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Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

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
grimly.

"I'll invite you to the ceremony; we'll have a supper and a
dance."

"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 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
believe that."

"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
pale.

"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!
I don't."

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
myself?"

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
understand them."

"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."

"Your 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
anything else?"

"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
clear.

"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
grounds."

"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
lady-in-waiting.

"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 sand 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
ladies."

"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
home."

"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."

"Never 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 tittle 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.

"Warning me?"

"Isn't that why she came off alone with you here--to put you on
your guard?"

"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
asked.

"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
hope."

"Do you really hope it?"

"Very much."

He went a few steps in silence; then he stopped and put out his
hand. "Good-bye."

"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 saloon. "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
dispassionately asked.

Again the girl hesitated. "Because he knows Lord Warburton
better."

"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.

Henry James