Page:The Bostonians (London & New York, Macmillan & Co., 1886).djvu/343

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Mr. Ransom would keep on; he would be sure to succeed at last. Then she continued, smiling, with more irony: 'You may denounce me by name if you like. Only please don't say anything about Olive Chancellor.'

'How little you understand what I want to achieve!' Basil Ransom exclaimed. 'There you are—you women—all over; always meaning yourselves, something personal, and always thinking it is meant by others!'

'Yes, that's the charge they make,' said Verena, gaily.

'I don't want to touch you, or Miss Chancellor, or Mrs. Farrinder, or Miss Birdseye, or the shade of Eliza P. Moseley, or any other gifted and celebrated being on earth—or in heaven.'

'Oh, I suppose you want to destroy us by neglect, by silence!' Verena exclaimed, with the same brightness.

'No, I don't want to destroy you, any more than I want to save you. There has been far too much talk about you, and I want to leave you alone altogether. My interest is in my own sex; yours evidently can look after itself. That's what I want to save.'

Verena saw that he was more serious now than he had been before, that he was not piling it up satirically, but saying really and a trifle wearily, as if suddenly he were tired of much talk, what he meant. 'To save it from what?' she asked.

'From the most damnable feminisation! I am so far from thinking, as you set forth the other night, that there is not enough woman in our general life, that it has long been pressed home to me that there is a great deal too much. The whole generation is womanised; the masculine tone is passing out of the world; it's a feminine, a nervous, hysterical, chattering, canting age, an age of hollow phrases and false delicacy and exaggerated solicitudes and coddled sensibilities, which, if we don't soon look out, will usher in the reign of mediocrity, of the feeblest and flattest and the most pretentious that has ever been. The masculine character, the ability to dare and endure, to know and yet not fear reality, to look the world in the face and take it for what it is—a very queer and partly very base mixture—that is what I want to preserve, or rather, as I may say, to