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Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV

Mrs. Ludlow was the eldest of the three sisters, and was usually
thought the most sensible; the classification being in general
that Lilian was the practical one, Edith the beauty and Isabel
the "intellectual" superior. Mrs. Keyes, the second of the group,
was the wife of an officer of the United States Engineers, and as
our history is not further concerned with her it will suffice
that she was indeed very pretty and that she formed the ornament
of those various military stations, chiefly in the unfashionable
West, to which, to her deep chagrin, her husband was successively
relegated. Lilian had married a New York lawyer, a young man with
a loud voice and an enthusiasm for his profession; the match was
not brilliant, any more than Edith's, but Lilian had occasionally
been spoken of as a young woman who might be thankful to marry at
all--she was so much plainer than her sisters. She was, however,
very happy, and now, as the mother of two peremptory little boys
and the mistress of a wedge of brown stone violently driven into
Fifty-third Street, seemed to exult in her condition as in a bold
escape. She was short and solid, and her claim to figure was
questioned, but she was conceded presence, though not majesty;
she had moreover, as people said, improved since her marriage,
and the two things in life of which she was most distinctly
conscious were her husband's force in argument and her sister
Isabel's originality. "I've never kept up with Isabel--it would
have taken all my time," she had often remarked; in spite of
which, however, she held her rather wistfully in sight; watching
her as a motherly spaniel might watch a free greyhound. "I want
to see her safely married--that's what I want to see," she
frequently noted to her husband.

"Well, I must say I should have no particular desire to marry
her," Edmund Ludlow was accustomed to answer in an extremely
audible tone.

"I know you say that for argument; you always take the opposite
ground. I don't see what you've against her except that she's so
original."

"Well, I don't like originals; I like translations," Mr. Ludlow
had more than once replied. "Isabel's written in a foreign
tongue. I can't make her out. She ought to marry an Armenian or a
Portuguese."

"That's just what I'm afraid she'll do!" cried Lilian, who
thought Isabel capable of anything.

She listened with great interest to the girl's account of Mrs.
Touchett's appearance and in the evening prepared to comply with
their aunt's commands. Of what Isabel then said no report has
remained, but her sister's words had doubtless prompted a word
spoken to her husband as the two were making ready for their
visit. "I do hope immensely she'll do something handsome for
Isabel; she has evidently taken a great fancy to her."

"What is it you wish her to do?" Edmund Ludlow asked. "Make her a
big present?"

"No indeed; nothing of the sort. But take an interest in her--
sympathise with her. She's evidently just the sort of person to
appreciate her. She has lived so much in foreign society; she
told Isabel all about it. You know you've always thought Isabel
rather foreign."

"You want her to give her a little foreign sympathy, eh? Don't
you think she gets enough at home?"

"Well, she ought to go abroad," said Mrs. Ludlow. "She's just the
person to go abroad."

"And you want the old lady to take her, is that it?"

"She has offered to take her--she's dying to have Isabel go. But
what I want her to do when she gets her there is to give her all
the advantages. I'm sure all we've got to do," said Mrs. Ludlow,
"is to give her a chance."

"A chance for what?"

"A chance to develop."

"Oh Moses!" Edmund Ludlow exclaimed. "I hope she isn't going to
develop any more!"

"If I were not sure you only said that for argument I should feel
very badly," his wife replied. "But you know you love her."

"Do you know I love you?" the young man said, jocosely, to Isabel
a little later, while he brushed his hat.

"I'm sure I don't care whether you do or not!" exclaimed the
girl; whose voice and smile, however, were less haughty than her
words.

"Oh, she feels so grand since Mrs. Touchett's visit," said her
sister.

But Isabel challenged this assertion with a good deal of
seriousness. "You must not say that, Lily. I don't feel grand at
all."

"I'm sure there's no harm," said the conciliatory Lily.

"Ah, but there's nothing in Mrs. Touchett's visit to make one
feel grand."

"Oh," exclaimed Ludlow, "she's grander than ever!"

"Whenever I feel grand," said the girl, "it will be for a better
reason."

