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Chapter 6

  • It was Mrs. Luna who received him, as she had received him on the occasion o_is first visit to Charles Street; by which I do not mean quite in the sam_ay. She had known very little about him then, but she knew too much for he_appiness to-day, and she had with him now a little invidious, contemptuou_anner, as if everything he should say or do could be a proof only o_bominable duplicity and perversity. She had a theory that he had treated he_hamefully; and he knew it—I do not mean the fact, but the theory: which le_im to reflect that her resentments were as shallow as her opinions, inasmuc_s if she really believed in her grievance, or if it had had any dignity, sh_ould not have consented to see him. He had not presented himself at Mis_hancellor's door without a very good reason, and having done so he could no_urn away so long as there was any one in the house of whom he might hav_peech. He had sent up his name to Mrs. Luna, after being told that she wa_taying there, on the mere chance that she would see him; for he thought _efusal a very possible sequel to the letters she had written him during th_ast four or five months—letters he had scarcely read, full of allusions o_he most cutting sort to proceedings of his, in the past, of which he had n_ecollection whatever. They bored him, for he had quite other matters in hi_ind.
  • "I don't wonder you have the bad taste, the crudity," she said, as soon as h_ame into the room, looking at him more sternly than he would have believe_ossible to her.
  • He saw that this was an allusion to his not having been to see her since th_eriod of her sister's visit to New York; he having conceived for her, th_vening of Mrs. Burrage's party, a sentiment of aversion which put an end t_uch attentions. He didn't laugh, he was too worried and preoccupied; but h_eplied, in a tone which apparently annoyed her as much as any indecent mirth:
  • "I thought it very possible you wouldn't see me."
  • "Why shouldn't I see you, if I should take it into my head? Do you suppose _are whether I see you or not?"
  • "I supposed you wanted to, from your letters."
  • "Then why did you think I would refuse?"
  • "Because that's the sort of thing women do."
  • "Women—women! You know much about them!"
  • "I am learning something every day."
  • "You haven't learned yet, apparently, to answer their letters. It's rather _urprise to me that you don't pretend not to have received mine."
  • Ransom could smile now; the opportunity to vent the exasperation that had bee_onsuming him almost restored his good humour. "What could I say? Yo_verwhelmed me. Besides, I did answer one of them."
  • "One of them? You speak as if I had written you a dozen!" Mrs. Luna cried.
  • "I thought that was your contention—that you had done me the honour to addres_e so many. They were crushing, and when a man's crushed, it's all over."
  • "Yes, you look as if you were in very small pieces! I am glad that I shal_ever see you again."
  • "I can see now why you received me—to tell me that," Ransom said.
  • "It is a kind of pleasure. I am going back to Europe."
  • "Really? for Newton's education?"
  • "Ah, I wonder you can have the face to speak of that—after the way yo_eserted him!"
  • "Let us abandon the subject, then, and I will tell you what I want."
  • "I don't in the least care what you want," Mrs. Luna remarked. "And yo_aven't even the grace to ask me where I am going—over there."
  • "What difference does that make to me—once you leave these shores?"
  • Mrs. Luna rose to her feet. "Ah, chivalry, chivalry!" she exclaimed. And sh_alked away to the window—one of the windows from which Ransom had firs_njoyed, at Olive's solicitation, the view of the Back Bay. Mrs. Luna looke_orth at it with little of the air of a person who was sorry to be about t_ose it. "I am determined you shall know where I am going," she said in _oment. "I am going to Florence."
  • "Don't be afraid!" he replied. "I shall go to Rome."
  • "And you'll carry there more impertinence than has been seen there since th_ld emperors."
  • "Were the emperors impertinent, in addition to their other vices? I a_etermined, on my side, that you shall know what I have come for," Ranso_aid. "I wouldn't ask you if I could ask any one else; but I am very har_ressed, and I don't know who can help me."
  • Mrs. Luna turned on him a face of the frankest derision. "Help you? Do yo_emember the last time I asked you to help me?"
  • "That evening at Mrs. Burrage's? Surely I wasn't wanting then; I remembe_rging on your acceptance a chair, so that you might stand on it, to see an_o hear."
  • "To see and to hear what, please? Your disgusting infatuation!"
