Part 6 out of 7
"I did that long ago. I speak from old knowledge. But you express
yourself more too."
Osmond just hung fire. "I wish you'd express yourself less!"
"You wish to condemn me to silence? Remember that I've never
been a chatterbox. At any rate there are three or four things I
should like to say to you first. Your wife doesn't know what to
do with herself," she went on with a change of tone.
"Pardon me; she knows perfectly. She has a line sharply drawn.
She means to carry out her ideas."
"Her ideas to-day must be remarkable."
"Certainly they are. She has more of them than ever."
"She was unable to show me any this morning," said Madame Merle.
"She seemed in a very simple, almost in a stupid, state of mind.
She was completely bewildered."
"You had better say at once that she was pathetic."
"Ah no, I don't want to encourage you too much."
He still had his head against the cushion behind him; the ankle
of one foot rested on the other knee. So he sat for a while. "I
should like to know what's the matter with you," he said at last.
"The matter--the matter--!" And here Madame Merle stopped. Then
she went on with a sudden outbreak of passion, a burst of summer
thunder in a clear sky: "The matter is that I would give my right
hand to be able to weep, and that I can't!"
"What good would it do you to weep?"
"It would make me feel as I felt before I knew you."
"If I've dried your tears, that's something. But I've seen you
"Oh, I believe you'll make me cry still. I mean make me howl like
a wolf. I've a great hope, I've a great need, of that. I was vile
this morning; I was horrid," she said.
"If Isabel was in the stupid state of mind you mention she
probably didn't perceive it," Osmond answered.
"It was precisely my deviltry that stupefied her. I couldn't help
it; I was full of something bad. Perhaps it was something good;
I don't know. You've not only dried up my tears; you've dried up
"It's not I then that am responsible for my wife's condition,"
Osmond said. "It's pleasant to think that I shall get the benefit
of your influence upon her. Don't you know the soul is an
immortal principle? How can it suffer alteration?"
"I don't believe at all that it's an immortal principle. I
believe it can perfectly be destroyed. That's what has happened
to mine, which was a very good one to start with; and it's you I
have to thank for it. You're VERY bad," she added with gravity in
"Is this the way we're to end?" Osmond asked with the same
"I don't know how we're to end. I wish I did--How do bad people
end?--especially as to their COMMON crimes. You have made me as
bad as yourself."
"I don't understand you. You seem to me quite good enough," said
Osmond, his conscious indifference giving an extreme effect to
Madame Merle's self-possession tended on the contrary to
diminish, and she was nearer losing it than on any occasion on
which we have had the pleasure of meeting her. The glow of her
eye turners sombre; her smile betrayed a painful effort.
"Good enough for anything that I've done with myself? I suppose
that's what you mean."
"Good enough to be always charming!" Osmond exclaimed, smiling
"Oh God!" his companion murmured; and, sitting there in her ripe
freshness, she had recourse to the same gesture she had provoked
on Isabel's part in the morning: she bent her face and covered it
with her hands.
"Are you going to weep after all?" Osmond asked; and on her
remaining motionless he went on: "Have I ever complained to you?"
She dropped her hands quickly. "No, you've taken your revenge
otherwise--you have taken it on HER."
Osmond threw back his head further; he looked a while at the
ceiling and might have been supposed to be appealing, in an
informal way, to the heavenly powers. "Oh, the imagination of
women! It's always vulgar, at bottom. You talk of revenge like a
"Of course you haven't complained. You've enjoyed your triumph
"I'm rather curious to know what you call my triumph."
"You've made your wife afraid of you."
Osmond changed his position; he leaned forward, resting his
elbows on his knees and looking a while at a beautiful old
Persian rug, at his feet. He had an air of refusing to accept any
one's valuation of anything, even of time, and of preferring to
abide by his own; a peculiarity which made him at moments an
irritating person to converse with. "Isabel's not afraid of me,
and it's not what I wish," he said at last. "To what do you want
to provoke me when you say such things as that?"
"I've thought over all the harm you can do me," Madame Merle
answered. "Your wife was afraid of me this morning, but in me it
was really you she feared."
