Roweny in Boston

The following selection is from one of Maria Louise Pool most popular novels, Roweny in Boston, published in 1892 re-issued in 1900.

Note: the Browning Society still meets monthly on Beacon Hill in Boston, and has not greatly changed.

Then it occurred to her that this evening she was going to the Browning Club. There was a tumultuous quickening of her pulses at the thought. She was conscious of a shy longing to see this new kind of people. And the prospect of meeting Miss Phillipps was always a distinct pleasure to her.

Does not one who has spent much time in Boston remember the large women with gray curls looped up each side of their large faces? They are ruddy, with a comfortable consciousness of living in Boston diffused through their redundant personality. They always look, as you see them walking on Charles or Beacon Street, as if they had just descended from an intensely Bostonian coupe. If you peer into that coupe you will see the last "Atlantic" in the pocket; perhaps, also, a pamphlet on Nationalism, or a sketch of Confucius as he was, not Confucius as we have thought he was. Somebody in Boston has found out the exact facts concerning him, and to Boston is given the discovery.

The horses in the shafts will not have any check-rein nor any curb-bit, for this kind of woman does not confine herself to theories. She has a soft spot in her heart for animals, for everything that is abused or that does not have its rights.

Besides "The Atlantic" and the pamphlet, there is often also in this carriage a dog. He is sitting calmly superior to mere "foot folks." He is a well-groomed King Charley or Yorkshire. Never a fox terrier for this kind of woman. The dog meets your eye with a gentle pity in his expression, a pity for you because you are not a Yorkshire sitting in a coupe belonging to a person like his mistress. He knows there is a sketch of Confucius in the vehicle with him, and he respects himself accordingly. He wags his little stub of a tail if you approach. He is perfectly affable. He knows his position too well not to be so. He is like his dear friend and mistress; it is a good thing that, incidentally, he has wealth, but he is sincere in his conviction that wealth is not to be compared with culture and blood. He probably has clear ideas as to what Buddha preached; anyway, his eyes are bright enough to have such ideas. He is not going to fall into Nirvana when he dies; he confidently expects that in the future state cats will be provided for him to worry.

There were three of these gray-haired ladies in the rooms of the house on Charles Street where Miss Phillipps lived. They put up tortoise-shell-handled eye-glasses and looked at Rowena when she entered, not impertinently, but with the questioning air they gave to everything new.

There were young ladies, also, in the rooms, a few men. There was a murmur of talk and low laughter.

The rooms themselves were, in reality, almost simple, but they seemed magnificent to Rowena. There were low fireplaces, in which smouldered heavy oak logs. There was no gaslight, but queer old lamps shed a mellow light. To this country girl everything appeared in keeping with Miss Phillipps.

It was enough for Miss Phillipps that she was Miss Phillipps; enough for her house that it was hers.

This hostess when she chose could do some kind things with a grace that made them more than kind.

An almost tender light came into the green-tinted eyes as their owner saw that black-clad slender, hesitating, and altogether charming figure in the door-way.

Ignorant and unsophisticated as Rowena was, she could not be awkward. There is a hesitancy like that of the flower stalk which hardly knows from which direction the breeze is coming.

A man standing at the end of the first room, with his hands behind him, rather carelessly listening to one of the gray-haired ladies, saw Rowena the instant she appeared. He saw, also, a swift suffusion of gladness go over the girl's face as she met Miss Phillipp's glance. That lady walked quickly to her side and took both her hands in an impressive welcome. This welcome was meant to show her own feelings towards this stranger, and to set an example.

"Who is this that Vanessa has taken up now?" asked Mrs. Sears, with her glass up.

"Weally, I don't know," was the answer from the gentleman whom Rowena had seen riding with Miss Phillipps.

Though he said "weally," he did not look like a man who would say it. Though he had a glass in his eye, he did not look like a man who would have a glass in his eye. There were several incongruities about this individual.

"Vanessa is sometimes very trying," went on Mrs. Sears, as their hostess led Rowena to an old lady who was sitting near the fireplace holding a screen between her face and the heat. "She takes up a person or a theory with ardor, and then - "

"She puts them down with ardor," said the gentleman. "It doesn't hurt the theowy, a theowy can stand it; but a person doesn't like it, naturally."

"That girl is something quite out of the ordinary," said Mrs. Sears. She had removed her glass. Now she lifted it again. "She is - why -" searching for fitting terms of praise - "she might almost be one of Us."

The man smiled.

