"Ah, he has a good excuse for everything!" cried Lord Warburton, still with his sonorous mirth.
"My excuse for not rowing is that my cousin rows so well," said Ralph. "She does everything well. She touches nothing that she doesn't adorn!"
"It makes one want to be touched, Miss Archer," Lord Warburton declared.
"Be touched in the right sense and you'll never look the worse for it," said Isabel, who, if it pleased her to hear it said that her accomplishments were numerous, was happily able to reflect that such complacency was not the indication of a feeble mind, inasmuch as there were several things in which she excelled. Her desire to think well of herself had at least the element of humility that it always needed to be supported by proof.
Lord Warburton not only spent the night at Gardencourt, but he was persuaded to remain over the second day; and when the second day was ended he determined to postpone his departure till the morrow. During this period he addressed many of his remarks to Isabel, who accepted this evidence of his esteem with a very good grace. She found herself liking him extremely; the first impression he had made on her had had weight, but at the end of an evening spent in his society she scarce fell short of seeing him — though quite without luridity — as a hero of romance. She retired to rest with a sense of good fortune, with a quickened consciousness of possible felicities. "It's very nice to know two such charming people as those," she said, meaning by "those" her cousin and her cousin's friend. It must be added moreover that an incident had occurred which might have seemed to put her good-humour to the test. Mr. Touchett went to bed at half-past nine o'clock, but his wife remained in the drawing-room with the other members of the party. She prolonged her vigil for something less than an hour, and then, rising, observed to Isabel that it was time they should bid the gentlemen good-night. Isabel had as yet no desire to go to bed; the occasion wore, to her sense, a festive character, and feasts were not in the habit of terminating so early. So, without further thought, she replied, very simply —
"Need I go, dear aunt? I'll come up in half an hour."
"It's impossible I should wait for you," Mrs. Touchett answered.
"Ah, you needn't wait! Ralph will light my candle," Isabel gaily engaged.
"I'll light your candle; do let me light your candle, Miss Archer!" Lord Warburton exclaimed. "Only I beg it shall not be before midnight."
Mrs. Touchett fixed her bright little eyes upon him a moment and transferred them coldly to her niece. "You can't stay alone with the gentlemen. You're not — you're not at your blest Albany, my dear."
Isabel rose, blushing. "I wish I were," she said.
"Oh, I say, mother!" Ralph broke out.
"My dear Mrs. Touchett!" Lord Warburton murmured.
"I didn't make your country, my lord," Mrs. Touchett said majestically. "I must take it as I find it."
"Can't I stay with my own cousin?" Isabel enquired.
"I'm not aware that Lord Warburton is your cousin."
"Perhaps I had better go to bed!" the visitor suggested. "That will arrange it."
Mrs. Touchett gave a little look of despair and sat down again. "Oh, if it's necessary I'll stay up till midnight."
Ralph meanwhile handed Isabel her candlestick. He had been watching her; it had seemed to him her temper was involved — an accident that might be interesting. But if he had expected anything of a flare he was disappointed, for the girl simply laughed a little, nodded good-night and withdrew accompanied by her aunt. For himself he was annoyed at his mother, though he thought she was right. Above-stairs the two ladies separated at Mrs. Touchett's door. Isabel had said nothing on her way up.
"Of course you're vexed at my interfering with you," said Mrs. Touchett.
Isabel considered. "I'm not vexed, but I'm surprised — and a good deal mystified. Wasn't it proper I should remain in the drawing-room?"
"Not in the least. Young girls here — in decent houses — don't sit alone with the gentlemen late at night."
"You were very right to tell me then," said Isabel. "I don't understand it, but I'm very glad to know it.
"I shall always tell you," her aunt answered, "whenever I see you taking what seems to me too much liberty."
"Pray do; but I don't say I shall always think your remonstrance just."
"Very likely not. You're too fond of your own ways."
"Yes, I think I'm very fond of them. But I always want to know the things one shouldn't do."
"So as to do them?" asked her aunt.
"So as to choose," said Isabel.