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Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

The two amused themselves, time and again, with talking of the
attitude of the British public as if the young lady had been in a
position to appeal to it; but in fact the British public remained
for the present profoundly indifferent to Miss Isabel Archer,
whose fortune had dropped her, as her cousin said, into the
dullest house in England. Her gouty uncle received very little
company, and Mrs. Touchett, not having cultivated relations with
her husband's neighbours, was not warranted in expecting visits
from them. She had, however, a peculiar taste; she liked to
receive cards. For what is usually called social intercourse she
had very little relish; but nothing pleased her more than to find
her hall-table whitened with oblong morsels of symbolic
pasteboard. She flattered herself that she was a very just woman,
and had mastered the sovereign truth that nothing in this world
is got for nothing. She had played no social part as mistress of
Gardencourt, and it was not to be supposed that, in the
surrounding country, a minute account should be kept of her
comings and goings. But it is by no means certain that she did
not feel it to be wrong that so little notice was taken of them
and that her failure (really very gratuitous) to make herself
important in the neighbourhood had not much to do with the
acrimony of her allusions to her husband's adopted country.
Isabel presently found herself in the singular situation of
defending the British constitution against her aunt; Mrs.
Touchett having formed the habit of sticking pins into this
venerable instrument. Isabel always felt an impulse to pull out
the pins; not that she imagined they inflicted any damage on the
tough old parchment, but because it seemed to her her aunt might
make better use of her sharpness. She was very critical herself--
it was incidental to her age, her sex and her nationality; but
she was very sentimental as well, and there was something in Mrs.
Touchett's dryness that set her own moral fountains flowing.

"Now what's your point of view?" she asked of her aunt. "When you
criticise everything here you should have a point of view. Yours
doesn't seem to be American--you thought everything over there so
disagreeable. When I criticise I have mine; it's thoroughly
American!"

"My dear young lady," said Mrs. Touchett, "there are as many
points of view in the world as there are people of sense to take
them. You may say that doesn't make them very numerous! American?
Never in the world; that's shockingly narrow. My point of view,
thank God, is personal!"

Isabel thought this a better answer than she admitted; it was a
tolerable description of her own manner of judging, but it would
not have sounded well for her to say so. On the lips of a person
less advanced in life and less enlightened by experience than
Mrs. Touchett such a declaration would savour of immodesty, even
of arrogance. She risked it nevertheless in talking with Ralph,
with whom she talked a great deal and with whom her conversation
was of a sort that gave a large licence to extravagance. Her
cousin used, as the phrase is, to chaff her; he very soon
established with her a reputation for treating everything as a
joke, and he was not a man to neglect the privileges such a
reputation conferred. She accused him of an odious want of
seriousness, of laughing at all things, beginning with himself.
Such slender faculty of reverence as he possessed centred wholly
upon his father; for the rest, he exercised his wit indifferently
upon his father's son, this gentleman's weak lungs, his useless
life, his fantastic mother, his friends (Lord Warburton in
especial), his adopted, and his native country, his charming
new-found cousin. "I keep a band of music in my ante-room," he
said once to her. "It has orders to play without stopping; it
renders me two excellent services. It keeps the sounds of the
world from reaching the private apartments, and it makes the
world think that dancing's going on within." It was dance-music
indeed that you usually heard when you came within ear-shot of
Ralph's band; the liveliest waltzes seemed to float upon the air.
Isabel often found herself irritated by this perpetual fiddling;
she would have liked to pass through the ante-room, as her cousin
called it, and enter the private apartments. It mattered little
that he had assured her they were a very dismal place; she would
have been glad to undertake to sweep them and set them in order.
It was but half-hospitality to let her remain outside; to punish
him for which Isabel administered innumerable taps with the
ferule of her straight young wit. It must be said that her wit
was exercised to a large extent in self-defence, for her cousin
amused himself with calling her "Columbia " and accusing her of a
patriotism so heated that it scorched. He drew a caricature of
her in which she was represented as a very pretty young woman
dressed, on the lines of the prevailing fashion, in the folds of
the national banner. Isabel's chief dread in life at this period
of her development was that she should appear narrow-minded; what
she feared next afterwards was that she should really be so. But
she nevertheless made no scruple of abounding in her cousin's
sense and pretending to sigh for the charms of her native land.
She would be as American as it pleased him to regard her, and if
he chose to laugh at her she would give him plenty of occupation.
She defended England against his mother, but when Ralph sang its
praises on purpose, as she said, to work her up, she found
herself able to differ from him on a variety of points. In fact,
the quality of this small ripe country seemed as sweet to her as
the taste of an October pear; and her satisfaction was at the
root of the good spirits which enabled her to take her cousin's
chaff and return it in kind. If her good-humour flagged at
moments it was not because she thought herself ill-used, but
because she suddenly felt sorry for Ralph. It seemed to her he
was talking as a blind and had little heart in what he said.
"I don't know what's the matter with you," she observed to him
once; "but I suspect you're a great humbug."

