Some fortnight after this Madame Merle drove up in a hansom cab to the hous_n Winchester Square. As she descended from her vehicle she observed, suspended between the dining-room windows, a large, neat, wooden tablet, o_hose fresh black ground were inscribed in white paint the words—"This nobl_reehold mansion to be sold"; with the name of the agent to whom applicatio_hould be made. "They certainly lose no time," said the visitor as, afte_ounding the big brass knocker, she waited to be admitted; "it's a practica_ountry!" And within the house, as she ascended to the drawing-room, sh_erceived numerous signs of abdication; pictures removed from the walls an_laced upon sofas, windows undraped and floors laid bare. Mrs. Touchet_resently received her and intimated in a few words that condolences might b_aken for granted.
"I know what you're going to say—he was a very good man. But I know it bette_han any one, because I gave him more chance to show it. In that I think I wa_ good wife." Mrs. Touchett added that at the end her husband apparentl_ecognised this fact. "He has treated me most liberally," she said; "I won'_ay more liberally than I expected, because I didn't expect. You know that a_ general thing I don't expect. But he chose, I presume, to recognise the fac_hat though I lived much abroad and mingled— you may say freely—in foreig_ife, I never exhibited the smallest preference for any one else."
"For any one but yourself," Madame Merle mentally observed; but the reflexio_as perfectly inaudible.
"I never sacrificed my husband to another," Mrs. Touchett continued with he_tout curtness.
"Oh no," thought Madame Merle; "you never did anything for another!"
There was a certain cynicism in these mute comments which demands a_xplanation; the more so as they are not in accord either with th_iew—somewhat superficial perhaps—that we have hitherto enjoyed of Madam_erle's character or with the literal facts of Mrs. Touchett's history; th_ore so, too, as Madame Merle had a well-founded conviction that her friend'_ast remark was not in the least to be construed as a side-thrust at herself.
The truth is that the moment she had crossed the threshold she received a_mpression that Mr. Touchett's death had had subtle consequences and tha_hese consequences had been profitable to a little circle of persons amon_hom she was not numbered. Of course it was an event which would naturall_ave consequences; her imagination had more than once rested upon this fac_uring her stay at Gardencourt. But it had been one thing to foresee such _atter mentally and another to stand among its massive records. The idea of _istribution of property—she would almost have said of spoils—just now presse_pon her senses and irritated her with a sense of exclusion. I am far fro_ishing to picture her as one of the hungry mouths or envious hearts of th_eneral herd, but we have already learned of her having desires that had neve_een satisfied. If she had been questioned, she would of course hav_dmitted—with a fine proud smile—that she had not the faintest claim to _hare in Mr. Touchett's relics. "There was never anything in the world betwee_s," she would have said. "There was never that, poor man!"—with a fillip o_er thumb and her third finger. I hasten to add, moreover, that if sh_ouldn't at the present moment keep from quite perversely yearning she wa_areful not to betray herself. She had after all as much sympathy for Mrs.
Touchett's gains as for her losses.
"He has left me this house," the newly-made widow said; "but of course I shal_ot live in it; I've a much better one in Florence. The will was opened onl_hree days since, but I've already offered the house for sale. I've also _hare in the bank; but I don't yet understand if I'm obliged to leave i_here. If not I shall certainly take it out. Ralph, of course, ha_ardencourt; but I'm not sure that he'll have means to keep up the place. He'_aturally left very well off, but his father has given away an immense deal o_oney; there are bequests to a string of third cousins in Vermont. Ralph, however, is very fond of Gardencourt and would be quite capable of livin_here—in summer—with a maid-of-all-work and a gardener's boy. There's on_emarkable clause in my husband's will," Mrs. Touchett added. "He has left m_iece a fortune."
"A fortune!" Madame Merle softly repeated.
"Isabel steps into something like seventy thousand pounds." Madame Merle'_ands were clasped in her lap; at this she raised them, still clasped, an_eld them a moment against her bosom while her eyes, a little dilated, fixe_hemselves on those of her friend. "Ah," she cried, "the clever creature!"
Mrs. Touchett gave her a quick look. "What do you mean by that?"
For an instant Madame Merle's colour rose and she dropped her eyes. "I_ertainly is clever to achieve such results—without an effort!"
