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Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more
agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as
afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you
partake of the tea or not--some people of course never do,--the
situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in
beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable
setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little
feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English
country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a
splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but
much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and
rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but
the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown
mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They
lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of
leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one's
enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour. From five o'clock to
eight is on certain occasions a little eternity; but on such an
occasion as this the interval could be only an eternity of
pleasure. The persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure
quietly, and they were not of the sex which is supposed to
furnish the regular votaries of the ceremony I have mentioned.
The shadows on the perfect lawn were straight and angular; they
were the shadows of an old man sitting in a deep wicker-chair
near the low table on which the tea had been served, and of two
younger men strolling to and fro, in desultory talk, in front of
him. The old man had his cup in his hand; it was an unusually
large cup, of a different pattern from the rest of the set and
painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with
much circumspection, holding it for a long time close to his
chin, with his face turned to the house. His companions had
either finished their tea or were indifferent to their privilege;
they smoked cigarettes as they continued to stroll. One of them,
from time to time, as he passed, looked with a certain attention
at the elder man, who, unconscious of observation, rested his
eyes upon the rich red front of his dwelling. The house that rose
beyond the lawn was a structure to repay such consideration and
was the most characteristic object in the peculiarly English
picture I have attempted to sketch.

It stood upon a low hill, above the river--the river being the
Thames at some forty miles from London. A long gabled front of
red brick, with the complexion of which time and the weather had
played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve
and refine it, presented to the lawn its patches of ivy, its
clustered chimneys, its windows smothered in creepers. The house
had a name and a history; the old gentleman taking his tea would
have been delighted to tell you these things: how it had been
built under Edward the Sixth, had offered a night's hospitality
to the great Elizabeth (whose august person had extended itself
upon a huge, magnificent and terribly angular bed which still
formed the principal honour of the sleeping apartments), had been
a good deal bruised and defaced in Cromwell's wars, and then,
under the Restoration, repaired and much enlarged; and how,
finally, after having been remodelled and disfigured in the
eighteenth century, it had passed into the careful keeping of a
shrewd American banker, who had bought it originally because
(owing to circumstances too complicated to set forth) it was
offered at a great bargain: bought it with much grumbling at its
ugliness, its antiquity, its incommodity, and who now, at the end
of twenty years, had become conscious of a real aesthetic passion
for it, so that he knew all its points and would tell you just
where to stand to see them in combination and just the hour when
the shadows of its various protuberances which fell so softly
upon the warm, weary brickwork--were of the right measure.
Besides this, as I have said, he could have counted off most of
the successive owners and occupants, several of whom were known
to general fame; doing so, however, with an undemonstrative
conviction that the latest phase of its destiny was not the least
honourable. The front of the house overlooking that portion of
the lawn with which we are concerned was not the entrance-front;
this was in quite another quarter. Privacy here reigned supreme,
and the wide carpet of turf that covered the level hill-top
seemed but the extension of a luxurious interior. The great still
oaks and beeches flung down a shade as dense as that of velvet
curtains; and the place was furnished, like a room, with
cushioned seats, with rich-coloured rugs, with the books and
papers that lay upon the grass. The river was at some distance;
where the ground began to slope the lawn, properly speaking,
ceased. But it was none the less a charming walk down to the
water.

The old gentleman at the tea-table, who had come from America
thirty years before, had brought with him, at the top of his
baggage, his American physiognomy; and he had not only brought it
with him, but he had kept it in the best order, so that, if
necessary, he might have taken it back to his own country with
perfect confidence. At present, obviously, nevertheless, he was
not likely to displace himself; his journeys were over and he was
taking the rest that precedes the great rest. He had a narrow,
clean-shaven face, with features evenly distributed and an
expression of placid acuteness. It was evidently a face in which
the range of representation was not large, so that the air of
contented shrewdness was all the more of a merit. It seemed to
tell that he had been successful in life, yet it seemed to tell
also that his success had not been exclusive and invidious, but
had had much of the inoffensiveness of failure. He had certainly
had a great experience of men, but there was an almost rustic
simplicity in the faint smile that played upon his lean, spacious
cheek and lighted up his humorous eye as he at last slowly and
carefully deposited his big tea-cup upon the table. He was neatly
dressed, in well-brushed black; but a shawl was folded upon his
knees, and his feet were encased in thick, embroidered slippers.
A beautiful collie dog lay upon the grass near his chair, watching
the master's face almost as tenderly as the master took in the
still more magisterial physiognomy of the house; and a little
bristling, bustling terrier bestowed a desultory attendance upon
the other gentlemen.

