Henry James.

The Bostonians, Vol. II (of II) online

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_First published in 1886_

BOOK SECOND (_Continued_)


A little more than an hour after this he stood in the parlour of Doctor
Tarrant's suburban residence, in Monadnoc Place. He had induced a
juvenile maid-servant, by an appeal somewhat impassioned, to let the
ladies know that he was there; and she had returned, after a long
absence, to say that Miss Tarrant would come down to him in a little
while. He possessed himself, according to his wont, of the nearest book
(it lay on the table, with an old magazine and a little japanned tray
containing Tarrant's professional cards - his denomination as a mesmeric
healer), and spent ten minutes in turning it over. It was a biography of
Mrs. Ada T. P. Foat, the celebrated trance-lecturer, and was embellished
by a portrait representing the lady with a surprised expression and
innumerable ringlets. Ransom said to himself, after reading a few pages,
that much ridicule had been cast upon Southern literature; but if that
was a fair specimen of Northern! - and he threw it back upon the table
with a gesture almost as contemptuous as if he had not known perfectly,
after so long a residence in the North, that it was not, while he
wondered whether this was the sort of thing Miss Tarrant had been
brought up on. There was no other book to be seen, and he remembered to
have read the magazine; so there was finally nothing for him, as the
occupants of the house failed still to appear, but to stare before him,
into the bright, bare, common little room, which was so hot that he
wished to open a window, and of which an ugly, undraped cross-light
seemed to have taken upon itself to reveal the poverty. Ransom, as I
have mentioned, had not a high standard of comfort and noticed little,
usually, how people's houses were furnished - it was only when they were
very pretty that he observed; but what he saw while he waited at Doctor
Tarrant's made him say to himself that it was no wonder Verena liked
better to live with Olive Chancellor. He even began to wonder whether it
were for the sake of that superior softness she had cultivated Miss
Chancellor's favour, and whether Mrs. Luna had been right about her
being mercenary and insincere. So many minutes elapsed before she
appeared that he had time to remember he really knew nothing to the
contrary, as well as to consider the oddity (so great when one did
consider it) of his coming out to Cambridge to see her, when he had only
a few hours in Boston to spare, a year and a half after she had given
him her very casual invitation. She had not refused to receive him, at
any rate; she was free to, if it didn't please her. And not only this,
but she was apparently making herself fine in his honour, inasmuch as he
heard a rapid footstep move to and fro above his head, and even, through
the slightness which in Monadnoc Place did service for an upper floor,
the sound of drawers and presses opened and closed. Some one was "flying
round," as they said in Mississippi. At last the stairs creaked under a
light tread, and the next moment a brilliant person came into the room.

His reminiscence of her had been very pretty; but now that she had
developed and matured, the little prophetess was prettier still. Her
splendid hair seemed to shine; her cheek and chin had a curve which
struck him by its fineness; her eyes and lips were full of smiles and
greetings. She had appeared to him before as a creature of brightness,
but now she lighted up the place, she irradiated, she made everything
that surrounded her of no consequence; dropping upon the shabby sofa
with an effect as charming as if she had been a nymph sinking on a
leopard-skin, and with the native sweetness of her voice forcing him to
listen till she spoke again. It was not long before he perceived that
this added lustre was simply success; she was young and tender still,
but the sound of a great applauding audience had been in her ears; it
formed an element in which she felt buoyant and floated. Still,
however, her glance was as pure as it was direct, and that fantastic
fairness hung about her which had made an impression on him of old,
and which reminded him of unworldly places - he didn't know
where - convent-cloisters or vales of Arcady. At that other time she had
been parti-coloured and bedizened, and she had always an air of costume,
only now her costume was richer and more chastened. It was her line, her
condition, part of her expression. If at Miss Birdseye's, and afterwards
in Charles Street, she might have been a rope-dancer, to-day she made a
"scene" of the mean little room in Monadnoc Place, such a scene as a
prima donna makes of daubed canvas and dusty boards. She addressed Basil
Ransom as if she had seen him the other week and his merits were fresh
to her, though she let him, while she sat smiling at him, explain in his
own rather ceremonious way why it was he had presumed to call upon her
on so slight an acquaintance - on an invitation which she herself had had
more than time to forget. His explanation, as a finished and
satisfactory thing, quite broke down; there was no more impressive
reason than that he had simply wished to see her. He became aware that
this motive loomed large, and that her listening smile, innocent as it
was, in the Arcadian manner, of mockery, seemed to accuse him of not
having the courage of his inclination. He had alluded especially to
their meeting at Miss Chancellor's; there it was that she had told him
she should be glad to see him in her home.

