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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bostonians - Chapter 13
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The Bostonians - Chapter 13 Post by :atisa Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :May 2012 Read :1525

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The Bostonians - Chapter 13

VOLUME I. BOOK FIRST. CHAPTER XIII

Mrs. Tarrant was delighted, as may be imagined, with her daughter's
account of Miss Chancellor's interior, and the reception the girl had
found there; and Verena, for the next month, took her way very often to
Charles Street. "Just you be as nice to her as you know how," Mrs.
Tarrant had said to her; and she reflected with some complacency that
her daughter did know--she knew how to do everything of that sort. It
was not that Verena had been taught; that branch of the education of
young ladies which is known as "manners and deportment" had not figured,
as a definite head, in Miss Tarrant's curriculum. She had been told,
indeed, that she must not lie nor steal; but she had been told very
little else about behaviour; her only great advantage, in short, had
been the parental example. But her mother liked to think that she was
quick and graceful, and she questioned her exhaustively as to the
progress of this interesting episode; she didn't see why, as she said,
it shouldn't be a permanent "stand-by" for Verena. In Mrs. Tarrant's
meditations upon the girl's future she had never thought of a fine
marriage as a reward of effort; she would have deemed herself very
immoral if she had endeavoured to capture for her child a rich husband.
She had not, in fact, a very vivid sense of the existence of such agents
of fate; all the rich men she had seen already had wives, and the
unmarried men, who were generally very young, were distinguished from
each other not so much by the figure of their income, which came little
into question, as by the degree of their interest in regenerating ideas.
She supposed Verena would marry some one, some day, and she hoped the
personage would be connected with public life--which meant, for Mrs.
Tarrant, that his name would be visible, in the lamp-light, on a
coloured poster, in the doorway of Tremont Temple. But she was not eager
about this vision, for the implications of matrimony were for the most
part wanting in brightness--consisted of a tired woman holding a baby
over a furnace-register that emitted lukewarm air. A real lovely
friendship with a young woman who had, as Mrs. Tarrant expressed it,
"prop'ty," would occupy agreeably such an interval as might occur before
Verena should meet her sterner fate; it would be a great thing for her
to have a place to run into when she wanted a change, and there was no
knowing but what it might end in her having two homes. For the idea of
the home, like most American women of her quality, Mrs. Tarrant had an
extreme reverence; and it was her candid faith that in all the
vicissitudes of the past twenty years she had preserved the spirit of
this institution. If it should exist in duplicate for Verena, the girl
would be favoured indeed.

All this was as nothing, however, compared with the fact that Miss
Chancellor seemed to think her young friend's gift _was inspirational,
or at any rate, as Selah had so often said, quite unique. She couldn't
make out very exactly, by Verena, what she thought; but if the way Miss
Chancellor had taken hold of her didn't show that she believed she could
rouse the people, Mrs. Tarrant didn't know what it showed. It was a
satisfaction to her that Verena evidently responded freely; she didn't
think anything of what she spent in car-tickets, and indeed she had told
her that Miss Chancellor wanted to stuff her pockets with them. At first
she went in because her mother liked to have her; but now, evidently,
she went because she was so much drawn. She expressed the highest
admiration of her new friend; she said it took her a little while to see
into her, but now that she did, well, she was perfectly splendid. When
Verena wanted to admire she went ahead of every one, and it was
delightful to see how she was stimulated by the young lady in Charles
Street. They thought everything of each other--that was very plain; you
could scarcely tell which thought most. Each thought the other so noble,
and Mrs. Tarrant had a faith that between them they _would rouse the
people. What Verena wanted was some one who would know how to handle her
(her father hadn't handled anything except the healing, up to this time,
with real success), and perhaps Miss Chancellor would take hold better
than some that made more of a profession.