"That's your privilege," Ralph answered, who had not been used to
being so crudely addressed.

"I don't know what you care for; I don't think you care for
anything. You don't really care for England when you praise it;
you don't care for America even when you pretend to abuse it."

"I care for nothing but you, dear cousin," said Ralph.

"If I could believe even that, I should be very glad."

"Ah well, I should hope so!" the young man exclaimed.

Isabel might have believed it and not have been far from the
truth. He thought a great deal about her; she was constantly
present to his mind. At a time when his thoughts had been a good
deal of a burden to him her sudden arrival, which promised
nothing and was an open-handed gift of fate, had refreshed and
quickened them, given them wings and something to fly for. Poor
Ralph had been for many weeks steeped in melancholy; his outlook,
habitually sombre, lay under the shadow of a deeper cloud. He had
grown anxious about his father, whose gout, hitherto confined to
his legs, had begun to ascend into regions more vital. The old
man had been gravely ill in the spring, and the doctors had
whispered to Ralph that another attack would be less easy to deal
with. Just now he appeared disburdened of pain, but Ralph could
not rid himself of a suspicion that this was a subterfuge of the
enemy, who was waiting to take him off his guard. If the
manoeuvre should succeed there would be little hope of any great
resistance. Ralph had always taken for granted that his father
would survive him--that his own name would be the first grimly
called. The father and son had been close companions, and the
idea of being left alone with the remnant of a tasteless life on
his hands was not gratifying to the young man, who had always and
tacitly counted upon his elder's help in making the best of a
poor business. At the prospect of losing his great motive Ralph
lost indeed his one inspiration. If they might die at the same
time it would be all very well; but without the encouragement of
his father's society he should barely have patience to await his
own turn. He had not the incentive of feeling that he was
indispensable to his mother; it was a rule with his mother to
have no regrets. He bethought himself of course that it had been
a small kindness to his father to wish that, of the two, the
active rather than the passive party should know the felt wound;
he remembered that the old man had always treated his own
forecast of an early end as a clever fallacy, which he should be
delighted to discredit so far as he might by dying first. But of
the two triumphs, that of refuting a sophistical son and
that of holding on a while longer to a state of being which, with
all abatements, he enjoyed, Ralph deemed it no sin to hope the
latter might be vouchsafed to Mr. Touchett.

These were nice questions, but Isabel's arrival put a stop to his
puzzling over them. It even suggested there might be a
compensation for the intolerable ennui of surviving his genial
sire. He wondered whether he were harbouring "love" for this
spontaneous young woman from Albany; but he judged that on the
whole he was not. After he had known her for a week he quite made
up his mind to this, and every day he felt a little more sure.
Lord Warburton had been right about her; she was a really
interesting little figure. Ralph wondered how their neighbour had
found it out so soon; and then he said it was only another proof
of his friend's high abilities, which he had always greatly
admired. If his cousin were to be nothing more than an
entertainment to him, Ralph was conscious she was an entertainment
of a high order. "A character like that," he said to himself--
"a real little passionate force to see at play is the finest
thing in nature. It's finer than the finest work of art--than a
Greek bas-relief, than a great Titian, than a Gothic cathedral.
It's very pleasant to be so well treated where one had least
looked for it. I had never been more blue, more bored, than for a
week before she came; I had never expected less that anything
pleasant would happen. Suddenly I receive a Titian, by the post,
to hang on my wall--a Greek bas-relief to stick over my
chimney-piece. The key of a beautiful edifice is thrust into my
hand, and I'm told to walk in and admire. My poor boy, you've
been sadly ungrateful, and now you had better keep very quiet and
never grumble again." The sentiment of these reflexions was very
just; but it was not exactly true that Ralph Touchett had had a
key put into his hand. His cousin was a very brilliant girl, who
would take, as he said, a good deal of knowing; but she needed
the knowing, and his attitude with regard to her, though it was
contemplative and critical, was not judicial. He surveyed the
edifice from the outside and admired it greatly; he looked in at
the windows and received an impression of proportions equally
fair. But he felt that he saw it only by glimpses and that he had
not yet stood under the roof. The door was fastened, and though
he had keys in his pocket he had a conviction that none of
them would fit. She was intelligent and generous; it was a fine
free nature; but what was she going to do with herself? This
question was irregular, for with most women one had no occasion
to ask it. Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they
waited, in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man
to come that way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel's
originality was that she gave one an impression of having
intentions of her own. "Whenever she executes them," said Ralph,
"may I be there to see!"

