The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 1
“And now tell me about the young lady,” Ralph Touchett said to his mother. “What do you mean to do with her?”
Mrs. Touchett was still busy unpacking her things, having arrived from America only a few hours earlier. Yet she was dressed for dinner, and mother and son had already kissed and exchanged greetings. She had asked about her husband’s health and also about Ralph’s, and receiving no very good report of either, remarked that she was now more sure than ever that she was right in not exposing herself to the English climate.
A small, rather tight-lipped woman, Mrs. Touchett appeared in no way elegant or distinguished, despite the evidences of great wealth that everywhere surrounded her. She had a simple, rather old-looking face, and always dressed plainly. At the same time, she was bright-eyed, and all of her movements were quick and positive. There was a suggestion of authority in everything she did. She was, as usual, not slow in answering her son’s question.
“I mean to ask your father to invite her to stay three or four weeks here at Gardencourt.”
“You needn’t be concerned about that,” said Ralph. “My father will ask her as a matter of course.”
“I don’t know about that. She’s my niece, not his.”
“Good Lord, dear mother. That’s all the more reason for his asking her. Besides, I can tell you that he’s already as delighted with her as I am, and he shall be glad to have her here. But after that I mean after several months, for it’s foolish for the poor girl to remain here for only three or four weeks what do you plan to do with her?”
“I plan to take her to Paris. I intend to get her some clothes.” “Ah, that, of course! But apart from that?”
“I shall invite her to spend the fall with me in Florence.” “You insist on sticking to details, dear mother,” said Ralph. “What I should like to know is what you mean to do with her in general.”
“My duty!” answered Mrs. Touchett. “I suppose, therefore, that you and your father will pity the girl since she is to remain in my company for so long a time.”
“How foolish! I don’t pity her at all. In the first place, she doesn’t impress me as the kind of person who invites pity. I think I really envy her. But before being quite sure I wish you’d give me some idea of what you mean by your duty.”
“In showing her several European countries and in giving her the chance to learn to speak French well. She already knows something of the language.”
“That sounds a little dull and dry.”
“If it’s dry, you can depend on Isabel to take care of it. She is as good as a summer rain, any day.”
“Do you mean that she is a very talented person?”
“I don’t know whether she’s so very talented, but she’s a very clever girl, with a strong will and a quick mind. She will not be bored.”
“I can well imagine that, from just the little I’ve seen of her,” said Ralph. Then he added: “By the way, how do you two get along?”
“Do you mean by that that I’m a bore? I don’t think she finds me one. Some young girls might, I know but Isabel’s too clever for that. I think I really amuse her. We get along well because I understand her. She’s very open and honest, and I’m the same way; we know just what to expect from each other.”
“Oh, dear mother,” remarked Ralph, “one always knows what to expect of you. You’ve never surprised me but once, and that was today in presenting me with a pretty cousin who I never knew even existed.”
“Do you think her so very pretty?”
“Very pretty! And I am sure that father and Lord Warbur- ton, who happened to be here this afternoon, are both of the same opinion. Though they said little, I could see that they were both taken by her.”
“Where did they see her?”
“She came out on the lawn while the three of us were sitting there just after you both had arrived. You had gone directly to your room. We found her quite charming. But who is she and what is she? Where did you find her and how did you become acquainted with her?”
“I found her in an old house in Albany, sitting in an ugly room on a rainy day, reading a heavy book and boring herself to death. She didn’t know she was bored, but after I talked with her she seemed to understand it. You may say that I shouldn’t have tried to make her aware of this fact I should have let her alone. There’s a good deal in that but I acted as I thought best. It occurred to me that it would be a great kindness to her to take her about and introduce her to the world. She thinks she knows a great deal about it like most American girls. But like most American girls she’s greatly mistaken.
“Also, I thought she might prove useful to me, though I don’t mean that in any selfish way. But I like to be well thought of, and for a woman of my age it’s often a great advantage to be accompanied by an attractive young niece. You know I had seen nothing of my sister’s children for years, for I did not approve of the father and the way in which he was bringing them up. But I always meant to do something for them. He died recently, and so, being in America, I naturally looked up my nieces and went to see them.
“There are two other sisters, both of whom are married. I saw only the older one. She jumped at the idea of my taking an interest in Isabel; she said it was just what her sister needed that someone should take an interest in her. She spoke of her as one might speak of some young person of genius, who needed to be encouraged. Isabel herself seemed very glad to come with me, and the thing was easily arranged. There was some difficulty about the money question, since she seemed to be opposed to being under obligation to anyone. But she has a small amount of money coming to her, and she supposes herself to be traveling at her own expense.”
Ralph had listened with close attention to this careful report. “Ah, if she’s a genius,” he said, “we must find out her special line. Is it by chance for flirting?”
“I don’t think so. You may suspect that at first, but you’ll be wrong. You’ll find, in general, that she is a very serious person and not easy to understand.”
