It had occurred to Ralph that, in the conditions, Isabel's parting with he_riend might be of a slightly embarrassed nature, and he went down to the doo_f the hotel in advance of his cousin, who, after a slight delay, followe_ith the traces of an unaccepted remonstrance, as he thought, in her eyes. Th_wo made the journey to Gardencourt in almost unbroken silence, and th_ervant who met them at the station had no better news to give them of Mr.
Touchett—a fact which caused Ralph to congratulate himself afresh on Si_atthew Hope's having promised to come down in the five o'clock train an_pend the night. Mrs. Touchett, he learned, on reaching home, had bee_onstantly with the old man and was with him at that moment; and this fac_ade Ralph say to himself that, after all, what his mother wanted was jus_asy occasion. The finer natures were those that shone at the larger times.
Isabel went to her own room, noting throughout the house that perceptible hus_hich precedes a crisis. At the end of an hour, however, she came downstair_n search of her aunt, whom she wished to ask about Mr. Touchett. She wen_nto the library, but Mrs. Touchett was not there, and as the weather, whic_ad been damp and chill, was now altogether spoiled, it was not probable sh_ad gone for her usual walk in the grounds. Isabel was on the point of ringin_o send a question to her room, when this purpose quickly yielded to a_nexpected sound— the sound of low music proceeding apparently from th_aloon. She knew her aunt never touched the piano, and the musician wa_herefore probably Ralph, who played for his own amusement. That he shoul_ave resorted to this recreation at the present time indicated apparently tha_is anxiety about his father had been relieved; so that the girl took her way, almost with restored cheer, toward the source of the harmony. The drawing-roo_t Gardencourt was an apartment of great distances, and, as the piano wa_laced at the end of it furthest removed from the door at which she entered, her arrival was not noticed by the person seated before the instrument. Thi_erson was neither Ralph nor his mother; it was a lady whom Isabel immediatel_aw to be a stranger to herself, though her back was presented to the door.
This back—an ample and well-dressed one—Isabel viewed for some moments wit_urprise. The lady was of course a visitor who had arrived during her absenc_nd who had not been mentioned by either of the servants—one of them he_unt's maid—of whom she had had speech since her return. Isabel had alread_earned, however, with what treasures of reserve the function of receivin_rders may be accompanied, and she was particularly conscious of having bee_reated with dryness by her aunt's maid, through whose hands she had slippe_erhaps a little too mistrustfully and with an effect of plumage but the mor_ustrous. The advent of a guest was in itself far from disconcerting; she ha_ot yet divested herself of a young faith that each new acquaintance woul_xert some momentous influence on her life. By the time she had made thes_eflexions she became aware that the lady at the piano played remarkably well.
She was playing something of Schubert's—Isabel knew not what, but recognise_chubert—and she touched the piano with a discretion of her own. It showe_kill, it showed feeling; Isabel sat down noiselessly on the nearest chair an_aited till the end of the piece. When it was finished she felt a stron_esire to thank the player, and rose from her seat to do so, while at the sam_ime the stranger turned quickly round, as if but just aware of her presence.
"That's very beautiful, and your playing makes it more beautiful still," sai_sabel with all the young radiance with which she usually uttered a truthfu_apture.
"You don't think I disturbed Mr. Touchett then?" the musician answered a_weetly as this compliment deserved. "The house is so large and his room s_ar away that I thought I might venture, especially as I played just—just d_out des doigts."
"She's a Frenchwoman," Isabel said to herself; "she says that as if she wer_rench." And this supposition made the visitor more interesting to ou_peculative heroine. "I hope my uncle's doing well," Isabel added. "I shoul_hink that to hear such lovely music as that would really make him fee_etter."
The lady smiled and discriminated. "I'm afraid there are moments in life whe_ven Schubert has nothing to say to us. We must admit, however, that they ar_ur worst."
"I'm not in that state now then," said Isabel. "On the contrary I should be s_lad if you would play something more."
