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Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

I may not attempt to report in its fulness our young woman's
response to the deep appeal of Rome, to analyse her feelings as
she trod the pavement of the Forum or to number her pulsations as
she crossed the threshold of Saint Peter's. It is enough to say
that her impression was such as might have been expected of a
person of her freshness and her eagerness. She had always been
fond of history, and here was history in the stones of the street
and the atoms of the sunshine. She had an imagination that
kindled at the mention of great deeds, and wherever she turned
some great deed had been acted. These things strongly moved her,
but moved her all inwardly. It seemed to her companions that she
talked less than usual, and Ralph Touchett, when he appeared to
be looking listlessly and awkwardly over her head, was really
dropping on her an intensity of observation. By her own measure
she was very happy; she would even have been willing to take
these hours for the happiest she was ever to know. The sense of
the terrible human past was heavy to her, but that of something
altogether contemporary would suddenly give it wings that it
could wave in the blue. Her consciousness was so mixed that she
scarcely knew where the different parts of it would lead her, and
she went about in a repressed ecstasy of contemplation, seeing
often in the things she looked at a great deal more than was
there, and yet not seeing many of the items enumerated in her
Murray. Rome, as Ralph said, confessed to the psychological
moment. The herd of reechoing tourists had departed and most of
the solemn places had relapsed into solemnity. The sky was a
blaze of blue, and the plash of the fountains in their mossy
niches had lost its chill and doubled its music. On the corners
of the warm, bright streets one stumbled on bundles of flowers.
Our friends had gone one afternoon--it was the third of their
stay--to look at the latest excavations in the Forum, these
labours having been for some time previous largely extended. They
had descended from the modern street to the level of the Sacred
Way, along which they wandered with a reverence of step which was
not the same on the part of each. Henrietta Stackpole was struck
with the fact that ancient Rome had been paved a good deal like
New York, and even found an analogy between the deep chariot-ruts
traceable in the antique street and the overjangled iron grooves
which express the intensity of American life. The sun had begun
to sink, the air was a golden haze, and the long shadows of
broken column and vague pedestal leaned across the field of ruin.
Henrietta wandered away with Mr. Bantling, whom it was apparently
delightful to her to hear speak of Julius Caesar as a "cheeky old
boy," and Ralph addressed such elucidations as he was prepared to
offer to the attentive ear of our heroine. One of the humble
archeologists who hover about the place had put himself at the
disposal of the two, and repeated his lesson with a fluency which
the decline of the season had done nothing to impair. A process
of digging was on view in a remote corner of the Forum, and he
presently remarked that if it should please the signori to go
and watch it a little they might see something of interest. The
proposal commended itself more to Ralph than to Isabel, weary
with much wandering; so that she admonished her companion to
satisfy his curiosity while she patiently awaited his return. The
hour and the place were much to her taste--she should enjoy being
briefly alone. Ralph accordingly went off with the cicerone while
Isabel sat down on a prostrate column near the foundations of the
Capitol. She wanted a short solitude, but she was not long to
enjoy it. Keen as was her interest in the rugged relics of the
Roman past that lay scattered about her and in which the
corrosion of centuries had still left so much of individual life,
her thoughts, after resting a while on these things, had wandered, by a concatenation of stages it might require some subtlety to trace, to regions and objects charged with a more
active appeal. From the Roman past to Isabel Archer's future was
a long stride, but her imagination had taken it in a single
flight and now hovered in slow circles over the nearer and richer
field. She was so absorbed in her thoughts, as she bent her eyes
upon a row of cracked but not dislocated slabs covering the
ground at her feet, that she had not heard the sound of
approaching footsteps before a shadow was thrown across the line
of her vision. She looked up and saw a gentleman--a gentleman who
was not Ralph come back to say that the excavations were a bore.
This personage was startled as she was startled; he stood there
baring his head to her perceptibly pale surprise.

"Lord Warburton!" Isabel exclaimed as she rose.

"I had no idea it was you. I turned that corner and came upon
you."

