The Portrait of a Lady HTML version

Chapter 31
Isabel came back to Florence, but only after several months; an interval
sufficiently replete with incident. It is not, however, during this interval that we are
closely concerned with her; our attention is engaged again on a certain day in the
late spring-time, shortly after her return to Palazzo Crescentini and a year from
the date of the incidents just narrated. She was alone on this occasion, in one of
the smaller of the numerous rooms devoted by Mrs. Touchett to social uses, and
there was that in her expression and attitude which would have suggested that
she was expecting a visitor. The tall window was open, and though its green
shutters were partly drawn the bright air of the garden had come in through a
broad interstice and filled the room with warmth and perfume. Our young woman
stood near it for some time, her hands clasped behind her; she gazed abroad
with the vagueness of unrest. Too troubled for attention she moved in a vain
circle. Yet it could not be in her thought to catch a glimpse of her visitor before he
should pass into the house, since the entrance to the palace was not through the
garden, in which stillness and privacy always reigned. She wished rather to
forestall his arrival by a process of conjecture, and to judge by the expression of
her face this attempt gave her plenty to do. Grave she found herself, and
positively more weighted, as by the experience of the lapse of the year she had
spent in seeing the world. She had ranged, she would have said, through space
and surveyed much of mankind, and was therefore now, in her own eyes, a very
different person from the frivolous young woman from Albany who had begun to
take the measure of Europe on the lawn at Gardencourt a couple of years before.
She flattered herself she had harvested wisdom and learned a great deal more of
life than this light-minded creature had even suspected. If her thoughts just now
had inclined themselves to retrospect, instead of fluttering their wings nervously
about the present, they would have evoked a multitude of interesting pictures.
These pictures would have been both landscapes and figure-pieces; the latter,
however, would have been the more numerous. With several of the images that
might have been projected on such a field we are already acquainted. There
would be for instance the conciliatory Lily, our heroine's sister and Edmund
Ludlow's wife, who had come out from New York to spend five months with her
relative. She had left her husband behind her, but had brought her children, to
whom Isabel now played with equal munificence and tenderness the part of
maiden-aunt. Mr. Ludlow, toward the last, had been able to snatch a few weeks
from his forensic triumphs and, crossing the ocean with extreme rapidity, had
spent a month with the two ladies in Paris before taking his wife home. The little
Ludlows had not yet, even from the American point of view, reached the proper
tourist-age; so that while her sister was with her Isabel had confined her
movements to a narrow circle. Lily and the babies had joined her in Switzerland
in the month of July, and they had spent a summer of fine weather in an Alpine
valley where the flowers were thick in the meadows and the shade of great
chestnuts made a resting-place for such upward wanderings as might be
undertaken by ladies and children on warm afternoons. They had afterwards