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.
"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.