The Portrait of a Lady
She returned on the morrow to Florence, under her cousin's escort, and Ralph
Touchett, though usually restive under railway discipline, thought very well of the
successive hours passed in the train that hurried his companion away from the
city now distinguished by Gilbert Osmond's preference--hours that were to form
the first stage in a larger scheme of travel. Miss Stackpole had remained behind;
she was planning a little trip to Naples, to be carried out with Mr. Bantling's aid.
Isabel was to have three days in Florence before the 4th of June, the date of Mrs.
Touchett's departure, and she determined to devote the last of these to her
promise to call on Pansy Osmond. Her plan, however, seemed for a moment
likely to modify itself in deference to an idea of Madame Merle's. This lady was
still at Casa Touchett; but she too was on the point of leaving Florence, her next
station being an ancient castle in the mountains of Tuscany, the residence of a
noble family of that country, whose acquaintance (she had known them, as she
said, "forever") seemed to Isabel, in the light of certain photographs of their
immense crenellated dwelling which her friend was able to show her, a precious
privilege. She mentioned to this fortunate woman that Mr. Osmond had asked
her to take a look at his daughter, but didn't mention that he had also made her a
declaration of love.
"Ah, comme cela se trouve!" Madame Merle exclaimed. "I myself have been
thinking it would be a kindness to pay the child a little visit before I go off."
"We can go together then," Isabel reasonably said: "reasonably" because the
proposal was not uttered in the spirit of enthusiasm. She had prefigured her small
pilgrimage as made in solitude; she should like it better so. She was nevertheless
prepared to sacrifice this mystic sentiment to her great consideration for her
That personage finely meditated. "After all, why should we both go; having, each
of us, so much to do during these last hours?"
"Very good; I can easily go alone."
"I don't know about your going alone--to the house of a handsome bachelor. He
has been married--but so long ago!"
Isabel stared. "When Mr. Osmond's away what does it matter?"
"They don't know he's away, you see."
"They? Whom do you mean?"
"Every one. But perhaps it doesn't signify."
"If you were going why shouldn't I?" Isabel asked.
"Because I'm an old frump and you're a beautiful young woman."
"Granting all that, you've not promised."
"How much you think of your promises!" said the elder woman in mild mockery.
"I think a great deal of my promises. Does that surprise you?"
"You're right," Madame Merle audibly reflected. "I really think you wish to be kind
to the child."
"I wish very much to be kind to her."