Part 5 out of 7
England in the autumn?--that struck him as a very happy thought.
It would give him such pleasure to do what he could for them--to
have them come and spend a month with him. Osmond, by his own
admission, had been to England but once; which was an absurd
state of things for a man of his leisure and intelligence. It was
just the country for him--he would be sure to get on well there.
Then Lord Warburton asked Isabel if she remembered what a good
time she had had there and if she didn't want to try it again.
Didn't she want to see Gardencourt once more? Gardencourt was
really very good. Touchett didn't take proper care of it, but it
was the sort of place you could hardly spoil by letting it alone.
Why didn't they come and pay Touchett a visit? He surely must
have asked them. Hadn't asked them? What an ill-mannered wretch!
--and Lord Warburton promised to give the master of Gardencourt a
piece of his mind. Of course it was a mere accident; he would be
delighted to have them. Spending a month with Touchett and a
month with himself, and seeing all the rest of the people they
must know there, they really wouldn't find it half bad. Lord
Warburton added that it would amuse Miss Osmond as well, who had
told him that she had never been to England and whom he had
assured it was a country she deserved to see. Of course she
didn't need to go to England to be admired--that was her fate
everywhere; but she would be an immense success there, she
certainly would, if that was any inducement. He asked if she were
not at home: couldn't he say good-bye? Not that he liked
good-byes--he always funked them. When he left England the other
day he hadn't said good-bye to a two-legged creature. He had had
half a mind to leave Rome without troubling Mrs. Osmond for a
final interview. What could be more dreary than final interviews?
One never said the things one wanted--one remembered them all an
hour afterwards. On the other hand one usually said a lot of
things one shouldn't, simply from a sense that one had to say
something. Such a sense was upsetting; it muddled one's wits. He
had it at present, and that was the effect it produced on him. If
Mrs. Osmond didn't think he spoke as he ought she must set it
down to agitation; it was no light thing to part with Mrs.
Osmond. He was really very sorry to be going. He had thought of
writing to her instead of calling--but he would write to her at
any rate, to tell her a lot of things that would be sure to occur
to him as soon as he had left the house. They must think
seriously about coming to Lockleigh.
If there was anything awkward in the conditions of his visit or
in the announcement of his departure it failed to come to the
surface. Lord Warburton talked about his agitation; but he showed
it in no other manner, and Isabel saw that since he had
determined on a retreat he was capable of executing it gallantly.
She was very glad for him; she liked him quite well enough to
wish him to appear to carry a thing off. He would do that on any
occasion--not from impudence but simply from the habit of
success; and Isabel felt it out of her husband's power to
frustrate this faculty. A complex operation, as she sat there,
went on in her mind. On one side she listened to their visitor;
said what was proper to him; read, more or less, between the
lines of what he said himself; and wondered how he would have
spoken if he had found her alone. On the other she had a perfect
consciousness of Osmond's emotion. She felt almost sorry for him;
he was condemned to the sharp pain of loss without the relief of
cursing. He had had a great hope, and now, as he saw it vanish
into smoke, he was obliged to sit and smile and twirl his thumbs.
Not that he troubled himself to smile very brightly; he treated
their friend on the whole to as vacant a countenance as so clever
a man could very well wear. It was indeed a part of Osmond's
cleverness that he could look consummately uncompromised. His
present appearance, however, was not a confession of
disappointment; it was simply a part of Osmond's habitual system,
which was to be inexpressive exactly in proportion as he was
really intent. He had been intent on this prize from the first;
but he had never allowed his eagerness to irradiate his refined
face. He had treated his possible son-in-law as he treated every
one--with an air of being interested in him only for his own
advantage, not for any profit to a person already so generally,
so perfectly provided as Gilbert Osmond. He would give no sign
now of an inward rage which was the result of a vanished prospect
of gain--not the faintest nor subtlest. Isabel could be sure of
that, if it was any satisfaction to her. Strangely, very
strangely, it was a satisfaction; she wished Lord Warburton to
triumph before her husband, and at the same time she wished her
husband to be very superior before Lord Warburton. Osmond, in his
way, was admirable; he had, like their visitor, the advantage of
an acquired habit. It was not that of succeeding, but it was
something almost as good--that of not attempting. As he leaned
back in his place, listening but vaguely to the other's friendly
offers and suppressed explanations--as if it were only proper to
assume that they were addressed essentially to his wife--he had
at least (since so little else was left him) the comfort of
thinking how well he personally had kept out of it, and how the
air of indifference, which he was now able to wear, had the added
beauty of consistency. It was something to be able to look as if
the leave-taker's movements had no relation to his own mind. The
latter did well, certainly; but Osmond's performance was in its
very nature more finished. Lord Warburton's position was after
all an easy one; there was no reason in the world why he shouldn't
leave Rome. He had had beneficent inclinations, but they had
stopped short of fruition; he had never committed himself, and
his honour was safe. Osmond appeared to take but a moderate
interest in the proposal that they should go and stay with him
and in his allusion to the success Pansy might extract from their
visit. He murmured a recognition, but left Isabel to say that it
was a matter requiring grave consideration. Isabel, even while
she made this remark, could see the great vista which had
suddenly opened out in her husband's mind, with Pansy's little
figure marching up the middle of it.
Lord Warburton had asked leave to bid good-bye to Pansy, but
neither Isabel nor Osmond had made any motion to send for her. He
had the air of giving out that his visit must be short; he sat on
a small chair, as if it were only for a moment, keeping his hat
in his hand. But he stayed and stayed; Isabel wondered what he
was waiting for. She believed it was not to see Pansy; she had an
impression that on the whole he would rather not see Pansy. It
was of course to see herself alone--he had something to say to
her. Isabel had no great wish to hear it, for she was afraid it
would be an explanation, and she could perfectly dispense with
explanations. Osmond, however, presently got up, like a man of
good taste to whom it had occurred that so inveterate a visitor
might wish to say just the last word of all to the ladies. "I've
a letter to write before dinner," he said; "you must excuse me.
I'll see if my daughter's disengaged, and if she is she shall
know you're here. Of course when you come to Rome you'll always
look us up. Mrs. Osmond will talk to you about the English
expedition: she decides all those things."
The nod with which, instead of a hand-shake, he wound up this
little speech was perhaps rather a meagre form of salutation; but
on the whole it was all the occasion demanded. Isabel reflected
that after he left the room Lord Warburton would have no pretext
for saying, "Your husband's very angry"; which would have been
extremely disagreeable to her. Nevertheless, if he had done so,
she would have said: "Oh, don't be anxious. He doesn't hate you:
it's me that he hates!"
It was only when they had been left alone together that her
friend showed a certain vague awkwardness--sitting down in
another chair, handling two or three of the objects that were
near him. "I hope he'll make Miss Osmond come," he presently
remarked. "I want very much to see her."
"I'm glad it's the last time," said Isabel.
"So am I. She doesn't care for me."
"No, she doesn't care for you."
"I don't wonder at it," he returned. Then he added with
inconsequence: "You'll come to England, won't you?"
"I think we had better not."
"Ah, you owe me a visit. Don't you remember that you were to have
come to Lockleigh once, and you never did?"
"Everything's changed since then," said Isabel.
"Not changed for the worse, surely--as far as we're concerned. To
see you under my roof"--and he hung fire but an instant--"would
be a great satisfaction."
She had feared an explanation; but that was the only one that
occurred. They talked a little of Ralph, and in another moment
Pansy came in, already dressed for dinner and with a little red
spot in either cheek. She shook hands with Lord Warburton and
stood looking up into his face with a fixed smile--a smile that
Isabel knew, though his lordship probably never suspected it, to
be near akin to a burst of tears.
"I'm going away," he said. "I want to bid you good-bye."
"Good-bye, Lord Warburton." Her voice perceptibly trembled.
"And I want to tell you how much I wish you may be very happy."
"Thank you, Lord Warburton," Pansy answered.
He lingered a moment and gave a glance at Isabel. "You ought to
be very happy--you've got a guardian angel."
"I'm sure I shall be happy," said Pansy in the tone of a person
whose certainties were always cheerful.
"Such a conviction as that will take you a great way. But if it
should ever fail you, remember--remember--" And her interlocutor
stammered a little. "Think of me sometimes, you know!" he said
with a vague laugh. Then he shook hands with Isabel in silence,
and presently he was gone.
When he had left the room she expected an effusion of tears from
her stepdaughter; but Pansy in fact treated her to something very
"I think you ARE my guardian angel!" she exclaimed very sweetly.
Isabel shook her head. "I'm not an angel of any kind. I'm at the
most your good friend."
"You're a very good friend then--to have asked papa to be gentle
"I've asked your father nothing," said Isabel, wondering.
"He told me just now to come to the drawing-room, and then he
gave me a very kind kiss."
"Ah," said Isabel, "that was quite his own idea!"
She recognised the idea perfectly; it was very characteristic,
and she was to see a great deal more of it. Even with Pansy he
couldn't put himself the least in the wrong. They were
dining out that day, and after their dinner they went to another
entertainment; so that it was not till late in the evening that
Isabel saw him alone. When Pansy kissed him before going to bed
he returned her embrace with even more than his usual
munificence, and Isabel wondered if he meant it as a hint that
his daughter had been injured by the machinations of her
stepmother. It was a partial expression, at any rate, of what he
continued to expect of his wife. She was about to follow Pansy,
but he remarked that he wished she would remain; he had
something to say to her. Then he walked about the drawing-room a
little, while she stood waiting in her cloak.
"I don't understand what you wish to do," he said in a moment. "I
should like to know--so that I may know how to act."
"Just now I wish to go to bed. I'm very tired."
"Sit down and rest; I shall not keep you long. Not there--take a
comfortable place." And he arranged a multitude of cushions that
were scattered in picturesque disorder upon a vast divan. This
was not, however, where she seated herself; she dropped into the
nearest chair. The fire had gone out; the lights in the great
room were few. She drew her cloak about her; she felt mortally
cold. "I think you're trying to humiliate me," Osmond went on.
"It's a most absurd undertaking."
"I haven't the least idea what you mean," she returned.
"You've played a very deep game; you've managed it beautifully."
"What is it that I've managed?"
"You've not quite settled it, however; we shall see him again."