One of these was a remarkably well-made man of five-and-thirty,
with a face as English as that of the old gentleman I have just
sketched was something else; a noticeably handsome face, fresh-
coloured, fair and frank, with firm, straight features, a lively
grey eye and the rich adornment of a chestnut beard. This person
had a certain fortunate, brilliant exceptional look--the air of a
happy temperament fertilised by a high civilisation--which would
have made almost any observer envy him at a venture. He was
booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a long ride; he
wore a white hat, which looked too large for him; he held his two
hands behind him, and in one of them--a large, white, well-shaped
fist--was crumpled a pair of soiled dog-skin gloves.

His companion, measuring the length of the lawn beside him, was a
person of quite a different pattern, who, although he might have
excited grave curiosity, would not, like the other, have provoked
you to wish yourself, almost blindly, in his place. Tall, lean,
loosely and feebly put together, he had an ugly, sickly, witty,
charming face, furnished, but by no means decorated, with a
straggling moustache and whisker. He looked clever and ill--a
combination by no means felicitous; and he wore a brown velvet
jacket. He carried his hands in his pockets, and there was
something in the way he did it that showed the habit was
inveterate. His gait had a shambling, wandering quality; he was
not very firm on his legs. As I have said, whenever he passed the
old man in the chair he rested his eyes upon him; and at this
moment, with their faces brought into relation, you would easily
have seen they were father and son. The father caught his son's
eye at last and gave him a mild, responsive smile.

"I'm getting on very well," he said.

"Have you drunk your tea?" asked the son.

"Yes, and enjoyed it."

"Shall I give you some more?"

The old man considered, placidly. "Well, I guess I'll wait and
see." He had, in speaking, the American tone.

"Are you cold?" the son enquired.

The father slowly rubbed his legs. "Well, I don't know. I can't
tell till I feel."

"Perhaps some one might feel for you," said the younger man,
laughing.

"Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me! Don't you feel for
me, Lord Warburton?"

"Oh yes, immensely," said the gentleman addressed as Lord
Warburton, promptly. "I'm bound to say you look wonderfully
comfortable."

"Well, I suppose I am, in most respects." And the old man looked
down at his green shawl and smoothed it over his knees. "The fact
is I've been comfortable so many years that I suppose I've got
so used to it I don't know it."

"Yes, that's the bore of comfort," said Lord Warburton. "We only
know when we're uncomfortable."

"It strikes me we're rather particular," his companion remarked.

"Oh yes, there's no doubt we're particular," Lord Warburton
murmured. And then the three men remained silent a while; the two
younger ones standing looking down at the other, who presently
asked for more tea. "I should think you would be very unhappy
with that shawl," Lord Warburton resumed while his companion
filled the old man's cup again.

"Oh no, he must have the shawl!" cried the gentleman in the
velvet coat. "Don't put such ideas as that into his head."

"It belongs to my wife," said the old man simply.

"Oh, if it's for sentimental reasons--" And Lord Warburton made a
gesture of apology.

"I suppose I must give it to her when she comes," the old man
went on.

"You'll please to do nothing of the kind. You'll keep it to cover
your poor old legs."

"Well, you mustn't abuse my legs," said the old man. "I guess
they are as good as yours."

"Oh, you're perfectly free to abuse mine," his son replied,
giving him his tea.

"Well, we're two lame ducks; I don't think there's much
difference."

"I'm much obliged to you for calling me a duck. How's your tea?"

"Well, it's rather hot."

"That's intended to be a merit."

"Ah, there's a great deal of merit," murmured the old man,
kindly. "He's a very good nurse, Lord Warburton."

"Isn't he a bit clumsy?" asked his lordship.

"Oh no, he's not clumsy--considering that he's an invalid
himself. He's a very good nurse--for a sick-nurse. I call him my
sick-nurse because he's sick himself."

"Oh, come, daddy!" the ugly young man exclaimed.

"Well, you are; I wish you weren't. But I suppose you can't help
it."

"I might try: that's an idea," said the young man.

"Were you ever sick, Lord Warburton?" his father asked.

Lord Warburton considered a moment. "Yes, sir, once, in the
Persian Gulf."