"If it will give you pleasure—delighted." And this obliging person took he_lace again and struck a few chords, while Isabel sat down nearer th_nstrument. Suddenly the new-comer stopped with her hands on the keys, half- turning and looking over her shoulder. She was forty years old and not pretty, though her expression charmed. "Pardon me," she said; "but are you the niece —the young American?"
"I'm my aunt's niece," Isabel replied with simplicity.
The lady at the piano sat still a moment longer, casting her air of interes_ver her shoulder. "That's very well; we're compatriots." And then she bega_o play.
"Ah then she's not French," Isabel murmured; and as the opposite suppositio_ad made her romantic it might have seemed that this revelation would hav_arked a drop. But such was not the fact; rarer even than to be French seeme_t to be American on such interesting terms.
The lady played in the same manner as before, softly and solemnly, and whil_he played the shadows deepened in the room. The autumn twilight gathered in, and from her place Isabel could see the rain, which had now begun in earnest, washing the cold-looking lawn and the wind shaking the great trees. At last, when the music had ceased, her companion got up and, coming nearer with _mile, before Isabel had time to thank her again, said: "I'm very glad you'v_ome back; I've heard a great deal about you."
Isabel thought her a very attractive person, but nevertheless spoke with _ertain abruptness in reply to this speech. "From whom have you heard abou_e?"
The stranger hesitated a single moment and then, "From your uncle," sh_nswered. "I've been here three days, and the first day he let me come and pa_im a visit in his room. Then he talked constantly of you."
"As you didn't know me that must rather have bored you."
"It made me want to know you. All the more that since then—your aunt being s_uch with Mr. Touchett—I've been quite alone and have got rather tired of m_wn society. I've not chosen a good moment for my visit."
A servant had come in with lamps and was presently followed by another bearin_he tea-tray. On the appearance of this repast Mrs. Touchett had apparentl_een notified, for she now arrived and addressed herself to the tea-pot. He_reeting to her niece did not differ materially from her manner of raising th_id of this receptacle in order to glance at the contents: in neither act wa_t becoming to make a show of avidity. Questioned about her husband she wa_nable to say he was better; but the local doctor was with him, and much ligh_as expected from this gentleman's consultation with Sir Matthew Hope.
"I suppose you two ladies have made acquaintance," she pursued. "If yo_aven't I recommend you to do so; for so long as we continue—Ralph and I—t_luster about Mr. Touchett's bed you're not likely to have much society bu_ach other."
"I know nothing about you but that you're a great musician," Isabel said t_he visitor.
"There's a good deal more than that to know," Mrs. Touchett affirmed in he_ittle dry tone.
"A very little of it, I am sure, will content Miss Archer!" the lady exclaime_ith a light laugh. "I'm an old friend of your aunt's. I've lived much i_lorence. I'm Madame Merle." She made this last announcement as if she wer_eferring to a person of tolerably distinct identity. For Isabel, however, i_epresented little; she could only continue to feel that Madame Merle had a_harming a manner as any she had ever encountered.
"She's not a foreigner in spite of her name," said Mrs. Touchett.
"She was born—I always forget where you were born."
"It's hardly worth while then I should tell you."
"On the contrary," said Mrs. Touchett, who rarely missed a logical point; "i_ remembered your telling me would be quite superfluous."
Madame Merle glanced at Isabel with a sort of world-wide smile, a thing tha_ver-reached frontiers. "I was born under the shadow of the national banner."
"She's too fond of mystery," said Mrs. Touchett; "that's her great fault."
"Ah," exclaimed Madame Merle, "I've great faults, but I don't think that's on_f then; it certainly isn't the greatest. I came into the world in th_rooklyn navy-yard. My father was a high officer in the United States Navy, and had a post—a post of responsibility—in that establishment at the time. _uppose I ought to love the sea, but I hate it. That's why I don't return t_merica. I love the land; the great thing is to love something."
Isabel, as a dispassionate witness, had not been struck with the force of Mrs.
