Part 1 out of 7
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The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James
"The Portrait of a Lady" was, like "Roderick Hudson," begun in
Florence, during three months spent there in the spring of 1879.
Like "Roderick" and like "The American," it had been
designed for publication in "The Atlantic Monthly," where it
began to appear in 1880. It differed from its two predecessors,
however, in finding a course also open to it, from month to
month, in "Macmillan's Magazine"; which was to be for me one of
the last occasions of simultaneous "serialisation" in the two
countries that the changing conditions of literary intercourse
between England and the United States had up to then left
unaltered. It is a long novel, and I was long in writing it; I
remember being again much occupied with it, the following year,
during a stay of several weeks made in Venice. I had rooms on
Riva Schiavoni, at the top of a house near the passage leading
off to San Zaccaria; the waterside life, the wondrous lagoon
spread before me, and the ceaseless human chatter of Venice came
in at my windows, to which I seem to myself to have been
constantly driven, in the fruitless fidget of composition, as if
to see whether, out in the blue channel, the ship of some right
suggestion, of some better phrase, of the next happy twist of my
subject, the next true touch for my canvas, mightn't come into
sight. But I recall vividly enough that the response most
elicited, in general, to these restless appeals was the rather
grim admonition that romantic and historic sites, such as the
land of Italy abounds in, offer the artist a questionable aid to
concentration when they themselves are not to be the subject of
it. They are too rich in their own life and too charged with
their own meanings merely to help him out with a lame phrase;
they draw him away from his small question to their own greater
ones; so that, after a little, he feels, while thus yearning
toward them in his difficulty, as if he were asking an army of
glorious veterans to help him to arrest a peddler who has given
him the wrong change.
There are pages of the book which, in the reading over, have
seemed to make me see again the bristling curve of the wide Riva,
the large colour-spots of the balconied houses and the repeated
undulation of the little hunchbacked bridges, marked by the rise
and drop again, with the wave, of foreshortened clicking
pedestrians. The Venetian footfall and the Venetian cry--all
talk there, wherever uttered, having the pitch of a call across
the water--come in once more at the window, renewing one's old
impression of the delighted senses and the divided, frustrated
mind. How can places that speak IN GENERAL so to the imagination
not give it, at the moment, the particular thing it wants? I
recollect again and again, in beautiful places, dropping into
that wonderment. The real truth is, I think, that they express,
under this appeal, only too much--more than, in the given case,
one has use for; so that one finds one's self working less
congruously, after all, so far as the surrounding picture is
concerned, than in presence of the moderate and the neutral, to
which we may lend something of the light of our vision. Such a
place as Venice is too proud for such charities; Venice doesn't
borrow, she but all magnificently gives. We profit by that
enormously, but to do so we must either be quite off duty or be
on it in her service alone. Such, and so rueful, are these
reminiscences; though on the whole, no doubt, one's book, and
one's "literary effort" at large, were to be the better for
them. Strangely fertilising, in the long run, does a wasted
effort of attention often prove. It all depends on HOW the
attention has been cheated, has been squandered. There are
high-handed insolent frauds, and there are insidious sneaking
ones. And there is, I fear, even on the most designing artist's
part, always witless enough good faith, always anxious enough
desire, to fail to guard him against their deceits.
Trying to recover here, for recognition, the germ of my idea, I
see that it must have consisted not at all in any conceit of a
"plot," nefarious name, in any flash, upon the fancy, of a set of
relations, or in any one of those situations that, by a logic of
their own, immediately fall, for the fabulist, into movement,
into a march or a rush, a patter of quick steps; but altogether in
the sense of a single character, the character and aspect of a
particular engaging young woman, to which all the usual elements
of a "subject," certainly of a setting, were to need to be super
added. Quite as interesting as the young woman herself at her
best, do I find, I must again repeat, this projection of memory
upon the whole matter of the growth, in one's imagination, of
some such apology for a motive. These are the fascinations of the
fabulist's art, these lurking forces of expansion, these
necessities of upspringing in the seed, these beautiful
determinations, on the part of the idea entertained, to grow as
tall as possible, to push into the light and the air and thickly
flower there; and, quite as much, these fine possibilities of
recovering, from some good standpoint on the ground gained, the
intimate history of the business--of retracing and reconstructing
its steps and stages. I have always fondly remembered a remark
that I heard fall years ago from the lips of Ivan Turgenieff in
regard to his own experience of the usual origin of the fictive
picture. It began for him almost always with the vision of some
person or persons, who hovered before him, soliciting him, as the
active or passive figure, interesting him and appealing to him
just as they were and by what they were. He saw them, in that
fashion, as disponibles, saw them subject to the chances, the
complications of existence, and saw them vividly, but then had to
find for them the right relations, those that would most bring
them out; to imagine, to invent and select and piece together the
situations most useful and favourable to the sense of the
creatures themselves, the complications they would be most likely
to produce and to feel.
"To arrive at these things is to arrive at my story," he
said, "and that's the way I look for it. The result is that I'm
often accused of not having 'story' enough. I seem to myself to
have as much as I need--to show my people, to exhibit their
relations with each other; for that is all my measure. If I watch
them long enough I see them come together, I see them PLACED, I
see them engaged in this or that act and in this or that
difficulty. How they look and move and speak and behave, always
in the setting I have found for them, is my account of them--of
which I dare say, alas, que cela manque souvent d'architecture.
But I would rather, I think, have too little architecture than
too much--when there's danger of its interfering with my measure
of the truth. The French of course like more of it than I give--
having by their own genius such a hand for it; and indeed one
must give all one can. As for the origin of one's wind-blown
germs themselves, who shall say, as you ask, where THEY come
from? We have to go too far back, too far behind, to say. Isn't
it all we can say that they come from every quarter of heaven,
that they are THERE at almost any turn of the road? They
accumulate, and we are always picking them over, selecting among
them. They are the breath of life--by which I mean that life, in
its own way, breathes them upon us. They are so, in a manner
prescribed and imposed--floated into our minds by the current of
life. That reduces to imbecility the vain critic's quarrel, so
often, with one's subject, when he hasn't the wit to accept it.
Will he point out then which other it should properly have been?
--his office being, essentially to point out. Il en serait bien
embarrasse. Ah, when he points out what I've done or failed to do
with it, that's another matter: there he's on his ground. I give
him up my 'sarchitecture,'" my distinguished friend concluded,
"as much as he will."
So this beautiful genius, and I recall with comfort the gratitude
I drew from his reference to the intensity of suggestion that may
reside in the stray figure, the unattached character, the image
en disponibilite. It gave me higher warrant than I seemed then to
have met for just that blest habit of one's own imagination, the
trick of investing some conceived or encountered individual, some
brace or group of individuals, with the germinal property and
authority. I was myself so much more antecedently conscious of my
figures than of their setting--a too preliminary, a preferential
interest in which struck me as in general such a putting of the
cart before the horse. I might envy, though I couldn't emulate,
the imaginative writer so constituted as to see his fable first
and to make out its agents afterwards. I could think so little of
any fable that didn't need its agents positively to launch it; I
could think so little of any situation that didn't depend for its
interest on the nature of the persons situated, and thereby on
their way of taking it. There are methods of so-called
presentation, I believe among novelists who have appeared to
flourish--that offer the situation as indifferent to that
support; but I have not lost the sense of the value for me, at
the time, of the admirable Russian's testimony to my not needing,
all superstitiously, to try and perform any such gymnastic. Other
echoes from the same source linger with me, I confess, as
unfadingly--if it be not all indeed one much-embracing echo. It
was impossible after that not to read, for one's uses, high
lucidity into the tormented and disfigured and bemuddled question
of the objective value, and even quite into that of the critical
appreciation, of "subject" in the novel.