"It's beautiful, the way she draws you out," Verena had said to her
mother; "there's something so searching that the first time I visited
her it quite realised my idea of the Day of Judgement. But she seems to
show all that's in herself at the same time, and then you see how lovely
it is. She's just as pure as she can live; you see if she is not, when
you know her. She's so noble herself that she makes you feel as if you
wouldn't want to be less so. She doesn't care for anything but the
elevation of our sex; if she can work a little toward that, it's all she
asks. I can tell you, she kindles me; she does, mother, really. She
doesn't care a speck what she wears--only to have an elegant parlour.
Well, she _has got that; it's a regular dream-like place to sit. She's
going to have a tree in, next week; she says she wants to see me sitting
under a tree. I believe it's some oriental idea; it has lately been
introduced in Paris. She doesn't like French ideas as a general thing;
but she says this has more nature than most. She has got so many of her
own that I shouldn't think she would require to borrow any. I'd sit in a
forest to hear her bring some of them out," Verena went on, with
characteristic raciness. "She just quivers when she describes what our
sex has been through. It's so interesting to me to hear what I have
always felt. If she wasn't afraid of facing the public, she would go far
ahead of me. But she doesn't want to speak herself; she only wants to
call me out. Mother, if she doesn't attract attention to me there isn't
any attention to be attracted. She says I have got the gift of
expression--it doesn't matter where it comes from. She says it's a great
advantage to a movement to be personified in a bright young figure.
Well, of course I'm young, and I feel bright enough when once I get
started. She says my serenity while exposed to the gaze of hundreds is
in itself a qualification; in fact, she seems to think my serenity is
quite God-given. She hasn't got much of it herself; she's the most
emotional woman I have met, up to now. She wants to know how I can speak
the way I do unless I feel; and of course I tell her I do feel, so far
as I realise. She seems to be realising all the time; I never saw any
one that took so little rest. She says I ought to do something great,
and she makes me feel as if I should. She says I ought to have a wide
influence, if I can obtain the ear of the public; and I say to her that
if I do it will be all her influence."

Selah Tarrant looked at all this from a higher standpoint than his wife;
at least such an attitude on his part was to be inferred from his
increased solemnity. He committed himself to no precipitate elation at
the idea of his daughter's being taken up by a patroness of movements
who happened to have money; he looked at his child only from the point
of view of the service she might render to humanity. To keep her ideal
pointing in the right direction, to guide and animate her moral
life--this was a duty more imperative for a parent so closely identified
with revelations and panaceas than seeing that she formed profitable
worldly connexions. He was "off," moreover, so much of the time that he
could keep little account of her comings and goings, and he had an air
of being but vaguely aware of whom Miss Chancellor, the object now of
his wife's perpetual reference, might be. Verena's initial appearance in
Boston, as he called her performance at Miss Birdseye's, had been a
great success; and this reflexion added, as I say, to his habitually
sacerdotal expression. He looked like the priest of a religion that was
passing through the stage of miracles; he carried his responsibility in
the general elongation of his person, of his gestures (his hands were
now always in the air, as if he were being photographed in postures), of
his words and sentences, as well as in his smile, as noiseless as a
patent hinge, and in the folds of his eternal waterproof. He was
incapable of giving an off-hand answer or opinion on the simplest
occasion, and his tone of high deliberation increased in proportion as
the subject was trivial or domestic. If his wife asked him at dinner if
the potatoes were good, he replied that they were strikingly fine (he
used to speak of the newspaper as "fine"--he applied this term to
objects the most dissimilar), and embarked on a parallel worthy of
Plutarch, in which he compared them with other specimens of the same
vegetable. He produced, or would have liked to produce, the impression
of looking above and beyond everything, of not caring for the immediate,
of reckoning only with the long run. In reality he had one all-absorbing
solicitude--the desire to get paragraphs put into the newspapers,
paragraphs of which he had hitherto been the subject, but of which he
was now to divide the glory with his daughter. The newspapers were his
world, the richest expression, in his eyes, of human life; and, for him,
if a diviner day was to come upon earth, it would be brought about by
copious advertisement in the daily prints. He looked with longing for
the moment when Verena should be advertised among the "personals," and
to his mind the supremely happy people were those (and there were a good
many of them) of whom there was some journalistic mention every day in
the year. Nothing less than this would really have satisfied Selah
Tarrant; his ideal of bliss was to be as regularly and indispensably a
component part of the newspaper as the title and date, or the list of
fires, or the column of Western jokes. The vision of that publicity
haunted his dreams, and he would gladly have sacrificed to it the
innermost sanctities of home. Human existence to him, indeed, was a huge
publicity, in which the only fault was that it was sometimes not
sufficiently effective. There had been a Spiritualist paper of old which
he used to pervade; but he could not persuade himself that through this
medium his personality had attracted general attention; and, moreover,
the sheet, as he said, was played out anyway. Success was not success so
long as his daughter's _physique_, the rumour of her engagement, were
not included in the "Jottings" with the certainty of being extensively
copied.

