The Portrait of a Lady [Volume 1]
Part 4 out of 7
Gardencourt, of which Miss Stackpole was a valued member. Having
sent his letter (to the care of a banker whom Henrietta
suggested) he waited in some suspense. He had heard this fresh
formidable figure named for the first time; for when his mother
had mentioned on her arrival that there was a story about the
girl's having an "admirer" at home, the idea had seemed deficient
in reality and he had taken no pains to ask questions the answers
to which would involve only the vague or the disagreeable. Now,
however, the native admiration of which his cousin was the object
had become more concrete; it took the form of a young man who had
followed her to London, who was interested in a cotton-mill and
had manners in the most splendid of the American styles. Ralph
had two theories about this intervenes. Either his passion was a
sentimental fiction of Miss Stackpole's (there was always a sort
of tacit understanding among women, born of the solidarity of the
sex, that they should discover or invent lovers for each other),
in which case he was not to be feared and would probably not
accept the invitation; or else he would accept the invitation and
in this event prove himself a creature too irrational to demand
further consideration. The latter clause of Ralph's argument
might have seemed incoherent; but it embodied his conviction that
if Mr. Goodwood were interested in Isabel in the serious manner
described by Miss Stackpole he would not care to present himself
at Gardencourt on a summons from the latter lady. "On this
supposition," said Ralph, "he must regard her as a thorn on the
stem of his rose; as an intercessor he must find her wanting in
Two days after he had sent his invitation he received a very
short note from Caspar Goodwood, thanking him for it, regretting
that other engagements made a visit to Gardencourt impossible and
presenting many compliments to Miss Stackpole. Ralph handed the
note to Henrietta, who, when she had read it, exclaimed: "Well,
I never have heard of anything so stiff!"
"I'm afraid he doesn't care so much about my cousin as you
suppose," Ralph observed.
"No, it's not that; it's some subtler motive. His nature's very
deep. But I'm determined to fathom it, and I shall write to him
to know what he means."
His refusal of Ralph's overtures was vaguely disconcerting; from
the moment he declined to come to Gardencourt our friend began to
think him of importance. He asked himself what it signified to
him whether Isabel's admirers should be desperadoes or laggards;
they were not rivals of his and were perfectly welcome to act out
their genius. Nevertheless he felt much curiosity as to the
result of Miss Stackpole's promised enquiry into the causes of
Mr. Goodwood's stiffness--a curiosity for the present ungratified,
inasmuch as when he asked her three days later if she had written
to London she was obliged to confess she had written in vain. Mr.
Goodwood had not replied.
"I suppose he's thinking it over," she said; "he thinks
everything over; he's not really at all impetuous. But I'm
accustomed to having my letters answered the same day." She
presently proposed to Isabel, at all events, that they should
make an excursion to London together. "If I must tell the truth,"
she observed, "I'm not seeing much at this place, and I shouldn't
think you were either. I've not even seen that aristocrat--
what's his name?--Lord Washburton. He seems to let you severely
"Lord Warburton's coming to-morrow, I happen to know," replied
her friend, who had received a note from the master of Lockleigh
in answer to her own letter. "You'll have every opportunity of
turning him inside out."
"Well, he may do for one letter, but what's one letter when you
want to write fifty? I've described all the scenery in this
vicinity and raved about all the old women and donkeys. You
may say what you please, scenery doesn't make a vital letter. I
must go back to London and get some impressions of real life. I
was there but three days before I came away, and that's hardly
time to get in touch."
As Isabel, on her journey from New York to Gardencourt, had seen
even less of the British capital than this, it appeared a
happy suggestion of Henrietta's that the two should go thither on
a visit of pleasure. The idea struck Isabel as charming; he was
curious of the thick detail of London, which had always loomed
large and rich to her. They turned over their schemes together
and indulged in visions of romantic hours. They would stay at
some picturesque old inn--one of the inns described by Dickens--
and drive over the town in those delightful hansoms. Henrietta
was a literary woman, and the great advantage of being a literary
woman was that you could go everywhere and do everything. They
would dine at a coffee-house and go afterwards to the play; they
would frequent the Abbey and the British Museum and find out
where Doctor Johnson had lived, and Goldsmith and Addison. Isabel
grew eager and presently unveiled the bright vision to Ralph, who
burst into a fit of laughter which scarce expressed the sympathy
she had desired.
"It's a delightful plan," he said. "I advise you to go to the
Duke's Head in Covent Garden, an easy, informal, old-fashioned
place, and I'll have you put down at my club."
"Do you mean it's improper?" Isabel asked. "Dear me, isn't
anything proper here? With Henrietta surely I may go anywhere;
she isn't hampered in that way. She has travelled over the whole
American continent and can at least find her way about this
"Ah then," said Ralph, "let me take advantage of her protection
to go up to town as well. I may never have a chance to
travel so safely!"
Miss Stackpole would have prepared to start immediately; but
Isabel, as we have seen, had been notified that Lord Warburton
would come again to Gardencourt, and she believed it her duty to
remain there and see him. For four or five days he had made no
response to her letter; then he had written, very briefly, to say
he would come to luncheon two days later. There was something in
these delays and postponements that touched the girl and renewed
her sense of his desire to be considerate and patient, not to
appear to urge her too grossly; a consideration the more studied
that she was so sure he "really liked" her. Isabel told her uncle
she had written to him, mentioning also his intention of coming;
and the old man, in consequence, left his room earlier than usual
and made his appearance at the two o'clock repast. This was by no
means an act of vigilance on his part, but the fruit of a
benevolent belief that his being of the company might help to
cover any conjoined straying away in case Isabel should give
their noble visitor another hearing. That personage drove over
from Lockleigh and brought the elder of his sisters with him, a
measure presumably dictated by reflexions of the same order as
Mr. Touchett's. The two visitors were introduced to Miss
Stackpole, who, at luncheon, occupied a seat adjoining Lord
Warburton's. Isabel, who was nervous and had no relish for the
prospect of again arguing the question he had so prematurely
opened, could not help admiring his good-humoured self-possession,
which quite disguised the symptoms of that preoccupation with her
presence it was natural she should suppose him to feel. He
neither looked at her nor spoke to her, and the only sign of his
emotion was that he avoided meeting her eyes. He had plenty of
talk for the others, however, and he appeared to eat his luncheon
with discrimination and appetite. Miss Molyneux, who had a
smooth, nun-like forehead and wore a large silver cross
suspended from her neck, was evidently preoccupied with Henrietta
Stackpole, upon whom her eyes constantly rested in a manner
suggesting a conflict between deep alienation and yearning
wonder. Of the two ladies from Lockleigh she was the one Isabel
had liked best; there was such a world of hereditary quiet in
her. Isabel was sure moreover that her mild forehead and silver
cross referred to some weird Anglican mystery--some delightful
reinstitution perhaps of the quaint office of the canoness. She
wondered what Miss Molyneux would think of her if she knew Miss
Archer had refused her brother; and then she felt sure that Miss
Molyneux would never know--that Lord Warburton never told her
such things. He was fond of her and kind to her, but on the whole
he told her little. Such, at least, was Isabel's theory; when, at
table, she was not occupied in conversation she was usually
occupied in forming theories about her neighbours. According to
Isabel, if Miss Molyneux should ever learn what had passed
between Miss Archer and Lord Warburton she would probably be
shocked at such a girl's failure to rise; or no, rather (this was
our heroine's last position) she would impute to the young
American but a due consciousness of inequality.
Whatever Isabel might have made of her opportunities, at all
events, Henrietta Stackpole was by no means disposed to neglect
those in which she now found herself immersed. "Do you know
you're the first lord I've ever seen?" she said very promptly to
her neighbour. "I suppose you think I'm awfully benighted."
"You've escaped seeing some very ugly men," Lord Warburton
answered, looking a trifle absently about the table.
"Are they very ugly? They try to make us believe in America that
they're all handsome and magnificent and that they wear wonderful
robes and crowns."
"Ah, the robes and crowns are gone out of fashion," said Lord
Warburton, "like your tomahawks and revolvers."
"I'm sorry for that; I think an aristocracy ought to be
splendid," Henrietta declared. "If it's not that, what is it?"
"Oh, you know, it isn't much, at the best," her neighbour
allowed. "Won't you have a potato?"
"I don't care much for these European potatoes. I shouldn't know
you from an ordinary American gentleman."
"Do talk to me as if I were one," said Lord Warburton. "I don't
see how you manage to get on without potatoes; you must find so
few things to eat over here."
Henrietta was silent a little; there was a chance he was not
sincere. "I've had hardly any appetite since I've been here," she
went on at last; "so it doesn't much matter. I don't approve of
you, you know; I feel as if I ought to tell you that."
"Don't approve of me?"
"Yes; I don't suppose any one ever said such a thing to you
before, did they? I don't approve of lords as an institution. I
think the world has got beyond them--far beyond."
"Oh, so do I. I don't approve of myself in the least. Sometimes
it comes over me--how I should object to myself if I were not
myself, don't you know? But that's rather good, by the way--not
to be vainglorious."
