Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 20


Some fortnight after this Madame Merle drove up in a hansom 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-room, 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're 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 recognised this fact. "He
has treated me most 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 reflexion 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

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 an
impression that Mr. Touchett's death had had subtle 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 such a
matter mentally and another to stand among its massive records.
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 picture
her as one of the hungry mouths or envious hearts of the general
herd, but we have already learned of her having desires that had
never been satisfied. If she had been questioned, she would of
course have admitted--with a fine proud 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 she couldn't
at the present moment keep from quite perversely yearning she was
careful 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 shall not live in it; I've a much better one in
Florence. The will was opened only three days since, but I've
already offered the house for sale. I've also a share in the
bank; but I don't yet understand if I'm obliged to leave it
there. If not I shall certainly take it out. Ralph, of course,
has Gardencourt; but I'm not sure that he'll have means to keep
up the place. He's naturally 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 Vermont. 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's one
remarkable clause in my husband's will," Mrs. Touchett added. "He
has left my niece a fortune."

"A fortune!" Madame Merle softly repeated.

"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 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

"There assuredly was no effort. Don't call it an achievement."

Madame Merle was seldom guilty of the awkwardness of retracting
what she had said; her wisdom was 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'm sure, of my husband's doing anything 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 reserved her opinion. "The girl's fortunate; I
don't deny that. But for the present 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 think about the matter at all. It has been as if a big gun
were suddenly fired off behind her; she's feeling herself to see
if she be hurt. It's 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's to
remain in the affairs of the bank, and she's to draw the

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

"He left England before the will was read--used up by his fatigue
and anxiety and hurrying off to the south. He's on his way to the
Riviera and I've not yet heard from him. But it's not likely
he'll ever object to anything done by his father."

"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's 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, her eyes bent on the

"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 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 she had received from her at Gardencourt. This
was the only allusion the visitor, in her 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 transport to her other abode, 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
measure and weigh and otherwise handle the windfall on which
Madame Merle had covertly congratulated her. Isabel thought very
often of the fact of her accession of means, looking at it in a
dozen different lights; but we shall not now attempt to follow
her train of thought or to explain exactly why her new
consciousness was at first oppressive. This failure to rise to
immediate joy was indeed but brief; the girl presently made up
her mind that to be rich was a virtue because it was to be able
to do, and that to do could only be sweet. It was the graceful
contrary of the stupid side of weakness--especially the feminine
variety. To be weak was, for a delicate young person, rather
graceful, but, after all, as Isabel said to herself, there was a
larger grace than that. Just now, it is 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 widowhood compelled them to
spend together. The acquisition of power made her serious; she
scrutinised her power with a kind of tender ferocity, but was not
eager to exercise it. She began to do so during a stay of some
weeks which she eventually made with her aunt in Paris, though in
ways that will inevitably present themselves as trivial. They
were the ways most naturally imposed in a city in which the shops
are the admiration of the world, and that were prescribed
unreservedly by the guidance of Mrs. Touchett, who took a rigidly
practical view of the transformation of her niece from a poor
girl to a rich one. "Now that you're 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
imagination 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, 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 arrive
with a good deal of assiduity at her aunt's hotel, and pronounced
on them with a trenchancy doubtless to be accounted for by the
temporary exaltation of her sense of human duty. She made up her
mind that their lives were, though luxurious, inane, and incurred
some disfavour by expressing this view on bright Sunday
afternoons, when the American absentees were engaged in calling
on each other. Though her listeners passed for people kept
exemplarily genial by their cooks and dressmakers, two or 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 to anything, and I should think you'd 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 to explain--"Oh yes, I'm one of the
romantics;" her French had never become quite 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 reproduced with wondrous truth in her well-cushioned
little corner of the brilliant city, the domestic tone of her
native Baltimore. 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 little too 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 have guessed
from what cares he escaped to them. One of them was that he went
every day to the American banker's, where he found a post-office
that was almost as sociable and colloquial an institution as in
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
the French capital. 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 headwaiter of the establishment. These were his only
known pastimes, 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 this scene of his
dissipations than in earlier days. In the list of his resources
his political reflections 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 lately 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 showy clever rule was that of the superseded
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 Elysees, opposite to the
Palace of Industry, I've 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. What do you
see now? It's no use talking, the style's all gone. Napoleon knew
what the French people want, and there'll be a dark cloud over
Paris, our 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 conversation and whom she
found full of valuable knowledge. Mr. Edward Rosier--Ned Rosier
as he was called--was native to New York and had been brought up
in Paris, living there under the eye of his father who, as it
happened, had been an early 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 small Archers at
the inn at Neufchatel (he was travelling that way with the boy
and had 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 all 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 had become the
countenance of her childish dreams; and she had firmly believed
for some time afterwards 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 Rosier's
English had improved; at least it exhibited in a less degree the
French variation. His father was dead and his bonne 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 nostrils 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 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 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 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 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
enquiry 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? 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?
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? In
spite of all they say I maintain they're 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 mustn't tell any one else. Don't you go anywhere without
asking me first; I want you to promise me that. As a general
thing avoid the Boulevards; there's 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; je ne
vous dis que ca! There has been a great deal of talk about London
of late; it's the fashion to 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 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. Rosier 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
trifler; I can tell by the expression of your face--you've 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. I can't go home and be a
shopkeeper. You think I'm very well fitted? Ah, Miss Archer, you
overrate me. I can buy very well, but I can't sell; you should see
when I sometimes 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 convictions. And
then I can't pronounce the names right in the Bible. They're 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? There's nothing for a gentleman in America. I
should like to be a diplomatist; but American diplomacy--that's not
for gentlemen either. I'm 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 poor Ralph 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
augmentations and begged to be excused from doing so.

