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Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII

She put the letter into her pocket and offered her visitor a
smile of welcome, exhibiting no trace of discomposure and half
surprised at her coolness.

"They told me you were out here," said Lord Warburton; "and as
there was no one in the drawing-room and it's really you that I
wish to see, I came out with no more ado."

Isabel had got up; she felt a wish, for the moment, that he
should not sit down beside her. "I was just going indoors."

"Please don't do that; it's much jollier here; I've ridden over
from Lockleigh; it's a lovely day." His smile was peculiarly
friendly and pleasing, and his whole person seemed to emit that
radiance of good-feeling and good fare which had formed the charm
of the girl's first impression of him. It surrounded him like a
zone of fine June weather.

"We'll walk about a little then," said Isabel, who could not
divest herself of the sense of an intention on the part of her
visitor and who wished both to elude the intention and to satisfy
her curiosity about it. It had flashed upon her vision once
before, and it had given her on that occasion, as we know, a
certain alarm. This alarm was composed of several elements, not
all of which were disagreeable; she had indeed spent some days in
analysing them and had succeeded in separating the pleasant part
of the idea of Lord Warburton's "making up" to her from the
painful. It may appear to some readers that the young lady was
both precipitate and unduly fastidious; but the latter of these
facts, if the charge be true, may serve to exonerate her from the
discredit of the former. She was not eager to convince herself
that a territorial magnate, as she had heard Lord Warburton
called, was smitten with her charms; the fact of a declaration
from such a source carrying with it really more questions than it
would answer. She had received a strong impression of his being a
"personage," and she had occupied herself in examining the image
so conveyed. At the risk of adding to the evidence of her
self-sufficiency it must be said that there had been moments
when this possibility of admiration by a personage represented to
her an aggression almost to the degree of an affront, quite to
the degree of an inconvenience. She had never yet known a
personage; there had been no personages, in this sense, in her
life; there were probably none such at all in her native land.
When she had thought of individual eminence she had thought of it
on the basis of character and wit--of what one might like in a
gentleman's mind and in his talk. She herself was a character
--she couldn't help being aware of that; and hitherto her visions
of a completed consciousness had concerned themselves largely
with moral images--things as to which the question would be
whether they pleased her sublime soul. Lord Warburton loomed up
before her, largely and brightly, as a collection of attributes
and powers which were not to be measured by this simple rule,
but which demanded a different sort of appreciation--an
appreciation that the girl, with her habit of judging quickly and
freely, felt she lacked patience to bestow. He appeared to demand
of her something that no one else, as it were, had presumed to
do. What she felt was that a territorial, a political, a social
magnate had conceived the design of drawing her into the system
in which he rather invidiously lived and moved. A certain
instinct, not imperious, but persuasive, told her to resist--
murmured to her that virtually she had a system and an orbit of
her own. It told her other things besides--things which both
contradicted and confirmed each other; that a girl might do much
worse than trust herself to such a man and that it would be very
interesting to see something of his system from his own point of
view; that on the other hand, however, there was evidently a
great deal of it which she should regard only as a complication
of every hour, and that even in the whole there was something
stiff and stupid which would make it a burden. Furthermore there
was a young man lately come from America who had no system at
all, but who had a character of which it was useless for her to
try to persuade herself that the impression on her mind had been
light. The letter she carried in her pocket all sufficiently
reminded her of the contrary. Smile not, however, I venture to
repeat, at this simple young woman from Albany who debated
whether she should accept an English peer before he had offered
himself and who was disposed to believe that on the whole she
could do better. She was a person of great good faith, and
if there was a great deal of folly in her wisdom those who judge
her severely may have the satisfaction of finding that, later,
she became consistently wise only at the cost of an amount of
folly which will constitute almost a direct appeal to charity.

Lord Warburton seemed quite ready to walk, to sit or to do
anything that Isabel should propose, and he gave her this
assurance with his usual air of being particularly pleased to
exercise a social virtue. But he was, nevertheless, not in
command of his emotions, and as he strolled beside her for a
moment, in silence, looking at her without letting her know it,
there was something embarrassed in his glance and his misdirected
laughter. Yes, assuredly--as we have touched on the point, we may
return to it for a moment again--the English are the most
romantic people in the world and Lord Warburton was about to give
an example of it. He was about to take a step which would
astonish all his friends and displease a great many of them, and
which had superficially nothing to recommend it. The young lady
who trod the turf beside him had come from a queer country across
the sea which he knew a good deal about; her antecedents, her
associations were very vague to his mind except in so far as they
were generic, and in this sense they showed as distinct and
unimportant. Miss Archer had neither a fortune nor the sort of
beauty that justifies a man to the multitude, and he
calculated that he had spent about twenty-six hours in her
company. He had summed up all this--the perversity of the impulse,
which had declined to avail itself of the most liberal
opportunities to subside, and the judgement of mankind, as
exemplified particularly in the more quickly-judging half of it:
he had looked these things well in the face and then had
dismissed them from his thoughts. He cared no more for them than
for the rosebud in his buttonhole. It is the good fortune of a
man who for the greater part of a lifetime has abstained without
effort from making himself disagreeable to his friends, that when
the need comes for such a course it is not discredited by
irritating associations.