"Why don't you give it up then?" Miss Stackpole enquired.
"Give up--a--?" asked Lord Warburton, meeting her harsh inflexion
with a very mellow one.
"Give up being a lord."
"Oh, I'm so little of one! One would really forget all about it
if you wretched Americans were not constantly reminding one.
However, I do think of giving it up, the little there is left of
it, one of these days."
"I should like to see you do it!" Henrietta exclaimed rather
"I'll invite you to the ceremony; we'll have a supper and a
"Well," said Miss Stackpole, "I like to see all sides. I don't
approve of a privileged class, but I like to hear what they have
to say for themselves."
"Mighty little, as you see!"
"I should like to draw you out a little more," Henrietta
continued. "But you're always looking away. You're afraid of
meeting my eye. I see you want to escape me."
"No, I'm only looking for those despised potatoes."
"Please explain about that young lady--your sister--then. I don't
understand about her. Is she a Lady?"
"She's a capital good girl."
"I don't like the way you say that--as if you wanted to change
the subject. Is her position inferior to yours?"
"We neither of us have any position to speak of; but she's better
off than I, because she has none of the bother."
"Yes, she doesn't look as if she had much bother. I wish I had as
little bother as that. You do produce quiet people over here,
whatever else you may do."
"Ah, you see one takes life easily, on the whole," said Lord
Warburton. "And then you know we're very dull. Ah, we can be dull
when we try!"
"I should advise you to try something else. I shouldn't know what
to talk to your sister about; she looks so different. Is that
silver cross a badge?"
"A sign of rank."
Lord Warburton's glance had wandered a good deal, but at this it
met the gaze of his neighbour. "Oh yes," he answered in a moment;
"the women go in for those things. The silver cross is worn by
the eldest daughters of Viscounts." Which was his harmless
revenge for having occasionally had his credulity too easily
engaged in America. After luncheon he proposed to Isabel to come
into the gallery and look at the pictures; and though she knew he
had seen the pictures twenty times she complied without
criticising this pretext. Her conscience now was very easy; ever
since she sent him her letter she had felt particularly light of
spirit. He walked slowly to the end of the gallery, staring at
its contents and saying nothing; and then he suddenly broke out:
"I hoped you wouldn't write to me that way."
"It was the only way, Lord Warburton," said the girl. "Do try and
"If I could believe it of course I should let you alone. But we
can't believe by willing it; and I confess I don't understand. I
could understand your disliking me; that I could understand well.
But that you should admit you do--"
"What have I admitted?" Isabel interrupted, turning slightly
"That you think me a good fellow; isn't that it?" She said
nothing, and he went on: "You don't seem to have any reason, and
that gives me a sense of injustice."
"I have a reason, Lord Warburton." She said it in a tone that
made his heart contract.
"I should like very much to know it."
"I'll tell you some day when there's more to show for it."
"Excuse my saying that in the mean time I must doubt of it."
"You make me very unhappy," said Isabel.
"I'm not sorry for that; it may help you to know how I feel. Will
you kindly answer me a question?" Isabel made no audible assent,
but he apparently saw in her eyes something that gave him courage
to go on. "Do you prefer some one else?"
"That's a question I'd rather not answer."
"Ah, you do then!" her suitor murmured with bitterness.
The bitterness touched her, and she cried out: "You're mistaken!
He sat down on a bench, unceremoniously, doggedly, like a man in
trouble; leaning his elbows on his knees and staring at the
floor. "I can't even be glad of that," he said at last, throwing
himself back against the wall; "for that would be an excuse."
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "An excuse? Must I excuse
He paid, however, no answer to the question. Another idea had
come into his head. "Is it my political opinions? Do you think I
go too far?"
"I can't object to your political opinions, because I don't
"You don't care what I think!" he cried, getting up. "It's all
the same to you."
Isabel walked to the other side of the gallery and stood there
showing him her charming back, her light slim figure, the length
of her white neck as she bent her head, and the density of her
dark braids. She stopped in front of a small picture as if for
the purpose of examining it; and there was something so young and
free in her movement that her very pliancy seemed to mock at him.
Her eyes, however, saw nothing; they had suddenly been suffused
with tears. In a moment he followed her, and by this time she had
brushed her tears away; but when she turned round her face was
pale and the expression of her eyes strange. "That reason that I
wouldn't tell you--I'll tell it you after all. It's that I can't
escape my fate."
"I should try to escape it if I were to marry you."
"I don't understand. Why should not that be your fate as well as
"Because it's not," said Isabel femininely. "I know it's not.
It's not my fate to give up--I know it can't be."
Poor Lord Warburton stared, an interrogative point in either eye.
"Do you call marrying me giving up?"
"Not in the usual sense. It's getting--getting--getting a great
deal. But it's giving up other chances."
"Other chances for what?"
"I don't mean chances to marry," said Isabel, her colour quickly
coming back to her. And then she stopped, looking down with a
deep frown, as if it were hopeless to attempt to make her meaning
"I don't think it presumptuous in me to suggest that you'll gain
more than you'll lose," her companion observed.
"I can't escape unhappiness," said Isabel. "In marrying you I
shall be trying to."
"I don't know whether you'd try to, but you certainly would: that
I must in candour admit!" he exclaimed with an anxious laugh.
"I mustn't--I can't!" cried the girl.
"Well, if you're bent on being miserable I don't see why you
should make me so. Whatever charms a life of misery may have for
you, it has none for me."
"I'm not bent on a life of misery," said Isabel. "I've always
been intensely determined to be happy, and I've often believed I
should be. I've told people that; you can ask them. But it comes
over me every now and then that I can never be happy in any
extraordinary way; not by turning away, by separating myself."
"By separating yourself from what?"
"From life. From the usual chances and dangers, from what most
people know and suffer."
Lord Warburton broke into a smile that almost denoted hope. "Why,
my dear Miss Archer," he began to explain with the most
considerate eagerness, "I don't offer you any exoneration from
life or from any chances or dangers whatever. I wish I could;
depend upon it I would! For what do you take me, pray? Heaven
help me, I'm not the Emperor of China! All I offer you is the
chance of taking the common lot in a comfortable sort of way. The
common lot? Why, I'm devoted to the common lot! Strike an
alliance with me, and I promise you that you shall have plenty of
it. You shall separate from nothing whatever--not even from your
friend Miss Stackpole."
"She'd never approve of it," said Isabel, trying to smile and
take advantage of this side-issue; despising herself too, not a
little, for doing so.
"Are we speaking of Miss Stackpole?" his lordship asked
impatiently. "I never saw a person judge things on such theoretic
"Now I suppose you're speaking of me," said Isabel with humility;
and she turned away again, for she saw Miss Molyneux enter the
gallery, accompanied by Henrietta and by Ralph.
Lord Warburton's sister addressed him with a certain timidity and
reminded him she ought to return home in time for tea, as she was
expecting company to partake of it. He made no answer--apparently
not having heard her; he was preoccupied, and with good reason.
Miss Molyneux--as if he had been Royalty--stood like a
"Well, I never, Miss Molyneux!" said Henrietta Stackpole. "If I
wanted to go he'd have to go. If I wanted my brother to do a
thing he'd have to do it."
"Oh, Warburton does everything one wants," Miss Molyneux answered
with a quick, shy laugh. "How very many pictures you have!" she
went on, turning to Ralph.
"They look a good many, because they're all put together," said
Ralph. "But it's really a bad way."
"Oh, I think it's so nice. I wish we had a gallery at Lockleigh.
I'm so very fond of pictures," Miss Molyneux went on, persistently,
to Ralph, as if she were afraid Miss Stackpole would address her
again. Henrietta appeared at once to fascinate and to frighten her.
"Ah yes, pictures are very convenient," said Ralph, who appeared
to know better what style of reflexion was acceptable to her.
"They're so very pleasant when it rains," the young lady
continued. "It has rained of late so very often."
"I'm sorry you're going away, Lord Warburton," said Henrietta. "I
wanted to get a great deal more out of you."
"I'm not going away," Lord Warburton answered.
"Your sister says you must. In America the gentlemen obey the
"I'm afraid we have some people to tea," said Miss Molyneux,
looking at her brother.
"Very good, my dear. We'll go."
"I hoped you would resist!" Henrietta exclaimed. "I wanted to see
what Miss Molyneux would do."
"I never do anything," said this young lady.
"I suppose in your position it's sufficient for you to exist!"
Miss Stackpole returned. "I should like very much to see you at
"You must come to Lockleigh again," said Miss Molyneux, very
sweetly, to Isabel, ignoring this remark of Isabel's friend.
Isabel looked into her quiet eyes a moment, and for that moment
seemed to see in their grey depths the reflexion of everything
she had rejected in rejecting Lord Warburton--the peace, the
kindness, the honour, the possessions, a deep security and a
great exclusion. She kissed Miss Molyneux and then she said: "I'm
afraid I can never come again."
"I'm afraid I'm going away."
"Oh, I'm so very sorry," said Miss Molyneux. "I think that's so
very wrong of you."
