Henry James.

The portrait of a lady (Volume 2) online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryHenry JamesThe portrait of a lady (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook










The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved.





SOME fortnight after this incident Madame Merle drove up in
a hansoni cab to the house in Winchester Square. As she
descended from her vehicle she observed, suspended between
the dining-room windows, a large, neat, wooden tablet, on whose
fresh black ground were inscribed in white paint the words
" This noble freehold mansion to be sold ; " with the name of
the agent to whom application should be made. " They certainly
lose no time," said the visitor, as, after sounding the big brass
knocker, she waited to be admitted ; " it's a practical country ! "
And within the house, as she ascended to the drawing-rooin,
she perceived numerous signs of abdication ; pictures removed
from the walls and placed upon sofas, windows undraped and
floors laid bare. Mrs. Touchett presently received her, and
intimated in a few words that condolences might be taken
for granted.

" I know what you are going to say he was a very good
man. But I know it better than any one, because I gave him
more chance to show it. In that I think I was a good wife."

Mrs. Touchett added that at the end her husband apparently
VOL. n. B


recognised this fact. " He has treated me liberally," she said ;
" I won't say more liberally than I expected, because I didn't
expect. You know that as a general thing I don't expect. But
he chose, I presume, to recognise the fact that though I lived
much abroad, and mingled you may say freely in foreign life,
I never exhibited the smallest preference for any one else."

" For any one but yourself," Madame Merle mentally observed;
but the reflection was perfectly inaudible.

" I never sacrificed my husband to another," Mrs. Touchett
continued, with her stout curtness.

" Oh no," thought Madame Merle ; " you never did anything
for another ! "

There was a certain cynicism in these mute comments which
demands an explanation ; the more so as they are not in accord
either with the view somewhat superficial perhaps that we
have hitherto enjoyed of Madame Merle's character, or with the
literal facts of Mrs. Touchett's history ; the more so, too, as
Madame Merle had a well-founded conviction that her friend's
last 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 subtle impression that Mr. Touchett's
death had had consequences, and that these consequences had
been profitable to a little circle of persons among whom she
was not numbered. Of course it was an event which would
naturally have consequences; her imagination had more than
once rested upon this fact during her stay at Gardencourt. But
it had been one thing to foresee it mentally, and it was another
to behold it actually. The idea of a distribution of property
she would almost have said of spoils just now pressed upon
her senses and irritated her with a sense of exclusion. I am far
from wishing to say that Madame Merle was one of the hungry


ones of the world ; but we have already perceived that she had
desires which had never been satisfied. If she had been
questioned, she would of course have admitted with a most
becoming smile that she had not the faintest claim to a share
in Mr. Touchett's relics. " There was never anything in the
world between us," she would have said. "There was never
that, poor man ! " with a fillip of her thumb and her third
finger. I hasten to add, moreover, that if her private attitude
at the present moment was somewhat incongruously invidious,
she was very careful not to betray herself. She had, after
all, as much sympathy for Mrs. Touchett's gains as for her

" He has left me this house," the newly-made widow said ;
"but of course I shall not live in it; I have a much better
house in Florence. The will was opened only three days since,
but I have already offered the house for sale. I have also a
share in the bank ; but I don't yet understand whether I am
obliged to leave it there. If not, I shall certainly take it out.
Ralph, of course, has Gardencourt ; but I am not sure that he
will have means to keep up the place. He is of course left very
well off, but his father has given away an immense deal of
money ; there are bequests to a string of third cousins in Ver-
mont. Ralph, however, is very fond of Gardencourt, and would
be quite capable of living there in summer with a maid-of-
all-work and a gardener's boy. There is one remarkable clause
in my husband's will," Mrs. Touchett added. " He has left my
niece a fortune."

" A fortune ! " Madame Merle repeated, softly.

" Isabel steps into something like seventy thousand pounds."

Madame Merle's hands were clasped in her lap ; at this she

raised them, still clasped, and held them a moment against her

B 2


bosom, while her eyes, a little dilated, fixed themselves 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. " It certainly is clever to achieve such results
without an effort ! "

"There certainly was no effort; don't call it an achievement."

Madame Merle was rarely guilty of the awkwardness of
retracting what she had said ; her wisdom w r as shown rather in
maintaining it and placing it in a favourable light. " My dear
friend, Isabel would certainly not have had seventy thousand
pounds left her if she had not been the most charming girl in
the world. Her charm includes great cleverness."

" She never dreamed, I am sure, of my husband's doing any-
thing for her; and I never 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 great recommendation
to him that she was my niece. Whatever she achieved she
achieved unconsciously."

"Ah," rejoined Madame Merle, "those are the greatest
strokes ! "

Mrs. Touchett gave a shrug. " The girl is fortunate ; I don't
deny that. But for the present she is simply stupefied."