"He's making light of you, daddy," said the other young man.
"That's a sort of joke."

"Well, there seem to be so many sorts now," daddy replied,
serenely. "You don't look as if you had been sick, any way, Lord
Warburton."

"He's sick of life; he was just telling me so; going on fearfully
about it," said Lord Warburton's friend.

"Is that true, sir?" asked the old man gravely.

"If it is, your son gave me no consolation. He's a wretched
fellow to talk to--a regular cynic. He doesn't seem to believe in
anything."

"That's another sort of joke," said the person accused of
cynicism.

"It's because his health is so poor," his father explained to
Lord Warburton. "It affects his mind and colours his way of
looking at things; he seems to feel as if he had never had a
chance. But it's almost entirely theoretical, you know; it
doesn't seem to affect his spirits. I've hardly ever seen him
when he wasn't cheerful--about as he is at present. He often
cheers me up."

The young man so described looked at Lord Warburton and laughed.
"Is it a glowing eulogy or an accusation of levity? Should you
like me to carry out my theories, daddy?"

"By Jove, we should see some queer things!" cried Lord Warburton.

"I hope you haven't taken up that sort of tone," said the old
man.

"Warburton's tone is worse than mine; he pretends to be bored.
I'm not in the least bored; I find life only too interesting."

"Ah, too interesting; you shouldn't allow it to be that, you
know!"

"I'm never bored when I come here," said Lord Warburton. "One
gets such uncommonly good talk."

"Is that another sort of joke?" asked the old man. "You've no
excuse for being bored anywhere. When I was your age I had never
heard of such a thing."

"You must have developed very late."

"No, I developed very quick; that was just the reason. When I was
twenty years old I was very highly developed indeed. I was
working tooth and nail. You wouldn't be bored if you had
something to do; but all you young men are too idle. You think
too much of your pleasure. You're too fastidious, and too
indolent, and too rich."

"Oh, I say," cried Lord Warburton, "you're hardly the person to
accuse a fellow-creature of being too rich!"

"Do you mean because I'm a banker?" asked the old man.

"Because of that, if you like; and because you have--haven't
you?--such unlimited means."

"He isn't very rich," the other young man mercifully pleaded. "He
has given away an immense deal of money."

"Well, I suppose it was his own," said Lord Warburton; "and in
that case could there be a better proof of wealth? Let not a
public benefactor talk of one's being too fond of pleasure."

"Daddy's very fond of pleasure--of other people's."

The old man shook his head. "I don't pretend to have contributed
anything to the amusement of my contemporaries."

"My dear father, you're too modest!"

"That's a kind of joke, sir," said Lord Warburton.

"You young men have too many jokes. When there are no jokes
you've nothing left."

"Fortunately there are always more jokes," the ugly young man
remarked.

"I don't believe it--I believe things are getting more serious.
You young men will find that out."

"The increasing seriousness of things, then that's the great
opportunity of jokes."

"They'll have to be grim jokes," said the old man. "I'm convinced
there will be great changes, and not all for the better."

"I quite agree with you, sir," Lord Warburton declared. "I'm very
sure there will be great changes, and that all sorts of queer
things will happen. That's why I find so much difficulty in
applying your advice; you know you told me the other day that I
ought to 'take hold' of something. One hesitates to take hold of
a thing that may the next moment be knocked sky-high."

"You ought to take hold of a pretty woman," said his companion.
"He's trying hard to fall in love," he added, by way of
explanation, to his father.

"The pretty women themselves may be sent flying!" Lord Warburton
exclaimed.

"No, no, they'll be firm," the old man rejoined; "they'll not be
affected by the social and political changes I just referred to."

"You mean they won't be abolished? Very well, then, I'll lay
hands on one as soon as possible and tie her round my neck as a
life-preserver."

"The ladies will save us," said the old man; "that is the best of
them will--for I make a difference between them. Make up to a
good one and marry her, and your life will become much more
interesting."

A momentary silence marked perhaps on the part of his auditors a
sense of the magnanimity of this speech, for it was a secret
neither for his son nor for his visitor that his own experiment
in matrimony had not been a happy one. As he said, however, he
made a difference; and these words may have been intended as a
confession of personal error; though of course it was not in
place for either of his companions to remark that apparently the
lady of his choice had not been one of the best.