And he stopped in front of her, with his hands in his pockets,
looking down at her thoughtfully, in his usual way, which seemed
meant to let her know that she was not an object, but only a
rather disagreeable incident, of thought.
"If you mean that Lord Warburton's under an obligation to come
back you're wrong," Isabel said. "He's under none whatever."
"That's just what I complain of. But when I say he'll come back I
don't mean he'll come from a sense of duty."
"There's nothing else to make him. I think he has quite exhausted
"Ah no, that's a shallow judgement. Rome's inexhaustible." And
Osmond began to walk about again. "However, about that perhaps
there's no hurry," he added. "It's rather a good idea of his that
we should go to England. If it were not for the fear of finding
your cousin there I think I should try to persuade you."
"It may be that you'll not find my cousin," said Isabel.
"I should like to be sure of it. However, I shall be as sure as
possible. At the same time I should like to see his house, that
you told me so much about at one time: what do you call it?--
Gardencourt. It must be a charming thing. And then, you know,
I've a devotion to the memory of your uncle: you made me take a
great fancy to him. I should like to see where he lived and died.
That indeed is a detail. Your friend was right. Pansy ought to
"I've no doubt she would enjoy it," said Isabel.
"But that's a long time hence; next autumn's far off," Osmond
continued; "and meantime there are things that more nearly
interest us. Do you think me so very proud?" he suddenly asked.
"I think you very strange."
"You don't understand me."
"No, not even when you insult me."
"I don't insult you; I'm incapable of it. I merely speak of
certain facts, and if the allusion's an injury to you the fault's
not mine. It's surely a fact that you have kept all this matter
quite in your own hands."
"Are you going back to Lord Warburton?" Isabel asked. "I'm very
tired of his name."
"You shall hear it again before we've done with it."
She had spoken of his insulting her, but it suddenly seemed to
her that this ceased to be a pain. He was going down--down; the
vision of such a fall made her almost giddy: that was the only
pain. He was too strange, too different; he didn't touch her.
Still, the working of his morbid passion was extraordinary, and
she felt a rising curiosity to know in what light he saw himself
justified. "I might say to you that I judge you've nothing to say
to me that's worth hearing," she returned in a moment. "But I
should perhaps be wrong. There's a thing that would be worth my
hearing--to know in the plainest words of what it is you accuse
"Of having prevented Pansy's marriage to Warburton. Are those
words plain enough?"
"On the contrary, I took a great interest in it. I told you so;
and when you told me that you counted on me--that I think was
what you said--I accepted the obligation. I was a fool to do so,
but I did it."
"You pretended to do it, and you even pretended reluctance to
make me more willing to trust you. Then you began to use your
ingenuity to get him out of the way."
"I think I see what you mean," said Isabel.
"Where's the letter you told me he had written me?" her husband
"I haven't the least idea; I haven't asked him."
"You stopped it on the way," said Osmond.
Isabel slowly got up; standing there in her white cloak, which
covered her to her feet, she might have represented the angel of
disdain, first cousin to that of pity. "Oh, Gilbert, for a man
who was so fine--!" she exclaimed in a long murmur.
"I was never so fine as you. You've done everything you wanted.
You've got him out of the say without appearing to do so, and
you've placed me in the position in which you wished to see me--
that of a man who has tried to marry his daughter to a lord, but
has grotesquely failed."
"Pansy doesn't care for him. She's very glad he's gone," Isabel
"That has nothing to do with the matter."
"And he doesn't care for Pansy."
"That won't do; you told me he did. I don't know why you wanted
this particular satisfaction," Osmond continued; "you might have
taken some other. It doesn't seem to me that I've been
presumptuous--that I have taken too much for granted. I've been
very modest about it, very quiet. The idea didn't originate with
me. He began to show that he liked her before I ever thought of
it. I left it all to you."
"Yes, you were very glad to leave it to me. After this you must
attend to such things yourself."
He looked at her a moment; then he turned away. "I thought you
were very fond of my daughter."
"I've never been more so than to-day."
"Your affection is attended with immense limitations. However,
that perhaps is natural."
"Is this all you wished to say to me?" Isabel asked, taking a
candle that stood on one of the tables.
"Are you satisfied? Am I sufficiently disappointed?"
"I don't think that on the whole you're disappointed. You've had
another opportunity to try to stupefy me."
"It's not that. It's proved that Pansy can aim high."
"Poor little Pansy!" said Isabel as she turned away with her
It was from Henrietta Stackpole that she learned how Caspar
Goodwood had come to Rome; an event that took place three days
after Lord Warburton's departure. This latter fact had been
preceded by an incident of some importance to Isabel--the
temporary absence, once again, of Madame Merle, who had gone to
Naples to stay with a friend, the happy possessor of a villa at
Posilippo. Madame Merle had ceased to minister to Isabel's
happiness, who found herself wondering whether the most discreet
of women might not also by chance be the most dangerous.
Sometimes, at night, she had strange visions; she seemed to see
her husband and her friend--his friend--in dim, indistinguishable
combination. It seemed to her that she had not done with her;
this lady had something in reserve. Isabel's imagination applied
itself actively to this elusive point, but every now and then it
was checked by a nameless dread, so that when the charming woman
was away from Rome she had almost a consciousness of respite. She
had already learned from Miss Stackpole that Caspar Goodwood was
in Europe, Henrietta having written to make it known to her
immediately after meeting him in Paris. He himself never wrote to
Isabel, and though he was in Europe she thought it very possible
he might not desire to see her. Their last interview, before her
marriage, had had quite the character of a complete rupture; if
she remembered rightly he had said he wished to take his last
look at her. Since then he had been the most discordant survival
of her earlier time--the only one in fact with which a permanent
pain was associated. He had left her that morning with a sense of
the most superfluous of shocks: it was like a collision between
vessels in broad daylight. There had been no mist, no hidden
current to excuse it, and she herself had only wished to steer
wide. He had bumped against her prow, however, while her hand was
on the tiller, and--to complete the metaphor--had given the
lighter vessel a strain which still occasionally betrayed itself
in a faint creaking. It had been horrid to see him, because he
represented the only serious harm that (to her belief) she had
ever done in the world: he was the only person with an
unsatisfied claim on her. She had made him unhappy, she couldn't
help it; and his unhappiness was a grim reality. She had cried
with rage, after he had left her, at--she hardly knew what: she
tried to think it had been at his want of consideration. He had
come to her with his unhappiness when her own bliss was so
perfect; he had done his best to darken the brightness of those
pure rays. He had not been violent, and yet there had been a
violence in the impression. There had been a violence at any rate
in something somewhere; perhaps it was only in her own fit of
weeping and in that after-sense of the same which had lasted
three or four days.
The effect of his final appeal had in short faded away, and all
the first year of her marriage he had dropped out of her books.
He was a thankless subject of reference; it was disagreeable to
have to think of a person who was sore and sombre about you and
whom you could yet do nothing to relieve. It would have been
different if she had been able to doubt, even a little, of his
unreconciled state, as she doubted of Lord Warburton's;
unfortunately it was beyond question, and this aggressive,
uncompromising look of it was just what made it unattractive. She
could never say to herself that here was a sufferer who had
compensations, as she was able to say in the case of her English
suitor. She had no faith in Mr. Goodwood's compensations and no
esteem for them. A cotton factory was not a compensation for
anything--least of all for having failed to marry Isabel Archer.
And yet, beyond that, she hardly knew what he had--save of course
his intrinsic qualities. Oh, he was intrinsic enough; she never
thought of his even looking for artificial aids. If he extended
his business--that, to the best of her belief, was the only form
exertion could take with him--it would be because it was an
enterprising thing, or good for the business; not in the least
because he might hope it would overlay the past. This gave his
figure a kind of bareness and bleakness which made the accident
of meeting it in memory or in apprehension a peculiar concussion;
it was deficient in the social drapery commonly muffling, in an
overcivilized age, the sharpness of human contacts. His perfect
silence, moreover, the fact that she never heard from him and
very seldom heard any mention of him, deepened this impression of
his loneliness. She asked Lily for news of him, from time to
time; but Lily knew nothing of Boston--her imagination was all
bounded on the east by Madison Avenue. As time went on Isabel had
thought of him oftener, and with fewer restrictions; she had had
more than once the idea of writing to him. She had never told her
husband about him--never let Osmond know of his visits to her in
Florence; a reserve not dictated in the early period by a want of
confidence in Osmond, but simply by the consideration that the
young man's disappointment was not her secret but his own. It
would be wrong of her, she had believed, to convey it to another,
and Mr. Goodwood's affairs could have, after all, little interest
for Gilbert. When it had come to the point she had never written
to him; it seemed to her that, considering his grievance, the
least she could do was to let him alone. Nevertheless she would
have been glad to be in some way nearer to him. It was not that
it ever occurred to her that she might have married him; even
after the consequences of her actual union had grown vivid to her
that particular reflection, though she indulged in so many, had
not had the assurance to present itself. But on finding herself
in trouble he had become a member of that circle of things with
which she wished to set herself right. I have mentioned how
passionately she needed to feel that her unhappiness should not
have come to her through her own fault. She had no near prospect
of dying, and yet she wished to make her peace with the world--
to put her spiritual affairs in order. It came back to her from
time to time that there was an account still to be settled with
Caspar, and she saw herself disposed or able to settle it to-day
on terms easier for him than ever before. Still, when she learned
he was coming to Rome she felt all afraid; it would be more
disagreeable for him than for any one else to make out--since he
WOULD make it out, as over a falsified balance-sheet or something
of that sort--the intimate disarray of her affairs. Deep in her
breast she believed that he had invested his all in her happiness,
while the others had invested only a part. He was one more person
from whom she should have to conceal her stress. She was reassured,
however, after he arrived in Rome, for he spent several days
without coming to see her.
Henrietta Stackpole, it may well be imagined, was more punctual,
and Isabel was largely favoured with the society of her friend.
