The Portrait of a Lady

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Chapter1

1 Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. Th ere are circumstances in which, whe ther you p artake 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 histor y offered an admirable setting to an innocent pastime. The impleme nts 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 an d rarest quality. Real dusk would n ot arrive for many hours; but the fl ood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown me llow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf. They lengthened slowly, however, an d the scene expresse d that sense of leisure still to come w hich 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 su ch a n occa sion a s this the inte rval could b e only an eternity of pleasure. The pers ons concerned in it were 2 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady 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. Th e shadows on the perfect lawn were s traight and angular; they were the shadows of an old man sitting in a deep wicker-chair near the low table on w hich the te a 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 pa ttern from the rest of the set and painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with much circumspe ction, holding it for a long time clo se to his chin, with hi s fa ce turned to the hou se. His compa nions had either finished their tea or were indifferent to their priv ilege; they smoked cigarettes as they continued to stroll. One of them, from time to time, as he passed, looked wit h a certain attention at the elder man, who, unconsci ous of obs ervation, rested his eyes upon the rich red front of his dwel ling. The house tha t rose beyond the lawn was a structure to repay such consideratio n and wa s the most ch aracteristic ob ject in the peculiarly English pictur e I have attempted to sk etch. It stood upon a low hill, above t he river?the river being the Thames at so me forty mi les from London. A long gabled front of red brick, with the complexion of 3 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady which time and the weather had played all sorts of pictorial tricks, only, however, to improve and refine it, presented t o the lawn its patches of ivy, its clustered chimneys, its windows smot hered in creep ers. T he house had a name and a history; the old gentleman taki ng his tea would have been delight ed to tell you these things: how it had been b uilt under Edward the Sixth, had offered a night?s hosp itality to th e g reat 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 disfigur ed in the eighteenth century, it had passed into the careful keeping of a shrewd American banker, who had bought i t originally because (o wing to circumsta nces too complicated to set forth) it wa s offered at a great bargain: bought it with much grum bling at its ugliness, its antiquity, its incommodity, and who now, at the end of twenty years, had beco me consci ous 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 shad ows of its various 4 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady protuberances?which fell so softly upon the warm, weary brickwork?were of the right meas ure. 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. Privac y here reigned supreme, and the wide carpet of turf that covered the level hill-top seemed but the extension of a luxurious inte rior. 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, wi th 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 water. The old gentleman at the tea-tabl e, 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 5 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady back to his own country with perfect confid ence. 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 res t. 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 r ange of representation was not l arge, so that the air of contented sh rewdness was all the more of a merit. It seemed to tell that he had b een successf ul in life, yet it seemed to tell also t hat his success had not been exclusive and invidious, but had had much of the inoffensiveness of failur e. He had certainly had a great experi ence of men, but there w as an almost rustic simplicity in the faint smile that played upon his lean, spacious che ek 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 slipp ers. A beautiful collie dog lay upon the grass near his chair, watching the master?s f ace almost a s tenderly as the master to ok in the still more magisterial physiognomy of the house; and a little bristling, bustling terrier bestowed a desultory attendance upon the other gentlemen. 