"I hope you had a pleasant ride," said Isabel, who observed her
companion's hesitancy.

"It would have been pleasant if for nothing else than that it
brought me here."

"Are you so fond of Gardencourt?" the girl asked, more and more
sure that he meant to make some appeal to her; wishing not to
challenge him if he hesitated, and yet to keep all the quietness
of her reason if he proceeded. It suddenly came upon her that her
situation was one which a few weeks ago she would have deemed
deeply romantic: the park of an old English country-house, with
the foreground embellished by a "great" (as she supposed)
nobleman in the act of making love to a young lady who, on careful
inspection, should be found to present remarkable analogies with
herself. But if she was now the heroine of the situation she
succeeded scarcely the less in looking at it from the outside.

"I care nothing for Gardencourt," said her companion. "I care
only for you."

"You've known me too short a time to have a right to say that,
and I can't believe you're serious."

These words of Isabel's were not perfectly sincere, for she had
no doubt whatever that he himself was. They were simply a tribute
to the fact, of which she was perfectly aware, that those he had
just uttered would have excited surprise on the part of a vulgar
world. And, moreover, if anything beside the sense she had
already acquired that Lord Warburton was not a loose thinker had
been needed to convince her, the tone in which he replied would
quite have served the purpose.

"One's right in such a matter is not measured by the time, Miss
Archer; it's measured by the feeling itself. If I were to wait
three months it would make no difference; I shall not be more
sure of what I mean than I am to-day. Of course I've seen you
very little, but my impression dates from the very first hour we
met. I lost no time, I fell in love with you then. It was at
first sight, as the novels say; I know now that's not a
fancy-phrase, and I shall think better of novels for evermore.
Those two days I spent here settled it; I don't know whether you
suspected I was doing so, but I paid-mentally speaking I mean--
the greatest possible attention to you. Nothing you said, nothing
you did, was lost upon me. When you came to Lockleigh the other
day--or rather when you went away--I was perfectly sure.
Nevertheless I made up my mind to think it over and to question
myself narrowly. I've done so; all these days I've done nothing
else. I don't make mistakes about such things; I'm a very
judicious animal. I don't go off easily, but when I'm touched,
it's for life. It's for life, Miss Archer, it's for life," Lord
Warburton repeated in the kindest, tenderest, pleasantest voice
Isabel had ever heard, and looking at her with eyes charged with
the light of a passion that had sifted itself clear of the baser
parts of emotion--the heat, the violence, the unreason--and that
burned as steadily as a lamp in a windless place.

By tacit consent, as he talked, they had walked more and more
slowly, and at last they stopped and he took her hand. "Ah, Lord
Warburton, how little you know me!" Isabel said very gently.
Gently too she drew her hand away.

"Don't taunt me with that; that I don't know you better makes me
unhappy enough already; it's all my loss. But that's what I want,
and it seems to me I'm taking the best way. If you'll be my wife,
then I shall know you, and when I tell you all the good I think
of you you'll not be able to say it's from ignorance."

"If you know me little I know you even less," said Isabel.

"You mean that, unlike yourself, I may not improve on
acquaintance? Ah, of course that's very possible. But think, to
speak to you as I do, how determined I must be to try and give
satisfaction! You do like me rather, don't you?"

"I like you very much, Lord Warburton," she answered; and at this
moment she liked him immensely.

"I thank you for saying that; it shows you don't regard me as a
stranger. I really believe I've filled all the other relations of
life very creditably, and I don't see why I shouldn't fill this
one--in which I offer myself to you--seeing that I care so much
more about it. Ask the people who know me well; I've friends
who'll speak for me."

"I don't need the recommendation of your friends," said Isabel.

"Ah now, that's delightful of you. You believe in me yourself."

"Completely," Isabel declared. She quite glowed there, inwardly,
with the pleasure of feeling she did.

The light in her companion's eyes turned into a smile, and he
gave a long exhalation of joy. "If you're mistaken, Miss Archer,
let me lose all I possess!"

She wondered whether he meant this for a reminder that he was
rich, and, on the instant, felt sure that he didn't. He was
thinking that, as he would have said himself; and indeed he
might safely leave it to the memory of any interlocutor,
especially of one to whom he was offering his hand. Isabel had
prayed that she might not be agitated, and her mind was tranquil
enough, even while she listened and asked herself what it was
best she should say, to indulge in this incidental criticism.
What she should say, had she asked herself? Her foremost wish was
to say something if possible not less kind than what he had said
to her. His words had carried perfect conviction with them; she
felt she did, all so mysteriously, matter to him. "I thank you
more than I can say for your offer," she returned at last. " It
does me great honour."