She threw herself into it, for now that she had made such a point
of keeping her conscience clear, that was one way of proving she
had not been superficial--the more so as the years, in their
flight, had rather enriched than blighted those peculiarities
which had been humorously criticised by persons less interested
than Isabel, and which were still marked enough to give loyalty a
spice of heroism. Henrietta was as keen and quick and fresh as
ever, and as neat and bright and fair. Her remarkably open eyes,
lighted like great glazed railway-stations, had put up no
shutters; her attire had lost none of its crispness, her opinions
none of their national reference. She was by no means quite
unchanged, however it struck Isabel she had grown vague. Of old
she had never been vague; though undertaking many enquiries at
once, she had managed to be entire and pointed about each. She
had a reason for everything she did; she fairly bristled with
motives. Formerly, when she came to Europe it was because she
wished to see it, but now, having already seen it, she had no
such excuse. She didn't for a moment pretend that the desire to
examine decaying civilisations had anything to do with her
present enterprise; her journey was rather an expression of her
independence of the old world than of a sense of further
obligations to it. "It's nothing to come to Europe," she said to
Isabel; "it doesn't seem to me one needs so many reasons for
that. It is something to stay at home; this is much more
important." It was not therefore with a sense of doing anything
very important that she treated herself to another pilgrimage to
Rome; she had seen the place before and carefully inspected it;
her present act was simply a sign of familiarity, of her knowing
all about it, of her having as good a right as any one else to be
there. This was all very well, and Henrietta was restless; she
had a perfect right to be restless too, if one came to that. But
she had after all a better reason for coming to Rome than that
she cared for it so little. Her friend easily recognised it, and
with it the worth of the other's fidelity. She had crossed the
stormy ocean in midwinter because she had guessed that Isabel was
sad. Henrietta guessed a great deal, but she had never guessed so
happily as that. Isabel's satisfactions just now were few, but
even if they had been more numerous there would still have been
something of individual joy in her sense of being justified in
having always thought highly of Henrietta. She had made large
concessions with regard to her, and had yet insisted that, with
all abatements, she was very valuable. It was not her own
triumph, however, that she found good; it was simply the relief
of confessing to this confidant, the first person to whom she had
owned it, that she was not in the least at her ease. Henrietta
had herself approached this point with the smallest possible
delay, and had accused her to her face of being wretched. She was
a woman, she was a sister; she was not Ralph, nor Lord Warburton,
nor Caspar Goodwood, and Isabel could speak.
"Yes, I'm wretched," she said very mildly. She hated to hear
herself say it; she tried to say it as judicially as possible.
"What does he do to you?" Henrietta asked, frowning as if she
were enquiring into the operations of a quack doctor.
"He does nothing. But he doesn't like me."
"He's very hard to please!" cried Miss Stackpole. "Why don't you
"I can't change that way," Isabel said.
"Why not, I should like to know? You won't confess that you've
made a mistake. You're too proud."
"I don't know whether I'm too proud. But I can't publish my
mistake. I don't think that's decent. I'd much rather die."
"You won't think so always," said Henrietta.
"I don't know what great unhappiness might bring me to; but it
seems to me I shall always be ashamed. One must accept one's
deeds. I married him before all the world; I was perfectly free;
it was impossible to do anything more deliberate. One can't
change that way," Isabel repeated.
"You HAVE changed, in spite of the impossibility. I hope you
don't mean to say you like him."
Isabel debated. "No, I don't like him. I can tell you, because
I'm weary of my secret. But that's enough; I can't announce it on
Henrietta gave a laugh. "Don't you think you're rather too
"It's not of him that I'm considerate--it's of myself!" Isabel
It was not surprising Gilbert Osmond should not have taken
comfort in Miss Stackpole; his instinct had naturally set him in
opposition to a young lady capable of advising his wife to
withdraw from the conjugal roof. When she arrived in Rome he had
said to Isabel that he hoped she would leave her friend the
interviewer alone; and Isabel had answered that he at least had
nothing to fear from her. She said to Henrietta that as Osmond
didn't like her she couldn't invite her to dine, but they could
easily see each other in other ways. Isabel received Miss
Stackpole freely in her own sitting-room, and took her repeatedly
to drive, face to face with Pansy, who, bending a little forward,
on the opposite seat of the carriage, gazed at the celebrated
authoress with a respectful attention which Henrietta
occasionally found irritating. She complained to Isabel that Miss
Osmond had a little look as if she should remember everything one
said. "I don't want to be remembered that way," Miss Stackpole
declared; "I consider that my conversation refers only to the
moment, like the morning papers. Your stepdaughter, as she sits
there, looks as if she kept all the back numbers and would bring
them out some day against me." She could not teach herself to
think favourably of Pansy, whose absence of initiative, of
conversation, of personal claims, seemed to her, in a girl of
twenty, unnatural and even uncanny. Isabel presently saw that
Osmond would have liked her to urge a little the cause of her
friend, insist a little upon his receiving her, so that he might
appear to suffer for good manners' sake. Her immediate acceptance
of his objections put him too much in the wrong--it being in
effect one of the disadvantages of expressing contempt that you
cannot enjoy at the same time the credit of expressing sympathy.
Osmond held to his credit, and yet he held to his objections--
all of which were elements difficult to reconcile. The right
thing would have been that Miss Stackpole should come to dine at
Palazzo Roccanera once or twice, so that (in spite of his
superficial civility, always so great) she might judge for
herself how little pleasure it gave him. From the moment,
however, that both the ladies were so unaccommodating, there was
nothing for Osmond but to wish the lady from New York would take
herself off. It was surprising how little satisfaction he got
from his wife's friends; he took occasion to call Isabel's
attention to it.
"You're certainly not fortunate in your intimates; I wish you
might make a new collection," he said to her one morning in
reference to nothing visible at the moment, but in a tone of ripe
reflection which deprived the remark of all brutal abruptness.
"It's as if you had taken the trouble to pick out the people in
the world that I have least in common with. Your cousin I have
always thought a conceited ass--besides his being the most
ill-favoured animal I know. Then it's insufferably tiresome that
one can't tell him so; one must spare him on account of his
health. His health seems to me the best part of him; it gives him
privileges enjoyed by no one else. If he's so desperately ill
there's only one way to prove it; but he seems to have no mind
for that. I can't say much more for the great Warburton. When one
really thinks of it, the cool insolence of that performance was
something rare! He comes and looks at one's daughter as if she
were a suite of apartments; he tries the door-handles and looks
out of the windows, raps on the walls and almost thinks he'll
take the place. Will you be so good as to draw up a lease? Then,
on the whole, he decides that the rooms are too small; he
doesn't think he could live on a third floor; he must look out
for a piano nobile. And he goes away after having got a month's
lodging in the poor little apartment for nothing. Miss Stackpole,
however, is your most wonderful invention. She strikes me as a
kind of monster. One hasn't a nerve in one's body that she
doesn't set quivering. You know I never have admitted that she's
a woman. Do you know what she reminds me of? Of a new steel pen--
the most odious thing in nature. She talks as a steel pen writes;
aren't her letters, by the way, on ruled paper? She thinks and
moves and walks and looks exactly as she talks. You may say that
she doesn't hurt me, inasmuch as I don't see her. I don't see
her, but I hear her; I hear her all day long. Her voice is in my
ears; I can't get rid of it. I know exactly what she says, and
every inflexion of the tone in which she says it. She says
charming things about me, and they give you great comfort. I
don't like at all to think she talks about me--I feel as I should
feel if I knew the footman were wearing my hat."
Henrietta talked about Gilbert Osmond, as his wife assured him,
rather less than he suspected. She had plenty of other subjects,
in two of which the reader may be supposed to be especially
interested. She let her friend know that Caspar Goodwood had
discovered for himself that she was unhappy, though indeed her
ingenuity was unable to suggest what comfort he hoped to give her
by coming to Rome and yet not calling on her. They met him twice
in the street, but he had no appearance of seeing them; they were
driving, and he had a habit of looking straight in front of him,
as if he proposed to take in but one object at a time. Isabel
could have fancied she had seen him the day before; it must have
been with just that face and step that he had walked out of Mrs.
Touchett's door at the close of their last interview. He was
dressed just as he had been dressed on that day, Isabel
remembered the colour of his cravat; and yet in spite of this
familiar look there was a strangeness in his figure too,
something that made her feel it afresh to be rather terrible he
should have come to Rome. He looked bigger and more overtopping
than of old, and in those days he certainly reached high enough.
She noticed that the people whom he passed looked back after him;
but he went straight forward, lifting above them a face like a
Miss Stackpole's other topic was very different; she gave Isabel
the latest news about Mr. Bantling. He had been out in the United
States the year before, and she was happy to say she had been
able to show him considerable attention. She didn't know how much
he had enjoyed it, but she would undertake to say it had done him
good; he wasn't the same man when he left as he had been when be
came. It had opened his eyes and shown him that England wasn't
everything. He had been very much liked in most places, and
thought extremely simple--more simple than the English were
commonly supposed to be. There were people who had thought him
affected; she didn't know whether they meant that his simplicity
was an affectation. Some of his questions were too discouraging;
he thought all the chambermaids were farmers' daughters--or all
the farmers' daughters were chambermaids--she couldn't exactly
remember which. He hadn't seemed able to grasp the great school
system; it had been really too much for him. On the whole he had
behaved as if there were too much of everything--as if he could
only take in a small part. The part he had chosen was the hotel
system and the river navigation. He had seemed really fascinated
with the hotels; he had a photograph of every one he had visited.
But the river steamers were his principal interest; he wanted to
do nothing but sail on the big boats. They had travelled together
from New York to Milwaukee, stopping at the most interesting
cities on the route; and whenever they started afresh he had
wanted to know if they could go by the steamer. He seemed to have
no idea of geography--had an impression that Baltimore was a
Western city and was perpetually expecting to arrive at the
Mississippi. He appeared never to have heard of any river in
America but the Mississippi and was unprepared to recognise
the existence of the Hudson, though obliged to confess at last
that it was fully equal to the Rhine. They had spent some
pleasant hours in the palace-cars; he was always ordering
ice-cream from the coloured man. He could never get used to that
idea--that you could get ice-cream in the cars. Of course you
couldn't, nor fans, nor candy, nor anything in the English cars!
He found the heat quite overwhelming, and she had told him she
indeed expected it was the biggest he had ever experienced. He
was now in England, hunting--"hunting round" Henrietta called it.
These amusements were those of the American red men; we had left
that behind long ago, the pleasures of the chase. It seemed to be
generally believed in England that we wore tomahawks and
feathers; but such a costume was more in keeping with English
habits. Mr. Bantling would not have time to join her in Italy,
but when she should go to Paris again he expected to come over.