Lord Warburton watched this little passage; then he turned away
and stared at a picture. Ralph, leaning against the rail before
the picture with his hands in his pockets, had for the moment
been watching him.
"I should like to see you at home," said Henrietta, whom Lord
Warburton found beside him. "I should like an hour's talk with
you; there are a great many questions I wish to ask you."
"I shall be delighted to see you," the proprietor of Lockleigh
answered; "but I'm certain not to be able to answer many of your
questions. When will you come?"
"Whenever Miss Archer will take me. We're thinking of going to
London, but we'll go and see you first. I'm determined to get
some satisfaction out of you."
"If it depends upon Miss Archer I'm afraid you won't get much.
She won't come to Lockleigh; she doesn't like the place."
"She told me it was lovely!" said Henrietta.
Lord Warburton hesitated. "She won't come, all the same. You had
better come alone," he added.
Henrietta straightened herself, and her large eyes expanded.
"Would you make that remark to an English lady?" she enquired
with soft asperity.
Lord Warburton stared. "Yes, if I liked her enough."
"You'd be careful not to like her enough. If Miss Archer won't
visit your place again it's because she doesn't want to take me.
I know what she thinks of me, and I suppose you think the same--
that I oughtn't to bring in individuals." Lord Warburton was at a
loss; he had not been made acquainted with Miss Stackpole's
professional character and failed to catch her allusion. "Miss
Archer has been warning you!" she therefore went on.
"Isn't that why she came off alone with you here--to put you on
"Oh dear, no," said Lord Warburton brazenly; "our talk had no
such solemn character as that."
"Well, you've been on your guard--intensely. I suppose it's
natural to you; that's just what I wanted to observe. And so,
too, Miss Molyneux--she wouldn't commit herself. You have been
warned, anyway," Henrietta continued, addressing this young lady;
"but for you it wasn't necessary."
"I hope not," said Miss Molyneux vaguely.
"Miss Stackpole takes notes," Ralph soothingly explained. "She's
a great satirist; she sees through us all and she works us up."
"Well, I must say I never have had such a collection of bad
material!" Henrietta declared, looking from Isabel to Lord
Warburton and from this nobleman to his sister and to Ralph.
"There's something the matter with you all; you're as dismal as
if you had got a bad cable."
"You do see through us, Miss Stackpole," said Ralph in a low
tone, giving her a little intelligent nod as he led the party out
of the gallery. "There's something the matter with us all."
Isabel came behind these two; Miss Molyneux, who decidedly liked
her immensely, had taken her arm, to walk beside her over the
polished floor. Lord Warburton strolled on the other side with
his hands behind him and his eyes lowered. For some moments he
said nothing; and then, "Is it true you're going to London?" he
"I believe it has been arranged."
"And when shall you come back?"
"In a few days; but probably for a very short time. I'm going to
Paris with my aunt."
"When, then, shall I see you again?"
"Not for a good while," said Isabel. "But some day or other, I
"Do you really hope it?"
He went a few steps in silence; then he stopped and put out his
"Good-bye," said Isabel.
Miss Molyneux kissed her again, and she let the two depart. After
it, without rejoining Henrietta and Ralph, she retreated to her
own room; in which apartment, before dinner, she was found by
Mrs. Touchett, who had stopped on her way to the salon. "I may
as well tell you," said that lady, "that your uncle has informed
me of your relations with Lord Warburton."
Isabel considered. "Relations? They're hardly relations. That's
the strange part of it: he has seen me but three or four times."
"Why did you tell your uncle rather than me?" Mrs. Touchett
Again the girl hesitated. "Because he knows Lord Warburton
"Yes, but I know you better."
"I'm not sure of that," said Isabel, smiling.
"Neither am I, after all; especially when you give me that rather
conceited look. One would think you were awfully pleased with
yourself and had carried off a prize! I suppose that when you
refuse an offer like Lord Warburton's it's because you expect to
do something better."
"Ah, my uncle didn't say that!" cried Isabel, smiling still.
It had been arranged that the two young ladies should proceed to
London under Ralph's escort, though Mrs. Touchett looked with
little favour on the plan. It was just the sort of plan, she
said, that Miss Stackpole would be sure to suggest, and she
enquired if the correspondent of the Interviewer was to take the
party to stay at her favourite boarding-house.
"I don't care where she takes us to stay, so long as there's
local colour," said Isabel. "That's what we're going to London
"I suppose that after a girl has refused an English lord she may
do anything," her aunt rejoined. "After that one needn't stand on
"Should you have liked me to marry Lord Warburton?" Isabel
"Of course I should."
"I thought you disliked the English so much."
"So I do; but it's all the greater reason for making use of
"Is that your idea of marriage?" And Isabel ventured to add that
her aunt appeared to her to have made very little use of Mr.
"Your uncle's not an English nobleman," said Mrs. Touchett,
"though even if he had been I should still probably have taken up
my residence in Florence."
"Do you think Lord Warburton could make me any better than I am?"
the girl asked with some animation. "I don't mean I'm too good to
improve. I mean that I don't love Lord Warburton enough to marry
"You did right to refuse him then," said Mrs. Touchett in her
smallest, sparest voice. "Only, the next great offer you get, I
hope you'll manage to come up to your standard."
"We had better wait till the offer comes before we talk about it.
I hope very much I may have no more offers for the present. They
upset me completely."
"You probably won't be troubled with them if you adopt
permanently the Bohemian manner of life. However, I've promised
Ralph not to criticise."
"I'll do whatever Ralph says is right," Isabel returned. "I've
unbounded confidence in Ralph."
"His mother's much obliged to you!" this lady dryly laughed.
"It seems to me indeed she ought to feel it!" Isabel
Ralph had assured her that there would be no violation of decency
in their paying a visit--the little party of three--to the sights
of the metropolis; but Mrs. Touchett took a different view. Like
many ladies of her country who had lived a long time in Europe,
she had completely lost her native tact on such points, and in
her reaction, not in itself deplorable, against the liberty
allowed to young persons beyond the seas, had fallen into
gratuitous and exaggerated scruples. Ralph accompanied their
visitors to town and established them at a quiet inn in a street
that ran at right angles to Piccadilly. His first idea had been
to take them to his father's house in Winchester Square, a large,
dull mansion which at this period of the year was shrouded in
silence and brown holland; but he bethought himself that, the
cook being at Gardencourt, there was no one in the house to get
them their meals, and Pratt's Hotel accordingly became their
resting-place. Ralph, on his side, found quarters in Winchester
Square, having a "den" there of which he was very fond and being
familiar with deeper fears than that of a cold kitchen. He
availed himself largely indeed of the resources of Pratt's Hotel,
beginning his day with an early visit to his fellow travellers,
who had Mr. Pratt in person, in a large bulging white waistcoat,
to remove their dish-covers. Ralph turned up, as he said, after
breakfast, and the little party made out a scheme of
entertainment for the day. As London wears in the month of
September a face blank but for its smears of prior service, the
young man, who occasionally took an apologetic tone, was obliged
to remind his companion, to Miss Stackpole's high derision, that
there wasn't a creature in town.
"I suppose you mean the aristocracy are absent," Henrietta
answered; "but I don't think you could have a better proof that
if they were absent altogether they wouldn't be missed. It seems
to me the place is about as full as it can be. There's no one
here, of course, but three or four millions of people. What is it
you call them--the lower-middle class? They're only the
population of London, and that's of no consequence."
Ralph declared that for him the aristocracy left no void that
Miss Stackpole herself didn't fill, and that a more contented man
was nowhere at that moment to be found. In this he spoke the
truth, for the stale September days, in the huge half-empty town,
had a charm wrapped in them as a coloured gem might be wrapped in
a dusty cloth. When he went home at night to the empty house in
Winchester Square, after a chain of hours with his comparatively
ardent friends, he wandered into the big dusky dining-room, where
the candle he took from the hall-table, after letting himself in,
constituted the only illumination. The square was still, the
house was still; when he raised one of the windows of the
dining-room to let in the air he heard the slow creak of the
boots of a lone constable. His own step, in the empty place,
seemed loud and sonorous; some of the carpets had been raised,
and whenever he moved he roused a melancholy echo. He sat down in
one of the armchairs; the big dark dining table twinkled here and
there in the small candle-light; the pictures on the wall, all of
them very brown, looked vague and incoherent. There was a ghostly
presence as of dinners long since digested, of table-talk that
had lost its actuality. This hint of the supernatural perhaps had
something to do with the fact that his imagination took a flight
and that he remained in his chair a long time beyond the hour at
which he should have been in bed; doing nothing, not even reading
the evening paper. I say he did nothing, and I maintain the
phrase in the face of the fact that he thought at these moments
of Isabel. To think of Isabel could only be for him an idle
pursuit, leading to nothing and profiting little to any one. His
cousin had not yet seemed to him so charming as during these days
spent in sounding, tourist-fashion, the deeps and shallows of the
metropolitan element. Isabel was full of premises, conclusions,
emotions; if she had come in search of local colour she found it
everywhere. She asked more questions than he could answer, and
launched brave theories, as to historic cause and social effect,
that he was equally unable to accept or to refute. The party went
more than once to the British Museum and to that brighter palace
of art which reclaims for antique variety so large an area of a
monotonous suburb; they spent a morning in the Abbey and went on
a penny-steamer to the Tower; they looked at pictures both in
public and private collections and sat on various occasions
beneath the great trees in Kensington Gardens. Henrietta proved
an indestructible sight-seer and a more lenient judge than Ralph
had ventured to hope. She had indeed many disappointments, and
London at large suffered from her vivid remembrance of the strong
points of the American civic idea; but she made the best of its
dingy dignities and only heaved an occasional sigh and uttered a
desultory "Well!" which led no further and lost itself in
retrospect. The truth was that, as she said herself, she was not
in her element. "I've not a sympathy with inanimate objects," she
remarked to Isabel at the National Gallery; and she continued to
suffer from the meagreness of the glimpse that had as yet been
vouchsafed to her of the inner life. Landscapes by Turner and
Assyrian bulls were a poor substitute for the literary
dinner-parties at which she had hoped to meet the genius and
renown of Great Britain.