" Do you mean that she doesn't know what to do with the
money 2 "

"That, I think, she has hardly considered. She doesn't
know what to think about the matter at all. It has been as if
a big gun were suddenly fired off behind her ; she is feeling
herself, to see if she be hurt. It is but three days since 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 his little speech she suddenly burst into tears.
The money is to remain in the bank, and she is to draw the

Madame Merle shook her head, with a wise, and now quite
benignant, smile. " After she had done that two or three times
she will get used to it." Then after a silence " What does
your son think of it ? " she abruptly asked.

" He left England just before it came out used up by his
fatigue and anxiety, and hurrying off to the south. He is on
his way to the Riviera, and I have not yet heard from him. But
it is not likely he will ever object to anything done by his

" 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 the people in America. He is not in the least
addicted to looking after number one."

" It depends upon whom, he regards as number one ! " said
Madame Merle. And she remained thoughtful a moment, with
her eyes bent upon the floor. " Am I not to see your happy
niece 1 " she asked at last, looking up.

" You may see her ; but you will not be struck with her
being happy. She has looked as solemn, these three days, as a
Cimabue Madonna ! " And Mrs. Touchett rang for a servant.

Isabel came in shortly after the footman had been sent to call
her ; and Madame Merle 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
Madame Merle, who went forward, laid her hand on our heroine's
shoulder, and after looking at her a moment, kissed her as if she


were returning the kiss that she had received from Isabel at
Gardencourt. This was the only allusion that Madame Merle,
in her great good taste, made for the present to her young friend's

Mrs. Touchett did not remain in London until she had sold
her house. After selecting from among its furniture those
objects which she wished to transport to her Florentine residence,
she left the rest of its contents to be disposed of by the
auctioneer, and took her departure for the Continent. She was,
of course, accompanied on this journey by her niece, who now
had plenty of leisure to contemplate the windfall on which
Madame Merle had covertly congratulated her. Isabel thought
of it very often and looked at it in a dozen different lights ; but
we shall not at present attempt to enter into her meditations or
to explain why it was that some of them were of a rather
pessimistic cast. The pessimism of this young lady was tran-
sient ; she ultimately made up her mind that to be rich was a
virtue, because it was to be able to do, and to do was sweet. It
was the contrary of weakness. To be weak was, for a young
lady, rather graceful, but, after all, as Isabel said to herself,
there was a larger grace than that. Just now, it was true, there
was not much to do once she had sent off a cheque to Lily and
another to poor Edith; but she was thankful for the quiet
months which her mourning robes and her aunt's fresh widow-
hood compelled the two ladies to spend. The acquisition of
power made her serious ; she scrutinised her power with a kind
of tender ferocity, but she was not eager to exercise it. She
began to do so indeed during a stay of some weeks which she
presently made with her aunt in Paris, but in ways that will
probably be thought rather vulgar. They were the ways that
most naturally presented themselves in a city in which the shops


are the admiration of the world, especially under the guidance of
Mrs. Touchett, who took a rigidly practical view of the trans-
formation of her niece from a poor girl to a rich one. " Now
that you are a young woman of fortune you must know how to
play the part I mean to play it well," she said to Isabel, once
for all ; and she added that the girl's first duty was to have
everything handsome. " You don't know how to take care of
your things, but you must learn," she went on ; this was Isabel's
second duty. Isabel submitted, but for the present her imagin-
ation was not kindled ; she longed for opportunities, but these
were not the opportunities she meant.

Mrs. Touchett rarely changed her plans, and having intended
before her husband's death to spend a part of the winter in Paris
she saw no reason to deprive herself still less to deprive her
companion of this advantage. Though they would live in great
retirement, she might still present her niece, informally, to the
little circle of her fellow-countrymen dwelling upon the skirts of
the Champs Elysees. With many of these amiable colonists
Mrs. Touchett was intimate; she shared their expatriation,
their convictions, their pastimes, their ennui. Isabel saw them
come with a good deal of assiduity to her aunt's hotel, and
judged them with a trenchancy which is doubtless to be accounted
for by the temporary exaltation of her sense of human duty.
She made up her mind that their manner of life was superficial,
and incurred some disfavour by expressing this view on bright
Sunday afternoons, when the American absentees were engaged
in calling upon each other. Though her listeners were the most
good-natured people in the world, two or three of them thought
her cleverness, which was generally admitted, only a dangerous
variation of impertinence.

" You all live here this way, but what does it all lead to 1 "


she was pleased to ask. "It doesn't seem to lead to anything,
and I should think you would get very tired of it."

