INTERMEDIATE BETWEEN INTERVIEWS 197
Now all his ponderings, however excursive, wheeled round Isabel as their centre ; and back to her they came again from every excursion ; and again derived some new, small germs for wonderment.
The question of time occurred to Pierre. How old was Isabel ? According to all reasonable inferences from the presumed circumstances of her life, she was his elder, certainly, though by uncertain years ; yet her whole aspect was that of more than childlikeness ; nevertheless, not only did he feel his muscular superiority to her, so to speak, which made him spontaneously alive to a feeling of elderly protectingness over her ; not only did he experience the thoughts of superior world-acquaintance, and general cultured knowledge ; but spite of reason's self, and irrespective of all mere computings, he was conscious of a feeling which independently pronounced him her senior in point of time, and Isabel a child of everlasting youngness. This strange, though strong conceit of his mysterious persuasion, doubtless, had its untraced, and but little-suspected origin in his mind, from ideas born of his devout meditations upon the artless infantileness of her face ; which, though profoundly mournful in the general expression, yet did not, by any means, for that cause, lose one whit in its singular infantileness ; as the faces of real infants, in their earliest visibleness, do ofttimes wear a look of deep and endless sadness. But it was not the sadness, nor indeed, strictly speaking, the infantileness of the face of Isabel which so singularly impressed him with the idea of her original and changeless youthfulness. It was something else ; yet something which entirely eluded him.
Imaginatively exalted by the willing suffrages of all mankind into higher and purer realms than men themselves inhabit ; beautiful women—those of them at least who are beautiful in soul as well as body—do, notwith--