"Where did you say she came from?"

"From Middle Village - or thereabouts."

"But I thought you didn't know anything about her."

"I don't. But I know Vanessa has secured a girl from Middle Village with whom she is now infatuated."

An inarticulate murmur was all the response to this remark.

Miss Phillipps was now bringing Rowena to Mrs. Sears.

Keats Bradford thought he had never admired his cousin Vanessa as strongly as he admired her now. You would have said from her manner it was a princess whom she was conducting, choosing to do this rather than wait for the people to be conducted to the princess.

It must have been a very hard-hearted elderly lady indeed who could resist the desire to greet Rowena warmly. There was about her the penetrating grace of unsullied youth, and nothing is more attractive to age. Moreover, her own indescribable and individual personality, which, perhaps, Miss Phillipps called her "atmosphere," which is born with one, and which makes one beloved or shunned, this was markedly winning.

Mrs. Sears took the girl's hand in her thick, cushiony palm.

"So you have come to study Browning, Miss Tuttle? It is an occupation which never fails."

The words did not mean very much, but they were said with the accompaniment of the kindest smile. Mrs. Sears made room for Rowena on the little couch where she sat.

The young man near her instantly came forward and asked to be presented. The girl remembered him very well, but she tried not to let her face show that she did so. Se was beginning to heed the advice Miss Phillipps had given her concerning a reticence of countenance.

The gentleman did not address her, save a few words after his greeting. he continued to converse with Miss. Sears. But he had the ability to let the girl know that she was in his thoughts; that, though he talked to Mrs. Sears, it was that Miss Tuttle might hear him.

Presently he looked at his watch. He said it was almost time for him to read that selection. He walked away a few steps, then he returned and said to Rowena:

"I have the honor to open the meeting. I shall not wead the extract I selected yesterday. I want you to hear something else the first time you come. I shall ask you what you think of it, so please pay attention."


"Rivals, who... Tuned, from Bocafoli's stark-naked psalms, To Plara's sonnets spoilt by toying with, As knops that stud some almug to the pith Pricked for gum, wry thence, and crinkled worse Than pursed eyelids of a river-horse Sunning himself o' the slime when whirrs the breeze - Gad-fly, that is."

"Oh, no; I never go anywhere without my little geological hammer, not even down Washington Street. My hammer and one of Ibsen's plays. One never knows, don't you know, when one may find a specimen; and it is so interesting to get a new one - and then, if I have to wait a few moments in a shop, don't you know, if I have Ibsen with me, I don't lose any time, you see."

"It must be quite dreadful to lose any time," said Mrs. Sears, with an indulgent smile that had a suspicion of irony in it. "Did you bring your hammer with you to-day, Miss Sargeant? You might pound away at 'Childe Roland.' I think it would bear all your strength."

"Is it to be 'Childe Roland' again to-day?"


The owner of the geological hammer tossed her head. She had that type of weasel-face which Rowena had noticed in one of the sales-ladies that evening at Mrs. Jarvis's. She did not look any more refined. She was painfully alert. She tossed her head again. She said for her part she was tired of that poem, if it were a poem. Why didn't they drop Browning and take up Ibsen? She was told that this was not an Ibsen club. She flung her bits of hands out and her bangles tinkled. She gave sharp glances at Rowena, who still kept her place by Mrs. Sears.

"I went out to Diamond Hill the other day," she began. "Rhode Island, you know. Really a curious place; might be a thousand miles away. Natives don't know anything; stand about in overalls - aren't they overalls, Miss Tuttle?"

"They are overalls," replied Rowena, her clear voice contrasting with the chipping noise this Miss Sargeant made in talking, "also jumpers," added Rowena, with a slight laugh.

Miss Sargeant stared an instant. Then repeated: "Also jumpers. Thanks. They stand around in these things, and look at you till you feel their eyes boring like gimlets. I could feel them in the back of my head. They fry their beefsteak there, too - in lard. And they expect you to eat pickles with it - large cucumbers steeped in vinegar."

"Did you get any specimens, Miss Sargeant?"

"Magnificent rough amethysts. I should think there must be a strat of these amethysts somewhere there, a strata upthrown by some subterranean action. Shouldn't you say so, Mrs. Sears?"

The elder lady had shrunk perceptibly at the word "strata," which was spoken as if spelled "strarter."

"Don't you think, Miss Sargeant," she said, with some emphasis, "that you might better use your geological hammer a trifle less, and look into the subject of sungular and plural formations a trifle more? Pardon an old woman's advice."