  • "It's just about that I want to speak to you," Ransom pursued. "As you alread_now all about it, you have no new shock to receive, and I therefore ventur_o ask you——"
  • "Where tickets for her lecture to-night can be obtained? Is it possible sh_asn't sent you one?"
  • "I assure you I didn't come to Boston to hear it," said Ransom, with a sadnes_hich Mrs. Luna evidently regarded as a refinement of outrage. "What I shoul_ike to ascertain is where Miss Tarrant may be found at the present moment."
  • "And do you think that's a delicate inquiry to make of me?"
  • "I don't see why it shouldn't be, but I know you don't think it is, and tha_s why, as I say, I mention the matter to you only because I can imagin_bsolutely no one else who is in a position to assist me. I have been to th_ouse of Miss Tarrant's parents, in Cambridge, but it is closed and empty, destitute of any sign of life. I went there first, on arriving this morning, and rang at this door only when my journey to Monadnoc Place had prove_ruitless. Your sister's servant told me that Miss Tarrant was not stayin_ere, but she added that Mrs. Luna was. No doubt you won't be pleased a_aving been spoken of as a sort of equivalent; and I didn't say to myself—o_o the servant—that you would do as well; I only reflected that I could a_east try you. I didn't even ask for Miss Chancellor, as I am sure she woul_ive me no information whatever."
  • Mrs. Luna listened to this candid account of the young man's proceedings wit_er head turned a little over her shoulder at him, and her eyes fixed a_nsympathetically as possible upon his own. "What you propose, then, as _nderstand it," she said in a moment, "is that I should betray my sister t_ou."
  • "Worse than that; I propose that you should betray Miss Tarrant herself."
  • "What do I care about Miss Tarrant? I don't know what you are talking about."
  • "Haven't you really any idea where she is living? Haven't you seen her here?
  • Are Miss Olive and she not constantly together?"
  • Mrs. Luna, at this, turned full round upon him, and, with folded arms and he_ead tossed back, exclaimed: "Look here, Basil Ransom, I never thought yo_ere a fool, but it strikes me that since we last met you have lost you_its!"
  • "There is no doubt of that," Ransom answered, smiling.
  • "Do you mean to tell me you don't know everything about Miss Tarrant that ca_e known?"
  • "I have neither seen her nor heard of her for the last ten weeks; Mis_hancellor has hidden her away."
  • "Hidden her away, with all the walls and fences of Boston flaming to-day wit_er name?"
  • "Oh yes, I have noticed that, and I have no doubt that by waiting till thi_vening I shall be able to see her. But I don't want to wait till thi_vening; I want to see her now, and not in public—in private."
  • "Do you indeed?—how interesting!" cried Mrs. Luna, with rippling laughter.
  • "And pray what do you want to do with her?"
  • Ransom hesitated a little. "I think I would rather not tell you."
  • "Your charming frankness, then, has its limits! My poor cousin, you are reall_oo naïf. Do you suppose it matters a straw to me?"
  • Ransom made no answer to this appeal, but after an instant he broke out:
  • "Honestly, Mrs. Luna, can you give me no clue?"
  • "Lord, what terrible eyes you make, and what terrible words you use!
  • 'Honestly,' quoth he! Do you think I am so fond of the creature that I want t_eep her all to myself?"
  • "I don't know; I don't understand," said Ransom, slowly and softly, but stil_ith his terrible eyes.
  • "And do you think I understand any better? You are not a very edifying youn_an," Mrs. Luna went on; "but I really think you have deserved a better fat_han to be jilted and thrown over by a girl of that class."
  • "I haven't been jilted. I like her very much, but she never encouraged me."
  • At this Mrs. Luna broke again into articulate scoffing. "It is very odd tha_t your age you should be so little a man of the world!"
  • Ransom made her no other answer than to remark, thoughtfully and rathe_bsently: "Your sister is really very clever."
  • "By which you mean, I suppose, that I am not!" Mrs. Luna suddenly changed he_one, and said, with the greatest sweetness and humility: "God knows, I hav_ever pretended to be!"
  • Ransom looked at her a moment, and guessed the meaning of this altered note.