One had had from an early time, for that matter, the instinct of
the right estimate of such values and of its reducing to the
inane the dull dispute over the "immoral" subject and the moral.
Recognising so promptly the one measure of the worth of a given
subject, the question about it that, rightly answered, disposes
of all others--is it valid, in a word, is it genuine, is it
sincere, the result of some direct impression or perception of
life?--I had found small edification, mostly, in a critical
pretension that had neglected from the first all delimitation of
ground and all definition of terms. The air of my earlier time
shows, to memory, as darkened, all round, with that vanity--
unless the difference to-day be just in one's own final
impatience, the lapse of one's attention. There is, I think, no
more nutritive or suggestive truth in this connexion than that of
the perfect dependence of the "moral" sense of a work of art on
the amount of felt life concerned in producing it. The question
comes back thus, obviously, to the kind and the degree of the
artist's prime sensibility, which is the soil out of which his
subject springs. The quality and capacity of that soil, its
ability to "grow" with due freshness and straightness any vision
of life, represents, strongly or weakly, the projected morality.
That element is but another name for the more or less close
connexion of the subject with some mark made on the intelligence,
with some sincere experience. By which, at the same time, of
course, one is far from contending that this enveloping air of
the artist's humanity--which gives the last touch to the worth of
the work--is not a widely and wondrously varying element; being
on one occasion a rich and magnificent medium and on another a
comparatively poor and ungenerous one. Here we get exactly the
high price of the novel as a literary form--its power not only,
while preserving that form with closeness, to range through all
the differences of the individual relation to its general
subject-matter, all the varieties of outlook on life, of
disposition to reflect and project, created by conditions that
are never the same from man to man (or, so far as that goes, from
man to woman), but positively to appear more true to its
character in proportion as it strains, or tends to burst, with a
latent extravagance, its mould.
The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million--
a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every
one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its
vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the
pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar
shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that
we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than
we find. They are but windows at the best, mere holes in a dead
wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors
opening straight upon life. But they have this mark of their own
that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at
least with a field-glass, which forms, again and again, for
observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making
use of it an impression distinct from every other. He and his
neighbours are watching the same show, but one seeing more where
the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white,
one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse
where the other sees fine. And so on, and so on; there is
fortunately no saying on what, for the particular pair of eyes,
the window may NOT open; "fortunately" by reason, precisely, of
this incalculability of range. The spreading field, the human
scene, is the "choice of subject"; the pierced aperture, either
broad or balconied or slit-like and low-browed, is the "literary
form"; but they are, singly or together, as nothing without the
posted presence of the watcher--without, in other words, the
consciousness of the artist. Tell me what the artist is, and I
will tell you of what he has BEEN conscious. Thereby I shall
express to you at once his boundless freedom and his "moral"
All this is a long way round, however, for my word about my dim
first move toward "The Portrait," which was exactly my grasp of a
single character--an acquisition I had made, moreover, after a
fashion not here to be retraced. Enough that I was, as seemed to
me, in complete possession of it, that I had been so for a long
time, that this had made it familiar and yet had not blurred its
charm, and that, all urgently, all tormentingly, I saw it in
motion and, so to speak, in transit. This amounts to saying that
I saw it as bent upon its fate--some fate or other; which, among
the possibilities, being precisely the question. Thus I had my
vivid individual--vivid, so strangely, in spite of being still at
large, not confined by the conditions, not engaged in the tangle,
to which we look for much of the impress that constitutes an
identity. If the apparition was still all to be placed how came
it to be vivid?--since we puzzle such quantities out, mostly,
just by the business of placing them. One could answer such a
question beautifully, doubtless, if one could do so subtle, if
not so monstrous, a thing as to write the history of the growth
of one's imagination. One would describe then what, at a given
time, had extraordinarily happened to it, and one would so, for
instance, be in a position to tell, with an approach to
clearness, how, under favour of occasion, it had been able to
take over (take over straight from life) such and such a
constituted, animated figure or form. The figure has to that
extent, as you see, BEEN placed--placed in the imagination that
detains it, preserves, protects, enjoys it, conscious of its
presence in the dusky, crowded, heterogeneous back-shop of the
mind very much as a wary dealer in precious odds and ends,
competent to make an "advance" on rare objects confided to him,
is conscious of the rare little "piece" left in deposit by the
reduced, mysterious lady of title or the speculative amateur, and
which is already there to disclose its merit afresh as soon as a
key shall have clicked in a cupboard-door.
That may he, I recognise, a somewhat superfine analogy for the
particular "value" I here speak of, the image of the young
feminine nature that I had had for so considerable a time all
curiously at my disposal; but it appears to fond memory quite to
fit the fact--with the recall, in addition, of my pious desire but
to place my treasure right. I quite remind myself thus of the
dealer resigned not to "realise," resigned to keeping the
precious object locked up indefinitely rather than commit it, at
no matter what price, to vulgar hands. For there ARE dealers in
these forms and figures and treasures capable of that refinement.
The point is, however, that this single small corner-stone, the
conception of a certain young woman affronting her destiny, had
begun with being all my outfit for the large building of "The
Portrait of a Lady." It came to be a square and spacious house--
or has at least seemed so to me in this going over it again; but,
such as it is, it had to be put up round my young woman while she
stood there in perfect isolation. That is to me, artistically
speaking, the circumstance of interest; for I have lost myself
once more, I confess, in the curiosity of analysing the
structure. By what process of logical accretion was this slight
"personality," the mere slim shade of an intelligent but
presumptuous girl, to find itself endowed with the high
attributes of a Subject?--and indeed by what thinness, at the
best, would such a subject not be vitiated? Millions of
presumptuous girls, intelligent or not intelligent, daily affront
their destiny, and what is it open to their destiny to be, at the
most, that we should make an ado about it? The novel is of its
very nature an "ado," an ado about something, and the larger the
form it takes the greater of course the ado. Therefore,
consciously, that was what one was in for--for positively
organising an ado about Isabel Archer.
One looked it well in the face, I seem to remember, this
extravagance; and with the effect precisely of recognising the
charm of the problem. Challenge any such problem with any
intelligence, and you immediately see how full it is of
substance; the wonder being, all the while, as we look at the
world, how absolutely, how inordinately, the Isabel Archers, and
even much smaller female fry, insist on mattering. George Eliot
has admirably noted it--"In these frail vessels is borne onward
through the ages the treasure of human affection." In "Romeo and
Juliet" Juliet has to be important, just as, in "Adam Bede" and
"The Mill on the Floss" and "Middlemarch" and "Daniel
Deronda," Hetty Sorrel and Maggie Tulliver and Rosamond Vincy and
Gwendolen Harleth have to be; with that much of firm ground, that
much of bracing air, at the disposal all the while of their feet
and their lungs. They are typical, none the less, of a class
difficult, in the individual case, to make a centre of interest;
so difficult in fact that many an expert painter, as for instance
Dickens and Walter Scott, as for instance even, in the main, so
subtle a hand as that of R. L. Stevenson, has preferred to leave
the task unattempted. There are in fact writers as to whom we
make out that their refuge from this is to assume it to be not
worth their attempting; by which pusillanimity in truth their
honour is scantly saved. It is never an attestation of a value,
or even of our imperfect sense of one, it is never a tribute to
any truth at all, that we shall represent that value badly. It
never makes up, artistically, for an artist's dim feeling about a
thing that he shall "do" the thing as ill as possible. There
are better ways than that, the best of all of which is to begin
with less stupidity.