The girl stood an instant in vindictive silence. She was very fond of that word "strarter."

She walked away.

Mrs. Sears glanced at Rowena.

"Do you think I was harsh, my dear?" she asked. "But then, I know Della Sargeant so very well. If I can be the means of teaching her to say stratum when that is what she means, I shall have done an excellent thing. I may confide to you that her friends are very weary of what she does not know about geology. Ah, Mr. Bradford is going to read. Some one usually opens the session by reading a selection. I'm glad it's not Mr. Herndon, for he never reads anything but 'Sardello." he says we don't meet to discuss what we know, but what we don't know. To tell you the truth, Miss Tuttle, I have reached that age when I like to talk about things I understand."

There was such a whimsical look on the speaker's face that Rowena could not tell if she were speaking as she felt. Before she could make any attempt at a reply some one rapped on a table which held many different copies of the poet there were to study.

A stout man with a very large bald head and English whiskers said in a heavy voice that Mr. Bradford had kindly consented to read for them.

"That is Mr. Herndon," said Mrs. Sears. "He lives to struggle with things he doesn't comprehend. The moment he sees a subject clearly, that moment it ceases to interest him. Odd, isn't it?"

Instead of standing there by the table, which was very far away from the couch which held Mrs. Sears and Rowena, Mr. Bradford sauntered down the room until he came to a window near that couch. He stood in a nonchalant attitude, with his back to the light. As a reader in select companies he was rather of a lion, but this girl from the country could not know that, and she sould not have respected him any more had she known it.

The young man began: "O lyric Love, hald angel and half bird, And all a wonder and a wild desire, -"

His voice was not spcially musical, but it interpreted the words with a force as if fire ran along with his utterance. Rowena felt her heart burning; every syllable clove its way to her soul. Had there been a human being who could write such words as those? And he had loved. And he had lost. But he could not despair.

She did not think of the reader at all. She did not know that after those two first lines his eyes had left the book and were, though not openly, watching her.

Miss Phillipps thought she had never heard her cousin read so well. There was not the least art about it. He was simply letting himself be borne on by the lines. Even she forgot herself in listening. And she forgot Rowena, until just as Bradford came to the last. Then, as she saw the girl, a cloud came over her face. It was cruel to play on a sensitive and unsophisticated nature in this way. And yet, Miss Phillipps knew that she had never loved Rowena as warmly as at this moment. The young face gleamed transparent - the eyes seemed reaching out to heaven itself.

Silently Miss Phillipps glided round behind her guests. Again she was conscious of that desire to protect Rowena.

There was an instant murmur as the reader's voice ceased. Rowena heard some one whisper, "Dear!" close behind her. She knew the tone, and interpreted it.

She so quickly recovered her ordinary look that her friend's estimate of her rose greatly.

Miss Phillipps did not address her again; she made some remark about Browning as a poet of the emotions.

Mr. Herdon rose to read a portion of "Childe Roland."

Miss Sargeant said, when the portion had been read, that she judged that the passage was so "electrically stimulating" that it was not needful to know clearly what it meant.

Another young lady, in an almost man-like severity of costume, said that what had most struck her in this author was his "formative energy." He created, he energized: he said "Let this be," and straightway it was. He was, more than any one who had come before him, a kind of god.

Miss Sargeant now said earnestly that he was, above all else, Bostonian. There were some natures so endowed that, though they had never seen Boston, they were yet Bostonian. She considered Browning so endowed.

Rowena heard in amazement. She say Miss Phillipps's lips fold tightly together. She saw the smile on Keats Bradford's face. Mrs. Sears turned to her with an impatient movement.

"I wonder whi it so often happens," she said, "that people with the least mind are so ready to let us know their limitations."

Mr. Herndon said ponderously that he believed the question now before the club was the question as to what the dark tower was. It was asserted positively that "Childe Roland to the dark tower came," but what was the tower? Symbolical, of course. But symbolical of what?"

" 'The round squat tower, blind as a fool's heart,' " recited Miss Sargeant.

" 'Built of brownstone' - you see they used brownstone - 'without a counterpart in the whole world.' "

This girl sat by a table holding a volume of poems in her hand. She was perfectly sure of herself. She never meant to give up this club. She knew they could not get along without her, and she loved to throw light. She knew that her own ideas were clear.

Rowena rose and walked to the table, taking up one of the copies of the poem that lay there. By this time she was so interested that she had forgotten her surroundings.