"There assuredly was no effort. Don't call it an achievement."
Madame Merle was seldom guilty of the awkwardness of retracting what she ha_aid; her wisdom was shown rather in maintaining it and placing it in _avourable light. "My dear friend, Isabel would certainly not have had sevent_housand pounds left her if she had not been the most charming girl in th_orld. Her charm includes great cleverness."
"She never dreamed, I'm sure, of my husband's doing anything for her; and _ever dreamed of it either, for he never spoke to me of his intention," Mrs.
Touchett said. "She had no claim upon him whatever; it was no grea_ecommendation to him that she was my niece. Whatever she achieved sh_chieved unconsciously."
"Ah," rejoined Madame Merle, "those are the greatest strokes!" Mrs. Touchet_eserved her opinion. "The girl's fortunate; I don't deny that. But for th_resent she's simply stupefied."
"Do you mean that she doesn't know what to do with the money?"
"That, I think, she has hardly considered. She doesn't know what to thin_bout the matter at all. It has been as if a big gun were suddenly fired of_ehind her; she's feeling herself to see if she be hurt. It's but three day_ince she received a visit from the principal executor, who came in person, very gallantly, to notify her. He told me afterwards that when he had made hi_ittle speech she suddenly burst into tears. The money's to remain in th_ffairs of the bank, and she's to draw the interest."
Madame Merle shook her head with a wise and now quite benignant smile. "Ho_ery delicious! After she has done that two or three times she'll get used t_t." Then after a silence, "What does your son think of it?" she abruptl_sked.
"He left England before the will was read—used up by his fatigue and anxiet_nd hurrying off to the south. He's on his way to the Riviera and I've not ye_eard from him. But it's not likely he'll ever object to anything done by hi_ather."
"Didn't you say his own share had been cut down?"
"Only at his wish. I know that he urged his father to do something for th_eople in America. He's not in the least addicted to looking after numbe_ne."
"It depends upon whom he regards as number one!" said Madame Merle. And sh_emained thoughtful a moment, her eyes bent on the floor.
"Am I not to see your happy niece?" she asked at last as she raised them.
"You may see her; but you'll not be struck with her being happy. She ha_ooked as solemn, these three days, as a Cimabue Madonna!" And Mrs. Touchet_ang for a servant.
Isabel came in shortly after the footman had been sent to call her; and Madam_erle thought, as she appeared, that Mrs. Touchett's comparison had its force.
The girl was pale and grave —an effect not mitigated by her deeper mourning; but the smile of her brightest moments came into her face as she saw Madam_erle, who went forward, laid her hand on our heroine's shoulder and, afte_ooking at her a moment, kissed her as if she were returning the kiss she ha_eceived from her at Gardencourt. This was the only allusion the visitor, i_er great good taste, made for the present to her young friend's inheritance.
Mrs. Touchett had no purpose of awaiting in London the sale of her house.
After selecting from among its furniture the objects she wished to transpor_o her other abode, she left the rest of its contents to be disposed of by th_uctioneer and took her departure for the Continent. She was of cours_ccompanied on this journey by her niece, who now had plenty of leisure t_easure and weigh and otherwise handle the windfall on which Madame Merle ha_overtly congratulated her. Isabel thought very often of the fact of he_ccession of means, looking at it in a dozen different lights; but we shal_ot now attempt to follow her train of thought or to explain exactly why he_ew consciousness was at first oppressive. This failure to rise to immediat_oy was indeed but brief; the girl presently made up her mind that to be ric_as a virtue because it was to be able to do, and that to do could only b_weet. It was the graceful contrary of the stupid side of weakness—especiall_he feminine variety. To be weak was, for a delicate young person, rathe_raceful, but, after all, as Isabel said to herself, there was a larger grac_han that. Just now, it is true, there was not much to do—once she had sen_ff a cheque to Lily and another to poor Edith; but she was thankful for th_uiet months which her mourning robes and her aunt's fresh widowhood compelle_hem to spend together. The acquisition of power made her serious; sh_crutinised her power with a kind of tender ferocity, but was not eager t_xercise it. She began to do so during a stay of some weeks which sh_ventually made with her aunt in Paris, though in ways that will inevitabl_resent themselves as trivial. They were the ways most naturally imposed in _ity in which the shops are the admiration of the world, and that wer_rescribed unreservedly by the guidance of Mrs. Touchett, who took a rigidl_ractical view of the transformation of her niece from a poor girl to a ric_ne. "Now that you're a young woman of fortune you must know how to play th_art—I mean to play it well," she said to Isabel once for all; and she adde_hat the girl's first duty was to have everything handsome. "You don't kno_ow to take care of your things, but you must learn," she went on; this wa_sabel's second duty. Isabel submitted, but for the present her imaginatio_as not kindled; she longed for opportunities, but these were not th_pportunities she meant.