"Where are your public men, where are your men and women of
intellect?" she enquired of Ralph, standing in the middle of
Trafalgar Square as if she had supposed this to be a place where
she would naturally meet a few. "That's one of them on the top of
the column, you say--Lord Nelson. Was he a lord too? Wasn't he
high enough, that they had to stick him a hundred feet in the
air? That's the past--I don't care about the past; I want to see
some of the leading minds of the present. I won't say of the
future, because I don't believe much in your future." Poor Ralph
had few leading minds among his acquaintance and rarely enjoyed
the pleasure of buttonholing a celebrity; a state of things which
appeared to Miss Stackpole to indicate a deplorable want of
enterprise. "If I were on the other side I should call," she
said, "and tell the gentleman, whoever he might be, that I had
heard a great deal about him and had come to see for myself. But
I gather from what you say that this is not the custom here. You
seem to have plenty of meaningless customs, but none of those
that would help along. We are in advance, certainly. I suppose I
shall have to give up the social side altogether;" and Henrietta,
though she went about with her guidebook and pencil and wrote a
letter to the Interviewer about the Tower (in which she described
the execution of Lady Jane Grey), had a sad sense of falling
below her mission.
The incident that had preceded Isabel's departure from
Gardencourt left a painful trace in our young woman's mind: when
she felt again in her face, as from a recurrent wave, the cold
breath of her last suitor's surprise, she could only muffle her
head till the air cleared. She could not have done less than what
she did; this was certainly true. But her necessity, all the
same, had been as graceless as some physical act in a strained
attitude, and she felt no desire to take credit for her conduct.
Mixed with this imperfect pride, nevertheless, was a feeling of
freedom which in itself was sweet and which, as she wandered
through the great city with her ill-matched companions,
occasionally throbbed into odd demonstrations. When she walked in
Kensington Gardens she stopped the children (mainly of the poorer
sort) whom she saw playing on the grass; she asked them their
names and gave them sixpence and, when they were pretty, kissed
them. Ralph noticed these quaint charities; he noticed everything
she did. One afternoon, that his companions might pass the time,
he invited them to tea in Winchester Square, and he had the house
set in order as much as possible for their visit. There was
another guest to meet them, an amiable bachelor, an old friend of
Ralph's who happened to be in town and for whom prompt commerce
with Miss Stackpole appeared to have neither difficulty nor
dread. Mr. Bantling, a stout, sleek, smiling man of forty,
wonderfully dressed, universally informed and incoherently
amused, laughed immoderately at everything Henrietta said, gave
her several cups of tea, examined in her society the bric-a-brac,
of which Ralph had a considerable collection, and afterwards,
when the host proposed they should go out into the square and
pretend it was a fete-champetre, walked round the limited
enclosure several times with her and, at a dozen turns of their
talk, bounded responsive--as with a positive passion for
argument--to her remarks upon the inner life.
"Oh, I see; I dare say you found it very quiet at Gardencourt.
Naturally there's not much going on there when there's such a lot
of illness about. Touchett's very bad, you know; the doctors have
forbidden his being in England at all, and he has only come back
to take care of his father. The old man, I believe, has half a
dozen things the matter with him. They call it gout, but to my
certain knowledge he has organic disease so developed that you
may depend upon it he'll go, some day soon, quite quickly. Of
course that sort of thing makes a dreadfully dull house; I wonder
they have people when they can do so little for them. Then I
believe Mr. Touchett's always squabbling with his wife; she lives
away from her husband, you know, in that extraordinary American
way of yours. If you want a house where there's always something
going on, I recommend you to go down and stay with my sister,
Lady Pensil, in Bedfordshire. I'll write to her to-morrow and I'm
sure she'll be delighted to ask you. I know just what you want--
you want a house where they go in for theatricals and picnics and
that sort of thing. My sister's just that sort of woman; she's
always getting up something or other and she's always glad to
have the sort of people who help her. I'm sure she'll ask you
down by return of post: she's tremendously fond of distinguished
people and writers. She writes herself, you know; but I haven't
read everything she has written. It's usually poetry, and I don't
go in much for poetry--unless it's Byron. I suppose you think a
great deal of Byron in America," Mr. Bantling continued, expanding
in the stimulating air of Miss Stackpole's attention, bringing up
his sequences promptly and changing his topic with an easy turn
of hand. Yet he none the less gracefully kept in sight of the
idea, dazzling to Henrietta, of her going to stay with Lady
Pensil in Bedfordshire. "I understand what you want; you want to
see some genuine English sport. The Touchetts aren't English at
all, you know; they have their own habits, their own language,
their own food--some odd religion even, I believe, of their own.
The old man thinks it's wicked to hunt, I'm told. You must get
down to my sister's in time for the theatricals, and I'm sure
she'll be glad to give you a part. I'm sure you act well; I
know you're very clever. My sister's forty years old and has
seven children, but she's going to play the principal part. Plain
as she is she makes up awfully well--I will say for her. Of
course you needn't act if you don't want to."
In this manner Mr. Bantling delivered himself while they strolled
over the grass in Winchester Square, which, although it had been
peppered by the London soot, invited the tread to linger.
Henrietta thought her blooming, easy-voiced bachelor, with his
impressibility to feminine merit and his splendid range of
suggestion, a very agreeable man, and she valued the opportunity
he offered her. "I don't know but I would go, if your sister
should ask me. I think it would be my duty. What do you call her
"Pensil. It's an odd name, but it isn't a bad one."
"I think one name's as good as another. But what's her rank?".
"Oh, she's a baron's wife; a convenient sort of rank. You're fine
enough and you're not too fine."
"I don't know but what she'd be too fine for me. What do you call
the place she lives in--Bedfordshire?"
"She lives away in the northern corner of it. It's a tiresome
country, but I dare say you won't mind it. I'll try and run down
while you're there."
All this was very pleasant to Miss Stackpole, and she was sorry
to be obliged to separate from Lady Pensil's obliging brother.
But it happened that she had met the day before, in Piccadilly,
some friends whom she had not seen for a year: the Miss Climbers,
two ladies from Wilmington, Delaware, who had been travelling on
the Continent and were now preparing to re-embark. Henrietta had
had a long interview with them on the Piccadilly pavement, and
though the three ladies all talked at once they had not exhausted
their store. It had been agreed therefore that Henrietta should
come and dine with them in their lodgings in Jermyn Street at six
o'clock on the morrow, and she now bethought herself of this
engagement. She prepared to start for Jermyn Street, taking leave
first of Ralph Touchett and Isabel, who, seated on garden chairs
in another part of the enclosure, were occupied--if the term may
be used--with an exchange of amenities less pointed than the
practical colloquy of Miss Stackpole and Mr. Bantling. When it
had been settled between Isabel and her friend that they should
be reunited at some reputable hour at Pratt's Hotel, Ralph
remarked that the latter must have a cab. She couldn't walk all
the way to Jermyn Street.
"I suppose you mean it's improper for me to walk alone!"
Henrietta exclaimed. "Merciful powers, have I come to this?"
"There's not the slightest need of your walking alone," Mr.
Bantling gaily interposed. "I should be greatly pleased to go
"I simply meant that you'd be late for dinner," Ralph returned.
"Those poor ladies may easily believe that we refuse, at the
last, to spare you."
"You had better have a hansom, Henrietta," said Isabel.
"I'll get you a hansom if you'll trust me," Mr. Bantling went on.
"We might walk a little till we meet one."
"I don't see why I shouldn't trust him, do you?" Henrietta
enquired of Isabel.
"I don't see what Mr. Bantling could do to you," Isabel
obligingly answered; "but, if you like, we'll walk with you till
you find your cab."
"Never mind; we'll go alone. Come on, Mr. Bantling, and take care
you get me a good one."
Mr. Bantling promised to do his best, and the two took their
departure, leaving the girl and her cousin together in the
square, over which a clear September twilight had now begun to
gather. It was perfectly still; the wide quadrangle of dusky
houses showed lights in none of the windows, where the shutters
and blinds were closed; the pavements were a vacant expanse, and,
putting aside two small children from a neighbouring slum, who,
attracted by symptoms of abnormal animation in the interior,
poked their faces between the rusty rails of the enclosure, the
most vivid object within sight was the big red pillar-post on the
"Henrietta will ask him to get into the cab and go with her to
Jermyn Street," Ralph observed. He always spoke of Miss Stackpole
"Very possibly," said his companion.