"Oh yes, I remember perfectly, and I remember quite as well seeing you
at Miss Birdseye's the night before. I made a speech - don't you
remember? That was delightful."

"It was delightful indeed," said Basil Ransom.

"I don't mean my speech; I mean the whole thing. It was then I made Miss
Chancellor's acquaintance. I don't know whether you know how we work
together. She has done so much for me."

"Do you still make speeches?" Ransom asked, conscious, as soon as he had
uttered it, that the question was below the mark.

"Still? Why, I should hope so; it's all I'm good for! It's my life - or
it's going to be. And it's Miss Chancellor's too. We are determined to
do something."

"And does she make speeches too?"

"Well, she makes mine - or the best part of them. She tells me what to
say - the real things, the strong things. It's Miss Chancellor as much as
me!" said the singular girl, with a generous complacency which was yet
half ludicrous.

"I should like to hear you again," Basil Ransom rejoined.

"Well, you must come some night. You will have plenty of chances. We are
going on from triumph to triumph."

Her brightness, her self-possession, her air of being a public
character, her mixture of the girlish and the comprehensive, startled
and confounded her visitor, who felt that if he had come to gratify his
curiosity he should be in danger of going away still more curious than
satiated. She added in her gay, friendly, trustful tone - the tone of
facile intercourse, the tone in which happy, flower-crowned maidens may
have talked to sunburnt young men in the golden age - "I am very familiar
with your name; Miss Chancellor has told me all about you."

"All about me?" Ransom raised his black eyebrows. "How could she do
that? She doesn't know anything about me!"

"Well, she told me you are a great enemy to our movement. Isn't that
true? I think you expressed some unfavourable idea that day I met you at
her house."

"If you regard me as an enemy, it's very kind of you to receive me."

"Oh, a great many gentlemen call," Verena said, calmly and brightly.
"Some call simply to inquire. Some call because they have heard of me,
or been present on some occasion when I have moved them. Every one is so

"And you have been in Europe," Ransom remarked, in a moment.

"Oh yes, we went over to see if they were in advance. We had a
magnificent time - we saw all the leaders."

"The leaders?" Ransom repeated.

"Of the emancipation of our sex. There are gentlemen there, as well as
ladies. Olive had splendid introductions in all countries, and we
conversed with all the earnest people. We heard much that was
suggestive. And as for Europe!" - and the young lady paused, smiling at
him and ending in a happy sigh, as if there were more to say on the
subject than she could attempt on such short notice.

"I suppose it's very attractive," said Ransom encouragingly.

"It's just a dream!"

"And did you find that they were in advance?"

"Well, Miss Chancellor thought they were. She was surprised at some
things we observed, and concluded that perhaps she hadn't done the
Europeans justice - she has got such an open mind, it's as wide as the
sea! - while I incline to the opinion that on the whole _we_ make the
better show. The state of the movement there reflects their general
culture, and their general culture is higher than ours (I mean taking
the term in its broadest sense). On the other hand, the _special_
condition - moral, social, personal - of our sex seems to me to be
superior in this country; I mean regarded in relation - in proportion as
it were - to the social phase at large. I must add that we did see some
noble specimens over there. In England we met some lovely women, highly
cultivated, and of immense organising power. In France we saw some
wonderful, contagious types; we passed a delightful evening with the
celebrated Marie Verneuil; she was released from prison, you know, only
a few weeks before. Our total impression was that it is only a question
of time - the future is ours. But everywhere we heard one cry - 'How long,
O Lord, how long?'"