Mrs, Touchett thought the question worthy of Henrietta
Stackpole. The two ladies had found Henrietta in Paris, and
Isabel constantly saw her; so that 'Mrs. Touchett had some
reason for saying to herself that if her niece were not clever
enough to originate almost anything, she might be suspected of
having borrowed that style of remark from her journalistic friend.
The first occasion on 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 now went to see.
Mrs. Luce had been living in Paris since the days of Louis
Philippe; she used to say jocosely that she was one of the
generation of 1830 a joke of which the point was not always
taken. When it failed Mrs. Luce used always to explain " Oh
yes, I am one of the romantics ; " her French had never become
very perfect. She was always at home on Sunday afternoons,
and surrounded by sympathetic compatriots, usually the same.
In fact she was at home at all times, and led in her well-cushioned
little corner of the brilliant city as quiet and domestic a life as
she might have led in her native Baltimore. The existence of
Mr. Luce, her worthy husband, was somewhat more inscrutable.
Superficially indeed, there was no mystery about it ; the mystery
lay deeper, and resided in the wonder of his supporting existence
at all. He was the most unoccupied man in Europe, for he not
only had no duties, but he had no pleasures. Habits certainly
he had, but they were few in number, and had been worn
threadbare by forty years of use. Mr. Luce was a tall, lean,
grizzled, well-brushed gentleman, who wore a gold eye-glass and
carried his hat a little too much on the back of his head. He
went every day to the American banker's, where there was a


post-office which was almost as sociable and colloquial an institu-
tion as that of an American country town. He passed an hour
(in fine weather) in a chair in the Champs Elysees, and he dined
uncommonly well at his own table, seated above a waxed floor,
which it was Mrs. Luce's happiness to believe had a finer polish
than any other in Paris. Occasionally he dined with a friend
or two at the Cafe Anglais, where his talent for ordering a
dinner was a source of felicity to his companions and an object
of admiration even to the head-waiter of the establishment.
These were his only known avocations, but they had beguiled
his hours for upwards of half a century, and they doubtless
justified his frequent declaration that there was no place like
Paris. In no other place, on these terms, could Mr. Luce flatter
himself that he was enjoying life. There was nothing like Paris,
but it must be confessed that Mr. Luce thought less highly of
the French capital than in earlier days. In the list of his occu-
pations his political reveries should not be omitted, for they
were doubtless the animating principle of many hours that
superficially seemed vacant. Like many of his fellow colonists,
Mr. Luce was a high or rather a deep conservative, and gave
no countenance to the government recently established in France.
He had no faith in its duration, and would assure you from 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 for them," he would frequently say of the
French people ; and his ideal of a fine government was that of
the lately-abolished Empire. "Paris is much less attractive
than in the days of the Emperor ; he knew how to make a city
pleasant," Mr. Luce had often remarked to Mrs. Touchett, who was
quite of his own way of thinking, and wished to know what one
had crossed that odious Atlantic for but to get away from republics.


" Why, madam, sitting in the Champs Ely sees, opposite to
the Palace of Industry, I have seen the court- carriages from the
Tuileries pass up and down as many as seven times a day. I
remember one occasion when they went as high as nine times.
What do you see now 1 It's no use talking, the style's all gone.
Napoleon knew what the French people want, and there'll be a
cloud over Paris till they get the Empire back again."

Among Mrs. Luce's visitors on Sunday afternoons was a
young man with whom Isabel had had a good deal of convers-
ation, and whom she found full of valuable knowledge. Mr.
Edward Rosier Ned Rosier, as he was called was a native of
New York, and had been brought up in Paris, living there
under the eye of his father, who, as it happened, had been an
old and intimate friend of the late Mr. Archer. Edward Rosier
remembered Isabel as a little girl ; it had been his father who
came to the rescue of the little Archers at the inn at Neufchatel
(he was travelling that way with the boy, and stopped at the
hotel by chance), after their bonne had gone off with the Russian
prince and when Mr. Archer's whereabouts remained for some
days a mystery. Isabel remembered perfectly the neat little
male child, whose hair smelt of a delicious cosmetic, and who
had a bonne of his own, warranted to lose sight of him under no
provocation. Isabel took a walk with the pair beside the lake,
and thought little Edward as pretty as an angel a comparison
by no means conventional in her mind, for she had a very
definite conception of a type of features which she supposed to
be angelic, and which her new friend perfectly illustrated. A
small pink face, surmounted by a blue velvet bonnet and set off
by a stiff embroidered collar, became the countenance of her
childish dreams ; and she firmly believed for some time after-
wards that the heavenly hosts conversed among themselves in


a queer little dialect of French-English, expressing the properest
sentiments, as when Edward told her that he was " defended "
by his bonne to go near the edge of the lake, and that one must
always obey to one's bonne. Ned Hosier's English had im-
proved ; at least it exhibited in a less degree the French
variation. His father was dead and his bonne was dismissed,
but the young man still conformed to the spirit of their teaching
he never went to the edge of the lake. There was still
something agreeable to the nostril about him, and something
not offensive to nobler organs. He was a very gentle and
gracious youth, with what are called cultivated tastes an
acquaintance with old china, with good wine, with the bindings
of books, with the Almanach de Got ha, 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 that as
his experience accumulated he would be a worthy successor to
that gentleman, whose rather grim politics he also advocated, in
a soft and innocent voice. 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 was better
draped than many a duchess. He usually, however, spent a
part of every winter at Pau, and had once passed a couple of
months in the United States.

