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Chapter 28

  • On the morrow, in the evening, Lord Warburton went again to see his friends a_heir hotel, and at this establishment he learned that they had gone to th_pera. He drove to the opera with the idea of paying them a visit in their bo_fter the easy Italian fashion; and when he had obtained his admittance—it wa_ne of the secondary theatres—looked about the large, bare, ill-lighted house.
  • An act had just terminated and he was at liberty to pursue his quest. Afte_canning two or three tiers of boxes he perceived in one of the largest o_hese receptacles a lady whom he easily recognised. Miss Archer was seate_acing the stage and partly screened by the curtain of the box; and besid_er, leaning back in his chair, was Mr. Gilbert Osmond. They appeared to hav_he place to themselves, and Warburton supposed their companions had take_dvantage of the recess to enjoy the relative coolness of the lobby. He stoo_ while with his eyes on the interesting pair; he asked himself if he shoul_o up and interrupt the harmony. At last he judged that Isabel had seen him, and this accident determined him. There should be no marked holding off. H_ook his way to the upper regions and on the staircase met Ralph Touchet_lowly descending, his hat at the inclination of ennui and his hands wher_hey usually were.
  • "I saw you below a moment since and was going down to you. I feel lonely an_ant company," was Ralph's greeting.
  • "You've some that's very good which you've yet deserted."
  • "Do you mean my cousin? Oh, she has a visitor and doesn't want me. Then Mis_tackpole and Bantling have gone out to a cafe to eat an ice—Miss Stackpol_elights in an ice. I didn't think they wanted me either. The opera's ver_ad; the women look like laundresses and sing like peacocks. I feel very low."
  • "You had better go home," Lord Warburton said without affectation.
  • "And leave my young lady in this sad place? Ah no, I must watch over her."
  • "She seems to have plenty of friends."
  • "Yes, that's why I must watch," said Ralph with the same large mock- melancholy.
  • "If she doesn't want you it's probable she doesn't want me."
  • "No, you're different. Go to the box and stay there while I walk about."
  • Lord Warburton went to the box, where Isabel's welcome was as to a friend s_onourably old that he vaguely asked himself what queer temporal province sh_as annexing. He exchanged greetings with Mr. Osmond, to whom he had bee_ntroduced the day before and who, after he came in, sat blandly apart an_ilent, as if repudiating competence in the subjects of allusion now probable.
  • It struck her second visitor that Miss Archer had, in operatic conditions, _adiance, even a slight exaltation; as she was, however, at all times _eenly-glancing, quickly-moving, completely animated young woman, he may hav_een mistaken on this point. Her talk with him moreover pointed to presence o_ind; it expressed a kindness so ingenious and deliberate as to indicate tha_he was in undisturbed possession of her faculties. Poor Lord Warburton ha_oments of bewilderment. She had discouraged him, formally, as much as a woma_ould; what business had she then with such arts and such felicities, abov_ll with such tones of reparation—preparation? Her voice had tricks o_weetness, but why play them on HIM? The others came back; the bare, familiar, trivial opera began again. The box was large, and there was room for him t_emain if he would sit a little behind and in the dark. He did so for half a_our, while Mr. Osmond remained in front, leaning forward, his elbows on hi_nees, just behind Isabel. Lord Warburton heard nothing, and from his gloom_orner saw nothing but the clear profile of this young lady defined agains_he dim illumination of the house. When there was another interval no on_oved. Mr. Osmond talked to Isabel, and Lord Warburton kept his corner. He di_o but for a short time, however; after which he got up and bade good-night t_he ladies. Isabel said nothing to detain him, but it didn't prevent his bein_uzzled again. Why should she mark so one of his values—quite the wron_ne—when she would have nothing to do with another, which was quite the right?
  • He was angry with himself for being puzzled, and then angry for being angry.
  • Verdi's music did little to comfort him, and he left the theatre and walke_omeward, without knowing his way, through the tortuous, tragic streets o_ome, where heavier sorrows than his had been carried under the stars.
  • "What's the character of that gentleman?" Osmond asked of Isabel after he ha_etired.
  • "Irreproachable—don't you see it?"
  • "He owns about half England; that's his character," Henrietta remarked.
  • "That's what they call a free country!"
  • "Ah, he's a great proprietor? Happy man!" said Gilbert Osmond.
  • "Do you call that happiness—the ownership of wretched human beings?" crie_iss Stackpole. "He owns his tenants and has thousands of them. It's pleasan_o own something, but inanimate objects are enough for me. I don't insist o_lesh and blood and minds and consciences."
  • "It seems to me you own a human being or two," Mr. Bantling suggeste_ocosely. "I wonder if Warburton orders his tenants about as you do me."
  • "Lord Warburton's a great radical," Isabel said. "He has very advance_pinions."
  • "He has very advanced stone walls. His park's enclosed by a gigantic iro_ence, some thirty miles round," Henrietta announced for the information o_r. Osmond. "I should like him to converse with a few of our Boston radicals."
  • "Don't they approve of iron fences?" asked Mr. Bantling.
  • "Only to shut up wicked conservatives. I always feel as if I were talking t_OU over something with a neat top-finish of broken glass."
  • "Do you know him well, this unreformed reformer?" Osmond went on, questionin_sabel.
  • "Well enough for all the use I have for him."
  • "And how much of a use is that?"
  • "Well, I like to like him."
  • "'Liking to like'—why, it makes a passion!" said Osmond.
  • "No"—she considered—"keep that for liking to DISlike."
  • "Do you wish to provoke me then," Osmond laughed, "to a passion for HIM?"
  • She said nothing for a moment, but then met the light question with _isproportionate gravity. "No, Mr. Osmond; I don't think I should ever dare t_rovoke you. Lord Warburton, at any rate," she more easily added, "is a ver_ice man."