"Or rather, no, she won't," he went on. "But Bantling will ask
leave to get in."
"Very likely again. I'm glad very they're such good friends."
"She has made a conquest. He thinks her a brilliant woman. It may
go far," said Ralph.
Isabel was briefly silent. "I call Henrietta a very brilliant
woman, but I don't think it will go far. They would never really
know each other. He has not the least idea what she really is,
and she has no just comprehension of Mr. Bantling."
"There's no more usual basis of union than a mutual
misunderstanding. But it ought not to be so difficult to
understand Bob Bantling," Ralph added. "He is a very simple
"Yes, but Henrietta's a simpler one still. And, pray, what am I
to do?" Isabel asked, looking about her through the fading light,
in which the limited landscape-gardening of the square took on a
large and effective appearance. "I don't imagine that you'll
propose that you and I, for our amusement, shall drive about
London in a hansom."
"There's no reason we shouldn't stay here--if you don't dislike
it. It's very warm; there will he half an hour yet before dark;
and if you permit it I'll light a cigarette."
"You may do what you please," said Isabel, "if you'll amuse me
till seven o'clock. I propose at that hour to go back and partake
of a simple and solitary repast--two poached eggs and a muffin--
at Pratt's Hotel."
"Mayn't I dine with you?" Ralph asked.
"No, you'll dine at your club."
They had wandered back to their chairs in the centre of the
square again, and Ralph had lighted his cigarette. It would have
given him extreme pleasure to be present in person at the modest
little feast she had sketched; but in default of this he liked
even being forbidden. For the moment, however, he liked immensely
being alone with her, in the thickening dusk, in the centre of
the multitudinous town; it made her seem to depend upon him and
to be in his power. This power he could exert but vaguely; the
best exercise of it was to accept her decisions submissively
which indeed there was already an emotion in doing. "Why won't
you let me dine with you?" he demanded after a pause.
"Because I don't care for it."
"I suppose you're tired of me."
"I shall be an hour hence. You see I have the gift of
"Oh, I shall be delightful meanwhile," said Ralph.
But he said nothing more, and as she made no rejoinder they sat
some time in a stillness which seemed to contradict his promise
of entertainment. It seemed to him she was preoccupied, and he
wondered what she was thinking about; there were two or three
very possible subjects. At last he spoke again. "Is your
objection to my society this evening caused by your
expectation of another visitor?"
She turned her head with a glance of her clear, fair eyes.
"Another visitor? What visitor should I have?"
He had none to suggest; which made his question seem to himself
silly as well as brutal. "You've a great many friends that I
don't know. You've a whole past from which I was perversely
"You were reserved for my future. You must remember that my past
is over there across the water. There's none of it here in
"Very good, then, since your future is seated beside you. Capital
thing to have your future so handy." And Ralph lighted another
cigarette and reflected that Isabel probably meant she had
received news that Mr. Caspar Goodwood had crossed to Paris.
After he had lighted his cigarette he puffed it a while, and then
he resumed. "I promised just now to be very amusing; but you see
I don't come up to the mark, and the fact is there's a good deal
of temerity in one's undertaking to amuse a person like you. What
do you care for my feeble attempts? You've grand ideas--you've a
high standard in such matters. I ought at least to bring in a
band of music or a company of mountebanks."
"One mountebank's enough, and you do very well. Pray go on, and
in another ten minutes I shall begin to laugh."
"I assure you I'm very serious," said Ralph. "You do really ask a
"I don't know what you mean. I ask nothing."
"You accept nothing," said Ralph. She coloured, and now suddenly
it seemed to her that she guessed his meaning. But why should he
speak to her of such things? He hesitated a little and then he
continued: "There's something I should like very much to say to
you. It's a question I wish to ask. It seems to me I've a right
to ask it, because I've a kind of interest in the answer."
"Ask what you will," Isabel replied gently, "and I'll try to
"Well then, I hope you won't mind my saying that Warburton has
told me of something that has passed between you."
Isabel suppressed a start; she sat looking at her open fan. "Very
good; I suppose it was natural he should tell you."
"I have his leave to let you know he has done so. He has some
hope still," said Ralph.
"He had it a few days ago."
"I don't believe he has any now," said the girl.
"I'm very sorry for him then; he's such an honest man."
"Pray, did he ask you to talk to me?"
"No, not that. But he told me because he couldn't help it. We're
old friends, and he was greatly disappointed. He sent me a line
asking me to come and see him, and I drove over to Lockleigh the
day before he and his sister lunched with us. He was very
heavy-hearted; he had just got a letter from you."
"Did he show you the letter?" asked Isabel with momentary
"By no means. But he told me it was a neat refusal. I was very
sorry for him," Ralph repeated.
For some moments Isabel said nothing; then at last, "Do you know
how often he had seen me?" she enquired. "Five or six times."
"That's to your glory."
"It's not for that I say it."
"What then do you say it for. Not to prove that poor Warburton's
state of mind's superficial, because I'm pretty sure you don't
Isabel certainly was unable to say she thought it; but presently
she said something else. "If you've not been requested by Lord
Warburton to argue with me, then you're doing it disinterestedly
--or for the love of argument."
"I've no wish to argue with you at all. I only wish to leave you
alone. I'm simply greatly interested in your own sentiments."
"I'm greatly obliged to you!" cried Isabel with a slightly
"Of course you mean that I'm meddling in what doesn't concern me.
But why shouldn't I speak to you of this matter without annoying
you or embarrassing myself? What's the use of being your cousin
if I can't have a few privileges? What's the use of adoring you
without hope of a reward if I can't have a few compensations?
What's the use of being ill and disabled and restricted to mere
spectatorship at the game of life if I really can't see the show
when I've paid so much for my ticket? Tell me this," Ralph went
on while she listened to him with quickened attention. "What had
you in mind when you refused Lord Warburton?"
"What had I in mind?"
"What was the logic--the view of your situation--that dictated so
remarkable an act?"
"I didn't wish to marry him--if that's logic."
"No, that's not logic--and I knew that before. It's really
nothing, you know. What was it you said to yourself? You
certainly said more than that."
Isabel reflected a moment, then answered with a question of her
own. "Why do you call it a remarkable act? That's what your
mother thinks too."
"Warburton's such a thorough good sort; as a man, I consider he
has hardly a fault. And then he's what they call here no end of a
swell. He has immense possessions, and his wife would be thought
a superior being. He unites the intrinsic and the extrinsic
Isabel watched her cousin as to see how far he would go. "I
refused him because he was too perfect then. I'm not perfect
myself, and he's too good for me. Besides, his perfection would
"That's ingenious rather than candid," said Ralph. "As a fact you
think nothing in the world too perfect for you."
"Do you think I'm so good?"
"No, but you're exacting, all the same, without the excuse of
thinking yourself good. Nineteen women out of twenty, however,
even of the most exacting sort, would have managed to do with
Warburton. Perhaps you don't know how he has been stalked."
"I don't wish to know. But it seems to me," said Isabel, "that one
day when we talked of him you mentioned odd things in him."
Ralph smokingly considered. "I hope that what I said then had no
weight with you; for they were not faults, the things I spoke of:
they were simply peculiarities of his position. If I had known he
wished to marry you I'd never have alluded to them. I think I
said that as regards that position he was rather a sceptic. It
would have been in your power to make him a believer."
"I think not. I don't understand the matter, and I'm not
conscious of any mission of that sort. You're evidently
disappointed," Isabel added, looking at her cousin with rueful
gentleness. "You'd have liked me to make such a marriage."
"Not in the least. I'm absolutely without a wish on the subject.
I don't pretend to advise you, and I content myself with watching
you--with the deepest interest."
She gave rather a conscious sigh. "I wish I could be as
interesting to myself as I am to you!"
"There you're not candid again; you're extremely interesting to
yourself. Do you know, however," said Ralph, "that if you've
really given Warburton his final answer I'm rather glad it has
been what it was. I don't mean I'm glad for you, and still less
of course for him. I'm glad for myself."
"Are you thinking of proposing to me?"
"By no means. From the point of view I speak of that would be
fatal; I should kill the goose that supplies me with the material
of my inimitable omelettes. I use that animal as the symbol of my
insane illusions. What I mean is that I shall have the thrill of
seeing what a young lady does who won't marry Lord Warburton."
"That's what your mother counts upon too," said Isabel.
"Ah, there will be plenty of spectators! We shall hang on the
rest of your career. I shall not see all of it, but I shall
probably see the most interesting years. Of course if you were to
marry our friend you'd still have a career--a very decent, in
fact a very brilliant one. But relatively speaking it would be a
little prosaic. It would be definitely marked out in advance; it
would be wanting in the unexpected. You know I'm extremely fond
of the unexpected, and now that you've kept the game in your
hands I depend on your giving us some grand example of it."
