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Chapter 54

  • Isabel's arrival at Gardencourt on this second occasion was even quieter tha_t had been on the first. Ralph Touchett kept but a small household, and t_he new servants Mrs. Osmond was a stranger; so that instead of bein_onducted to her own apartment she was coldly shown into the drawing-room an_eft to wait while her name was carried up to her aunt. She waited a lon_ime; Mrs. Touchett appeared in no hurry to come to her. She grew impatient a_ast; she grew nervous and scared—as scared as if the objects about her ha_egun to show for conscious things, watching her trouble with grotesqu_rimaces. The day was dark and cold; the dusk was thick in the corners of th_ide brown rooms. The house was perfectly still—with a stillness that Isabe_emembered; it had filled all the place for days before the death of he_ncle. She left the drawing-room and wandered about—strolled into the librar_nd along the gallery of pictures, where, in the deep silence, her footste_ade an echo. Nothing was changed; she recognised everything she had see_ears before; it might have been only yesterday she had stood there. Sh_nvied the security of valuable "pieces" which change by no hair's breadth, only grow in value, while their owners lose inch by inch youth, happiness, beauty; and she became aware that she was walking about as her aunt had don_n the day she had come to see her in Albany. She was changed enough sinc_hen—that had been the beginning. It suddenly struck her that if her Aun_ydia had not come that day in just that way and found her alone, everythin_ight have been different. She might have had another life and she might hav_een a woman more blest. She stopped in the gallery in front of a smal_icture—a charming and precious Bonington—upon which her eyes rested a lon_ime. But she was not looking at the picture; she was wondering whether if he_unt had not come that day in Albany she would have married Caspar Goodwood.
  • Mrs. Touchett appeared at last, just after Isabel had returned to the bi_ninhabited drawing-room. She looked a good deal older, but her eye was a_right as ever and her head as erect; her thin lips seemed a repository o_atent meanings. She wore a little grey dress of the most undecorated fashion, and Isabel wondered, as she had wondered the first time, if her remarkabl_inswoman resembled more a queen-regent or the matron of a gaol. Her lips fel_ery thin indeed on Isabel's hot cheek.
  • "I've kept you waiting because I've been sitting with Ralph," Mrs. Touchet_aid. "The nurse had gone to luncheon and I had taken her place. He has a ma_ho's supposed to look after him, but the man's good for nothing; he's alway_ooking out of the window—as if there were anything to see! I didn't wish t_ove, because Ralph seemed to be sleeping and I was afraid the sound woul_isturb him. I waited till the nurse came back. I remembered you knew th_ouse."
  • "I find I know it better even than I thought; I've been walking everywhere,"
  • Isabel answered. And then she asked if Ralph slept much.
  • "He lies with his eyes closed; he doesn't move. But I'm not sure that it'_lways sleep."
  • "Will he see me? Can he speak to me?"
  • Mrs. Touchett declined the office of saying. "You can try him," was the limi_f her extravagance. And then she offered to conduct Isabel to her room. "_hought they had taken you there; but it's not my house, it's Ralph's; and _on't know what they do. They must at least have taken your luggage; I don'_uppose you've brought much. Not that I care, however. I believe they've give_ou the same room you had before; when Ralph heard you were coming he said yo_ust have that one."
  • "Did he say anything else?"
  • "Ah, my dear, he doesn't chatter as he used!" cried Mrs. Touchett as sh_receded her niece up the staircase.
  • It was the same room, and something told Isabel it had not been slept in sinc_he occupied it. Her luggage was there and was not voluminous; Mrs. Touchet_at down a moment with her eyes upon it. "Is there really no hope?" our youn_oman asked as she stood before her.
  • "None whatever. There never has been. It has not been a successful life."
  • "No—it has only been a beautiful one." Isabel found herself alread_ontradicting her aunt; she was irritated by her dryness.
  • "I don't know what you mean by that; there's no beauty without health. That i_ very odd dress to travel in."
  • Isabel glanced at her garment. "I left Rome at an hour's notice; I took th_irst that came."
  • "Your sisters, in America, wished to know how you dress. That seemed to b_heir principal interest. I wasn't able to tell them —but they seemed to hav_he right idea: that you never wear anything less than black brocade."
  • "They think I'm more brilliant than I am; I'm afraid to tell them the truth,"
  • said Isabel. "Lily wrote me you had dined with her."
  • "She invited me four times, and I went once. After the second time she shoul_ave let me alone. The dinner was very good; it must have been expensive. He_usband has a very bad manner. Did I enjoy my visit to America? Why should _ave enjoyed it? I didn't go for my pleasure."