It may be answered meanwhile, in regard to Shakespeare's and to
George Eliot's testimony, that their concession to the
"importance" of their Juliets and Cleopatras and Portias (even
with Portia as the very type and model of the young person
intelligent and presumptuous) and to that of their Hettys and
Maggies and Rosamonds and Gwendolens, suffers the abatement that
these slimnesses are, when figuring as the main props of the
theme, never suffered to be sole ministers of its appeal, but
have their inadequacy eked out with comic relief and underplots,
as the playwrights say, when not with murders and battles and the
great mutations of the world. If they are shown as "mattering"
as much as they could possibly pretend to, the proof of it is in
a hundred other persons, made of much stouter stuff; and each
involved moreover in a hundred relations which matter to THEM
concomitantly with that one. Cleopatra matters, beyond bounds, to
Antony, but his colleagues, his antagonists, the state of Rome
and the impending battle also prodigiously matter; Portia matters
to Antonio, and to Shylock, and to the Prince of Morocco, to the
fifty aspiring princes, but for these gentry there are other
lively concerns; for Antonio, notably, there are Shylock and
Bassanio and his lost ventures and the extremity of his
predicament. This extremity indeed, by the same token, matters to
Portia--though its doing so becomes of interest all by the fact
that Portia matters to US. That she does so, at any rate, and
that almost everything comes round to it again, supports my
contention as to this fine example of the value recognised in the
mere young thing. (I say "mere" young thing because I guess that
even Shakespeare, preoccupied mainly though he may have been with
the passions of princes, would scarce have pretended to found the
best of his appeal for her on her high social position.) It is an
example exactly of the deep difficulty braved--the difficulty of
making George Eliot's "frail vessel," if not the all-in-all for
our attention, at least the clearest of the call.
Now to see deep difficulty braved is at any time, for the really
addicted artist, to feel almost even as a pang the beautiful
incentive, and to feel it verily in such sort as to wish the
danger intensified. The difficulty most worth tackling can only
be for him, in these conditions, the greatest the case permits
of. So I remember feeling here (in presence, always, that is, of
the particular uncertainty of my ground), that there would be one
way better than another--oh, ever so much better than any other!--
of making it fight out its battle. The frail vessel, that charged
with George Eliot's "treasure," and thereby of such importance
to those who curiously approach it, has likewise possibilities of
importance to itself, possibilities which permit of treatment and
in fact peculiarly require it from the moment they are considered
at all. There is always the escape from any close account of the
weak agent of such spells by using as a bridge for evasion, for
retreat and flight, the view of her relation to those surrounding
her. Make it predominantly a view of THEIR relation and the trick
is played: you give the general sense of her effect, and you
give it, so far as the raising on it of a superstructure goes,
with the maximum of ease. Well, I recall perfectly how little, in
my now quite established connexion, the maximum of ease appealed
to me, and how I seemed to get rid of it by an honest
transposition of the weights in the two scales. "Place the
centre of the subject in the young woman's own consciousness," I
said to myself, "and you get as interesting and as beautiful a
difficulty as you could wish. Stick to THAT--for the centre;
put the heaviest weight into THAT scale, which will be so largely
the scale of her relation to herself. Make her only interested
enough, at the same time, in the things that are not herself, and
this relation needn't fear to be too limited. Place meanwhile in
the other scale the lighter weight (which is usually the one that
tips the balance of interest): press least hard, in short, on
the consciousness of your heroine's satellites, especially the
male; make it an interest contributive only to the greater one.
See, at all events, what can be done in this way. What better
field could there be for a due ingenuity? The girl hovers,
inextinguishable, as a charming creature, and the job will be to
translate her into the highest terms of that formula, and as
nearly as possible moreover into ALL of them. To depend upon her
and her little concerns wholly to see you through will
necessitate, remember, your really 'doing' her."
So far I reasoned, and it took nothing less than that technical
rigour, I now easily see, to inspire me with the right confidence
for erecting on such a plot of ground the neat and careful and
proportioned pile of bricks that arches over it and that was thus
to form, constructionally speaking, a literary monument. Such is
the aspect that to-day "The Portrait" wears for me: a structure
reared with an "architectural" competence, as Turgenieff would
have said, that makes it, to the author's own sense, the most
proportioned of his productions after "The Ambassadors" which was
to follow it so many years later and which has, no doubt, a
superior roundness. On one thing I was determined; that, though I
should clearly have to pile brick upon brick for the creation of
an interest, I would leave no pretext for saying that anything is
out of line, scale or perspective. I would build large--in fine
embossed vaults and painted arches, as who should say, and yet
never let it appear that the chequered pavement, the ground under
the reader's feet, fails to stretch at every point to the base of
the walls. That precautionary spirit, on re-perusal of the book,
is the old note that most touches me: it testifies so, for my own
ear, to the anxiety of my provision for the reader's amusement. I
felt, in view of the possible limitations of my subject, that no
such provision could be excessive, and the development of the
latter was simply the general form of that earnest quest. And I
find indeed that this is the only account I can give myself of
the evolution of the fable it is all under the head thus named
that I conceive the needful accretion as having taken place, the
right complications as having started. It was naturally of the
essence that the young woman should be herself complex; that was
rudimentary--or was at any rate the light in which Isabel Archer
had originally dawned. It went, however, but a certain way, and
other lights, contending, conflicting lights, and of as many
different colours, if possible, as the rockets, the Roman candles
and Catherine-wheels of a "pyrotechnic display," would be
employable to attest that she was. I had, no doubt, a groping
instinct for the right complications, since I am quite unable to
track the footsteps of those that constitute, as the case stands,
the general situation exhibited. They are there, for what they
are worth, and as numerous as might be; but my memory, I confess,
is a blank as to how and whence they came.
I seem to myself to have waked up one morning in possession of
them--of Ralph Touchett and his parents, of Madame Merle, of
Gilbert Osmond and his daughter and his sister, of Lord
Warburton, Caspar Goodwood and Miss Stackpole, the definite array
of contributions to Isabel Archer's history. I recognised them, I
knew them, they were the numbered pieces of my puzzle, the
concrete terms of my "plot." It was as if they had simply, by an
impulse of their own, floated into my ken, and all in response to
my primary question: "Well, what will she DO?" Their answer seemed
to be that if I would trust them they would show me; on which,
with an urgent appeal to them to make it at least as interesting
as they could, I trusted them. They were like the group of
attendants and entertainers who come down by train when people
in the country give a party; they represented the contract for
carrying the party on. That was an excellent relation with them
--a possible one even with so broken a reed (from her slightness
of cohesion) as Henrietta Stackpole. It is a familiar truth to
the novelist, at the strenuous hour, that, as certain elements
in any work are of the essence, so others are only of the form;
that as this or that character, this or that disposition of the
material, belongs to the subject directly, so to speak, so this
or that other belongs to it but indirectly--belongs intimately to
the treatment. This is a truth, however, of which he rarely gets
the benefit--since it could be assured to him, really, but by
criticism based upon perception, criticism which is too little of
this world. He must not think of benefits, moreover, I freely
recognise, for that way dishonour lies: he has, that is, but one
to think of--the benefit, whatever it may be, involved in his
having cast a spell upon the simpler, the very simplest, forms of
attention. This is all he is entitled to; he is entitled to
nothing, he is bound to admit, that can come to him, from the
reader, as a result on the latter's part of any act of reflexion
or discrimination. He may ENJOY this finer tribute--that is
another affair, but on condition only of taking it as a gratuity
"thrown in," a mere miraculous windfall, the fruit of a tree he
may not pretend to have shaken. Against reflexion, against
discrimination, in his interest, all earth and air conspire;
wherefore it is that, as I say, he must in many a case have
schooled himself, from the first, to work but for a "living
wage." The living wage is the reader's grant of the least
possible quantity of attention required for consciousness of a
"spell." The occasional charming "tip" is an act of his
intelligence over and beyond this, a golden apple, for the
writer's lap, straight from the wind-stirred tree. The artist may
of course, in wanton moods, dream of some Paradise (for art) where
the direct appeal to the intelligence might be legalised; for to
such extravagances as these his yearning mind can scarce hope
ever completely to close itself. The most he can do is to
remember they ARE extravagances.
