Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 6

  • "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.
  • Luna, who had been prodding him with her fan.