  • These were interesting items, but Mrs. Touchett soon left her niece, whom sh_as to meet in half an hour at the midday meal. For this repast the two ladie_aced each other at an abbreviated table in the melancholy dining-room. Here, after a little, Isabel saw her aunt not to be so dry as she appeared, and he_ld pity for the poor woman's inexpressiveness, her want of regret, o_isappointment, came back to her. Unmistakeably she would have found it _lessing to-day to be able to feel a defeat, a mistake, even a shame or two.
  • She wondered if she were not even missing those enrichments of consciousnes_nd privately trying— reaching out for some aftertaste of life, dregs of th_anquet; the testimony of pain or the cold recreation of remorse. On the othe_and perhaps she was afraid; if she should begin to know remorse at all i_ight take her too far. Isabel could perceive, however, how it had come ove_er dimly that she had failed of something, that she saw herself in the futur_s an old woman without memories. Her little sharp face looked tragical. Sh_old her niece that Ralph had as yet not moved, but that he probably would b_ble to see her before dinner. And then in a moment she added that he had see_ord Warburton the day before; an announcement which startled Isabel a little, as it seemed an intimation that this personage was in the neighbourhood an_hat an accident might bring them together. Such an accident would not b_appy; she had not come to England to struggle again with Lord Warburton. Sh_one the less presently said to her aunt that he had been very kind to Ralph; she had seen something of that in Rome.
  • "He has something else to think of now," Mrs. Touchett returned. And sh_aused with a gaze like a gimlet.
  • Isabel saw she meant something, and instantly guessed what she meant. But he_eply concealed her guess; her heart beat faster and she wished to gain _oment. "Ah yes—the House of Lords and all that."
  • "He's not thinking of the Lords; he's thinking of the ladies. At least he'_hinking of one of them; he told Ralph he's engaged to be married."
  • "Ah, to be married!" Isabel mildly exclaimed.
  • "Unless he breaks it off. He seemed to think Ralph would like to know. Poo_alph can't go to the wedding, though I believe it's to take place very soon.
  • "And who's the young lady?"
  • "A member of the aristocracy; Lady Flora, Lady Felicia— something of tha_ort."
  • "I'm very glad," Isabel said. "It must be a sudden decision."
  • "Sudden enough, I believe; a courtship of three weeks. It has only just bee_ade public."
  • "I'm very glad," Isabel repeated with a larger emphasis. She knew her aunt wa_atching her—looking for the signs of some imputed soreness, and the desire t_revent her companion from seeing anything of this kind enabled her to spea_n the tone of quick satisfaction, the tone almost of relief. Mrs. Touchett o_ourse followed the tradition that ladies, even married ones, regard th_arriage of their old lovers as an offence to themselves. Isabel's first car_herefore was to show that however that might be in general she was no_ffended now. But meanwhile, as I say, her heart beat faster; and if she sa_or some moments thoughtful —she presently forgot Mrs. Touchett'_bservation—it was not because she had lost an admirer. Her imagination ha_raversed half Europe; it halted, panting, and even trembling a little, in th_ity of Rome. She figured herself announcing to her husband that Lor_arburton was to lead a bride to the altar, and she was of course not awar_ow extremely wan she must have looked while she made this intellectua_ffort. But at last she collected herself and said to her aunt: "He was sur_o do it some time or other."
  • Mrs. Touchett was silent; then she gave a sharp little shake of the head. "Ah, my dear, you're beyond me!" she cried suddenly. They went on with thei_uncheon in silence; Isabel felt as if she had heard of Lord Warburton'_eath. She had known him only as a suitor, and now that was all over. He wa_ead for poor Pansy; by Pansy he might have lived. A servant had been hoverin_bout; at last Mrs. Touchett requested him to leave them alone. She ha_inished her meal; she sat with her hands folded on the edge of the table. "_hould like to ask you three questions," she observed when the servant ha_one.
  • "Three are a great many."
  • "I can't do with less; I've been thinking. They're all very good ones."
  • "That's what I'm afraid of. The best questions are the worst," Isabe_nswered. Mrs. Touchett had pushed back her chair, and as her niece left th_able and walked, rather consciously, to one of the deep windows, she fel_erself followed by her eyes.
  • "Have you ever been sorry you didn't marry Lord Warburton?" Mrs. Touchet_nquired.
  • Isabel shook her head slowly, but not heavily. "No, dear aunt."
  • "Good. I ought to tell you that I propose to believe what you say."
  • "Your believing me's an immense temptation," she declared, smiling still.
  • "A temptation to lie? I don't recommend you to do that, for when I'_isinformed I'm as dangerous as a poisoned rat. I don't mean to crow ove_ou."
  • "It's my husband who doesn't get on with me," said Isabel.
  • "I could have told him he wouldn't. I don't call that crowing over YOU," Mrs.
  • Touchett added. "Do you still like Serena Merle?" she went on.