All of which is perhaps but a gracefully devious way of saying that
Henrietta Stackpole was a good example, in "The Portrait," of the
truth to which I just adverted--as good an example as I could name
were it not that Maria Gostrey, in "The Ambassadors," then in the
bosom of time, may be mentioned as a better. Each of these persons
is but wheels to the coach; neither belongs to the body of that
vehicle, or is for a moment accommodated with a seat inside. There
the subject alone is ensconced, in the form of its "hero and
heroine," and of the privileged high officials, say, who ride with
the king and queen. There are reasons why one would have liked
this to be felt, as in general one would like almost anything to
be felt, in one's work, that one has one's self contributively felt.
We have seen, however, how idle is that pretension, which I should
be sorry to make too much of. Maria Gostrey and Miss Stackpole
then are cases, each, of the light ficelle, not of the true
agent; they may run beside the coach "for all they are worth,"
they may cling to it till they are out of breath (as poor Miss
Stackpole all so visibly does), but neither, all the while, so
much as gets her foot on the step, neither ceases for a moment
to tread the dusty road. Put it even that they are like the
fishwives who helped to bring back to Paris from Versailles, on
that most ominous day of the first half of the French Revolution,
the carriage of the royal family. The only thing is that I may
well be asked, I acknowledge, why then, in the present fiction,
I have suffered Henrietta (of whom we have indubitably too much)
so officiously, so strangely, so almost inexplicably, to pervade.
I will presently say what I can for that anomaly--and in the most
A point I wish still more to make is that if my relation of
confidence with the actors in my drama who WERE, unlike Miss
Stackpole, true agents, was an excellent one to have arrived at,
there still remained my relation with the reader, which was
another affair altogether and as to which I felt no one to be
trusted but myself. That solicitude was to be accordingly
expressed in the artful patience with which, as I have said, I
piled brick upon brick. The bricks, for the whole counting-over--
putting for bricks little touches and inventions and enhancements
by the way--affect me in truth as well-nigh innumerable and as
ever so scrupulously fitted together and packed-in. It is an
effect of detail, of the minutest; though, if one were in this
connexion to say all, one would express the hope that the
general, the ampler air of the modest monument still survives. I
do at least seem to catch the key to a part of this abundance of
small anxious, ingenious illustration as I recollect putting my
finger, in my young woman's interest, on the most obvious of her
predicates. "What will she 'do'? Why, the first thing she'll
do will be to come to Europe; which in fact will form, and all
inevitably, no small part of her principal adventure. Coming to
Europe is even for the 'frail vessels,' in this wonderful age, a
mild adventure; but what is truer than that on one side--the side
of their independence of flood and field, of the moving accident,
of battle and murder and sudden death--her adventures are to be
mild? Without her sense of them, her sense FOR them, as one may
say, they are next to nothing at all; but isn't the beauty and
the difficulty just in showing their mystic conversion by that
sense, conversion into the stuff of drama or, even more
delightful word still, of 'story'?" It was all as clear, my
contention, as a silver bell. Two very good instances, I think,
of this effect of conversion, two cases of the rare chemistry,
are the pages in which Isabel, coming into the drawing-room at
Gardencourt, coming in from a wet walk or whatever, that rainy
afternoon, finds Madame Merle in possession of the place, Madame
Merle seated, all absorbed but all serene, at the piano, and
deeply recognises, in the striking of such an hour, in the
presence there, among the gathering shades, of this personage, of
whom a moment before she had never so much as heard, a
turning-point in her life. It is dreadful to have too much, for
any artistic demonstration, to dot one's i's and insist on one's
intentions, and I am not eager to do it now; but the question
here was that of producing the maximum of intensity with the
minimum of strain.
The interest was to be raised to its pitch and yet the elements
to be kept in their key; so that, should the whole thing duly
impress, I might show what an "exciting" inward life may do for
the person leading it even while it remains perfectly normal. And
I cannot think of a more consistent application of that ideal
unless it be in the long statement, just beyond the middle of the
book, of my young woman's extraordinary meditative vigil on the
occasion that was to become for her such a landmark. Reduced to
its essence, it is but the vigil of searching criticism; but it
throws the action further forward that twenty "incidents" might
have done. It was designed to have all the vivacity of incidents
and all the economy of picture. She sits up, by her dying fire,
far into the night, under the spell of recognitions on which she
finds the last sharpness suddenly wait. It is a representation
simply of her motionlessly SEEING, and an attempt withal to make
the mere still lucidity of her act as "interesting" as the
surprise of a caravan or the identification of a pirate. It
represents, for that matter, one of the identifications dear to
the novelist, and even indispensable to him; but it all goes on
without her being approached by another person and without her
leaving her chair. It is obviously the best thing in the book,
but it is only a supreme illustration of the general plan. As to
Henrietta, my apology for whom I just left incomplete, she
exemplifies, I fear, in her superabundance, not an element of my
plan, but only an excess of my zeal. So early was to begin my
tendency to OVERTREAT, rather than undertreat (when there was
choice or danger) my subject. (Many members of my craft, I
gather, are far from agreeing with me, but I have always held
overtreating the minor disservice.) "Treating" that of "The
Portrait" amounted to never forgetting, by any lapse, that the
thing was under a special obligation to be amusing. There was the
danger of the noted "thinness"--which was to be averted, tooth
and nail, by cultivation of the lively. That is at least how I
see it to-day. Henrietta must have been at that time a part of my
wonderful notion of the lively. And then there was another
matter. I had, within the few preceding years, come to live in
London, and the "international" light lay, in those days, to my
sense, thick and rich upon the scene. It was the light in which
so much of the picture hung. But that IS another matter. There is
really too much to say.
THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more
agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as
afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you
partake of the tea or not--some people of course never do,--the
situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in
beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable
setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little
feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English
country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a
splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but
much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and
rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but
the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown
mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They
lengthened slowly, however, and the scene expressed that sense of
leisure still to come which is perhaps the chief source of one's
enjoyment of such a scene at such an hour. From five o'clock to
eight is on certain occasions a little eternity; but on such an
occasion as this the interval could be only an eternity of
pleasure. The persons concerned in it were taking their pleasure
quietly, and they were not of the sex which is supposed to
furnish the regular votaries of the ceremony I have mentioned.
The shadows on the perfect lawn were straight and angular; they
were the shadows of an old man sitting in a deep wicker-chair
near the low table on which the tea had been served, and of two
younger men strolling to and fro, in desultory talk, in front of
him. The old man had his cup in his hand; it was an unusually
large cup, of a different pattern from the rest of the set and
painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with
much circumspection, holding it for a long time close to his
chin, with his face turned to the house. His companions had
either finished their tea or were indifferent to their privilege;
they smoked cigarettes as they continued to stroll. One of them,
from time to time, as he passed, looked with a certain attention
at the elder man, who, unconscious of observation, rested his
eyes upon the rich red front of his dwelling. The house that rose
beyond the lawn was a structure to repay such consideration and
was the most characteristic object in the peculiarly English
picture I have attempted to sketch.
