Part 3 out of 7
"You ought to understand it, Mrs. Osmond. But I do want to
marry," he added more simply.
"It ought to be very easy," Isabel said, rising--after which she
reflected, with a pang perhaps too visible, that she was hardly
the person to say this. It was perhaps because Lord Warburton
divined the pang that he generously forbore to call her attention
to her not having contributed then to the facility.
Edward Rosier had meanwhile seated himself on an ottoman beside
Pansy's tea-table. He pretended at first to talk to her about
trifles, and she asked him who was the new gentleman conversing
with her stepmother.
"He's an English lord," said Rosier. "I don't know more."
"I wonder if he'll have some tea. The English are so fond of
"Never mind that; I've something particular to say to you."
"Don't speak so loud every one will hear," said Pansy.
"They won't hear if you continue to look that way: as if your
only thought in life was the wish the kettle would boil."
"It has just been filled; the servants never know!"--and she
sighed with the weight of her responsibility.
"Do you know what your father said to me just now? That you
didn't mean what you said a week ago."
"I don't mean everything I say. How can a young girl do that? But
I mean what I say to you."
"He told me you had forgotten me."
"Ah no, I don't forget," said Pansy, showing her pretty teeth in
a fixed smile.
"Then everything's just the very same?"
"Ah no, not the very same. Papa has been terribly severe."
"What has he done to you?"
"He asked me what you had done to me, and I told him everything.
Then he forbade me to marry you."
"You needn't mind that."
"Oh yes, I must indeed. I can't disobey papa."
"Not for one who loves you as I do, and whom you pretend to
She raised the lid of the tea-pot, gazing into this vessel for a
moment; then she dropped six words into its aromatic depths. "I
love you just as much."
"What good will that do me?"
"Ah," said Pansy, raising her sweet, vague eyes, "I don't know
"You disappoint me," groaned poor Rosier.
She was silent a little; she handed a tea-cup to a servant.
"Please don't talk any more."
"Is this to be all my satisfaction?"
"Papa said I was not to talk with you."
"Do you sacrifice me like that? Ah, it's too much!"
"I wish you'd wait a little," said the girl in a voice just
distinct enough to betray a quaver.
"Of course I'll wait if you'll give me hope. But you take my life
"I'll not give you up--oh no!" Pansy went on.
"He'll try and make you marry some one else."
"I'll never do that."
"What then are we to wait for?"
She hesitated again. "I'll speak to Mrs. Osmond and she'll help
us." It was in this manner that she for the most part designated
"She won't help us much. She's afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of your father, I suppose."
Pansy shook her little head. "She's not afraid of any one. We
must have patience."
"Ah, that's an awful word," Rosier groaned; he was deeply
disconcerted. Oblivious of the customs of good society, he
dropped his head into his hands and, supporting it with a
melancholy grace, sat staring at the carpet. Presently he became
aware of a good deal of movement about him and, as he looked up,
saw Pansy making a curtsey--it was still her little curtsey of
the convent--to the English lord whom Mrs. Osmond had introduced.
It will probably not surprise the reflective reader that Ralph
Touchett should have seen less of his cousin since her marriage
than he had done before that event--an event of which he took
such a view as could hardly prove a confirmation of intimacy. He
had uttered his thought, as we know, and after this had held his
peace, Isabel not having invited him to resume a discussion which
marked an era in their relations. That discussion had made a
difference--the difference he feared rather than the one he
hoped. It had not chilled the girl's zeal in carrying out her
engagement, but it had come dangerously near to spoiling a
friendship. No reference was ever again made between them to
Ralph's opinion of Gilbert Osmond, and by surrounding this topic
with a sacred silence they managed to preserve a semblance of
reciprocal frankness. But there was a difference, as Ralph often
said to himself--there was a difference. She had not forgiven
him, she never would forgive him: that was all he had gained. She
thought she had forgiven him; she believed she didn't care; and
as she was both very generous and very proud these convictions
represented a certain reality. But whether or no the event should
justify him he would virtually have done her a wrong, and the
wrong was of the sort that women remember best. As Osmond's wife
she could never again be his friend. If in this character she
should enjoy the felicity she expected, she would have nothing
but contempt for the man who had attempted, in advance, to
undermine a blessing so dear; and if on the other hand his
warning should be justified the vow she had taken that he should
never know it would lay upon her spirit such a burden as to make
her hate him. So dismal had been, during the year that followed
his cousin's marriage, Ralph's prevision of the future; and if
his meditations appear morbid we must remember he was not in the
bloom of health. He consoled himself as he might by behaving (as
he deemed) beautifully, and was present at the ceremony by which
Isabel was united to Mr. Osmond, and which was performed in
Florence in the month of June. He learned from his mother that
Isabel at first had thought of celebrating her nuptials in her
native land, but that as simplicity was what she chiefly desired
to secure she had finally decided, in spite of Osmond's professed
willingness to make a journey of any length, that this
characteristic would be best embodied in their being married by
the nearest clergyman in the shortest time. The thing was done
therefore at the little American chapel, on a very hot day, in
the presence only of Mrs. Touchett and her son, of Pansy Osmond
and the Countess Gemini. That severity in the proceedings of
which I just spoke was in part the result of the absence of two
persons who might have been looked for on the occasion and who
would have lent it a certain richness. Madame Merle had been
invited, but Madame Merle, who was unable to leave Rome, had
written a gracious letter of excuses. Henrietta Stackpole had not
been invited, as her departure from America, announced to Isabel
by Mr. Goodwood, was in fact frustrated by the duties of her
profession; but she had sent a letter, less gracious than Madame
Merle's, intimating that, had she been able to cross the
Atlantic, she would have been present not only as a witness but
as a critic. Her return to Europe had taken place somewhat later,
and she had effected a meeting with Isabel in the autumn, in
Paris, when she had indulged--perhaps a trifle too freely--her
critical genius. Poor Osmond, who was chiefly the subject of it,
had protested so sharply that Henrietta was obliged to declare to
Isabel that she had taken a step which put a barrier between
them. "It isn't in the least that you've married--it is that you
have married HIM," she had deemed it her duty to remark;
agreeing, it will be seen, much more with Ralph Touchett than she
suspected, though she had few of his hesitations and
compunctions. Henrietta's second visit to Europe, however, was
not apparently to have been made in vain; for just at the moment
when Osmond had declared to Isabel that he really must object to
that newspaper-woman, and Isabel had answered that it seemed to
her he took Henrietta too hard, the good Mr. Bantling had
appeared upon the scene and proposed that they should take a run
down to Spain. Henrietta's letters from Spain had proved the most
acceptable she had yet published, and there had been one in
especial, dated from the Alhambra and entitled 'Moors and
Moonlight,' which generally passed for her masterpiece. Isabel
had been secretly disappointed at her husband's not seeing his
way simply to take the poor girl for funny. She even wondered if
his sense of fun, or of the funny--which would be his sense of
humour, wouldn't it?--were by chance defective. Of course she
herself looked at the matter as a person whose present happiness
had nothing to grudge to Henrietta's violated conscience. Osmond
had thought their alliance a kind of monstrosity; he couldn't
imagine what they had in common. For him, Mr. Bantling's fellow
tourist was simply the most vulgar of women, and he had also
pronounced her the most abandoned. Against this latter clause
of the verdict Isabel had appealed with an ardour that had made
him wonder afresh at the oddity of some of his wife's tastes.
Isabel could explain it only by saying that she liked to know
people who were as different as possible from herself. "Why then
don't you make the acquaintance of your washerwoman?" Osmond had
enquired; to which Isabel had answered that she was afraid her
washerwoman wouldn't care for her. Now Henrietta cared so much.
Ralph had seen nothing of her for the greater part of the two
years that had followed her marriage; the winter that formed the
beginning of her residence in Rome he had spent again at San
Remo, where he had been joined in the spring by his mother, who
afterwards had gone with him to England, to see what they were
doing at the bank--an operation she couldn't induce him to
perform. Ralph had taken a lease of his house at San Remo, a
small villa which he had occupied still another winter; but late
in the month of April of this second year he had come down to
Rome. It was the first time since her marriage that he had stood
face to face with Isabel; his desire to see her again was then of
the keenest. She had written to him from time to time, but her
letters told him nothing he wanted to know. He had asked his
mother what she was making of her life, and his mother had simply
answered that she supposed she was making the best of it. Mrs.
Touchett had not the imagination that communes with the unseen,
and she now pretended to no intimacy with her niece, whom she
rarely encountered. This young woman appeared to be living in a
sufficiently honourable way, but Mrs. Touchett still remained of
the opinion that her marriage had been a shabby affair. It had
given her no pleasure to think of Isabel's establishment, which
she was sure was a very lame business. From time to time, in
Florence, she rubbed against the Countess Gemini, doing her best
always to minimise the contact; and the Countess reminded her of
Osmond, who made her think of Isabel. The Countess was less
talked of in these days; but Mrs. Touchett augured no good of
that: it only proved how she had been talked of before. There was
a more direct suggestion of Isabel in the person of Madame Merle;
but Madame Merle's relations with Mrs. Touchett had undergone a
perceptible change. Isabel's aunt had told her, without
circumlocution, that she had played too ingenious a part; and
Madame Merle, who never quarrelled with any one, who appeared to
think no one worth it, and who had performed the miracle of
living, more or less, for several years with Mrs. Touchett and
showing no symptom of irritation--Madame Merle now took a very
high tone and declared that this was an accusation from which she
couldn't stoop to defend herself. She added, however (without
stooping), that her behaviour had been only too simple, that she
had believed only what she saw, that she saw Isabel was not eager
to marry and Osmond not eager to please (his repeated visits had
been nothing; he was boring himself to death on his hill-top and
he came merely for amusement). Isabel had kept her sentiments to
herself, and her journey to Greece and Egypt had effectually
thrown dust in her companion's eyes. Madame Merle accepted the
event--she was unprepared to think of it as a scandal; but that
she had played any part in it, double or single, was an
imputation against which she proudly protested. It was doubtless
in consequence of Mrs. Touchett's attitude, and of the injury it
offered to habits consecrated by many charming seasons, that
Madame Merle had, after this, chosen to pass many months in
England, where her credit was quite unimpaired. Mrs. Touchett had
done her a wrong; there are some things that can't be forgiven.
But Madame Merle suffered in silence; there was always something
exquisite in her dignity.
Ralph, as I say, had wished to see for himself; but while engaged
in this pursuit he had yet felt afresh what a fool he had been to
put the girl on her guard. He had played the wrong card, and now
he had lost the game. He should see nothing, he should learn
nothing; for him she would always wear a mask. His true line
would have been to profess delight in her union, so that later,
when, as Ralph phrased it, the bottom should fall out of it, she
might have the pleasure of saying to him that he had been a
goose. He would gladly have consented to pass for a goose in
order to know Isabel's real situation. At present, however, she
neither taunted him with his fallacies nor pretended that her own
confidence was justified; if she wore a mask it completely
covered her face. There was something fixed and mechanical in the
serenity painted on it; this was not an expression, Ralph said--
it was a representation, it was even an advertisement. She had
lost her child; that was a sorrow, but it was a sorrow she
scarcely spoke of; there was more to say about it than she could
say to Ralph. It belonged to the past, moreover; it had occurred
six months before and she had already laid aside the tokens of
mourning. She appeared to be leading the life of the world; Ralph
heard her spoken of as having a "charming position." He observed
that she produced the impression of being peculiarly enviable,
that it was supposed, among many people, to be a privilege even
to know her. Her house was not open to every one, and she had an
evening in the week to which people were not invited as a matter
of course. She lived with a certain magnificence, but you needed
to be a member of her circle to perceive it; for there was
nothing to gape at, nothing to criticise, nothing even to admire,
in the daily proceedings of Mr. and Mrs. Osmond. Ralph, in all
this, recognised the hand of the master; for he knew that Isabel
had no faculty for producing studied impressions. She struck him
as having a great love of movement, of gaiety, of late hours, of
long rides, of fatigue; an eagerness to be entertained, to be
interested, even to be bored, to make acquaintances, to see
people who were talked about, to explore the neighbourhood of
Rome, to enter into relation with certain of the mustiest relics
of its old society. In all this there was much less discrimination
than in that desire for comprehensiveness of development on which
he had been used to exercise his wit. There was a kind of
violence in some of her impulses, of crudity in some of her
experiments, which took him by surprise: it seemed to him that
she even spoke faster, moved faster, breathed faster, than before
her marriage. Certainly she had fallen into exaggerations--she
who used to care so much for the pure truth; and whereas of old
she had a great delight in good-humoured argument, in
intellectual play (she never looked so charming as when in the
genial heat of discussion she received a crushing blow full in
the face and brushed it away as a feather), she appeared now to
think there was nothing worth people's either differing about or
agreeing upon. Of old she had been curious, and now she was
indifferent, and yet in spite of her indifference her activity
was greater than ever. Slender still, but lovelier than before,
she had gained no great maturity of aspect; yet there was an
amplitude and a brilliancy in her personal arrangements that gave
a touch of insolence to her beauty. Poor human-hearted Isabel,
what perversity had bitten her? Her light step drew a mass of
drapery behind it; her intelligent head sustained a majesty of
ornament. The free, keen girl had become quite another person;
what he saw was the fine lady who was supposed to represent
something. What did Isabel represent? Ralph asked himself; and he
could only answer by saying that she represented Gilbert Osmond.
"Good heavens, what a function!" he then woefully exclaimed. He
was lost in wonder at the mystery of things.
He recognised Osmond, as I say; he recognised him at every turn.
He saw how he kept all things within limits; how he adjusted,
regulated, animated their manner of life. Osmond was in his
element; at last he had material to work with. He always had an
eye to effect, and his effects were deeply calculated. They were
produced by no vulgar means, but the motive was as vulgar as the
art was great. To surround his interior with a sort of invidious
sanctity, to tantalise society with a sense of exclusion, to make
people believe his house was different from every other, to
impart to the face that he presented to the world a cold
originality--this was the ingenious effort of the personage to
whom Isabel had attributed a superior morality. "He works with
superior material," Ralph said to himself; "it's rich abundance
compared with his former resources." Ralph was a clever man; but
Ralph had never--to his own sense--been so clever as when he
observed, in petto, that under the guise of caring only for
intrinsic values Osmond lived exclusively for the world. Far from
being its master as he pretended to be, he was its very humble
servant, and the degree of its attention was his only measure of
success. He lived with his eye on it from morning till night, and
the world was so stupid it never suspected the trick. Everything
he did was pose--pose so subtly considered that if one were not
on the lookout one mistook it for impulse. Ralph had never met a
man who lived so much in the land of consideration. His tastes,
his studies, his accomplishments, his collections, were all for a
purpose. His life on his hill-top at Florence had been the
conscious attitude of years. His solitude, his ennui, his love
for his daughter, his good manners, his bad manners, were so many
features of a mental image constantly present to him as a model
of impertinence and mystification. His ambition was not to please
the world, but to please himself by exciting the world's
curiosity and then declining to satisfy it. It had made him feel
great, ever, to play the world a trick. The thing he had done in
his life most directly to please himself was his marrying Miss
Archer; though in this case indeed the gullible world was in a
manner embodied in poor Isabel, who had been mystified to the top
of her bent. Ralph of course found a fitness in being consistent;
he had embraced a creed, and as he had suffered for it he could
not in honour forsake it. I give this little sketch of its
articles for what they may at the time have been worth. It was
certain that he was very skilful in fitting the facts to his
theory--even the fact that during the month he spent in Rome at
this period the husband of the woman he loved appeared to regard
him not in the least as an enemy.
For Gilbert Osmond Ralph had not now that importance. It was not
that he had the importance of a friend; it was rather that he had
none at all. He was Isabel's cousin and he was rather unpleasantly
ill--it was on this basis that Osmond treated with him. He made
the proper enquiries, asked about his health, about Mrs.
Touchett, about his opinion of winter climates, whether he were
comfortable at his hotel. He addressed him, on the few occasions
of their meeting, not a word that was not necessary; but his
manner had always the urbanity proper to conscious success in the
presence of conscious failure. For all this, Ralph had had,
toward the end, a sharp inward vision of Osmond's making it of
small ease to his wife that she should continue to receive
Mr. Touchett. He was not jealous--he had not that excuse; no one
could be jealous of Ralph. But he made Isabel pay for her
old-time kindness, of which so much was still left; and as Ralph
had no idea of her paying too much, so when his suspicion had
become sharp, he had taken himself off. In doing so he had
deprived Isabel of a very interesting occupation: she had been
constantly wondering what fine principle was keeping him alive.
She had decided that it was his love of conversation; his
conversation had been better than ever. He had given up walking;
be was no longer a humorous stroller. He sat all day in a chair
--almost any chair would serve, and was so dependent on what you
would do for him that, had not his talk been highly
contemplative, you might have thought he was blind. The reader
already knows more about him than Isabel was ever to know, and
the reader may therefore be given the key to the mystery. What
kept Ralph alive was simply the fact that he had not yet seen
enough of the person in the world in whom he was most interested:
he was not yet satisfied. There was more to come; he couldn't
make up his mind to lose that. He wanted to see what she would
make of her husband--or what her husband would make of her. This
was only the first act of the drama, and he was determined to sit
out the performance. His determination had held good; it had kept
him going some eighteen months more, till the time of his return
to Rome with Lord Warburton. It had given him indeed such an air
of intending to live indefinitely that Mrs. Touchett, though more
accessible to confusions of thought in the matter of this
strange, unremunerative--and unremunerated--son of hers than she
had ever been before, had, as we have learned, not scrupled to
embark for a distant land. If Ralph had been kept alive by
suspense it was with a good deal of the same emotion--the
excitement of wondering in what state she should find him--that
Isabel mounted to his apartment the day after Lord Warburton had
notified her of his arrival in Rome.
She spent an hour with him; it was the first of several visits.
Gilbert Osmond called on him punctually, and on their sending
their carriage for him Ralph came more than once to Palazzo
Roccanera. A fortnight elapsed, at the end of which Ralph
announced to Lord Warburton that he thought after all he wouldn't
go to Sicily. The two men had been dining together after a day
spent by the latter in ranging about the Campagna. They had left
the table, and Warburton, before the chimney, was lighting a
cigar, which he instantly removed from his lips.
"Won't go to Sicily? Where then will you go?"
"Well, I guess I won't go anywhere," said Ralph, from the sofa,
"Do you mean you'll return to England?"
"Oh dear no; I'll stay in Rome."
"Rome won't do for you. Rome's not warm enough."
"It will have to do. I'll make it do. See how well I've been."
Lord Warburton looked at him a while, puffing a cigar and as if
trying to see it. "You've been better than you were on the
journey, certainly. I wonder how you lived through that. But I
don't understand your condition. I recommend you to try Sicily."
"I can't try," said poor Ralph. "I've done trying. I can't move
further. I can't face that journey. Fancy me between Scylla and
Charybdis! I don't want to die on the Sicilian plains--to be
snatched away, like Proserpine in the same locality, to the
"What the deuce then did you come for?" his lordship enquired.
"Because the idea took me. I see it won't do. It really doesn't
matter where I am now. I've exhausted all remedies, I've
swallowed all climates. As I'm here I'll stay. I haven't a single
cousin in Sicily--much less a married one."
"Your cousin's certainly an inducement. But what does the doctor
"I haven't asked him, and I don't care a fig. If I die here Mrs.
Osmond will bury me. But I shall not die here."
"I hope not." Lord Warburton continued to smoke reflectively.
"Well, I must say," he resumed, "for myself I'm very glad you
don't insist on Sicily. I had a horror of that journey."
"Ah, but for you it needn't have mattered. I had no idea of
dragging you in my train."
"I certainly didn't mean to let you go alone."
"My dear Warburton, I never expected you to come further than
this," Ralph cried.
"I should have gone with you and seen you settled," said Lord
"You're a very good Christian. You're a very kind man."
"Then I should have come back here."
"And then you'd have gone to England."
"No, no; I should have stayed."
"Well," said Ralph, "if that's what we are both up to, I don't
see where Sicily comes in!"
His companion was silent; he sat staring at the fire. At last,
looking up, "I say, tell me this," he broke out; "did you really
mean to go to Sicily when we started?"
"Ah, vous m'en demandez trop! Let me put a question first. Did
you come with me quite--platonically?"
"I don't know what you mean by that. I wanted to come abroad."
"I suspect we've each been playing our little game."
"Speak for yourself. I made no secret whatever of my desiring to
be here a while."
"Yes, I remember you said you wished to see the Minister of
"I've seen him three times. He's very amusing."
"I think you've forgotten what you came for," said Ralph.
"Perhaps I have," his companion answered rather gravely.
These two were gentlemen of a race which is not distinguished by
the absence of reserve, and they had travelled together from
London to Rome without an allusion to matters that were uppermost
in the mind of each. There was an old subject they had once
discussed, but it had lost its recognised place in their attention,
and even after their arrival in Rome, where many things led back
to it, they had kept the same half-diffident, half-confident
"I recommend you to get the doctor's consent, all the same," Lord
Warburton went on, abruptly, after an interval.
"The doctor's consent will spoil it. I never have it when I can
"What then does Mrs. Osmond think?" Ralph's friend demanded.
I've not told her. She'll probably say that Rome's too cold and
even offer to go with me to Catania. She's capable of that."
"In your place I should like it."
"Her husband won't like it."
"Ah well, I can fancy that; though it seems to me you're not
bound to mind his likings. They're his affair."
"I don't want to make any more trouble between them," said Ralph.
"Is there so much already?"
"There's complete preparation for it. Her going off with me would
make the explosion. Osmond isn't fond of his wife's cousin."
"Then of course he'd make a row. But won't he make a row if you
"That's what I want to see. He made one the last time I was in
Rome, and then I thought it my duty to disappear. Now I think
it's my duty to stop and defend her."
"My dear Touchett, your defensive powers--!" Lord Warburton began
with a smile. But he saw something in his companion's face that
checked him. "Your duty, in these premises, seems to me rather a
nice question," he observed instead.
Ralph for a short time answered nothing. "It's true that my
defensive powers are small," he returned at last; "but as my
aggressive ones are still smaller Osmond may after all not think
me worth his gunpowder. At any rate," he added, "there are things
I'm curious to see."
"You're sacrificing your health to your curiosity then?"
"I'm not much interested in my health, and I'm deeply interested
in Mrs. Osmond."
"So am I. But not as I once was," Lord Warburton added quickly.
This was one of the allusions he had not hitherto found occasion
"Does she strike you as very happy?" Ralph enquired, emboldened
by this confidence.
"Well, I don't know; I've hardly thought. She told me the other
night she was happy."
"Ah, she told YOU, of course," Ralph exclaimed, smiling.
"I don't know that. It seems to me I was rather the sort of
person she might have complained to."
"Complained? She'll never complain. She has done it--what she HAS
done--and she knows it. She'll complain to you least of all.
She's very careful."
"She needn't be. I don't mean to make love to her again."
"I'm delighted to hear it. There can be no doubt at least of YOUR
"Ah no," said Lord Warburton gravely; "none!"
"Permit me to ask," Ralph went on, "whether it's to bring out the
fact that you don't mean to make love to her that you're so very
civil to the little girl?"
Lord Warburton gave a slight start; he got up and stood before
the fire, looking at it hard. "Does that strike you as very
"Ridiculous? Not in the least, if you really like her."
"I think her a delightful little person. I don't know when a girl
of that age has pleased me more."
"She's a charming creature. Ah, she at least is genuine."
"Of course there's the difference in our ages--more than twenty
"My dear Warburton," said Ralph, "are you serious?"
"Perfectly serious--as far as I've got."
"I'm very glad. And, heaven help us," cried Ralph, "how
cheered-up old Osmond will be!"
His companion frowned. "I say, don't spoil it. I shouldn't
propose for his daughter to please HIM."
"He'll have the perversity to be pleased all the same."
"He's not so fond of me as that," said his lordship.
"As that? My dear Warburton, the drawback of your position is
that people needn't be fond of you at all to wish to be connected
with you. Now, with me in such a case, I should have the happy
confidence that they loved me."
Lord Warburton seemed scarcely in the mood for doing justice to
general axioms--he was thinking of a special case. "Do you judge
she'll be pleased?"
"The girl herself? Delighted, surely."
"No, no; I mean Mrs. Osmond."
Ralph looked at him a moment. "My dear fellow, what has she to do
"Whatever she chooses. She's very fond of Pansy."
"Very true--very true." And Ralph slowly got up. "It's an
interesting question--how far her fondness for Pansy will carry
her." He stood there a moment with his hands in his pockets and
rather a clouded brow. "I hope, you know, that you're very--very
sure. The deuce!" he broke off. "I don't know how to say it."
"Yes, you do; you know how to say everything."
"Well, it's awkward. I hope you're sure that among Miss Osmond's
merits her being--a--so near her stepmother isn't a leading one?"
"Good heavens, Touchett!" cried Lord Warburton angrily, "for what
do you take me?"
Isabel had not seen much of Madame Merle since her marriage, this
lady having indulged in frequent absences from Rome. At one time
she had spent six months in England; at another she had passed a
portion of a winter in Paris. She had made numerous visits to
distant friends and gave countenance to the idea that for the
future she should be a less inveterate Roman than in the past. As
she had been inveterate in the past only in the sense of
constantly having an apartment in one of the sunniest niches of
the Pincian--an apartment which often stood empty--this suggested
a prospect of almost constant absence; a danger which Isabel at
one period had been much inclined to deplore. Familiarity had
modified in some degree her first impression of Madame Merle, but
it had not essentially altered it; there was still much wonder of
admiration in it. That personage was armed at all points; it was
a pleasure to see a character so completely equipped for the
social battle. She carried her flag discreetly, but her weapons
were polished steel, and she used them with a skill which struck
Isabel as more and more that of a veteran. She was never weary,
never overcome with disgust; she never appeared to need rest or
consolation. She had her own ideas; she had of old exposed a
great many of them to Isabel, who knew also that under an
appearance of extreme self-control her highly-cultivated friend
concealed a rich sensibility. But her will was mistress of her
life; there was something gallant in the way she kept going. It
was as if she had learned the secret of it--as if the art of life
were some clever trick she had guessed. Isabel, as she herself
grew older, became acquainted with revulsions, with disgusts;
there were days when the world looked black and she asked herself
with some sharpness what it was that she was pretending to live
for. Her old habit had been to live by enthusiasm, to fall in
love with suddenly-perceived possibilities, with the idea of some
new adventure. As a younger person she had been used to proceed
from one little exaltation to the other: there were scarcely any
dull places between. But Madame Merle had suppressed enthusiasm;
she fell in love now-a-days with nothing; she lived entirely by
reason and by wisdom. There were hours when Isabel would have
given anything for lessons in this art; if her brilliant friend
had been near she would have made an appeal to her. She had
become aware more than before of the advantage of being like that
--of having made one's self a firm surface, a sort of corselet of
But, as I say, it was not till the winter during which we lately
renewed acquaintance with our heroine that the personage in
question made again a continuous stay in Rome. Isabel now saw
more of her than she had done since her marriage; but by this
time Isabel's needs and inclinations had considerably changed. It
was not at present to Madame Merle that she would have applied
for instruction; she had lost the desire to know this lady's
clever trick. If she had troubles she must keep them to herself,
and if life was difficult it would not make it easier to confess
herself beaten. Madame Merle was doubtless of great use to
herself and an ornament to any circle; but was she--would she be
--of use to others in periods of refined embarrassment? The best
way to profit by her friend--this indeed Isabel had always
thought--was to imitate her, to be as firm and bright as she. She
recognised no embarrassments, and Isabel, considering this fact,
determined for the fiftieth time to brush aside her own. It
seemed to her too, on the renewal of an intercourse which had
virtually been interrupted, that her old ally was different, was
almost detached--pushing to the extreme a certain rather
artificial fear of being indiscreet. Ralph Touchett, we know, had
been of the opinion that she was prone to exaggeration, to
forcing the note--was apt, in the vulgar phrase, to overdo it.
Isabel had never admitted this charge--had never indeed quite
understood it; Madame Merle's conduct, to her perception, always
bore the stamp of good taste, was always "quiet." But in this
matter of not wishing to intrude upon the inner life of the
Osmond family it at last occurred to our young woman that she
overdid a little. That of course was not the best taste; that was
rather violent. She remembered too much that Isabel was married;
that she had now other interests; that though she, Madame Merle,
had known Gilbert Osmond and his little Pansy very well, better
almost than any one, she was not after all of the inner circle.
She was on her guard; she never spoke of their affairs till she
was asked, even pressed--as when her opinion was wanted; she had
a dread of seeming to meddle. Madame Merle was as candid as we
know, and one day she candidly expressed this dread to Isabel.
"I MUST be on my guard," she said; "I might so easily, without
suspecting it, offend you. You would be right to be offended,
even if my intention should have been of the purest. I must not
forget that I knew your husband long before you did; I must not
let that betray me. If you were a silly woman you might be
jealous. You're not a silly woman; I know that perfectly. But
neither am I; therefore I'm determined not to get into trouble. A
little harm's very soon done; a mistake's made before one knows
it. Of course if I had wished to make love to your husband I had
ten years to do it in, and nothing to prevent; so it isn't likely
I shall begin to-day, when I'm so much less attractive than I
was. But if I were to annoy you by seeming to take a place that
doesn't belong to me, you wouldn't make that reflection;
you'd simply say I was forgetting certain differences. I'm
determined not to forget them. Certainly a good friend isn't
always thinking of that; one doesn't suspect one's friends of
injustice. I don't suspect you, my dear, in the least; but I
suspect human nature. Don't think I make myself uncomfortable;
I'm not always watching myself. I think I sufficiently prove it
in talking to you as I do now. All I wish to say is, however,
that if you were to be jealous--that's the form it would take--I
should be sure to think it was a little my fault. It certainly
wouldn't be your husband's."
Isabel had had three years to think over Mrs. Touchett's theory
that Madame Merle had made Gilbert Osmond's marriage. We know how
she had at first received it. Madame Merle might have made
Gilbert Osmond's marriage, but she certainly had not made Isabel
Archer's. That was the work of--Isabel scarcely knew what: of
nature, providence, fortune, of the eternal mystery of things. It
was true her aunt's complaint had been not so much of Madame
Merle's activity as of her duplicity: she had brought about the
strange event and then she had denied her guilt. Such guilt would
not have been great, to Isabel's mind; she couldn't make a crime
of Madame Merle's having been the producing cause of the most
important friendship she had ever formed. This had occurred to
her just before her marriage, after her little discussion with
her aunt and at a time when she was still capable of that large
inward reference, the tone almost of the philosophic historian,
to her scant young annals. If Madame Merle had desired her change
of state she could only say it had been a very happy thought.
With her, moreover, she had been perfectly straightforward; she
had never concealed her high opinion of Gilbert Osmond. After
their union Isabel discovered that her husband took a less
convenient view of the matter; he seldom consented to finger, in
talk, this roundest and smoothest bead of their social rosary.
"Don't you like Madame Merle?" Isabel had once said to him. "She
thinks a great deal of you."
"I'll tell you once for all," Osmond had answered. "I liked her
once better than I do to-day. I'm tired of her, and I'm rather
ashamed of it. She's so almost unnaturally good! I'm glad she's
not in Italy; it makes for relaxation--for a sort of moral
detente. Don't talk of her too much; it seems to bring her
back. She'll come back in plenty of time."
Madame Merle, in fact, had come back before it was too late--too
late, I mean, to recover whatever advantage she might have lost.
But meantime, if, as I have said, she was sensibly different,
Isabel's feelings were also not quite the same. Her consciousness
of the situation was as acute as of old, but it was much less
satisfying. A dissatisfied mind, whatever else it may miss, is
rarely in want of reasons; they bloom as thick as buttercups in
June. The fact of Madame Merle's having had a hand in Gilbert
Osmond's marriage ceased to be one of her titles to
consideration; it might have been written, after all, that there
was not so much to thank her for. As time went on there was less
and less, and Isabel once said to herself that perhaps without
her these things would not have been. That reflection indeed was
instantly stifled; she knew an immediate horror at having made
it. "Whatever happens to me let me not be unjust," she said; "let
me bear my burdens myself and not shift them upon others!" This
disposition was tested, eventually, by that ingenious apology for
her present conduct which Madame Merle saw fit to make and of
which I have given a sketch; for there was something irritating--
there was almost an air of mockery--in her neat discriminations
and clear convictions. In Isabel's mind to-day there was nothing
clear; there was a confusion of regrets, a complication of fears.
She felt helpless as she turned away from her friend, who had
just made the statements I have quoted: Madame Merle knew so
little what she was thinking of! She was herself moreover so
unable to explain. Jealous of her--jealous of her with Gilbert?
The idea just then suggested no near reality. She almost wished
jealousy had been possible; it would have made in a manner for
refreshment. Wasn't it in a manner one of the symptoms of
happiness? Madame Merle, however, was wise, so wise that she
might have been pretending to know Isabel better than Isabel knew
herself. This young woman had always been fertile in resolutions
--any of them of an elevated character; but at no period had they
flourished (in the privacy of her heart) more richly than to-day.
It is true that they all had a family likeness; they might have
been summed up in the determination that if she was to be unhappy
it should not be by a fault of her own. Her poor winged spirit
had always had a great desire to do its best, and it had not as
yet been seriously discouraged. It wished, therefore, to hold
fast to justice--not to pay itself by petty revenges. To
associate Madame Merle with its disappointment would be a petty
revenge--especially as the pleasure to be derived from that would
be perfectly insincere. It might feed her sense of bitterness,
but it would not loosen her bonds. It was impossible to pretend
that she had not acted with her eyes open; if ever a girl was a
free agent she had been. A girl in love was doubtless not a free
agent; but the sole source of her mistake had been within
herself. There had been no plot, no snare; she had looked and
considered and chosen. When a woman had made such a mistake,
there was only one way to repair it--just immensely (oh, with the
highest grandeur!) to accept it. One folly was enough, especially
when it was to last for ever; a second one would not much set it
off. In this vow of reticence there was a certain nobleness which
kept Isabel going; but Madame Merle had been right, for all that,
in taking her precautions.
One day about a month after Ralph Touchett's arrival in Rome
Isabel came back from a walk with Pansy. It was not only a part
of her general determination to be just that she was at present
very thankful for Pansy--it was also a part of her tenderness for
things that were pure and weak. Pansy was dear to her, and there
was nothing else in her life that had the rightness of the young
creature's attachment or the sweetness of her own clearness about
it. It was like a soft presence--like a small hand in her own; on
Pansy's part it was more than an affection--it was a kind of
ardent coercive faith. On her own side her sense of the girl's
dependence was more than a pleasure; it operated as a definite
reason when motives threatened to fail her. She had said to
herself that we must take our duty where we find it, and that we
must look for it as much as possible. Pansy's sympathy was a
direct admonition; it seemed to say that here was an opportunity,
not eminent perhaps, but unmistakeable. Yet an opportunity for
what Isabel could hardly have said; in general, to be more for
the child than the child was able to be for herself. Isabel could
have smiled, in these days, to remember that her little companion
had once been ambiguous, for she now perceived that Pansy's
ambiguities were simply her own grossness of vision. She had been
unable to believe any one could care so much--so extraordinarily
much--to please. But since then she had seen this delicate
faculty in operation, and now she knew what to think of it. It
was the whole creature--it was a sort of genius. Pansy had no
pride to interfere with it, and though she was constantly
extending her conquests she took no credit for them. The two were
constantly together; Mrs. Osmond was rarely seen without her
stepdaughter. Isabel liked her company; it had the effect of
one's carrying a nosegay composed all of the same flower. And
then not to neglect Pansy, not under any provocation to neglect
her--this she had made an article of religion. The young girl had
every appearance of being happier in Isabel's society than in
that of any one save her father,--whom she admired with an
intensity justified by the fact that, as paternity was an
exquisite pleasure to Gilbert Osmond, he had always been
luxuriously mild. Isabel knew how Pansy liked to be with her and
how she studied the means of pleasing her. She had decided that
the best way of pleasing her was negative, and consisted in not
giving her trouble--a conviction which certainly could have had
no reference to trouble already existing. She was therefore
ingeniously passive and almost imaginatively docile; she was
careful even to moderate the eagerness with which she assented to
Isabel's propositions and which might have implied that she could
have thought otherwise. She never interrupted, never asked social
questions, and though she delighted in approbation, to the point
of turning pale when it came to her, never held out her hand for
it. She only looked toward it wistfully--an attitude which, as
she grew older, made her eyes the prettiest in the world. When
during the second winter at Palazzo Roccanera she began to go to
parties, to dances, she always, at a reasonable hour, lest Mrs.
Osmond should be tired, was the first to propose departure.
Isabel appreciated the sacrifice of the late dances, for she knew
her little companion had a passionate pleasure in this exercise,
taking her steps to the music like a conscientious fairy. Society,
moreover, had no drawbacks for her; she liked even the tiresome
parts--the heat of ball-rooms, the dulness of dinners, the crush
at the door, the awkward waiting for the carriage. During the day,
in this vehicle, beside her stepmother, she sat in a small fixed,
appreciative posture, bending forward and faintly smiling, as if
she had been taken to drive for the first time.
On the day I speak of they had been driven out of one of the
gates of the city and at the end of half an hour had left the
carriage to await them by the roadside while they walked away
over the short grass of the Campagna, which even in the winter
months is sprinkled with delicate flowers. This was almost a
daily habit with Isabel, who was fond of a walk and had a swift
length of step, though not so swift a one as on her first coming
to Europe. It was not the form of exercise that Pansy loved best,
but she liked it, because she liked everything; and she moved
with a shorter undulation beside her father's wife, who
afterwards, on their return to Rome, paid a tribute to her
preferences by making the circuit of the Pincian or the Villa
Borghese. She had gathered a handful of flowers in a sunny
hollow, far from the walls of Rome, and on reaching Palazzo
Roccanera she went straight to her room, to put them into water.
Isabel passed into the drawing-room, the one she herself usually
occupied, the second in order from the large ante-chamber which
was entered from the staircase and in which even Gilbert Osmond's
rich devices had not been able to correct a look of rather grand
nudity. Just beyond the threshold of the drawing-room she stopped
short, the reason for her doing so being that she had received an
impression. The impression had, in strictness, nothing
unprecedented; but she felt it as something new, and the
soundlessness of her step gave her time to take in the scene
before she interrupted it. Madame Merle was there in her bonnet,
and Gilbert Osmond was talking to her; for a minute they were
unaware she had come in. Isabel had often seen that before,
certainly; but what she had not seen, or at least had not
noticed, was that their colloquy had for the moment converted
itself into a sort of familiar silence, from which she instantly
perceived that her entrance would startle them. Madame Merle was
standing on the rug, a little way from the fire; Osmond was in a
deep chair, leaning back and looking at her. Her head was erect,
as usual, but her eyes were bent on his. What struck Isabel first
was that he was sitting while Madame Merle stood; there was an
anomaly in this that arrested her. Then she perceived that they
had arrived at a desultory pause in their exchange of ideas and
were musing, face to face, with the freedom of old friends who
sometimes exchange ideas without uttering them. There was nothing
to shock in this; they were old friends in fact. But the thing
made an image, lasting only a moment, like a sudden flicker of
light. Their relative positions, their absorbed mutual gaze,
struck her as something detected. But it was all over by the time
she had fairly seen it. Madame Merle had seen her and had
welcomed her without moving; her husband, on the other hand, had
instantly jumped up. He presently murmured something about
wanting a walk and, after having asked their visitor to excuse
him, left the room.
"I came to see you, thinking you would have come in; and as you
hadn't I waited for you," Madame Merle said.
"Didn't he ask you to sit down?" Isabel asked with a smile.
Madame Merle looked about her. "Ah, it's very true; I was going
"You must stay now."
"Certainly. I came for a reason; I've something on my mind."
"I've told you that before," Isabel said--"that it takes
something extraordinary to bring you to this house."
"And you know what I've told YOU; that whether I come or whether
I stay away, I've always the same motive--the affection I bear
"Yes, you've told me that."
"You look just now as if you didn't believe it," said Madame
"Ah," Isabel answered, "the profundity of your motives, that's
the last thing I doubt!"
"You doubt sooner of the sincerity of my words."
Isabel shook her head gravely. "I know you've always been kind to
"As often as you would let me. You don't always take it; then one
has to let you alone. It's not to do you a kindness, however,
that I've come to-day; it's quite another affair. I've come to
get rid of a trouble of my own--to make it over to you. I've been
talking to your husband about it."
"I'm surprised at that; he doesn't like troubles."
"Especially other people's; I know very well. But neither do you,
I suppose. At any rate, whether you do or not, you must help me.
It's about poor Mr. Rosier."
"Ah," said Isabel reflectively, "it's his trouble then, not yours."
"He has succeeded in saddling me with it. He comes to see me ten
times a week, to talk about Pansy."
"Yes, he wants to marry her. I know all about it."
Madame Merle hesitated. "I gathered from your husband that
perhaps you didn't."
"How should he know what I know? He has never spoken to me of the
"It's probably because he doesn't know how to speak of it."
"It's nevertheless the sort of question in which he's rarely at
"Yes, because as a general thing he knows perfectly well what to
think. To-day he doesn't."
"Haven't you been telling him?" Isabel asked.
Madame Merle gave a bright, voluntary smile. "Do you know you're
a little dry?"
"Yes; I can't help it. Mr. Rosier has also talked to me."
"In that there's some reason. You're so near the child."
"Ah," said Isabel, "for all the comfort I've given him! If you
think me dry, I wonder what HE thinks."
"I believe he thinks you can do more than you have done."
"I can do nothing."
"You can do more at least than I. I don't know what mysterious
connection he may have discovered between me and Pansy; but he
came to me from the first, as if I held his fortune in my hand.
Now he keeps coming back, to spur me up, to know what hope there
is, to pour out his feelings."
"He's very much in love," said Isabel.
"Very much--for him."
"Very much for Pansy, you might say as well."
Madame Merle dropped her eyes a moment. "Don't you think she's
"The dearest little person possible--but very limited."
"She ought to be all the easier for Mr. Rosier to love. Mr.
Rosier's not unlimited."
"No," said Isabel, "he has about the extent of one's
pocket-handkerchief--the small ones with lace borders." Her
humour had lately turned a good deal to sarcasm, but in a moment
she was ashamed of exercising it on so innocent an object as
Pansy's suitor. "He's very kind, very honest," she presently
added; "and he's not such a fool as he seems."
"He assures me that she delights in him," said Madame Merle.
"I don't know; I've not asked her."
"You've never sounded her a little?"
"It's not my place; it's her father's."
"Ah, you're too literal!" said Madame Merle.
"I must judge for myself."
Madame Merle gave her smile again. "It isn't easy to help you."
"To help me?" said Isabel very seriously. "What do you mean?"
"It's easy to displease you. Don't you see how wise I am to be
careful? I notify you, at any rate, as I notified Osmond, that I
wash my hands of the love-affairs of Miss Pansy and Mr. Edward
Rosier. Je n'y peux rien, moi! I can't talk to Pansy about him.
Especially," added Madame Merle, "as I don't think him a paragon
Isabel reflected a little; after which, with a smile, "You don't
wash your hands then!" she said. After which again she added in
another tone: "You can't--you're too much interested."
Madame Merle slowly rose; she had given Isabel a look as rapid as
the intimation that had gleamed before our heroine a few moments
before. Only this time the latter saw nothing. "Ask him the next
time, and you'll see."
"I can't ask him; he has ceased to come to the house. Gilbert has
let him know that he's not welcome."
"Ah yes," said Madame Merle, "I forgot that--though it's the
burden of his lamentation. He says Osmond has insulted him. All
the same," she went on, "Osmond doesn't dislike him so much as he
thinks." She had got up as if to close the conversation, but she
lingered, looking about her, and had evidently more to say.
Isabel perceived this and even saw the point she had in view; but
Isabel also had her own reasons for not opening the way.
"That must have pleased him, if you've told him," she answered,
"Certainly I've told him; as far as that goes I've encouraged
him. I've preached patience, have said that his case isn't
desperate if he'll only hold his tongue and be quiet.
Unfortunately he has taken it into his head to be jealous."
"Jealous of Lord Warburton, who, he says, is always here."
Isabel, who was tired, had remained sitting; but at this she also
rose. "Ah!" she exclaimed simply, moving slowly to the fireplace.
Madame Merle observed her as she passed and while she stood a
moment before the mantel-glass and pushed into its place a
wandering tress of hair.
"Poor Mr. Rosier keeps saying there's nothing impossible in Lord
Warburton's falling in love with Pansy," Madame Merle went on.
Isabel was silent a little; she turned away from the glass. "It's
true--there's nothing impossible," she returned at last, gravely
and more gently.
"So I've had to admit to Mr. Rosier. So, too, your husband
"That I don't know."
"Ask him and you'll see."
"I shall not ask him," said Isabel.
"Pardon me; I forgot you had pointed that out. Of course," Madame
Merle added, "you've had infinitely more observation of Lord
Warburton's behaviour than I."
"I see no reason why I shouldn't tell you that he likes my
stepdaughter very much."
Madame Merle gave one of her quick looks again. "Likes her, you
mean--as Mr. Rosier means?"
"I don't know how Mr. Rosier means; but Lord Warburton has let me
know that he's charmed with Pansy."
"And you've never told Osmond?" This observation was immediate,
precipitate; it almost burst from Madame Merle's lips.
Isabel's eyes rested on her. "I suppose he'll know in time; Lord
Warburton has a tongue and knows how to express himself."
Madame Merle instantly became conscious that she had spoken more
quickly than usual, and the reflection brought the colour to her
cheek. She gave the treacherous impulse time to subside and then
said as if she had been thinking it over a little: "That would be
better than marrying poor Mr. Rosier."
"Much better, I think."
"It would be very delightful; it would be a great marriage. It's
really very kind of him."
"Very kind of him?"
"To drop his eyes on a simple little girl."
"I don't see that."
"It's very good of you. But after all, Pansy Osmond--"
"After all, Pansy Osmond's the most attractive person he has ever
known!" Isabel exclaimed.
Madame Merle stared, and indeed she was justly bewildered. "Ah, a
moment ago I thought you seemed rather to disparage her."
"I said she was limited. And so she is. And so's Lord Warburton."
"So are we all, if you come to that. If it's no more than Pansy
deserves, all the better. But if she fixes her affections on Mr.
Rosier I won't admit that she deserves it. That will be too
"Mr. Rosier's a nuisance!" Isabel cried abruptly.
"I quite agree with you, and I'm delighted to know that I'm not
expected to feed his flame. For the future, when he calls on me,
my door shall be closed to him." And gathering her mantle
together Madame Merle prepared to depart. She was checked,
however, on her progress to the door, by an inconsequent request
"All the same, you know, be kind to him."
She lifted her shoulders and eyebrows and stood looking at her
friend. "I don't understand your contradictions! Decidedly I
shan't be kind to him, for it will be a false kindness. I want to
see her married to Lord Warburton."
"You had better wait till he asks her."
"If what you say's true, he'll ask her. Especially," said Madame
Merle in a moment, "if you make him."
"If I make him?"
"It's quite in your power. You've great influence with him."
Isabel frowned a little. "Where did you learn that?"
"Mrs. Touchett told me. Not you--never!" said Madame Merle,
"I certainly never told you anything of the sort."
"You MIGHT have done so--so far as opportunity went--when we were
by way of being confidential with each other. But you really told
me very little; I've often thought so since."
Isabel had thought so too, and sometimes with a certain
satisfaction. But she didn't admit it now--perhaps because she
wished not to appear to exult in it. "You seem to have had an
excellent informant in my aunt," she simply returned.
"She let me know you had declined an offer of marriage from Lord
Warburton, because she was greatly vexed and was full of the
subject. Of course I think you've done better in doing as you
did. But if you wouldn't marry Lord Warburton yourself, make him
the reparation of helping him to marry some one else."
Isabel listened to this with a face that persisted in not
reflecting the bright expressiveness of Madame Merle's. But in a
moment she said, reasonably and gently enough: "I should be very
glad indeed if, as regards Pansy, it could be arranged." Upon
which her companion, who seemed to regard this as a speech of
good omen, embraced her more tenderly than might have been
expected and triumphantly withdrew.
Osmond touched on this matter that evening for the first time;
coming very late into the drawing-room, where she was sitting
alone. They had spent the evening at home, and Pansy had gone to
bed; he himself had been sitting since dinner in a small
apartment in which he had arranged his books and which he called
his study. At ten o'clock Lord Warburton had come in, as he
always did when he knew from Isabel that she was to be at home;
he was going somewhere else and he sat for half an hour. Isabel,
after asking him for news of Ralph, said very little to him, on
purpose; she wished him to talk with her stepdaughter. She
pretended to read; she even went after a little to the piano; she
asked herself if she mightn't leave the room. She had come little
by little to think well of the idea of Pansy's becoming the wife
of the master of beautiful Lockleigh, though at first it had not
presented itself in a manner to excite her enthusiasm. Madame
Merle, that afternoon, had applied the match to an accumulation
of inflammable material. When Isabel was unhappy she always
looked about her--partly from impulse and partly by theory--for
some form of positive exertion. She could never rid herself of
the sense that unhappiness was a state of disease--of suffering
as opposed to doing. To "do"--it hardly mattered what--would
therefore be an escape, perhaps in some degree a remedy. Besides,
she wished to convince herself that she had done everything
possible to content her husband; she was determined not to be
haunted by visions of his wife's limpness under appeal. It would
please him greatly to see Pansy married to an English nobleman,
and justly please him, since this nobleman was so sound a
character. It seemed to Isabel that if she could make it her duty
to bring about such an event she should play the part of a good
wife. She wanted to be that; she wanted to be able to believe
sincerely, and with proof of it, that she had been that. Then
such an undertaking had other recommendations. It would occupy
her, and she desired occupation. It would even amuse her, and if
she could really amuse herself she perhaps might be saved.
Lastly, it would be a service to Lord Warburton, who evidently
pleased himself greatly with the charming girl. It was a little
"weird" he should--being what he was; but there was no accounting
for such impressions. Pansy might captivate any one--any one at
least but Lord Warburton. Isabel would have thought her too
small, too slight, perhaps even too artificial for that. There
was always a little of the doll about her, and that was not what
he had been looking for. Still, who could say what men ever were
looking for? They looked for what they found; they knew what
pleased them only when they saw it. No theory was valid in such
matters, and nothing was more unaccountable or more natural than
anything else. If he had cared for HER it might seem odd he
should care for Pansy, who was so different; but he had not cared
for her so much as he had supposed. Or if he had, he had
completely got over it, and it was natural that, as that affair
had failed, he should think something of quite another sort might
succeed. Enthusiasm, as I say, had not come at first to Isabel,
but it came to-day and made her feel almost happy. It was
astonishing what happiness she could still find in the idea of
procuring a pleasure for her husband. It was a pity, however,
that Edward Rosier had crossed their path!
At this reflection the light that had suddenly gleamed upon that
path lost something of its brightness. Isabel was unfortunately
as sure that Pansy thought Mr. Rosier the nicest of all the young
men--as sure as if she had held an interview with her on the
subject. It was very tiresome she should be so sure, when she had
carefully abstained from informing herself; almost as tiresome as
that poor Mr. Rosier should have taken it into his own head. He
was certainly very inferior to Lord Warburton. It was not the
difference in fortune so much as the difference in the men; the
young American was really so light a weight. He was much more of
the type of the useless fine gentleman than the English nobleman.
It was true that there was no particular reason why Pansy should
marry a statesman; still, if a statesman admired her, that was
his affair, and she would make a perfect little pearl of a
It may seem to the reader that Mrs. Osmond had grown of a sudden
strangely cynical, for she ended by saying to herself that this
difficulty could probably be arranged. An impediment that was
embodied in poor Rosier could not anyhow present itself as a
dangerous one; there were always means of levelling secondary
obstacles. Isabel was perfectly aware that she had not taken the
measure of Pansy's tenacity, which might prove to be
inconveniently great; but she inclined to see her as rather
letting go, under suggestion, than as clutching under deprecation
--since she had certainly the faculty of assent developed in a
very much higher degree than that of protest. She would cling,
yes, she would cling; but it really mattered to her very little
what she clung to. Lord Warburton would do as well as Mr. Rosier
--especially as she seemed quite to like him; she had expressed
this sentiment to Isabel without a single reservation; she had
said she thought his conversation most interesting--he had told
her all about India. His manner to Pansy had been of the rightest
and easiest--Isabel noticed that for herself, as she also
observed that he talked to her not in the least in a patronising
way, reminding himself of her youth and simplicity, but quite as
if she understood his subjects with that sufficiency with which
she followed those of the fashionable operas. This went far
enough for attention to the music and the barytone. He was
careful only to be kind--he was as kind as he had been to another
fluttered young chit at Gardencourt. A girl might well be touched
by that; she remembered how she herself had been touched, and
said to herself that if she had been as simple as Pansy the
impression would have been deeper still. She had not been simple
when she refused him; that operation had been as complicated as,
later, her acceptance of Osmond had been. Pansy, however, in
spite of HER simplicity, really did understand, and was glad that
Lord Warburton should talk to her, not about her partners and
bouquets, but about the state of Italy, the condition of the
peasantry, the famous grist-tax, the pellagra, his impressions
of Roman society. She looked at him, as she drew her needle
through her tapestry, with sweet submissive eyes, and when she
lowered them she gave little quiet oblique glances at his person,
his hands, his feet, his clothes, as if she were considering him.
Even his person, Isabel might have reminded her, was better than
Mr. Rosier's. But Isabel contented herself at such moments with
wondering where this gentleman was; he came no more at all to
Palazzo Roccanera. It was surprising, as I say, the hold it had
taken of her--the idea of assisting her husband to be pleased.
It was surprising for a variety of reasons which I shall
presently touch upon. On the evening I speak of, while Lord
Warburton sat there, she had been on the point of taking the
great step of going out of the room and leaving her companions
alone. I say the great step, because it was in this light that
Gilbert Osmond would have regarded it, and Isabel was trying as
much as possible to take her husband's view. She succeeded after
a fashion, but she fell short of the point I mention. After all
she couldn't rise to it; something held her and made this
impossible. It was not exactly that it would be base or
insidious; for women as a general thing practise such manoeuvres
with a perfectly good conscience, and Isabel was instinctively
much more true than false to the common genius of her sex. There
was a vague doubt that interposed--a sense that she was not quite
sure. So she remained in the drawing-room, and after a while Lord
Warburton went off to his party, of which he promised to give
Pansy a full account on the morrow. After he had gone she
wondered if she had prevented something which would have happened
if she had absented herself for a quarter of an hour; and then
she pronounced--always mentally--that when their distinguished
visitor should wish her to go away he would easily find means to
let her know it. Pansy said nothing whatever about him after he
had gone, and Isabel studiously said nothing, as she had taken a
vow of reserve until after he should have declared himself. He
was a little longer in coming to this than might seem to accord
with the description he had given Isabel of his feelings. Pansy
went to bed, and Isabel had to admit that she could not now guess
what her stepdaughter was thinking of. Her transparent little
companion was for the moment not to be seen through.
She remained alone, looking at the fire, until, at the end of
half an hour, her husband came in. He moved about a while in
silence and then sat down; he looked at the fire like herself.
But she now had transferred her eyes from the flickering flame in
the chimney to Osmond's face, and she watched him while he kept
his silence. Covert observation had become a habit with her; an
instinct, of which it is not an exaggeration to say that it was
allied to that of self-defence, had made it habitual. She wished
as much as possible to know his thoughts, to know what he would
say, beforehand, so that she might prepare her answer. Preparing
answers had not been her strong point of old; she had rarely in
this respect got further than thinking afterwards of clever
things she might have said. But she had learned caution--learned
it in a measure from her husband's very countenance. It was the
same face she had looked into with eyes equally earnest perhaps,
but less penetrating, on the terrace of a Florentine villa;
except that Osmond had grown slightly stouter since his marriage.
He still, however, might strike one as very distinguished.
"Has Lord Warburton been here?" he presently asked.
"Yes, he stayed half an hour."
"Did he see Pansy?"
"Yes; he sat on the sofa beside her."
"Did he talk with her much?"
"He talked almost only to her."
"It seems to me he's attentive. Isn't that what you call it?"
"I don't call it anything," said Isabel; "I've waited for you to
give it a name."
"That's a consideration you don't always show," Osmond answered
after a moment.
"I've determined, this time, to try and act as you'd like. I've
so often failed of that."
Osmond turned his head slowly, looking at her. "Are you trying to
quarrel with me?"
"No, I'm trying to live at peace."
"Nothing's more easy; you know I don't quarrel myself."
"What do you call it when you try to make me angry?" Isabel
"I don't try; if I've done so it has been the most natural thing
in the world. Moreover I'm not in the least trying now."
Isabel smiled. "It doesn't matter. I've determined never to be
"That's an excellent resolve. Your temper isn't good."
"No--it's not good." She pushed away the book she had been
reading and took up the band of tapestry Pansy had left on the
"That's partly why I've not spoken to you about this business of
my daughter's," Osmond said, designating Pansy in the manner that
was most frequent with him. "I was afraid I should encounter
opposition--that you too would have views on the subject. I've
sent little Rosier about his business."
"You were afraid I'd plead for Mr. Rosier? Haven't you noticed
that I've never spoken to you of him?"
"I've never given you a chance. We've so little conversation in
these days. I know he was an old friend of yours."
"Yes; he's an old friend of mine." Isabel cared little more for
him than for the tapestry that she held in her hand; but it was
true that he was an old friend and that with her husband she felt
a desire not to extenuate such ties. He had a way of expressing
contempt for them which fortified her loyalty to them, even when,
as in the present case, they were in themselves insignificant.
She sometimes felt a sort of passion of tenderness for memories
which had no other merit than that they belonged to her unmarried
life. "But as regards Pansy," she added in a moment, "I've given
him no encouragement."
"That's fortunate," Osmond observed.
"Fortunate for me, I suppose you mean. For him it matters little."
"There's no use talking of him," Osmond said. "As I tell you,
I've turned him out."
"Yes; but a lover outside's always a lover. He's sometimes even
more of one. Mr. Rosier still has hope."
"He's welcome to the comfort of it! My daughter has only to sit
perfectly quiet to become Lady Warburton."
"Should you like that?" Isabel asked with a simplicity which was
not so affected as it may appear. She was resolved to assume
nothing, for Osmond had a way of unexpectedly turning her
assumptions against her. The intensity with which he would like
his daughter to become Lady Warburton had been the very basis of
her own recent reflections. But that was for herself; she would
recognise nothing until Osmond should have put it into words; she
would not take for granted with him that he thought Lord
Warburton a prize worth an amount of effort that was unusual
among the Osmonds. It was Gilbert's constant intimation that for
him nothing in life was a prize; that he treated as from equal to
equal with the most distinguished people in the world, and that
his daughter had only to look about her to pick out a prince. It
cost him therefore a lapse from consistency to say explicitly
that he yearned for Lord Warburton and that if this nobleman
should escape his equivalent might not be found; with which
moreover it was another of his customary implications that he was
never inconsistent. He would have liked his wife to glide over
the point. But strangely enough, now that she was face to face
with him and although an hour before she had almost invented a
scheme for pleasing him, Isabel was not accommodating, would not
glide. And yet she knew exactly the effect on his mind of her
question: it would operate as an humiliation. Never mind; he was
terribly capable of humiliating her--all the more so that he was
also capable of waiting for great opportunities and of showing
sometimes an almost unaccountable indifference to small ones.
Isabel perhaps took a small opportunity because she would not
have availed herself of a great one.
Osmond at present acquitted himself very honourably. "I should
like it extremely; it would be a great marriage. And then Lord
Warburton has another advantage: he's an old friend of yours. It
would be pleasant for him to come into the family. It's very odd
Pansy's admirers should all be your old friends."
"It's natural that they should come to see me. In coming to see
me they see Pansy. Seeing her it's natural they should fall in
love with her."
"So I think. But you're not bound to do so."
"If she should marry Lord Warburton I should be very glad,"
Isabel went on frankly. "He's an excellent man. You say, however,
that she has only to sit perfectly still. Perhaps she won't sit
perfectly still. If she loses Mr. Rosier she may jump up!"
Osmond appeared to give no heed to this; he sat gazing at the
fire. "Pansy would like to be a great lady," he remarked in a
moment with a certain tenderness of tone. "She wishes above all
to please," he added.
"To please Mr. Rosier, perhaps."
"No, to please me."
"Me too a little, I think," said Isabel.
"Yes, she has a great opinion of you. But she'll do what I like."
"If you're sure of that, it's very well," she went on.
"Meantime," said Osmond, "I should like our distinguished visitor
"He has spoken--to me. He has told me it would be a great
pleasure to him to believe she could care for him."
Osmond turned his head quickly, but at first he said nothing.
Then, "Why didn't you tell me that?" he asked sharply.
"There was no opportunity. You know how we live. I've taken the
first chance that has offered."
"Did you speak to him of Rosier?"
"Oh yes, a little."
"That was hardly necessary."
"I thought it best he should know, so that, so that--" And Isabel
"So that what?"
"So that he might act accordingly."
"So that he might back out, do you mean?"
"No, so that he might advance while there's yet time."
"That's not the effect it seems to have had."
"You should have patience," said Isabel. "You know Englishmen are
"This one's not. He was not when he made love to YOU."
She had been afraid Osmond would speak of that; it was
disagreeable to her. "I beg your pardon; he was extremely so,"
He answered nothing for some time; he took up a book and fingered
the pages while she sat silent and occupied herself with Pansy's
tapestry. "You must have a great deal of influence with him,"
Osmond went on at last. "The moment you really wish it you can
bring him to the point."
This was more offensive still; but she felt the great naturalness
of his saying it, and it was after all extremely like what she
had said to herself. "Why should I have influence?" she asked.
"What have I ever done to put him under an obligation to me?"
"You refused to marry him," said Osmond with his eyes on his
"I must not presume too much on that," she replied.
He threw down the book presently and got up, standing before the
fire with his hands behind him. "Well, I hold that it lies in
your hands. I shall leave it there. With a little good-will you
may manage it. Think that over and remember how much I count on
you." He waited a little, to give her time to answer; but she
answered nothing, and he presently strolled out of the room.
She had answered nothing because his words had put the situation
before her and she was absorbed in looking at it. There was
something in them that suddenly made vibrations deep, so that she
had been afraid to trust herself to speak. After he had gone she
leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes; and for a long
time, far into the night and still further, she sat in the still
drawing-room, given up to her meditation. A servant came in to
attend to the fire, and she bade him bring fresh candles and then
go to bed. Osmond had told her to think of what he had said; and
she did so indeed, and of many other things. The suggestion from
another that she had a definite influence on Lord Warburton--this
had given her the start that accompanies unexpected recognition.
Was it true that there was something still between them that might
be a handle to make him declare himself to Pansy--a susceptibility,
on his part, to approval, a desire to do what would please her?
Isabel had hitherto not asked herself the question, because she
had not been forced; but now that it was directly presented to
her she saw the answer, and the answer frightened her. Yes, there
was something--something on Lord Warburton's part. When he had
first come to Rome she believed the link that united them to be
completely snapped; but little by little she had been reminded
that it had yet a palpable existence. It was as thin as a hair,
but there were moments when she seemed to hear it vibrate. For
herself nothing was changed; what she once thought of him she
always thought; it was needless this feeling should change; it
seemed to her in fact a better feeling than ever. But he? had
he still the idea that she might be more to him than other women?
Had he the wish to profit by the memory of the few moments of
intimacy through which they had once passed? Isabel knew she had
read some of the signs of such a disposition. But what were his
hopes, his pretensions, and in what strange way were they mingled
with his evidently very sincere appreciation of poor Pansy? Was
he in love with Gilbert Osmond's wife, and if so what comfort did
he expect to derive from it? If he was in love with Pansy he was
not in love with her stepmother, and if he was in love with her
stepmother he was not in love with Pansy. Was she to cultivate the
advantage she possessed in order to make him commit himself to
Pansy, knowing he would do so for her sake and not for the small
creature's own--was this the service her husband had asked of her?
This at any rate was the duty with which she found herself
confronted--from the moment she admitted to herself that her old
friend had still an uneradicated predilection for her society. It
was not an agreeable task; it was in fact a repulsive one. She
asked herself with dismay whether Lord Warburton were pretending
to be in love with Pansy in order to cultivate another
satisfaction and what might be called other chances. Of this
refinement of duplicity she presently acquitted him; she
preferred to believe him in perfect good faith. But if his
admiration for Pansy were a delusion this was scarcely better
than its being an affectation. Isabel wandered among these ugly
possibilities until she had completely lost her way; some of them,
as she suddenly encountered them, seemed ugly enough. Then she
broke out of the labyrinth, rubbing her eyes, and declared that
her imagination surely did her little honour and that her
husband's did him even less. Lord Warburton was as disinterested
as he need be, and she was no more to him than she need wish. She
would rest upon this till the contrary should be proved; proved
more effectually than by a cynical intimation of Osmond's.
Such a resolution, however, brought her this evening but little
peace, for her soul was haunted with terrors which crowded to the
foreground of thought as quickly as a place was made for them.
What had suddenly set them into livelier motion she hardly knew,
unless it were the strange impression she had received in the
afternoon of her husband's being in more direct communication with
Madame Merle than she suspected. That impression came back to her
from time to time, and now she wondered it had never come before.
Besides this, her short interview with Osmond half an hour ago was
a striking example of his faculty for making everything wither
that he touched, spoiling everything for her that he looked at. It
was very well to undertake to give him a proof of loyalty; the
real fact was that the knowledge of his expecting a thing raised a
presumption against it. It was as if he had had the evil eye; as
if his presence were a blight and his favour a misfortune. Was the
fault in himself, or only in the deep mistrust she had conceived
for him? This mistrust was now the clearest result of their short
married life; a gulf had opened between them over which they
looked at each other with eyes that were on either side a
declaration of the deception suffered. It was a strange
opposition, of the like of which she had never dreamed--an
opposition in which the vital principle of the one was a thing of
contempt to the other. It was not her fault--she had practised no
deception; she had only admired and believed. She had taken all
the first steps in the purest confidence, and then she had
suddenly found the infinite vista of a multiplied life to be a
dark, narrow alley with a dead wall at the end. Instead of leading
to the high places of happiness, from which the world would seem
to lie below one, so that one could look down with a sense of
exaltation and advantage, and judge and choose and pity, it led
rather downward and earthward, into realms of restriction and
depression where the sound of other lives, easier and freer, was
heard as from above, and where it served to deepen the feeling of
failure. It was her deep distrust of her husband--this was what
darkened the world. That is a sentiment easily indicated, but not
so easily explained, and so composite in its character that much
time and still more suffering had been needed to bring it to its
actual perfection. Suffering, with Isabel, was an active
condition; it was not a chill, a stupor, a despair; it was a
passion of thought, of speculation, of response to every pressure.
She flattered herself that she had kept her failing faith to
herself, however,--that no one suspected it but Osmond. Oh, he
knew it, and there were times when she thought he enjoyed it. It
had come gradually--it was not till the first year of their life
together, so admirably intimate at first, had closed that she had
taken the alarm. Then the shadows had begun to gather; it was as
if Osmond deliberately, almost malignantly, had put the lights
out one by one. The dusk at first was vague and thin, and she
could still see her way in it. But it steadily deepened, and if
now and again it had occasionally lifted there were certain
corners of her prospect that were impenetrably black. These
shadows were not an emanation from her own mind: she was very
sure of that; she had done her best to be just and temperate, to
see only the truth. They were a part, they were a kind of
creation and consequence, of her husband's very presence. They
were not his misdeeds, his turpitudes; she accused him of nothing
--that is but of one thing, which was NOT a crime. She knew of no
wrong he had done; he was not violent, he was not cruel: she
simply believed he hated her. That was all she accused him of,
and the miserable part of it was precisely that it was not a
crime, for against a crime she might have found redress. He had
discovered that she was so different, that she was not what he had
believed she would prove to be. He had thought at first he could
change her, and she had done her best to be what he would like.
But she was, after all, herself--she couldn't help that; and now
there was no use pretending, wearing a mask or a dress, for he
knew her and had made up his mind. She was not afraid of him; she
had no apprehension he would hurt her; for the ill-will he bore
her was not of that sort. He would if possible never give her a
pretext, never put himself in the wrong. Isabel, scanning the
future with dry, fixed eyes, saw that he would have the better of
her there. She would give him many pretexts, she would often put
herself in the wrong. There were times when she almost pitied
him; for if she had not deceived him in intention she understood
how completely she must have done so in fact. She had effaced
herself when he first knew her; she had made herself small,
pretending there was less of her than there really was. It was
because she had been under the extraordinary charm that he, on
his side, had taken pains to put forth. He was not changed; he
had not disguised himself, during the year of his courtship, any
more than she. But she had seen only half his nature then, as one
saw the disk of the moon when it was partly masked by the shadow
of the earth. She saw the full moon now--she saw the whole man.
She had kept still, as it were, so that he should have a free
field, and yet in spite of this she had mistaken a part for the
Ah, she had been immensely under the charm! It had not passed
away; it was there still: she still knew perfectly what it was
that made Osmond delightful when he chose to be. He had wished to
be when he made love to her, and as she had wished to be charmed
it was not wonderful he had succeeded. He had succeeded because he
had been sincere; it never occurred to her now to deny him that.
He admired her--he had told her why: because she was the most
imaginative woman he had known. It might very well have been true;
for during those months she had imagined a world of things that
had no substance. She had had a more wondrous vision of him, fed
through charmed senses and oh such a stirred fancy!--she had not
read him right. A certain combination of features had touched her,
and in them she had seen the most striking of figures. That he was
poor and lonely and yet that somehow he was noble--that was what
had interested her and seemed to give her her opportunity. There
had been an indefinable beauty about him--in his situation, in
his mind, in his face. She had felt at the same time that he was
helpless and ineffectual, but the feeling had taken the form of a
tenderness which was the very flower of respect. He was like a
sceptical voyager strolling on the beach while he waited for the
tide, looking seaward yet not putting to sea. It was in all this
she had found her occasion. She would launch his boat for him; she
would be his providence; it would be a good thing to love him. And
she had loved him, she had so anxiously and yet so ardently given
herself--a good deal for what she found in him, but a good deal
also for what she brought him and what might enrich the gift. As
she looked back at the passion of those full weeks she perceived
in it a kind of maternal strain--the happiness of a woman who felt
that she was a contributor, that she came with charged hands. But
for her money, as she saw to-day, she would never have done it.
And then her mind wandered off to poor Mr. Touchett, sleeping
under English turf, the beneficent author of infinite woe! For
this was the fantastic fact. At bottom her money had been a
burden, had been on her mind, which was filled with the desire to
transfer the weight of it to some other conscience, to some more
prepared receptacle. What would lighten her own conscience more
effectually than to make it over to the man with the best taste in
the world? Unless she should have given it to a hospital there
would have been nothing better she could do with it; and there was
no charitable institution in which she had been as much interested
as in Gilbert Osmond. He would use her fortune in a way that would
make her think better of it and rub off a certain grossness
attaching to the good luck of an unexpected inheritance. There had
been nothing very delicate in inheriting seventy thousand pounds;
the delicacy had been all in Mr. Touchett's leaving them to her.
But to marry Gilbert Osmond and bring him such a portion--in
that there would be delicacy for her as well. There would be less
for him--that was true; but that was his affair, and if he loved
her he wouldn't object to her being rich. Had he not had the
courage to say he was glad she was rich?
Isabel's cheek burned when she asked herself if she had really
married on a factitious theory, in order to do something finely
appreciable with her money. But she was able to answer quickly
enough that this was only half the story. It was because a certain
ardour took possession of her--a sense of the earnestness of his
affection and a delight in his personal qualities. He was better
than any one else. This supreme conviction had filled her life for
months, and enough of it still remained to prove to her that she
could not have done otherwise. The finest--in the sense of being
the subtlest--manly organism she had ever known had become her
property, and the recognition of her having but to put out her
hands and take it had been originally a sort of act of devotion.
She had not been mistaken about the beauty of his mind; she knew
that organ perfectly now. She had lived with it, she had lived IN
it almost--it appeared to have become her habitation. If she had
been captured it had taken a firm hand to seize her; that
reflection perhaps had some worth. A mind more ingenious, more
pliant, more cultivated, more trained to admirable exercises, she
had not encountered; and it was this exquisite instrument she had
now to reckon with. She lost herself in infinite dismay when she
thought of the magnitude of HIS deception. It was a wonder,
perhaps, in view of this, that he didn't hate her more. She
remembered perfectly the first sign he had given of it--it had
been like the bell that was to ring up the curtain upon the real
drama of their life. He said to her one day that she had too many
ideas and that she must get rid of them. He had told her that
already, before their marriage; but then she had not noticed it:
it had come back to her only afterwards. This time she might well
have noticed it, because he had really meant it. The words had
been nothing superficially; but when in the light of deepening
experience she had looked into them they had then appeared
portentous. He had really meant it--he would have liked her to
have nothing of her own but her pretty appearance. She had known
she had too many ideas; she had more even than he had supposed,
many more than she had expressed to him when he had asked her to
marry him. Yes, she HAD been hypocritical; she had liked him so
much. She had too many ideas for herself; but that was just what
one married for, to share them with some one else. One couldn't
pluck them up by the roots, though of course one might suppress
them, be careful not to utter them. It had not been this, however,
his objecting to her opinions; this had been nothing. She had no
opinions--none that she would not have been eager to sacrifice in
the satisfaction of feeling herself loved for it. What he had
meant had been the whole thing--her character, the way she felt,
the way she judged. This was what she had kept in reserve; this
was what he had not known until he had found himself--with the
door closed behind, as it were--set down face to face with it.
She had a certain way of looking at life which he took as a
personal offence. Heaven knew that now at least it was a very
humble, accommodating way! The strange thing was that she should
not have suspected from the first that his own had been so
different. She had thought it so large, so enlightened, so
perfectly that of an honest man and a gentleman. Hadn't he assured
her that he had no superstitions, no dull limitations, no
prejudices that had lost their freshness? Hadn't he all the
appearance of a man living in the open air of the world,
indifferent to small considerations, caring only for truth
and knowledge and believing that two intelligent people ought
to look for them together and, whether they found them or not,
find at least some happiness in the search? He had told her he
loved the conventional; but there was a sense in which this seemed
a noble declaration. In that sense, that of the love of harmony
and order and decency and of all the stately offices of life, she
went with him freely, and his warning had contained nothing
ominous. But when, as the months had elapsed, she had followed him
further and he had led her into the mansion of his own habitation,
then, THEN she had seen where she really was.
She could live it over again, the incredulous terror with which
she had taken the measure of her dwelling. Between those four
walls she had lived ever since; they were to surround her for the
rest of her life. It was the house of darkness, the house of
dumbness, the house of suffocation. Osmond's beautiful mind gave
it neither light nor air; Osmond's beautiful mind indeed seemed
to peep down from a small high window and mock at her. Of course
it had not been physical suffering; for physical suffering there
might have been a remedy. She could come and go; she had her
liberty; her husband was perfectly polite. He took himself so
seriously; it was something appalling. Under all his culture, his
cleverness, his amenity, under his good-nature, his facility, his
knowledge of life, his egotism lay hidden like a serpent in a
bank of flowers. She had taken him seriously, but she had not
taken him so seriously as that. How could she--especially when
she had known him better? She was to think of him as he thought
of himself--as the first gentleman in Europe. So it was that she
had thought of him at first, and that indeed was the reason she
had married him. But when she began to see what it implied she
drew back; there was more in the bond than she had meant to put
her name to. It implied a sovereign contempt for every one but
some three or four very exalted people whom he envied, and for
everything in the world but half a dozen ideas of his own. That
was very well; she would have gone with him even there a long
distance; for he pointed out to her so much of the baseness and
shabbiness of life, opened her eyes so wide to the stupidity, the
depravity, the ignorance of mankind, that she had been properly
impressed with the infinite vulgarity of things and of the virtue
of keeping one's self unspotted by it. But this base, if noble
world, it appeared, was after all what one was to live for; one
was to keep it forever in one's eye, in order not to enlighten or
convert or redeem it, but to extract from it some recognition of
one's own superiority. On the one hand it was despicable, but
on the other it afforded a standard. Osmond had talked to Isabel
about his renunciation, his indifference, the ease with which he
dispensed with the usual aids to success; and all this had seemed
to her admirable. She had thought it a grand indifference, an
exquisite independence. But indifference was really the last of his
qualities; she had never seen any one who thought so much of
others. For herself, avowedly, the world had always interested her
and the study of her fellow creatures been her constant passion.
She would have been willing, however, to renounce all her
curiosities and sympathies for the sake of a personal life, if
the person concerned had only been able to make her believe it
was a gain! This at least was her present conviction; and the
thing certainly would have been easier than to care for society
as Osmond cared for it.
He was unable to live without it, and she saw that he had never
really done so; he had looked at it out of his window even when he
appeared to be most detached from it. He had his ideal, just as
she had tried to have hers; only it was strange that people should
seek for justice in such different quarters. His ideal was a
conception of high prosperity and propriety, of the aristocratic
life, which she now saw that he deemed himself always, in essence
at least, to have led. He had never lapsed from it for an hour; he
would never have recovered from the shame of doing so. That again
was very well; here too she would have agreed; but they attached
such different ideas, such different associations and desires, to
the same formulas. Her notion of the aristocratic life was simply
the union of great knowledge with great liberty; the knowledge
would give one a sense of duty and the liberty a sense of
enjoyment. But for Osmond it was altogether a thing of forms, a
conscious, calculated attitude. He was fond of the old, the
consecrated, the transmitted; so was she, but she pretended to do
what she chose with it. He had an immense esteem for tradition; he
had told her once that the best thing in the world was to have it,
but that if one was so unfortunate as not to have it one must
immediately proceed to make it. She knew that he meant by this
that she hadn't it, but that he was better off; though from what
source he had derived his traditions she never learned. He had a
very large collection of them, however; that was very certain,
and after a little she began to see. The great thing was to act
in accordance with them; the great thing not only for him but for
her. Isabel had an undefined conviction that to serve for another
person than their proprietor traditions must be of a thoroughly
superior kind; but she nevertheless assented to this intimation
that she too must march to the stately music that floated down
from unknown periods in her husband's past; she who of old had
been so free of step, so desultory, so devious, so much the
reverse of processional. There were certain things they must
do, a certain posture they must take, certain people they must
know and not know. When she saw this rigid system close about her,
draped though it was in pictured tapestries, that sense of
darkness and suffocation of which I have spoken took possession of
her; she seemed shut up with an odour of mould and decay. She had
resisted of course; at first very humorously, ironically,
tenderly; then, as the situation grew more serious, eagerly,
passionately, pleadingly. She had pleaded the cause of freedom, of
doing as they chose, of not caring for the aspect and denomination
of their life--the cause of other instincts and longings, of
quite another ideal.
Then it was that her husband's personality, touched as it never
had been, stepped forth and stood erect. The things she had said
were answered only by his scorn, and she could see he was
ineffably ashamed of her. What did he think of her--that she was
base, vulgar, ignoble? He at least knew now that she had no
traditions! It had not been in hsis prevision of things that she
should reveal such flatness; her sentiments were worthy of a