6 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady One of these was a remarkably well-made man of five- and-thirty, with a face as En glish as that of the old gentleman I have just sketched was somethin g else; a noticeably handsome face, fresh-coloured, fair and frank, with firm, straight featur es, a lively grey ey e and the rich adornment of a chestnut bear d. Thi s person had a certain fortunate, b rilliant exceptional look ?the air of a happy temperament fertilized by a high civilization?which would have made almost any ob server envy him at a venture. He was booted and spurred, as if he had dismounted from a l ong ride ; he wore a white hat, which looked too large for him; he held his two hands behind him, and in one of th em?a large, white, well-shaped fist?was crumpled a pair of soiled dog-skin gloves. His compa nion, mea suring the l ength of th e lawn beside him, was a person of quite a d ifferent 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, le an, loosely and feebly put together, he had an ugly, sickly, witty, charming face, furnished, but by no means decorated, with a straggling moustache and whiske r. He looked clever a nd ill?a combination by no means felic itous; and he wore a brown velvet jacket. He carried his hands in his pockets, and 7 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady 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 h e passed the old man in the chair he rested his eyes upon him; and at this mome nt, with their faces brought into relation, you would easily have seen they were father and son. The father ca ught 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 en joyed it.? ?Shall I give you some more?? The old man considered, placidly. ?Well, I gu ess 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, laughing. ?Oh, I hope some one will always feel for me! Don?t you feel for me, Lord Warburton?? ?Oh yes, immensely,? said th e gentl eman addressed as Lord Warburton, promptly. ?I?m bound to say you look wonderfully comfortable.? 8 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?Well, I suppose I am, i n most resp ects.? And the old man looked down at his green shawl and smoothed it over his knees. ?The fact is I?ve been comf ortable so many years that I suppose I?v e got so used to it I don?t know it.? ?Yes, that? s the bore of comfor t,? said Lord Warburton. ?We only kn ow when we?re uncomfortable.? ?It strikes me we?re rat her particul ar,? 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 as ked 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 gen tleman in the velvet coa t. ?Do n?t put su ch ideas as tha t into his head.? ?It belongs to my wife,? said the old man simply. ?Oh, if it? s for senti mental reasons-? And Lord Warburton made a gesture of apology. ?I suppose I must give it to her when she comes,? th e old man went on. 9 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?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 difference.? ?I?m much obliged to you for calling me a duck. How?s your tea?? ?Well, it?s ra ther 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 cl umsy?consider ing that he ?s an invalid himself. He?s a very good nu rse?for a sick-nurse. I call him my sick-nurse b ecause 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 it.? ?I might try: that? s an idea,? said the young man. ?Were you ever sick, Lord Warburton?? his father asked. 10 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady Lord Warburton conside red a moment. ?Yes, sir, once, in the Persian Gulf.? He?s making light of you, daddy,? sai d 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 Warburto n.? ?He?s sick of life; he was just telling me so; going on fearfully about it,? said Lord Warburt on?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 anything.? ?That? s another sort of joke,? said the person accused of cynicism. ?It?s because his health is so poor,? his father explained to Lord Warburton. ?It affects his mind and colours hi s way of looking at thing s; he seems to feel as if he had never had a chance. But it?s almost entirely theoretical, you know; i t doesn? t see m to affect his spirits. I? ve hardly ever seen him when he wasn?t cheerful?about as he i s at present. He often cheers me up.? The young man so described looked at Lord Warburton and laughed. ?Is it a gl owing eulogy or an 11 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady accusation of levity? Sho uld 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 take n up that sor t of tone,? said the old man. ?Warburton?s tone is worse than mi ne; he pretends to be bored. I?m not in the least bored; I find life only too interesting.? ?Ah, too interesting; you shou ldn?t allow it to be that, you know!? ?I?m never bored wh en I come here,? said Lord Warburton. ?One gets such uncommonly good talk.? ?Is that another sort of joke?? ask ed the old man. ?You?ve no excuse for being bored anywhere. W hen I was your age I had never he ard of such a thing.? ?You must have developed very late.? ?No, I developed very quick; that was just the reason. When I was twenty year s old I was very highly developed indeed. I was working tooth and nail. You wouldn?t be bored if you had something to d o; b ut all you y oung men are too idle. You think too much of your pleasure. You?re too fastidious, and too indolent, and too rich.? 12 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?Oh, I say,? cried Lord Wa rburton, ?you?re hardly the person to accuse a fellow-creature of being too rich!? ?Do you mean because I?m a b ank er?? 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 ot her young man mercifully pleaded. ?He has given away an immense deal of money.? ?Well, I suppose it was his ow n,? said Lord Warburton; ?and in that case could there b e a b etter proof of wealth? Let not a public benefactor ta lk 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 t o have contributed anything to the amusement of my contemporaries.? ?My dear father, you?re t oo 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 mor e jokes,? the ugly young man remarked. ?I don?t believe it?I believe things are getting more serious. You young men will find that out.? 13 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?