"If it's my duty," Ralph asked, "is it not, by analogy, yours as well?"
Miss Stackpole's ocular surfaces unwinkingly caught the sun. "Have you the fond hope of finding a flaw in my reasoning? Of course I've as good a right to marry as any one else."
"Well then," said Ralph, "I won't say it vexes me to see you single. It delights me rather."
"You're not serious yet. You never will be."
"Shall you not believe me to be so on the day I tell you I desire to give up the practice of going round alone?"
Miss Stackpole looked at him for a moment in a manner which seemed to announce a reply that might technically be called encouraging. But to his great surprise this expression suddenly resolved itself into an appearance of alarm and even of resentment. "No, not even then," she answered dryly. After which she walked away.
"I've not conceived a passion for your friend," Ralph said that evening to Isabel, "though we talked some time this morning about it."
"And you said something she didn't like," the girl replied.
Ralph stared. "Has she complained of me?"
"She told me she thinks there's something very low in the tone of Europeans towards women."
"Does she call me a European?"
"One of the worst. She told me you had said to her something that an American never would have said. But she didn't repeat it."
Ralph treated himself to a luxury of laughter. "She's an extraordinary combination. Did she think I was making love to her?"
"No; I believe even Americans do that. But she apparently thought you mistook the intention of something she had said, and put an unkind construction on it."
"I thought she was proposing marriage to me and I accepted her. Was that unkind?"
Isabel smiled. "It was unkind to me. I don't want you to marry."
"My dear cousin, what's one to do among you all?" Ralph demanded. "Miss Stackpole tells me it's my bounden duty, and that it's hers, in general, to see I do mine!"
"She has a great sense of duty," said Isabel gravely. "She has indeed, and it's the motive of everything she says. That's what I like her for. She thinks it's unworthy of you to keep so many things to yourself. That's what she wanted to express. If you thought she was trying to — to attract you, you were very wrong."
"It's true it was an odd way, but I did think she was trying to attract me. Forgive my depravity."
"You're very conceited. She had no interested views, and never supposed you would think she had."
"One must be very modest then to talk with such women," Ralph said humbly. "But it's a very strange type. She's too personal — considering that she expects other people not to be. She walks in without knocking at the door."
"Yes," Isabel admitted, "she doesn't sufficiently recognise the existence of knockers; and indeed I'm not sure that she doesn't think them rather a pretentious ornament. She thinks one's door should stand ajar. But I persist in liking her."
"I persist in thinking her too familiar," Ralph rejoined, naturally somewhat uncomfortable under the sense of having been doubly deceived in Miss Stackpole.
"Well," said Isabel, smiling, "I'm afraid it's because she's rather vulgar that I like her."
"She would be flattered by your reason!"
"If I should tell her I wouldn't express it in that way. I should say it's because there's something of the 'people' in her."
"What do you know about the people? and what does she, for that matter?"
"She knows a great deal, and I know enough to feel that she's a kind of emanation of the great democracy — of the continent, the country, the nation. I don't say that she sums it all up, that would be too much to ask of her. But she suggests it; she vividly figures it."
"You like her then for patriotic reasons. I'm afraid it is on those very grounds I object to her."
"Ah," said Isabel with a kind of joyous sigh, "I like so many things! If a thing strikes me with a certain intensity I accept it. I don't want to swagger, but I suppose I'm rather versatile. I like people to be totally different from Henrietta — in the style of Lord Warburton's sisters for instance. So long as I look at the Misses Molyneux they seem to me to answer a kind of ideal. Then Henrietta presents herself, and I'm straightway convinced by her; not so much in respect to herself as in respect to what masses behind her."
"Ah, you mean the back view of her," Ralph suggested.
"What she says is true," his cousin answered; "you'll never be serious. I like the great country stretching away beyond the rivers and across the prairies, blooming and smiling and spreading till it stops at the green Pacific! A strong, sweet, fresh odour seems to rise from it, and Henrietta — pardon my simile — has something of that odour in her garments."
Isabel blushed a little as she concluded this speech, and the blush, together with the momentary ardour she had thrown into it, was so becoming to her that Ralph stood smiling at her for a moment after she had ceased speaking. "I'm not sure the Pacific's so green as that," he said; "but you're a young woman of imagination. Henrietta, however, does smell of the Future — it almost knocks one down!"