He wanted very much to see Versailles again; he was very fond of
the ancient regime. They didn't agree about that, but that was
what she liked Versailles for, that you could see the ancient
regime had been swept away. There were no dukes and marquises
there now; she remembered on the contrary one day when there were
five American families, walking all round. Mr. Bantling was very
anxious that she should take up the subject of England again, and
he thought she might get on better with it now; England had
changed a good deal within two or three years. He was determined
that if she went there he should go to see his sister, Lady
Pensil, and that this time the invitation should come to her
straight. The mystery about that other one had never been
Caspar Goodwood came at last to Palazzo Roccanera; he had written
Isabel a note beforehand, to ask leave. This was promptly
granted; she would be at home at six o'clock that afternoon. She
spent the day wondering what he was coming for--what good he
expected to get of it. He had presented himself hitherto as a
person destitute of the faculty of compromise, who would take
what he had asked for or take nothing. Isabel's hospitality,
however, raised no questions, and she found no great difficulty
in appearing happy enough to deceive him. It was her conviction
at least that she deceived him, made him say to himself that he
had been misinformed. But she also saw, so she believed, that he
was not disappointed, as some other men, she was sure, would have
been; he had not come to Rome to look for an opportunity. She
never found out what he had come for; he offered her no
explanation; there could be none but the very simple one that he
wanted to see her. In other words he had come for his amusement.
Isabel followed up this induction with a good deal of eagerness,
and was delighted to have found a formula that would lay the
ghost of this gentleman's ancient grievance. If he had come to
Rome for his amusement this was exactly what she wanted; for if
he cared for amusement he had got over his heartache. If he had
got over his heartache everything was as it should be and her
responsibilities were at an end. It was true that he took his
recreation a little stiffly, but he had never been loose and easy
and she had every reason to believe he was satisfied with what he
saw. Henrietta was not in his confidence, though he was in hers,
and Isabel consequently received no side-light upon his state of
mind. He was open to little conversation on general topics; it
came back to her that she had said of him once, years before,
"Mr. Goodwood speaks a good deal, but he doesn't talk." He spoke
a good deal now, but he talked perhaps as little as ever;
considering, that is, how much there was in Rome to talk about.
His arrival was not calculated to simplify her relations with her
husband, for if Mr. Osmond didn't like her friends Mr. Goodwood
had no claim upon his attention save as having been one of the
first of them. There was nothing for her to say of him but that
he was the very oldest; this rather meagre synthesis exhausted
the facts. She had been obliged to introduce him to Gilbert; it
was impossible she should not ask him to dinner, to her Thursday
evenings, of which she had grown very weary, but to which her
husband still held for the sake not so much of inviting people as
of not inviting them.
To the Thursdays Mr. Goodwood came regularly, solemnly, rather
early; he appeared to regard them with a good deal of gravity.
Isabel every now and then had a moment of anger; there was
something so literal about him; she thought he might know that
she didn't know what to do with him. But she couldn't call him
stupid; he was not that in the least; he was only extraordinarily
honest. To be as honest as that made a man very different from
most people; one had to be almost equally honest with HIM. She
made this latter reflection at the very time she was flattering
herself she had persuaded him that she was the most light-hearted
of women. He never threw any doubt on this point, never asked her
any personal questions. He got on much better with Osmond than
had seemed probable. Osmond had a great dislike to being counted
on; in such a case be had an irresistible need of disappointing
you. It was in virtue of this principle that he gave himself the
entertainment of taking a fancy to a perpendicular Bostonian whom
he bad been depended upon to treat with coldness. He asked Isabel
if Mr. Goodwood also had wanted to marry her, and expressed
surprise at her not having accepted him. It would have been an
excellent thing, like living under some tall belfry which would
strike all the hours and make a queer vibration in the upper air.
He declared he liked to talk with the great Goodwood; it wasn't
easy at first, you had to climb up an interminable steep
staircase up to the top of the tower; but when you got there you
had a big view and felt a little fresh breeze. Osmond, as we
know, had delightful qualities, and he gave Caspar Goodwood the
benefit of them all. Isabel could see that Mr. Goodwood thought
better of her husband than he had ever wished to; he had given
her the impression that morning in Florence of being inaccessible
to a good impression. Gilbert asked him repeatedly to dinner, and
Mr. Goodwood smoked a cigar with him afterwards and even desired
to be shown his collections. Gilbert said to Isabel that he was
very original; he was as strong and of as good a style as an
English portmanteau,--he had plenty of straps and buckles which
would never wear out, and a capital patent lock. Caspar Goodwood
took to riding on the Campagna and devoted much time to this
exercise; it was therefore mainly in the evening that Isabel saw
him. She bethought herself of saying to him one day that if he
were willing he could render her a service. And then she added
"I don't know, however, what right I have to ask a service of
"You're the person in the world who has most right," he answered.
"I've given you assurances that I've never given any one else."
The service was that he should go and see her cousin Ralph, who
was ill at the Hotel de Paris, alone, and be as kind to him as
possible. Mr. Goodwood had never seen him, but he would know who
the poor fellow was; if she was not mistaken Ralph had once
invited him to Gardencourt. Caspar remembered the invitation
perfectly, and, though he was not supposed to be a man of
imagination, had enough to put himself in the place of a poor
gentleman who lay dying at a Roman inn. He called at the Hotel de
Paris and, on being shown into the presence of the master of
Gardencourt, found Miss Stackpole sitting beside his sofa. A
singular change had in fact occurred in this lady's relations
with Ralph Touchett. She had not been asked by Isabel to go and
see him, but on hearing that he was too ill to come out had
immediately gone of her own motion. After this she had paid him a
daily visit--always under the conviction that they were great
enemies. "Oh yes, we're intimate enemies," Ralph used to say; and
he accused her freely--as freely as the humour of it would allow
--of coming to worry him to death. In reality they became
excellent friends, Henrietta much wondering that she should never
have liked him before. Ralph liked her exactly as much as he had
always done; he had never doubted for a moment that she was an
excellent fellow. They talked about everything and always
differed; about everything, that is, but Isabel--a topic as to
which Ralph always had a thin forefinger on his lips. Mr.
Bantling on the other hand proved a great resource; Ralph was
capable of discussing Mr. Bantling with Henrietta for hours.
Discussion was stimulated of course by their inevitable
difference of view--Ralph having amused himself with taking the
ground that the genial ex-guardsman was a regular Machiavelli.
Caspar Goodwood could contribute nothing to such a debate; but
after he had been left alone with his host he found there were
various other matters they could take up. It must be admitted
that the lady who had just gone out was not one of these; Caspar
granted all Miss Stackpole's merits in advance, but had no
further remark to make about her. Neither, after the first
allusions, did the two men expatiate upon Mrs. Osmond--a theme in
which Goodwood perceived as many dangers as Ralph. He felt very
sorry for that unclassable personage; he couldn't bear to see a
pleasant man, so pleasant for all his queerness, so beyond
anything to be done. There was always something to be done, for
Goodwood, and he did it in this case by repeating several times
his visit to the Hotel de Paris. It seemed to Isabel that she had
been very clever; she had artfully disposed of the superfluous
Caspar. She had given him an occupation; she had converted him
into a caretaker of Ralph. She had a plan of making him travel
northward with her cousin as soon as the first mild weather
should allow it. Lord Warburton had brought Ralph to Rome and Mr.
Goodwood should take him away. There seemed a happy symmetry in
this, and she was now intensely eager that Ralph should depart.
She had a constant fear he would die there before her eyes and a
horror of the occurrence of this event at an inn, by her door,
which he had so rarely entered. Ralph must sink to his last rest
in his own dear house, in one of those deep, dim chambers of
Gardencourt where the dark ivy would cluster round the edges of
the glimmering window. There seemed to Isabel in these days
something sacred in Gardencourt; no chapter of the past was more
perfectly irrecoverable. When she thought of the months she had
spent there the tears rose to her eyes. She flattered herself, as
I say, upon her ingenuity, but she had need of all she could
muster; for several events occurred which seemed to confront and
defy her. The Countess Gemini arrived from Florence--arrived with
her trunks, her dresses, her chatter, her falsehoods, her
frivolity, the strange, the unholy legend of the number of her
lovers. Edward Rosier, who had been away somewhere,--no one, not
even Pansy, knew where,--reappeared in Rome and began to write
her long letters, which she never answered. Madame Merle returned
from Naples and said to her with a strange smile: "What on earth
did you do with Lord Warburton?" As if it were any business of
One day, toward the end of February, Ralph Touchett made up his
mind to return to England. He had his own reasons for this
decision, which he was not bound to communicate; but Henrietta
Stackpole, to whom he mentioned his intention, flattered herself
that she guessed them. She forbore to express them, however; she
only said, after a moment, as she sat by his sofa: "I suppose you
know you can't go alone?"
"I've no idea of doing that," Ralph answered. "I shall have people
"What do you mean by 'people'? Servants whom you pay?"
"Ah," said Ralph jocosely, "after all, they're human beings."
"Are there any women among them?" Miss Stackpole desired to know.
"You speak as if I had a dozen! No, I confess I haven't a
soubrette in my employment."
"Well," said Henrietta calmly, "you can't go to England that way.
You must have a woman's care."
"I've had so much of yours for the past fortnight that it will
last me a good while."
"You've not had enough of it yet. I guess I'll go with you," said
"Go with me?" Ralph slowly raised himself from his sofa.
"Yes, I know you don't like me, but I'll go with you all the
same. It would be better for your health to lie down again."
Ralph looked at her a little; then he slowly relapsed. "I like
you very much," he said in a moment.
Miss Stackpole gave one of her infrequent laughs. "You needn't
think that by saying that you can buy me off. I'll go with you,
and what is more I'll take care of you."
"You're a very good woman," said Ralph.
"Wait till I get you safely home before you say that. It won't be
easy. But you had better go, all the same."
Before she left him, Ralph said to her: "Do you really mean to
take care of me?"
"Well, I mean to try."