"If Mr. Touchett had consulted me about leaving you the money,"
she frankly asserted, "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 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 exposure on the moral
side. I approve of luxury; I think we ought to be as elegant as
possible. Look at the luxury of our western cities; I've seen
nothing over here to compare with it. I hope you'll never become
grossly sensual; but I'm not afraid of that. The peril for you is
that you live too much in the world of your own dreams. You're
not enough in contact with reality--with the toiling, striving,
suffering, I may even say sinning, world that surrounds you.
You're too fastidious; you've too many graceful illusions. Your
newly-acquired thousands will shut you up more and more to the
society of a few selfish and heartless people who will be
interested in keeping them up."

Isabel's eyes expanded as she gazed at this lurid scene. "What
are my illusions?" she asked. "I try so hard not to have any."

"Well," said Henrietta, "you think you can lead a romantic life,
that you can live 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 of success of it; and from the
moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you: it
becomes grim reality! And you can't always please yourself; you
must 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 displease others. You must always be
ready for that--you must never shrink from it. That doesn't suit
you at all--you're too fond of admiration, you like to be thought
well of. You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking
romantic views--that's your great illusion, my dear. But we
can't. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please
no one at all--not even yourself."

Isabel shook her head sadly; she looked troubled and frightened.
"This, for you, Henrietta," she said, "must be one of those

It was certainly true that Miss Stackpole, during her visit to
Paris, which had been professionally more remunerative than her
English sojourn, had not been living in the world of dreams. Mr.
Bantling, who had now returned to England, 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 two
had led a life of great personal intimacy and that this had been
a peculiar advantage to Henrietta, owing to the gentleman's
remarkable knowledge of Paris. He had explained everything, shown
her everything, been her constant guide and interpreter. They had
breakfasted together, dined together, gone to the theatre
together, supped together, really in a manner quite lived
together. 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. Isabel could not have told you why, but she
found something that ministered to mirth in the alliance the
correspondent of the Interviewer had struck with Lady Pensil's
brother; her amusement moreover subsisted in face of the fact
that she thought it a credit to each of them. Isabel couldn't rid
herself of a suspicion that they were playing somehow at
cross-purposes--that the simplicity of each had been entrapped.
But this simplicity was on either side none the less honourable.
It was as graceful on Henrietta's part to believe that Mr.
Bantling took an interest in the diffusion of lively journalism
and in consolidating the position of lady-correspondents as it
was on the part of his companion to suppose that the cause of the
Interviewer--a periodical of which he never formed a very
definite conception--was, if subtly analysed (a task to which Mr.
Bantling felt himself quite equal), but the cause of Miss
Stackpole's need of demonstrative affection. Each of these
groping celibates supplied 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 perception of
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 appeared somehow, in his way, made, by expensive,
roundabout, almost "quaint" processes, for her use, and whose
leisured state, though generally indefensible, was a decided
boon to a breathless mate, and who was furnished with an easy,
traditional, though by no means exhaustive, answer to almost any
social or practical question that could come up. She often found
Mr. Bantling's answers very convenient, and in the press of
catching the American post would largely and showily address them
to publicity. It was to be feared that she was indeed drifting
toward those abysses of sophistication as to which Isabel,
wishing for a good-humoured retort, had warned her. There might
be danger in store for Isabel; but it was scarcely to be hoped
that Miss Stackpole, on her side, would find permanent rest in
any adoption of the views of 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's lips,
an object of irreverent and facetious allusion. Nothing, however,
could exceed Henrietta's amiability on this point; she used to
abound in the sense of Isabel's irony and to enumerate with
elation the hours she had spent with this perfect man of the
world--a term that had ceased to make with her, as previously,
for opprobrium. Then, a few moments later, she would forget that
they had been talking jocosely and would mention with impulsive
earnestness some expedition she had enjoyed in his company. She
would say: "Oh, I know all about Versailles; I went there with
Mr. Bantling. I was bound to see it thoroughly--I warned him when
we went out there that I was thorough: so we spent three days at
the hotel and wandered all over the place. It was lovely weather
--a kind of Indian summer, only not so good. We just lived in
that park. Oh yes; you can't tell me anything about Versailles."
Henrietta appeared to have made arrangements to meet her gallant
friend during the spring in Italy.

Henry James