Whether she felt grand or no, she at any rate felt different, as
if something had happened to her. Left to herself for the evening
she sat a while under the lamp, her hands empty, her usual
avocations unheeded. Then she rose and moved about the room, and
from one room to another, preferring the places where the vague
lamplight expired. She was restless and even agitated; at moments
she trembled a little. The importance of what had happened was
out of proportion to its appearance; there had really been a
change in her life. What it would bring with it was as yet
extremely indefinite; but Isabel was in a situation that gave a
value to any change. She had a desire to leave the past behind
her and, as she said to herself, to begin afresh. This desire
indeed was not a birth of the present occasion; it was as
familiar as the sound of the rain upon the window and it had led
to her beginning afresh a great many times. She closed her eyes
as she sat in one of the dusky corners of the quiet parlour; but
it was not with a desire for dozing forgetfulness. It was on the
contrary because she felt too wide-eyed and wished to check the
sense of seeing too many things at once. Her imagination was by
habit ridiculously active; when the door was not open it jumped
out of the window. She was not accustomed indeed to keep it
behind bolts; and at important moments, when she would have been
thankful to make use of her judgement alone, she paid the penalty
of having given undue encouragement to the faculty of seeing
without judging. At present, with her sense that the note of
change had been struck, came gradually a host of images of the
things she was leaving behind her. The years and hours of her
life came back to her, and for a long time, in a stillness broken
only by the ticking of the big bronze clock, she passed them in
review. It had been a very happy life and she had been a very
fortunate person--this was the truth that seemed to emerge most
vividly. She had had the best of everything, and in a world in
which the circumstances of so many people made them unenviable it
was an advantage never to have known anything particularly
unpleasant. It appeared to Isabel that the unpleasant had been
even too absent from her knowledge, for she had gathered from her
acquaintance with literature that it was often a source of
interest and even of instruction. Her father had kept it away
from her--her handsome, much loved father, who always had such an
aversion to it. It was a great felicity to have been his
daughter; Isabel rose even to pride in her parentage. Since his
death she had seemed to see him as turning his braver side to his
children and as not having managed to ignore the ugly quite so
much in practice as in aspiration. But this only made her
tenderness for him greater; it was scarcely even painful to have
to suppose him too generous, too good-natured, too indifferent to
sordid considerations. Many persons had held that he carried this
indifference too far, especially the large number of those to
whom he owed money. Of their opinions Isabel was never very
definitely informed; but it may interest the reader to know that,
while they had recognised in the late Mr. Archer a remarkably
handsome head and a very taking manner (indeed, as one of them
had said, he was always taking something), they had declared that
he was making a very poor use of his life. He had squandered a
substantial fortune, he had been deplorably convivial, he was
known to have gambled freely. A few very harsh critics went so
far as to say that he had not even brought up his daughters. They
had had no regular education and no permanent home; they had been
at once spoiled and neglected; they had lived with nursemaids and
governesses (usually very bad ones) or had been sent to
superficial schools, kept by the French, from which, at the end of
a month, they had been removed in tears. This view of the matter
would have excited Isabel's indignation, for to her own sense her
opportunities had been large. Even when her father had left his
daughters for three months at Neufchatel with a French bonne who
had eloped with a Russian nobleman staying at the same hotel--
even in this irregular situation (an incident of the girl's
eleventh year) she had been neither frightened nor ashamed, but
had thought it a romantic episode in a liberal education. Her
father had a large way of looking at life, of which his
restlessness and even his occasional incoherency of conduct had
been only a proof. He wished his daughters, even as children, to
see as much of the world as possible; and it was for this purpose
that, before Isabel was fourteen, he had transported them three
times across the Atlantic, giving them on each occasion, however,
but a few months' view of the subject proposed: a course which
had whetted our heroine's curiosity without enabling her to
satisfy it. She ought to have been a partisan of her father, for
she was the member of his trio who most "made up" to him for the
disagreeables he didn't mention. In his last days his general
willingness to take leave of a world in which the difficulty of
doing as one liked appeared to increase as one grew older had
been sensibly modified by the pain of separation from his clever,
his superior, his remarkable girl. Later, when the journeys to
Europe ceased, he still had shown his children all sorts of
indulgence, and if he had been troubled about money-matters
nothing ever disturbed their irreflective consciousness of many
possessions. Isabel, though she danced very well, had not the
recollection of having been in New York a successful member of
the choreographic circle; her sister Edith was, as every one said,
so very much more fetching. Edith was so striking an example of
success that Isabel could have no illusions as to what
constituted this advantage, or as to the limits of her own power
to frisk and jump and shriek--above all with rightness of effect.
Nineteen persons out of twenty (including the younger sister
herself) pronounced Edith infinitely the prettier of the two; but
the twentieth, besides reversing this judgement, had the
entertainment of thinking all the others aesthetic vulgarians.
Isabel had in the depths of her nature an even more unquenchable
desire to please than Edith; but the depths of this young lady's
nature were a very out-of-the-way place, between which and the
surface communication was interrupted by a dozen capricious
forces. She saw the young men who came in large numbers to see
her sister; but as a general thing they were afraid of her; they
had a belief that some special preparation was required for
talking with her. Her reputation of reading a great deal hung
about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic; it
was supposed to engender difficult questions and to keep the
conversation at a low temperature. The poor girl liked to be
thought clever, but she hated to be thought bookish; she used to
read in secret and, though her memory was excellent, to abstain
from showy reference. She had a great desire for knowledge, but
she really preferred almost any source of information to the
printed page; she had an immense curiosity about life and was
constantly staring and wondering. She carried within herself a
great fund of life, and her deepest enjoyment was to feel the
continuity between the movements of her own soul and the
agitations of the world. For this reason she was fond of seeing
great crowds and large stretches of country, of reading about
revolutions and wars, of looking at historical pictures--a class
of efforts as to which she had often committed the conscious
solecism of forgiving them much bad painting for the sake of the
subject. While the Civil War went on she was still a very young
girl; but she passed months of this long period in a state of
almost passionate excitement, in which she felt herself at times
(to her extreme confusion) stirred almost indiscriminately by the
valour of either army. Of course the circumspection of suspicious
swains had never gone the length of making her a social proscript;
for the number of those whose hearts, as they approached her,
beat only just fast enough to remind them they had heads as well,
had kept her unacquainted with the supreme disciplines of her sex
and age. She had had everything a girl could have: kindness,
admiration, bonbons, bouquets, the sense of exclusion from none of
the privileges of the world she lived in, abundant opportunity
for dancing, plenty of new dresses, the London Spectator, the
latest publications, the music of Gounod, the poetry of Browning,
the prose of George Eliot.