  • It had suddenly come over her that with her portrait in half the shop-fronts, her advertisement on all the fences, and the great occasion on which she wa_o reveal herself to the country at large close at hand, Verena had become s_onscious of high destinies that her dear friend's Southern kinsman reall_ppeared to her very small game, and she might therefore be regarded as havin_ast him off. If this were the case, it would perhaps be well for Mrs. Lun_till to hold on. Basil's induction was very rapid, but it gave him time t_ecide that the best thing to say to his interlocutress was: "On what day d_ou sail for Europe?"
  • "Perhaps I shall not sail at all," Mrs. Luna replied, looking out of th_indow.
  • "And in that case—poor Newton's education?"
  • "I should try to content myself with a country which has given you yours."
  • "Don't you want him, then, to be a man of the world?"
  • "Ah, the world, the world!" she murmured, while she watched, in the deepenin_usk, the lights of the town begin to reflect themselves in the Back Bay. "Ha_t been such a source of happiness to me that I belong to it?"
  • "Perhaps, after all, I shall be able to go to Florence!" said Ransom, laughing.
  • She faced him once more, this time slowly, and declared that she had neve_nown anything so strange as his state of mind—she would be so glad to have a_xplanation of it. With the opinions he professed (it was for them she ha_iked him—she didn't like his character), why on earth should he be runnin_fter a little fifth-rate poseuse, and in such a frenzy to get hold of her? H_ight say it was none of her business, and of course she would have no answe_o that; therefore she admitted that she asked simply out of intellectua_uriosity, and because one always was tormented at the sight of a painfu_ontradiction. With the things she had heard him say about his convictions an_heories, his view of life and the great questions of the future, she shoul_ave thought he would find Miss Tarrant's attitudinising absolutely nauseous.
  • Were not her views the same as Olive's and hadn't Olive and he signally faile_o hit it off together? Mrs. Luna only asked because she was really quit_uzzled. "Don't you know that some minds, when they see a mystery, can't res_ill they clear it up?"
  • "You can't be more puzzled than I am," said Ransom. "Apparently th_xplanation is to be found in a sort of reversal of the formula you were s_ood, just now, as to apply to me. You like my opinions, but you entertain _ifferent sentiment for my character. I deplore Miss Tarrant's opinions, bu_er character—well, her character pleases me."
  • Mrs. Luna stared, as if she were waiting, the explanation surely not bein_omplete. "But as much as that?" she inquired.
  • "As much as what?" said Ransom, smiling. Then he added, "Your sister ha_eaten me."
  • "I thought she had beaten some one of late; she has seemed so gay and happy. _idn't suppose it was all because I was going away."
  • "Has she seemed very gay?" Ransom inquired, with a sinking of the heart. H_ore such a long face, as he asked this question, that Mrs. Luna was agai_oved to audible mirth, after which she explained:
  • "Of course I mean gay for her. Everything is relative. With her impatience fo_his lecture of her friend's to-night, she's in an unspeakable state! Sh_an't sit still for three minutes, she goes out fifteen times a day, and ther_as been enough arranging and interviewing, and discussing and telegraphin_nd advertising, enough wire-pulling and rushing about, to put an army in th_ield. What is it they are always doing to the armies in Europe?—mobilisin_hem? Well, Verena has been mobilised, and this has been headquarters."
  • "And shall you go to the Music Hall to-night?"
  • "For what do you take me? I have no desire to be shrieked at for an hour."
  • "No doubt, no doubt, Miss Olive must be in a state," Ransom went on, rathe_bsently. Then he said, with abruptness, in a different tone: "If this hous_as been, as you say, headquarters, how comes it you haven't seen her?"
  • "Seen Olive? I have seen nothing else!"
  • "I mean Miss Tarrant. She must be somewhere—in the place—if she's to speak to- night."
  • "Should you like me to go out and look for her? Il ne manquerait plus qu_ela!" cried Mrs. Luna. "What's the matter with you, Basil Ransom, and wha_re you after?" she demanded, with considerable sharpness. She had trie_aughtiness and she had tried humility, but they brought her equally face t_ace with a competitor whom she couldn't take seriously, yet who was none th_ess objectionable for all that.
  • I know not whether Ransom would have attempted to answer her question had a_bstacle not presented itself; at any rate, at the moment she spoke, th_urtain in the doorway was pushed aside, and a visitor crossed the threshold.
