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Chapter 5

  • Mrs. Farrinder, meanwhile, was not eager to address the assembly. Sh_onfessed as much to Olive Chancellor, with a smile which asked that _emporary lapse of promptness might not be too harshly judged. She ha_ddressed so many assemblies, and she wanted to hear what other people had t_ay. Miss Chancellor herself had thought so much on the vital subject; woul_ot she make a few remarks and give them some of her experiences? How did th_adies on Beacon Street feel about the ballot? Perhaps she could speak fo_hem more than for some others. That was a branch of the question on which, i_ight be, the leaders had not information enough; but they wanted to take i_verything, and why shouldn't Miss Chancellor just make that field her own?
  • Mrs. Farrinder spoke in the tone of one who took views so wide that they migh_asily, at first, before you could see how she worked round, look almos_eretricious; she was conscious of a scope that exceeded the first flight o_our imagination. She urged upon her companion the idea of labouring in th_orld of fashion, appeared to attribute to her familiar relations with tha_ysterious realm, and wanted to know why she shouldn't stir up some of he_riends down there on the Mill-dam?
  • Olive Chancellor received this appeal with peculiar feelings. With her immens_ympathy for reform, she found herself so often wishing that reformers were _ittle different. There was something grand about Mrs. Farrinder; it lifte_ne up to be with her: but there was a false note when she spoke to her youn_riend about the ladies in Beacon Street. Olive hated to hear that fine avenu_alked about as if it were such a remarkable place, and to live there were _roof of worldly glory. All sorts of inferior people lived there, and s_rilliant a woman as Mrs. Farrinder, who lived at Roxbury, ought not to mi_hings up. It was, of course, very wretched to be irritated by such mistakes;
  • but this was not the first time Miss Chancellor had observed that th_ossession of nerves was not by itself a reason for embracing the new truths.
  • She knew her place in the Boston hierarchy, and it was not what Mrs. Farrinde_upposed; so that there was a want of perspective in talking to her as if sh_ad been a representative of the aristocracy. Nothing could be weaker, sh_new very well, than (in the United States) to apply that term too literally;
  • nevertheless, it would represent a reality if one were to say that, b_istinction, the Chancellors belonged to the bourgeoisie—the oldest and best.
  • They might care for such a position or not (as it happened, they were ver_roud of it), but there they were, and it made Mrs. Farrinder seem provincial
  • (there was something provincial, after all, in the way she did her hair too)
  • not to understand. When Miss Birdseye spoke as if one were a "leader o_ociety," Olive could forgive her even that odious expression, because, o_ourse, one never pretended that she, poor dear, had the smallest sense of th_eal. She was heroic, she was sublime, the whole moral history of Boston wa_eflected in her displaced spectacles; but it was a part of her originality,
  • as it were, that she was deliciously provincial. Olive Chancellor seemed t_erself to have privileges enough without being affiliated to the exclusiv_et and having invitations to the smaller parties, which were the real test;
  • it was a mercy for her that she had not that added immorality on he_onscience. The ladies Mrs. Farrinder meant (it was to be supposed she mean_ome particular ones) might speak for themselves. She wished to work i_nother field; she had long been preoccupied with the romance of the people.
  • She had an immense desire to know intimately some very poor girl. This migh_eem one of the most accessible of pleasures; but, in point of fact, she ha_ot found it so. There were two or three pale shop-maidens whose acquaintanc_he had sought; but they had seemed afraid of her, and the attempt had come t_othing. She took them more tragically then they took themselves; the_ouldn't make out what she wanted them to do, and they always ended by bein_diously mixed up with Charlie. Charlie was a young man in a white overcoa_nd a paper collar; it was for him, in the last analysis, that they cared muc_he most. They cared far more about Charlie than about the ballot. Oliv_hancellor wondered how Mrs. Farrinder would treat that branch of th_uestion. In her researches among her young townswomen she had always foun_his obtrusive swain planted in her path, and she grew at last to dislike hi_xtremely. It filled her with exasperation to think that he should b_ecessary to the happiness of his victims (she had learned that whatever the_ight talk about with her, it was of him and him only that they discourse_mong themselves), and one of the main recommendations of the evening club fo_er fatigued, underpaid sisters, which it had long been her dream t_stablish, was that it would in some degree undermine his position—distinct a_er prevision might be that he would be in waiting at the door. She hardl_new what to say to Mrs. Farrinder when this momentarily misdirected woman,
  • still preoccupied with the Mill-dam, returned to the charge.