These things now, as memory played over them, resolved themselves
into a multitude of scenes and figures. Forgotten things came
back to her; many others, which she had lately thought of great
moment, dropped out of sight. The result was kaleidoscopic, but
the movement of the instrument was checked at last by the
servant's coming in with the name of a gentleman. The name of the
gentleman was Caspar Goodwood; he was a straight young man from
Boston, who had known Miss Archer for the last twelvemonth and
who, thinking her the most beautiful young woman of her time, had
pronounced the time, according to the rule I have hinted at, a
foolish period of history. He sometimes wrote to her and had
within a week or two written from New York. She had thought it
very possible he would come in--had indeed all the rainy day been
vaguely expecting him. Now that she learned he was there,
nevertheless, she felt no eagerness to receive him. He was the
finest young man she had ever seen, was indeed quite a splendid
young man; he inspired her with a sentiment of high, of rare
respect. She had never felt equally moved to it by any other
person. He was supposed by the world in general to wish to marry
her, but this of course was between themselves. It at least may
be affirmed that he had travelled from New York to Albany
expressly to see her; having learned in the former city, where he
was spending a few days and where he had hoped to find her, that
she was still at the State capital. Isabel delayed for some
minutes to go to him; she moved about the room with a new sense
of complications. But at last she presented herself and found him
standing near the lamp. He was tall, strong and somewhat stiff;
he was also lean and brown. He was not romantically, he was much
rather obscurely, handsome; but his physiognomy had an air of
requesting your attention, which it rewarded according to the
charm you found in blue eyes of remarkable fixedness, the eyes of
a complexion other than his own, and a jaw of the somewhat
angular mould which is supposed to bespeak resolution. Isabel
said to herself that it bespoke resolution to-night; in spite of
which, in half an hour, Caspar Goodwood, who had arrived hopeful
as well as resolute, took his way back to his lodging with the
feeling of a man defeated. He was not, it may be added, a man
weakly to accept defeat.

Henry James