The Portrait of a Lady
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
"Oh no," thought Madame Merle; "you never did anything for another!"
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