"If I marry an interesting woman I shall be interested: is that
what you say?" Lord Warburton asked. "I'm not at all keen about
marrying--your son misrepresented me; but there's no knowing what
an interesting woman might do with me."

"I should like to see your idea of an interesting woman," said
his friend.

"My dear fellow, you can't see ideas--especially such highly
ethereal ones as mine. If I could only see it myself--that would
be a great step in advance."

"Well, you may fall in love with whomsoever you please; but you
mustn't fall in love with my niece," said the old man.

His son broke into a laugh. "He'll think you mean that as a
provocation! My dear father, you've lived with the English for
thirty years, and you've picked up a good many of the things they
say. But you've never learned the things they don't say!"

"I say what I please," the old man returned with all his
serenity.

"I haven't the honour of knowing your niece," Lord Warburton
said. "I think it's the first time I've heard of her."

"She's a niece of my wife's; Mrs. Touchett brings her to
England."

Then young Mr. Touchett explained. "My mother, you know, has been
spending the winter in America, and we're expecting her back. She
writes that she has discovered a niece and that she has invited
her to come out with her."

"I see,--very kind of her," said Lord Warburton. Is the young
lady interesting?"

"We hardly know more about her than you; my mother has not gone
into details. She chiefly communicates with us by means of
telegrams, and her telegrams are rather inscrutable. They say
women don't know how to write them, but my mother has thoroughly
mastered the art of condensation. 'Tired America, hot weather
awful, return England with niece, first steamer decent cabin.'
That's the sort of message we get from her--that was the last
that came. But there had been another before, which I think
contained the first mention of the niece. 'Changed hotel, very
bad, impudent clerk, address here. Taken sister's girl, died last
year, go to Europe, two sisters, quite independent.' Over that my
father and I have scarcely stopped puzzling; it seems to admit of
so many interpretations."

"There's one thing very clear in it," said the old man; "she has
given the hotel-clerk a dressing."

"I'm not sure even of that, since he has driven her from the
field. We thought at first that the sister mentioned might be the
sister of the clerk; but the subsequent mention of a niece seems
to prove that the allusion is to one of my aunts. Then there was
a question as to whose the two other sisters were; they are
probably two of my late aunt's daughters. But who's 'quite
independent,' and in what sense is the term used?--that point's
not yet settled. Does the expression apply more particularly to
the young lady my mother has adopted, or does it characterise her
sisters equally?--and is it used in a moral or in a financial
sense? Does it mean that they've been left well off, or that they
wish to be under no obligations? or does it simply mean that
they're fond of their own way?"

"Whatever else it means, it's pretty sure to mean that," Mr.
Touchett remarked.

"You'll see for yourself," said Lord Warburton. "When does Mrs.
Touchett arrive?"

"We're quite in the dark; as soon as she can find a decent cabin.
She may be waiting for it yet; on the other hand she may already
have disembarked in England."

"In that case she would probably have telegraphed to you."

"She never telegraphs when you would expect it--only when you
don't," said the old man. "She likes to drop on me suddenly; she
thinks she'll find me doing something wrong. She has never done
so yet, but she's not discouraged."

"It's her share in the family trait, the independence she speaks
of." Her son's appreciation of the matter was more favourable.
"Whatever the high spirit of those young ladies may be, her own
is a match for it. She likes to do everything for herself and has
no belief in any one's power to help her. She thinks me of no
more use than a postage-stamp without gum, and she would never
forgive me if I should presume to go to Liverpool to meet her."

"Will you at least let me know when your cousin arrives?" Lord
Warburton asked.

"Only on the condition I've mentioned--that you don't fall in
love with her!" Mr. Touchett replied.

"That strikes me as hard, don't you think me good enough?"

"I think you too good--because I shouldn't like her to marry you.
She hasn't come here to look for a husband, I hope; so many young
ladies are doing that, as if there were no good ones at home.
Then she's probably engaged; American girls are usually engaged,
I believe. Moreover I'm not sure, after all, that you'd be a
remarkable husband."

"Very likely she's engaged; I've known a good many American
girls, and they always were; but I could never see that it made
any difference, upon my word! As for my being a good husband,"
Mr. Touchett's visitor pursued, "I'm not sure of that either. One
can but try!"

"Try as much as you please, but don't try on my niece," smiled
the old man, whose opposition to the idea was broadly humorous.

"Ah, well," said Lord Warburton with a humour broader still,
"perhaps, after all, she's not worth trying on!"

Henry James