"That's what Mr. Goodwood said to me. I told him I must take the risks."
"You're a creature of risks — you make me shudder!" cried Henrietta. "When does Mr. Goodwood return to America?"
"I don't know — he didn't tell me."
"Perhaps you didn't enquire," said Henrietta with the note of righteous irony.
"I gave him too little satisfaction to have the right to ask questions of him."
This assertion seemed to Miss Stackpole for a moment to bid defiance to comment; but at last she exclaimed: "Well, Isabel, if I didn't know you I might think you were heartless!"
"Take care," said Isabel; "you're spoiling me."
"I'm afraid I've done that already. I hope, at least," Miss Stackpole added, "that he may cross with Annie Climber!"
Isabel learned from her the next morning that she had determined not to return to Gardencourt (where old Mr. Touchett had promised her a renewed welcome), but to await in London the arrival of the invitation that Mr. Bantling had promised her from his sister Lady Pensil. Miss Stackpole related very freely her conversation with Ralph Touchett's sociable friend and declared to Isabel that she really believed she had now got hold of something that would lead to something. On the receipt of Lady Pensil's letter — Mr. Bantling had virtually guaranteed the arrival of this document — she would immediately depart for Bedfordshire, and if Isabel cared to look out for her impressions in the Interviewer she would certainly find them. Henrietta was evidently going to see something of the inner life this time.
"Do you know where you're drifting, Henrietta Stackpole?" Isabel asked, imitating the tone in which her friend had spoken the night before.
"I'm drifting to a big position — that of the Queen of American Journalism. If my next letter isn't copied all over the West I'll swallow my penwiper!"
She had arranged with her friend Miss Annie Climber, the young lady of the continental offers, that they should go together to make those purchases which were to constitute Miss Climber's farewell to a hemisphere in which she at least had been appreciated; and she presently repaired to Jermyn Street to pick up her companion. Shortly after her departure Ralph Touchett was announced, and as soon as he came in Isabel saw he had something on his mind. He very soon took his cousin into his confidence. He had received from his mother a telegram to the effect that his father had had a sharp attack of his old malady, that she was much alarmed and that she begged he would instantly return to Gardencourt. On this occasion at least Mrs. Touchett's devotion to the electric wire was not open to criticism.
"I've judged it best to see the great doctor, Sir Matthew Hope, first," Ralph said; "by great good luck he's in town. He's to see me at half-past twelve, and I shall make sure of his coming down to Gardencourt — which he will do the more readily as he has already seen my father several times, both there and in London. There's an express at two-forty-five, which I shall take; and you'll come back with me or remain here a few days longer, exactly as you prefer."
"I shall certainly go with you," Isabel returned. "I don't suppose I can be of any use to my uncle, but if he's ill I shall like to be near him."
"I think you're fond of him," said Ralph with a certain shy pleasure in his face. "You appreciate him, which all the world hasn't done. The quality's too fine."
"I quite adore him," Isabel after a moment said.
"That's very well. After his son he's your greatest admirer." She welcomed this assurance, but she gave secretly a small sigh of relief at the thought that Mr. Touchett was one of those admirers who couldn't propose to marry her. This, however, was not what she spoke; she went on to inform Ralph that there were other reasons for her not remaining in London. She was tired of it and wished to leave it; and then Henrietta was going away — going to stay in Bedfordshire.
"With Lady Pensil, the sister of Mr. Bantling, who has answered for an invitation."
Ralph was feeling anxious, but at this he broke into a laugh. Suddenly, none the less, his gravity returned. "Bantling's a man of courage. But if the invitation should get lost on the way?"
"I thought the British post-office was impeccable."
"The good Homer sometimes nods," said Ralph. "However," he went on more brightly, "the good Bantling never does, and, whatever happens, he'll take care of Henrietta."
Ralph went to keep his appointment with Sir Matthew Hope, and Isabel made her arrangements for quitting Pratt's Hotel. Her uncle's danger touched her nearly, and while she stood before her open trunk, looking about her vaguely for what she should put into it, the tears suddenly rose to her eyes. It was perhaps for this reason that when Ralph came back at two o'clock to take her to the station she was not yet ready. He found Miss Stackpole, however, in the sitting-room, where she had just risen from her luncheon, and this lady immediately expressed her regret at his father's illness.
"He's a grand old man," she said; "he's faithful to the last. If it's really to be the last — pardon my alluding to it, but you must often have thought of the possibility — I'm sorry that I shall not be at Gardencourt."