"You may have said things that were in very bad taste; I'm not
responsible for that. I didn't see the use of your going to see
her at all: you're capable of acting without her. I've not made
you afraid of me that I can see," he went on; "how then should I
have made her? You're at least as brave. I can't think where
you've picked up such rubbish; one might suppose you knew me by
this time." He got up as he spoke and walked to the chimney,
where he stood a moment bending his eye, as if he had seen them
for the first time, on the delicate specimens of rare porcelain
with which it was covered. He took up a small cup and held it in
his hand; then, still holding it and leaning his arm on the
mantel, he pursued: "You always see too much ins everything; you
overdo it; you lose sight of the real. I'm much simpler than you
"I think you're very simple." And Madame Merle kept her eye on
her cup. "I've come to that with time. I judged you, as I say, of
old; but it's only since your marriage that I've understood you.
I've seen better what you have been to your wife than I ever saw
what you were for me. Please be very careful of that precious
"It already has a wee bit of a tiny crack," said Osmond dryly as
he put it down. "If you didn't understand me before I married it
was cruelly rash of you to put me into such a box. However, I
took a fancy to my box myself; I thought it would be a
comfortable fit. I asked very little; I only asked that she
should like me."
"That she should like you so much!"
"So much, of course; in such a case one asks the maximum. That
she should adore me, if you will. Oh yes, I wanted that."
"I never adored you," said Madame Merle.
"Ah, but you pretended to!"
"It's true that you never accused me of being a comfortable fit,"
Madame Merle went on.
"My wife has declined--declined to do anything of the sort,"
said Osmond. "If you're determined to make a tragedy of that, the
tragedy's hardly for her."
"The tragedy's for me!" Madame Merle exclaimed, rising with a
long low sigh but having a glance at the same time for the
contents of her mantel-shelf.
"It appears that I'm to be severely taught the disadvantages of a
"You express yourself like a sentence in a copybook. We must look
for our comfort where we can find it. If my wife doesn't like me,
at least my child does. I shall look for compensations in Pansy.
Fortunately I haven't a fault to find with her."
"Ah," she said softly, "if I had a child--!"
Osmond waited, and then, with a little formal air, "The children
of others may be a great interest!" he announced.
"You're more like a copy-book than I. There's something after all
that holds us together."
"Is it the idea of the harm I may do you?" Osmond asked.
"No; it's the idea of the good I may do for you. It's that,"
Madame Merle pursued, "that made me so jealous of Isabel. I want
it to be MY work," she added, with her face, which had grown hard
and bitter, relaxing to its habit of smoothness.
Her friend took up his hat and his umbrella, and after giving the
former article two or three strokes with his coat-cuff, "On the
whole, I think," he said, "you had better leave it to me."
After he had left her she went, the first thing, and lifted from
the mantel-shelf the attenuated coffee-cup in which he had
mentioned the existence of a crack; but she looked at it rather
abstractedly. "Have I been so vile all for nothing?" she vaguely
As the Countess Gemini was not acquainted with the ancient
monuments Isabel occasionally offered to introduce her to these
interesting relics and to give their afternoon drive an
antiquarian aim. The Countess, who professed to think her
sister-in-law a prodigy of learning, never made an objection, and
gazed at masses of Roman brickwork as patiently as if they had
been mounds of modern drapery. She had not the historic sense,
though she had in some directions the anecdotic, and as regards
herself the apologetic, but she was so delighted to be in Rome
that she only desired to float with the current. She would gladly
have passed an hour every day in the damp darkness of the Baths
of Titus if it had been a condition of her remaining at Palazzo
Roccanera. Isabel, however, was not a severe cicerone; she used
to visit the ruins chiefly because they offered an excuse for
talking about other matters than the love affairs of the ladies of
Florence, as to which her companion was never weary of offering
information. It must be added that during these visits the
Countess forbade herself every form of active research; her
preference was to sit in the carriage and exclaim that everything
was most interesting. It was in this manner that she had hitherto
examined the Coliseum, to the infinite regret of her niece, who--
