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Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

As she was devoted to romantic effects Lord Warburton ventured to
express a hope that she would come some day and see his house, a
very curious old place. He extracted from Mrs. Touchett a promise
that she would bring her niece to Lockleigh, and Ralph signified
his willingness to attend the ladies if his father should be able
to spare him. Lord Warburton assured our heroine that in the mean
time his sisters would come and see her. She knew something about
his sisters, having sounded him, during the hours they spent
together while he was at Gardencourt, on many points connected
with his family. When Isabel was interested she asked a great
many questions, and as her companion was a copious talker she
urged him on this occasion by no means in vain. He told her he
had four sisters and two brothers and had lost both his parents.
The brothers and sisters were very good people--"not particularly
clever, you know," he said, "but very decent and pleasant;" and
he was so good as to hope Miss Archer might know them well. One
of the brothers was in the Church, settled in the family living,
that of Lockleigh, which was a heavy, sprawling parish, and was
an excellent fellow in spite of his thinking differently from
himself on every conceivable topic. And then Lord Warburton
mentioned some of the opinions held by his brother, which were
opinions Isabel had often heard expressed and that she supposed
to be entertained by a considerable portion of the human family.
Many of them indeed she supposed she had held herself, till he
assured her she was quite mistaken, that it was really
impossible, that she had doubtless imagined she entertained them,
but that she might depend that, if she thought them over a
little, she would find there was nothing in them. When she
answered that she had already thought several of the questions
involved over very attentively he declared that she was only
another example of what he had often been struck with--the fact
that, of all the people in the world, the Americans were the most
grossly superstitious. They were rank Tories and bigots, every
one of them; there were no conservatives like American
conservatives. Her uncle and her cousin were there to prove it;
nothing could be more medieval than many of their views; they had
ideas that people in England nowadays were ashamed to confess to;
and they had the impudence moreover, said his lordship, laughing,
to pretend they knew more about the needs and dangers of this
poor dear stupid old England than he who was born in it and owned
a considerable slice of it--the more shame to him! From all of
which Isabel gathered that Lord Warburton was a nobleman of the
newest pattern, a reformer, a radical, a contemner of ancient
ways. His other brother, who was in the army in India, was rather
wild and pig-headed and had not been of much use as yet but to
make debts for Warburton to pay--one of the most precious
privileges of an elder brother. "I don't think I shall pay any
more," said her friend; "he lives a monstrous deal better than I
do, enjoys unheard-of luxuries and thinks himself a much finer
gentleman than I. As I'm a consistent radical I go in only for
equality; I don't go in for the superiority of the younger
brothers." Two of his four sisters, the second and fourth, were
married, one of them having done very well, as they said, the
other only so-so. The husband of the elder, Lord Haycock, was a
very good fellow, but unfortunately a horrid Tory; and his wife,
like all good English wives, was worse than her husband. The
other had espoused a smallish squire in Norfolk and, though
married but the other day, had already five children. This
information and much more Lord Warburton imparted to his young
American listener, taking pains to make many things clear and to
lay bare to her apprehension the peculiarities of English life.
Isabel was often amused at his explicitness and at the small
allowance he seemed to make either for her own experience or for
her imagination. "He thinks I'm a barbarian," she said, "and that
I've never seen forks and spoons;" and she used to ask him
artless questions for the pleasure of hearing him answer
seriously. Then when he had fallen into the trap, "It's a pity
you can't see me in my war-paint and feathers," she remarked; "if
I had known how kind you are to the poor savages I would have
brought over my native costume!" Lord Warburton had travelled
through the United States and knew much more about them than
Isabel; he was so good as to say that America was the most
charming country in the world, but his recollections of it
appeared to encourage the idea that Americans in England would
need to have a great many things explained to them. "If I had
only had you to explain things to me in America!" he said. "I was
rather puzzled in your country; in fact I was quite bewildered,
and the trouble was that the explanations only puzzled me more.
You know I think they often gave me the wrong ones on purpose;
they're rather clever about that over there. But when I explain
you can trust me; about what I tell you there's no mistake."
There was no mistake at least about his being very intelligent
and cultivated and knowing almost everything in the world.
Although he gave the most interesting and thrilling glimpses
Isabel felt he never did it to exhibit himself, and though he had
had rare chances and had tumbled in, as she put it, for high
prizes, he was as far as possible from making a merit of it. He
had enjoyed the best things of life, but they had not spoiled his
sense of proportion. His quality was a mixture of the effect of
rich experience--oh, so easily come by!--with a modesty at times
almost boyish; the sweet and wholesome savour of which--it was as
agreeable as something tasted--lost nothing from the addition of
a tone of responsible kindness.

