‘If you’ve not good servants you’re miserable,’ Mrs Touchett serenely said. ‘They’re very bad in America, but I’ve five perfect ones in Florence.’

‘I don’t see what you want with five,’ Henrietta couldn’t help observing. ‘I don’t think I should like to see five persons surrounding me in that menial position.’

‘I like them in that position better than in some others,’ proclaimed Mrs Touchett with much meaning.

‘Should you like me better if I were your butler, dear?’ her husband asked.

‘I don’t think I should: you wouldn’t at all have the tenue.’1

‘The companions of freemen—I like that, Miss Stackpole,’ said Ralph. ‘It’s a beautiful description.’

‘When I said freemen I didn’t mean you, sir!’

And this was the only reward that Ralph got for his compliment. Miss Stackpole was baffled; she evidently thought there was something treasonable in Mrs Touchett’s appreciation of a class which she privately judged to be a mysterious survival of feudalism. It was perhaps because her mind was oppressed with this image that she suffered some days to elapse before she took occasion to say to Isabel: ‘My dear friend, I wonder if you’re growing faithless.’

‘Faithless? Faithless to you, Henrietta?’

‘No, that would be a great pain; but it’s not that.’

‘Faithless to my country then?’

‘Ah, that I hope will never be. When I wrote to you from Liverpool I said I had something particular to tell you. You’ve never asked me what it is. Is it because you’ve suspected?’

‘Suspected what? As a rule I don’t think I suspect,’ said Isabel. ‘I remember now that phrase in your letter, but I confess I had forgotten it. What have you to tell me?’

Henrietta looked disappointed, and her steady gaze betrayed it. ‘You don’t ask that right—as if you thought it important. You’re changed—you’re thinking of other things.’

‘Tell me what you mean, and I’ll think of that.’

‘Will you really think of it? That’s what I wish to be sure of.’

‘I’ve not much control of my thoughts, but I’ll do my best,’ said Isabel. Henrietta gazed at her, in silence, for a period which tried Isabel’s patience, so that our heroine added at last: ‘Do you mean that you’re going to be married?’

‘Not till I’ve seen Europe!’ said Miss Stackpole. ‘What are you laughing at?’ she went on. ‘What I mean is that Mr Goodwood came out in the steamer with me.’

‘Ah!’ Isabel responded.

‘You say that right. I had a good deal of talk with him; he has come after you.’

‘Did he tell you so?’

‘No, he told me nothing; that’s how I knew it,’ said Henrietta cleverly. ‘He said very little about you, but I spoke of you a good deal.’

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