Basil Ransom listened to this considerable statement with a feeling
which, as the current of Miss Tarrant's facile utterance flowed on, took
the form of an hilarity charmed into stillness by the fear of losing
something. There was indeed a sweet comicality in seeing this pretty
girl sit there and, in answer to a casual, civil inquiry, drop into
oratory as a natural thing. Had she forgotten where she was, and did she
take him for a full house? She had the same turns and cadences, almost
the same gestures, as if she had been on the platform; and the great
queerness of it was that, with such a manner, she should escape being
odious. She was not odious, she was delightful; she was not dogmatic,
she was genial. No wonder she was a success, if she speechified as a
bird sings! Ransom could see, too, from her easy lapse, how the
lecture-tone was the thing in the world with which, by education, by
association, she was most familiar. He didn't know what to make of her;
she was an astounding young phenomenon. The other time came back to him
afresh, and how she had stood up at Miss Birdseye's; it occurred to him
that an element, here, had been wanting. Several moments after she had
ceased speaking he became conscious that the expression of his face
presented a perceptible analogy to a broad grin. He changed his posture,
saying the first thing that came into his head. "I presume you do
without your father now."

"Without my father?"

"To set you going, as he did that time I heard you."

"Oh, I see; you thought I had begun a lecture!" And she laughed, in
perfect good humour. "They tell me I speak as I talk, so I suppose I
talk as I speak. But you mustn't put me on what I saw and heard in
Europe. That's to be the title of an address I am now preparing, by the
way. Yes, I don't depend on father any more," she went on, while
Ransom's sense of having said too sarcastic a thing was deepened by her
perfect indifference to it. "He finds his patients draw off about
enough, any way. But I owe him everything; if it hadn't been for him, no
one would ever have known I had a gift - not even myself. He started me
so, once for all, that I now go alone."

"You go beautifully," said Ransom, wanting to say something agreeable,
and even respectfully tender, to her, but troubled by the fact that
there was nothing he could say that didn't sound rather like chaff.
There was no resentment in her, however, for in a moment she said to
him, as quickly as it occurred to her, in the manner of a person
repairing an accidental omission, "It was very good of you to come so

This was a sort of speech it was never safe to make to Ransom; there was
no telling what retribution it might entail. "Do you suppose any journey
is too great, too wearisome, when it's a question of so great a
pleasure?" On this occasion it was not worse than that.

"Well, people _have_ come from other cities," Verena answered, not with
pretended humility, but with pretended pride. "Do you know Cambridge?"

"This is the first time I have ever been here."

"Well, I suppose you have heard of the university; it's so celebrated."

"Yes - even in Mississippi. I suppose it's very fine."

"I presume it is," said Verena; "but you can't expect me to speak with
much admiration of an institution of which the doors are closed to our

"Do you then advocate a system of education in common?"

"I advocate equal rights, equal opportunities, equal privileges. So does
Miss Chancellor," Verena added, with just a perceptible air of feeling
that her declaration needed support.

"Oh, I thought what she wanted was simply a different inequality - simply
to turn out the men altogether," Ransom said.

"Well, she thinks we have great arrears to make up. I do tell her,
sometimes, that what she desires is not only justice but vengeance. I
think she admits that," Verena continued, with a certain solemnity. The
subject, however, held her but an instant, and before Ransom had time to
make any comment, she went on, in a different tone: "You don't mean to
say you live in Mississippi _now_? Miss Chancellor told me when you were
in Boston before, that you had located in New York." She persevered in
this reference to himself, for when he had assented to her remark about
New York, she asked him whether he had quite given up the South.

"Given it up - the poor, dear, desolate old South? Heaven forbid!" Basil
Ransom exclaimed.

She looked at him for a moment with an added softness. "I presume it is
natural you should love your home. But I am afraid you think I don't
love mine much; I have been here - for so long - so little. Miss
Chancellor _has_ absorbed me - there is no doubt about that. But it's a
pity I wasn't with her to-day." Ransom made no answer to this; he was
incapable of telling Miss Tarrant that if she had been he would not have
called upon her. It was not, indeed, that he was not incapable of
hypocrisy, for when she had asked him if he had seen his cousin the
night before, and he had replied that he hadn't seen her at all, and she
had exclaimed with a candour which the next minute made her blush, "Ah,
you don't mean to say you haven't forgiven her!" - after this he put on a
look of innocence sufficient to carry off the inquiry, "Forgiven her for

Verena coloured at the sound of her own words. "Well, I could see how
much she felt, that time at her house."