It stood upon a low hill, above the river--the river being the
Thames at some forty miles from London. A long gabled front of
red brick, with the complexion of which time and the weather had
played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve
and refine it, presented to the lawn its patches of ivy, its
clustered chimneys, its windows smothered in creepers. The house
had a name and a history; the old gentleman taking his tea would
have been delighted to tell you these things: how it had been
built under Edward the Sixth, had offered a night's hospitality
to the great Elizabeth (whose august person had extended itself
upon a huge, magnificent and terribly angular bed which still
formed the principal honour of the sleeping apartments), had been
a good deal bruised and defaced in Cromwell's wars, and then,
under the Restoration, repaired and much enlarged; and how,
finally, after having been remodelled and disfigured in the
eighteenth century, it had passed into the careful keeping of a
shrewd American banker, who had bought it originally because
(owing to circumstances too complicated to set forth) it was
offered at a great bargain: bought it with much grumbling at its
ugliness, its antiquity, its incommodity, and who now, at the end
of twenty years, had become conscious of a real aesthetic passion
for it, so that he knew all its points and would tell you just
where to stand to see them in combination and just the hour when
the shadows of its various protuberances which fell so softly
upon the warm, weary brickwork--were of the right measure.
Besides this, as I have said, he could have counted off most of
the successive owners and occupants, several of whom were known
to general fame; doing so, however, with an undemonstrative
conviction that the latest phase of its destiny was not the least
honourable. The front of the house overlooking that portion of
the lawn with which we are concerned was not the entrance-front;
this was in quite another quarter. Privacy here reigned supreme,
and the wide carpet of turf that covered the level hill-top
seemed but the extension of a luxurious interior. The great still
oaks and beeches flung down a shade as dense as that of velvet
curtains; and the place was furnished, like a room, with
cushioned seats, with rich-coloured rugs, with the books and
papers that lay upon the grass. The river was at some distance;
where the ground began to slope the lawn, properly speaking,
ceased. But it was none the less a charming walk down to the
The old gentleman at the tea-table, who had come from America
thirty years before, had brought with him, at the top of his
baggage, his American physiognomy; and he had not only brought it
with him, but he had kept it in the best order, so that, if
necessary, he might have taken it back to his own country with
perfect confidence. At present, obviously, nevertheless, he was
not likely to displace himself; his journeys were over and he was
taking the rest that precedes the great rest. He had a narrow,
clean-shaven face, with features evenly distributed and an
expression of placid acuteness. It was evidently a face in which
the range of representation was not large, so that the air of
contented shrewdness was all the more of a merit. It seemed to
tell that he had been successful in life, yet it seemed to tell
also that his success had not been exclusive and invidious, but
had had much of the inoffensiveness of failure. He had certainly
had a great experience of men, but there was an almost rustic
simplicity in the faint smile that played upon his lean, spacious
cheek and lighted up his humorous eye as he at last slowly and
carefully deposited his big tea-cup upon the table. He was neatly
dressed, in well-brushed black; but a shawl was folded upon his
knees, and his feet were encased in thick, embroidered slippers.
A beautiful collie dog lay upon the grass near his chair, watching
the master's face almost as tenderly as the master took in the
still more magisterial physiognomy of the house; and a little
bristling, bustling terrier bestowed a desultory attendance upon
the other gentlemen.
One of these was a remarkably well-made man of five-and-thirty,
with a face as English as that of the old gentleman I have just
sketched was something else; a noticeably handsome face, fresh-
coloured, fair and frank, with firm, straight features, a lively
grey eye and the rich adornment of a chestnut beard. This person
had a certain fortunate, brilliant exceptional look--the air of a
happy temperament fertilised by a high civilisation--which would
have made almost any observer envy him at a venture. He was
booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a long ride; he
wore a white hat, which looked too large for him; he held his two
hands behind him, and in one of them--a large, white, well-shaped
fist--was crumpled a pair of soiled dog-skin gloves.
His companion, measuring the length of the lawn beside him, was a
person of quite a different pattern, who, although he might have
excited grave curiosity, would not, like the other, have provoked
you to wish yourself, almost blindly, in his place. Tall, lean,
loosely and feebly put together, he had an ugly, sickly, witty,
charming face, furnished, but by no means decorated, with a
straggling moustache and whisker. He looked clever and ill--a
combination by no means felicitous; and he wore a brown velvet
jacket. He carried his hands in his pockets, and there was
something in the way he did it that showed the habit was
inveterate. His gait had a shambling, wandering quality; he was
not very firm on his legs. As I have said, whenever he passed the
old man in the chair he rested his eyes upon him; and at this
moment, with their faces brought into relation, you would easily
have seen they were father and son. The father caught his son's
eye at last and gave him a mild, responsive smile.
"I'm getting on very well," he said.
"Have you drunk your tea?" asked the son.
"Yes, and enjoyed it."
"Shall I give you some more?"
The old man considered, placidly. "Well, I guess I'll wait and
see." He had, in speaking, the American tone.
"Are you cold?" the son enquired.
The father slowly rubbed his legs. "Well, I don't know. I can't
tell till I feel."
"Perhaps some one might feel for you," said the younger man,
"Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me! Don't you feel for
me, Lord Warburton?"
"Oh yes, immensely," said the gentleman addressed as Lord
Warburton, promptly. "I'm bound to say you look wonderfully
"Well, I suppose I am, in most respects." And the old man looked
down at his green shawl and smoothed it over his knees. "The fact
is I've been comfortable so many years that I suppose I've got
so used to it I don't know it."
"Yes, that's the bore of comfort," said Lord Warburton. "We only
know when we're uncomfortable."
"It strikes me we're rather particular," his companion remarked.
"Oh yes, there's no doubt we're particular," Lord Warburton
murmured. And then the three men remained silent a while; the two
younger ones standing looking down at the other, who presently
asked for more tea. "I should think you would be very unhappy
with that shawl," Lord Warburton resumed while his companion
filled the old man's cup again.
"Oh no, he must have the shawl!" cried the gentleman in the
velvet coat. "Don't put such ideas as that into his head."
"It belongs to my wife," said the old man simply.
"Oh, if it's for sentimental reasons--" And Lord Warburton made a
gesture of apology.
"I suppose I must give it to her when she comes," the old man
"You'll please to do nothing of the kind. You'll keep it to cover
your poor old legs."
"Well, you mustn't abuse my legs," said the old man. "I guess
they are as good as yours."
"Oh, you're perfectly free to abuse mine," his son replied,
giving him his tea.
"Well, we're two lame ducks; I don't think there's much
"I'm much obliged to you for calling me a duck. How's your tea?"
"Well, it's rather hot."
"That's intended to be a merit."
"Ah, there's a great deal of merit," murmured the old man,
kindly. "He's a very good nurse, Lord Warburton."
"Isn't he a bit clumsy?" asked his lordship.
"Oh no, he's not clumsy--considering that he's an invalid
himself. He's a very good nurse--for a sick-nurse. I call him my
sick-nurse because he's sick himself."
"Oh, come, daddy!" the ugly young man exclaimed.
"Well, you are; I wish you weren't. But I suppose you can't help
"I might try: that's an idea," said the young man.
"Were you ever sick, Lord Warburton?" his father asked.
Lord Warburton considered a moment. "Yes, sir, once, in the
"He's making light of you, daddy," said the other young man.
"That's a sort of joke."
"Well, there seem to be so many sorts now," daddy replied,
serenely. "You don't look as if you had been sick, any way, Lord
"He's sick of life; he was just telling me so; going on fearfully
about it," said Lord Warburton's friend.
"Is that true, sir?" asked the old man gravely.
"If it is, your son gave me no consolation. He's a wretched
fellow to talk to--a regular cynic. He doesn't seem to believe in
"That's another sort of joke," said the person accused of
"It's because his health is so poor," his father explained to
Lord Warburton. "It affects his mind and colours his way of
looking at things; he seems to feel as if he had never had a
chance. But it's almost entirely theoretical, you know; it
doesn't seem to affect his spirits. I've hardly ever seen him
when he wasn't cheerful--about as he is at present. He often
cheers me up."
The young man so described looked at Lord Warburton and laughed.
"Is it a glowing eulogy or an accusation of levity? Should you
like me to carry out my theories, daddy?"
"By Jove, we should see some queer things!" cried Lord Warburton.