"I don't understand you very well," said Isabel, "but I do so
well enough to be able to say that if you look for grand examples
of anything from me I shall disappoint you."
"You'll do so only by disappointing yourself and that will go
hard with you!"
To this she made no direct reply; there was an amount of truth in
it that would bear consideration. At last she said abruptly: "I
don't see what harm there is in my wishing not to tie myself. I
don't want to begin life by marrying. There are other things a
woman can do."
"There's nothing she can do so well. But you're of course so
"If one's two-sided it's enough," said Isabel.
"You're the most charming of polygons!" her companion broke out.
At a glance from his companion, however, he became grave, and to
prove it went on: "You want to see life--you'll be hanged if you
don't, as the young men say."
"I don't think I want to see it as the young men want to see it.
But I do want to look about me."
"You want to drain the cup of experience."
"No, I don't wish to touch the cup of experience. It's a poisoned
drink! I only want to see for myself."
"You want to see, but not to feel," Ralph remarked.
"I don't think that if one's a sentient being one can make the
distinction. I'm a good deal like Henrietta. The other day when I
asked her if she wished to marry she said: 'Not till I've seen
Europe!' I too don't wish to marry till I've seen Europe."
"You evidently expect a crowned head will be struck with you."
"No, that would be worse than marrying Lord Warburton. But it's
getting very dark," Isabel continued, "and I must go home." She
rose from her place, but Ralph only sat still and looked at her.
As he remained there she stopped, and they exchanged a gaze that
was full on either side, but especially on Ralph's, of utterances
too vague for words.
"You've answered my question," he said at last. "You've told me
what I wanted. I'm greatly obliged to you."
"It seems to me I've told you very little."
"You've told me the great thing: that the world interests you and
that you want to throw yourself into it."
Her silvery eyes shone a moment in the dusk. "I never said that."
"I think you meant it. Don't repudiate it. It's so fine!"
"I don't know what you're trying to fasten upon me, for I'm not
in the least an adventurous spirit. Women are not like men."
Ralph slowly rose from his seat and they walked together to the
gate of the square. "No," he said; "women rarely boast of their
courage. Men do so with a certain frequency."
"Men have it to boast of!"
"Women have it too. You've a great deal."
"Enough to go home in a cab to Pratt's Hotel, but not more."
Ralph unlocked the gate, and after they had passed out he
fastened it. "We'll find your cab," he said; and as they turned
toward a neighbouring street in which this quest might avail he
asked her again if he mightn't see her safely to the inn.
"By no means," she answered; "you're very tired; you must go home
and go to bed."
The cab was found, and he helped her into it, standing a moment
at the door. "When people forget I'm a poor creature I'm often
incommoded," he said. "But it's worse when they remember it!"
She had had no hidden motive in wishing him not to take her home;
it simply struck her that for some days past she had consumed an
inordinate quantity of his time, and the independent spirit of
the American girl whom extravagance of aid places in an attitude
that she ends by finding "affected" had made her decide that for
these few hours she must suffice to herself. She had moreover a
great fondness for intervals of solitude, which since her arrival
in England had been but meagrely met. It was a luxury she could
always command at home and she had wittingly missed it. That
evening, however, an incident occurred which--had there been a
critic to note it--would have taken all colour from the theory
that the wish to be quite by herself had caused her to dispense
with her cousin's attendance. Seated toward nine o'clock in the
dim illumination of Pratt's Hotel and trying with the aid of two
tall candles to lose herself in a volume she had brought from
Gardencourt, she succeeded only to the extent of reading other
words than those printed on the page--words that Ralph had spoken
to her that afternoon. Suddenly the well-muffed knuckle of the
waiter was applied to the door, which presently gave way to his
exhibition, even as a glorious trophy, of the card of a visitor.
When this memento had offered to her fixed sight the name of Mr.
Caspar Goodwood she let the man stand before her without
signifying her wishes.
"Shall I show the gentleman up, ma'am?" he asked with a slightly
Isabel hesitated still and while she hesitated glanced at the
mirror. "He may come in," she said at last; and waited for him
not so much smoothing her hair as girding her spirit.
Caspar Goodwood was accordingly the next moment shaking hands
with her, but saying nothing till the servant had left the room.
"Why didn't you answer my letter?" he then asked in a quick,
full, slightly peremptory tone--the tone of a man whose questions
were habitually pointed and who was capable of much insistence.
She answered by a ready question, "How did you know I was here?"
"Miss Stackpole let me know," said Caspar Goodwood. "She told me
you would probably be at home alone this evening and would be
willing to see me."
"Where did she see you--to tell you that?"
"She didn't see me; she wrote to me."
Isabel was silent; neither had sat down; they stood there with
an air of defiance, or at least of contention. "Henrietta never
told me she was writing to you," she said at last. "This is not
kind of her."
"Is it so disagreeable to you to see me?" asked the young man.
"I didn't expect it. I don't like such surprises."
"But you knew I was in town; it was natural we should meet."
"Do you call this meeting? I hoped I shouldn't see you. In so big
a place as London it seemed very possible."
"It was apparently repugnant to you even to write to me," her
visitor went on.
Isabel made no reply; the sense of Henrietta Stackpole's
treachery, as she momentarily qualified it, was strong within
her. "Henrietta's certainly not a model of all the delicacies!"
she exclaimed with bitterness. "It was a great liberty to take."
"I suppose I'm not a model either--of those virtues or of any
others. The fault's mine as much as hers."
As Isabel looked at him it seemed to her that his jaw had never
been more square. This might have displeased her, but she took a
different turn. "No, it's not your fault so much as hers. What
you've done was inevitable, I suppose, for you."
"It was indeed!" cried Caspar Goodwood with a voluntary laugh.
"And now that I've come, at any rate, mayn't I stay?"
"You may sit down, certainly."
She went back to her chair again, while her visitor took the
first place that offered, in the manner of a man accustomed to pay
little thought to that sort of furtherance. "I've been hoping
every day for an answer to my letter. You might have written me a
"It wasn't the trouble of writing that prevented me; I could as
easily have written you four pages as one. But my silence was an
intention," Isabel said. "I thought it the best thing."
He sat with his eyes fixed on hers while she spoke; then he
lowered them and attached them to a spot in the carpet as
if he were making a strong effort to say nothing but what he
ought. He was a strong man in the wrong, and he was acute enough
to see that an uncompromising exhibition of his strength would
only throw the falsity of his position into relief. Isabel was
not incapable of tasting any advantage of position over a person
of this quality, and though little desirous to flaunt it in his
face she could enjoy being able to say "You know you oughtn't to
have written to me yourself!" and to say it with an air of
Caspar Goodwood raised his eyes to her own again; they seemed to
shine through the vizard of a helmet. He had a strong sense of
justice and was ready any day in the year--over and above this--
to argue the question of his rights. "You said you hoped never to
hear from me again; I know that. But I never accepted any such
rule as my own. I warned you that you should hear very soon."
"I didn't say I hoped NEVER to hear from you," said Isabel.
"Not for five years then; for ten years; twenty years. It's the
"Do you find it so? It seems to me there's a great difference. I
can imagine that at the end of ten years we might have a very
pleasant correspondence. I shall have matured my epistolary
She looked away while she spoke these words, knowing them of so
much less earnest a cast than the countenance of her listener.
Her eyes, however, at last came back to him, just as he said very
irrelevantly; "Are you enjoying your visit to your uncle?"
"Very much indeed." She dropped, but then she broke out. "What
good do you expect to get by insisting?"
"The good of not losing you."
"You've no right to talk of losing what's not yours. And even
from your own point of view," Isabel added, "you ought to know
when to let one alone."
"I disgust you very much," said Caspar Goodwood gloomily; not as
if to provoke her to compassion for a man conscious of this
blighting fact, but as if to set it well before himself, so that
he might endeavour to act with his eyes on it.
"Yes, you don't at all delight me, you don't fit in, not in any
way, just now, and the worst is that your putting it to the proof
in this manner is quite unnecessary." It wasn't certainly as if
his nature had been soft, so that pin-pricks would draw blood
from it; and from the first of her acquaintance with him, and of
her having to defend herself against a certain air that he had of
knowing better what was good for her than she knew herself, she
had recognised the fact that perfect frankness was her best
weapon. To attempt to spare his sensibility or to escape from him
edgewise, as one might do from a man who had barred the way less
sturdily--this, in dealing with Caspar Goodwood, who would grasp
at everything of every sort that one might give him, was wasted
agility. It was not that he had not susceptibilities, but his
passive surface, as well as his active, was large and hard, and
he might always be trusted to dress his wounds, so far as they
required it, himself. She came back, even for her measure of
possible pangs and aches in him, to her old sense that he was
naturally plated and steeled, armed essentially for aggression.
"I can't reconcile myself to that," he simply said. There was a
dangerous liberality about it; for she felt how open it was to
him to make the point that he had not always disgusted her.
"I can't reconcile myself to it either, and it's not the state of
things that ought to exist between us. If you'd only try to
banish me from your mind for a few months we should be on good
"I see. If I should cease to think of you at all for a prescribed
time, I should find I could keep it up indefinitely."