Mrs. Touchett rarely changed her plans, and, having intended before he_usband's death to spend a part of the winter in Paris, saw no reason t_eprive herself—still less to deprive her companion—of this advantage. Thoug_hey would live in great retirement she might still present her niece, informally, to the little circle of her fellow countrymen dwelling upon th_kirts of the Champs Elysees. With many of these amiable colonists Mrs.
Touchett was intimate; she shared their expatriation, their convictions, thei_astimes, their ennui. Isabel saw them arrive with a good deal of assiduity a_er aunt's hotel, and pronounced on them with a trenchancy doubtless to b_ccounted for by the temporary exaltation of her sense of human duty. She mad_p her mind that their lives were, though luxurious, inane, and incurred som_isfavour by expressing this view on bright Sunday afternoons, when th_merican absentees were engaged in calling on each other. Though her listener_assed for people kept exemplarily genial by their cooks and dressmakers, tw_r three of them thought her cleverness, which was generally admitted, inferior to that of the new theatrical pieces. "You all live here this way, but what does it lead to?" she was pleased to ask. "It doesn't seem to lead t_nything, and I should think you'd get very tired of it."
Mrs. Touchett thought the question worthy of Henrietta Stackpole. The tw_adies had found Henrietta in Paris, and Isabel constantly saw her; so tha_rs. Touchett had some reason for saying to herself that if her niece were no_lever enough to originate almost anything, she might be suspected of havin_orrowed that style of remark from her journalistic friend. The first occasio_n which Isabel had spoken was that of a visit paid by the two ladies to Mrs.
Luce, an old friend of Mrs. Touchett's and the only person in Paris she no_ent to see. Mrs. Luce had been living in Paris since the days of Loui_hilippe; she used to say jocosely that she was one of the generation o_830—a joke of which the point was not always taken. When it failed Mrs. Luc_sed to explain—"Oh yes, I'm one of the romantics;" her French had neve_ecome quite perfect. She was always at home on Sunday afternoons an_urrounded by sympathetic compatriots, usually the same. In fact she was a_ome at all times, and reproduced with wondrous truth in her well-cushione_ittle corner of the brilliant city, the domestic tone of her nativ_altimore. This reduced Mr. Luce, her worthy husband, a tall, lean, grizzled, well-brushed gentleman who wore a gold eye-glass and carried his hat a littl_oo much on the back of his head, to mere platonic praise of the
"distractions" of Paris —they were his great word—since you would never hav_uessed from what cares he escaped to them. One of them was that he went ever_ay to the American banker's, where he found a post-office that was almost a_ociable and colloquial an institution as in an American country town. H_assed an hour (in fine weather) in a chair in the Champs Elysees, and h_ined uncommonly well at his own table, seated above a waxed floor which i_as Mrs. Luce's happiness to believe had a finer polish than any other in th_rench capital. Occasionally he dined with a friend or two at the Caf_nglais, where his talent for ordering a dinner was a source of felicity t_is companions and an object of admiration even to the headwaiter of th_stablishment. These were his only known pastimes, but they had beguiled hi_ours for upwards of half a century, and they doubtless justified his frequen_eclaration that there was no place like Paris. In no other place, on thes_erms, could Mr. Luce flatter himself that he was enjoying life. There wa_othing like Paris, but it must be confessed that Mr. Luce thought less highl_f this scene of his dissipations than in earlier days. In the list of hi_esources his political reflections should not be omitted, for they wer_oubtless the animating principle of many hours that superficially seeme_acant. Like many of his fellow colonists Mr. Luce was a high—or rather _eep—conservative, and gave no countenance to the government latel_stablished in France. He had no faith in its duration and would assure yo_rom year to year that its end was close at hand. "They want to be kept down, sir, to be kept down; nothing but the strong hand—the iron heel—will do fo_hem," he would frequently say of the French people; and his ideal of a fin_howy clever rule was that of the superseded Empire. "Paris is much les_ttractive than in the days of the Emperor; HE knew how to make a cit_leasant," Mr. Luce had often remarked to Mrs. Touchett, who was quite of hi_wn way of thinking and wished to know what one had crossed that odiou_tlantic for but to get away from republics.
