The Portrait of a Lady HTML version

Chapter 18
It had occurred to Ralph that, in the conditions, Isabel's parting with her friend
might be of a slightly embarrassed nature, and he went down to the door of the
hotel in advance of his cousin, who, after a slight delay, followed with the traces
of an unaccepted remonstrance, as he thought, in her eyes. The two made the
journey to Gardencourt in almost unbroken silence, and the servant who met
them at the station had no better news to give them of Mr. Touchett--a fact which
caused Ralph to congratulate himself afresh on Sir Matthew Hope's having
promised to come down in the five o'clock train and spend the night. Mrs.
Touchett, he learned, on reaching home, had been constantly with the old man
and was with him at that moment; and this fact made Ralph say to himself that,
after all, what his mother wanted was just easy occasion. The finer natures were
those that shone at the larger times. Isabel went to her own room, noting
throughout the house that perceptible hush which precedes a crisis. At the end of
an hour, however, she came downstairs in search of her aunt, whom she wished
to ask about Mr. Touchett. She went into the library, but Mrs. Touchett was not
there, and as the weather, which had been damp and chill, was now altogether
spoiled, it was not probable she had gone for her usual walk in the grounds.
Isabel was on the point of ringing to send a question to her room, when this
purpose quickly yielded to an unexpected sound-- the sound of low music
proceeding apparently from the saloon. She knew her aunt never touched the
piano, and the musician was therefore probably Ralph, who played for his own
amusement. That he should have resorted to this recreation at the present time
indicated apparently that his anxiety about his father had been relieved; so that
the girl took her way, almost with restored cheer, toward the source of the
harmony. The drawing-room at Gardencourt was an apartment of great
distances, and, as the piano was placed at the end of it furthest removed from
the door at which she entered, her arrival was not noticed by the person seated
before the instrument. This person was neither Ralph nor his mother; it was a
lady whom Isabel immediately saw to be a stranger to herself, though her back
was presented to the door. This back--an ample and well-dressed one--Isabel
viewed for some moments with surprise. The lady was of course a visitor who
had arrived during her absence and who had not been mentioned by either of the
servants--one of them her aunt's maid--of whom she had had speech since her
return. Isabel had already learned, however, with what treasures of reserve the
function of receiving orders may be accompanied, and she was particularly
conscious of having been treated with dryness by her aunt's maid, through
whose hands she had slipped perhaps a little too mistrustfully and with an effect
of plumage but the more lustrous. The advent of a guest was in itself far from
disconcerting; she had not yet divested herself of a young faith that each new
acquaintance would exert some momentous influence on her life. By the time she
had made these reflexions she became aware that the lady at the piano played
remarkably well. She was playing something of Schubert's--Isabel knew not
what, but recognised Schubert--and she touched the piano with a discretion of