prepared to be very quiet. Whether or no she found in this phrase all the meaning he had put into it I am unable to say; but she accepted the invitation on any terms. She was curious, moreover; for one of the impressions of her former visit had been that her brother had found his match. Before the marriage she had been sorry for Isabel, so sorry as to have had serious thoughts—if any of the Countess’s thoughts were serious—of putting her on her guard. But she had let that pass, and after a little she was reassured. Osmond was as lofty as ever, but his wife would not be an easy victim. The Countess was not very exact at measurements, but it seemed to her that if Isabel should draw herself up she would be the taller spirit of the two. What she wanted to learn now was whether Isabel had drawn herself up; it would give her immense pleasure to see Osmond overtopped.

Several days before she was to start for Rome a servant brought her the card of a visitor—a card with the simple superscription ‘Henrietta C. Stackpole’. The Countess pressed her finger-tips to her forehead; she didn’t remember to have known any such Henrietta as that. The servant then remarked that the lady had requested him to say that if the Countess should not recognize her name she would know her well enough on seeing her. By the time she appeared before her visitor she had in fact reminded herself that there was once a literary lady at Mrs Touchett’s; the only woman of letters she had ever encountered—that is the only modern one, since she was the daughter of a defunct poetess. She recognized Miss Stackpole immediately, the more so that Miss Stackpole seemed perfectly unchanged; and the Countess, who was thoroughly good-natured, thought it rather fine to be called on by a person of that sort of distinction. She wondered if Miss Stackpole had come on account of her mother—whether she had heard of the American Corinne. Her mother was not at all like Isabel’s friend; the Countess could see at a glance that this lady was much more contemporary; and she received an impression of the improvements that were taking place—chiefly in distant countries—in the character (the professional character) of literary ladies. Her mother had been used to wear a Roman scarf thrown over a pair of shoulders timorously bared of their tight black velvet (oh the old clothes!) and a gold laurel-wreath set upon a multitude of glossy ringlets. She had spoken softly and vaguely, with the accent of her ‘Creole’ ancestors, as she always confessed; she sighed a great deal and was not at all enterprising. But Henrietta, the Countess could see, was always closely buttoned and compactly braided; there was something brisk and business-like in her appearance; her manner was almost conscientiously familiar. It was as impossible to imagine her ever vaguely sighing as to imagine a letter posted without its address. The Countess could not but feel that the correspondent of the Interviewer was much more in the movement than the American Corinne. She explained that she had called on the Countess because she was the only person she knew in Florence, and that when she visited a foreign city she liked to see something more than superficial travellers. She knew Mrs Touchett, but Mrs Touchett was in America, and even if she had been in Florence Henrietta would not have put herself out for her, since Mrs Touchett was not one of her admirations.

‘Do you mean by that that I am?’ the Countess graciously asked.

‘Well, I like you better than I do her,’ said Miss Stackpole. ‘I seem to remember that when I saw you before you were very interesting. I don’t know whether it was an accident or whether it’s your usual style. At any rate I was a good deal struck with what you said. I made use of it afterwards in print.’

‘Dear me!’ cried the Countess, staring and half-alarmed; ‘I had no idea I ever said anything remarkable! I wish I had known it at the time.’

‘It was about the position of woman in this city,’ Miss Stackpole remarked. ‘You threw a good deal of light upon it.’

‘The position of woman’s very uncomfortable. Is that what you mean? And you wrote it down and published it?’ the Countess went on. ‘Ah, do let me see it!’

‘I’ll write to them to send you the paper if you like,’ Henrietta said. ‘I didn’t mention your name; I only said a lady of high rank. And then I quoted your views.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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