  • "Mercy! how provoking!" Mrs. Luna exclaimed, audibly enough; and withou_oving from her place she bent an uncharitable eye upon the invader, _entleman whom Ransom had the sense of having met before. He was a young ma_ith a fresh face and abundant locks, prematurely white; he stood smiling a_rs. Luna, quite undaunted by the absence of any demonstration in his favour.
  • She looked as if she didn't know him, while Ransom prepared to depart, leavin_hem to settle it together.
  • "I'm afraid you don't remember me, though I have seen you before," said th_oung man, very amiably. "I was here a week ago, and Miss Chancellor presente_e to you."
  • "Oh yes; she's not at home now," Mrs. Luna returned vaguely.
  • "So I was told—but I didn't let that prevent me." And the young man include_asil Ransom in the smile with which he made himself more welcome than Mrs.
  • Luna appeared disposed to make him, and by which he seemed to call attentio_o his superiority. "There is a matter on which I want very much to obtai_ome information, and I have no doubt you will be so good as to give it t_e."
  • "It comes back to me—you have something to do with the newspapers," said Mrs.
  • Luna; and Ransom too, by this time, had placed the young man among hi_eminiscences. He had been at Miss Birdseye's famous party, and Doctor Pranc_ad there described him as a brilliant journalist.
  • It was quite with the air of such a personage that he accepted Mrs. Luna'_efinition, and he continued to radiate towards Ransom (as if, in return, h_emembered his face), while he dropped, confidentially, the word tha_xpressed everything—"The Vesper, don't you know?" Then he went on: "Now, Mrs.
  • Luna, I don't care, I'm not going to let you off! We want the last news abou_iss Verena, and it has got to come out of this house."
  • "Oh murder!" Ransom muttered, beneath his breath, taking up his hat.
  • "Miss Chancellor has hidden her away; I have been scouring the city in searc_f her, and her own father hasn't seen her for a week. We have got his ideas; they are very easy to get, but that isn't what we want."
  • "And what do you want?" Ransom was now impelled to inquire, as Mr. Pardon (even the name at present came back to him) appeared sufficiently to hav_ntroduced himself.
  • "We want to know how she feels about to-night; what report she makes of he_erves, her anticipations; how she looked, what she had on, up to six o'clock.
  • Gracious! if I could see her I should know what I wanted, and so would she, _uess!" Mr. Pardon exclaimed. "You must know something, Mrs. Luna; it isn'_atural you shouldn't. I won't inquire any further where she is, because tha_ight seem a little pushing, if she does wish to withdraw herself—though I a_ound to say I think she makes a mistake; we could work up these last hour_or her! But can't you tell me any little personal items—the sort of thing th_eople like? What is she going to have for supper? or is she going t_peak—a—without previous nourishment?"
  • "Really, sir, I don't know, and I don't in the least care; I have nothing t_o with the business!" Mrs. Luna cried angrily.
  • The reporter stared; then, eagerly, "You have nothing to do with it—you tak_n unfavourable view, you protest?" And he was already feeling in a side- pocket for his notebook.
  • "Mercy on us! are you going to put that in the paper?" Mrs. Luna exclaimed; and in spite of the sense, detestable to him, that everything he wished mos_o avert was fast closing over the girl, Ransom broke into cynical laughter.
  • "Ah, but do protest, madam; let us at least have that fragment!" Mr. Pardo_ent on. "A protest from this house would be a charming note. We must hav_t—we've got nothing else! The public are almost as much interested in you_ister as they are in Miss Verena; they know to what extent she has backe_er: and I should be so delighted (I see the heading, from here, s_ttractive!) just to take down 'What Miss Chancellor's Family Think abou_t!'"
  • Mrs. Luna sank into the nearest chair, with a groan, covering her face wit_er hands. "Heaven help me, I am glad I am going to Europe!"
  • "That is another little item—everything counts," said Matthias Pardon, makin_ rapid entry in his tablets. "May I inquire whether you are going to Europ_n consequence of your disapproval of your sister's views?"
  • Mrs. Luna sprang up again, almost snatching the memoranda out of his hand. "I_ou have the impertinence to publish a word about me, or to mention my name i_rint, I will come to your office and make such a scene!"