"I notify you then that I submit. Oh, I submit!" And it was
perhaps a sign of submission that a few minutes after she had
left him alone he burst into a loud fit of laughter. It seemed to
him so inconsequent, such a conclusive proof of his having
abdicated all functions and renounced all exercise, that he
should start on a journey across Europe under the supervision of
Miss Stackpole. And the great oddity was that the prospect
pleased him; he was gratefully, luxuriously passive. He felt even
impatient to start; and indeed he had an immense longing to see
his own house again. The end of everything was at hand; it seemed
to him he could stretch out his arm and touch the goal. But he
wanted to die at home; it was the only wish he had left--to
extend himself in the large quiet room where he had last seen his
father lie, and close his eyes upon the summer dawn.
That same day Caspar Goodwood came to see him, and he informed
his visitor that Miss Stackpole had taken him up and was to
conduct him back to England. "Ah then," said Caspar, "I'm afraid
I shall be a fifth wheel to the coach. Mrs. Osmond has made me
promise to go with you."
"Good heavens--it's the golden age! You're all too kind."
"The kindness on my part is to her; it's hardly to you."
"Granting that, SHE'S kind," smiled Ralph.
"To get people to go with you? Yes, that's a sort of kindness,"
Goodwood answered without lending himself to the joke. "For
myself, however," he added, "I'll go so far as to say that I
would much rather travel with you and Miss Stackpole than with
Miss Stackpole alone."
"And you'd rather stay here than do either," said Ralph. "There's
really no need of your coming. Henrietta's extraordinarily
"I'm sure of that. But I've promised Mrs. Osmond."
"You can easily get her to let you off."
"She wouldn't let me off for the world. She wants me to look
after you, but that isn't the principal thing. The principal
thing is that she wants me to leave Rome."
"Ah, you see too much in it," Ralph suggested.
"I bore her," Goodwood went on; "she has nothing to say to me, so
she invented that."
"Oh then, if it's a convenience to her I certainly will take you
with me. Though I don't see why it should be a convenience,"
Ralph added in a moment.
"Well," said Caspar Goodwood simply, "she thinks I'm watching
"Trying to make out if she's happy."
"That's easy to make out," said Ralph. "She's the most visibly
happy woman I know."
"Exactly so; I'm satisfied," Goodwood answered dryly. For all his
dryness, however, he had more to say. "I've been watching her; I
was an old friend and it seemed to me I had the right. She
pretends to be happy; that was what she undertook to be; and I
thought I should like to see for myself what it amounts to. I've
seen," he continued with a harsh ring in his voice, "and I don't
want to see any more. I'm now quite ready to go."
"Do you know it strikes me as about time you should?" Ralph
rejoined. And this was the only conversation these gentlemen had
about Isabel Osmond.
Henrietta made her preparations for departure, and among them she
found it proper to say a few words to the Countess Gemini, who
returned at Miss Stackpole's pension the visit which this lady
had paid her in Florence.
"You were very wrong about Lord Warburton," she remarked to the
Countess. "I think it right you should know that."
"About his making love to Isabel? My poor lady, he was at her
house three times a day. He has left traces of his passage!" the
"He wished to marry your niece; that's why he came to the house."
The Countess stared, and then with an inconsiderate laugh: "Is
that the story that Isabel tells? It isn't bad, as such things
go. If he wishes to marry my niece, pray why doesn't he do it?
Perhaps he has gone to buy the wedding-ring and will come back
with it next month, after I'm gone."
"No, he'll not come back. Miss Osmond doesn't wish to marry him."
"She's very accommodating! I knew she was fond of Isabel, but I
didn't know she carried it so far."
"I don't understand you," said Henrietta coldly, and reflecting
that the Countess was unpleasantly perverse. "I really must stick
to my point--that Isabel never encouraged the attentions of Lord
"My dear friend, what do you and I know about it? All we know is
that my brother's capable of everything."
"I don't know what your brother's capable of," said Henrietta
"It's not her encouraging Warburton that I complain of; it's her
sending him away. I want particularly to see him. Do you suppose
she thought I would make him faithless?" the Countess continued
with audacious insistence. "However, she's only keeping him, one
can feel that. The house is full of him there; he's quite in the
air. Oh yes, he has left traces; I'm sure I shall see him yet."
"Well," said Henrietta after a little, with one of those
inspirations which had made the fortune of her letters to the
Interviewer, "perhaps he'll be more successful with you than with
When she told her friend of the offer she had made Ralph Isabel
replied that she could have done nothing that would have pleased
her more. It had always been her faith that at bottom Ralph and
this young woman were made to understand each other. "I don't
care whether he understands me or not," Henrietta declared. "The
great thing is that he shouldn't die in the cars."
"He won't do that," Isabel said, shaking her head with an
extension of faith.
"He won't if I can help it. I see you want us all to go. I don't
know what you want to do."
"I want to be alone," said Isabel.
"You won't be that so long as you've so much company at home."
"Ah, they're part of the comedy. You others are spectators."
"Do you call it a comedy, Isabel Archer?" Henrietta rather grimly
"The tragedy then if you like. You're all looking at me; it makes
Henrietta engaged in this act for a while. "You're like the
stricken deer, seeking the innermost shade. Oh, you do give me
such a sense of helplessness!" she broke out.
"I'm not at all helpless. There are many things I mean to do."
"It's not you I'm speaking of; it's myself. It's too much, having
come on purpose, to leave you just as I find you."
"You don't do that; you leave me much refreshed," Isabel said.
"Very mild refreshment--sour lemonade! I want you to promise me
"I can't do that. I shall never make another promise. I made such
a solemn one four years ago, and I've succeeded so ill in keeping
"You've had no encouragement. In this case I should give you the
greatest. Leave your husband before the worst comes; that's what
I want you to promise."
"The worst? What do you call the worst?"
"Before your character gets spoiled."
"Do you mean my disposition? It won't get spoiled," Isabel
answered, smiling. "I'm taking very good care of it. I'm
extremely struck," she added, turning away, "with the off-hand
way in which you speak of a woman's leaving her husband. It's
easy to see you've never had one!"
"Well," said Henrietta as if she were beginning an argument,
"nothing is more common in our Western cities, and it's to them,
after all, that we must look in the future." Her argument,
however, does not concern this history, which has too many other
threads to unwind. She announced to Ralph Touchett that she was
ready to leave Rome by any train he might designate, and Ralph
immediately pulled himself together for departure. Isabel went to
see him at the last, and he made the same remark that Henrietta
had made. It struck him that Isabel was uncommonly glad to get
rid of them all.
For all answer to this she gently laid her hand on his, and said
in a low tone, with a quick smile: "My dear Ralph--!"
It was answer enough, and he was quite contented. But he went on
in the same way, jocosely, ingenuously: "I've seen less of you
than I might, but it's better than nothing. And then I've heard a
great deal about you."
"I don't know from whom, leading the life you've done."
"From the voices of the air! Oh, from no one else; I never let
other people speak of you. They always say you're 'charming,' and
that's so flat."
"I might have seen more of you certainly," Isabel said. "But when
one's married one has so much occupation."
"Fortunately I'm not married. When you come to see me in England
I shall be able to entertain you with all the freedom of a
bachelor." He continued to talk as if they should certainly meet
again, and succeeded in making the assumption appear almost just.
He made no allusion to his term being near, to the probability
that he should not outlast the summer. If he preferred it so,
Isabel was willing enough; the reality was sufficiently distinct
without their erecting finger-posts in conversation. That had
been well enough for the earlier time, though about this, as
about his other affairs, Ralph had never been egotistic. Isabel
spoke of his journey, of the stages into which he should divide
it, of the precautions he should take. "Henrietta's my greatest
precaution," he went on. "The conscience of that woman's sublime."
"Certainly she'll be very conscientious."
"Will be? She has been! It's only because she thinks it's her
duty that she goes with me. There's a conception of duty for
"Yes, it's a generous one," said Isabel, "and it makes me deeply
ashamed. I ought to go with you, you know."
"Your husband wouldn't like that."
"No, he wouldn't like it. But I might go, all the same."
"I'm startled by the boldness of your imagination. Fancy my being
a cause of disagreement between a lady and her husband!"
"That's why I don't go," said Isabel simply--yet not very
Ralph understood well enough, however. "I should think so, with
all those occupations you speak of."
"It isn't that. I'm afraid," said Isabel. After a pause she
repeated, as if to make herself, rather than him, hear the words:
Ralph could hardly tell what her tone meant; it was so strangely
deliberate--apparently so void of emotion. Did she wish to do
public penance for a fault of which she had not been convicted?
or were her words simply an attempt at enlightened self-analysis?
However this might be, Ralph could not resist so easy an
opportunity. "Afraid of your husband?"
"Afraid of myself!" she said, getting up. She stood there a
moment and then added: "If I were afraid of my husband that would
be simply my duty. That's what women are expected to be."
"Ah yes," laughed Ralph; "but to make up for it there's always
some man awfully afraid of some woman!"
She gave no heed to this pleasantry, but suddenly took a
different turn. "With Henrietta at the head of your little band,"
she exclaimed abruptly, "there will be nothing left for Mr.
"Ah, my dear Isabel," Ralph answered, "he's used to that. There
is nothing left for Mr. Goodwood."
She coloured and then observed, quickly, that she must leave him.
They stood together a moment; both her hands were in both of his.
"You've been my best friend," she said.
"It was for you that I wanted--that I wanted to live. But I'm of
no use to you."
Then it came over her more poignantly that she should not see him
again. She could not accept that; she could not part with him
that way. "If you should send for me I'd come," she said at last.
"Your husband won't consent to that."
"Oh yes, I can arrange it."
"I shall keep that for my last pleasure!" said Ralph.
In answer to which she simply kissed him. It was a Thursday, and
that evening Caspar Goodwood came to Palazzo Roccanera. He was
among the first to arrive, and he spent some time in conversation
with Gilbert Osmond, who almost always was present when his wife
received. They sat down together, and Osmond, talkative,
communicative, expansive, seemed possessed with a kind of
intellectual gaiety. He leaned back with his legs crossed,
lounging and chatting, while Goodwood, more restless, but not at
all lively, shifted his position, played with his hat, made the
little sofa creak beneath him. Osmond's face wore a sharp,
aggressive smile; he was as a man whose perceptions have been
quickened by good news. He remarked to Goodwood that he was sorry
they were to lose him; he himself should particularly miss him.
He saw so few intelligent men--they were surprisingly scarce in
Rome. He must be sure to come back; there was something very
refreshing, to an inveterate Italian like himself, in talking
with a genuine outsider.
