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." 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.