"Indefinitely is more than I ask. It's more even than I should
"You know that what you ask is impossible," said the young man,
taking his adjective for granted in a manner she found
"Aren't you capable of making a calculated effort?" she demanded.
"You're strong for everything else; why shouldn't you be strong
"An effort calculated for what?" And then as she hung fire, "I'm
capable of nothing with regard to you," he went on, "but just of
being infernally in love with you. If one's strong one loves only
the more strongly."
"There's a good deal in that;" and indeed our young lady felt the
force of it--felt it thrown off, into the vast of truth and
poetry, as practically a bait to her imagination. But she
promptly came round. "Think of me or not, as you find most
possible; only leave me alone."
"Well, for a year or two."
"Which do you mean? Between one year and two there's all the
difference in the world."
"Call it two then," said Isabel with a studied effect of
"And what shall I gain by that?" her friend asked with no sign of
"You'll have obliged me greatly."
"And what will be my reward?"
"Do you need a reward for an act of generosity?"
"Yes, when it involves a great sacrifice."
"There's no generosity without some sacrifice. Men don't
understand such things. If you make the sacrifice you'll have all
"I don't care a cent for your admiration--not one straw, with
nothing to show for it. When will you marry me? That's the only
"Never--if you go on making me feel only as I feel at present."
"What do I gain then by not trying to make you feel otherwise?"
"You'll gain quite as much as by worrying me to death!" Caspar
Goodwood bent his eyes again and gazed a while into the crown of
his hat. A deep flush overspread his face; she could see her
sharpness had at last penetrated. This immediately had a value
--classic, romantic, redeeming, what did she know? for her; "the
strong man in pain" was one of the categories of the human
appeal, little charm as he might exert in the given case. "Why do
you make me say such things to you?" she cried in a trembling
voice. "I only want to be gentle--to be thoroughly kind. It's not
delightful to me to feel people care for me and yet to have to
try and reason them out of it. I think others also ought to be
considerate; we have each to judge for ourselves. I know you're
considerate, as much as you can be; you've good reasons for what
you do. But I really don't want to marry, or to talk about it at
all now. I shall probably never do it--no, never. I've a perfect
right to feel that way, and it's no kindness to a woman to press
her so hard, to urge her against her will. If I give you pain I
can only say I'm very sorry. It's not my fault; I can't marry you
simply to please you. I won't say that I shall always remain your
friend, because when women say that, in these situations, it
passes, I believe, for a sort of mockery. But try me some day."
Caspar Goodwood, during this speech, had kept his eyes fixed upon
the name of his hatter, and it was not until some time after she
had ceased speaking that he raised them. When he did so the sight
of a rosy, lovely eagerness in Isabel's face threw some confusion
into his attempt to analyse her words. "I'll go home--I'll go
to-morrow--I'll leave you alone," he brought out at last. "Only,"
he heavily said, "I hate to lose sight of you!"
"Never fear. I shall do no harm."
"You'll marry some one else, as sure as I sit here," Caspar
"Do you think that a generous charge?"
"Why not? Plenty of men will try to make you."
"I told you just now that I don't wish to marry and that I almost
certainly never shall."
"I know you did, and I like your 'almost certainly'! I put no
faith in what you say."
"Thank you very much. Do you accuse me of lying to shake you off?
You say very delicate things."
"Why should I not say that? You've given me no pledge of anything
"No, that's all that would be wanting!"
"You may perhaps even believe you're safe--from wishing to be.
But you're not," the young man went on as if preparing himself
for the worst.
"Very well then. We'll put it that I'm not safe. Have it as you
"I don't know, however," said Caspar Goodwood, "that my keeping
you in sight would prevent it."
"Don't you indeed? I'm after all very much afraid of you. Do you
think I'm so very easily pleased?" she asked suddenly, changing
"No--I don't; I shall try to console myself with that. But there
are a certain number of very dazzling men in the world, no doubt;
and if there were only one it would be enough. The most dazzling
of all will make straight for you. You'll be sure to take no one
who isn't dazzling."
"If you mean by dazzling brilliantly clever," Isabel said--"and I
can't imagine what else you mean--I don't need the aid of a
clever man to teach me how to live. I can find it out for
"Find out how to live alone? I wish that, when you have, you'd
She looked at him a moment; then with a quick smile, "Oh, you
ought to marry!" she said.
He might be pardoned if for an instant this exclamation seemed to
him to sound the infernal note, and it is not on record that her
motive for discharging such a shaft had been of the clearest. He
oughtn't to stride about lean and hungry, however--she certainly
felt THAT for him. "God forgive you!" he murmured between his
teeth as he turned away.
Her accent had put her slightly in the wrong, and after a moment
she felt the need to right herself. The easiest way to do it was
to place him where she had been. "You do me great injustice--you
say what you don't know!" she broke out. "I shouldn't be an easy
victim--I've proved it."
"Oh, to me, perfectly."
"I've proved it to others as well." And she paused a moment. "I
refused a proposal of marriage last week; what they call--no
doubt--a dazzling one."
"I'm very glad to hear it," said the young man gravely.
"It was a proposal many girls would have accepted; it had
everything to recommend it." Isabel had not proposed to herself
to tell this story, but, now she had begun, the satisfaction of
speaking it out and doing herself justice took possession of her.
"I was offered a great position and a great fortune--by a person
whom I like extremely."
Caspar watched her with intense interest. "Is he an Englishman?"
"He's an English nobleman," said Isabel.
Her visitor received this announcement at first in silence, but
at last said: "I'm glad he's disappointed."
"Well then, as you have companions in misfortune, make the best
"I don't call him a companion," said Casper grimly.
"Why not--since I declined his offer absolutely?"
"That doesn't make him my companion. Besides, he's an
"And pray isn't an Englishman a human being?" Isabel asked.
"Oh, those people They're not of my humanity, and I don't care
what becomes of them."
"You're very angry," said the girl. "We've discussed this matter
"Oh yes, I'm very angry. I plead guilty to that!"
She turned away from him, walked to the open window and stood a
moment looking into the dusky void of the street, where a turbid
gaslight alone represented social animation. For some time
neither of these young persons spoke; Caspar lingered near the
chimney-piece with eyes gloomily attached. She had virtually
requested him to go--he knew that; but at the risk of making
himself odious he kept his ground. She was far too dear to him
to be easily renounced, and he had crossed the sea all to
wring from her some scrap of a vow. Presently she left the window
and stood again before him. "You do me very little justice--
after my telling you what I told you just now. I'm sorry I told
you--since it matters so little to you."
"Ah," cried the young man, "if you were thinking of ME when you
did it!" And then he paused with the fear that she might
contradict so happy a thought.
"I was thinking of you a little," said Isabel.
"A little? I don't understand. If the knowledge of what I feel
for you had any weight with you at all, calling it a 'little' is
a poor account of it."
Isabel shook her head as if to carry off a blunder. "I've refused
a most kind, noble gentleman. Make the most of that."
"I thank you then," said Caspar Goodwood gravely. "I thank you
"And now you had better go home."
"May I not see you again?" he asked.
"I think it's better not. You'll be sure to talk of this, and you
see it leads to nothing."
"I promise you not to say a word that will annoy you."
Isabel reflected and then answered: "I return in a day or two to
my uncle's, and I can't propose to you to come there. It would be
Caspar Goodwood, on his side, considered. "You must do me justice
too. I received an invitation to your uncle's more than a week
ago, and I declined it."
She betrayed surprise. "From whom was your invitation?"
"From Mr. Ralph Touchett, whom I suppose to be your cousin. I
declined it because I had not your authorisation to accept it.
The suggestion that Mr. Touchett should invite me appeared to
have come from Miss Stackpole."
"It certainly never did from me. Henrietta really goes very far,"
"Don't be too hard on her--that touches ME."
"No; if you declined you did quite right, and I thank you for
it." And she gave a little shudder of dismay at the thought that
Lord Warburton and Mr. Goodwood might have met at Gardencourt: it
would have been so awkward for Lord Warburton.
"When you leave your uncle where do you go?" her companion asked.
"I go abroad with my aunt--to Florence and other places."
The serenity of this announcement struck a chill to the young
man's heart; he seemed to see her whirled away into circles from
which he was inexorably excluded. Nevertheless he went on quickly
with his questions. "And when shall you come back to America?"
"Perhaps not for a long time. I'm very happy here."
"Do you mean to give up your country?"
"Don't be an infant!"
"Well, you'll be out of my sight indeed!" said Caspar Goodwood.
"I don't know," she answered rather grandly. "The world--with all
these places so arranged and so touching each other--comes to
strike one as rather small."
"It's a sight too big for ME!" Caspar exclaimed with a simplicity
our young lady might have found touching if her face had not been
set against concessions.
This attitude was part of a system, a theory, that she had lately
embraced, and to be thorough she said after a moment: "Don't
think me unkind if I say it's just THAT--being out of your sight--
that I like. If you were in the same place I should feel you were
watching me, and I don't like that--I like my liberty too much.