It devolved upon him of course to do the honours of the place.
Mr. Touchett was confined to his chair, and his wife's position
was that of rather a grim visitor; so that in the line of conduct
that opened itself to Ralph duty and inclination were
harmoniously mixed. He was not a great walker, but he strolled
about the grounds with his cousin--a pastime for which the
weather remained favourable with a persistency not allowed for in
Isabel's somewhat lugubrious prevision of the climate; and in the
long afternoons, of which the length was but the measure of her
gratified eagerness, they took a boat on the river, the dear
little river, as Isabel called it, where the opposite shore
seemed still a part of the foreground of the landscape; or drove
over the country in a phaeton--a low, capacious, thick-wheeled
phaeton formerly much used by Mr. Touchett, but which he had now
ceased to enjoy. Isabel enjoyed it largely and, handling the
reins in a manner which approved itself to the groom as
"knowing," was never weary of driving her uncle's capital horses
through winding lanes and byways full of the rural incidents she
had confidently expected to find; past cottages thatched and
timbered, past ale-houses latticed and sanded, past patches of
ancient common and glimpses of empty parks, between hedgerows
made thick by midsummer. When they reached home they usually
found tea had been served on the lawn and that Mrs. Touchett had
not shrunk from the extremity of handing her husband his cup. But
the two for the most part sat silent; the old man with his head
back and his eyes closed, his wife occupied with her knitting and
wearing that appearance of rare profundity with which some ladies
consider the movement of their needles.

One day, however, a visitor had arrived. The two young persons,
after spending an hour on the river, strolled back to the house
and perceived Lord Warburton sitting under the trees and engaged
in conversation, of which even at a distance the desultory
character was appreciable, with Mrs. Touchett. He had driven over
from his own place with a portmanteau and had asked, as the
father and son often invited him to do, for a dinner and a
lodging. Isabel, seeing him for half an hour on the day of her
arrival, had discovered in this brief space that she liked him;
he had indeed rather sharply registered himself on her fine sense
and she had thought of him several times. She had hoped she
should see him again--hoped too that she should see a few others.
Gardencourt was not dull; the place itself was sovereign, her
uncle was more and more a sort of golden grandfather, and Ralph
was unlike any cousin she had ever encountered--her idea of
cousins having tended to gloom. Then her impressions were still
so fresh and so quickly renewed that there was as yet hardly a
hint of vacancy in the view. But Isabel had need to remind
herself that she was interested in human nature and that her
foremost hope in coming abroad had been that she should see a
great many people. When Ralph said to her, as he had done several
times, "I wonder you find this endurable; you ought to see some
of the neighbours and some of our friends, because we have really
got a few, though you would never suppose it"--when he offered to
invite what he called a "lot of people" and make her acquainted
with English society, she encouraged the hospitable impulse and
promised in advance to hurl herself into the fray. Little, however,
for the present, had come of his offers, and it may be confided
to the reader that if the young man delayed to carry them out it
was because he found the labour of providing for his companion
by no means so severe as to require extraneous help. Isabel had
spoken to him very often about "specimens;" it was a word that
played a considerable part in her vocabulary; she had given him
to understand that she wished to see English society
illustrated by eminent cases.

"Well now, there's a specimen," he said to her as they walked up
from the riverside and he recognised Lord Warburton.

"A specimen of what?" asked the girl.

"A specimen of an English gentleman."

"Do you mean they're all like him?"

"Oh no; they're not all like him."

"He's a favourable specimen then," said Isabel; "because I'm sure
he's nice."

"Yes, he's very nice. And he's very fortunate."

The fortunate Lord Warburton exchanged a handshake with our
heroine and hoped she was very well. "But I needn't ask that," he
said, "since you've been handling the oars."

