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Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

She was not praying; she was trembling--trembling all over.
Vibration was easy to her, was in fact too constant with her, and
she found herself now humming like a smitten harp. She only
asked, however, to put on the cover, to case herself again in
brown holland, but she wished to resist her excitement, and the
attitude of devotion, which she kept for some time, seemed to
help her to be still. She intensely rejoiced that Caspar Goodwood
was gone; there was something in having thus got rid of him that
was like the payment, for a stamped receipt, of some debt too
long on her mind. As she felt the glad relief she bowed her head
a little lower; the sense was there, throbbing in her heart; it
was part of her emotion, but it was a thing to be ashamed of--it
was profane and out of place. It was not for some ten minutes
that she rose from her knees, and even when she came back to the
sitting-room her tremor had not quite subsided. It had had,
verily, two causes: part of it was to be accounted for by her
long discussion with Mr. Goodwood, but it might be feared that
the rest was simply the enjoyment she found in the exercise of
her power. She sat down in the same chair again and took up her
book, but without going through the form of opening the volume.
She leaned back, with that low, soft, aspiring murmur with which
she often uttered her response to accidents of which the brighter
side was not superficially obvious, and yielded to the
satisfaction of having refused two ardent suitors in a fortnight.
That love of liberty of which she had given Caspar Goodwood so
bold a sketch was as yet almost exclusively theoretic; she had
not been able to indulge it on a large scale. But it appeared to
her she had done something; she had tasted of the delight, if not
of battle, at least of victory; she had done what was truest to
her plan. In the glow of this consciousness the image of Mr.
Goodwood taking his sad walk homeward through the dingy town
presented itself with a certain reproachful force; so that, as at
the same moment the door of the room was opened, she rose with an
apprehension that he had come back. But it was only Henrietta
Stackpole returning from her dinner.

Miss Stackpole immediately saw that our young lady had been
"through" something, and indeed the discovery demanded no great
penetration. She went straight up to her friend, who received her
without a greeting. Isabel's elation in having sent Caspar
Goodwood back to America presupposed her being in a manner glad
he had come to see her; but at the same time she perfectly
remembered Henrietta had had no right to set a trap for her. "Has
he been here, dear?" the latter yearningly asked.

Isabel turned away and for some moments answered nothing. "You
acted very wrongly," she declared at last.

"I acted for the best. I only hope you acted as well."

"You're not the judge. I can't trust you," said Isabel.

This declaration was unflattering, but Henrietta was much too
unselfish to heed the charge it conveyed; she cared only for what
it intimated with regard to her friend. "Isabel Archer," she
observed with equal abruptness and solemnity, "if you marry one
of these people I'll never speak to you again!"

"Before making so terrible a threat you had better wait till I'm
asked," Isabel replied. Never having said a word to Miss
Stackpole about Lord Warburton's overtures, she had now no
impulse whatever to justify herself to Henrietta by telling her
that she had refused that nobleman.

"Oh, you'll be asked quick enough, once you get off on the
Continent. Annie Climber was asked three times in Italy - poor
plain little Annie."

"Well, if Annie Climber wasn't captured why should I be?"

"I don't believe Annie was pressed; but you'll be."

"That's a flattering conviction," said Isabel without alarm.

"I don't flatter you, Isabel, I tell you the truth!" cried her
friend. "I hope you don't mean to tell me that you didn't give
Mr. Goodwood some hope."

"I don't see why I should tell you anything; as I said to you
just now, I can't trust you. But since you're so much interested
in Mr. Goodwood I won't conceal from you that he returns
immediately to America."

"You don't mean to say you've sent him off?" Henrietta almost
shrieked.

"I asked him to leave me alone; and I ask you the same,
Henrietta." Miss Stackpole glittered for an instant with dismay,
and then passed to the mirror over the chimney-piece and took off
her bonnet. "I hope you've enjoyed your dinner," Isabel went on.

But her companion was not to be diverted by frivolous
propositions. "Do you know where you're going, Isabel Archer?"

"Just now I'm going to bed," said Isabel with persistent
frivolity.

"Do you know where you're drifting?" Henrietta pursued, holding
out her bonnet delicately.

"No, I haven't the least idea, and I find it very pleasant not to
know. A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four
horses over roads that one can't see--that's my idea of
happiness."