"I hope you haven't taken up that sort of tone," said the old
"Warburton's tone is worse than mine; he pretends to be bored.
I'm not in the least bored; I find life only too interesting."
"Ah, too interesting; you shouldn't allow it to be that, you
"I'm never bored when I come here," said Lord Warburton. "One
gets such uncommonly good talk."
"Is that another sort of joke?" asked the old man. "You've no
excuse for being bored anywhere. When I was your age I had never
heard of such a thing."
"You must have developed very late."
"No, I developed very quick; that was just the reason. When I was
twenty years old I was very highly developed indeed. I was
working tooth and nail. You wouldn't be bored if you had
something to do; but all you young men are too idle. You think
too much of your pleasure. You're too fastidious, and too
indolent, and too rich."
"Oh, I say," cried Lord Warburton, "you're hardly the person to
accuse a fellow-creature of being too rich!"
"Do you mean because I'm a banker?" asked the old man.
"Because of that, if you like; and because you have--haven't
you?--such unlimited means."
"He isn't very rich," the other young man mercifully pleaded. "He
has given away an immense deal of money."
"Well, I suppose it was his own," said Lord Warburton; "and in
that case could there be a better proof of wealth? Let not a
public benefactor talk of one's being too fond of pleasure."
"Daddy's very fond of pleasure--of other people's."
The old man shook his head. "I don't pretend to have contributed
anything to the amusement of my contemporaries."
"My dear father, you're too modest!"
"That's a kind of joke, sir," said Lord Warburton.
"You young men have too many jokes. When there are no jokes
you've nothing left."
"Fortunately there are always more jokes," the ugly young man
"I don't believe it--I believe things are getting more serious.
You young men will find that out."
"The increasing seriousness of things, then that's the great
opportunity of jokes."
"They'll have to be grim jokes," said the old man. "I'm convinced
there will be great changes, and not all for the better."
"I quite agree with you, sir," Lord Warburton declared. "I'm very
sure there will be great changes, and that all sorts of queer
things will happen. That's why I find so much difficulty in
applying your advice; you know you told me the other day that I
ought to 'take hold' of something. One hesitates to take hold of
a thing that may the next moment be knocked sky-high."
"You ought to take hold of a pretty woman," said his companion.
"He's trying hard to fall in love," he added, by way of
explanation, to his father.
"The pretty women themselves may be sent flying!" Lord Warburton
"No, no, they'll be firm," the old man rejoined; "they'll not be
affected by the social and political changes I just referred to."
"You mean they won't be abolished? Very well, then, I'll lay
hands on one as soon as possible and tie her round my neck as a
"The ladies will save us," said the old man; "that is the best of
them will--for I make a difference between them. Make up to a
good one and marry her, and your life will become much more
A momentary silence marked perhaps on the part of his auditors a
sense of the magnanimity of this speech, for it was a secret
neither for his son nor for his visitor that his own experiment
in matrimony had not been a happy one. As he said, however, he
made a difference; and these words may have been intended as a
confession of personal error; though of course it was not in
place for either of his companions to remark that apparently the
lady of his choice had not been one of the best.
"If I marry an interesting woman I shall be interested: is that
what you say?" Lord Warburton asked. "I'm not at all keen about
marrying--your son misrepresented me; but there's no knowing what
an interesting woman might do with me."
"I should like to see your idea of an interesting woman," said
"My dear fellow, you can't see ideas--especially such highly
ethereal ones as mine. If I could only see it myself--that would
be a great step in advance."
"Well, you may fall in love with whomsoever you please; but you
mustn't fall in love with my niece," said the old man.
His son broke into a laugh. "He'll think you mean that as a
provocation! My dear father, you've lived with the English for
thirty years, and you've picked up a good many of the things they
say. But you've never learned the things they don't say!"
"I say what I please," the old man returned with all his
"I haven't the honour of knowing your niece," Lord Warburton
said. "I think it's the first time I've heard of her."
"She's a niece of my wife's; Mrs. Touchett brings her to
Then young Mr. Touchett explained. "My mother, you know, has been
spending the winter in America, and we're expecting her back. She
writes that she has discovered a niece and that she has invited
her to come out with her."
"I see,--very kind of her," said Lord Warburton. Is the young
"We hardly know more about her than you; my mother has not gone
into details. She chiefly communicates with us by means of
telegrams, and her telegrams are rather inscrutable. They say
women don't know how to write them, but my mother has thoroughly
mastered the art of condensation. 'Tired America, hot weather
awful, return England with niece, first steamer decent cabin.'
That's the sort of message we get from her--that was the last
that came. But there had been another before, which I think
contained the first mention of the niece. 'Changed hotel, very
bad, impudent clerk, address here. Taken sister's girl, died last
year, go to Europe, two sisters, quite independent.' Over that my
father and I have scarcely stopped puzzling; it seems to admit of
so many interpretations."
"There's one thing very clear in it," said the old man; "she has
given the hotel-clerk a dressing."
"I'm not sure even of that, since he has driven her from the
field. We thought at first that the sister mentioned might be the
sister of the clerk; but the subsequent mention of a niece seems
to prove that the allusion is to one of my aunts. Then there was
a question as to whose the two other sisters were; they are
probably two of my late aunt's daughters. But who's 'quite
independent,' and in what sense is the term used?--that point's
not yet settled. Does the expression apply more particularly to
the young lady my mother has adopted, or does it characterise her
sisters equally?--and is it used in a moral or in a financial
sense? Does it mean that they've been left well off, or that they
wish to be under no obligations? or does it simply mean that
they're fond of their own way?"
"Whatever else it means, it's pretty sure to mean that," Mr.
"You'll see for yourself," said Lord Warburton. "When does Mrs.
"We're quite in the dark; as soon as she can find a decent cabin.
She may be waiting for it yet; on the other hand she may already
have disembarked in England."
"In that case she would probably have telegraphed to you."
"She never telegraphs when you would expect it--only when you
don't," said the old man. "She likes to drop on me suddenly; she
thinks she'll find me doing something wrong. She has never done
so yet, but she's not discouraged."
"It's her share in the family trait, the independence she speaks
of." Her son's appreciation of the matter was more favourable.
"Whatever the high spirit of those young ladies may be, her own
is a match for it. She likes to do everything for herself and has
no belief in any one's power to help her. She thinks me of no
more use than a postage-stamp without gum, and she would never
forgive me if I should presume to go to Liverpool to meet her."
"Will you at least let me know when your cousin arrives?" Lord
"Only on the condition I've mentioned--that you don't fall in
love with her!" Mr. Touchett replied.
"That strikes me as hard, don't you think me good enough?"
"I think you too good--because I shouldn't like her to marry you.
She hasn't come here to look for a husband, I hope; so many young
ladies are doing that, as if there were no good ones at home.
Then she's probably engaged; American girls are usually engaged,
I believe. Moreover I'm not sure, after all, that you'd be a
"Very likely she's engaged; I've known a good many American
girls, and they always were; but I could never see that it made
any difference, upon my word! As for my being a good husband,"
Mr. Touchett's visitor pursued, "I'm not sure of that either. One
can but try!"
"Try as much as you please, but don't try on my niece," smiled
the old man, whose opposition to the idea was broadly humorous.
"Ah, well," said Lord Warburton with a humour broader still,
"perhaps, after all, she's not worth trying on!"
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
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
"Your mother told me that in England people arrived very quietly;
so I thought it was all right. Is one of those gentlemen your
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"Very fond of them indeed."
"You must keep the terrier, you know," he went on, still
"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
"I've been there--all over, but I never saw you. I can't make it
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
"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
"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
"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!"
Mrs. Touchett was certainly a person of many oddities, of which
her behaviour on returning to her husband's house after many
months was a noticeable specimen. She had her own way of doing
all that she did, and this is the simplest description of a
character which, although by no means without liberal motions,
rarely succeeded in giving an impression of suavity. Mrs.