"I'm very fond of Rome, you know," Osmond said; "but there's
nothing I like better than to meet people who haven't that
superstition. The modern world's after all very fine. Now you're
thoroughly modern and yet are not at all common. So many of the
moderns we see are such very poor stuff. If they're the children
of the future we're willing to die young. Of course the ancients
too are often very tiresome. My wife and I like everything that's
really new--not the mere pretence of it. There's nothing new,
unfortunately, in ignorance and stupidity. We see plenty of that
in forms that offer themselves as a revelation of progress, of
light. A revelation of vulgarity! There's a certain kind of
vulgarity which I believe is really new; I don't think there ever
was anything like it before. Indeed I don't find vulgarity, at
all, before the present century. You see a faint menace of it
here and there in the last, but to-day the air has grown so dense
that delicate things are literally not recognised. Now, we've
liked you--!" With which he hesitated a moment, laying his hand
gently on Goodwood's knee and smiling with a mixture of assurance
and embarrassment. "I'm going to say something extremely offensive
and patronising, but you must let me have the satisfaction of it.
We've liked you because--because you've reconciled us a little to
the future. If there are to be a certain number of people like
you--a la bonne heure! I'm talking for my wife as well as for
myself, you see. She speaks for me, my wife; why shouldn't I
speak for her? We're as united, you know, as the candlestick and
the snuffers. Am I assuming too much when I say that I think I've
understood from you that your occupations have been--a--
commercial? There's a danger in that, you know; but it's the way
you have escaped that strikes us. Excuse me if my little
compliment seems in execrable taste; fortunately my wife doesn't
hear me. What I mean is that you might have been--a--what I was
mentioning just now. The whole American world was in a conspiracy
to make you so. But you resisted, you've something about you that
saved you. And yet you're so modern, so modern; the most modern
man we know! We shall always be delighted to see you again."
I have said that Osmond was in good humour, and these remarks
will give ample evidence of the fact. They were infinitely more
personal than he usually cared to be, and if Caspar Goodwood had
attended to them more closely he might have thought that the
defence of delicacy was in rather odd hands. We may believe,
however, that Osmond knew very well what he was about, and that
if he chose to use the tone of patronage with a grossness not in
his habits he had an excellent reason for the escapade. Goodwood
had only a vague sense that he was laying it on somehow; he
scarcely knew where the mixture was applied. Indeed he scarcely
knew what Osmond was talking about; he wanted to be alone with
Isabel, and that idea spoke louder to him than her husband's
perfectly-pitched voice. He watched her talking with other people
and wondered when she would be at liberty and whether he might
ask her to go into one of the other rooms. His humour was not,
like Osmond's, of the best; there was an element of dull rage in
his consciousness of things. Up to this time he had not disliked
Osmond personally; he had only thought him very well-informed and
obliging and more than he had supposed like the person whom
Isabel Archer would naturally marry. His host had won in the open
field a great advantage over him, and Goodwood had too strong a
sense of fair play to have been moved to underrate him on that
account. He had not tried positively to think well of him; this
was a flight of sentimental benevolence of which, even in the
days when he came nearest to reconciling himself to what had
happened, Goodwood was quite incapable. He accepted him as rather
a brilliant personage of the amateurish kind, afflicted with a
redundancy of leisure which it amused him to work off in little
refinements of conversation. But he only half trusted him; he
could never make out why the deuce Osmond should lavish
refinements of any sort upon HIM. It made him suspect that he
found some private entertainment in it, and it ministered to a
general impression that his triumphant rival had in his
composition a streak of perversity. He knew indeed that Osmond
could have no reason to wish him evil; he had nothing to fear
from him. He had carried off a supreme advantage and could afford
to be kind to a man who had lost everything. It was true that
Goodwood had at times grimly wished he were dead and would have
liked to kill him; but Osmond had no means of knowing this, for
practice had made the younger man perfect in the art of appearing
inaccessible to-day to any violent emotion. He cultivated this
art in order to deceive himself, but it was others that he
deceived first. He cultivated it, moreover, with very limited
success; of which there could be no better proof than the deep,
dumb irritation that reigned in his soul when he heard Osmond
speak of his wife's feelings as if he were commissioned to answer
That was all he had had an ear for in what his host said to him
this evening; he had been conscious that Osmond made more of a
point even than usual of referring to the conjugal harmony
prevailing at Palazzo Roccanera. He had been more careful than
ever to speak as if he and his wife had all things in sweet
community and it were as natural to each of them to say "we" as
to say "I". In all this there was an air of intention that had
puzzled and angered our poor Bostonian, who could only reflect
for his comfort that Mrs. Osmond's relations with her husband
were none of his business. He had no proof whatever that her
husband misrepresented her, and if he judged her by the surface
of things was bound to believe that she liked her life. She had
never given him the faintest sign of discontent. Miss Stackpole
had told him that she had lost her illusions, but writing for the
papers had made Miss Stackpole sensational. She was too fond of
early news. Moreover, since her arrival in Rome she had been much
on her guard; she had pretty well ceased to flash her lantern at
him. This indeed, it may be said for her, would have been quite
against her conscience. She had now seen the reality of Isabel's
situation, and it had inspired her with a just reserve. Whatever
could be done to improve it the most useful form of assistance
would not be to inflame her former lovers with a sense of her
wrongs. Miss Stackpole continued to take a deep interest in the
state of Mr. Goodwood's feelings, but she showed it at present
only by sending him choice extracts, humorous and other, from the
American journals, of which she received several by every post
and which she always perused with a pair of scissors in her hand.
The articles she cut out she placed in an envelope addressed to
Mr. Goodwood, which she left with her own hand at his hotel. He
never asked her a question about Isabel: hadn't he come five
thousand miles to see for himself? He was thus not in the least
authorised to think Mrs. Osmond unhappy; but the very absence of
authorisation operated as an irritant, ministered to the harsh-
ness with which, in spite of his theory that he had ceased to
care, he now recognised that, so far as she was concerned, the
future had nothing more for him. He had not even the satisfaction
of knowing the truth; apparently he could not even be trusted to
respect her if she WERE unhappy. He was hopeless, helpless,
useless. To this last character she had called his attention by
her ingenious plan for making him leave Rome. He had no objection
whatever to doing what he could for her cousin, but it made him
grind his teeth to think that of all the services she might have
asked of him this was the one she had been eager to select. There
had been no danger of her choosing one that would have kept him
To-night what he was chiefly thinking of was that he was to leave
her to-morrow and that he had gained nothing by coming but the
knowledge that he was as little wanted as ever. About herself he
had gained no knowledge; she was imperturbable, inscrutable,
impenetrable. He felt the old bitterness, which he had tried so
hard to swallow, rise again in his throat, and he knew there are
disappointments that last as long as life. Osmond went on
talking; Goodwood was vaguely aware that he was touching again
upon his perfect intimacy with his wife. It seemed to him for a
moment that the man had a kind of demonic imagination; it was
impossible that without malice he should have selected so unusual
a topic. But what did it matter, after all, whether he were
demonic or not, and whether she loved him or hated him? She might
hate him to the death without one's gaining a straw one's self.
"You travel, by the by, with Ralph Touchett," Osmond said. "I
suppose that means you'll move slowly?"
"I don't know. I shall do just as he likes."
"You're very accommodating. We're immensely obliged to you; you
must really let me say it. My wife has probably expressed to you
what we feel. Touchett has been on our minds all winter; it has
looked more than once as if he would never leave Rome. He ought
never to have come; it's worse than an imprudence for people in
that state to travel; it's a kind of indelicacy. I wouldn't for
the world be under such an obligation to Touchett as he has been
to--to my wife and me. Other people inevitably have to look after
him, and every one isn't so generous as you."
"I've nothing else to do," Caspar said dryly.
Osmond looked at him a moment askance. "You ought to marry, and
then you'd have plenty to do! It's true that in that case you
wouldn't be quite so available for deeds of mercy."
"Do you find that as a married man you're so much occupied?" the
young man mechanically asked.
"Ah, you see, being married's in itself an occupation. It isn't
always active; it's often passive; but that takes even more
attention. Then my wife and I do so many things together. We
read, we study, we make music, we walk, we drive--we talk even,
as when we first knew each other. I delight, to this hour, in my
wife's conversation. If you're ever bored take my advice and get
married. Your wife indeed may bore you, in that case; but you'll
never bore yourself. You'll always have something to say to
yourself--always have a subject of reflection."
"I'm not bored," said Goodwood. "I've plenty to think about and
to say to myself."
"More than to say to others!" Osmond exclaimed with a light
laugh. "Where shall you go next? I mean after you've consigned
Touchett to his natural caretakers--I believe his mother's at
last coming back to look after him. That little lady's superb;
she neglects her duties with a finish--! Perhaps you'll spend the
summer in England?"
"I don't know. I've no plans."
"Happy man! That's a little bleak, but it's very free."
"Oh yes, I'm very free."
"Free to come back to Rome I hope," said Osmond as he saw a group
of new visitors enter the room. "Remember that when you do come
we count on you!"
Goodwood had meant to go away early, but the evening elapsed
without his having a chance to speak to Isabel otherwise than as
one of several associated interlocutors. There was something
perverse in the inveteracy with which she avoided him; his
unquenchable rancour discovered an intention where there was
certainly no appearance of one. There was absolutely no appearance
of one. She met his eyes with her clear hospitable smile, which
seemed almost to ask that he would come and help her to entertain
some of her visitors. To such suggestions, however, he opposed
but a stiff impatience. He wandered about and waited; he talked
to the few people he knew, who found him for the first time
rather self-contradictory. This was indeed rare with Caspar
Goodwood, though he often contradicted others. There was often
music at Palazzo Roccanera, and it was usually very good. Under
cover of the music he managed to contain himself; but toward the
end, when he saw the people beginning to go, he drew near to
Isabel and asked her in a low tone if he might not speak to her
in one of the other rooms, which he had just assured himself was
empty. She smiled as if she wished to oblige him but found her
self absolutely prevented. "I'm afraid it's impossible. People
are saying good-night, and I must be where they can see me."
"I shall wait till they are all gone then."