"I like your specimen English gentleman very much," Isabel said
to Ralph after Lord Warburton had gone.

"I like him too--I love him well," Ralph returned. "But I pity
him more."

Isabel looked at him askance. "Why, that seems to me his only
fault--that one can't pity him a little. He appears to have
everything, to know everything, to be everything."

"Oh, he's in a bad way!" Ralph insisted.

"I suppose you don't mean in health?"

"No, as to that he's detestably sound. What I mean is that he's a
man with a great position who's playing all sorts of tricks with
it. He doesn't take himself seriously."

"Does he regard himself as a joke?"

"Much worse; he regards himself as an imposition--as an abuse."

"Well, perhaps he is," said Isabel.

"Perhaps he is--though on the whole I don't think so. But in that
case what's more pitiable than a sentient, self-conscious abuse
planted by other hands, deeply rooted but aching with a sense of
its injustice? For me, in his place, I could be as solemn as a
statue of Buddha. He occupies a position that appeals to my
imagination. Great responsibilities, great opportunities, great
consideration, great wealth, great power, a natural share in the
public affairs of a great country. But he's all in a muddle about
himself, his position, his power, and indeed about everything in
the world. He's the victim of a critical age; he has ceased to
believe in himself and he doesn't know what to believe in. When I
attempt to tell him (because if I were he I know very well what I
should believe in) he calls me a pampered bigot. I believe he
seriously thinks me an awful Philistine; he says I don't
understand my time. I understand it certainly better than he, who
can neither abolish himself as a nuisance nor maintain himself as
an institution."

"He doesn't look very wretched," Isabel observed.

"Possibly not; though, being a man of a good deal of charming
taste, I think he often has uncomfortable hours. But what is it
to say of a being of his opportunities that he's not miserable?
Besides, I believe he is."

"I don't," said Isabel.

"Well," her cousin rejoined, "if he isn't he ought to be!"

In the afternoon she spent an hour with her uncle on the lawn,
where the old man sat, as usual, with his shawl over his legs and
his large cup of diluted tea in his hands. In the course of
conversation he asked her what she thought of their late visitor.

Isabel was prompt. "I think he's charming."

"He's a nice person," said Mr. Touchett, "but I don't recommend
you to fall in love with him."

"I shall not do it then; I shall never fall in love but on your
recommendation. Moreover," Isabel added, "my cousin gives me
rather a sad account of Lord Warburton."

"Oh, indeed? I don't know what there may be to say, but you must
remember that Ralph must talk."

"He thinks your friend's too subversive--or not subversive
enough! I don't quite understand which," said Isabel.

The old man shook his head slowly, smiled and put down his cup.
"I don't know which either. He goes very far, but it's quite
possible he doesn't go far enough. He seems to want to do away
with a good many things, but he seems to want to remain himself.
I suppose that's natural, but it's rather inconsistent."

"Oh, I hope he'll remain himself," said Isabel. "If he were to be
done away with his friends would miss him sadly."

"Well," said the old man, "I guess he'll stay and amuse his
friends. I should certainly miss him very much here at
Gardencourt. He always amuses me when he comes over, and I think
he amuses himself as well. There's a considerable number like
him, round in society; they're very fashionable just now. I don't
know what they're trying to do--whether they're trying to get up
a revolution. I hope at any rate they'll put it off till after
I'm gone. You see they want to disestablish everything; but I'm a
pretty big landowner here, and I don't want to be disestablished.
I wouldn't have come over if I had thought they were going to
behave like that," Mr. Touchett went on with expanding hilarity.
"I came over because I thought England was a safe country. I call
it a regular fraud if they are going to introduce any considerable
changes; there'll be a large number disappointed in that case."