"Why, madam, sitting in the Champs Elysees, opposite to the Palace o_ndustry, I've seen the court-carriages from the Tuileries pass up and down a_any as seven times a day. I remember one occasion when they went as high a_ine. What do you see now? It's no use talking, the style's all gone. Napoleo_new what the French people want, and there'll be a dark cloud over Paris, ou_aris, till they get the Empire back again."
Among Mrs. Luce's visitors on Sunday afternoons was a young man with who_sabel had had a good deal of conversation and whom she found full of valuabl_nowledge. Mr. Edward Rosier—Ned Rosier as he was called—was native to Ne_ork and had been brought up in Paris, living there under the eye of hi_ather who, as it happened, had been an early and intimate friend of the lat_r. Archer. Edward Rosier remembered Isabel as a little girl; it had been hi_ather who came to the rescue of the small Archers at the inn at Neufchatel (he was travelling that way with the boy and had stopped at the hotel b_hance), after their bonne had gone off with the Russian prince and when Mr.
Archer's whereabouts remained for some days a mystery. Isabel remembere_erfectly the neat little male child whose hair smelt of a delicious cosmeti_nd who had a bonne all his own, warranted to lose sight of him under n_rovocation. Isabel took a walk with the pair beside the lake and though_ittle Edward as pretty as an angel—a comparison by no means conventional i_er mind, for she had a very definite conception of a type of features whic_he supposed to be angelic and which her new friend perfectly illustrated. _mall pink face surmounted by a blue velvet bonnet and set off by a stif_mbroidered collar had become the countenance of her childish dreams; and sh_ad firmly believed for some time afterwards that the heavenly hosts converse_mong themselves in a queer little dialect of French-English, expressing th_roperest sentiments, as when Edward told her that he was "defended" by hi_onne to go near the edge of the lake, and that one must always obey to one'_onne. Ned Rosier's English had improved; at least it exhibited in a les_egree the French variation. His father was dead and his bonne dismissed, bu_he young man still conformed to the spirit of their teaching —he never wen_o the edge of the lake. There was still something agreeable to the nostril_bout him and something not offensive to nobler organs. He was a very gentl_nd gracious youth, with what are called cultivated tastes—an acquaintanc_ith old china, with good wine, with the bindings of books, with the Almanac_e Gotha, with the best shops, the best hotels, the hours of railway-trains.
He could order a dinner almost as well as Mr. Luce, and it was probable tha_s his experience accumulated he would be a worthy successor to tha_entleman, whose rather grim politics he also advocated in a soft and innocen_oice. He had some charming rooms in Paris, decorated with old Spanish altar- lace, the envy of his female friends, who declared that his chimney-piece wa_etter draped than the high shoulders of many a duchess. He usually, however, spent a part of every winter at Pau, and had once passed a couple of months i_he United States.
He took a great interest in Isabel and remembered perfectly the walk a_eufchatel, when she would persist in going so near the edge. He seemed t_ecognise this same tendency in the subversive enquiry that I quoted a momen_go, and set himself to answer our heroine's question with greater urbanit_han it perhaps deserved. "What does it lead to, Miss Archer? Why Paris lead_verywhere. You can't go anywhere unless you come here first. Every one tha_omes to Europe has got to pass through. You don't mean it in that sense s_uch? You mean what good it does you? Well, how can you penetrate futurity?
How can you tell what lies ahead? If it's a pleasant road I don't care wher_t leads. I like the road, Miss Archer; I like the dear old asphalte. Yo_an't get tired of it—you can't if you try. You think you would, but yo_ouldn't; there's always something new and fresh. Take the Hotel Drouot, now; they sometimes have three and four sales a week. Where can you get such thing_s you can here? In spite of all they say I maintain they're cheaper too, i_ou know the right places. I know plenty of places, but I keep them to myself.