Touchett might do a great deal of good, but she never pleased.
This way of her own, of which she was so fond, was not
intrinsically offensive--it was just unmistakeably distinguished
from the ways of others. The edges of her conduct were so very
clear-cut that for susceptible persons it sometimes had a
knife-like effect. That hard fineness came out in her deportment
during the first hours of her return from America, under
circumstances in which it might have seemed that her first act
would have been to exchange greetings with her husband and son.
Mrs. Touchett, for reasons which she deemed excellent, always
retired on such occasions into impenetrable seclusion, postponing
the more sentimental ceremony until she had repaired the disorder
of dress with a completeness which had the less reason to be of
high importance as neither beauty nor vanity were concerned in
it. She was a plain-faced old woman, without graces and without
any great elegance, but with an extreme respect for her own
motives. She was usually prepared to explain these--when the
explanation was asked as a favour; and in such a case they proved
totally different from those that had been attributed to her. She
was virtually separated from her husband, but she appeared to
perceive nothing irregular in the situation. It had become clear,
at an early stage of their community, that they should never
desire the same thing at the same moment, and this appearance had
prompted her to rescue disagreement from the vulgar realm of
accident. She did what she could to erect it into a law--a much
more edifying aspect of it--by going to live in Florence, where
she bought a house and established herself; and by leaving her
husband to take care of the English branch of his bank. This
arrangement greatly pleased her; it was so felicitously definite.
It struck her husband in the same light, in a foggy square in
London, where it was at times the most definite fact he
discerned; but he would have preferred that such unnatural things
should have a greater vagueness. To agree to disagree had cost
him an effort; he was ready to agree to almost anything but that,
and saw no reason why either assent or dissent should be so
terribly consistent. Mrs. Touchett indulged in no regrets nor
speculations, and usually came once a year to spend a month with
her husband, a period during which she apparently took pains to
convince him that she had adopted the right system. She was not
fond of the English style of life, and had three or four reasons
for it to which she currently alluded; they bore upon minor
points of that ancient order, but for Mrs. Touchett they amply
justified non-residence. She detested bread-sauce, which, as she
said, looked like a poultice and tasted like soap; she objected
to the consumption of beer by her maid-servants; and she affirmed
that the British laundress (Mrs. Touchett was very particular
about the appearance of her linen) was not a mistress of her art.
At fixed intervals she paid a visit to her own country; but this
last had been longer than any of its predecessors.
She had taken up her niece--there was little doubt of that. One
wet afternoon, some four months earlier than the occurrence
lately narrated, this young lady had been seated alone with a
book. To say she was so occupied is to say that her solitude did
not press upon her; for her love of knowledge had a fertilising
quality and her imagination was strong. There was at this time,
however, a want of fresh taste in her situation which the arrival
of an unexpected visitor did much to correct. The visitor had not
been announced; the girl heard her at last walking about the
adjoining room. It was in an old house at Albany, a large,
square, double house, with a notice of sale in the windows of one
of the lower apartments. There were two entrances, one of which
had long been out of use but had never been removed. They were
exactly alike--large white doors, with an arched frame and wide
side-lights, perched upon little "stoops" of red stone, which
descended sidewise to the brick pavement of the street. The two
houses together formed a single dwelling, the party-wall having
been removed and the rooms placed in communication. These rooms,
above-stairs, were extremely numerous, and were painted all over
exactly alike, in a yellowish white which had grown sallow with
time. On the third floor there was a sort of arched passage,
connecting the two sides of the house, which Isabel and her
sisters used in their childhood to call the tunnel and which,
though it was short and well lighted, always seemed to the girl
to be strange and lonely, especially on winter afternoons. She
had been in the house, at different periods, as a child; in those
days her grandmother lived there. Then there had been an absence
of ten years, followed by a return to Albany before her father's
death. Her grandmother, old Mrs. Archer, had exercised, chiefly
within the limits of the family, a large hospitality in the early
period, and the little girls often spent weeks under her roof--
weeks of which Isabel had the happiest memory. The manner of life
was different from that of her own home--larger, more plentiful,
practically more festal; the discipline of the nursery was
delightfully vague and the opportunity of listening to the
conversation of one's elders (which with Isabel was a
highly-valued pleasure) almost unbounded. There was a constant
coming and going; her grandmother's sons and daughters and their
children appeared to be in the enjoyment of standing invitations
to arrive and remain, so that the house offered to a certain
extent the appearance of a bustling provincial inn kept by a
gentle old landlady who sighed a great deal and never presented a
bill. Isabel of course knew nothing about bills; but even as a
child she thought her grandmother's home romantic. There was a
covered piazza behind it, furnished with a swing which was a
source of tremulous interest; and beyond this was a long garden,
sloping down to the stable and containing peach-trees of barely
credible familiarity. Isabel had stayed with her grandmother at
various seasons, but somehow all her visits had a flavour of
peaches. On the other side, across the street, was an old house
that was called the Dutch House--a peculiar structure dating from
the earliest colonial time, composed of bricks that had been
painted yellow, crowned with a gable that was pointed out to
strangers, defended by a rickety wooden paling and standing
sidewise to the street. It was occupied by a primary school for
children of both sexes, kept or rather let go, by a demonstrative
lady of whom Isabel's chief recollection was that her hair was
fastened with strange bedroomy combs at the temples and that she
was the widow of some one of consequence. The little girl had
been offered the opportunity of laying a foundation of knowledge
in this establishment; but having spent a single day in it, she
had protested against its laws and had been allowed to stay at
home, where, in the September days, when the windows of the Dutch
House were open, she used to hear the hum of childish voices
repeating the multiplication table--an incident in which the
elation of liberty and the pain of exclusion were indistinguishably
mingled. The foundation of her knowledge was really laid in the
idleness of her grandmother's house, where, as most of the other
inmates were not reading people, she had uncontrolled use of a
library full of books with frontispieces, which she used to climb
upon a chair to take down. When she had found one to her taste--
she was guided in the selection chiefly by the frontispiece-- she
carried it into a mysterious apartment which lay beyond the
library and which was called, traditionally, no one knew why, the
office. Whose office it had been and at what period it had
flourished, she never learned; it was enough for her that it
contained an echo and a pleasant musty smell and that it was a
chamber of disgrace for old pieces of furniture whose infirmities
were not always apparent (so that the disgrace seemed unmerited
and rendered them victims of injustice) and with which, in the
manner of children, she had established relations almost human,
certainly dramatic. There was an old haircloth sofa in especial,
to which she had confided a hundred childish sorrows. The place
owed much of its mysterious melancholy to the fact that it was
properly entered from the second door of the house, the door that
had been condemned, and that it was secured by bolts which a
particularly slender little girl found it impossible to slide.
She knew that this silent, motionless portal opened into the
street; if the sidelights had not been filled with green paper
she might have looked out upon the little brown stoop and the
well-worn brick pavement. But she had no wish to look out, for
this would have interfered with her theory that there was a
strange, unseen place on the other side--a place which became to
the child's imagination, according to its different moods, a
region of delight or of terror.
It was in the "office" still that Isabel was sitting on that
melancholy afternoon of early spring which I have just mentioned.
At this time she might have had the whole house to choose from,
and the room she had selected was the most depressed of its
scenes. She had never opened the bolted door nor removed the
green paper (renewed by other hands) from its sidelights; she had
never assured herself that the vulgar street lay beyond. A crude,
cold rain fell heavily; the spring-time was indeed an appeal--
and it seemed a cynical, insincere appeal--to patience. Isabel,
however, gave as little heed as possible to cosmic treacheries;
she kept her eyes on her book and tried to fix her mind. It had
lately occurred to her that her mind was a good deal of a
vagabond, and she had spent much ingenuity in training it to a
military step and teaching it to advance, to halt, to retreat, to
perform even more complicated manoeuvres, at the word of command.
