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 Ediths, but Lilian had occasionally been spoken of as a young woman who might be thankful to marry at allshe 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 husbands force in argument and her sister Isabels originality. Ive never kept up with Isabelit 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 marriedthats what I want to see, she frequently noted to her husband.
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 dont see what youve against her except that shes so original.
Well, I dont like originals; I like translations, Mr Ludlow had more than once replied. Isabels written in a foreign tongue. I cant make her out. She ought to marry an Armenian or a Portuguese.
Thats just what Im afraid shell do! cried Lilian, who thought Isabel capable of anything.
She listened with great interest to the girls account of Mrs Touchetts appearance and in the evening prepared to comply with their aunts commands. Of what Isabel then said no report has remained, but her sisters words had doubtless prompted a word spoken to her husband as the two were making ready for their visit. I do hope immensely shell 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 present?
No indeed; nothing of the sort. But take an interest in hersympathize with her. Shes evidently just the sort of person to appreciate her. She has lived so much in foreign society; she told Isabel all about it. You know youve always thought Isabel rather foreign.
You want her to give her a little foreign sympathy, eh? Dont you think she gets enough at home?
Well, she ought to go abroad, said Mrs Ludlow. Shes just the person to go abroad.
And you want the old lady to take her, is that it?
She has offered to take hershes dying to have Isabel go. But what I want her to do when she gets her there is to give her all the advantages. Im sure all weve got to do, said Mrs Ludlow, is to give her a chance.
A chance for what?
A chance to develop.
Oh Moses! Edmund Ludlow exclaimed. I hope she isnt going to develop any more!
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