"What did she feel?" Basil Ransom asked, with the natural provokingness
of a man.

I know not whether Verena was provoked, but she answered with more
spirit than sequence: "Well, you know you _did_ pour contempt on us,
ever so much; I could see how it worked Olive up. Are you not going to
see her at all?"

"Well, I shall think about that; I am here only for three or four days,"
said Ransom, smiling as men smile when they are perfectly

It is very possible that Verena was provoked, inaccessible as she was,
in a general way, to irritation; for she rejoined in a moment, with a
little deliberate air: "Well, perhaps it's as well you shouldn't go, if
you haven't changed at all."

"I haven't changed at all," said the young man, smiling still, with his
elbows on the arms of his chair, his shoulders pushed up a little, and
his thin brown hands interlocked in front of him.

"Well, I have had visitors who were quite opposed!" Verena announced, as
if such news could not possibly alarm her. Then she added, "How then did
you know I was out here?"

"Miss Birdseye told me."

"Oh, I am so glad you went to see _her_!" the girl cried, speaking again
with the impetuosity of a moment before.

"I didn't go to see her. I met her in the street, just as she was
leaving Miss Chancellor's door. I spoke to her, and accompanied her some
distance. I passed that way because I knew it was the direct way to
Cambridge - from the Common - and I was coming out to see you any way - on
the chance."

"On the chance?" Verena repeated.

"Yes; Mrs. Luna, in New York, told me you were sometimes here, and I
wanted, at any rate, to make the attempt to find you."

It may be communicated to the reader that it was very agreeable to
Verena to learn that her visitor had made this arduous pilgrimage (for
she knew well enough how people in Boston regarded a winter journey to
the academic suburb) with only half the prospect of a reward; but her
pleasure was mixed with other feelings, or at least with the
consciousness that the whole situation was rather less simple than the
elements of her life had been hitherto. There was the germ of disorder
in this invidious distinction which Mr. Ransom had suddenly made between
Olive Chancellor, who was related to him by blood, and herself, who had
never been related to him in any way whatever. She knew Olive by this
time well enough to wish not to reveal it to her, and yet it would be
something quite new for her to undertake to conceal such an incident as
her having spent an hour with Mr. Ransom during a flying visit he had
made to Boston. She had spent hours with other gentlemen, whom Olive
didn't see; but that was different, because her friend knew about her
doing it and didn't care, in regard to the persons - didn't care, that
is, as she would care in this case. It was vivid to Verena's mind that
now Olive _would_ care. She had talked about Mr. Burrage, and Mr.
Pardon, and even about some gentlemen in Europe, and she had not (after
the first few days, a year and a half before) talked about Mr. Ransom.

Nevertheless there were reasons, clear to Verena's view, for wishing
either that he would go and see Olive or would keep away from _her_; and
the responsibility of treating the fact that he had not so kept away as
a secret seemed the greater, perhaps, in the light of this other fact,
that so far as simply seeing Mr. Ransom went - why, she quite liked it.
She had remembered him perfectly after their two former meetings,
superficial as their contact then had been; she had thought of him at
moments and wondered whether she should like him if she were to know him
better. Now, at the end of twenty minutes, she did know him better, and
found that he had rather a curious, but still a pleasant way. There he
was, at any rate, and she didn't wish his call to be spoiled by any
uncomfortable implication of consequences. So she glanced off, at the
touch of Mrs. Luna's name; it seemed to afford relief. "Oh yes, Mrs.
Luna - isn't she fascinating?"

Ransom hesitated a little. "Well, no, I don't think she is."

