Page:The Bostonians (London & New York, Macmillan & Co., 1886).djvu/226

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216
XXIII.
THE BOSTONIANS.

'Well, she is very brave.'

'Precisely. And I am very timid.'

'Didn't you fight once?'

'Yes; but it was in such a good cause!'

Ransom meant this allusion to the great Secession and, by comparison, to the attitude of the resisting male (laudable even as that might be), to be decently jocular; but Miss Birdseye took it very seriously, and sat there for a good while as speechless as if she meant to convey that she had been going on too long now to be able to discuss the propriety of the late rebellion. The young man felt that he had silenced her, and he was very sorry; for, with all deference to the disinterested Southern attitude toward the unprotected female, what he had got into the car with her for was precisely to make her talk. He had wished for general, as well as for particular, news of Verena Tarrant; it was a topic on which he had proposed to draw Miss Birdseye out. He preferred not to broach it himself, and he waited awhile for another opening. At last, when he was on the point of exposing himself by a direct inquiry (he reflected that the exposure would in any case not be long averted), she anticipated him by saying, in a manner which showed that her thoughts had continued in the same train, 'I wonder very much that Miss Tarrant didn't affect you that evening!'

'Ah, but she did!' Ransom said, with alacrity. 'I thought her very charming!'

'Didn't you think her very reasonable?'

'God forbid, madam! I consider women have no business to be reasonable.'

His companion turned upon him, slowly and mildly, and each of her glasses, in her aspect of reproach, had the glitter of an enormous tear. 'Do you regard us, then, simply as lovely baubles?'

The effect of this question, as coming from Miss Birdseye, and referring in some degree to her own venerable identity, was such as to move him to irresistible laughter. But he controlled himself quickly enough to say, with genuine expression, 'I regard you as the dearest thing in life, the only thing which makes it worth living!'