She looked about her to explain. "I'm alone, but my companions
have just left me. My cousin's gone to look at the work over
there."

"Ah yes; I see." And Lord Warburton's eyes wandered vaguely in
the direction she had indicated. He stood firmly before her now;
he had recovered his balance and seemed to wish to show it,
though very kindly. "Don't let me disturb you," he went on,
looking at her dejected pillar. "I'm afraid you're tired."

"Yes, I'm rather tired." She hesitated a moment, but sat down
again. "Don't let me interrupt you," she added.

"Oh dear, I'm quite alone, I've nothing on earth to do. I had no
idea you were in Rome. I've just come from the East. I'm only
passing through."

"You've been making a long journey," said Isabel, who had learned
from Ralph that Lord Warburton was absent from England.

"Yes, I came abroad for six months--soon after I saw you last.
I've been in Turkey and Asia Minor; I came the other day from
Athens." He managed not to be awkward, but he wasn't easy, and
after a longer look at the girl he came down to nature. "Do you
wish me to leave you, or will you let me stay a little?"

She took it all humanely. "I don't wish you to leave me, Lord
Warburton; I'm very glad to see you."

"Thank you for saying that. May I sit down?"

The fluted shaft on which she had taken her seat would have
afforded a resting-place to several persons, and there was plenty
of room even for a highly-developed Englishman. This fine
specimen of that great class seated himself near our young lady,
and in the course of five minutes he had asked her several
questions, taken rather at random and to which, as he put some of
them twice over, he apparently somewhat missed catching the
answer; had given her too some information about himself which
was not wasted upon her calmer feminine sense. He repeated more
than once that he had not expected to meet her, and it was
evident that the encounter touched him in a way that would have
made preparation advisable. He began abruptly to pass from the
impunity of things to their solemnity, and from their being
delightful to their being impossible. He was splendidly sunburnt;
even his multitudinous beard had been burnished by the fire of
Asia. He was dressed in the loose-fitting, heterogeneous garments
in which the English traveller in foreign lands is wont to
consult his comfort and affirm his nationality; and with his
pleasant steady eyes, his bronzed complexion, fresh beneath its
seasoning, his manly figure, his minimising manner and his
general air of being a gentleman and an explorer, he was such a
representative of the British race as need not in any clime have
been disavowed by those who have a kindness for it. Isabel noted
these things and was glad she had always liked him. He had kept,
evidently in spite of shocks, every one of his merits--properties
these partaking of the essence of great decent houses, as one
might put it; resembling their innermost fixtures and ornaments,
not subject to vulgar shifting and removable only by some whole
break-up. They talked of the matters naturally in order; her
uncle's death, Ralph's state of health, the way she had passed
her winter, her visit to Rome, her return to Florence, her plans
for the summer, the hotel she was staying at; and then of Lord
Warburton's own adventures, movements, intentions, impressions
and present domicile. At last there was a silence, and it said so
much more than either had said that it scarce needed his final
words. "I've written to you several times."

"Written to me? I've never had your letters."

"I never sent them. I burned them up."

"Ah," laughed Isabel, "it was better that you should do that
than I!"

"I thought you wouldn't care for them," he went on with a
simplicity that touched her. "It seemed to me that after all I
had no right to trouble you with letters."

"I should have been very glad to have news of you. You know how I
hoped that--that--" But she stopped; there would be such a
flatness in the utterance of her thought.

"I know what you're going to say. You hoped we should always
remain good friends." This formula, as Lord Warburton uttered it,
was certainly flat enough; but then he was interested in making
it appear so.

She found herself reduced simply to "Please don't talk of all
that"; a speech which hardly struck her as improvement on the
other.

"It's a small consolation to allow me!" her companion exclaimed
with force.

"I can't pretend to console you," said the girl, who, all still
as she sat there, threw herself back with a sort of inward
triumph on the answer that had satisfied him so little six months
before. He was pleasant, he was powerful, he was gallant; there
was no better man than he. But her answer remained.

