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Chapter 7

  • He walked about for the next two hours, walked all over Boston, heedless o_is course, and conscious only of an unwillingness to return to his hotel an_n inability to eat his dinner or rest his weary legs. He had been roaming i_ery much the same desperate fashion, at once eager and purposeless, for man_ays before he left New York, and he knew that his agitation and suspense mus_ear themselves out. At present they pressed him more than ever; they ha_ecome tremendously acute. The early dusk of the last half of November ha_athered thick, but the evening was fine and the lighted streets had th_nimation and variety of a winter that had begun with brilliancy. The shop- fronts glowed through frosty panes, the passers bustled on the pavement, th_ells of the street-cars jangled in the cold air, the newsboys hawked th_vening papers, the vestibules of the theatres, illuminated and flanked wit_oloured posters and the photographs of actresses, exhibited seductively thei_winging doors of red leather or baize, spotted with little brass nails.
  • Behind great plates of glass the interior of the hotels became visible, wit_arble-paved lobbies, white with electric lamps, and columns, and Westerner_n divans stretching their legs, while behind a counter, set apart and covere_ith an array of periodicals and novels in paper covers, little boys, with th_aces of old men, showing plans of the play-houses and offering librettos, sold orchestra-chairs at a premium. When from time to time Ransom paused at _orner, hesitating which way to drift, he looked up and saw the stars, shar_nd near, scintillating over the town. Boston seemed to him big and full o_octurnal life, very much awake and preparing for an evening of pleasure.
  • He passed and repassed the Music Hall, saw Verena immensely advertised, gaze_own the vista, the approach for pedestrians, which leads out of Schoo_treet, and thought it looked expectant and ominous. People had not begun t_nter yet, but the place was ready, lighted and open, and the interval woul_e only too short. So it appeared to Ransom, while at the same time he wishe_mmensely the crisis were over. Everything that surrounded him referred itsel_o the idea with which his mind was palpitating, the question whether he migh_ot still intervene as against the girl's jump into the abyss. He believe_hat all Boston was going to hear her, or that at least every one was whom h_aw in the streets; and there was a kind of incentive and inspiration in thi_hought. The vision of wresting her from the mighty multitude set him of_gain, to stride through the population that would fight for her. It was no_oo late, for he felt strong; it would not be too late even if she shoul_lready stand there before thousands of converging eyes. He had had his ticke_ince the morning, and now the time was going on. He went back to his hotel a_ast for ten minutes, and refreshed himself by dressing a little and b_rinking a glass of wine. Then he took his way once more to the Music Hall, and saw that people were beginning to go in—the first drops of the grea_tream, among whom there were many women. Since seven o'clock the minutes ha_oved fast—before that they had dragged—and now there was only half an hour.
  • Ransom passed in with the others; he knew just where his seat was; he ha_hosen it, on reaching Boston, from the few that were left, with what h_elieved to be care. But now, as he stood beneath the far-away panelled roof, stretching above the line of little tongues of flame which marked its junctio_ith the walls, he felt that this didn't matter much, since he certainly wa_ot going to subside into his place. He was not one of the audience; he wa_part, unique, and had come on a business altogether special. It wouldn't hav_attered if, in advance, he had got no place at all and had just left himsel_o pay for standing-room at the last. The people came pouring in, and in _ery short time there would only be standing-room left. Ransom had no definit_lan; he had mainly wanted to get inside of the building, so that, on a vie_f the field, he might make up his mind. He had never been in the Music Hal_efore, and its lofty vaults and rows of overhanging balconies made it to hi_magination immense and impressive. There were two or three moments durin_hich he felt as he could imagine a young man to feel who, waiting in a publi_lace, has made up his mind, for reasons of his own, to discharge a pistol a_he king or the president.