"Ah, don't say that!" he broke out. "I was afraid you'd say
something like that. I don't see what you've to do with that sort
of thing. I don't see why you should thank me--it's I who ought
to thank you for listening to me: a man you know so little coming
down on you with such a thumper! Of course it's a great question;
I must tell you that I'd rather ask it than have it to answer
myself. But the way you've listened--or at least your having
listened at all--gives me some hope."

"Don't hope too much," Isabel said.

"Oh Miss Archer!" her companion murmured, smiling again, in his
seriousness, as if such a warning might perhaps be taken but as
the play of high spirits, the exuberance of elation.

"Should you be greatly surprised if I were to beg you not to hope
at all?" Isabel asked.

"Surprised? I don't know what you mean by surprise. It wouldn't
be that; it would be a feeling very much worse."

Isabel walked on again; she was silent for some minutes. "I'm
very sure that, highly as I already think of you, my opinion of
you, if I should know you well, would only rise. But I'm by no
means sure that you wouldn't be disappointed. And I say that not
in the least out of conventional modesty; it's perfectly
sincere."

"I'm willing to risk it, Miss Archer," her companion replied.

"It's a great question, as you say. It's a very difficult
question."

"I don't expect you of course to answer it outright. Think it
over as long as may be necessary. If I can gain by waiting I'll
gladly wait a long time. Only remember that in the end my dearest
happiness depends on your answer."

"I should be very sorry to keep you in suspense," said Isabel.

"Oh, don't mind. I'd much rather have a good answer six months
hence than a bad one to-day."

"But it's very probable that even six months hence I shouldn't be
able to give you one that you'd think good."

"Why not, since you really like me?"

"Ah, you must never doubt that," said Isabel.

"Well then, I don't see what more you ask!"

"It's not what I ask; it's what I can give. I don't think I
should suit you; I really don't think I should."

"You needn't worry about that. That's my affair. You needn't be a
better royalist than the king."

"It's not only that," said Isabel; "but I'm not sure I wish to
marry any one."

"Very likely you don't. I've no doubt a great many women begin
that way," said his lordship, who, be it averred, did not in the
least believe in the axiom he thus beguiled his anxiety by
uttering. "But they're frequently persuaded."

"Ah, that's because they want to be!" And Isabel lightly laughed.
Her suitor's countenance fell, and he looked at her for a while
in silence. "I'm afraid it's my being an Englishman that makes
you hesitate," he said presently. "I know your uncle thinks you
ought to marry in your own country."

Isabel listened to this assertion with some interest; it had
never occurred to her that Mr. Touchett was likely to discuss her
matrimonial prospects with Lord Warburton. "Has he told you
that?"

"I remember his making the remark. He spoke perhaps of Americans
generally."

"He appears himself to have found it very pleasant to live in
England." Isabel spoke in a manner that might have seemed a
little perverse, but which expressed both her constant perception
of her uncle's outward felicity and her general disposition to
elude any obligation to take a restricted view.

It gave her companion hope, and he immediately cried with warmth:
"Ah, my dear Miss Archer, old England's a very good sort of
country, you know! And it will be still better when we've
furbished it up a little."

"Oh, don't furbish it, Lord Warburton--,leave it alone. I like it
this way."

"Well then, if you like it, I'm more and more unable to see your
objection to what I propose."

"I'm afraid I can't make you understand."

"You ought at least to try. I've a fair intelligence. Are you
afraid--afraid of the climate? We can easily live elsewhere, you
know. You can pick out your climate, the whole world over."

These words were uttered with a breadth of candour that was like
the embrace of strong arms--that was like the fragrance straight
in her face, and by his clean, breathing lips, of she knew not
what strange gardens, what charged airs. She would have given her
little finger at that moment to feel strongly and simply the
impulse to answer: "Lord Warburton, it's impossible for me to do
better in this wonderful world, I think, than commit myself, very
gratefully, to your loyalty." But though she was lost in
admiration of her opportunity she managed to move back into the
deepest shade of it, even as some wild, caught creature in a vast
cage. The "splendid" security so offered her was not the greatest
she could conceive. What she finally bethought herself of saying
was something very different--something that deferred the need of
really facing her crisis. "Don't think me unkind if I ask you to
say no more about this to-day."

"Certainly, certainly!" her companion cried. "I wouldn't bore you
for the world."

"You've given me a great deal to think about, and I promise you
to do it justice."

"That's all I ask of you, of course--and that you'll remember how
absolutely my happiness is in your hands."