Just now she had given it marching orders and it had been
trudging over the sandy plains of a history of German Thought.
Suddenly she became aware of a step very different from her own
intellectual pace; she listened a little and perceived that some
one was moving in the library, which communicated with the
office. It struck her first as the step of a person from whom she
was looking for a visit, then almost immediately announced itself
as the tread of a woman and a stranger--her possible visitor
being neither. It had an inquisitive, experimental quality which
suggested that it would not stop short of the threshold of the
office; and in fact the doorway of this apartment was presently
occupied by a lady who paused there and looked very hard at our
heroine. She was a plain, elderly woman, dressed in a comprehensive
waterproof mantle; she had a face with a good deal of rather
"Oh," she began, "is that where you usually sit?" She looked
about at the heterogeneous chairs and tables.
"Not when I have visitors," said Isabel, getting up to receive
She directed their course back to the library while the visitor
continued to look about her. "You seem to have plenty of other
rooms; they're in rather better condition. But everything's
"Have you come to look at the house?" Isabel asked. "The servant
will show it to you."
"Send her away; I don't want to buy it. She has probably gone to
look for you and is wandering about upstairs; she didn't seem at
all intelligent. You had better tell her it's no matter." And
then, since the girl stood there hesitating and wondering, this
unexpected critic said to her abruptly: "I suppose you're one of
Isabel thought she had very strange manners. "It depends upon
whose daughters you mean."
"The late Mr. Archer's--and my poor sister's."
"Ah," said Isabel slowly, "you must be our crazy Aunt Lydia!"
"Is that what your father told you to call me? I'm your Aunt
Lydia, but I'm not at all crazy: I haven't a delusion! And which
of the daughters are you?"
"I'm the youngest of the three, and my name's Isabel."
"Yes; the others are Lilian and Edith. And are you the prettiest?"
"I haven't the least idea," said the girl.
"I think you must be." And in this way the aunt and the niece
made friends. The aunt had quarrelled years before with her
brother-in-law, after the death of her sister, taking him to task
for the manner in which he brought up his three girls. Being a
high-tempered man he had requested her to mind her own business,
and she had taken him at his word. For many years she held no
communication with him and after his death had addressed not a
word to his daughters, who had been bred in that disrespectful
view of her which we have just seen Isabel betray. Mrs.
Touchett's behaviour was, as usual, perfectly deliberate. She
intended to go to America to look after her investments (with
which her husband, in spite of his great financial position, had
nothing to do) and would take advantage of this opportunity to
enquire into the condition of her nieces. There was no need of
writing, for she should attach no importance to any account of
them she should elicit by letter; she believed, always, in seeing
for one's self. Isabel found, however, that she knew a good deal
about them, and knew about the marriage of the two elder girls;
knew that their poor father had left very little money, but that
the house in Albany, which had passed into his hands, was to be
sold for their benefit; knew, finally, that Edmund Ludlow,
Lilian's husband, had taken upon himself to attend to this
matter, in consideration of which the young couple, who had come
to Albany during Mr. Archer's illness, were remaining there for
the present and, as well as Isabel herself, occupying the old
"How much money do you expect for it?" Mrs. Touchett asked of her
companion, who had brought her to sit in the front parlour, which
she had inspected without enthusiasm.
"I haven't the least idea," said the girl.
"That's the second time you have said that to me," her aunt
rejoined. "And yet you don't look at all stupid."
"I'm not stupid; but I don't know anything about money."
"Yes, that's the way you were brought up--as if you were to
inherit a million. What have you in point of fact inherited?"
"I really can't tell you. You must ask Edmund and Lilian; they'll
be back in half an hour."
"In Florence we should call it a very bad house," said Mrs.
Touchett; "but here, I dare say, it will bring a high price. It
ought to make a considerable sum for each of you. In addition to
that you must have something else; it's most extraordinary your
not knowing. The position's of value, and they'll probably pull
it down and make a row of shops. I wonder you don't do that
yourself; you might let the shops to great advantage."
Isabel stared; the idea of letting shops was new to her. "I hope
they won't pull it down," she said; "I'm extremely fond of it."
"I don't see what makes you fond of it; your father died here."
"Yes; but I don't dislike it for that," the girl rather strangely
returned. "I like places in which things have happened--even if
they're sad things. A great many people have died here; the place
has been full of life."
"Is that what you call being full of life?"
"I mean full of experience--of people's feelings and sorrows. And
not of their sorrows only, for I've been very happy here as a
"You should go to Florence if you like houses in which things
have happened--especially deaths. I live in an old palace in
which three people have been murdered; three that were known and
I don't know how many more besides."
"In an old palace?" Isabel repeated.
"Yes, my dear; a very different affair from this. This is very
Isabel felt some emotion, for she had always thought highly of
her grandmother's house. But the emotion was of a kind which led
her to say: "I should like very much to go to Florence."
"Well, if you'll be very good, and do everything I tell you I'll
take you there," Mrs. Touchett declared.
Our young woman's emotion deepened; she flushed a little and
smiled at her aunt in silence. "Do everything you tell me? I
don't think I can promise that."
"No, you don't look like a person of that sort. You're fond of
your own way; but it's not for me to blame you."
"And yet, to go to Florence," the girl exclaimed in a moment,
"I'd promise almost anything!"
Edmund and Lilian were slow to return, and Mrs. Touchett had an
hour's uninterrupted talk with her niece, who found her a strange
and interesting figure: a figure essentially--almost the first
she had ever met. She was as eccentric as Isabel had always
supposed; and hitherto, whenever the girl had heard people
described as eccentric, she had thought of them as offensive or
alarming. The term had always suggested to her something
grotesque and even sinister. But her aunt made it a matter of
high but easy irony, or comedy, and led her to ask herself if the
common tone, which was all she had known, had ever been as
interesting. No one certainly had on any occasion so held her as
this little thin-lipped, bright-eyed, foreign-looking woman, who
retrieved an insignificant appearance by a distinguished manner
and, sitting there in a well-worn waterproof, talked with
striking familiarity of the courts of Europe. There was nothing
flighty about Mrs. Touchett, but she recognised no social
superiors, and, judging the great ones of the earth in a way that
spoke of this, enjoyed the consciousness of making an impression
on a candid and susceptible mind. Isabel at first had answered a
good many questions, and it was from her answers apparently that
Mrs. Touchett derived a high opinion of her intelligence. But
after this she had asked a good many, and her aunt's answers,
whatever turn they took, struck her as food for deep reflexion.
Mrs. Touchett waited for the return of her other niece as long as
she thought reasonable, but as at six o'clock Mrs. Ludlow had not
come in she prepared to take her departure.
"Your sister must be a great gossip. Is she accustomed to staying
out so many hours?"
"You've been out almost as long as she," Isabel replied; "she can
have left the house but a short time before you came in."
Mrs. Touchett looked at the girl without resentment; she appeared
to enjoy a bold retort and to be disposed to be gracious.
"Perhaps she hasn't had so good an excuse as I. Tell her at any
rate that she must come and see me this evening at that horrid
hotel. She may bring her husband if she likes, but she needn't
bring you. I shall see plenty of you later."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Oh, she feels so grand since Mrs. Touchett's visit," said her
But Isabel challenged this assertion with a good deal of
seriousness. "You must not say that, Lily. I don't feel grand at
"I'm sure there's no harm," said the conciliatory Lily.
"Ah, but there's nothing in Mrs. Touchett's visit to make one
"Oh," exclaimed Ludlow, "she's grander than ever!"
"Whenever I feel grand," said the girl, "it will be for a better
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