Touchett's characterisation of her visitor, who had an expressive, communicative, responsive face, by no means of the sort which, to Isabel'_ind, suggested a secretive disposition. It was a face that told of a_mplitude of nature and of quick and free motions and, though it had n_egular beauty, was in the highest degree engaging and attaching. Madame Merl_as a tall, fair, smooth woman; everything in her person was round an_eplete, though without those accumulations which suggest heaviness. He_eatures were thick but in perfect proportion and harmony, and her complexio_ad a healthy clearness. Her grey eyes were small but full of light an_ncapable of stupidity— incapable, according to some people, even of tears; she had a liberal, full-rimmed mouth which when she smiled drew itself upwar_o the left side in a manner that most people thought very odd, some ver_ffected and a few very graceful. Isabel inclined to range herself in the las_ategory. Madame Merle had thick, fair hair, arranged somehow "classically"
and as if she were a Bust, Isabel judged—a Juno or a Niobe; and large whit_ands, of a perfect shape, a shape so perfect that their possessor, preferrin_o leave them unadorned, wore no jewelled rings. Isabel had taken her a_irst, as we have seen, for a Frenchwoman; but extended observation might hav_anked her as a German—a German of high degree, perhaps an Austrian, _aroness, a countess, a princess. It would never have been supposed she ha_ome into the world in Brooklyn—though one could doubtless not have carrie_hrough any argument that the air of distinction marking her in so eminent _egree was inconsistent with such a birth. It was true that the nationa_anner had floated immediately over her cradle, and the breezy freedom of th_tars and stripes might have shed an influence upon the attitude she ther_ook towards life. And yet she had evidently nothing of the fluttered, flapping quality of a morsel of bunting in the wind; her manner expressed th_epose and confidence which come from a large experience. Experience, however, had not quenched her youth; it had simply made her sympathetic and supple. Sh_as in a word a woman of strong impulses kept in admirable order. Thi_ommended itself to Isabel as an ideal combination.
The girl made these reflexions while the three ladies sat at their tea, bu_hat ceremony was interrupted before long by the arrival of the great docto_rom London, who had been immediately ushered into the drawing-room. Mrs.
Touchett took him off to the library for a private talk; and then Madame Merl_nd Isabel parted, to meet again at dinner. The idea of seeing more of thi_nteresting woman did much to mitigate Isabel's sense of the sadness no_ettling on Gardencourt.
When she came into the drawing-room before dinner she found the place empty; but in the course of a moment Ralph arrived. His anxiety about his father ha_een lightened; Sir Matthew Hope's view of his condition was less depresse_han his own had been. The doctor recommended that the nurse alone shoul_emain with the old man for the next three or four hours; so that Ralph, hi_other and the great physician himself were free to dine at table. Mrs.
Touchett and Sir Matthew appeared; Madame Merle was the last.
Before she came Isabel spoke of her to Ralph, who was standing before th_ireplace. "Pray who is this Madame Merle?"
"The cleverest woman I know, not excepting yourself," said Ralph.
"I thought she seemed very pleasant."
"I was sure you'd think her very pleasant."
"Is that why you invited her?"
"I didn't invite her, and when we came back from London I didn't know she wa_ere. No one invited her. She's a friend of my mother's, and just after yo_nd I went to town my mother got a note from her. She had arrived in England (she usually lives abroad, though she has first and last spent a good deal o_ime here), and asked leave to come down for a few days. She's a woman who ca_ake such proposals with perfect confidence; she's so welcome wherever sh_oes. And with my mother there could be no question of hesitating; she's th_ne person in the world whom my mother very much admires. If she were no_erself (which she after all much prefers), she would like to be Madame Merle.
It would indeed be a great change."
"Well, she's very charming," said Isabel. "And she plays beautifully."
"She does everything beautifully. She's complete."
Isabel looked at her cousin a moment. "You don't like her."
"On the contrary, I was once in love with her."
"And she didn't care for you, and that's why you don't like her."
"How can we have discussed such things? Monsieur Merle was then living."
"Is he dead now?"
"So she says."
"Don't you believe her?"
"Yes, because the statement agrees with the probabilities. The husband o_adame Merle would be likely to pass away."
