The Portrait of a Lady
Mrs. Ludlow was the eldest of the three sisters, and was usually thought the most
sensible; the classification being in general that Lilian was the practical one,
Edith the beauty and Isabel the "intellectual" superior. Mrs. Keyes, the second of
the group, was the wife of an officer of the United States Engineers, and as our
history is not further concerned with her it will suffice that she was indeed very
pretty and that she formed the ornament of those various military stations, chiefly
in the unfashionable West, to which, to her deep chagrin, her husband was
successively relegated. Lilian had married a New York lawyer, a young man with
a loud voice and an enthusiasm for his profession; the match was not brilliant,
any more than Edith's, but Lilian had occasionally been spoken of as a young
woman who might be thankful to marry at all--she was so much plainer than her
sisters. She was, however, very happy, and now, as the mother of two
peremptory little boys and the mistress of a wedge of brown stone violently
driven into Fifty-third Street, seemed to exult in her condition as in a bold escape.
She was short and solid, and her claim to figure was questioned, but she was
conceded presence, though not majesty; she had moreover, as people said,
improved since her marriage, and the two things in life of which she was most
distinctly conscious were her husband's force in argument and her sister Isabel's
originality. "I've never kept up with Isabel--it would have taken all my time," she
had often remarked; in spite of which, however, she held her rather wistfully in
sight; watching her as a motherly spaniel might watch a free greyhound. "I want
to see her safely married--that's what I want to see," she frequently noted to her
"Well, I must say I should have no particular desire to marry her," Edmund
Ludlow was accustomed to answer in an extremely audible tone.
"I know you say that for argument; you always take the opposite ground. I don't
see what you've against her except that she's so original."
"Well, I don't like originals; I like translations," Mr. Ludlow had more than once
replied. "Isabel's written in a foreign tongue. I can't make her out. She ought to
marry an Armenian or a Portuguese."
"That's just what I'm afraid she'll do!" cried Lilian, who thought Isabel capable of
She listened with great interest to the girl's account of Mrs. Touchett's
appearance and in the evening prepared to comply with their aunt's commands.
Of what Isabel then said no report has remained, but her sister's words had
doubtless prompted a word spoken to her husband as the two were making
ready for their visit. "I do hope immensely she'll do something handsome for
Isabel; she has evidently taken a great fancy to her."
"What is it you wish her to do?" Edmund Ludlow asked. "Make her a big
"No indeed; nothing of the sort. But take an interest in her-- sympathise with her.
She's evidently just the sort of person to appreciate her. She has lived so much