"Mrs. Henry Burrage, at home Wednesday evening, March 26th, at half-past nin_'clock." It was in consequence of having received a card with these word_nscribed upon it that Basil Ransom presented himself, on the evening she ha_esignated, at the house of a lady he had never heard of before. The accoun_f the relation of effect to cause is not complete, however, unless I mentio_hat the card bore, furthermore, in the left-hand lower corner, the words: "A_ddress from Miss Verena Tarrant." He had an idea (it came mainly from th_ook and even the odour of the engraved pasteboard) that Mrs. Burrage was _ember of the fashionable world, and it was with considerable surprise that h_ound himself in such an element. He wondered what had induced a denizen o_hat fine air to send him an invitation; then he said to himself that, obviously, Verena Tarrant had simply requested that this should be done. Mrs.
Henry Burrage, whoever she might be, had asked her if she shouldn't like som_f her own friends to be present, and she had said, Oh yes, and mentioned hi_n the happy group. She had been able to give Mrs. Burrage his address, fo_ad it not been contained in the short letter he despatched to Monadnoc Plac_oon after his return from Boston, in which he thanked Miss Tarrant afresh fo_he charming hour she had enabled him to spend at Cambridge? She had no_nswered his letter at the time, but Mrs. Burrage's card was a very goo_nswer. Such a missive deserved a rejoinder, and it was by way of rejoinde_hat he entered the street car which, on the evening of March 26th, was t_eposit him at a corner adjacent to Mrs. Burrage's dwelling. He almost neve_ent to evening parties (he knew scarcely any one who gave them, though Mrs.
Luna had broken him in a little), and he was sure this occasion was of festiv_ntention, would have nothing in common with the nocturnal "exercises" at Mis_irdseye's; but he would have exposed himself to almost any social discomfor_n order to see Verena Tarrant on the platform. The platform it evidently wa_o be—private if not public—since one was admitted by a ticket given away i_ot sold. He took his in his pocket, quite ready to present it at the door. I_ould take some time for me to explain the contradiction to the reader; bu_asil Ransom's desire to be present at one of Verena's regular performance_as not diminished by the fact that he detested her views and thought th_hole business a poor perversity. He understood her now very well (since hi_isit to Cambridge); he saw she was honest and natural; she had queer, ba_ecture-blood in her veins, and a comically false idea of the aptitude o_ittle girls for conducting movements; but her enthusiasm was of the purest, her illusions had a fragrance, and so far as the mania for producing hersel_ersonally was concerned, it had been distilled into her by people who worke_er for ends which to Basil Ransom could only appear insane. She was _ouching, ingenuous victim, unconscious of the pernicious forces which wer_urrying her to her ruin. With this idea of ruin there had already associate_tself in the young man's mind, the idea—a good deal more dim an_ncomplete—of rescue; and it was the disposition to confirm himself in th_iew that her charm was her own, and her fallacies, her absurdity, a mer_eflexion of unlucky circumstance, that led him to make an effort to behol_er in the position in which he could least bear to think of her. Such _limpse was all that was wanted to prove to him that she was a person for who_e might open an unlimited credit of tender compassion. He expected t_uffer—to suffer deliciously.
By the time he had crossed Mrs. Burrage's threshold there was no doub_hatever in his mind that he was in the fashionable world. It was embodie_trikingly in the stout, elderly, ugly lady, dressed in a brilliant colour, with a twinkle of jewels and a bosom much uncovered, who stood near the doo_f the first room, and with whom the people passing in before him were shakin_ands. Ransom made her a Mississipian bow, and she said she was delighted t_ee him, while people behind him pressed him forward. He yielded to th_mpulsion, and found himself in a great saloon, amid lights and flowers, wher_he company was dense, and there were more twinkling, smiling ladies, wit_ncovered bosoms. It was certainly the fashionable world, for there was no on_here whom he had ever seen before. The walls of the room were covered wit_ictures—the very ceiling was painted and framed. The people pushed each othe_ little, edged about, advanced and retreated, looking at each other wit_iffering faces—sometimes blandly, unperceivingly, sometimes with a harshnes_f contemplation, a kind of cruelty, Ransom thought; sometimes with sudde_ods and grimaces, inarticulate murmurs, followed by a quick reaction, a sor_f gloom. He was now absolutely certain that he was in the best society. H_as carried further and further forward, and saw that another room stretche_eyond the one he had entered, in which there was a sort of little stage, covered with a red cloth, and an immense collection of chairs, arranged i_ows. He became aware that people looked at him, as well as at each other, rather more, indeed, than at each other, and he wondered whether it were ver_isible in his appearance that his being there was a kind of exception. H_idn't know how much his head looked over the heads of others, or that hi_rown complexion, fuliginous eye, and straight black hair, the leonine fall o_hich I mentioned in the first pages of this narrative, gave him that relie_hich, in the best society, has the great advantage of suggesting a topic. Bu_here were other topics besides, as was proved by a fragment of conversation, between two ladies, which reached his ear while he stood rather wistfull_ondering where Verena Tarrant might be.
"Are you a member?" one of the ladies said to the other. "I didn't know yo_ad joined."
"Oh, I haven't; nothing would induce me."
"That's not fair; you have all the fun and none of the responsibility."
"Oh, the—the fun!" exclaimed the second lady.
"You needn't abuse us, or I will never invite you," said the first.
"Well, I thought it was meant to be improving; that's all I mean; very goo_or the mind. Now, this woman to-night; isn't she from Boston?"
"Yes, I believe they have brought her on, just for this."
"Well, you must be pretty desperate when you have got to go to Boston for you_ntertainment."
"Well, there's a similar society there, and I never heard of their sending t_ew York."
"Of course not, they think they have got everything. But doesn't it make you_ife a burden thinking what you can possibly have?"
"Oh dear, no. I am going to have Professor Gougenheim—all about the Talmud.
You must come."
"Well, I'll come," said the second lady; "but nothing would induce me to be _egular member."
Whatever the mystic circle might be, Ransom agreed with the second lady tha_egular membership must have terrors, and he admired her independence in suc_n artificial world. A considerable part of the company had now directe_tself to the further apartment—people had begun to occupy the chairs, t_onfront the empty platform. He reached the wide doors, and saw that the plac_as a spacious music-room, decorated in white and gold, with a polished floo_nd marble busts of composers, on brackets attached to the delicate panels. H_orbore to enter, however, being shy about taking a seat, and seeing that th_adies were arranging themselves first. He turned back into the first room, t_ait till the audience had massed itself, conscious that even if he wer_ehind every one he should be able to make a long neck; and here, suddenly, i_ corner, his eyes rested upon Olive Chancellor. She was seated a littl_part, in an angle of the room, and she was looking straight at him; but a_oon as she perceived that he saw her she dropped her eyes, giving no sign o_ecognition. Ransom hesitated a moment, but the next he went straight over t_er. It had been in his mind that if Verena Tarrant was there, she would b_here; an instinct told him that Miss Chancellor would not allow her dea_riend to come to New York without her. It was very possible she meant to
"cut" him—especially if she knew of his having cut her, the other week, i_oston; but it was his duty to take for granted she would speak to him, unti_he contrary should be definitely proved. Though he had seen her only twice h_emembered well how acutely shy she was capable of being, and he thought i_ossible one of these spasms had seized her at the present time.
When he stood before her he found his conjecture perfectly just; she was whit_ith the intensity of her self-consciousness; she was altogether in a ver_ncomfortable state. She made no response to his offer to shake hands wit_er, and he saw that she would never go through that ceremony again. Sh_ooked up at him when he spoke to her, and her lips moved; but her face wa_ntensely grave and her eye had almost a feverish light. She had evidently go_nto her corner to be out of the way; he recognised in her the air of a_nterloper, as he had felt it in himself. The small sofa on which she ha_laced herself had the form to which the French give the name of causeuse; there was room on it for just another person, and Ransom asked her, with _heerful accent, if he might sit down beside her. She turned towards him whe_e had done so, turned everything but her eyes, and opened and shut her fa_hile she waited for her fit of diffidence to pass away. Ransom himself di_ot wait; he took a jocular tone about their encounter, asking her if she ha_ome to New York to rouse the people. She glanced round the room; the backs o_rs. Burrage's guests, mainly, were presented to them, and their position wa_artly masked by a pyramid of flowers which rose from a pedestal close t_live's end of the sofa and diffused a fragrance in the air.
"Do you call these 'the people'?" she asked.
"I haven't the least idea. I don't know who any of them are, not even who Mrs.
Henry Burrage is, I simply received an invitation."
Miss Chancellor gave him no information on the point he had mentioned; sh_nly said, in a moment: "Do you go wherever you are invited?"
"Why, I go if I think I may find you there," the young man replied gallantly.
"My card mentioned that Miss Tarrant would give an address, and I knew tha_herever she is you are not far off. I have heard you are inseparable, fro_rs. Luna."
"Yes, we are inseparable. That is exactly why I am here."
"It's the fashionable world, then, you are going to stir up."
Olive remained for some time with her eyes fastened to the floor; then sh_lashed them up at her interlocutor. "It's a part of our life to g_nywhere—to carry our work where it seems most needed. We have taugh_urselves to stifle repulsion, distaste."
"Oh, I think this is very amusing," said Ransom. "It's a beautiful house, an_here are some very pretty faces. We haven't anything so brilliant i_ississippi."
To everything he said Olive offered at first a momentary silence, but th_orst of her shyness was apparently leaving her.
"Are you successful in New York? do you like it?" she presently asked, uttering the inquiry in a tone of infinite melancholy, as if the eternal sens_f duty forced it from her lips.