  • The place struck him with a kind of Roman vastness; the doors which opened ou_f the upper balconies, high aloft, and which were constantly swinging to an_ro with the passage of spectators and ushers, reminded him of the vomitori_hat he had read about in descriptions of the Colosseum. The huge organ, th_ackground of the stage—a stage occupied with tiers of seats for choruses an_ivic worthies—lifted to the dome its shining pipes and sculptured pinnacles, and some genius of music or oratory erected himself in monumental bronze a_he base. The hall was so capacious and serious, and the audience increased s_apidly without filling it, giving Ransom a sense of the numbers it woul_ontain when it was packed, that the courage of the two young women, face t_ace with so tremendous an ordeal, hovered before him as really sublime, especially the conscious tension of poor Olive, who would have been spare_one of the anxieties and tremors, none of the previsions of accident o_alculations of failure. In the front of the stage was a slim, high desk, lik_ music-stand, with a cover of red velvet, and near it was a light ornamenta_hair, on which he was sure Verena would not seat herself, though he coul_ancy her leaning at moments on the back. Behind this was a kind of semicircl_f a dozen arm-chairs, which had evidently been arranged for the friends o_he speaker, her sponsors and patrons. The hall was more and more full o_remonitory sounds; people making a noise as they unfolded, on hinges, thei_eats, and itinerant boys, whose voices as they cried out "Photographs of Mis_arrant—sketch of her life!" or "Portraits of the Speaker—story of he_areer!" sounded small and piping in the general immensity. Before Ransom wa_ware of it several of the arm-chairs, in the row behind the lecturer's desk, were occupied, with gaps, and in a moment he recognised, even across th_nterval, three of the persons who had appeared. The straight-featured woma_ith bands of glossy hair and eyebrows that told at a distance, could only b_rs. Farrinder, just as the gentleman beside her, in a white overcoat, with a_mbrella and a vague face, was probably her husband Amariah. At the opposit_nd of the row were another pair, whom Ransom, unacquainted with certai_hapters of Verena's history, perceived without surprise to be Mrs. Burrag_nd her insinuating son. Apparently their interest in Miss Tarrant was mor_han a momentary fad, since—like himself—they had made the journey from Ne_ork to hear her. There were other figures, unknown to our young man, here an_here, in the semicircle; but several places were still empty (one of whic_as of course reserved for Olive), and it occurred to Ransom, even in hi_reoccupation, that one of them ought to remain so—ought to be left t_ymbolise the presence, in the spirit, of Miss Birdseye.
  • He bought one of the photographs of Verena, and thought it shockingly bad, an_ought also the sketch of her life, which many people seemed to be reading, but crumpled it up in his pocket for future consideration. Verena was not i_he least present to him in connexion with this exhibition of enterprise an_uffery; what he saw was Olive, struggling and yielding, making ever_acrifice of taste for the sake of the largest hearing, and conforming hersel_o a great popular system. Whether she had struggled or not, there was _atch-penny effect about the whole thing which added to the fever in his chee_nd made him wish he had money to buy up the stock of the vociferous littl_oys. Suddenly the notes of the organ rolled out into the hall, and he becam_ware that the overture or prelude had begun. This, too, seemed to him a piec_f claptrap, but he didn't wait to think of it; he instantly edged out of hi_lace, which he had chosen near the end of a row, and reached one of th_umerous doors. If he had had no definite plan he now had at least a_rresistible impulse, and he felt the prick of shame at having faltered for _oment. It had been his tacit calculation that Verena, still enshrined i_ystery by her companion, would not have reached the scene of her performanc_ill within a few minutes of the time at which she was to come forth; so tha_e had lost nothing by waiting, up to this moment, before the platform. Bu_ow he must overtake his opportunity. Before passing out of the hall into th_obby he paused, and with his back to the stage, gave a look at the gathere_uditory. It had become densely numerous, and, suffused with the evenl_istributed gaslight, which fell from a great elevation, and the thic_tmosphere that hangs for ever in such places, it appeared to pile itself hig_nd to look dimly expectant and formidable. He had a throb of uneasiness a_is private purpose of balking it of its entertainment, its victim—a glimps_f the ferocity that lurks in a disappointed mob. But the thought of tha_anger only made him pass more quickly through the ugly corridors; he fel_hat his plan was definite enough now, and he found that he had no need eve_f asking the way to a certain small door (one or more of them), which h_eant to push open. In taking his place in the morning he had assured himsel_s to the side of the house on which (with its approach to the platform) th_ithdrawing room of singers and speakers was situated; he had chosen his sea_n that quarter, and he now had not far to go before he reached it. No on_eeded or challenged him; Miss Tarrant's auditors were still pouring in (th_ccasion was evidently to have been an unprecedented success of curiosity), and had all the attention of the ushers. Ransom opened a door at the end o_he passage, and it admitted him into a sort of vestibule, quite bare sav_hat at a second door, opposite to him, stood a figure at the sight of whic_e paused for a moment in his advance.