Isabel gazed at her cousin again. "I don't know what you mean. You mea_omething—that you don't mean. What was Monsieur Merle?"
"The husband of Madame."
"You're very odious. Has she any children?"
"Not the least little child—fortunately."
"I mean fortunately for the child. She'd be sure to spoil it."
Isabel was apparently on the point of assuring her cousin for the third tim_hat he was odious; but the discussion was interrupted by the arrival of th_ady who was the topic of it. She came rustling in quickly, apologising fo_eing late, fastening a bracelet, dressed in dark blue satin, which exposed _hite bosom that was ineffectually covered by a curious silver necklace. Ralp_ffered her his arm with the exaggerated alertness of a man who was no longe_ lover.
Even if this had still been his condition, however, Ralph had other things t_hink about. The great doctor spent the night at Gardencourt and, returning t_ondon on the morrow, after another consultation with Mr. Touchett's ow_edical adviser, concurred in Ralph's desire that he should see the patien_gain on the day following. On the day following Sir Matthew Hope reappeare_t Gardencourt, and now took a less encouraging view of the old man, who ha_rown worse in the twenty-four hours. His feebleness was extreme, and to hi_on, who constantly sat by his bedside, it often seemed that his end must b_t hand. The local doctor, a very sagacious man, in whom Ralph had secretl_ore confidence than in his distinguished colleague, was constantly i_ttendance, and Sir Matthew Hope came back several times. Mr. Touchett wa_uch of the time unconscious; he slept a great deal; he rarely spoke. Isabe_ad a great desire to be useful to him and was allowed to watch with him a_ours when his other attendants (of whom Mrs. Touchett was not the leas_egular) went to take rest. He never seemed to know her, and she always sai_o herself "Suppose he should die while I'm sitting here;" an idea whic_xcited her and kept her awake. Once he opened his eyes for a while and fixe_hem upon her intelligently, but when she went to him, hoping he woul_ecognise her, he closed them and relapsed into stupor. The day after this, however, he revived for a longer time; but on this occasion Ralph only wa_ith him. The old man began to talk, much to his son's satisfaction, wh_ssured him that they should presently have him sitting up.
"No, my boy," said Mr. Touchett, "not unless you bury me in a sitting posture, as some of the ancients—was it the ancients?— used to do."
"Ah, daddy, don't talk about that," Ralph murmured. "You mustn't deny tha_ou're getting better."
"There will be no need of my denying it if you don't say it," the old ma_nswered. "Why should we prevaricate just at the last? We never prevaricate_efore. I've got to die some time, and it's better to die when one's sick tha_hen one's well. I'm very sick —as sick as I shall ever be. I hope you don'_ant to prove that I shall ever be worse than this? That would be too bad. Yo_on't? Well then."
Having made this excellent point he became quiet; but the next time that Ralp_as with him he again addressed himself to conversation. The nurse had gone t_er supper and Ralph was alone in charge, having just relieved Mrs. Touchett, who had been on guard since dinner. The room was lighted only by th_lickering fire, which of late had become necessary, and Ralph's tall shado_as projected over wall and ceiling with an outline constantly varying bu_lways grotesque.
"Who's that with me—is it my son?" the old man asked.
"Yes, it's your son, daddy."
"And is there no one else?"
"No one else."
Mr. Touchett said nothing for a while; and then, "I want to talk a little," h_ent on.
"Won't it tire you?" Ralph demurred.
"It won't matter if it does. I shall have a long rest. I want to talk abou_OU."
Ralph had drawn nearer to the bed; he sat leaning forward with his hand on hi_ather's. "You had better select a brighter topic."
"You were always bright; I used to be proud of your brightness. I should lik_o much to think you'd do something."
"If you leave us," said Ralph, "I shall do nothing but miss you."
"That's just what I don't want; it's what I want to talk about. You must get _ew interest."
"I don't want a new interest, daddy. I have more old ones than I know what t_o with."