"Mr. Goodwood certainly didn't teach you to say such things as
that--like the heroine of an immoral novel," said Miss Stackpole.
"You're drifting to some great mistake."

Isabel was irritated by her friend's interference, yet she still
tried to think what truth this declaration could represent. She
could think of nothing that diverted her from saying: "You must
be very fond of me, Henrietta, to be willing to be so
aggressive."

"I love you intensely, Isabel," said Miss Stackpole with feeling,

"Well, if you love me intensely let me as intensely alone. I
asked that of Mr. Goodwood, and I must also ask it of you."

"Take care you're not let alone too much."

"That's what Mr. Goodwood said to me. I told him I must take the
risks."

"You're a creature of risks--you make me shudder!" cried
Henrietta. "When does Mr. Goodwood return to America?"

"I don't know--he didn't tell me."

"Perhaps you didn't enquire," said Henrietta with the note of
righteous irony.

"I gave him too little satisfaction to have the right to ask
questions of him."

This assertion seemed to Miss Stackpole for a moment to bid
defiance to comment; but at last she exclaimed: "Well, Isabel, if
I didn't know you I might think you were heartless!"

"Take care," said Isabel; "you're spoiling me."

"I'm afraid I've done that already. I hope, at least," Miss
Stackpole added, "that he may cross with Annie Climber!"

Isabel learned from her the next morning that she had determined
not to return to Gardencourt (where old Mr. Touchett had promised
her a renewed welcome), but to await in London the arrival of the
invitation that Mr. Bantling had promised her from his sister Lady
Pensil. Miss Stackpole related very freely her conversation with
Ralph Touchett's sociable friend and declared to Isabel that she
really believed she had now got hold of something that would lead
to something. On the receipt of Lady Pensil's letter--Mr. Bantling
had virtually guaranteed the arrival of this document--she would
immediately depart for Bedfordshire, and if Isabel cared to look
out for her impressions in the Interviewer she would certainly
find them. Henrietta was evidently going to see something of the
inner life this time.

"Do you know where you're drifting, Henrietta Stackpole?" Isabel
asked, imitating the tone in which her friend had spoken the
night before.

"I'm drifting to a big position--that of the Queen of American
Journalism. If my next letter isn't copied all over the West I'll
swallow my penwiper!"

She had arranged with her friend Miss Annie Climber, the young
lady of the continental offers, that they should go together to
make those purchases which were to constitute Miss Climber's
farewell to a hemisphere in which she at least had been
appreciated; and she presently repaired to Jermyn Street to pick
up her companion. Shortly after her departure Ralph Touchett was
announced, and as soon as he came in Isabel saw he had something
on his mind. He very soon took his cousin into his confidence. He
had received from his mother a telegram to the effect that his
father had had a sharp attack of his old malady, that she was
much alarmed and that she begged he would instantly return to
Gardencourt. On this occasion at least Mrs. Touchett's devotion
to the electric wire was not open to criticism.

"I've judged it best to see the great doctor, Sir Matthew Hope,
first," Ralph said; "by great good luck he's in town. He's to see
me at half-past twelve, and I shall make sure of his coming down
to Gardencourt--which he will do the more readily as he has
already seen my father several times, both there and in London.
There's an express at two-forty-five, which I shall take; and
you'll come back with me or remain here a few days longer, exactly
as you prefer."

"I shall certainly go with you," Isabel returned. "I don't
suppose I can be of any use to my uncle, but if he's ill I shall
like to be near him."

"I think you're fond of him," said Ralph with a certain shy
pleasure in his face. "You appreciate him, which all the world
hasn't done. The quality's too fine."

"I quite adore him," Isabel after a moment said.

"That's very well. After his son he's your greatest admirer."
She welcomed this assurance, but she gave secretly a small sigh
of relief at the thought that Mr. Touchett was one of those
admirers who couldn't propose to marry her. This, however, was
not what she spoke; she went on to inform Ralph that there were
other reasons for her not remaining in London. She was tired of
it and wished to leave it; and then Henrietta was going away--
going to stay in Bedfordshire.

"In Bedfordshire?"

"With Lady Pensil, the sister of Mr. Bantling, who has answered
for an invitation."

Ralph was feeling anxious, but at this he broke into a laugh.
Suddenly, none the less, his gravity returned. "Bantling's a man
of courage. But if the invitation should get lost on the way?"