  • The figure was simply that of a robust policeman, in his helmet and bras_uttons—a policeman who was expecting him—Ransom could see that in _winkling. He judged in the same space of time that Olive Chancellor had hear_f his having arrived and had applied for the protection of this functionary, who was now simply guarding the ingress and was prepared to defend it agains_ll comers. There was a slight element of surprise in this, as he had reasone_hat his nervous kinswoman was absent from her house for the day—had bee_pending it all in Verena's retreat, wherever that was. The surprise was no_reat enough, however, to interrupt his course for more than an instant, an_e crossed the room and stood before the belted sentinel. For a moment neithe_poke; they looked at each other very hard in the eyes, and Ransom heard th_rgan, beyond partitions, launching its waves of sound through the hall. The_eemed to be very near it, and the whole place vibrated. The policeman was _all, lean-faced, sallow man, with a stoop of the shoulders, a small, stead_ye, and something in his mouth which made a protuberance in his cheek. Ranso_ould see that he was very strong, but he believed that he himself was no_aterially less so. However, he had not come there to show physical fight—_ublic tussle about Verena was not an attractive idea, except perhaps, afte_ll, if he should get the worst of it, from the point of view of Olive's ne_ystem of advertising; and, moreover, it would not be in the least necessary.
  • Still he said nothing, and still the policeman remained dumb, and there wa_omething in the way the moments elapsed and in our young man's consciousnes_hat Verena was separated from him only by a couple of thin planks, which mad_im feel that she too expected him, but in another sense; that she had nothin_o do with this parade of resistance, that she would know in a moment, b_uick intuition, that he was there, and that she was only praying to b_escued, to be saved. Face to face with Olive she hadn't the courage, but sh_ould have it with her hand in his. It came to him that there was no one i_he world less sure of her business just at that moment than Olive Chancellor; it was as if he could see, through the door, the terrible way her eyes wer_ixed on Verena while she held her watch in her hand and Verena looked awa_rom her. Olive would have been so thankful that she should begin before th_our, but of course that was impossible. Ransom asked no questions—that seeme_ waste of time; he only said, after a minute, to the policeman:
  • "I should like very much to see Miss Tarrant, if you will be so good as t_ake in my card."
  • The guardian of order, well planted just between him and the handle of th_oor, took from Ransom the morsel of pasteboard which he held out to him, rea_lowly the name inscribed on it, turned it over and looked at the back, the_eturned it to his interlocutor. "Well, I guess it ain't much use," h_emarked.
  • "How can you know that? You have no business to decline my request."
  • "Well, I guess I have about as much business as you have to make it." Then h_dded, "You are just the very man she wants to keep out."
  • "I don't think Miss Tarrant wants to keep me out," Ransom returned.
  • "I don't know much about her, she hasn't hired the hall. It's the othe_ne—Miss Chancellor; it's her that runs this lecture."
  • "And she has asked you to keep me out? How absurd!" exclaimed Ranso_ngeniously.
  • "She tells me you're none too fit to be round alone; you have got this thin_n the brain. I guess you'd better be quiet," said the policeman.
  • "Quiet? Is it possible to be more quiet than I am?"
  • "Well, I've seen crazy folks that were a good deal like you. If you want t_ee the speaker why don't you go and set round in the hall, with the rest o_he public?" And the policeman waited, in an immovable, ruminating, reasonabl_anner, for an answer to this inquiry.
  • Ransom had one, on the instant, at his service. "Because I don't want simpl_o see her; I want also to speak to her—in private."
  • "Yes—it's always intensely private," said the policeman. "Now I wouldn't los_he lecture if I was you. I guess it will do you good."
  • "The lecture?" Ransom repeated, laughing. "It won't take place."
  • "Yes it will—as quick as the organ stops." Then the policeman added, as t_imself, "Why the devil don't it?"
  • "Because Miss Tarrant has sent up to the organist to tell him to keep on."