"I've been rowing a little," Isabel answered; "but how should you
know it?"

"Oh, I know he doesn't row; he's too lazy," said his lordship,
indicating Ralph Touchett with a laugh.

"He has a good excuse for his laziness," Isabel rejoined,
lowering her voice a little.

"Ah, he has a good excuse for everything!" cried Lord Warburton,
still with his sonorous mirth.

"My excuse for not rowing is that my cousin rows so well," said
Ralph. "She does everything well. She touches nothing that she
doesn't adorn!"

"It makes one want to be touched, Miss Archer," Lord Warburton
declared.

"Be touched in the right sense and you'll never look the worse
for it," said Isabel, who, if it pleased her to hear it said that
her accomplishments were numerous, was happily able to reflect
that such complacency was not the indication of a feeble mind,
inasmuch as there were several things in which she excelled. Her
desire to think well of herself had at least the element of
humility that it always needed to be supported by proof.

Lord Warburton not only spent the night at Gardencourt, but he
was persuaded to remain over the second day; and when the second
day was ended he determined to postpone his departure till the
morrow. During this period he addressed many of his remarks to
Isabel, who accepted this evidence of his esteem with a very good
grace. She found herself liking him extremely; the first
impression he had made on her had had weight, but at the end of
an evening spent in his society she scarce fell short of seeing
him--though quite without luridity--as a hero of romance. She
retired to rest with a sense of good fortune, with a quickened
consciousness of possible felicities. "It's very nice to know two
such charming people as those," she said, meaning by "those" her
cousin and her cousin's friend. It must be added moreover that an
incident had occurred which might have seemed to put her
good-humour to the test. Mr. Touchett went to bed at half-past
nine o'clock, but his wife remained in the drawing-room with the
other members of the party. She prolonged her vigil for something
less than an hour, and then, rising, observed to Isabel that it
was time they should bid the gentlemen good-night. Isabel had as
yet no desire to go to bed; the occasion wore, to her sense, a
festive character, and feasts were not in the habit of
terminating so early. So, without further thought, she replied,
very simply--

"Need I go, dear aunt? I'll come up in half an hour."

"It's impossible I should wait for you," Mrs. Touchett answered.

"Ah, you needn't wait! Ralph will light my candle," Isabel gaily
engaged.

"I'll light your candle; do let me light your candle, Miss
Archer!" Lord Warburton exclaimed. "Only I beg it shall not be
before midnight."

Mrs. Touchett fixed her bright little eyes upon him a moment and
transferred them coldly to her niece. "You can't stay alone with
the gentlemen. You're not--you're not at your blest Albany, my
dear."

Isabel rose, blushing. "I wish I were," she said.

"Oh, I say, mother!" Ralph broke out.

"My dear Mrs. Touchett!" Lord Warburton murmured.

"I didn't make your country, my lord," Mrs. Touchett said
majestically. "I must take it as I find it."

"Can't I stay with my own cousin?" Isabel enquired.

"I'm not aware that Lord Warburton is your cousin."

"Perhaps I had better go to bed!" the visitor suggested. "That
will arrange it."

Mrs. Touchett gave a little look of despair and sat down again.
"Oh, if it's necessary I'll stay up till midnight."

Ralph meanwhile handed Isabel her candlestick. He had been
watching her; it had seemed to him her temper was involved--an
accident that might be interesting. But if he had expected
anything of a flare he was disappointed, for the girl simply
laughed a little, nodded good-night and withdrew accompanied by
her aunt. For himself he was annoyed at his mother, though he
thought she was right. Above-stairs the two ladies separated at
Mrs. Touchett's door. Isabel had said nothing on her way up.

"Of course you're vexed at my interfering with you," said Mrs.
Touchett.

Isabel considered. "I'm not vexed, but I'm surprised--and a good
deal mystified. Wasn't it proper I should remain in the
drawing-room?"

"Not in the least. Young girls here--in decent houses--don't sit
alone with the gentlemen late at night."

"You were very right to tell me then," said Isabel. "I don't
understand it, but I'm very glad to know it.

"I shall always tell you," her aunt answered, "whenever I see you
taking what seems to me too much liberty."

"Pray do; but I don't say I shall always think your remonstrance
just."

"Very likely not. You're too fond of your own ways."

"Yes, I think I'm very fond of them. But I always want to know
the things one shouldn't do."

"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.

"So as to choose," said Isabel.

Henry James