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The Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 21
Mrs. Touchett, before arriving in Paris, had fixed the day for her departure and by
the middle of February had begun to travel southward. She interrupted her
journey to pay a visit to her son, who at San Remo, on the Italian shore of the
Mediterranean, had been spending a dull, bright winter beneath a slow-moving
white umbrella. Isabel went with her aunt as a matter of course, though Mrs.
Touchett, with homely, customary logic, had laid before her a pair of alternatives.
"Now, of course, you're completely your own mistress and are as free as the bird
on the bough. I don't mean you were not so before, but you're at present on a
different footing--property erects a kind of barrier. You can do a great many
things if you're rich which would be severely criticised if you were poor. You can
go and come, you can travel alone, you can have your own establishment: I
mean of course if you'll take a companion--some decayed gentlewoman, with a
darned cashmere and dyed hair, who paints on velvet. You don't think you'd like
that? Of course you can do as you please; I only want you to understand how
much you're at liberty. You might take Miss Stackpole as your dame de
compagnie; she'd keep people off very well. I think, however, that it's a great deal
better you should remain with me, in spite of there being no obligation. It's better
for several reasons, quite apart from your liking it. I shouldn't think you'd like it,
but I recommend you to make the sacrifice. Of course whatever novelty there
may have been at first in my society has quite passed away, and you see me as I
am--a dull, obstinate, narrow-minded old woman."
"I don't think you're at all dull," Isabel had replied to this.
"But you do think I'm obstinate and narrow-minded? I told you so!" said Mrs.
Touchett with much elation at being justified.
Isabel remained for the present with her aunt, because, in spite of eccentric
impulses, she had a great regard for what was usually deemed decent, and a
young gentlewoman without visible relations had always struck her as a flower
without foliage. It was true that Mrs. Touchett's conversation had never again
appeared so brilliant as that first afternoon in Albany, when she sat in her damp
waterproof and sketched the opportunities that Europe would offer to a young
person of taste. This, however, was in a great measure the girl's own fault; she
had got a glimpse of her aunt's experience, and her imagination constantly
anticipated the judgements and emotions of a woman who had very little of the
same faculty. Apart from this, Mrs. Touchett had a great merit; she was as
honest as a pair of compasses. There was a comfort in her stiffness and
firmness; you knew exactly where to find her and were never liable to chance
encounters and concussions. On her own ground she was perfectly present, but
was never over-inquisitive as regards the territory of her neighbour. Isabel came
at last to have a kind of undemonstrable pity for her; there seemed something so
dreary in the condition of a person whose nature had, as it were, so little surface-
-offered so limited a face to the accretions of human contact. Nothing tender,
nothing sympathetic, had ever had a chance to fasten upon it--no wind-sown
blossom, no familiar softening moss. Her offered, her passive extent, in other
 
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