  • "Who has she sent, do you s'pose?" And Ransom's new acquaintance entered int_is humour. "I guess Miss Chancellor isn't her nigger."
  • "She has sent her father, or perhaps even her mother. They are in there too."
  • "How do you know that?" asked the policeman consideringly.
  • "Oh, I know everything," Ransom answered, smiling.
  • "Well, I guess they didn't come here to listen to that organ. We'll hea_omething else before long, if he doesn't stop."
  • "You will hear a good deal, very soon," Ransom remarked.
  • The serenity of his self-confidence appeared at last to make an impression o_is antagonist, who lowered his head a little, like some butting animal, an_ooked at the young man from beneath bushy eyebrows. "Well, I have heard _ood deal, since I've been in Boston."
  • "Oh, Boston's a great place," Ransom rejoined inattentively. He was no_istening to the policeman or to the organ now, for the sound of voices ha_eached him from the other side of the door. The policeman took no furthe_otice of it than to lean back against the panels, with folded arms; and ther_as another pause, between them, during which the playing of the organ ceased.
  • "I will just wait here, with your permission," said Ransom, "and presently _hall be called."
  • "Who do you s'pose will call you?"
  • "Well, Miss Tarrant, I hope."
  • "She'll have to square the other one first."
  • Ransom took out his watch, which he had adapted, on purpose, several hour_efore, to Boston time, and saw that the minutes had sped with increasin_elocity during this interview, and that it now marked five minutes pas_ight. "Miss Chancellor will have to square the public," he said in a moment; and the words were far from being an empty profession of security, for th_onviction already in possession of him, that a drama in which he, though cu_ff, was an actor, had been going on for some time in the apartment he wa_revented from entering, that the situation was extraordinarily straine_here, and that it could not come to an end without an appeal to him—thi_ranscendental assumption acquired an infinitely greater force the instant h_erceived that Verena was even now keeping her audience waiting. Why didn'_he go on? Why, except that she knew he was there, and was gaining time?
  • "Well, I guess she has shown herself," said the door-keeper, whose discussio_ith Ransom now appeared to have passed, on his own part, and without th_lightest prejudice to his firmness, into a sociable, gossiping phase.
  • "If she had shown herself, we should hear the reception, the applause."
  • "Well, there they air; they are going to give it to her," the policema_nnounced.
  • He had an odious appearance of being in the right, for there indeed the_eemed to be—they were giving it to her. A general hubbub rose from the floo_nd the galleries of the hall—the sound of several thousand people stampin_ith their feet and rapping with their umbrellas and sticks. Ransom fel_aint, and for a little while he stood with his gaze interlocked with that o_he policeman. Then suddenly a wave of coolness seemed to break over him, an_e exclaimed: "My dear fellow, that isn't applause—it's impatience. It isn't _eception, it's a call!"
  • The policeman neither assented to this proposition nor denied it; he onl_ransferred the protuberance in his cheek to the other side, and observed:
  • "I guess she's sick."
  • "Oh, I hope not!" said Ransom, very gently. The stamping and rapping swelle_nd swelled for a minute, and then it subsided; but before it had done s_ansom's definition of it had plainly become the true one. The tone of th_anifestation was good-humoured, but it was not gratulatory. He looked at hi_atch again, and saw that five minutes more had elapsed, and he remembere_hat the newspaperman in Charles Street had said about Olive's guaranteein_erena's punctuality. Oddly enough, at the moment the image of this gentlema_ecurred to him, the gentleman himself burst through the other door, in _tate of the liveliest agitation.
  • "Why in the name of goodness don't she go on? If she wants to make them cal_er, they've done it about enough!" Mr. Pardon turned, pressingly, from Ranso_o the policeman and back again, and in his preoccupation gave no sign o_aving met the Mississippian before.
  • "I guess she's sick," said the policeman.
  • "The public'll be sick!" cried the distressed reporter. "If she's sick, wh_oesn't she send for a doctor? All Boston is packed into this house, and sh_as got to talk to it. I want to go in and see."
  • "You can't go in," said the policeman drily.
  • "Why can't I go in, I should like to know? I want to go in for the Vesper"!
  • "You can't go in for anything. I'm keeping this man out, too," the policema_dded genially, as if to make Mr. Pardon's exclusion appear less invidious.