The old man lay there looking at his son; his face was the face of the dying, but his eyes were the eyes of Daniel Touchett. He seemed to be reckoning ove_alph's interests. "Of course you have your mother," he said at last. "You'l_ake care of her."
"My mother will always take care of herself," Ralph returned.
"Well," said his father, "perhaps as she grows older she'll need a littl_elp."
"I shall not see that. She'll outlive me."
"Very likely she will; but that's no reason—!" Mr. Touchett let his phrase di_way in a helpless but not quite querulous sigh and remained silent again.
"Don't trouble yourself about us," said his son, "My mother and I get on ver_ell together, you know."
"You get on by always being apart; that's not natural."
"If you leave us we shall probably see more of each other."
"Well," the old man observed with wandering irrelevance, "it can't be sai_hat my death will make much difference in your mother's life."
"It will probably make more than you think."
"Well, she'll have more money," said Mr. Touchett. "I've left her a goo_ife's portion, just as if she had been a good wife."
"She has been one, daddy, according to her own theory. She has never trouble_ou."
"Ah, some troubles are pleasant," Mr. Touchett murmured. "Those you've give_e for instance. But your mother has been less— less—what shall I call it?
less out of the way since I've been ill. I presume she knows I've noticed it."
"I shall certainly tell her so; I'm so glad you mention it."
"It won't make any difference to her; she doesn't do it to please me. She doe_t to please—to please—" And he lay a while trying to think why she did it.
"She does it because it suits her. But that's not what I want to talk about,"
he added. "It's about you. You'll be very well off."
"Yes," said Ralph, "I know that. But I hope you've not forgotten the talk w_ad a year ago—when I told you exactly what money I should need and begged yo_o make some good use of the rest."
"Yes, yes, I remember. I made a new will—in a few days. I suppose it was th_irst time such a thing had happened—a young man trying to get a will mad_gainst him."
"It is not against me," said Ralph. "It would be against me to have a larg_roperty to take care of. It's impossible for a man in my state of health t_pend much money, and enough is as good as a feast."
"Well, you'll have enough—and something over. There will be more than enoug_or one—there will be enough for two."
"That's too much," said Ralph.
"Ah, don't say that. The best thing you can do; when I'm gone, will be t_arry."
Ralph had foreseen what his father was coming to, and this suggestion was b_o means fresh. It had long been Mr. Touchett's most ingenious way of takin_he cheerful view of his son's possible duration. Ralph had usually treated i_acetiously; but present circumstances proscribed the facetious. He simpl_ell back in his chair and returned his father's appealing gaze.
"If I, with a wife who hasn't been very fond of me, have had a very happ_ife," said the old man, carrying his ingenuity further still, "what a lif_ightn't you have if you should marry a person different from Mrs. Touchett.
There are more different from her than there are like her." Ralph still sai_othing; and after a pause his father resumed softly: "What do you think o_our cousin?"
At this Ralph started, meeting the question with a strained smile. "Do _nderstand you to propose that I should marry Isabel?"
"Well, that's what it comes to in the end. Don't you like Isabel?"
"Yes, very much." And Ralph got up from his chair and wandered over to th_ire. He stood before it an instant and then he stooped and stirred i_echanically. "I like Isabel very much," he repeated.
"Well," said his father, "I know she likes you. She has told me how much sh_ikes you."
"Did she remark that she would like to marry me?"
"No, but she can't have anything against you. And she's the most charmin_oung lady I've ever seen. And she would be good to you. I have thought _reat deal about it."
"So have I," said Ralph, coming back to the bedside again. "I don't min_elling you that."
"You ARE in love with her then? I should think you would be. It's as if sh_ame over on purpose."
"No, I'm not in love with her; but I should be if—if certain things wer_ifferent."
"Ah, things are always different from what they might be," said the old man.
"If you wait for them to change you'll never do anything. I don't know whethe_ou know," he went on; "but I suppose there's no harm in my alluding to it a_uch an hour as this: there was some one wanted to marry Isabel the other day, and she wouldn't have him."
"I know she refused Warburton: he told me himself."
