"Are you very fond of dogs?" he enquired by way of beginning. He seemed to recognise that it was an awkward beginning for a clever man.
"Very fond of them indeed."
"You must keep the terrier, you know," he went on, still awkwardly.
"I'll keep him while I'm here, with pleasure."
"That will be for a long time, I hope."
"You're very kind. I hardly know. My aunt must settle that."
"I'll settle it with her — at a quarter to seven." And Ralph looked at his watch again.
"I'm glad to be here at all," said the girl.
"I don't believe you allow things to be settled for you."
"Oh yes; if they're settled as I like them."
"I shall settle this as I like it," said Ralph. "It's most unaccountable that we should never have known you."
"I was there — you had only to come and see me."
"There? Where do you mean?"
"In the United States: in New York and Albany and other American places."
"I've been there — all over, but I never saw you. I can't make it out."
Miss Archer just hesitated. "It was because there had been some disagreement between your mother and my father, after my mother's death, which took place when I was a child. In consequence of it we never expected to see you."
"Ah, but I don't embrace all my mother's quarrels — heaven forbid!" the young man cried. "You've lately lost your father?" he went on more gravely.
"Yes; more than a year ago. After that my aunt was very kind to me; she came to see me and proposed that I should come with her to Europe."
"I see," said Ralph. "She has adopted you."
"Adopted me?" The girl stared, and her blush came back to her, together with a momentary look of pain which gave her interlocutor some alarm. He had underestimated the effect of his words. Lord Warburton, who appeared constantly desirous of a nearer view of Miss Archer, strolled toward the two cousins at the moment, and as he did so she rested her wider eyes on him.
"Oh no; she has not adopted me. I'm not a candidate for adoption."
"I beg a thousand pardons," Ralph murmured. "I meant — I meant — " He hardly knew what he meant.
"You meant she has taken me up. Yes; she likes to take people up. She has been very kind to me; but," she added with a certain visible eagerness of desire to be explicit, "I'm very fond of my liberty."
"Are you talking about Mrs. Touchett?" the old man called out from his chair. "Come here, my dear, and tell me about her. I'm always thankful for information."
The girl hesitated again, smiling. "She's really very benevolent," she answered; after which she went over to her uncle, whose mirth was excited by her words.
Lord Warburton was left standing with Ralph Touchett, to whom in a moment he said: "You wished a while ago to see my idea of an interesting woman. There it is!"