_ierceness.
  • "Well, you'll send them away no better than they came," said Matthias Pardon.
  • "I guess you had better come round some other night," Selah suggeste_acifically, but with a significance which fell upon Olive's ear.
  • Mr. Gracie seemed inclined to make the sturdiest protest. "Look here, Mis_arrant; do you want to save Harvard College, or do you not?" he demanded, with a humorous frown.
  • "I didn't know you were Harvard College!" Verena returned as humorously.
  • "I am afraid you are rather disappointed in your evening if you expected t_btain some insight into our ideas," said Mrs. Tarrant, with an air o_mpotent sympathy, to Mr. Gracie.
  • "Well, good-night, Miss Chancellor," she went on; "I hope you've got a war_rap. I suppose you'll think we go a good deal by what you say in this house.
  • Well, most people don't object to that. There's a little hole right there i_he porch; it seems as if Doctor Tarrant couldn't remember to go for the ma_o fix it. I am afraid you'll think we're too much taken up with all these ne_opes. Well, we have enjoyed seeing you in our home; it quite raises m_ppetite for social intercourse. Did you come out on wheels? I can't stand _leigh myself; it makes me sick."
  • This was her hostess's response to Miss Chancellor's very summary farewell, uttered as the three ladies proceeded together to the door of the house. Oliv_ad got herself out of the little parlour with a sort of blind, defiant dash; she had taken no perceptible leave of the rest of the company. When she wa_alm she had very good manners, but when she was agitated she was guilty o_apses, every one of which came back to her, magnified, in the watches of th_ight. Sometimes they excited remorse, and sometimes triumph; in the latte_ase she felt that she could not have been so justly vindictive in cold blood.
  • Tarrant wished to guide her down the steps, out of the little yard, to he_arriage; he reminded her that they had had ashes sprinkled on the planks o_urpose. But she begged him to let her alone, she almost pushed him back; sh_rew Verena out into the dark freshness, closing the door of the house behin_er. There was a splendid sky, all blue-black and silver—a sparkling wintr_ault, where the stars were like a myriad points of ice. The air was silen_nd sharp, and the vague snow looked cruel. Olive knew now very definitel_hat the promise was that she wanted Verena to make; but it was too cold, sh_ould keep her there bareheaded but an instant. Mrs. Tarrant, meanwhile, i_he parlour, remarked that it seemed as if she couldn't trust Verena with he_wn parents; and Selah intimated that, with a proper invitation, his daughte_ould be very happy to address Harvard College at large. Mr. Burrage and Mr.
  • Gracie said they would invite her on the spot, in the name of the University; and Matthias Pardon reflected (and asserted) with glee that this would be th_ewest thing yet. But he added that they would have a high time with Mis_hancellor first, and this was evidently the conviction of the company.
  • "I can see you are angry at something," Verena said to Olive, as the two stoo_here in the starlight. "I hope it isn't me. What have I done?"
  • "I am not angry—I am anxious. I am so afraid I shall lose you. Verena, don'_ail me—don't fail me!" Olive spoke low, with a kind of passion.
  • "Fail you? How can I fail?"
  • "You can't, of course you can't. Your star is above you. But don't listen t_hem."
  • "To whom do you mean, Olive? To my parents?"
  • "Oh no, not your parents," Miss Chancellor replied, with some sharpness. Sh_aused a moment, and then she said: "I don't care for your parents. I hav_old you that before; but now that I have seen them—as they wished, as yo_ished, and I didn't—I don't care for them; I must repeat it, Verena. I shoul_e dishonest if I let you think I did."
  • "Why, Olive Chancellor!" Verena murmured, as if she were trying, in spite o_he sadness produced by this declaration, to do justice to her friend'_mpartiality.
  • "Yes, I am hard; perhaps I am cruel; but we must be hard if we wish t_riumph. Don't listen to young men when they try to mock and muddle you. The_on't care for you; they don't care for us. They care only for their pleasure, for what they believe to be the right of the stronger. The stronger? I am no_o sure!"
  • "Some of them care so much—are supposed to care too much—for us," Verena said, with a smile that looked dim in the darkness.
  • "Yes, if we will give up everything. I have asked you before—are you prepare_o give up?"
  • "Do you mean, to give you up?"
  • "No, all our wretched sisters—all our hopes and purposes—all that we thin_acred and worth living for!"
  • "Oh, they don't want that, Olive." Verena's smile became more distinct, an_he added: "They don't want so much as that!"
  • "Well, then, go in and speak for them—and sing for them—and dance for them!"
  • "Olive, you are cruel!"
  • "Yes, I am. But promise me one thing, and I shall be—oh, so tender!"
  • "What a strange place for promises," said Verena, with a shiver, looking abou_er into the night.
  • "Yes, I am dreadful; I know it. But promise." And Olive drew the girl neare_o her, flinging over her with one hand the fold of a cloak that hung ampl_pon her own meagre person, and holding her there with the other, while sh_ooked at her, suppliant but half hesitating. "Promise!" she repeated.
  • "Is it something terrible?"
  • "Never to listen to one of them, never to be bribed——"
  • At this moment the house-door was opened again, and the light of the hal_rojected itself across the little piazza. Matthias Pardon stood in th_perture, and Tarrant and his wife, with the two other visitors, appeared t_ave come forward as well, to see what detained Verena.
  • "You seem to have started a kind of lecture out here," Mr. Pardon said. "Yo_adies had better look out, or you'll freeze together!"
  • Verena was reminded by her mother that she would catch her death, but she ha_lready heard sharply, low as they were spoken, five last words from Olive, who now abruptly released her and passed swiftly over the path from the porc_o her waiting carriage. Tarrant creaked along, in pursuit, to assist Mis_hancellor; the others drew Verena into the house. "Promise me not t_arry!"—that was what echoed in her startled mind, and repeated itself ther_hen Mr. Burrage returned to the charge, asking her if she wouldn't at leas_ppoint some evening when they might listen to her. She knew that Olive'_njunction ought not to have surprised her; she had already felt it in th_ir; she would have said at any time, if she had been asked, that she didn'_uppose Miss Chancellor would want her to marry. But the idea, uttered as he_riend had uttered it, had a new solemnity, and the effect of that quick, violent colloquy was to make her nervous and impatient, as if she had had _udden glimpse of futurity. That was rather awful, even if it represented th_ate one would like.
  • When the two young men from the College pressed their petition, she asked, with a laugh that surprised them, whether they wished to "mock and muddle"
  • her. They went away, assenting to Mrs. Tarrant's last remark: "I am afrai_ou'll feel that you don't quite understand us yet." Matthias Pardon remained; her father and mother, expressing their perfect confidence that he woul_xcuse them, went to bed and left him sitting there. He stayed a good whil_onger, nearly an hour, and said things that made Verena think that he, perhaps, would like to marry her. But while she listened to him, mor_bstractedly than her custom was, she remarked to herself that there could b_o difficulty in promising Olive so far as he was concerned. He was ver_leasant, and he knew an immense deal about everything, or, rather, abou_very one, and he would take her right into the midst of life. But she didn'_ish to marry him, all the same, and after he had gone she reflected that, once she came to think of it, she didn't want to marry any one. So it would b_asy, after all, to make Olive that promise, and it would give her so muc_leasure!