“Warburton’s wrong, then. He flatters himself that he discovered that she rather likes to flirt.”
His mother shook her head. “Lord Warburton won’t understand her. He needn’t try.”
“He’s very intelligent,” said Ralph. “But it’s right he should be puzzled once in a while.”
“Isabel will enjoy puzzling a lord,” said Mrs. Touchett.
Her son looked a little serious. “But what does she know about lords?”
“Nothing at all. That will puzzle Lord Warburton even more.”
Ralph greeted these words with a laugh and looked out the window. Then, “Are you not going down to see my father?” he asked.
“At a quarter to eight,” said Mrs. Touchett.
Her son looked at his watch. “You’ve another quarter of an hour then. But tell me some more about Isabel. Won’t she also give you some trouble?”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. Where does the opening scene of this story take place?
2. What is Mrs. Touchett doing as the story opens?
3. What were Mrs. Touchett’s appearance and manner?
4. What relation to Mrs. Touchett was the young woman about whom they were talking?
5. What plans did Mrs. Touchett have for the young woman?
6. What was Mrs. Touchett’s opinion of Isabel?
7. Who had been out on the lawn when Isabel came out?
8. Where had Mrs. Touchett found Isabel?
9. Why hadn’t Mrs. Touchett seen her sister’s children for many years?
10. Why had Isabel’s sister jumped at the chance of Mrs. Touchett’s taking an interest in Isabel?
11. Why did Mrs. Touchett think that Lord Warburton would be puzzled by Isabel?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
distinguish insist on
wealth take care of
surround by the way
positive get along well
envy become acquainted with
selfish bring up (children)
obligation look (someone) up
“Ah, you ask too many questions. Find that out by talking with the girl herself,” cried Mrs. Touchett, who had apparently given her son as much time as she felt the situation deserved, and was now more eager to get on with her own mats. She motioned him out of the way, as she went on with her unpack ing. Though fifteen minutes remained before the dinner hour when she was to meet with her husband, whom she had not seen for several months, it was characteristic of her that she should appear at the exact time and not a minute before. It was also characteristic that, upon arriving at Gardencourt after so long an absence, she had gone directly to her room without first greeting either her son or her husband. For reasons which she considered excellent, on such occasions she always immediately withdrew to her private quarters, postponing the more sentimental matters until she had carefully arranged her dress and her person. This was so despite the fact that her appearance in general was seldom important to her or to anyone else.
Mrs. Touchett simply had her own way of doing things, and she seldom made any effort to please others. The edges of her manner were so very clear-cut that for sensitive persons they sometimes had a knife-like effect. Yet this way of hers was not so much unpleasant it was just clearly distinguished from that of other people. She was separated from her husband, but appeared to see nothing unusual in this situation either.
It had become clear, early in their married life, that they would never desire the same thing at the same moment; and rather than allow such a situation to grow worse, Mrs. Touchett had immediately gone to live in Florence, where she bought a house and established herself, leaving her husband to take care of the English branch of his bank. This arrangement pleased her greatly. It was so simple and definite. Usually once a year she came to spend a month with her husband. At such times she took pains to prove to him that this plan of life was the correct one for both of them, particularly since she herself cared so little for the English style of living.
His mother had told Ralph that he must satisfy any further curiosity he had about Isabel by talking with the girl herself. It soon became clear that he should not want for opportunities. He had a good deal of talk with his young cousin the same evening, when the two were left together after dinner. Lord War burton had returned to his own home, ten miles distant. Mr. and Mrs. Touchett, who appeared to have soon finished with the few subjects of conversation which they had in common, withdrew to their separate rooms shortly after dinner. And Isa bel, though she had been traveling half the day, was not too tired. She seemed eager to see something of her new surroundings. She asked Ralph to show her the pictures, of which there were a great many in the house, most of them of Ralph’s choosing. The best were arranged in a long hall usually lighted in the evening which had a sitting room at either end.
Ralph took a lamp and moved about, pointing out the things he liked. Isabel examined one picture after another, and expressed herself in little cries of surprise and admiration. She was apparently a good judge of such things. She had a natural taste and Ralph was struck by that. He himself found that he was placing his eyes much less on the pictures, than on the face of his cousin for she was better to look at than most works of art. She was tall and slender; her movements were light and graceful. Her hair, which was dark, almost black, had been the envy of many women. Her light grey eyes, a little too serious perhaps in expression, were at the same time bright and kind. Ralph and she walked slowly up one side of the hall and down the other, and then she said:
“Well, now I know more than when I began.”
“You apparently have a great desire for knowledge,” her cousin returned.
“I think I have. Most girls know so very little. I naturally want to improve myself as much as possible. That was one of my principal reasons for wanting to come to Europe.”
“You strike me as quite different from most girls.”
“Perhaps I am though I don’t know whether that is fortunate or unfortunate.” Then, in a moment, as though to change the subject, “Please tell me isn’t there a ghost somewhere?” she went on.
