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Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

While this exchange of pleasantries took place between the two
Ralph Touchett wandered away a little, with his usual slouching
gait, his hands in his pockets and his little rowdyish terrier at
his heels. His face was turned toward the house, but his eyes
were bent musingly on the lawn; so that he had been an object of
observation to a person who had just made her appearance in the
ample doorway for some moments before he perceived her. His
attention was called to her by the conduct of his dog, who had
suddenly darted forward with a little volley of shrill barks, in
which the note of welcome, however, was more sensible than that
of defiance. The person in question was a young lady, who seemed
immediately to interpret the greeting of the small beast. He
advanced with great rapidity and stood at her feet, looking up
and barking hard; whereupon, without hesitation, she stooped and
caught him in her hands, holding him face to face while he
continued his quick chatter. His master now had had time to
follow and to see that Bunchie's new friend was a tall girl in a
black dress, who at first sight looked pretty. She was
bareheaded, as if she were staying in the house--a fact which
conveyed perplexity to the son of its master, conscious of that
immunity from visitors which had for some time been rendered
necessary by the latter's ill-health. Meantime the two other
gentlemen had also taken note of the new-comer.

"Dear me, who's that strange woman?" Mr. Touchett had asked.

"Perhaps it's Mrs. Touchett's niece--the independent young lady,"
Lord Warburton suggested. "I think she must be, from the way she
handles the dog."

The collie, too, had now allowed his attention to be diverted,
and he trotted toward the young lady in the doorway, slowly
setting his tail in motion as he went.

"But where's my wife then?" murmured the old man.

"I suppose the young lady has left her somewhere: that's a part
of the independence."

The girl spoke to Ralph, smiling, while she still held up the
terrier. "Is this your little dog, sir?"

"He was mine a moment ago; but you've suddenly acquired a
remarkable air of property in him."

"Couldn't we share him?" asked the girl. "He's such a perfect
little darling."

Ralph looked at her a moment; she was unexpectedly pretty. "You
may have him altogether," he then replied.

The young lady seemed to have a great deal of confidence, both in
herself and in others; but this abrupt generosity made her blush.
"I ought to tell you that I'm probably your cousin," she brought
out, putting down the dog. "And here's another!" she added
quickly, as the collie came up.

"Probably?" the young man exclaimed, laughing. "I supposed it was
quite settled! Have you arrived with my mother?"

"Yes, half an hour ago."

"And has she deposited you and departed again?"

"No, she went straight to her room, and she told me that, if I
should see you, I was to say to you that you must come to her
there at a quarter to seven."

The young man looked at his watch. "Thank you very much; I shall
be punctual." And then he looked at his cousin. "You're very
welcome here. I'm delighted to see you."

She was looking at everything, with an eye that denoted clear
perception--at her companion, at the two dogs, at the two
gentlemen under the trees, at the beautiful scene that surrounded
her. "I've never seen anything so lovely as this place. I've been
all over the house; it's too enchanting."

"I'm sorry you should have been here so long without our knowing
it."

"Your mother told me that in England people arrived very quietly;
so I thought it was all right. Is one of those gentlemen your
father?"

"Yes, the elder one--the one sitting down," said Ralph.

The girl gave a laugh. "I don't suppose it's the other. Who's the
other?"

"He's a friend of ours--Lord Warburton."

"Oh, I hoped there would be a lord; it's just like a novel!" And
then, "Oh you adorable creature!" she suddenly cried, stooping
down and picking up the small dog again.

She remained standing where they had met, making no offer to
advance or to speak to Mr. Touchett, and while she lingered so
near the threshold, slim and charming, her interlocutor wondered
if she expected the old man to come and pay her his respects.
American girls were used to a great deal of deference, and it had
been intimated that this one had a high spirit. Indeed Ralph
could see that in her face.

"Won't you come and make acquaintance with my father?" he
nevertheless ventured to ask. "He's old and infirm--he doesn't
leave his chair."

"Ah, poor man, I'm very sorry!" the girl exclaimed, immediately
moving forward. "I got the impression from your mother that he
was rather intensely active."

Ralph Touchett was silent a moment. "She hasn't seen him for a
year."

"Well, he has a lovely place to sit. Come along, little hound."

"It's a dear old place," said the young man, looking sidewise at
his neighbour.

"What's his name?" she asked, her attention having again reverted
to the terrier.

"My father's name?"

"Yes," said the young lady with amusement; "but don't tell him I
asked you."

They had come by this time to where old Mr. Touchett was sitting,
and he slowly got up from his chair to introduce himself.

"My mother has arrived," said Ralph, "and this is Miss Archer."

The old man placed his two hands on her shoulders, looked at her
a moment with extreme benevolence and then gallantly kissed her.
"It's a great pleasure to me to see you here; but I wish you had
given us a chance to receive you."

"Oh, we were received," said the girl. "There were about a dozen
servants in the hall. And there was an old woman curtseying at
the gate."

"We can do better than that--if we have notice!" And the old man
stood there smiling, rubbing his hands and slowly shaking his
head at her. "But Mrs. Touchett doesn't like receptions."

"She went straight to her room."

"Yes--and locked herself in. She always does that. Well, I
suppose I shall see her next week." And Mrs. Touchett's husband
slowly resumed his former posture.

