Ralph had listened attentively to this judicious report, by which his interest in the subject of it was not impaired. "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 won't, I think, in anyway, be easily right about her."
"Warburton's wrong then!" Ralph rejoicingly exclaimed. "He flatters himself he has made that discovery."
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," Mrs. Touchett remarked.
Her son frowned a little. "What does she know about lords?"
"Nothing at all: that will puzzle him all the more."
Ralph greeted these words with a laugh and looked out of 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. Tell me some more about Isabel." After which, as Mrs. Touchett declined his invitation, declaring that he must find out for himself, "Well," he pursued, "she'll certainly do you credit. But won't she also give you trouble?"
"I hope not; but if she does I shall not shrink from it. I never do that."
"She strikes me as very natural," said Ralph.
"Natural people are not the most trouble."
"No," said Ralph; "you yourself are a proof of that. You're extremely natural, and I'm sure you have never troubled any one. It takes trouble to do that. But tell me this; it just occurs to me. Is Isabel capable of making herself disagreeable?"
"Ah," cried his mother, "you ask too many questions! Find that out for yourself."
His questions, however, were not exhausted. "All this time," he said, "you've not told me what you intend to do with her."
"Do with her? You talk as if she were a yard of calico. I shall do absolutely nothing with her, and she herself will do everything she chooses. She gave me notice of that."
"What you meant then, in your telegram, was that her character's independent."
"I never know what I mean in my telegrams — especially those I send from America. Clearness is too expensive. Come down to your father."
"It's not yet a quarter to eight," said Ralph.
"I must allow for his impatience," Mrs. Touchett answered. Ralph knew what to think of his father's impatience; but, making no rejoinder, he offered his mother his arm. This put it in his power, as they descended together, to stop her a moment on the middle landing of the staircase — the broad, low, wide-armed staircase of time-blackened oak which was one of the most striking features of Gardencourt. "You've no plan of marrying her?" he smiled.
"Marrying her? I should be sorry to play her such a trick! But apart from that, she's perfectly able to marry herself. She has every facility."
"Do you mean to say she has a husband picked out?"
"I don't know about a husband, but there's a young man in Boston — !"
Ralph went on; he had no desire to hear about the young man in Boston. "As my father says, they're always engaged!"
His mother had told him that he must satisfy his curiosity at the source, and it soon became evident he should not want for occasion. He had a good deal of talk with his young kinswoman when the two had been left together in the drawing-room. Lord Warburton, who had ridden over from his own house, some ten miles distant, remounted and took his departure before dinner; and an hour after this meal was ended Mr. and Mrs. Touchett, who appeared to have quite emptied the measure of their forms, withdrew, under the valid pretext of fatigue, to their respective apartments. The young man spent an hour with his cousin; though she had been travelling half the day she appeared in no degree spent. She was really tired; she knew it, and knew she should pay for it on the morrow; but it was her habit at this period to carry exhaustion to the furthest point and confess to it only when dissimulation broke down. A fine hypocrisy was for the present possible; she was interested; she was, as she said to herself, floated. She asked Ralph to show her the pictures; there were a great many in the house, most of them of his own choosing. The best were arranged in an oaken gallery, of charming proportions, which had a sitting-room at either end of it and which in the evening was usually lighted. The light was insufficient to show the pictures to advantage, and the visit might have stood over to the morrow. This suggestion Ralph had ventured to make; but Isabel looked disappointed — smiling still, however — and said: "If you please I should like to see them just a little." She was eager, she knew she was eager and now seemed so; she couldn't help it. "She doesn't take suggestions," Ralph said to himself; but he said it without irritation; her pressure amused and even pleased him. The lamps were on brackets, at intervals, and if the light was imperfect it was genial. It fell upon the vague squares of rich colour and on the faded gilding of heavy frames; it made a sheen on the polished floor of the gallery. Ralph took a candlestick and moved about, pointing out the things he liked; Isabel, inclining to one picture after another, indulged in little exclamations and murmurs. She was evidently a judge; she had a natural taste; he was struck with that. She took a candlestick herself and held it slowly here and there; she lifted it high, and as she did so he found himself pausing in the middle of the place and bending his eyes much less upon the pictures than on her presence. He lost nothing, in truth, by these wandering glances, for she was better worth looking at than most works of art. She was undeniably spare, and ponderably light, and proveably tall; when people had wished to distinguish her from the other two Miss Archers they had always called her the willowy one. Her hair, which was dark even to blackness, had been an object of envy to many women; her light grey eyes, a little too firm perhaps in her graver moments, had an enchanting range of concession. They walked slowly up one side of the gallery and down the other, and then she said: "Well, now I know more than I did when I began!"