She resumed her seat and read the poem for the first time, experiencing a strange, baffled feeling, and that kind of admiration awakened by power, even when it is obscure power. She read the poem again, her face lightening. She looked up with flashing eyes. She leaned forward. She fastened her glance on Mr. Herndon.

"It is glorious endeavor - sticking to your ideal - it is keeping on with the fight - dauntless - courageous - it is - oh, how hard it is to find words!"

A deep red covered her face. She suddenly sank back, slmost against Mrs. Sears. But she kept her fiery glance on Mr. Herndon. Before that gentleman could speak Miss Sargeant, in her voice like the rattling of dry sticks, made this remark:

"That is very well. But what is the tower? We are losing sight of the main subject. A brownstone tower - we know that much."

Mr. Bradford advanced from the window where he had remained since he read from "The Ring and the Book."

"Miss Tuttle is wight," he said.

He looked over at the girl.

"Of course we are glad to know about the brownstone," bowing to Miss Sargeant. "We have Mr. Browning's explicit word for that. I cannot help wishing we could know if there was a bay window, or anything of that sort; but we can only judge by internal evidence. I think from the text it was a plain tower, without any such window. What is your opinion, Miss Sargeant?"

Miss Phillipps had been standing with one hand leaning on a table. She walked forward. Her face did not often fluch, but it was flushed now.

"How silly we all are," she exclaimed, with that air she had of being permitted to say anything. She went on rapidly, and with the manner of one who gives an ultimate decision.

"It is just a gloomy phantasy - the sporting of a stong mind. We take it seriously, we try to find what is not there."

She spoke nearly ten minutes, carried on by a kind of strenuous earnestness that often took possession of her when she spoke at any gathering of people. She showed a power which revealed to Rowena why women concerned in any public meetings usually tried to have "that Miss Phillipps" one of the speakers.

After she had ceased, Rowena cared very little for what followed. She hardly listened to it. She sat quietly by Mrs. Sears, and heard vaguely all the talk.

Mr. Bradford came and stood behind the couch where she sat. Sometimes he bent over and said a word or two in an undertone to Mrs. Sears. It was always said so that Rowena might hear it. he always glanced at her. He found it extremely pleasant to stand there, and he liked very much to do things which he found to be pleasant. This girl had gratified a some-what exacting taste the first time he had seen her on Tremont Street, with her portfolio under her arm. he had been rather surprised at himself that he had remembered her face and figure so well. Young women were usually very flat and unprofitable. They made eyes, the put inflections in the voice, they sidled; they pranced, or they were demure, not because they really were so, but because they chose to appear so. And they were, some of them, painfully intellectual; they kept one's mind strained up to the verge of insanity; they never let one down.

This young man, lounging behind the counch where Rowena sat, was conscious of a delightful feeling of refreshment. he did not speak to her, because it was enough to be there, knowing that he might address her if he chose. Since it was a Browning day, it was appropriate that he should think of that much - quoted line from Evelyn Hope about "spirit, fire and dew." He even went further than that. his mind suddenly seized upon, "There's a woman like a dew-drop, She's so purer than the purest." The whole song murmured itself over, and the sense of it tingled in his veins and diffused itself deliciously thorugh him. He had not thought he was inpressionable; certainly he had not been so in these later years. But then, with an inward smile, he told himself a man did not often meet a woman like this one. The city life spoiled women; so did country life spoil them, in its way.

When at last the club broke up and the members were departing, Miss Phillipps detained Rowena.

"Will any one be frightened if you don't go back to that Hudson-Street place to-night?" she asked.

"I don't suppose they will even know whether I'm there or not," was the reply.

"Then, of course, you'll stay. Keats, there is no need for you to linger."

"You are awfully careless about hurting a fellow's self-esteem, Vanessa," said the man. "I don't want to go yet. I want to sit by this fire a minute. I'm so weary of Miss Sargeant and that other little weasel of a girl."

He flung himself down and looked into the fireplace, where the log was now a big coal.

The two girls were standing. "She was just like a weasel," responded Rowena, eagerly; "and there's one at R.H. Black's - a saleslady; only one is a member of a Browning Club, and I guess the other isn't," she laughed. She was in great spirits, better than at any time since she had come to Boston. "Miss Phillipps" - she turned with an impulsively fond movement towards that lady - "you said you had been weeding out your club;why didn't you week out Miss Sargeant?"

"Yes, why didn't you?" from Bradford.