"Before that," said Miss Archer. "She's coming down to dinner--
at eight o'clock. Don't you forget a quarter to seven," she
added, turning with a smile to Ralph.

"What's to happen at a quarter to seven?"

"I'm to see my mother," said Ralph.

"Ah, happy boy!" the old man commented. "You must sit down--you
must have some tea," he observed to his wife's niece.

"They gave me some tea in my room the moment I got there," this
young lady answered. "I'm sorry you're out of health," she added,
resting her eyes upon her venerable host.

"Oh, I'm an old man, my dear; it's time for me to be old. But I
shall be the better for having you here."

She had been looking all round her again--at the lawn, the great
trees, the reedy, silvery Thames, the beautiful old house; and
while engaged in this survey she had made room in it for her
companions; a comprehensiveness of observation easily conceivable
on the part of a young woman who was evidently both intelligent
and excited. She had seated herself and had put away the little
dog; her white hands, in her lap, were folded upon her black
dress; her head was erect, her eye lighted, her flexible figure
turned itself easily this way and that, in sympathy with the
alertness with which she evidently caught impressions. Her
impressions were numerous, and they were all reflected in a
clear, still smile. "I've never seen anything so beautiful as
this."

"It's looking very well," said Mr. Touchett. "I know the way it
strikes you. I've been through all that. But you're very
beautiful yourself," he added with a politeness by no means
crudely jocular and with the happy consciousness that his
advanced age gave him the privilege of saying such things--even
to young persons who might possibly take alarm at them.

What degree of alarm this young person took need not be exactly
measured; she instantly rose, however, with a blush which was not
a refutation. "Oh yes, of course I'm lovely!" she returned with a
quick laugh. "How old is your house? Is it Elizabethan?"

"It's early Tudor," said Ralph Touchett.

She turned toward him, watching his face. "Early Tudor? How very
delightful! And I suppose there are a great many others."

"There are many much better ones."

"Don't say that, my son!" the old man protested. "There's nothing
better than this."

"I've got a very good one; I think in some respects it's rather
better," said Lord Warburton, who as yet had not spoken, but who
had kept an attentive eye upon Miss Archer. He slightly inclined
himself, smiling; he had an excellent manner with women. The girl
appreciated it in an instant; she had not forgotten that this was
Lord Warburton. "I should like very much to show it to you," he
added.

"Don't believe him," cried the old man; "don't look at it! It's a
wretched old barrack--not to be compared with this."

"I don't know--I can't judge," said the girl, smiling at Lord
Warburton.

In this discussion Ralph Touchett took no interest whatever; he
stood with his hands in his pockets, looking greatly as if he
should like to renew his conversation with his new-found cousin.

"Are you very fond of dogs?" he enquired by way of beginning. He
seemed to recognise that it was an awkward beginning for a clever
man.

"Very fond of them indeed."

"You must keep the terrier, you know," he went on, still
awkwardly.

"I'll keep him while I'm here, with pleasure."

"That will be for a long time, I hope."

"You're very kind. I hardly know. My aunt must settle that."

"I'll settle it with her--at a quarter to seven." And Ralph
looked at his watch again.

"I'm glad to be here at all," said the girl.

"I don't believe you allow things to be settled for you."

"Oh yes; if they're settled as I like them."

"I shall settle this as I like it," said Ralph. It's most
unaccountable that we should never have known you."

"I was there--you had only to come and see me."

"There? Where do you mean?"

"In the United States: in New York and Albany and other American
places."

"I've been there--all over, but I never saw you. I can't make it
out."

Miss Archer just hesitated. "It was because there had been some
disagreement between your mother and my father, after my mother's
death, which took place when I was a child. In consequence of it
we never expected to see you."

"Ah, but I don't embrace all my mother's quarrels--heaven forbid!"
the young man cried. "You've lately lost your father?" he went on
more gravely.

"Yes; more than a year ago. After that my aunt was very kind to
me; she came to see me and proposed that I should come with her
to Europe."

"I see," said Ralph. "She has adopted you."

"Adopted me?" The girl stared, and her blush came back to her,
together with a momentary look of pain which gave her
interlocutor some alarm. He had underestimated the effect of his
words. Lord Warburton, who appeared constantly desirous of a
nearer view of Miss Archer, strolled toward the two cousins at
the moment, and as he did so she rested her wider eyes on him.

"Oh no; she has not adopted me. I'm not a candidate for adoption."

"I beg a thousand pardons," Ralph murmured. "I meant--I meant--"
He hardly knew what he meant.

"You meant she has taken me up. Yes; she likes to take people up.
She has been very kind to me; but," she added with a certain
visible eagerness of desire to be explicit, "I'm very fond of my
liberty."

"Are you talking about Mrs. Touchett?" the old man called out
from his chair. "Come here, my dear, and tell me about her. I'm
always thankful for information."

The girl hesitated again, smiling. "She's really very
benevolent," she answered; after which she went over to her
uncle, whose mirth was excited by her words.

Lord Warburton was left standing with Ralph Touchett, to whom in
a moment he said: "You wished a while ago to see my idea of an
interesting woman. There it is!"

Henry James