"Oh, successful! I am not successful as you and Miss Tarrant are; for (to m_arbaric eyes) it is a great sign of prosperity to be the heroines of a_ccasion like this."
"Do I look like the heroine of an occasion?" asked Olive Chancellor, withou_n intention of humour, but with an effect that was almost comical.
"You would if you didn't hide yourself away. Are you not going into the othe_oom to hear the speech? Everything is prepared."
"I am going when I am notified—when I am invited."
There was considerable majesty in her tone, and Ransom saw that something wa_rong, that she felt neglected. To see that she was as ticklish with others a_he had been with him made him feel forgiving, and there was in his manner _erfect disposition to forget their differences as he said, "Oh, there i_lenty of time; the place isn't half full yet."
She made no direct rejoinder to this, but she asked him about his mother an_isters, what news he received from the South. "Have they any happiness?" sh_nquired, rather as if she warned him to take care not to pretend they had. H_eglected her warning to the point of saying that there was one happiness the_lways had—that of having learned not to think about it too much, and to mak_he best of their circumstances. She listened to this with an air of grea_eserve, and apparently thought he had wished to give her a lesson; for sh_uddenly broke out, "You mean that you have traced a certain line for them, and that that's all you know about it!"
Ransom stared at her, surprised; he felt, now, that she would always surpris_im. "Ah, don't be rough with me," he said, in his soft Southern voice; "don'_ou remember how you knocked me about when I called on you in Boston?"
"You hold us in chains, and then, when we writhe in our agony, you say w_on't behave prettily!" These words, which did not lessen Ransom's wonderment, were the young lady's answer to his deprecatory speech. She saw that he wa_onestly bewildered and that in a moment more he would laugh at her, as he ha_one a year and a half before (she remembered it as if it had been yesterday); and to stop that off, at any cost, she went on hurriedly—"If you listen t_iss Tarrant, you will know what I mean."
"Oh, Miss Tarrant—Miss Tarrant!" And Basil Ransom's laughter came.
She had not escaped that mockery, after all, and she looked at him sharpl_ow, her embarrassment having quite cleared up. "What do you know about her?
What observation have you had?"
Ransom met her eye, and for a moment they scrutinised each other. Did she kno_f his interview with Verena a month before, and was her reserve simply th_ish to place on him the burden of declaring that he had been to Boston sinc_hey last met, and yet had not called in Charles Street? He thought there wa_uspicion in her face; but in regard to Verena she would always be suspicious.
If he had done at that moment just what would gratify him he would have sai_o her that he knew a great deal about Miss Tarrant, having lately had a lon_alk and talk with her; but he checked himself, with the reflexion that i_erena had not betrayed him it would be very wrong in him to betray her. Th_weetness of the idea that she should have thought the episode of his visit t_onadnoc Place worth placing under the rose, was quenched for the moment i_is regret at not being able to let his disagreeable cousin know that he ha_assed her over. "Don't you remember my hearing her speak that night at Mis_irdseye's?" he said presently. "And I met her the next day at your house, yo_now."
"She has developed greatly since then," Olive remarked dryly; and Ransom fel_ure that Verena had held her tongue.
At this moment a gentleman made his way through the clusters of Mrs. Burrage'_uests and presented himself to Olive. "If you will do me the honour to tak_y arm I will find a good seat for you in the other room. It's getting to b_ime for Miss Tarrant to reveal herself. I have been taking her into th_icture-room; there were some things she wanted to see. She is with my mothe_ow," he added, as if Miss Chancellor's grave face constituted a sort o_emand for an explanation of her friend's absence. "She said she was a littl_ervous; so I thought we would just move about."
"It's the first time I have ever heard of that!" said Olive Chancellor, preparing to surrender herself to the young man's guidance. He told her tha_e had reserved the best seat for her; it was evidently his desire t_onciliate her, to treat her as a person of importance. Before leading he_way, he shook hands with Ransom and remarked that he was very glad to se_im; and Ransom saw that he must be the master of the house, though he coul_carcely be the son of the stout lady in the doorway. He was a fresh, pleasant, handsome young man, with a bright friendly manner; he recommende_ansom to take a seat in the other room, without delay; if he had never hear_iss Tarrant he would have one of the greatest pleasures of his life.
"Oh, Mr. Ransom only comes to ventilate his prejudices," Miss Chancellor said, as she turned her back to her kinsman. He shrank from pushing into the fron_f the company, which was now rapidly filling the music-room, and contente_imself with lingering in the doorway, where several gentlemen were stationed.
The seats were all occupied; all, that is, save one, towards which he saw Mis_hancellor and her companion direct themselves, squeezing and edging past th_eople who were standing up against the walls. This was quite in front, clos_o the little platform; every one noticed Olive as she went, and Ransom hear_ gentleman near him say to another—"I guess she's one of the same kind." H_ooked for Verena, but she was apparently keeping out of sight. Suddenly h_elt himself smartly tapped on the back, and, turning round, perceived Mrs.