He took a great interest in Isabel, and remembered perfectly
the walk at Neufchatel, when she would persist in going so near
the edge. He seemed to recognise this same tendency in the
subversive inquiry that I quoted a moment ago, and set himself
to answer our heroine's question with greater urbanity than it
perhaps deserved. " What does it lead to, Miss Archer 1 Why
Paris leads everywhere. You can't go anywhere unless you
come here first. Every one that comes to Europe has got to


pass through. You don't mean it in that sense so much? You
mean what good it does you 1 ? Well, how can you penetrate
futurity? How can you' tell what lies ahead? If it's a pleasant
road I don't care where it leads. I like the road, Miss Archer ;
I like the dear old asphalte. You can't get tired of it you
can't if you try. You think you would, but you wouldn'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 things as you can here 1 In spite of
all they say, I maintain they are cheaper too, if you 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 must not tell any one else. Don't you go anywhere with-
out asking me first ; I want you to promise me that. As a
general thing avoid the Boulevards ; there is very little to be
done on the Boulevards. Speaking conscientiously sans blague
I don't believe any one knows Paris better than I. You and
Mrs. Touchett must come and breakfast with me some day, and
I'll show you my things ; jc. ne vous dis que pa ! There has
been a great deal of talk about London of late ; it's the fashion
to cry up London. But there is nothing in it you can't do
anything in London. No Louis Quinze nothing of the First
Empire ; nothing but their eternal Queen Anne. It's good for
one's bed-room, Queen Anne for one's washing-room ; but it
isn't proper for a salon. Do I spend my life at the auctioneer's ? "
Mr. Hosier pursued, in answer to another question of Isabel's.
" Oh, no ; I haven't the means. I wish I had. You think I'm
a mere triner; I can tell by the expression of your face you
have got a wonderfully expressive face. I hope you don't mind
my saying that ; I mean it as a kind of warning. You think I
ought to do something, and so do I, so long as you leave it


vague. But when you come -to the point, you see you have to
stop. T can't go home and be a shopkeeper. You think I am
very well fitted? Ah, Miss Archer, you overrate me. I can
buy very well, but I can't sell ; you should see when I some-
times try to get rid of my things. It takes much more ability
to make other people buy than to buy yourself. When I think
how clever they must be, the people who make me buy ! Ah,
no; I couldn't be a shopkeeper. I can't be a doctor, it's a
repulsive business. I can't be a clergyman, I haven't got con-
victions. And then I can't pronounce the names right in the
Bible. They are very difficult, in the Old Testament particularly.
I can't be a lawyer ; I don't understand how do you call it ?
the American procedure. Is there anything else 1 There
is nothing for a gentleman to do in America. I should like
to be a diplomatist; but American diplomacy that is not
for gentlemen either. I am sure if you had seen the last
min "

Henrietta Stackpole, who was often with her friend when Mr.
Rosier, coming to pay his compliments, late in the afternoon,
expressed himself after the fashion I have sketched, usually
interrupted the young man at this point and read him a lecture
on the duties of the American citizen. She thought him most
unnatural ; he was worse than Mr. Ealph Touchett. Henrietta,
however, was at this time more than ever addicted to fine
criticism, for her conscience had been freshly alarmed as regards
Isabel. . She had not congratulated this young lady on her
accession of fortune, and begged to be excused from doing so.

" If Mr. Touchett had consulted me about leaving you the
money," she frankly said, "I would have said to hin?7 * 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 you really believe it will ^ruin me ] " she asked, in
quite another tone.

" I hope it won't ruin you ; but it will certainly confirm your
dangerous tendencies."

" Do you mean the love of luxury of extravagance ? "

" No, no," said Henrietta; "I mean your moral tendencies.
I approve of luxury ; I think we ought to be as elegant as
possible. Look at the luxury of our western cities ; I have
seen nothing over here to compare with it. I hope you will
never become sensual ; but I am not afraid of that. The peril
for you is that you live too much in the world of your own
dreams you are not enough in contact with reality with the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryHenry JamesThe portrait of a lady (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 18)