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."
"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,"
"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.