  • "We want labourers in that field, though I know two or three lovel_omen—sweet home-women—moving in circles that are for the most part closed t_very new voice, who are doing their best to help on the fight. I have severa_ames that might surprise you, names well known on State Street. But we can'_ave too many recruits, especially among those whose refinement is generall_cknowledged. If it be necessary, we are prepared to take certain steps t_onciliate the shrinking. Our movement is for all—it appeals to the mos_elicate ladies. Raise the standard among them, and bring me a thousand names.
  • I know several that I should like to have. I look after the details as well a_he big currents," Mrs. Farrinder added, in a tone as explanatory as could b_xpected of such a woman, and with a smile of which the sweetness wa_hrilling to her listener.
  • "I can't talk to those people, I can't!" said Olive Chancellor, with a fac_hich seemed to plead for a remission of responsibility. "I want to giv_yself up to others; I want to know everything that lies beneath and out o_ight, don't you know? I want to enter into the lives of women who are lonely,
  • who are piteous. I want to be near to them—to help them. I want to d_omething—oh, I should like so to speak!"
  • "We should be glad to have you make a few remarks at present," Mrs. Farrinde_eclared, with a punctuality which revealed the faculty of presiding.
  • "Oh dear, no, I can't speak; I have none of that sort of talent. I have n_elf-possession, no eloquence; I can't put three words together. But I do wan_o contribute."
  • "What have you got?" Mrs. Farrinder inquired, looking at her interlocutress,
  • up and down, with the eye of business, in which there was a certain chill.
  • "Have you got money?"
  • Olive was so agitated for the moment with the hope that this great woman woul_pprove of her on the financial side that she took no time to reflect tha_ome other quality might, in courtesy, have been suggested. But she confesse_o possessing a certain capital, and the tone seemed rich and deep in whic_rs. Farrinder said to her, "Then contribute that!" She was so good as t_evelop this idea, and her picture of the part Miss Chancellor might play b_aking liberal donations to a fund for the diffusion among the women o_merica of a more adequate conception of their public and private rights—_und her adviser had herself lately inaugurated—this bold, rapid sketch ha_he vividness which characterised the speaker's most successful publi_fforts. It placed Olive under the spell; it made her feel almost inspired. I_er life struck others in that way—especially a woman like Mrs. Farrinder,
  • whose horizon was so full—then there must be something for her to do. It wa_ne thing to choose for herself, but now the great representative of th_nfranchisement of their sex (from every form of bondage) had chosen for her.
  • The barren, gas-lighted room grew richer and richer to her earnest eyes; i_eemed to expand, to open itself to the great life of humanity. The serious,
  • tired people, in their bonnets and overcoats, began to glow like a company o_eroes. Yes, she would do something, Olive Chancellor said to herself; sh_ould do something to brighten the darkness of that dreadful image that wa_lways before her, and against which it seemed to her at times that she ha_een born to lead a crusade—the image of the unhappiness of women. Th_nhappiness of women! The voice of their silent suffering was always in he_ars, the ocean of tears that they had shed from the beginning of time seeme_o pour through her own eyes. Ages of oppression had rolled over them;
  • uncounted millions had lived only to be tortured, to be crucified. They wer_er sisters, they were her own, and the day of their delivery had dawned. Thi_as the only sacred cause; this was the great, the just revolution. It mus_riumph, it must sweep everything before it; it must exact from the other, th_rutal, blood-stained, ravening race, the last particle of expiation! It woul_e the greatest change the world had seen; it would be a new era for the huma_amily, and the names of those who had helped to show the way and lead th_quadrons would be the brightest in the tables of fame. They would be names o_omen weak, insulted, persecuted, but devoted in every pulse of their being t_he cause, and asking no better fate than to die for it. It was not clear t_his interesting girl in what manner such a sacrifice (as this last) would b_equired of her, but she saw the matter through a kind of sunrise-mist o_motion which made danger as rosy as success. When Miss Birdseye approached,
  • it transfigured her familiar, her comical shape, and made the poor littl_umanitary hack seem already a martyr. Olive Chancellor looked at her wit_ove, remembered that she had never, in her long, unrewarded, weary life, ha_ thought or an impulse for herself. She had been consumed by the passion o_ympathy; it had crumpled her into as many creases as an old glazed, distende_love. She had been laughed at, but she never knew it; she was treated as _ore, but she never cared. She had nothing in the world but the clothes on he_ack, and when she should go down into the grave she would leave nothin_ehind her but her grotesque, undistinguished, pathetic little name. And ye_eople said that women were vain, that they were personal, that they wer_nterested! While Miss Birdseye stood there, asking Mrs. Farrinder if sh_ouldn't say something, Olive Chancellor tenderly fastened a small battere_rooch which confined her collar and which had half detached itself.