"Well, that proves there's a chance for somebody else."
"Somebody else took his chance the other day in London—and got nothing by it."
"Was it you?" Mr. Touchett eagerly asked.
"No, it was an older friend; a poor gentleman who came over from America t_ee about it."
"Well, I'm sorry for him, whoever he was. But it only proves what I say—tha_he way's open to you."
"If it is, dear father, it's all the greater pity that I'm unable to tread it.
I haven't many convictions; but I have three or four that I hold strongly. On_s that people, on the whole, had better not marry their cousins. Another i_hat people in an advanced stage of pulmonary disorder had better not marry a_ll."
The old man raised his weak hand and moved it to and fro before his face.
"What do you mean by that? You look at things in a way that would mak_verything wrong. What sort of a cousin is a cousin that you had never see_or more than twenty years of her life? We're all each other's cousins, and i_e stopped at that the human race would die out. It's just the same with you_ad lung. You're a great deal better than you used to be. All you want is t_ead a natural life. It is a great deal more natural to marry a pretty youn_ady that you're in love with than it is to remain single on fals_rinciples."
"I'm not in love with Isabel," said Ralph.
"You said just now that you would be if you didn't think it wrong. I want t_rove to you that it isn't wrong."
"It will only tire you, dear daddy," said Ralph, who marvelled at his father'_enacity and at his finding strength to insist. "Then where shall we all be?"
"Where shall you be if I don't provide for you? You won't have anything to d_ith the bank, and you won't have me to take care of. You say you've so man_nterests; but I can't make them out."
Ralph leaned back in his chair with folded arms; his eyes were fixed for som_ime in meditation. At last, with the air of a man fairly mustering courage,
"I take a great interest in my cousin," he said, "but not the sort of interes_ou desire. I shall not live many years; but I hope I shall live long enoug_o see what she does with herself. She's entirely independent of me; I ca_xercise very little influence upon her life. But I should like to d_omething for her."
"What should you like to do?"
"I should like to put a little wind in her sails."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I should like to put it into her power to do some of the things she wants.
She wants to see the world for instance. I should like to put money in he_urse."
"Ah, I'm glad you've thought of that," said the old man. "But I've thought o_t too. I've left her a legacy—five thousand pounds."
"That's capital; it's very kind of you. But I should like to do a littl_ore."
Something of that veiled acuteness with which it had been on Daniel Touchett'_art the habit of a lifetime to listen to a financial proposition stil_ingered in the face in which the invalid had not obliterated the man o_usiness. "I shall be happy to consider it," he said softly.
"Isabel's poor then. My mother tells me that she has but a few hundred dollar_ year. I should like to make her rich."
"What do you mean by rich?"
"I call people rich when they're able to meet the requirements of thei_magination. Isabel has a great deal of imagination."
"So have you, my son," said Mr. Touchett, listening very attentively but _ittle confusedly.
"You tell me I shall have money enough for two. What I want is that you shoul_indly relieve me of my superfluity and make it over to Isabel. Divide m_nheritance into two equal halves and give her the second."
"To do what she likes with?"
"Absolutely what she likes."
"And without an equivalent?"
"What equivalent could there be?"
"The one I've already mentioned."
"Her marrying—some one or other? It's just to do away with anything of tha_ort that I make my suggestion. If she has an easy income she'll never have t_arry for a support. That's what I want cannily to prevent. She wishes to b_ree, and your bequest will make her free."
"Well, you seem to have thought it out," said Mr. Touchett. "But I don't se_hy you appeal to me. The money will be yours, and you can easily give it t_er yourself."
Ralph openly stared. "Ah, dear father, I can't offer Isabel money!"
The old man gave a groan. "Don't tell me you're not in love with her! Do yo_ant me to have the credit of it?"
"Entirely. I should like it simply to be a clause in your will, without th_lightest reference to me."
"Do you want me to make a new will then?"
"A few words will do it; you can attend to it the next time you feel a littl_ively."
"You must telegraph to Mr. Hilary then. I'll do nothing without my solicitor."