"It's very well you don't try to console me; it wouldn't be in
your power," she heard him say through the medium of her strange
elation.

"I hoped we should meet again, because I had no fear you would
attempt to make me feel I had wronged you. But when you do that--
the pain's greater than the pleasure." And she got up with a
small conscious majesty, looking for her companions.

"I don't want to make you feel that; of course I can't say that.
I only just want you to know one or two things--in fairness to
myself, as it were. I won't return to the subject again. I felt
very strongly what I expressed to you last year; I couldn't think
of anything else. I tried to forget--energetically,
systematically. I tried to take an interest in somebody else. I
tell you this because I want you to know I did my duty. I didn't
succeed. It was for the same purpose I went abroad--as far away
as possible. They say travelling distracts the mind, but it
didn't distract mine. I've thought of you perpetually, ever since
I last saw you. I'm exactly the same. I love you just as much,
and everything I said to you then is just as true. This instant
at which I speak to you shows me again exactly how, to my great
misfortune, you just insuperably charm me. There--I can't say
less. I don't mean, however, to insist; it's only for a moment. I
may add that when I came upon you a few minutes since, without
the smallest idea of seeing you, I was, upon my honour, in the
very act of wishing I knew where you were." He had recovered his
self-control, and while he spoke it became complete. He might
have been addressing a small committee--making all quietly and
clearly a statement of importance; aided by an occasional look at
a paper of notes concealed in his hat, which he had not again put
on. And the committee, assuredly, would have felt the point
proved.

"I've often thought of you, Lord Warburton," Isabel answered.
"You may be sure I shall always do that." And she added in a
tone of which she tried to keep up the kindness and keep down the
meaning: "There's no harm in that on either side."

They walked along together, and she was prompt to ask about his
sisters and request him to let them know she had done so. He made
for the moment no further reference to their great question, but
dipped again into shallower and safer waters. But he wished to
know when she was to leave Rome, and on her mentioning the limit
of her stay declared he was glad it was still so distant.

"Why do you say that if you yourself are only passing through?"
she enquired with some anxiety.

"Ah, when I said I was passing through I didn't mean that one
would treat Rome as if it were Clapham Junction. To pass through
Rome is to stop a week or two."

"Say frankly that you mean to stay as long as I do!"

His flushed smile, for a little, seemed to sound her. "You won't
like that. You're afraid you'll see too much of me."

"It doesn't matter what I like. I certainly can't expect you to
leave this delightful place on my account. But I confess I'm
afraid of you."

"Afraid I'll begin again? I promise to be very careful."

They had gradually stopped and they stood a moment face to face.
"Poor Lord Warburton!" she said with a compassion intended to be
good for both of them.

"Poor Lord Warburton indeed! But I'll be careful."

"You may be unhappy, but you shall not make ME so. That I can't
allow."

"If I believed I could make you unhappy I think I should try it."
At this she walked in advance and he also proceeded. "I'll never
say a word to displease you."

"Very good. If you do, our friendship's at an end."

"Perhaps some day--after a while--you'll give me leave."

"Give you leave to make me unhappy?"

He hesitated. "To tell you again--" But he checked himself. "I'll
keep it down. I'll keep it down always."

Ralph Touchett had been joined in his visit to the excavation by
Miss Stackpole and her attendant, and these three now emerged
from among the mounds of earth and stone collected round the
aperture and came into sight of Isabel and her companion. Poor
Ralph hailed his friend with joy qualified by wonder, and
Henrietta exclaimed in a high voice "Gracious, there's that
lord!" Ralph and his English neighbour greeted with the austerity
with which, after long separations, English neighbours greet, and
Miss Stackpole rested her large intellectual gaze upon the
sunburnt traveller. But she soon established her relation to the
crisis. "I don't suppose you remember me, sir."

"Indeed I do remember you," said Lord Warburton. "I asked you to
come and see me, and you never came."

"I don't go everywhere I'm asked," Miss Stackpole answered
coldly.

