‘None whatever. There never has been. It has not been a successful life.’

‘No—it has only been a beautiful one.’ Isabel found herself already contradicting her aunt; she was irritated by her dryness.

‘I don’t know what you mean by that; there’s no beauty without health. That is a very odd dress to travel in.’

Isabel glanced at her garment. ‘I left Rome at an hour’s notice; I took the first that came.’

‘Your sisters, in America, wished to know how you dress. That seemed to be their principal interest. I wasn’t able to tell them—but they seemed to have the right idea: that you never wear anything less than black brocade.’

‘They think I’m more brilliant than I am; I’m afraid to tell them the truth,’ said Isabel. ‘Lily wrote me you had dined with her.’

‘She invited me four times, and I went once. After the second time she should have let me alone. The dinner was very good; it must have been expensive. Her husband has a very bad manner. Did I enjoy my visit to America? Why should I have enjoyed it? I didn’t go for my pleasure.’

These were interesting items, but Mrs Touchett soon left her niece, whom she was to meet in half an hour at the mid-day meal. For this repast the two ladies faced each other at an abbreviated table in the melancholy dining-room. Here, after a little, Isabel saw her aunt not to be so dry as she appeared, and her old pity for the poor woman’s inexpressiveness, her want of regret, of disappointment, came back to her. Unmistakeably she would have found it a blessing to-day to be able to feel a defeat, a mistake, even a shame or two. She wondered if she were not even missing those enrichments of consciousness and privately trying—reaching out for some aftertaste of life, dregs of the banquet; the testimony of pain or the cold recreation of remorse. On the other hand perhaps she was afraid; if she should begin to know remorse at all it might take her too far. Isabel could perceive, however, how it had come over her dimly that she had failed of something, that she saw herself in the future as an old woman without memories. Her little sharp face looked tragical. She told her niece that Ralph had as yet not moved, but that he probably would be able to see her before dinner. And then in a moment she added that he had seen Lord Warburton the day before; an announcement which startled Isabel a little, as it seemed an intimation that this personage was in the neighbourhood and that an accident might bring them together. Such an accident would not be happy; she had not come to England to struggle again with Lord Warburton. She none the less presently said to her aunt that he had been very kind to Ralph; she had seen something of that in Rome.

‘He has something else to think of now,’ Mrs Touchett returned. And she paused with a gaze like a gimlet.

Isabel saw she meant something, and instantly guessed what she meant. But her reply concealed her guess; her heart beat faster and she wished to gain a moment. ‘Ah yes—the House of Lords and all that.’

‘He’s not thinking of the Lords; he’s thinking of the ladies. At least he’s thinking of one of them; he told Ralph he’s engaged to be married.’

‘Ah, to be married!’ Isabel mildly exclaimed.

‘Unless he breaks it off. He seemed to think Ralph would like to know. Poor Ralph can’t go to the wedding, though I believe it’s to take place very soon.’

‘And who’s the young lady?’

‘A member of the aristocracy; Lady Flora, Lady Felicia—something of that sort.’

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