“Yes someone who haunts the house, who comes and goes appears and disappears at strange hours. We call them ghosts in America.”
“So do we here, when we see them. Don’t forget we are all Americans, even though we may have lived in England many years.”
“But I thought that all great, old English houses always had their private ghosts. In such a romantic old place as this it seems to me there certainly should be a ghost of some old character wandering about.”
“Well, I suppose we have one and possibly several. I might show it to you, but you’d never see it. The fact is that not everyone enjoys the right to see it. For example, it has never been seen by a young, happy, innocent person like you. You must have suffered first suffered greatly and have gained a wide knowledge of such things before you can appreciate them. I saw it long ago,” said Ralph, his tone lighter and more cheerful than his words might suggest.
“But I told you just now. I’m very fond of knowledge.”
“Yes, of happy knowledge of pleasant knowledge. But you haven’t suffered, and you’re not made to suffer. I hope you’ll never suffer and that you’ll never be able to see our ghost.”
All this time Isabel had been listening with the closest attention. A smile played about her lips, but at the same time there was a look of deep understanding in her eyes. It occurred to Ralph again that she was really quite charming. She was pleasant and cheerful, yet also capable of more serious reflection. It was not exactly what she said that impressed Ralph so much. It was more her manner, her tone of voice, her way of adjusting herself so readily to the direction of the conversation, that had made him feel, even during their talk that afternoon on the lawn, that his cousin was a highly intelligent girl. After a moment Isabel continued:
“I suppose we should talk of pleasanter things. Tell me about your life here. This place is so huge. Is there never anyone here but your father and you?”
“My mother, of course.”
“Oh, I know your mother; she’s not romantic. Haven’t you other people?”
“I’m sorry for that; I like so much to see people.”
“Oh, we’ll invite the whole county to amuse you,” said Ralph.
“Now you’re making fun of me,” the girl answered gravely. “Who was the gentleman on the lawn when I arrived?”
“A county neighbor; he doesn’t come very often.”
“I’m sorry for that; I like him,” said Isabel.
“Why, it seemed to me that you hardly spoke to him,” Ralph objected.
“Never mind, I like him all the same. I like your father too, very much.”
“Y >u can’t do better than that. He’s the dearest of the dear.”
“I’m so sorry he is sick.”
“You must help me to take care of him. His condition is quite serious. He had an attack last spring that almost finished him. I was very much frightened. I can’t imagine living in a world where my father no longer has a place.”
“You are very fond of him, aren’t you? I saw that this afternoon.”
“He is a wonderful old man, for whom I have the greatest admiration. He is gentle and kind, and at the same time very capable. Now, of course, he is old, but he has made a great success of his business.”
“How strange that you did not follow your father in the banking business!”
“I started to do so, but then my health failed and I had to give it up. Unfortunately, each year now I must leave England and spend the winter in the south of France, where the weather is warmer. So there is little chance of my working at anything.”
“It seems like quite a wonderful way to spend one’s time. But I suppose it also has its disadvantages.” Her voice was sympathetic.
“Quite so!” answered Ralph, a little shortly as though preferring to talk about something else. “Well, you like my father and Lord Warburton. I also gather that you like my mother.”
“I like your mother very much because because ” And Isabel found herself trying to arrive at a reason for her affection for Mrs. Touchett.
“Oh, we often never know why,” said her companion, laughing.
“I always know why,” the girl answered. “It’s because she doesn’t expect one to like her. She doesn’t care whether one does or not.”
“So you like her just to be contradictory. Well, I take greatly after my mother.”
“I don’t believe you do at all. You wish people to like you, and you try to make them do it.”
“Good heavens! How you see through me,” cried Ralph. They had passed out of the smaller living room, into which they had returned from the hall, and now paused at the foot of the stairs. Here Ralph presented his companion with a lamp to light her way to her room. “It’s been a very pleasant evening,” he said. “And I feel I already know you quite well. I wish you all the success possible during your stay in Europe and I shall be very glad to help you enjoy it in every way I can.” She turned away and he watched her as she slowly and gracefully went up the stairs. Then, with his hands stuck deep in the pockets of his loose-fitting coat, he went back to the empty drawing room.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What two things did Mrs. Touchett do that were character
istic of her?
2. How did Mrs. Touchett’s manner affect other people?
3. Where did Mrs. Touchett live? How often did she visit her husband?
4. Why did Ralph have a good deal of opportunity to find out more about Isabel?
5. Describe Isabel.
6. Why did Isabel ask Ralph about a ghost in the house?
7. Why did Ralph say that Isabel wouldn’t see the ghost?
8. Why was Ralph impressed with Isabel?
9. What was the condition of Mr. Touchett’s health?
10. Why hadn’t Ralph followed his father in the banking business?
11. Why did Isabel like Mrs. Touchett?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
characteristic get on with
postpone despite the fact that
knowledge want for
romantic point out
capable for example