  • "Not as I once did. But it doesn't matter, for she's going to America."
  • "To America? She must have done something very bad."
  • "Yes—very bad."
  • "May I ask what it is?"
  • "She made a convenience of me."
  • "Ah," cried Mrs. Touchett, "so she did of me! She does of every one."
  • "She'll make a convenience of America," said Isabel, smiling again and gla_hat her aunt's questions were over.
  • It was not till the evening that she was able to see Ralph. He had been dozin_ll day; at least he had been lying unconscious. The doctor was there, bu_fter a while went away—the local doctor, who had attended his father and who_alph liked. He came three or four times a day; he was deeply interested i_is patient. Ralph had had Sir Matthew Hope, but he had got tired of thi_elebrated man, to whom he had asked his mother to send word he was now dea_nd was therefore without further need of medical advice. Mrs. Touchett ha_imply written to Sir Matthew that her son disliked him. On the day o_sabel's arrival Ralph gave no sign, as I have related, for many hours; bu_oward evening he raised himself and said he knew that she had come.
  • How he knew was not apparent, inasmuch as for fear of exciting him no one ha_ffered the information. Isabel came in and sat by his bed in the dim light; there was only a shaded candle in a corner of the room. She told the nurse sh_ight go—she herself would sit with him for the rest of the evening. He ha_pened his eyes and recognised her, and had moved his hand, which lay helples_eside him, so that she might take it. But he was unable to speak; he close_is eyes again and remained perfectly still, only keeping her hand in his own.
  • She sat with him a long time— till the nurse came back; but he gave no furthe_ign. He might have passed away while she looked at him; he was already th_igure and pattern of death. She had thought him far gone in Rome, and thi_as worse; there was but one change possible now. There was a strang_ranquillity in his face; it was as still as the lid of a box. With this h_as a mere lattice of bones; when he opened his eyes to greet her it was as i_he were looking into immeasurable space. It was not till midnight that th_urse came back; but the hours, to Isabel, had not seemed long; it was exactl_hat she had come for. If she had come simply to wait she found ampl_ccasion, for he lay three days in a kind of grateful silence. He recognise_er and at moments seemed to wish to speak; but he found no voice. Then h_losed his eyes again, as if he too were waiting for something—for somethin_hat certainly would come. He was so absolutely quiet that it seemed to he_hat was coming had already arrived; and yet she never lost the sense tha_hey were still together. But they were not always together; there were othe_ours that she passed in wandering through the empty house and listening for _oice that was not poor Ralph's. She had a constant fear; she thought i_ossible her husband would write to her. But he remained silent, and she onl_ot a letter from Florence and from the Countess Gemini. Ralph, however, spok_t last—on the evening of the third day.
  • "I feel better to-night," he murmured, abruptly, in the soundless dimness o_er vigil; "I think I can say something." She sank upon her knees beside hi_illow; took his thin hand in her own; begged him not to make an effort—not t_ire himself. His face was of necessity serious—it was incapable of th_uscular play of a smile; but its owner apparently had not lost a perceptio_f incongruities. "What does it matter if I'm tired when I've all eternity t_est? There's no harm in making an effort when it's the very last of all.
  • Don't people always feel better just before the end? I've often heard of that; it's what I was waiting for. Ever since you've been here I thought it woul_ome. I tried two or three times; I was afraid you'd get tired of sittin_here." He spoke slowly, with painful breaks and long pauses; his voice seeme_o come from a distance. When he ceased he lay with his face turned to Isabe_nd his large unwinking eyes open into her own. "It was very good of you t_ome," he went on. "I thought you would; but I wasn't sure."
  • "I was not sure either till I came," said Isabel.
  • "You've been like an angel beside my bed. You know they talk about the ange_f death. It's the most beautiful of all. You've been like that; as if yo_ere waiting for me."
  • "I was not waiting for your death; I was waiting for—for this. This is no_eath, dear Ralph."
  • "Not for you—no. There's nothing makes us feel so much alive as to see other_ie. That's the sensation of life—the sense that we remain. I've had it—eve_. But now I'm of no use but to give it to others. With me it's all over." An_hen he paused. Isabel bowed her head further, till it rested on the two hand_hat were clasped upon his own. She couldn't see him now; but his far-awa_oice was close to her ear. "Isabel," he went on suddenly, "I wish it wer_ver for you." She answered nothing; she had burst into sobs; she remained so, with her buried face. He lay silent, listening to her sobs; at last he gave _ong groan. "Ah, what is it you have done for me?"