I'll tell you, if you like, as a particular favour; only you mustn't tell an_ne else. Don't you go anywhere without asking me first; I want you to promis_e that. As a general thing avoid the Boulevards; there's very little to b_one on the Boulevards. Speaking conscientiously—sans blague—I don't believ_ny one knows Paris better than I. You and Mrs. Touchett must come an_reakfast with me some day, and I'll show you my things; je ne vous dis qu_a! There has been a great deal of talk about London of late; it's the fashio_o cry up London. But there's nothing in it—you can't do anything in London.
No Louis Quinze—nothing of the First Empire; nothing but their eternal Quee_nne. It's good for one's bed-room, Queen Anne—for one's washing-room; but i_sn't proper for a salon. Do I spend my life at the auctioneer's?" Mr. Rosie_ursued in answer to another question of Isabel's. "Oh no; I haven't th_eans. I wish I had. You think I'm a mere trifler; I can tell by th_xpression of your face—you've got a wonderfully expressive face. I hope yo_on't mind my saying that; I mean it as a kind of warning. You think I ough_o do something, and so do I, so long as you leave it vague. But when you com_o the point you see you have to stop. I can't go home and be a shopkeeper.
You think I'm very well fitted? Ah, Miss Archer, you overrate me. I can bu_ery well, but I can't sell; you should see when I sometimes try to get rid o_y things. It takes much more ability to make other people buy than to bu_ourself. When I think how clever they must be, the people who make ME buy! A_o; I couldn't be a shopkeeper. I can't be a doctor; it's a repulsiv_usiness. I can't be a clergyman; I haven't got convictions. And then I can'_ronounce the names right in the Bible. They're very difficult, in the Ol_estament particularly. I can't be a lawyer; I don't understand—how do yo_all it?—the American procedure. Is there anything else? There's nothing for _entleman in America. I should like to be a diplomatist; but America_iplomacy—that's not for gentlemen either. I'm sure if you had seen the las_in—"
Henrietta Stackpole, who was often with her friend when Mr. Rosier, coming t_ay his compliments late in the afternoon, expressed himself after the fashio_ have sketched, usually interrupted the young man at this point and read hi_ lecture on the duties of the American citizen. She thought him mos_nnatural; he was worse than poor Ralph Touchett. Henrietta, however, was a_his time more than ever addicted to fine criticism, for her conscience ha_een freshly alarmed as regards Isabel. She had not congratulated this youn_ady on her augmentations and begged to be excused from doing so.
"If Mr. Touchett had consulted me about leaving you the money," she frankl_sserted, "I'd have said to him 'Never!"
"I see," Isabel had answered. "You think it will prove a curse in disguise.
Perhaps it will."
"Leave it to some one you care less for—that's what I should have said."
"To yourself for instance?" Isabel suggested jocosely. And then, "Do yo_eally believe it will ruin me?" she asked in quite another tone.
"I hope it won't ruin you; but it will certainly confirm your dangerou_endencies."
"Do you mean the love of luxury—of extravagance?"
"No, no," said Henrietta; "I mean your exposure on the moral side. I approv_f luxury; I think we ought to be as elegant as possible. Look at the luxur_f our western cities; I've seen nothing over here to compare with it. I hop_ou'll never become grossly sensual; but I'm not afraid of that. The peril fo_ou is that you live too much in the world of your own dreams. You're no_nough in contact with reality—with the toiling, striving, suffering, I ma_ven say sinning, world that surrounds you. You're too fastidious; you've to_any graceful illusions. Your newly-acquired thousands will shut you up mor_nd more to the society of a few selfish and heartless people who will b_nterested in keeping them up."
Isabel's eyes expanded as she gazed at this lurid scene. "What are m_llusions?" she asked. "I try so hard not to have any."
"Well," said Henrietta, "you think you can lead a romantic life, that you ca_ive by pleasing yourself and pleasing others. You'll find you're mistaken.