  • "Dearest lady, that would be a godsend!" Mr. Pardon cried enthusiastically; but he put his notebook back into his pocket.
  • "Have you made an exhaustive search for Miss Tarrant?" Basil Ransom asked o_im. Mr. Pardon, at this inquiry, eyed him with a sudden, familiar archness, expressive of the idea of competition; so that Ransom added: "You needn't b_fraid, I'm not a reporter."
  • "I didn't know but what you had come on from New York."
  • "So I have—but not as the representative of a newspaper."
  • "Fancy his taking you——" Mrs. Luna murmured, with indignation.
  • "Well, I have been everywhere I could think of," Mr. Pardon remarked. "I hav_een hunting round after your sister's agent, but I haven't been able to catc_p with him; I suppose he has been hunting on his side. Miss Chancellor tol_e—Mrs. Luna may remember it—that she shouldn't be here at all during th_eek, and that she preferred not to tell me either where or how she was t_pend her time until the momentous evening. Of course I let her know that _hould find out if I could, and you may remember," he said to Mrs. Luna, "th_onversation we had on the subject. I remarked, candidly, that if they didn'_ook out they would overdo the quietness. Doctor Tarrant has felt very lo_bout it. However, I have done what I could with the material at my command, and the Vesper has let the public know that her whereabouts was the bigges_ystery of the season. It's difficult to get round the Vesper."
  • "I am almost afraid to open my lips in your presence," Mrs. Luna broke in,
  • "but I must say that I think my sister was strangely communicative. She tol_ou ever so much that I wouldn't have breathed."
  • "I should like to try you with something you know!" Matthias Pardon returne_mperturbably. "This isn't a fair trial, because you don't know. Mis_hancellor came round—came round considerably, there's no doubt of that; because a year or two ago she was terribly unapproachable. If I have mollifie_er, madam, why shouldn't I mollify you? She realises that I can help her now, and as I ain't rancorous I am willing to help her all she'll let me. Th_rouble is, she won't let me enough, yet; it seems as if she couldn't believ_t of me. At any rate," he pursued, addressing himself more particularly t_ansom, "half an hour ago, at the Hall, they knew nothing whatever about Mis_arrant, beyond the fact that about a month ago she came there, with Mis_hancellor, to try her voice, which rang all over the place, like silver, an_hat Miss Chancellor guaranteed her absolute punctuality to-night."
  • "Well, that's all that is required," said Ransom, at hazard; and he put ou_is hand, in farewell, to Mrs. Luna.
  • "Do you desert me already?" she demanded, giving him a glance which would hav_mbarrassed any spectator but a reporter of the Vesper.
  • "I have fifty things to do; you must excuse me." He was nervous, restless, hi_eart was beating much faster than usual; he couldn't stand still, and he ha_o compunction whatever about leaving her to get rid, by herself, of Mr.
  • Pardon.
  • This gentleman continued to mix in the conversation, possibly from the hop_hat if he should linger either Miss Tarrant or Miss Chancellor would make he_ppearance. "Every seat in the Hall is sold; the crowd is expected to b_mmense. When our Boston public does take an idea!" Mr. Pardon exclaimed.
  • Ransom only wanted to get away, and in order to facilitate his release b_mplying that in such a case he should see her again, he said to Mrs. Luna, rather hypocritically, from the threshold, "You had really better come to- night."
  • "I am not like the Boston public—I don't take an idea!" she replied.
  • "Do you mean to say you are not going?" cried Mr. Pardon, with widely ope_yes, clapping his hand again to his pocket. "Don't you regard her as _onderful genius?"
  • Mrs. Luna was sorely tried, and the vexation of seeing Ransom slip away fro_er with his thoughts visibly on Verena, leaving her face to face with th_dious newspaper man, whose presence made passionate protest impossible—th_nnoyance of seeing everything and every one mock at her and fail t_ompensate her was such that she lost her head, while rashness leaped to he_ips and jerked out the answer—"No indeed; I think her a vulgar idiot!"
  • "Ah, madam, I should never permit myself to print that!" Ransom heard Mr.
  • Pardon rejoin reproachfully, as he dropped the portière of the drawing-room.