  • "Why, they'd ought to let you in," said Matthias, staring a moment at Ransom.
  • "May be they'd ought, but they won't," the policeman remarked.
  • "Gracious me!" panted Mr. Pardon; "I knew from the first Miss Chancellor woul_ake a mess of it! Where's Mr. Filer?" he went on eagerly, addressing himsel_pparently to either of the others, or to both.
  • "I guess he's at the door, counting the money," said the policeman.
  • "Well, he'll have to give it back if he don't look out!"
  • "Maybe he will. I'll let him in if he comes, but he's the only one. She is o_ow," the policeman added, without emotion.
  • His ear had caught the first faint murmur of another explosion of sound. Thi_ime, unmistakably, it was applause—the clapping of multitudinous hands, mingled with the noise of many throats. The demonstration, however, thoug_onsiderable, was not what might have been expected, and it died away quickly.
  • Mr. Pardon stood listening, with an expression of some alarm. "Mercifu_athers! can't they give her more than that?" he cried. "I'll just fly roun_nd see!"
  • When he had hurried away again, Ransom said to the policeman—"Who is Mr.
  • Filer?"
  • "Oh, he's an old friend of mine. He's the man that runs Miss Chancellor."
  • "That runs her?"
  • "Just the same as she runs Miss Tarrant. He runs the pair, as you might say.
  • He's in the lecture-business."
  • "Then he had better talk to the public himself."
  • "Oh, he can't talk; he can only boss!"
  • The opposite door at this moment was pushed open again, and a large, heated- looking man, with a little stiff beard on the end of his chin and his overcoa_lying behind him, strode forward with an imprecation. "What the h—— are the_oing in the parlour? This sort of thing's about played out!"
  • "Ain't she up there now?" the policeman asked.
  • "It's not Miss Tarrant," Ransom said, as if he knew all about it. He perceive_n a moment that this was Mr. Filer, Olive Chancellor's agent; an inferenc_nstantly followed by the reflexion that such a personage would have bee_arned against him by his kinswoman and would doubtless attempt to hold him, or his influence, accountable for Verena's unexpected delay. Mr. Filer onl_lanced at him, however, and to Ransom's surprise appeared to have no theor_f his identity; a fact implying that Miss Chancellor had considered that th_reater discretion was (except to the policeman) to hold her tongue about hi_ltogether.
  • "Up there? It's her jackass of a father that's up there!" cried Mr. Filer, with his hand on the latch of the door, which the policeman had allowed him t_pproach.
  • "Is he asking for a doctor?" the latter inquired dispassionately.
  • "You're the sort of doctor he'll want, if he doesn't produce the girl! Yo_on't mean to say they've locked themselves in? What the plague are the_fter?"
  • "They've got the key on that side," said the policeman, while Mr. File_ischarged at the door a volley of sharp knocks, at the same time violentl_haking the handle.
  • "If the door was locked, what was the good of your standing before it?" Ranso_nquired.
  • "So as you couldn't do that"; and the policeman nodded at Mr. Filer.
  • "You see your interference has done very little good."
  • "I dunno; she has got to come out yet."
  • Mr. Filer meanwhile had continued to thump and shake, demanding instan_dmission and inquiring if they were going to let the audience pull the hous_own. Another round of applause had broken out, directed perceptibly to som_pology, some solemn circumlocution, of Selah Tarrant's; this covered th_ound of the agent's voice, as well as that of a confused and divide_esponse, proceeding from the parlour. For a minute nothing definite wa_udible; the door remained closed, and Matthias Pardon reappeared in th_estibule.
  • "He says she's just a little faint—from nervousness. She'll be all ready i_bout three minutes." This announcement was Mr. Pardon's contribution to th_risis; and he added that the crowd was a lovely crowd, it was a real Bosto_rowd, it was perfectly good-humoured.
  • "There's a lovely crowd, and a real Boston one too, I guess, in here!" crie_r. Filer, now banging very hard. "I've handled prima donnas, and I've handle_atural curiosities, but I've never seen anything up to this. Mind what I say, ladies; if you don't let me in, I'll smash down the door!"
  • "Don't seem as if you could make it much worse, does it?" the policema_bserved to Ransom, strolling aside a little, with the air of bein_uperseded.