‘If it will give you pleasure—delighted.’ And this obliging person took her place again and struck a few chords, while Isabel sat down nearer the instrument. Suddenly the new-comer stopped with her hands on the keys, half-turning and looking over her shoulder. She was forty years old and not pretty, though her expression charmed. ‘Pardon me,’ she said; ‘but are you the niece—the young American?’

‘I’m my aunt’s niece,’ Isabel replied with simplicity.

The lady at the piano sat still a moment longer, casting her air of interest over her shoulder. ‘That’s very well; we’re compatriots.’ And then she began to play.

‘Ah then she’s not French,’ Isabel murmured; and as the opposite supposition had made her romantic it might have seemed that this revelation would have marked a drop. But such was not the fact; rarer even than to be French seemed it to be American on such interesting terms.

The lady played in the same manner as before, softly and solemnly, and while she played the shadows deepened in the room. The autumn twilight gathered in, and from her place Isabel could see the rain, which had now begun in earnest, washing the cold-looking lawn and the wind shaking the great trees. At last, when the music had ceased, her companion got up and, coming nearer with a smile, before Isabel had time to thank her again, said: ‘I’m very glad you’ve come back; I’ve heard a great deal about you.’

Isabel thought her a very attractive person, but nevertheless spoke with a certain abruptness in reply to this speech. ‘From whom have you heard about me?’

The stranger hesitated a single moment and then, ‘From your uncle,’ she answered. ‘I’ve been here three days, and the first day he let me come and pay him a visit in his room. Then he talked constantly of you.’

‘As you didn’t know me that must rather have bored you.’

‘It made me want to know you. All the more that since then your aunt being so much with Mr Touchett—I’ve been quite alone and have got rather tired of my own society. I’ve not chosen a good moment for my visit.’

A servant had come in with lamps and was presently followed by another bearing the tea-tray. On the appearance of this repast Mrs Touchett had apparently been notified, for she now arrived and addressed herself to the tea-pot. Her greeting to her niece did not differ materially from her manner of raising the lid of this receptacle in order to glance at the contents: in neither act was it becoming to make a show of avidity. Questioned about her husband she was unable to say he was better; but the local doctor was with him, and much light was expected from this gentleman’s consultation with Sir Matthew Hope.

‘I suppose you two ladies have made acquaintance,’ she pursued. ‘If you haven’t I recommend you to do so; for so long as we continue—Ralph and I—to cluster about Mr Touchett’s bed you’re not likely to have much society but each other.’

‘I know nothing about you but that you’re a great musician,’ Isabel said to the visitor.

‘There’s a good deal more than that to know,’ Mrs Touchett affirmed in her little dry tone.

‘A very little of it, I am sure, will content Miss Archer!’ the lady exclaimed with a light laugh. ‘I’m an old friend of your aunt’s. I’ve lived much in Florence. I’m Madame Merle.’2 She made this last announcement as if she was referring to a person of tolerably distinct identity. For Isabel, however, it represented little; she could only continue to feel that Madame Merle had as charming a manner as any she had ever encountered.

‘She’s not a foreigner in spite of her name,’ said Mrs Touchett. ‘She was born—I always forget where you were born.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.