The Portrait of a Lady
On the morrow, in the evening, Lord Warburton went again to see his friends at
their hotel, and at this establishment he learned that they had gone to the opera.
He drove to the opera with the idea of paying them a visit in their box after the
easy Italian fashion; and when he had obtained his admittance--it was one of the
secondary theatres--looked about the large, bare, ill-lighted house. An act had
just terminated and he was at liberty to pursue his quest. After scanning two or
three tiers of boxes he perceived in one of the largest of these receptacles a lady
whom he easily recognised. Miss Archer was seated facing the stage and partly
screened by the curtain of the box; and beside her, leaning back in his chair, was
Mr. Gilbert Osmond. They appeared to have the place to themselves, and
Warburton supposed their companions had taken advantage of the recess to
enjoy the relative coolness of the lobby. He stood a while with his eyes on the
interesting pair; he asked himself if he should go up and interrupt the harmony.
At last he judged that Isabel had seen him, and this accident determined him.
There should be no marked holding off. He took his way to the upper regions and
on the staircase met Ralph Touchett slowly descending, his hat at the inclination
of ennui and his hands where they usually were.
"I saw you below a moment since and was going down to you. I feel lonely and
want company," was Ralph's greeting.
"You've some that's very good which you've yet deserted."
"Do you mean my cousin? Oh, she has a visitor and doesn't want me. Then Miss
Stackpole and Bantling have gone out to a cafe to eat an ice--Miss Stackpole
delights in an ice. I didn't think they wanted me either. The opera's very bad; the
women look like laundresses and sing like peacocks. I feel very low."
"You had better go home," Lord Warburton said without affectation.
"And leave my young lady in this sad place? Ah no, I must watch over her."
"She seems to have plenty of friends."
"Yes, that's why I must watch," said Ralph with the same large mock-melancholy.
"If she doesn't want you it's probable she doesn't want me."
"No, you're different. Go to the box and stay there while I walk about."
Lord Warburton went to the box, where Isabel's welcome was as to a friend so
honourably old that he vaguely asked himself what queer temporal province she
was annexing. He exchanged greetings with Mr. Osmond, to whom he had been
introduced the day before and who, after he came in, sat blandly apart and silent,
as if repudiating competence in the subjects of allusion now probable. It struck
her second visitor that Miss Archer had, in operatic conditions, a radiance, even
a slight exaltation; as she was, however, at all times a keenly-glancing, quickly-
moving, completely animated young woman, he may have been mistaken on this
point. Her talk with him moreover pointed to presence of mind; it expressed a
kindness so ingenious and deliberate as to indicate that she was in undisturbed
possession of her faculties. Poor Lord Warburton had moments of bewilderment.
She had discouraged him, formally, as much as a woman could; what business
had she then with such arts and such felicities, above all with such tones of