The account of her exploits in the West had not made their way to the
seaboard with the promptitude that he had looked for; the reason of this
being, he supposed, that the few addresses she had made had not been
lectures, announced in advance, to which tickets had been sold, but
incidents, of abrupt occurrence, of certain multitudinous meetings,
where there had been other performers better known to fame. They had
brought in no money; they had been delivered only for the good of the
cause. If it could only be known that she spoke for nothing, that might
deepen the reverberation; the only trouble was that her speaking for
nothing was not the way to remind him that he had a remunerative
daughter. It was not the way to stand out so very much either, Selah
Tarrant felt; for there were plenty of others that knew how to make as
little money as she would. To speak--that was the one thing that most
people were willing to do for nothing; it was not a line in which it was
easy to appear conspicuously disinterested. Disinterestedness, too, was
incompatible with receipts; and receipts were what Selah Tarrant was, in
his own parlance, after. He wished to bring about the day when they
would flow in freely; the reader perhaps sees the gesture with which, in
his colloquies with himself, he accompanied this mental image.

It seemed to him at present that the fruitful time was not far off; it
had been brought appreciably nearer by that fortunate evening at Miss
Birdseye's. If Mrs. Farrinder could be induced to write an "open letter"
about Verena, that would do more than anything else. Selah was not
remarkable for delicacy of perception, but he knew the world he lived in
well enough to be aware that Mrs. Farrinder was liable to rear up, as
they used to say down in Pennsylvania, where he lived before he began to
peddle lead-pencils. She wouldn't always take things as you might
expect, and if it didn't meet her views to pay a public tribute to
Verena, there wasn't any way known to Tarrant's ingenious mind of
getting round her. If it was a question of a favour from Mrs. Farrinder,
you just had to wait for it, as you would for a rise in the thermometer.
He had told Miss Birdseye what he would like, and she seemed to think,
from the way their celebrated friend had been affected, that the idea
might take her some day of just letting the public know all she had
felt. She was off somewhere now (since that evening), but Miss Birdseye
had an idea that when she was back in Roxbury she would send for Verena
and give her a few points. Meanwhile, at any rate, Selah was sure he had
a card; he felt there was money in the air. It might already be said
there were receipts from Charles Street; that rich, peculiar young woman
seemed to want to lavish herself. He pretended, as I have intimated, not
to notice this; but he never saw so much as when he had his eyes fixed
on the cornice. He had no doubt that if he should make up his mind to
take a hall some night, she would tell him where the bill might be sent.
That was what he was thinking of now, whether he had better take a hall
right away, so that Verena might leap at a bound into renown, or wait
till she had made a few more appearances in private, so that curiosity
might be worked up.

These meditations accompanied him in his multifarious wanderings through
the streets and the suburbs of the New England capital. As I have also
mentioned, he was absent for hours--long periods during which Mrs.
Tarrant, sustaining nature with a hard-boiled egg and a doughnut,
wondered how in the world he stayed his stomach. He never wanted
anything but a piece of pie when he came in; the only thing about which
he was particular was that it should be served up hot. She had a private
conviction that he partook, at the houses of his lady patients, of
little lunches; she applied this term to any episodical repast, at any
hour of the twenty-four. It is but fair to add that once, when she
betrayed her suspicion, Selah remarked that the only refreshment _he_
ever wanted was the sense that he was doing some good. This effort with
him had many forms; it involved, among other things, a perpetual
perambulation of the streets, a haunting of horse-cars,
railway-stations, shops that were "selling off." But the places that
knew him best were the offices of the newspapers and the vestibules of
the hotels--the big marble-paved chambers of informal reunion which
offer to the streets, through high glass plates, the sight of the
American citizen suspended by his heels. Here, amid the piled-up
luggage, the convenient spittoons, the elbowing loungers, the
disconsolate "guests," the truculent Irish porters, the rows of
shaggy-backed men in strange hats, writing letters at a table inlaid
with advertisements, Selah Tarrant made innumerable contemplative
stations. He could not have told you, at any particular moment, what he
was doing; he only had a general sense that such places were national
nerve-centres, and that the more one looked in, the more one was "on the
spot." The _penetralia of the daily press were, however, still more
fascinating, and the fact that they were less accessible, that here he
found barriers in his path, only added to the zest of forcing an
entrance. He abounded in pretexts; he even sometimes brought
contributions; he was persistent and penetrating, he was known as the
irrepressible Tarrant. He hung about, sat too long, took up the time of
busy people, edged into the printing-rooms when he had been eliminated
from the office, talked with the compositors till they set up his
remarks by mistake, and to the newsboys when the compositors had turned
their backs. He was always trying to find out what was "going in"; he
would have liked to go in himself, bodily, and, failing in this, he
hoped to get advertisements inserted gratis. The wish of his soul was
that he might be interviewed; that made him hover at the editorial
elbow. Once he thought he had been, and the headings, five or six deep,
danced for days before his eyes; but the report never appeared. He
expected his revenge for this the day after Verena should have burst
forth; he saw the attitude in which he should receive the emissaries who
would come after his daughter.

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