"I thought the British post-office was impeccable."

"The good Homer sometimes nods," said Ralph. "However," he went
on more brightly, "the good Bantling never does, and, whatever
happens, he'll take care of Henrietta."

Ralph went to keep his appointment with Sir Matthew Hope, and
Isabel made her arrangements for quitting Pratt's Hotel. Her
uncle's danger touched her nearly, and while she stood before her
open trunk, looking about her vaguely for what she should put
into it, the tears suddenly rose to her eyes. It was perhaps for
this reason that when Ralph came back at two o'clock to take her
to the station she was not yet ready. He found Miss Stackpole,
however, in the sitting-room, where she had just risen from her
luncheon, and this lady immediately expressed her regret at his
father's illness.

"He's a grand old man," she said; "he's faithful to the last. If
it's really to be the last--pardon my alluding to it, but you
must often have thought of the possibility--I'm sorry that I
shall not be at Gardencourt."

"You'll amuse yourself much more in Bedfordshire."

"I shall be sorry to amuse myself at such a time," said Henrietta
with much propriety. But she immediately added: "I should like so
to commemorate the closing scene."

"My father may live a long time," said Ralph simply. Then,
adverting to topics more cheerful, he interrogated Miss Stackpole
as to her own future.

Now that Ralph was in trouble she addressed him in a tone of
larger allowance and told him that she was much indebted to him
for having made her acquainted with Mr. Bantling. "He has told me
just the things I want to know," she said; "all the society items
and all about the royal family. I can't make out that what he
tells me about the royal family is much to their credit; but he
says that's only my peculiar way of looking at it. Well, all I
want is that he should give me the facts; I can put them together
quick enough, once I've got them." And she added that Mr.
Bantling had been so good as to promise to come and take her out
that afternoon.

"To take you where?" Ralph ventured to enquire.

"To Buckingham Palace. He's going to show me over it, so that I
may get some idea how they live."

"Ah," said Ralph, "we leave you in good hands. The first thing we
shall hear is that you're invited to Windsor Castle."

"If they ask me, I shall certainly go. Once I get started I'm not
afraid. But for all that," Henrietta added in a moment, "I'm not
satisfied; I'm not at peace about Isabel."

"What is her last misdemeanour?"

"Well, I've told you before, and I suppose there's no harm in my
going on. I always finish a subject that I take up. Mr. Goodwood
was here last night."

Ralph opened his eyes; he even blushed a little--his blush being
the sign of an emotion somewhat acute. He remembered that Isabel,
in separating from him in Winchester Square, had repudiated his
suggestion that her motive in doing so was the expectation of a
visitor at Pratt's Hotel, and it was a new pang to him to have to
suspect her of duplicity. On the other hand, he quickly said to
himself, what concern was it of his that she should have made an
appointment with a lover? Had it not been thought graceful in
every age that young ladies should make a mystery of such
appointments? Ralph gave Miss Stackpole a diplomatic answer. "I
should have thought that, with the views you expressed to me the
other day, this would satisfy you perfectly."

"That he should come to see her? That was very well, as far as it
went. It was a little plot of mine; I let him know that we were
in London, and when it had been arranged that I should spend the
evening out I sent him a word--the word we just utter to the
'wise.' I hoped he would find her alone; I won't pretend I didn't
hope that you'd be out of the way. He came to see her, but he
might as well have stayed away."

"Isabel was cruel?"--and Ralph's face lighted with the relief of
his cousin's not having shown duplicity.

"I don't exactly know what passed between them. But she gave him
no satisfaction--she sent him back to America."

"Poor Mr. Goodwood!" Ralph sighed.

"Her only idea seems to be to get rid of him," Henrietta went on.

"Poor Mr. Goodwood!" Ralph repeated. The exclamation, it must be
confessed, was automatic; it failed exactly to express his
thoughts, which were taking another line.

"You don't say that as if you felt it. I don't believe you care."

"Ah," said Ralph, "you must remember that I don't know this
interesting young man--that I've never seen him."

"Well, I shall see him, and I shall tell him not to give up. If I
didn't believe Isabel would come round," Miss Stackpole added--
"well, I'd give up myself. I mean I'd give HER up!"

Henry James