Page:The Bostonians (London & New York, Macmillan & Co., 1886).djvu/365

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XXXV.
355
THE BOSTONIANS.

'Well, she is very old, and very—very gentle,' Doctor Prance answered, hesitating a moment for her adjective. 'Under those circumstances a person may flicker out.'

'We must trim the lamp,' said Ransom; 'I will take my turn, with pleasure, in watching the sacred flame.'

'It will be a pity if she doesn't live to hear Miss Tarrant's great effort,' his companion went on.

'Miss Tarrant's? What's that?'

'Well, it's the principal interest, in there.' And Doctor Prance now vaguely indicated, with a movement of her head, a small white house, much detached from its neighbours, which stood on their left, with its back to the water, at a little distance from the road. It exhibited more signs of animation than any of its fellows; several windows, notably those of the ground floor, were open to the warm evening, and a large shaft of light was projected upon the grassy wayside in front of it. Ransom, in his determination to be discreet, checked the advance of his companion, who added presently, with a short, suppressed laugh—'You can see it is, from that!' He listened, to ascertain what she meant, and after an instant a sound came to his ear—a sound he knew already well, which carried the accents of Verena Tarrant, in ample periods and cadences, out into the stillness of the August night.

'Murder, what a lovely voice!' he exclaimed, involuntarily.

Doctor Prance's eye gleamed towards him a moment, and she observed, humorously (she was relaxing immensely), 'Perhaps Miss Birdseye is right!' Then, as he made no rejoinder, only listening to the vocal inflections that floated out of the house, she went on 'She's practising her speech.'

'Her speech? Is she going to deliver one here?'

'No, as soon as they go back to town—at the Music Hall.'

Ransom's attention was now transferred to his companion. 'Is that why you call it her great effort?'

'Well, so they think it, I believe. She practises that way every night; she reads portions of it aloud to Miss Chancellor and Miss Birdseye.'