"Ah," cried the young man, "if you were thinking of ME when you did it!" And then he paused with the fear that she might contradict so happy a thought.
"I was thinking of you a little," said Isabel.
"A little? I don't understand. If the knowledge of what I feel for you had any weight with you at all, calling it a 'little' is a poor account of it."
Isabel shook her head as if to carry off a blunder. "I've refused a most kind, noble gentleman. Make the most of that."
"I thank you then," said Caspar Goodwood gravely. "I thank you immensely."
"And now you had better go home."
"May I not see you again?" he asked.
"I think it's better not. You'll be sure to talk of this, and you see it leads to nothing."
"I promise you not to say a word that will annoy you."
Isabel reflected and then answered: "I return in a day or two to my uncle's, and I can't propose to you to come there. It would be too inconsistent."
Caspar Goodwood, on his side, considered. "You must do me justice too. I received an invitation to your uncle's more than a week ago, and I declined it."
She betrayed surprise. "From whom was your invitation?"
"From Mr. Ralph Touchett, whom I suppose to be your cousin. I declined it because I had not your authorisation to accept it. The suggestion that Mr. Touchett should invite me appeared to have come from Miss Stackpole."
"It certainly never did from me. Henrietta really goes very far," Isabel added.
"Don't be too hard on her — that touches ME."
"No; if you declined you did quite right, and I thank you for it." And she gave a little shudder of dismay at the thought that Lord Warburton and Mr. Goodwood might have met at Gardencourt: it would have been so awkward for Lord Warburton.
"When you leave your uncle where do you go?" her companion asked.
"I go abroad with my aunt — to Florence and other places."
The serenity of this announcement struck a chill to the young man's heart; he seemed to see her whirled away into circles from which he was inexorably excluded. Nevertheless he went on quickly with his questions. "And when shall you come back to America?"
"Perhaps not for a long time. I'm very happy here."
"Do you mean to give up your country?"
"Don't be an infant!"
"Well, you'll be out of my sight indeed!" said Caspar Goodwood.
"I don't know," she answered rather grandly. "The world — with all these places so arranged and so touching each other — comes to strike one as rather small."
"It's a sight too big for ME!" Caspar exclaimed with a simplicity our young lady might have found touching if her face had not been set against concessions.
This attitude was part of a system, a theory, that she had lately embraced, and to be thorough she said after a moment: "Don't think me unkind if I say it's just THAT — being out of your sight — that I like. If you were in the same place I should feel you were watching me, and I don't like that — I like my liberty too much. If there's a thing in the world I'm fond of," she went on with a slight recurrence of grandeur, "it's my personal independence."
But whatever there might be of the too superior in this speech moved Caspar Goodwood's admiration; there was nothing he winced at in the large air of it. He had never supposed she hadn't wings and the need of beautiful free movements — he wasn't, with his own long arms and strides, afraid of any force in her. Isabel's words, if they had been meant to shock him, failed of the mark and only made him smile with the sense that here was common ground. "Who would wish less to curtail your liberty than I? What can give me greater pleasure than to see you perfectly independent — doing whatever you like? It's to make you independent that I want to marry you."
"That's a beautiful sophism," said the girl with a smile more beautiful still.
"An unmarried woman — a girl of your age — isn't independent. There are all sorts of things she can't do. She's hampered at every step."
"That's as she looks at the question," Isabel answered with much spirit. "I'm not in my first youth — I can do what I choose — I belong quite to the independent class. I've neither father nor mother; I'm poor and of a serious disposition; I'm not pretty. I therefore am not bound to be timid and conventional; indeed I can't afford such luxuries. Besides, I try to judge things for myself; to judge wrong, I think, is more honourable than not to judge at all. I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me." She paused a moment, but not long enough for her companion to reply. He was apparently on the point of doing so when she went on: "Let me say this to you, Mr. Goodwood. You're so kind as to speak of being afraid of my marrying. If you should hear a rumour that I'm on the point of doing so — girls are liable to have such things said about them — remember what I have told you about my love of liberty and venture to doubt it."