If there's a thing in the world I'm fond of," she went on with a
slight recurrence of grandeur, "it's my personal independence."
But whatever there might be of the too superior in this speech
moved Caspar Goodwood's admiration; there was nothing he winced
at in the large air of it. He had never supposed she hadn't wings
and the need of beautiful free movements--he wasn't, with his own
long arms and strides, afraid of any force in her. Isabel's
words, if they had been meant to shock him, failed of the mark
and only made him smile with the sense that here was common
ground. "Who would wish less to curtail your liberty than I? What
can give me greater pleasure than to see you perfectly
independent--doing whatever you like? It's to make you
independent that I want to marry you."
"That's a beautiful sophism," said the girl with a smile more
"An unmarried woman--a girl of your age--isn't independent. There
are all sorts of things she can't do. She's hampered at every
"That's as she looks at the question," Isabel answered with much
spirit. "I'm not in my first youth--I can do what I choose--I
belong quite to the independent class. I've neither father nor
mother; I'm poor and of a serious disposition; I'm not pretty. I
therefore am not bound to be timid and conventional; indeed I
can't afford such luxuries. Besides, I try to judge things for
myself; to judge wrong, I think, is more honourable than not to
judge at all. I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I
wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond
what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me."
She paused a moment, but not long enough for her companion to
reply. He was apparently on the point of doing so when she went
on: "Let me say this to you, Mr. Goodwood. You're so kind as to
speak of being afraid of my marrying. If you should hear a rumour
that I'm on the point of doing so--girls are liable to have such
things said about them--remember what I have told you about my
love of liberty and venture to doubt it."
There was something passionately positive in the tone in which
she gave him this advice, and he saw a shining candour in her
eyes that helped him to believe her. On the whole he felt
reassured, and you might have perceived it by the manner in which
he said, quite eagerly: "You want simply to travel for two years?
I'm quite willing to wait two years, and you may do what you like
in the interval. If that's all you want, pray say so. I don't
want you to be conventional; do I strike you as conventional
myself? Do you want to improve your mind? Your mind's quite good
enough for me; but if it interests you to wander about a while
and see different countries I shall be delighted to help you in
any way in my power."
"You're very generous; that's nothing new to me. The best way to
help me will be to put as many hundred miles of sea between us as
"One would think you were going to commit some atrocity!" said
"Perhaps I am. I wish to be free even to do that if the fancy
"Well then," he said slowly, "I'll go home." And he put out his
hand, trying to look contented and confident.
Isabel's confidence in him, however, was greater than any he
could feel in her. Not that he thought her capable of committing
an atrocity; but, turn it over as he would, there was something
ominous in the way she reserved her option. As she took his hand
she felt a great respect for him; she knew how much he cared for
her and she thought him magnanimous. They stood so for a moment,
looking at each other, united by a hand-clasp which was not
merely passive on her side. "That's right," she said very kindly,
almost tenderly. "You'll lose nothing by being a reasonable man."
"But I'll come back, wherever you are, two years hence," he
returned with characteristic grimness.
We have seen that our young lady was inconsequent, and at this
she suddenly changed her note. "Ah, remember, I promise nothing--
absolutely nothing!" Then more softly, as if to help him to leave
her: "And remember too that I shall not be an easy victim!"
"You'll get very sick of your independence."
"Perhaps I shall; it's even very probable. When that day comes I
shall be very glad to see you."
She had laid her hand on the knob of the door that led into her
room, and she waited a moment to see whether her visitor would
not take his departure. But he appeared unable to move; there was
still an immense unwillingness in his attitude and a sore
remonstrance in his eyes. "I must leave you now," said Isabel;
and she opened the door and passed into the other room.
This apartment was dark, but the darkness was tempered by a vague
radiance sent up through the window from the court of the hotel,
and Isabel could make out the masses of the furniture, the dim
shining of the mirror and the looming of the big four-posted bed.
She stood still a moment, listening, and at last she heard Caspar
Goodwood walk out of the sitting-room and close the door behind
him. She stood still a little longer, and then, by an
irresistible impulse, dropped on her knees before her bed and hid
her face in her arms.
She was not praying; she was trembling--trembling all over.
Vibration was easy to her, was in fact too constant with her, and
she found herself now humming like a smitten harp. She only
asked, however, to put on the cover, to case herself again in
brown holland, but she wished to resist her excitement, and the
attitude of devotion, which she kept for some time, seemed to
help her to be still. She intensely rejoiced that Caspar Goodwood
was gone; there was something in having thus got rid of him that
was like the payment, for a stamped receipt, of some debt too
long on her mind. As she felt the glad relief she bowed her head
a little lower; the sense was there, throbbing in her heart; it
was part of her emotion, but it was a thing to be ashamed of--it
was profane and out of place. It was not for some ten minutes
that she rose from her knees, and even when she came back to the
sitting-room her tremor had not quite subsided. It had had,
verily, two causes: part of it was to be accounted for by her
long discussion with Mr. Goodwood, but it might be feared that
the rest was simply the enjoyment she found in the exercise of
her power. She sat down in the same chair again and took up her
book, but without going through the form of opening the volume.
She leaned back, with that low, soft, aspiring murmur with which
she often uttered her response to accidents of which the brighter
side was not superficially obvious, and yielded to the
satisfaction of having refused two ardent suitors in a fortnight.
That love of liberty of which she had given Caspar Goodwood so
bold a sketch was as yet almost exclusively theoretic; she had
not been able to indulge it on a large scale. But it appeared to
her she had done something; she had tasted of the delight, if not
of battle, at least of victory; she had done what was truest to
her plan. In the glow of this consciousness the image of Mr.
Goodwood taking his sad walk homeward through the dingy town
presented itself with a certain reproachful force; so that, as at
the same moment the door of the room was opened, she rose with an
apprehension that he had come back. But it was only Henrietta
Stackpole returning from her dinner.
Miss Stackpole immediately saw that our young lady had been
"through" something, and indeed the discovery demanded no great
penetration. She went straight up to her friend, who received her
without a greeting. Isabel's elation in having sent Caspar
Goodwood back to America presupposed her being in a manner glad
he had come to see her; but at the same time she perfectly
remembered Henrietta had had no right to set a trap for her. "Has
he been here, dear?" the latter yearningly asked.
Isabel turned away and for some moments answered nothing. "You
acted very wrongly," she declared at last.
"I acted for the best. I only hope you acted as well."
"You're not the judge. I can't trust you," said Isabel.
This declaration was unflattering, but Henrietta was much too
unselfish to heed the charge it conveyed; she cared only for what
it intimated with regard to her friend. "Isabel Archer," she
observed with equal abruptness and solemnity, "if you marry one
of these people I'll never speak to you again!"
"Before making so terrible a threat you had better wait till I'm
asked," Isabel replied. Never having said a word to Miss
Stackpole about Lord Warburton's overtures, she had now no
impulse whatever to justify herself to Henrietta by telling her
that she had refused that nobleman.
"Oh, you'll be asked quick enough, once you get off on the
Continent. Annie Climber was asked three times in Italy--poor
plain little Annie."
"Well, if Annie Climber wasn't captured why should I be?"
"I don't believe Annie was pressed; but you'll be."
"That's a flattering conviction," said Isabel without alarm.
"I don't flatter you, Isabel, I tell you the truth!" cried her
friend. "I hope you don't mean to tell me that you didn't give
Mr. Goodwood some hope."
"I don't see why I should tell you anything; as I said to you
just now, I can't trust you. But since you're so much interested
in Mr. Goodwood I won't conceal from you that he returns
immediately to America."
"You don't mean to say you've sent him off?" Henrietta almost
"I asked him to leave me alone; and I ask you the same,
Henrietta." Miss Stackpole glittered for an instant with dismay,
and then passed to the mirror over the chimney-piece and took off
her bonnet. "I hope you've enjoyed your dinner," Isabel went on.
But her companion was not to be diverted by frivolous
propositions. "Do you know where you're going, Isabel Archer?"
"Just now I'm going to bed," said Isabel with persistent
"Do you know where you're drifting?" Henrietta pursued, holding
out her bonnet delicately.
"No, I haven't the least idea, and I find it very pleasant not to
know. A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four
horses over roads that one can't see--that's my idea of
"Mr. Goodwood certainly didn't teach you to say such things as
that--like the heroine of an immoral novel," said Miss Stackpole.
"You're drifting to some great mistake."
Isabel was irritated by her friend's interference, yet she still
tried to think what truth this declaration could represent. She
could think of nothing that diverted her from saying: "You must
be very fond of me, Henrietta, to be willing to be so
"I love you intensely, Isabel," said Miss Stackpole with feeling,
"Well, if you love me intensely let me as intensely alone. I
asked that of Mr. Goodwood, and I must also ask it of you."
"Take care you're not let alone too much."
"That's what Mr. Goodwood said to me. I told him I must take the
"You're a creature of risks--you make me shudder!" cried
Henrietta. "When does Mr. Goodwood return to America?"
"I don't know--he didn't tell me."
"Perhaps you didn't enquire," said Henrietta with the note of
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