‘Ah yes; I see.’ And Lord Warburton’s eyes wandered vaguely in the direction she had indicated. He stood firmly before her now; he had recovered his balance and seemed to wish to show it, though very kindly. ‘Don’t let me disturb you,’ he went on, looking at her dejected pillar. ‘I’m afraid you’re tired.’

‘Yes, I’m rather tired.’ She hesitated a moment, but sat down again. ‘Don’t let me interrupt you,’ she added.

‘Oh dear, I’m quite alone, I’ve nothing on earth to do. I had no idea you were in Rome. I’ve just come from the East. I’m only passing through.’

‘You’ve been making a long journey,’ said Isabel, who had learned from Ralph that Lord Warburton was absent from England.

‘Yes, I came abroad for six months—soon after I saw you last. I’ve been in Turkey and Asia Minor; I came the other day from Athens.’ He managed not to be awkward, but he wasn’t easy, and after a longer look at the girl he came down to nature. ‘Do you wish me to leave you, or will you let me stay a little?’

She took it all humanely. ‘I don’t wish you to leave me, Lord Warburton; I’m very glad to see you.’

‘Thank you for saying that. May I sit down?’

The fluted shaft on which she had taken her seat would have afforded a resting-place to several persons, and there was plenty of room even for a highly-developed Englishman. This fine specimen of that great class seated himself near our young lady, and in the course of five minutes he had asked her several questions, taken rather at random and to which, as he put some of them twice over, he apparently somewhat missed catching the answer; had given her too some information about himself which was not wasted upon her calmer feminine sense. He repeated more than once that he had not expected to meet her, and it was evident that the encounter touched him in a way that would have made preparation advisable. He began abruptly to pass from the impunity of things to their solemnity, and from their being delightful to their being impossible. He was splendidly sunburnt; even his multitudinous beard had been burnished by the fire of Asia. He was dressed in the loose-fitting, heterogeneous garments in which the English traveller in foreign lands is wont to consult his comfort and affirm his nationality; and with his pleasant steady eyes, his bronzed complexion, fresh beneath its seasoning, his manly figure, his minimizing manner and his general air of being a gentleman and an explorer, he was such a representative of the British race as need not in any clime have been disavowed by those who have a kindness for it. Isabel noted these things and was glad she had always liked him. He had kept, evidently in spite of shocks, every one of his merits—properties these partaking of the essence of great decent houses, as one might put it; resembling their innermost fixtures and ornaments, not subject to vulgar shifting and removable only by some whole break-up. They talked of the matters naturally in order; her uncle’s death, Ralph’s state of health, the way she had passed her winter, her visit to Rome, her return to Florence, her plans for the summer, the hotel she was staying at; and then of Lord Warburton’s own adventures, movements, intentions, impressions and present domicile. At last there was a silence, and it said so much more than either had said that it scarce needed his final words. ‘I’ve written to you several times.’

‘Written to me? I’ve never had your letters.’

‘I never sent them. I burned them up.’

‘Ah,’ laughed Isabel, ‘it was better that you should do that than I!’

‘I thought you wouldn’t care for them,’ he went on with a simplicity that touched her. ‘It seemed to me that after all I had no right to trouble you with letters.’

‘I should have been very glad to have news of you. You know how I hoped that—that—’ But she stopped; there would be such a flatness in the utterance of her thought.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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