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Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

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
encouraging inflexion.

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
few lines."

"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
triumph.

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
same thing."

"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
style."

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
terms again."

"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
like."

"You know that what you ask is impossible," said the young man,
taking his adjective for granted in a manner she found
irritating.

"Aren't you capable of making a calculated effort?" she demanded.
"You're strong for everything else; why shouldn't you be strong
for that?"

"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."

"Until when?"

"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
eagerness.

"And what shall I gain by that?" her friend asked with no sign of
wincing.

"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
my admiration."

"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
question."

"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
Goodwood declared.

"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
at all."

"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
please."

"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
her tone.

"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
myself."

"Find out how to live alone? I wish that, when you have, you'd
teach me!"

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
of it."

"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
Englishman."

"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
quite enough."

"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
immensely."

"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
too inconsistent."

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,"
Isabel added.

"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
beautiful still.

"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
step."

"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
possible."

"One would think you were going to commit some atrocity!" said
Caspar Goodwood.

"Perhaps I am. I wish to be free even to do that if the fancy
takes me."

"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.

Henry James