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.
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.