  • "Of great ability?" her friend enquired.
  • "Of excellent ability, and as good as he looks."
  • "As good as he's good-looking do you mean? He's very good-looking. Ho_etestably fortunate!—to be a great English magnate, to be clever and handsom_nto the bargain, and, by way of finishing off, to enjoy your high favour!
  • That's a man I could envy."
  • Isabel considered him with interest. "You seem to me to be always envying som_ne. Yesterday it was the Pope; to-day it's poor Lord Warburton."
  • "My envy's not dangerous; it wouldn't hurt a mouse. I don't want to destro_he people—I only want to BE them. You see it would destroy only myself."
  • "You'd like to be the Pope?" said Isabel.
  • "I should love it—but I should have gone in for it earlier. But why"—Osmon_everted—"do you speak of your friend as poor?"
  • "Women—when they are very, very good sometimes pity men after they've hur_hem; that's their great way of showing kindness," said Ralph, joining in th_onversation for the first time and with a cynicism so transparently ingeniou_s to be virtually innocent.
  • "Pray, have I hurt Lord Warburton?" Isabel asked, raising her eyebrows as i_he idea were perfectly fresh.
  • "It serves him right if you have," said Henrietta while the curtain rose fo_he ballet.
  • Isabel saw no more of her attributive victim for the next twenty-four hours, but on the second day after the visit to the opera she encountered him in th_allery of the Capitol, where he stood before the lion of the collection, th_tatue of the Dying Gladiator. She had come in with her companions, amon_hom, on this occasion again, Gilbert Osmond had his place, and the party, having ascended the staircase, entered the first and finest of the rooms. Lor_arburton addressed her alertly enough, but said in a moment that he wa_eaving the gallery. "And I'm leaving Rome," he added. "I must bid yo_oodbye." Isabel, inconsequently enough, was now sorry to hear it. This wa_erhaps because she had ceased to be afraid of his renewing his suit; she wa_hinking of something else. She was on the point of naming her regret, but sh_hecked herself and simply wished him a happy journey; which made him look a_er rather unlightedly. "I'm afraid you'll think me very 'volatile.' I tol_ou the other day I wanted so much to stop."
  • "Oh no; you could easily change your mind."
  • "That's what I have done."
  • "Bon voyage then."
  • "You're in a great hurry to get rid of me," said his lordship quite dismally.
  • "Not in the least. But I hate partings."
  • "You don't care what I do," he went on pitifully.
  • Isabel looked at him a moment. "Ah," she said, "you're not keeping you_romise!"
  • He coloured like a boy of fifteen. "If I'm not, then it's because I can't; an_hat's why I'm going."
  • "Good-bye then."
  • "Good-bye." He lingered still, however. "When shall I see you again?"
  • Isabel hesitated, but soon, as if she had had a happy inspiration: "Some da_fter you're married."
  • "That will never be. It will be after you are."
  • "That will do as well," she smiled.
  • "Yes, quite as well. Good-bye."
  • They shook hands, and he left her alone in the glorious room, among th_hining antique marbles. She sat down in the centre of the circle of thes_resences, regarding them vaguely, resting her eyes on their beautiful blan_aces; listening, as it were, to their eternal silence. It is impossible, i_ome at least, to look long at a great company of Greek sculptures withou_eeling the effect of their noble quietude; which, as with a high door close_or the ceremony, slowly drops on the spirit the large white mantle of peace.
  • I say in Rome especially, because the Roman air is an exquisite medium fo_uch impressions. The golden sunshine mingles with them, the deep stillness o_he past, so vivid yet, though it is nothing but a void full of names, seem_o throw a solemn spell upon them. The blinds were partly closed in th_indows of the Capitol, and a clear, warm shadow rested on the figures an_ade them more mildly human. Isabel sat there a long time, under the charm o_heir motionless grace, wondering to what, of their experience, their absen_yes were open, and how, to our ears, their alien lips would sound. The dar_ed walls of the room threw them into relief; the polished marble floo_eflected their beauty. She had seen them all before, but her enjoymen_epeated itself, and it was all the greater because she was glad again, fo_he time, to be alone. At last, however, her attention lapsed, drawn off by _eeper tide of life. An occasional tourist came in, stopped and stared _oment at the Dying Gladiator, and then passed out of the other door, creakin_ver the smooth pavement. At the end of half an hour Gilbert Osmon_eappeared, apparently in advance of his companions. He strolled toward he_lowly, with his hands behind him and his usual enquiring, yet not quit_ppealing smile. "I'm surprised to find you alone, I thought you had company.
  • "So I have—the best." And she glanced at the Antinous and the Faun.
  • "Do you call them better company than an English peer?"
  • "Ah, my English peer left me some time ago." She got up, speaking wit_ntention a little dryly.
  • Mr. Osmond noted her dryness, which contributed for him to the interest of hi_uestion. "I'm afraid that what I heard the other evening is true: you'r_ather cruel to that nobleman."
  • Isabel looked a moment at the vanquished Gladiator. "It's not true. I'_crupulously kind."
  • "That's exactly what I mean!" Gilbert Osmond returned, and with such happ_ilarity that his joke needs to be explained. We know that he was fond o_riginals, of rarities, of the superior and the exquisite; and now that he ha_een Lord Warburton, whom he thought a very fine example of his race an_rder, he perceived a new attraction in the idea of taking to himself a youn_ady who had qualified herself to figure in his collection of choice object_y declining so noble a hand. Gilbert Osmond had a high appreciation of thi_articular patriciate; not so much for its distinction, which he though_asily surpassable, as for its solid actuality. He had never forgiven his sta_or not appointing him to an English dukedom, and he could measure th_nexpectedness of such conduct as Isabel's. It would be proper that the woma_e might marry should have done something of that sort.