The Portrait of a Lady
One morning, on her return from her drive, some half-hour before luncheon, she
quitted her vehicle in the court of the palace and, instead of ascending the great
staircase, crossed the court, passed beneath another archway and entered the
garden. A sweeter spot at this moment could not have been imagined. The
stillness of noontide hung over it, and the warm shade, enclosed and still, made
bowers like spacious caves. Ralph was sitting there in the clear gloom, at the
base of a statue of Terpsichore--a dancing nymph with taper fingers and inflated
draperies in the manner of Bernini; the extreme relaxation of his attitude
suggested at first to Isabel that he was asleep. Her light footstep on the grass
had not roused him, and before turning away she stood for a moment looking at
him. During this instant he opened his eyes; upon which she sat down on a rustic
chair that matched with his own. Though in her irritation she had accused him of
indifference she was not blind to the fact that he had visibly had something to
brood over. But she had explained his air of absence partly by the languor of his
increased weakness, partly by worries connected with the property inherited from
his father--the fruit of eccentric arrangements of which Mrs. Touchett
disapproved and which, as she had told Isabel, now encountered opposition from
the other partners in the bank. He ought to have gone to England, his mother
said, instead of coming to Florence; he had not been there for months, and took
no more interest in the bank than in the state of Patagonia.
"I'm sorry I waked you," Isabel said; "you look too tired."
"I feel too tired. But I was not asleep. I was thinking of you."
"Are you tired of that?"
"Very much so. It leads to nothing. The road's long and I never arrive."
"What do you wish to arrive at?" she put to him, closing her parasol.
"At the point of expressing to myself properly what I think of your engagement."
"Don't think too much of it," she lightly returned.
"Do you mean that it's none of my business?"
"Beyond a certain point, yes."
"That's the point I want to fix. I had an idea you may have found me wanting in
good manners. I've never congratulated you."
"Of course I've noticed that. I wondered why you were silent."
"There have been a good many reasons. I'll tell you now," Ralph said. He pulled
off his hat and laid it on the ground; then he sat looking at her. He leaned back
under the protection of Bernini, his head against his marble pedestal, his arms
dropped on either side of him, his hands laid upon the rests of his wide chair. He
looked awkward, uncomfortable; he hesitated long. Isabel said nothing; when
people were embarrassed she was usually sorry for them, but she was
determined not to help Ralph to utter a word that should not be to the honour of
her high decision. "I think I've hardly got over my surprise," he went on at last.
"You were the last person I expected to see caught."
"I don't know why you call it caught."
"Because you're going to be put into a cage."