She hesitated a moment. "Ah, that will be delightful!" she
And he waited, though it took a long time yet. There were several
people, at the end, who seemed tethered to the carpet. The
Countess Gemini, who was never herself till midnight, as she
said, displayed no consciousness that the entertainment was over;
she had still a little circle of gentlemen in front of the fire,
who every now and then broke into a united laugh. Osmond had
disappeared--he never bade good-bye to people; and as the
Countess was extending her range, according to her custom at this
period of the evening, Isabel had sent Pansy to bed. Isabel sat a
little apart; she too appeared to wish her sister-in-law would
sound a lower note and let the last loiterers depart in peace.
"May I not say a word to you now?" Goodwood presently asked her.
She got up immediately, smiling. "Certainly, we'll go somewhere
else if you like." They went together, leaving the Countess with
her little circle, and for a moment after they had crossed the
threshold neither of them spoke. Isabel would not sit down; she
stood in the middle of the room slowly fanning herself; she had
for him the same familiar grace. She seemed to wait for him to
speak. Now that he was alone with her all the passion he had
never stifled surged into his senses; it hummed in his eyes
and made things swim round him. The bright, empty room grew dim
and blurred, and through the heaving veil he felt her hover
before him with gleaming eyes and parted lips. If he had seen
more distinctly he would have perceived her smile was fixed and a
trifle forced--that she was frightened at what she saw in his own
face. "I suppose you wish to bid me goodbye?" she said.
"Yes--but I don't like it. I don't want to leave Rome," he
answered with almost plaintive honesty.
"I can well imagine. It's wonderfully good of you. I can't tell
you how kind I think you."
For a moment more he said nothing. "With a few words like that
you make me go."
"You must come back some day," she brightly returned.
"Some day? You mean as long a time hence as possible."
"Oh no; I don't mean all that."
"What do you mean? I don't understand! But I said I'd go, and
I'll go," Goodwood added.
"Come back whenever you like," said Isabel with attempted
"I don't care a straw for your cousin!" Caspar broke out.
"Is that what you wished to tell me?"
"No, no; I didn't want to tell you anything; I wanted to ask
you--" he paused a moment, and then--"what have you really made
of your life?" he said, in a low, quick tone. He paused again,
as if for an answer; but she said nothing, and he went on: "I
can't understand, I can't penetrate you! What am I to believe--
what do you want me to think?" Still she said nothing; she only
stood looking at him, now quite without pretending to ease. "I'm
told you're unhappy, and if you are I should like to know it.
That would be something for me. But you yourself say you're
happy, and you're somehow so still, so smooth, so hard. You're
completely changed. You conceal everything; I haven't really come
"You come very near," Isabel said gently, but in a tone of
"And yet I don't touch you! I want to know the truth. Have you
"You ask a great deal."
"Yes--I've always asked a great deal. Of course you won't tell
me. I shall never know if you can help it. And then it's none of
my business." He had spoken with a visible effort to control
himself, to give a considerate form to an inconsiderate state of
mind. But the sense that it was his last chance, that he loved
her and had lost her, that she would think him a fool whatever he
should say, suddenly gave him a lash and added a deep vibration
to his low voice. "You're perfectly inscrutable, and that's what
makes me think you've something to hide. I tell you I don't care
a straw for your cousin, but I don't mean that I don't like him.
I mean that it isn't because I like him that I go away with him.
I'd go if he were an idiot and you should have asked me. If you
should ask me I'd go to Siberia tomorrow. Why do you want me to
leave the place? You must have some reason for that; if you were
as contented as you pretend you are you wouldn't care. I'd rather
know the truth about you, even if it's damnable, than have come
here for nothing. That isn't what I came for. I thought I
shouldn't care. I came because I wanted to assure myself that I
needn't think of you any more. I haven't thought of anything else,
and you're quite right to wish me to go away. But if I must go,
there's no harm in my letting myself out for a single moment, is
there? If you're really hurt--if HE hurts you--nothing I say will
hurt you. When I tell you I love you it's simply what I came for.
I thought it was for something else; but it was for that. I
shouldn't say it if I didn't believe I should never see you again.
It's the last time--let me pluck a single flower! I've no right to
say that, I know; and you've no right to listen. But you don't
listen; you never listen, you're always thinking of something else.
After this I must go, of course; so I shall at least have a
reason. Your asking me is no reason, not a real one. I can't
judge by your husband," he went on irrelevantly, almost
incoherently; "I don't understand him; he tells me you adore each
other. Why does he tell me that? What business is it of mine?
When I say that to you, you look strange. But you always look
strange. Yes, you've something to hide. It's none of my business
--very true. But I love you," said Caspar Goodwood.
As he said, she looked strange. She turned her eyes to the door
by which they had entered and raised her fan as if in warning.
"You've behaved so well; don't spoil it," she uttered softly.
"No one hears me. It's wonderful what you tried to put me off
with. I love you as I've never loved you."
"I know it. I knew it as soon as you consented to go."
"You can't help it--of course not. You would if you could, but you
can't, unfortunately. Unfortunately for me, I mean. I ask nothing
--nothing, that is, I shouldn't. But I do ask one sole
satisfaction:--that you tell me--that you tell me--!"
"That I tell you what?"
"Whether I may pity you."
"Should you like that?" Isabel asked, trying to smile again.
"To pity you? Most assuredly! That at least would be doing
something. I'd give my life to it."
She raised her fan to her face, which it covered all except her
eyes. They rested a moment on his. "Don't give your life to it;
but give a thought to it every now and then." And with that she
went back to the Countess Gemini.
Madame Merle had not made her appearance at Palazzo Roccanera on
the evening of that Thursday of which I have narrated some of the
incidents, and Isabel, though she observed her absence, was not
surprised by it. Things had passed between them which added no
stimulus to sociability, and to appreciate which we must glance a
little backward. It has been mentioned that Madame Merle returned
from Naples shortly after Lord Warburton had left Rome, and that
on her first meeting with Isabel (whom, to do her justice, she
came immediately to see) her first utterance had been an enquiry
as to the whereabouts of this nobleman, for whom she appeared to
hold her dear friend accountable.
"Please don't talk of him," said Isabel for answer; "we've heard
so much of him of late."
Madame Merle bent her head on one side a little, protestingly,
and smiled at the left corner of her mouth. "You've heard, yes.
But you must remember that I've not, in Naples. I hoped to find
him here and to be able to congratulate Pansy."
"You may congratulate Pansy still; but not on marrying Lord
"How you say that! Don't you know I had set my heart on it?"
Madame Merle asked with a great deal of spirit, but still with
the intonation of good-humour.
Isabel was discomposed, but she was determined to be good-humoured
too. "You shouldn't have gone to Naples then. You should have
stayed here to watch the affair."
"I had too much confidence in you. But do you think it's too late?"
"You had better ask Pansy," said Isabel.
"I shall ask her what you've said to her."
These words seemed to justify the impulse of self-defence aroused
on Isabel's part by her perceiving that her visitor's attitude was
a critical one. Madame Merle, as we know, had been very discreet
hitherto; she had never criticised; she had been markedly afraid
of intermeddling. But apparently she had only reserved herself for
this occasion, since she now had a dangerous quickness in her eye
and an air of irritation which even her admirable ease was not
able to transmute. She had suffered a disappointment which excited
Isabel's surprise--our heroine having no knowledge of her zealous
interest in Pansy's marriage; and she betrayed it in a manner
which quickened Mrs. Osmond's alarm. More clearly than ever before
Isabel heard a cold, mocking voice proceed from she knew not
where, in the dim void that surrounded her, and declare that this
bright, strong, definite, worldly woman, this incarnation of the
practical, the personal, the immediate, was a powerful agent in
her destiny. She was nearer to her than Isabel had yet discovered,
and her nearness was not the charming accident she had so long
supposed. The sense of accident indeed had died within her that
day when she happened to be struck with the manner in which the
wonderful lady and her own husband sat together in private. No
definite suspicion had as yet taken its place; but it was enough
to make her view this friend with a different eye, to have been
led to reflect that there was more intention in her past
behaviour than she had allowed for at the time. Ah yes, there had
been intention, there had been intention, Isabel said to herself;
and she seemed to wake from a long pernicious dream. What was it
that brought home to her that Madame Merle's intention had not
been good? Nothing but the mistrust which had lately taken body
and which married itself now to the fruitful wonder produced by
her visitor's challenge on behalf of poor Pansy. There was
something in this challenge which had at the very outset excited
an answering defiance; a nameless vitality which she could see to
have been absent from her friend's professions of delicacy and
caution. Madame Merle had been unwilling to interfere, certainly,
but only so long as there was nothing to interfere with. It will
perhaps seem to the reader that Isabel went fast in casting
doubt, on mere suspicion, on a sincerity proved by several years
of good offices. She moved quickly indeed, and with reason, for a
strange truth was filtering into her soul. Madame Merle's
interest was identical with Osmond's: that was enough. "I think
Pansy will tell you nothing that will make you more angry," she
said in answer to her companion's last remark.
"I'm not in the least angry. I've only a great desire to retrieve
the situation. Do you consider that Warburton has left us for
"I can't tell you; I don't understand you. It's all over; please
let it rest. Osmond has talked to me a great deal about it, and
I've nothing more to say or to hear. I've no doubt," Isabel
added, "that he'll be very happy to discuss the subject with
"I know what he thinks; he came to see me last evening."
"As soon as you had arrived? Then you know all about it and you
needn't apply to me for information."
"It isn't information I want. At bottom it's sympathy. I had set
my heart on that marriage; the idea did what so few things do--
it satisfied the imagination."
"Your imagination, yes. But not that of the persons concerned."
"You mean by that of course that I'm not concerned. Of course not
directly. But when one's such an old friend one can't help having
something at stake. You forget how long I've known Pansy. You
mean, of course," Madame Merle added, "that YOU are one of the
"No; that's the last thing I mean. I'm very weary of it all."
Madame Merle hesitated a little. "Ah yes, your work's done."
"Take care what you say," said Isabel very gravely.
"Oh, I take care; never perhaps more than when it appears least.
Your husband judges you severely."
Isabel made for a moment no answer to this; she felt choked with
bitterness. It was not the insolence of Madame Merle's informing
her that Osmond had been taking her into his confidence as
against his wife that struck her most; for she was not quick to
believe that this was meant for insolence. Madame Merle was very
rarely insolent, and only when it was exactly right. It was not
right now, or at least it was not right yet. What touched Isabel
like a drop of corrosive acid upon an open wound was the knowledge
that Osmond dishonoured her in his words as well as in his
thoughts. "Should you like to know how I judge HIM?" she asked
"No, because you'd never tell me. And it would be painful for me
There was a pause, and for the first time since she had known her
Isabel thought Madame Merle disagreeable. She wished she would
leave her. "Remember how attractive Pansy is, and don't despair,"
she said abruptly, with a desire that this should close their
But Madame Merle's expansive presence underwent no contraction.
She only gathered her mantle about her and, with the movement,
scattered upon the air a faint, agreeable fragrance. "I don't
despair; I feel encouraged. And I didn't come to scold you; I
came if possible to learn the truth. I know you'll tell it if I
ask you. It's an immense blessing with you that one can count
upon that. No, you won't believe what a comfort I take in it."
"What truth do you speak of?" Isabel asked, wondering.
"Just this: whether Lord Warburton changed his mind quite of his
own movement or because you recommended it. To please himself I
mean, or to please you. Think of the confidence I must still
have in you, in spite of having lost a little of it," Madame
Merle continued with a smile, "to ask such a question as that!"
She sat looking at her friend, to judge the effect of her words,
and then went on: "Now don't be heroic, don't be unreasonable,
don't take offence. It seems to me I do you an honour in speaking
so. I don't know another woman to whom I would do it. I haven't
the least idea that any other woman would tell me the truth. And
don't you see how well it is that your husband should know it?
It's true that he doesn't appear to have had any tact whatever
in trying to extract it; he has indulged in gratuitous
suppositions. But that doesn't alter the fact that it would make
a difference in his view of his daughter's prospects to know
distinctly what really occurred. If Lord Warburton simply got
tired of the poor child, that's one thing, and it's a pity. If he
gave her up to please you it's another. That's a pity too, but in
a different way. Then, in the latter case, you'd perhaps resign
yourself to not being pleased--to simply seeing your
step-daughter married. Let him off--let us have him!"
Madame Merle had proceeded very deliberately, watching her
companion and apparently thinking she could proceed safely. As
she went on Isabel grew pale; she clasped her hands more tightly
in her lap. It was not that her visitor had at last thought it
the right time to be insolent; for this was not what was most
apparent. It was a worse horror than that. "Who are you--what are
you?" Isabel murmured. "What have you to do with my husband?"
It was strange that for the moment she drew as near to him as if
she had loved him.
"Ah then, you take it heroically! I'm very sorry. Don't think,
however, that I shall do so."
"What have you to do with me?" Isabel went on.
Madame Merle slowly got up, stroking her muff, but not removing
her eyes from Isabel's face. "Everything!" she answered.
Isabel sat there looking up at her, without rising; her face was
almost a prayer to be enlightened. But the light of this woman's
eyes seemed only a darkness. "Oh misery!" she murmured at last;
and she fell back, covering her face with her hands. It had come
over her like a high-surging wave that Mrs. Touchett was right.
Madame Merle had married her. Before she uncovered her face again
that lady had left the room.
Isabel took a drive alone that afternoon; she wished to be far
away, under the sky, where she could descend from her carriage
and tread upon the daisies. She had long before this taken old
Rome into her confidence, for in a world of ruins the ruin of her
happiness seemed a less unnatural catastrophe. She rested her
weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet
still were upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the
silence of lonely places, where its very modern quality detached
itself and grew objective, so that as she sat in a sun-warmed
angle on a winter's day, or stood in a mouldy church to which no
one came, she could almost smile at it and think of its
smallness. Small it was, in the large Roman record, and her
haunting sense of the continuity of the human lot easily carried
her from the less to the greater. She had become deeply, tenderly
acquainted with Rome; it interfused and moderated her passion.
But she had grown to think of it chiefly as the place where
people had suffered. This was what came to her in the starved
churches, where the marble columns, transferred from pagan ruins,
seemed to offer her a companionship in endurance and the musty
incense to be a compound of long-unanswered prayers. There was no
gentler nor less consistent heretic than Isabel; the firmest of
worshippers, gazing at dark altar-pictures or clustered candles,
could not have felt more intimately the suggestiveness of these
objects nor have been more liable at such moments to a spiritual
visitation. Pansy, as we know, was almost always her companion,
and of late the Countess Gemini, balancing a pink parasol, had
lent brilliancy to their equipage; but she still occasionally
found herself alone when it suited her mood and where it suited
the place. On such occasions she had several resorts; the most
accessible of which perhaps was a seat on the low parapet which
edges the wide grassy space before the high, cold front of Saint
John Lateran, whence you look across the Campagna at the
far-trailing outline of the Alban Mount and at that mighty plain,
between, which is still so full of all that has passed from it.
After the departure of her cousin and his companions she roamed
more than usual; she carried her sombre spirit from one familiar
shrine to the other. Even when Pansy and the Countess were with
her she felt the touch of a vanished world. The carriage, leaving
the walls of Rome behind, rolled through narrow lanes where the
wild honeysuckle had begun to tangle itself in the hedges, or
waited for her in quiet places where the fields lay near, while
she strolled further and further over the flower-freckled turf, or
sat on a stone that had once had a use and gazed through the veil
of her personal sadness at the splendid sadness of the scene--at
the dense, warm light, the far gradations and soft confusions of
colour, the motionless shepherds in lonely attitudes, the hills
where the cloud-shadows had the lightness of a blush.
On the afternoon I began with speaking of, she had taken a
resolution not to think of Madame Merle; but the resolution
proved vain, and this lady's image hovered constantly before her.
She asked herself, with an almost childlike horror of the
supposition, whether to this intimate friend of several years the
great historical epithet of wicked were to be applied. She knew
the idea only by the Bible and other literary works; to the best
of her belief she had had no personal acquaintance with
wickedness. She had desired a large acquaintance with human life,
and in spite of her having flattered herself that she cultivated
it with some success this elementary privilege had been denied
her. Perhaps it was not wicked--in the historic sense--to be even
deeply false; for that was what Madame Merle had been--deeply,
deeply, deeply. Isabel's Aunt Lydia had made this discovery long
before, and had mentioned it to her niece; but Isabel had
flattered herself at this time that she had a much richer view of
things, especially of the spontaneity of her own career and the
nobleness of her own interpretations, than poor stiffly-reasoning
Mrs. Touchett. Madame Merle had done what she wanted; she had
brought about the union of her two friends; a reflection which
could not fail to make it a matter of wonder that she should so
much have desired such an event. There were people who had the
match-making passion, like the votaries of art for art; but
Madame Merle, great artist as she was, was scarcely one of these.
She thought too ill of marriage, too ill even of life; she had
desired that particular marriage but had not desired others. She
had therefore had a conception of gain, and Isabel asked herself
where she had found her profit. It took her naturally a long time
to discover, and even then her discovery was imperfect. It came
back to her that Madame Merle, though she had seemed to like her
from their first meeting at Gardencourt, had been doubly
affectionate after Mr. Touchett's death and after learning that
her young friend had been subject to the good old man's charity.
She had found her profit not in the gross device of borrowing
money, but in the more refined idea of introducing one of her
intimates to the young woman's fresh and ingenuous fortune. She
had naturally chosen her closest intimate, and it was already
vivid enough to Isabel that Gilbert occupied this position. She
found herself confronted in this manner with the conviction that
the man in the world whom she had supposed to be the least sordid
had married her, like a vulgar adventurer, for her money. Strange
to say, it had never before occurred to her; if she had thought a
good deal of harm of Osmond she had not done him this particular
injury. This was the worst she could think of, and she had been
saying to herself that the worst was still to come. A man might
marry a woman for her money perfectly well; the thing was often
done. But at least he should let her know. She wondered whether,
since he had wanted her money, her money would now satisfy him.
Would he take her money and let her go Ah, if Mr. Touchett's
great charity would but help her to-day it would be blessed
indeed! It was not slow to occur to her that if Madame Merle had
wished to do Gilbert a service his recognition to her of the boon
must have lost its warmth. What must be his feelings to-day in
regard to his too zealous benefactress, and what expression must
they have found on the part of such a master of irony? It is a
singular, but a characteristic, fact that before Isabel returned
from her silent drive she had broken its silence by the soft
exclamation: "Poor, poor Madame Merle!"
Her compassion would perhaps have been justified if on this same
afternoon she had been concealed behind one of the valuable
curtains of time-softened damask which dressed the interesting
little salon of the lady to whom it referred; the
carefully-arranged apartment to which we once paid a visit in
company with the discreet Mr. Rosier. In that apartment, towards
six o'clock, Gilbert Osmond was seated, and his hostess stood
before him as Isabel had seen her stand on an occasion
commemorated in this history with an emphasis appropriate not so
much to its apparent as to its real importance.
"I don't believe you're unhappy; I believe you like it," said
"Did I say I was unhappy?" Osmond asked with a face grave
enough to suggest that he might have been.
"No, but you don't say the contrary, as you ought in common
"Don't talk about gratitude," he returned dryly. "And don't
aggravate me," he added in a moment.
Madame Merle slowly seated herself, with her arms folded and her
white hands arranged as a support to one of them and an ornament,
as it were, to the other. She looked exquisitely calm but
impressively sad. "On your side, don't try to frighten me. I
wonder if you guess some of my thoughts."
"I trouble about them no more than I can help. I've quite
enough of my own."
"That's because they're so delightful."
Osmond rested his head against the back of his chair and looked
at his companion with a cynical directness which seemed also
partly an expression of fatigue. "You do aggravate me," he
remarked in a moment. "I'm very tired."
"Eh moi donc!" cried Madame Merle.
"With you it's because you fatigue yourself. With me it's not my
"When I fatigue myself it's for you. I've given you an interest.
That's a great gift."
"Do you call it an interest?" Osmond enquired with detachment.
"Certainly, since it helps you to pass your time."
"The time has never seemed longer to me than this winter."
"You've never looked better; you've never been so agreeable, so
"Damn my brilliancy!" he thoughtfully murmured. "How little,
after all, you know me!"
"If I don't know you I know nothing," smiled Madame Merle.
"You've the feeling of complete success."
"No, I shall not have that till I've made you stop judging me."