Whatever life you lead you must put your soul in it—to make any sort o_uccess of it; and from the moment you do that it ceases to be romance, _ssure you: it becomes grim reality! And you can't always please yourself; yo_ust sometimes please other people. That, I admit, you're very ready to do; but there's another thing that's still more important—you must often displeas_thers. You must always be ready for that—you must never shrink from it. Tha_oesn't suit you at all—you're too fond of admiration, you like to be though_ell of. You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking romanti_iews—that's your great illusion, my dear. But we can't. You must be prepare_n many occasions in life to please no one at all—not even yourself."
Isabel shook her head sadly; she looked troubled and frightened. "This, fo_ou, Henrietta," she said, "must be one of those occasions!"
It was certainly true that Miss Stackpole, during her visit to Paris, whic_ad been professionally more remunerative than her English sojourn, had no_een living in the world of dreams. Mr. Bantling, who had now returned t_ngland, was her companion for the first four weeks of her stay; and about Mr.
Bantling there was nothing dreamy. Isabel learned from her friend that the tw_ad led a life of great personal intimacy and that this had been a peculia_dvantage to Henrietta, owing to the gentleman's remarkable knowledge o_aris. He had explained everything, shown her everything, been her constan_uide and interpreter. They had breakfasted together, dined together, gone t_he theatre together, supped together, really in a manner quite live_ogether. He was a true friend, Henrietta more than once assured our heroine; and she had never supposed that she could like any Englishman so well. Isabe_ould not have told you why, but she found something that ministered to mirt_n the alliance the correspondent of the Interviewer had struck with Lad_ensil's brother; her amusement moreover subsisted in face of the fact tha_he thought it a credit to each of them. Isabel couldn't rid herself of _uspicion that they were playing somehow at cross-purposes—that the simplicit_f each had been entrapped. But this simplicity was on either side none th_ess honourable. It was as graceful on Henrietta's part to believe that Mr.
Bantling took an interest in the diffusion of lively journalism and i_onsolidating the position of lady-correspondents as it was on the part of hi_ompanion to suppose that the cause of the Interviewer—a periodical of whic_e never formed a very definite conception—was, if subtly analysed (a task t_hich Mr. Bantling felt himself quite equal), but the cause of Mis_tackpole's need of demonstrative affection. Each of these groping celibate_upplied at any rate a want of which the other was impatiently conscious. Mr.
Bantling, who was of rather a slow and a discursive habit, relished a prompt, keen, positive woman, who charmed him by the influence of a shining, challenging eye and a kind of bandbox freshness, and who kindled a perceptio_f raciness in a mind to which the usual fare of life seemed unsalted.
Henrietta, on the other hand, enjoyed the society of a gentleman who appeare_omehow, in his way, made, by expensive, roundabout, almost "quaint"
processes, for her use, and whose leisured state, though generall_ndefensible, was a decided boon to a breathless mate, and who was furnishe_ith an easy, traditional, though by no means exhaustive, answer to almost an_ocial or practical question that could come up. She often found Mr.
Bantling's answers very convenient, and in the press of catching the America_ost would largely and showily address them to publicity. It was to be feare_hat she was indeed drifting toward those abysses of sophistication as t_hich Isabel, wishing for a good-humoured retort, had warned her. There migh_e danger in store for Isabel; but it was scarcely to be hoped that Mis_tackpole, on her side, would find permanent rest in any adoption of the view_f a class pledged to all the old abuses. Isabel continued to warn her good- humouredly; Lady Pensil's obliging brother was sometimes, on our heroine'_ips, an object of irreverent and facetious allusion. Nothing, however, coul_xceed Henrietta's amiability on this point; she used to abound in the sens_f Isabel's irony and to enumerate with elation the hours she had spent wit_his perfect man of the world—a term that had ceased to make with her, a_reviously, for opprobrium. Then, a few moments later, she would forget tha_hey had been talking jocosely and would mention with impulsive earnestnes_ome expedition she had enjoyed in his company. She would say: "Oh, I know al_bout Versailles; I went there with Mr. Bantling. I was bound to see i_horoughly—I warned him when we went out there that I was thorough: so w_pent three days at the hotel and wandered all over the place. It was lovel_eather —a kind of Indian summer, only not so good. We just lived in tha_ark. Oh yes; you can't tell me anything about Versailles." Henrietta appeare_o have made arrangements to meet her gallant friend during the spring i_taly.