“You seem to me troubled,” said Ralph.
“I am troubled.”
For a moment she answered nothing; then she broke out—
““Do you think it good for me suddenly to be made so rich? Henrietta doesn’t.”
“Oh, hang Henrietta!” said Ralph
,coarsely .““If you ask me , I am’ delighted at it.”
“Is that why your father did it—for your amusement?”
“I differ with Miss Stackpole,” Ralph
said,more gravely. “I think it ’ svery good for you to have means.”
Isabel looked at him
a momentwith serious eyes. “I wonder whether you know what is’ good for me—or whether you care.”
“If I know
,depend upon it I care. Shall I tell you what it is? Not to torment yourself.”
“Not to torment you, I suppose you mean.”
“You can’t do that;
I am’ proof. Take things more easily. Don’t ask yourself so much whether this or that is good for you. Don’t question your conscience so much—it will get out of tune ,like a strummed piano. Keep it for great occasions. Don’t try so much to form your character—it’s like trying to pull open a rosebud.Live as you like best, and your character will formitself. Most things are good for you; the exceptions are very rare, and a comfortable income is’ not one of them.” Ralph paused, smiling; Isabel had listened quickly. “ You have”’ too much —conscience,” Ralph added. “ It’“’s out of all reason, the number of things you think wrong. Spread your wings; rise above the ground. It’s never wrong to do that.”
She had listened eagerly, as I say; and it was her nature to understand quickly.
“I wonder if you appreciate what you say. If you do, you take a great responsibility.”
“You frighten me a little, but I think
I am’ right,” said Ralph, continuing to smile.
“All the same
,what you say is very true,” Isabel went on.“You could say nothing more true. I am’ absorbed in myself—I look at life too much as a doctor’s prescription. Why ,indeed ,should we perpetually be thinking whether things are good for us, as if we were patients lying in a hospital? Why should I be so afraid of not doing right? As if it mattered to the world whether I do right or wrong!”
You are”’ a capital person to advise,” said Ralph; “you take the wind out of my sails!”
She looked at him as if she had not heard him—though she was following out the train of
reflectionwhich he himself had kindled. “I try to care more about the world than about myself—but I always come back to myself. It’s because I am’ afraid.” She stopped; her voice had trembled a little. “Yes, I am’ afraid; I can’t tell you. A large fortune means freedom, and I am’ afraid of that. It’s such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If one shouldn’t, one would be ashamed. And one must always bethinking— it’’s a constant effort. I am’ not sure that it’’s not a greater happiness to be powerless.”
“For weak people
I have’ no doubt it’s a greater happiness. For weak people the effort not to be contemptible must be great.”
“And how do you know
I am’ not weak?” Isabel asked.
“Ah,” Ralph answered
,with a blush whichthe girl noticed, “if you are , I am’ awfully sold!”
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady.