‘I’m sorry you should have been here so long without our knowing it.’

‘Your mother told me that in England people arrived very quietly; so I thought it was all right. Is one of those gentlemen your father?’

‘Yes, the elder one—the one sitting down,’ said Ralph.

The girl gave a laugh. ‘I don’t suppose it’s the other. Who’s the other?’

‘He’s a friend of ours—Lord Warburton.’

‘Oh, I hoped there would be a lord; it’s just like a novel!’ And then, ‘Oh you adorable creature!’ she suddenly cried, stooping down and picking up the small dog again.

She remained standing where they had met, making no offer to advance or to speak to Mr Touchett, and while she lingered so near the threshold, slim and charming, her interlocutor wondered if she expected the old man to come and pay her his respects. American girls were used to a great deal of deference, and it had been intimated that this one had a high spirit. Indeed Ralph could see that in her face.

‘Won’t you come and make acquaintance with my father?’ he nevertheless ventured to ask. ‘He’s old and infirm—he doesn’t leave his chair.’

‘Ah, poor man, I’m very sorry!’ the girl exclaimed, immediately moving forward. ‘I got the impression from your mother that he was rather—rather intensely active.’

Ralph Touchett was silent a moment. ‘She hasn’t seen him for a year.’

‘Well, he has a lovely place to sit. Come along, little hound.’

‘It’s a dear old place,’ said the young man, looking sidewise at his neighbour.

‘What’s his name?’ she asked, her attention having again reverted to the terrier.

‘My father’s name?’

‘Yes,’ said the young lady with amusement; ‘but don’t tell him I asked you.’

They had come by this time to where old Mr Touchett was sitting, and he slowly got up from his chair to introduce himself.

‘My mother has arrived,’ said Ralph, ‘and this is Miss Archer.’2

The old man placed his two hands on her shoulders, looked at her a moment with extreme benevolence and then gallantly kissed her. ‘It’s a great pleasure to me to see you here; but I wish you had given us a chance to receive you.’

‘Oh, we were received,’ said the girl. ‘There were about a dozen servants in the hall. And there was an old woman curtseying at the gate.’

‘We can do better than that—if we have notice!’ And the old man stood there smiling, rubbing his hands and slowly shaking his head at her. ‘But Mrs Touchett doesn’t like receptions.’

‘She went straight to her room.’

‘Yes—and locked herself in. She always does that. Well, I suppose I shall see her next week.’ And Mrs Touchett’s husband slowly resumed his former posture.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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