But Miss Phillipps did not choose to reply. She sat down and drew Rowena to her side. She was silent. She looked thoughtful, even slightly troubled. But she was very tender towards the girl near her. She did not notice her cousin. Still, he was content not to be noticed by her.

"I intended to take Miss Tuttle down to what you call that Hudson-Street place," he said, after a silence. "I thought she might give me privately some of her views of us to-night. But, since I am not to be useful that way, I can be simply ornamental - and comfortable here."

He stretched his feet toward the fire and thrust his hands into his pockets.

Rowena looked at him with a laugh in her eyes. The glance was returned. Then she turned her own gaze toward the fire. She felt the pressure of Miss Phillipps's arm about her shoulders, and the touch gave her happiness. She was beginning to lose that fear she had had of fickleness in her friend's regard for her. Just now she had no fear of anything. She had never been so much at home with any one. Looking back now she told herself that, of course, she had been at home with Georgie Warner. But Georgie, though she loved her, "had not known things." And then, one slightest touch of Miss Phillipps's hand was more of a caress than a vigorous hug from Georgie. Rowena had not known there were such people in the world as this new friend of hers. She did not know now but that the world was full of them, only they did not live out near Middle Village, or the Corners, or on Hudson Street.

The silence continued so long that Bradford rose. There was still humming over in his mind "There's a woman like a dew-drop." He had been dangerously near repeating those words once or twice as he sat there.

"Keats, I do wish you would go," said his cousin.

"Thank you," he responded, "I don't think I can stay any longer this evening, though you urge me so kindly. Good-night, Vanessa. Good-night, Miss Tuttle."

He held out his hand, a slender hand like that of his cousin.

He strolled to the door. He came back.

"Are you weally going to pweside at the Psychical Wesearch to-morrow, Vanessa?"

He looked down at the two, but saw only the younger face with its pure outline and shining eyes.

"Yes, I am."

"Oh, well," shrugging his shoulders, "they told me I must Pweside if you concluded not to do it yourself. I wanted to get myself up a bit, don't you know."

He stood an instant. His cousin did not glance at him, or she would have been startled by something in his face.

"Your sweetness is very long drawn out to-night, Keats," she said.

"I know it. I'm weally going now. Good-night," to Rowena, who bent her head in silence.

This time the young man lifted the curtain at the entrance, and presently the outer door shut heavily.

When he reached the pavement he straightened himself and stood still a moment, looking vaguely about him. Then he smiled. then he gave a long, srill whistle, and started to walk briskly down the street.

In the room he had just left the silence continued for some time.

Rowena, within her companion's arm, looked happily into the fire.

"Was that a country friend with whom I saw you at the theatre?"

The question came like a kind of blow to the girl. She moved uneasily.

"Yes," she answered.

"Are you going to marry him?" Rowena now sat upright.

"No; no, indeed!" she almost cried out.

"He means to marry you. He has a good face; he has also a strong will."

Rowena's heart contracted. She hurriedly rose and stood before her questioner.

"Why do you talk to me like that?" she exclaimed.

Instead of replying, Miss Phillipps said:

"You should not go alone with him to the theatre."

Rowena blushed. "Not go alone with Philip Barrett?" she said. "Not go alone with Philip?"

The eyes of the elder woman were searching the face before her.

"Perhaps, without really knowing it, you love him," she said.

Rowena turned indignantly away from that gaze.

The words opened bewildering possibilities to her. Did she not know herself? She recalled Philip's face as he had said "he didn't want to plague her," and "he could wait." The recollection almost melted her. She could at this moment recall nothing of all that in his appearance which had irritated her. She was only conscious of his noble unselfishness and his devotion.

"I don't think I love him," she said.

Her face took on a wistful expression. She looked down at her companion.

"Don't you know when you love a man?" she asked.

Miss Phillipps laughed slightly. She reached forth and drew the girl down by her again.

"According to the old-fashioned stories," she replied, "we knew when we loved just as we knew when lightning flashed before our eyes. But we have changed all that. Now we are not sure of anything."

Rowena pressed closely. She timidly lifted her face so that her friend could look down into her eyes.

"I think I'm almost sure of one thing," she whispered. She put her lips to the warm palm of the hand that had drawn her near.

"Of what?"

"If I felt to a man as I feel to you I should know I loved him."

Miss Phillipps's eyes flashed through a sudden dew. She smiled as few ever saw her smile.

"My darling!" she said.

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