"You ought to like her - she hates our movement!" And Verena asked,
further, numerous questions about the brilliant Adeline; whether he saw
her often, whether she went out much, whether she was admired in New
York, whether he thought her very handsome. He answered to the best of
his ability, but soon made the reflexion that he had not come out to
Monadnoc Place to talk about Mrs. Luna; in consequence of which, to
change the subject (as well as to acquit himself of a social duty), he
began to speak of Verena's parents, to express regret that Mrs. Tarrant
had been sick, and fear that he was not to have the pleasure of seeing
her. "She is a great deal better," Verena said; "but she's lying down;
she lies down a great deal when she has got nothing else to do. Mother's
very peculiar," she added in a moment; "she lies down when she feels
well and happy, and when she's sick she walks about - she roams all round
the house. If you hear her on the stairs a good deal, you can be pretty
sure she's very bad. She'll be very much interested to hear about you
after you have left."

Ransom glanced at his watch. "I hope I am not staying too long - that I
am not taking you away from her."

"Oh no; she likes visitors, even when she can't see them. If it didn't
take her so long to rise, she would have been down here by this time. I
suppose you think she has missed me, since I have been so absorbed.
Well, so she has, but she knows it's for my good. She would make any
sacrifice for affection."

The fancy suddenly struck Ransom of asking, in response to this, "And
you? would you make any?"

Verena gave him a bright natural stare. "Any sacrifice for affection?"
She thought a moment, and then she said: "I don't think I have a right
to say, because I have never been asked. I don't remember ever to have
had to make a sacrifice - not an important one."

"Lord! you must have had a happy life!"

"I have been very fortunate, I know that. I don't know what to do when I
think how some women - how most women - suffer. But I must not speak of
that," she went on, with her smile coming back to her. "If you oppose
our movement, you won't want to hear of the suffering of women!"

"The suffering of women is the suffering of all humanity," Ransom
returned. "Do you think any movement is going to stop that - or all the
lectures from now to doomsday? We are born to suffer - and to bear it,
like decent people."

"Oh, I adore heroism!" Verena interposed.

"And as for women," Ransom went on, "they have one source of happiness
that is closed to us - the consciousness that their presence here below
lifts half the load of _our_ suffering."

Verena thought this very graceful, but she was not sure it was not
rather sophistical; she would have liked to have Olive's judgement upon
it. As that was not possible for the present, she abandoned the question
(since learning that Mr. Ransom had passed over Olive, to come to her,
she had become rather fidgety), and inquired of the young man,
irrelevantly, whether he knew any one else in Cambridge.

"Not a creature; as I tell you, I have never been here before. Your
image alone attracted me; this charming interview will be henceforth my
only association with the place."

"It's a pity you couldn't have a few more," said Verena musingly.

"A few more interviews? I should be unspeakably delighted!"

"A few more associations. Did you see the colleges as you came?"

"I had a glimpse of a large enclosure, with some big buildings. Perhaps
I can look at them better as I go back to Boston."

"Oh yes, you ought to see them - they have improved so much of late. The
inner life, of course, is the greatest interest, but there is some fine
architecture, if you are not familiar with Europe." She paused a moment,
looking at him with an eye that seemed to brighten, and continued
quickly, like a person who had collected herself for a little jump, "If
you would like to walk round a little, I shall be very glad to show

"To walk round - with you to show me?" Ransom repeated. "My dear Miss
Tarrant, it would be the greatest privilege - the greatest happiness - of
my life. What a delightful idea - what an ideal guide!"

Verena got up; she would go and put on her hat; he must wait a little.
Her offer had a frankness and friendliness which gave him a new
sensation, and he could not know that as soon as she had made it (though
she had hesitated too, with a moment of intense reflexion), she seemed
to herself strangely reckless. An impulse pushed her; she obeyed it with
her eyes open. She felt as a girl feels when she commits her first
conscious indiscretion. She had done many things before which many
people would have called indiscreet, but that quality had not even
faintly belonged to them in her own mind; she had done them in perfect
good faith and with a remarkable absence of palpitation. This
superficially ingenuous proposal to walk around the colleges with Mr.
Ransom had really another colour; it deepened the ambiguity of her
position, by reason of a prevision which I shall presently mention. If
Olive was not to know that she had seen him, this extension of their

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