  • "What is it you did for me?" she cried, her now extreme agitation hal_mothered by her attitude. She had lost all her shame, all wish to hid_hings. Now he must know; she wished him to know, for it brought the_upremely together, and he was beyond the reach of pain. "You did somethin_nce—you know it. O Ralph, you've been everything! What have I done fo_ou—what can I do to-day? I would die if you could live. But I don't wish yo_o live; I would die myself, not to lose you." Her voice was as broken as hi_wn and full of tears and anguish.
  • "You won't lose me—you'll keep me. Keep me in your heart; I shall be nearer t_ou than I've ever been. Dear Isabel, life is better; for in life there'_ove. Death is good—but there's no love."
  • "I never thanked you—I never spoke—I never was what I should be!" Isabel wen_n. She felt a passionate need to cry out and accuse herself, to let he_orrow possess her. All her troubles, for the moment, became single and melte_ogether into this present pain. "What must you have thought of me? Yet ho_ould I know? I never knew, and I only know to-day because there are peopl_ess stupid than I."
  • "Don't mind people," said Ralph. "I think I'm glad to leave people."
  • She raised her head and her clasped hands; she seemed for a moment to pray t_im. "Is it true—is it true?" she asked.
  • "True that you've been stupid? Oh no," said Ralph with a sensible intention o_it.
  • "That you made me rich—that all I have is yours?"
  • He turned away his head, and for some time said nothing. Then at last: "Ah, don't speak of that—that was not happy." Slowly he moved his face toward he_gain, and they once more saw each other. "But for that—but for that—!" And h_aused. "I believe I ruined you," he wailed.
  • She was full of the sense that he was beyond the reach of pain; he seeme_lready so little of this world. But even if she had not had it she woul_till have spoken, for nothing mattered now but the only knowledge that wa_ot pure anguish—the knowledge that they were looking at the truth together.
  • "He married me for the money," she said. She wished to say everything; she wa_fraid he might die before she had done so. He gazed at her a little, and fo_he first time his fixed eyes lowered their lids. But he raised them in _oment, and then, "He was greatly in love with you," he answered.
  • "Yes, he was in love with me. But he wouldn't have married me if I had bee_oor. I don't hurt you in saying that. How can I? I only want you t_nderstand. I always tried to keep you from understanding; but that's al_ver."
  • "I always understood," said Ralph.
  • "I thought you did, and I didn't like it. But now I like it."
  • "You don't hurt me—you make me very happy." And as Ralph said this there wa_n extraordinary gladness in his voice. She bent her head again, and presse_er lips to the back of his hand. "I always understood," he continued, "thoug_t was so strange—so pitiful. You wanted to look at life for yourself—but yo_ere not allowed; you were punished for your wish. You were ground in the ver_ill of the conventional!"
  • "Oh yes, I've been punished," Isabel sobbed.
  • He listened to her a little, and then continued: "Was he very bad about you_oming?"
  • "He made it very hard for me. But I don't care."
  • "It is all over then between you?"
  • "Oh no; I don't think anything's over."
  • "Are you going back to him ?" Ralph gasped.
  • "I don't know—I can't tell. I shall stay here as long as I may. I don't wan_o think—I needn't think. I don't care for anything but you, and that's enoug_or the present. It will last a little yet. Here on my knees, with you dyin_n my arms, I'm happier than I have been for a long time. And I want you to b_appy— not to think of anything sad; only to feel that I'm near you and I lov_ou. Why should there be pain—? In such hours as this what have we to do wit_ain? That's not the deepest thing; there's something deeper."
  • Ralph evidently found from moment to moment greater difficulty in speaking; h_ad to wait longer to collect himself. At first he appeared to make n_esponse to these last words; he let a long time elapse. Then he murmure_imply: "You must stay here."
  • "I should like to stay—as long as seems right."
  • "As seems right— as seems right?" He repeated her words. "Yes, you think _reat deal about that."
  • "Of course one must. You're very tired," said Isabel.
  • "I'm very tired. You said just now that pain's not the deepest thing. No—no.
  • But it's very deep. If I could stay—"
  • "For me you'll always be here," she softly interrupted. It was easy t_nterrupt him.
  • But he went on, after a moment: "It passes, after all; it's passing now. Bu_ove remains. I don't know why we should suffer so much. Perhaps I shall fin_ut. There are many things in life. You're very young."
  • "I feel very old," said Isabel.
  • "You'll grow young again. That's how I see you. I don't believe— I don'_elieve—" But he stopped again; his strength failed him.
  • She begged him to be quiet now. "We needn't speak to understand each other,"
  • she said.
  • "I don't believe that such a generous mistake as yours can hurt you for mor_han a little."
  • "Oh Ralph, I'm very happy now," she cried through her tears.
  • "And remember this," he continued, "that if you've been hated you've also bee_oved. Ah but, Isabel—ADORED!" he just audibly and lingeringly breathed.
  • "Oh my brother!" she cried with a movement of still deeper prostration.