"You shall see Mr. Hilary to-morrow."
"He'll think we've quarrelled, you and I," said the old man.
"Very probably; I shall like him to think it," said Ralph, smiling; "and, t_arry out the idea, I give you notice that I shall be very sharp, quite horri_nd strange, with you."
The humour of this appeared to touch his father, who lay a little while takin_t in. "I'll do anything you like," Mr. Touchett said at last; "but I'm no_ure it's right. You say you want to put wind in her sails; but aren't yo_fraid of putting too much?"
"I should like to see her going before the breeze!" Ralph answered.
"You speak as if it were for your mere amusement."
"So it is, a good deal."
"Well, I don't think I understand," said Mr. Touchett with a sigh. "Young me_re very different from what I was. When I cared for a girl—when I was young—_anted to do more than look at her."
"You've scruples that I shouldn't have had, and you've ideas that I shouldn'_ave had either. You say Isabel wants to be free, and that her being rich wil_eep her from marrying for money. Do you think that she's a girl to do that?"
"By no means. But she has less money than she has ever had before. Her fathe_hen gave her everything, because he used to spend his capital. She ha_othing but the crumbs of that feast to live on, and she doesn't really kno_ow meagre they are—she has yet to learn it. My mother has told me all abou_t. Isabel will learn it when she's really thrown upon the world, and it woul_e very painful to me to think of her coming to the consciousness of a lot o_ants she should be unable to satisfy."
"I've left her five thousand pounds. She can satisfy a good many wants wit_hat."
"She can indeed. But she would probably spend it in two or three years."
"You think she'd be extravagant then?"
"Most certainly," said Ralph, smiling serenely.
Poor Mr. Touchett's acuteness was rapidly giving place to pure confusion. "I_ould merely be a question of time then, her spending the larger sum?"
"No—though at first I think she'd plunge into that pretty freely: she'_robably make over a part of it to each of her sisters. But after that she'_ome to her senses, remember she has still a lifetime before her, and liv_ithin her means."
"Well, you HAVE worked it out," said the old man helplessly. "You do take a_nterest in her, certainly."
"You can't consistently say I go too far. You wished me to go further."
"Well, I don't know," Mr. Touchett answered. "I don't think I enter into you_pirit. It seems to me immoral."
"Immoral, dear daddy?"
"Well, I don't know that it's right to make everything so easy for a person."
"It surely depends upon the person. When the person's good, your making thing_asy is all to the credit of virtue. To facilitate the execution of goo_mpulses, what can be a nobler act?"
This was a little difficult to follow, and Mr. Touchett considered it for _hile. At last he said: "Isabel's a sweet young thing; but do you think she'_o good as that?"
"She's as good as her best opportunities," Ralph returned.
"Well," Mr. Touchett declared, "she ought to get a great many opportunitie_or sixty thousand pounds."
"I've no doubt she will."
"Of course I'll do what you want," said the old man. "I only want t_nderstand it a little."
"Well, dear daddy, don't you understand it now?" his son caressingly asked.
"If you don't we won't take any more trouble about it. We'll leave it alone."
Mr. Touchett lay a long time still. Ralph supposed he had given up the attemp_o follow. But at last, quite lucidly, he began again. "Tell me this first.
Doesn't it occur to you that a young lady with sixty thousand pounds may fal_ victim to the fortune-hunters?"
"She'll hardly fall a victim to more than one."
"Well, one's too many."
"Decidedly. That's a risk, and it has entered into my calculation. I thin_t's appreciable, but I think it's small, and I'm prepared to take it."
Poor Mr. Touchett's acuteness had passed into perplexity, and his perplexit_ow passed into admiration. "Well, you have gone into it!" he repeated. "But _on't see what good you're to get of it."
Ralph leaned over his father's pillows and gently smoothed them; he was awar_heir talk had been unduly prolonged. "I shall get just the good I said a fe_oments ago I wished to put into Isabel's reach—that of having met th_equirements of my imagination. But it's scandalous, the way I've take_dvantage of you!"