Isabel listened with extreme respect to this admonition, but she
said after a minute: "I must tell you that what I shall think
about is some way of letting you know that what you ask is
impossible--letting you know it without making you miserable."

"There's no way to do that, Miss Archer. I won't say that if you
refuse me you'll kill me; I shall not die of it. But I shall do
worse; I shall live to no purpose."

"You'll live to marry a better woman than I."

"Don't say that, please," said Lord Warburton very gravely.
"That's fair to neither of us."

"To marry a worse one then."

"If there are better women than you I prefer the bad ones. That's
all I can say," he went on with the same earnestness. "There's no
accounting for tastes."

His gravity made her feel equally grave, and she showed it by
again requesting him to drop the subject for the present. "I'll
speak to you myself--very soon. Perhaps I shall write to you."

"At your convenience, yes," he replied. "Whatever time you take,
it must seem to me long, and I suppose I must make the best of
that."

"I shall not keep you in suspense; I only want to collect my mind
a little."

He gave a melancholy sigh and stood looking at her a moment, with
his hands behind him, giving short nervous shakes to his
hunting-crop. "Do you know I'm very much afraid of it--of that
remarkable mind of yours?"

Our heroine's biographer can scarcely tell why, but the question
made her start and brought a conscious blush to her cheek. She
returned his look a moment, and then with a note in her voice
that might almost have appealed to his compassion, "So am I, my
lord!" she oddly exclaimed.

His compassion was not stirred, however; all he possessed of the
faculty of pity was needed at home. "Ah! be merciful, be
merciful," he murmured.

"I think you had better go," said Isabel. "I'll write to you."

"Very good; but whatever you write I'll come and see you, you
know." And then he stood reflecting, his eyes fixed on the
observant countenance of Bunchie, who had the air of having
understood all that had been said and of pretending to carry off
the indiscretion by a simulated fit of curiosity as to the roots
of an ancient oak. "There's one thing more," he went on. "You
know, if you don't like Lockleigh--if you think it's damp or
anything of that sort--you need never go within fifty miles of
it. It's not damp, by the way; I've had the house thoroughly
examined; it's perfectly safe and right. But if you shouldn't
fancy it you needn't dream of living in it. There's no difficulty
whatever about that; there are plenty of houses. I thought I'd
just mention it; some people don't like a moat, you know.
Good-bye."

"I adore a moat," said Isabel. "Good-bye."

He held out his hand, and she gave him hers a moment--a moment
long enough for him to bend his handsome bared head and kiss it.
Then, still agitating, in his mastered emotion, his implement of
the chase, he walked rapidly away. He was evidently much upset.

Isabel herself was upset, but she had not been affected as she
would have imagined. What she felt was not a great responsibility,
a great difficulty of choice; it appeared to her there had been no
choice in the question. She couldn't marry Lord Warburton; the idea
failed to support any enlightened prejudice in favour of the free
exploration of life that she had hitherto entertained or was now
capable of entertaining. She must write this to him, she must
convince him, and that duty was comparatively simple. But what
disturbed her, in the sense that it struck her with wonderment, was
this very fact that it cost her so little to refuse a magnificent
"chance." With whatever qualifications one would, Lord Warburton
had offered her a great opportunity; the situation might have
discomforts, might contain oppressive, might contain narrowing
elements, might prove really but a stupefying anodyne; but she did
her sex no injustice in believing that nineteen women out of twenty
would have accommodated themselves to it without a pang. Why then
upon her also should it not irresistibly impose itself? Who was
she, what was she, that she should hold herself superior? What view
of life, what design upon fate, what conception of happiness, had
she that pretended to be larger than these large these fabulous
occasions? If she wouldn't do such a thing as that then she must do
great things, she must do something greater. Poor Isabel found
ground to remind herself from time to time that she must not be too
proud, and nothing could be more sincere than her prayer to be
delivered from such a danger: the isolation and loneliness of pride
had for her mind the horror of a desert place. If it had been pride
that interfered with her accepting Lord Warburton such a betise
was singularly misplaced; and she was so conscious of liking him
that she ventured to assure herself it was the very softness, and
the fine intelligence, of sympathy. She liked him too much to marry
him, that was the truth; something assured her there was a fallacy
somewhere in the glowing logic of the proposition--as he saw it--
even though she mightn't put her very finest finger-point on it;
and to inflict upon a man who offered so much a wife with a
tendency to criticise would be a peculiarly discreditable act. She
had promised him she would consider his question, and when, after
he had left her, she wandered back to the bench where he had found
her and lost herself in meditation, it might have seemed that she
was keeping her vow. But this was not the case; she was wondering
if she were not a cold, hard, priggish person, and, on her at last
getting up and going rather quickly back to the house, felt, as she
had said to her friend, really frightened at herself.

Henry James