"Ah well, I won't ask you again," laughed the master of
Lockleigh.

"If you do I'll go; so be sure!"

Lord Warburton, for all his hilarity, seemed sure enough. Mr.
Bantling had stood by without claiming a recognition, but he now
took occasion to nod to his lordship, who answered him with a
friendly "Oh, you here, Bantling?" and a hand-shake.

"Well," said Henrietta, "I didn't know you knew him!"

"I guess you don't know every one I know," Mr. Bantling rejoined
facetiously.

"I thought that when an Englishman knew a lord he always told
you."

"Ah, I'm afraid Bantling was ashamed of me," Lord Warburton
laughed again. Isabel took pleasure in that note; she gave a
small sigh of relief as they kept their course homeward.

The next day was Sunday; she spent her morning over two long
letters--one to her sister Lily, the other to Madame Merle; but
in neither of these epistles did she mention the fact that a
rejected suitor had threatened her with another appeal. Of a
Sunday afternoon all good Romans (and the best Romans are often
the northern barbarians) follow the custom of going to vespers at
Saint Peter's; and it had been agreed among our friends that they
would drive together to the great church. After lunch, an hour
before the carriage came, Lord Warburton presented himself at the
Hotel de Paris and paid a visit to the two ladies, Ralph Touchett
and Mr. Bantling having gone out together. The visitor seemed to
have wished to give Isabel a proof of his intention to keep the
promise made her the evening before; he was both discreet and
frank--not even dumbly importunate or remotely intense. He thus
left her to judge what a mere good friend he could be. He talked
about his travels, about Persia, about Turkey, and when Miss
Stackpole asked him whether it would "pay" for her to visit those
countries assured her they offered a great field to female
enterprise. Isabel did him justice, but she wondered what his
purpose was and what he expected to gain even by proving the
superior strain of his sincerity. If he expected to melt her by
showing what a good fellow he was, he might spare himself the
trouble. She knew the superior strain of everything about him,
and nothing he could now do was required to light the view.
Moreover his being in Rome at all affected her as a complication
of the wrong sort--she liked so complications of the right.
Nevertheless, when, on bringing his call to a close, he said he
too should be at Saint Peter's and should look out for her and
her friends, she was obliged to reply that he must follow his
convenience.

In the church, as she strolled over its tesselated acres, he
was the first person she encountered. She had not been one of the
superior tourists who are "disappointed" in Saint Peter's and
find it smaller than its fame; the first time she passed beneath
the huge leathern curtain that strains and bangs at the entrance,
the first time she found herself beneath the far-arching dome and
saw the light drizzle down through the air thickened with incense
and with the reflections of marble and gilt, of mosaic and
bronze, her conception of greatness rose and dizzily rose. After
this it never lacked space to soar. She gazed and wondered like a
child or a peasant, she paid her silent tribute to the seated
sublime. Lord Warburton walked beside her and talked of Saint
Sophia of Constantinople; she feared for instance that he would
end by calling attention to his exemplary conduct. The service
had not yet begun, but at Saint Peter's there is much to observe,
and as there is something almost profane in the vastness of the
place, which seems meant as much for physical as for spiritual
exercise, the different figures and groups, the mingled
worshippers and spectators, may follow their various intentions
without conflict or scandal. In that splendid immensity
individual indiscretion carries but a short distance. Isabel and
her companions, however, were guilty of none; for though
Henrietta was obliged in candour to declare that Michael Angelo's
dome suffered by comparison with that of the Capitol at
Washington, she addressed her protest chiefly to Mr. Bantling's
ear and reserved it in its more accentuated form for the columns
of the Interviewer. Isabel made the circuit of the church with
his lordship, and as they drew near the choir on the left of the
entrance the voices of the Pope's singers were borne to them over
the heads of the large number of persons clustered outside the
doors. They paused a while on the skirts of this crowd, composed
in equal measure of Roman cockneys and inquisitive strangers, and
while they stood there the sacred concert went forward. Ralph,
with Henrietta and Mr. Bantling, was apparently within, where
Isabel, looking beyond the dense group in front of her, saw the
afternoon light, silvered by clouds of incense that seemed to
mingle with the splendid chant, slope through the embossed
recesses of high windows. After a while the singing stopped and
then Lord Warburton seemed disposed to move off with her. Isabel
could only accompany him; whereupon she found herself confronted
with Gilbert Osmond, who appeared to have been standing at a
short distance behind her. He now approached with all the forms
--he appeared to have multiplied them on this occasion to suit
the place.