"Oh, I do hope they'll make a revolution!" Isabel exclaimed. "I
should delight in seeing a revolution."

"Let me see," said her uncle, with a humorous intention; "I forget
whether you're on the side of the old or on the side of the new.
I've heard you take such opposite views."

"I'm on the side of both. I guess I'm a little on the side of
everything. In a revolution--after it was well begun--I think I
should be a high, proud loyalist. One sympathises more with them,
and they've a chance to behave so exquisitely. I mean so
picturesquely."

"I don't know that I understand what you mean by behaving
picturesquely, but it seems to me that you do that always, my
dear."

"Oh, you lovely man, if I could believe that!" the girl
interrupted.

"I'm afraid, after all, you won't have the pleasure of going
gracefully to the guillotine here just now," Mr. Touchett went
on. "If you want to see a big outbreak you must pay us a long
visit. You see, when you come to the point it wouldn't suit them
to be taken at their word."

"Of whom are you speaking?"

"Well, I mean Lord Warburton and his friends--the radicals of the
upper class. Of course I only know the way it strikes me. They
talk about the changes, but I don't think they quite realise. You
and I, you know, we know what it is to have lived under democratic
institutions: I always thought them very comfortable, but I was
used to them from the first. And then I ain't a lord; you're a
lady, my dear, but I ain't a lord. Now over here I don't think it
quite comes home to them. It's a matter of every day and every
hour, and I don't think many of them would find it as pleasant as
what they've got. Of course if they want to try, it's their own
business; but I expect they won't try very hard."

"Don't you think they're sincere?" Isabel asked.

"Well, they want to FEEL earnest," Mr. Touchett allowed; "but it
seems as if they took it out in theories mostly. Their radical
views are a kind of amusement; they've got to have some
amusement, and they might have coarser tastes than that. You see
they're very luxurious, and these progressive ideas are about
their biggest luxury. They make them feel moral and yet don't
damage their position. They think a great deal of their position;
don't let one of them ever persuade you he doesn't, for if you
were to proceed on that basis you'd be pulled up very short."

Isabel followed her uncle's argument, which he unfolded with his
quaint distinctness, most attentively, and though she was
unacquainted with the British aristocracy she found it in harmony
with her general impressions of human nature. But she felt moved
to put in a protest on Lord Warburton's behalf. "I don't believe
Lord Warburton's a humbug; I don't care what the others are. I
should like to see Lord Warburton put to the test."

"Heaven deliver me from my friends!" Mr. Touchett answered. "Lord
Warburton's a very amiable young man--a very fine young man. He
has a hundred thousand a year. He owns fifty thousand acres of
the soil of this little island and ever so many other things
besides. He has half a dozen houses to live in. He has a seat in
Parliament as I have one at my own dinner-table. He has elegant
tastes--cares for literature, for art, for science, for charming
young ladies. The most elegant is his taste for the new views. It
affords him a great deal of pleasure--more perhaps than anything
else, except the young ladies. His old house over there--what
does he call it, Lockleigh?--is very attractive; but I don't
think it's as pleasant as this. That doesn't matter, however--he
has so many others. His views don't hurt any one as far as I can
see; they certainly don't hurt himself. And if there were to be a
revolution he would come off very easily. They wouldn't touch
him, they'd leave him as he is: he's too much liked."

"Ah, he couldn't be a martyr even if he wished!" Isabel sighed.
"That's a very poor position."

"He'll never be a martyr unless you make him one," said the old
man.

Isabel shook her head; there might have been something laughable
in the fact that she did it with a touch of melancholy. "I shall
never make any one a martyr."

"You'll never be one, I hope."

"I hope not. But you don't pity Lord Warburton then as Ralph
does?"

Her uncle looked at her a while with genial acuteness. "Yes, I
do, after all!"

Henry James