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 h old of a thi ng tha t may the nex t moment be knocked sky-high.? ?You ought to take hol d of a pretty woman,? said his compani on. ?He?s trying hard to fall in love,? he added, by way of expla nation, to his father. ?The pretty women th emselv es may be sent flying!? Lord Warburton exclaimed. ?No, no, they?ll be firm,? the old man rejoined; ?they?ll not be affected by the social and p olitical changes I just referred to.? ?You mean they won?t be abo lished? Very well, then, I?ll lay my hands on one as soon as possible and tie her round my neck as a life-preserver.? 14 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?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 yo ur life will become much more interesting.? A momentary silence marked perhaps on the part of hi s auditors a se nse of the magnanimi ty of this speech, for it was a secret neither for his s on 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 confessi on of personal error; though of course it was not in place for either of his compani ons to remark that appar ently 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 y ou say?? Lor d Warburton asked. ?I?m not at all keen about marrying- your son misrepresented me; bu t there?s no knowing what an interesting woman might do with me.? ?I should lik e to see your idea of an i nteresting woman, ? said his friend. ?My dear fellow, you can?t see ideas?especially such highly ethereal ones as mine. If I c ould only see myself? that would b e a great step in advance.? 15 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?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 d ear 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 lea rned the things they don?t say!? ?I say what I please,? the old man returned with all his serenity. ?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; Mr s. To uchett brings her to England.? Then young Mr. Touchett explained. ?My mother, you know, has been spending the winter in Ame rica, and we’re expecting her bac k. 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 lady i nteresting?? ?We hardly know more about her than you; my mother ha s no t go ne into details. Sh e chiefly 16 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady communica tes with us by means of telegrams, and her telegrams are rather inscrutable. Th ey 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 so rt o f message we get fro m her?that was the last that came. But there had been another before, which I think contai ned 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 in dependent.? Over that my father and I have scarcely stopped puzzling; it seems to admit of so many interpretations.? ?There?s one thing very clea r in it,? said the old man; ?she has given the hotel-clerk a dressing.? ?I?m not sure even of that, si nce 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 all usion i s to one of my aunts. There there wa s a question as to whose the two other sisters were; they are probably two of my late aunt?s d aughters. But w ho?s ?quite independent,? and in what se nse is the term used??that poin t?s n ot yet settled. Does the expression apply more particularly to the 17 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady young lady my mother has ad opte d, or does i t characterize 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 tha t,? Mr. Touche tt remarked. ?You?ll see f or yourself,? said Lord Warburton. ?When does Mrs. Touchett arrive?? ?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 Engla nd.? ?In that case she would pr obably have telegraphed to you.? ?She never t elegraphs when you would expect it?only when you don?t,? said the old man. ?She likes t o drop in on me suddenly; she thinks she?ll find me doing something wrong. She has never done so yet, but she?s no t discouraged.? ?It?s her shar e in the fa mily trait, the independence she speaks of.? Her son?s appreciation of the matter was more favourable. ?Whatever the high spirit of those young ladie s may be, her own is a match for it. She likes to do everything for herself and has no beli ef in any one?s power 18 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady to help her. She thinks me of no more use than a postage- stamp wi tho ut gum, a nd she would never forgive me if I should presume to go to Liverpool to meet her.? ?Will you at least let me k now when your cousin arrives?? Lord Warburton asked. ?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?becaus e 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 doin g that, as if there w ere no good ones at home. Then she?s probably engaged; American girls are usually engaged, I b eliev e. Moreover I?m not sure, after all, that you?d be a remarkable husband.? ?Very lik ely she?s engaged; I?ve kn own 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. Tou chett?s visi tor pursued, ?I?m not sure of that either. One can but try!? ?Try as much as you please, but do n?t try on my niece,? smiled the old man, whose opposition to the idea was broadly humorous. 19 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady ?Ah, well,? said Lord Warburton with a humour broader still, ?perhaps after all, she?s n ot worth trying on!? 20 of 1056 The Portrait of a Lady
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