"So you decided to come?" she said as she put out her hand.

"Yes, I came last night and called this afternoon at your hotel.
They told me you had come here, and I looked about for you."

"The others are inside," she decided to say.

"I didn't come for the others," he promptly returned.

She looked away; Lord Warburton was watching them; perhaps he had
heard this. Suddenly she remembered it to be just what he had
said to her the morning he came to Gardencourt to ask her to
marry him. Mr. Osmond's words had brought the colour to her
cheek, and this reminiscence had not the effect of dispelling it.
She repaired any betrayal by mentioning to each companion the
name of the other, and fortunately at this moment Mr. Bantling
emerged from the choir, cleaving the crowd with British valour
and followed by Miss Stackpole and Ralph Touchett. I say
fortunately, but this is perhaps a superficial view of the
matter; since on perceiving the gentleman from Florence Ralph
Touchett appeared to take the case as not committing him to joy.
He didn't hang back, however, from civility, and presently
observed to Isabel, with due benevolence, that she would soon
have all her friends about her. Miss Stackpole had met Mr. Osmond
in Florence, but she had already found occasion to say to Isabel
that she liked him no better than her other admirers--than Mr.
Touchett and Lord Warburton, and even than little Mr. Rosier in
Paris. "I don't know what it's in you," she had been pleased to
remark, "but for a nice girl you do attract the most unnatural
people. Mr. Goodwood's the only one I've any respect for, and
he's just the one you don't appreciate."

"What's your opinion of Saint Peter's?" Mr. Osmond was meanwhile
enquiring of our young lady.

"It's very large and very bright," she contented herself with
replying.

"It's too large; it makes one feel like an atom."

"Isn't that the right way to feel in the greatest of human
temples?" she asked with rather a liking for her phrase.

"I suppose it's the right way to feel everywhere, when one IS
nobody. But I like it in a church as little as anywhere else."

"You ought indeed to be a Pope!" Isabel exclaimed, remembering
something he had referred to in Florence.

"Ah, I should have enjoyed that!" said Gilbert Osmond.

Lord Warburton meanwhile had joined Ralph Touchett, and the two
strolled away together. "Who's the fellow speaking to Miss
Archer?" his lordship demanded.

"His name's Gilbert Osmond--he lives in Florence," Ralph said.

"What is he besides?"

"Nothing at all. Oh yes, he's an American; but one forgets that--
he's so little of one."

"Has he known Miss Archer long?"

"Three or four weeks."

"Does she like him?"

"She's trying to find out."

"And will she?"

"Find out--?" Ralph asked.

"Will she like him?"

"Do you mean will she accept him?"

"Yes," said Lord Warburton after an instant; "I suppose that's
what I horribly mean."

"Perhaps not if one does nothing to prevent it," Ralph replied.

His lordship stared a moment, but apprehended. "Then we must be
perfectly quiet?"

"As quiet as the grave. And only on the chance!" Ralph added.

"The chance she may?"

"The chance she may not?"

Lord Warburton took this at first in silence, but he spoke again.
"Is he awfully clever?"

"Awfully," said Ralph.

His companion thought. "And what else?"

"What more do you want?" Ralph groaned.

"Do you mean what more does SHE?"

Ralph took him by the arm to turn him: they had to rejoin the
others. "She wants nothing that WE can give her."

"Ah well, if she won't have You--!" said his lordship handsomely
as they went.


Henry James