with all the respect that she owed her--could not see why she
should not descend from the vehicle and enter the building. Pansy
had so little chance to ramble that her view of the case was not
wholly disinterested; it may be divined that she had a secret
hope that, once inside, her parents' guest might be induced to
climb to the upper tiers. There came a day when the Countess
announced her willingness to undertake this feat--a mild
afternoon in March when the windy month expressed itself in
occasional puffs of spring. The three ladies went into the
Coliseum together, but Isabel left her companions to wander over
the place. She had often ascended to those desolate ledges from
which the Roman crowd used to bellow applause and where now the
wild flowers (when they are allowed) bloom in the deep crevices;
and to-day she felt weary and disposed to sit in the despoiled
arena. It made an intermission too, for the Countess often asked
more from one's attention than she gave in return; and Isabel
believed that when she was alone with her niece she let the dust
gather for a moment on the ancient scandals of the Arnide. She so
remained below therefore, while Pansy guided her undiscriminating
aunt to the steep brick staircase at the foot of which the
custodian unlocks the tall wooden gate. The great enclosure was
half in shadow; the western sun brought out the pale red tone of
the great blocks of travertine--the latent colour that is the
only living element in the immense ruin. Here and there wandered
a peasant or a tourist, looking up at the far sky-line where, in
the clear stillness, a multitude of swallows kept circling and
plunging. Isabel presently became aware that one of the other
visitors, planted in the middle of the arena, had turned his
attention to her own person and was looking at her with a certain
little poise of the head which she had some weeks before perceived
to be characteristic of baffled but indestructible purpose. Such
an attitude, to-day, could belong only to Mr. Edward Rosier; and
this gentleman proved in fact to have been considering the
question of speaking to her. When he had assured himself that she
was unaccompanied he drew near, remarking that though she would
not answer his letters she would perhaps not wholly close her
ears to his spoken eloquence. She replied that her stepdaughter
was close at hand and that she could only give him five minutes;
whereupon he took out his watch and sat down upon a broken block.
"It's very soon told," said Edward Rosier. "I've sold all my
bibelots!" Isabel gave instinctively an exclamation of horror; it
was as if he had told her he had had all his teeth drawn. "I've
sold them by auction at the Hotel Drouot," he went on. "The sale
took place three days ago, and they've telegraphed me the result.
"I'm glad to hear it; but I wish you had kept your pretty things."
"I have the money instead--fifty thousand dollars. Will Mr. Osmond
think me rich enough now?"
"Is it for that you did it?" Isabel asked gently.
"For what else in the world could it be? That's the only thing I
think of. I went to Paris and made my arrangements. I couldn't
stop for the sale; I couldn't have seen them going off; I think
it would have killed me. But I put them into good hands, and they
brought high prices. I should tell you I have kept my enamels.
Now I have the money in my pocket, and he can't say I'm poor!"
the young man exclaimed defiantly.
"He'll say now that you're not wise," said Isabel, as if Gilbert
Osmond had never said this before.
Rosier gave her a sharp look. "Do you mean that without my
bibelots I'm nothing? Do you mean they were the best thing about
me? That's what they told me in Paris; oh they were very frank
about it. But they hadn't seen HER!"
"My dear friend, you deserve to succeed," said Isabel very
"You say that so sadly that it's the same as if you said I
shouldn't." And he questioned her eyes with the clear trepidation
of his own. He had the air of a man who knows he has been the
talk of Paris for a week and is full half a head taller in
consequence, but who also has a painful suspicion that in spite
of this increase of stature one or two persons still have the
perversity to think him diminutive. "I know what happened here
while I was away," he went on; "What does Mr. Osmond expect after
she has refused Lord Warburton?"
Isabel debated. "That she'll marry another nobleman."
"What other nobleman?"
"One that he'll pick out."
Rosier slowly got up, putting his watch into his waistcoat-pocket.
"You're laughing at some one, but this time I don't think it's at
"I didn't mean to laugh," said Isabel. "I laugh very seldom. Now
you had better go away."
"I feel very safe!" Rosier declared without moving. This might
be; but it evidently made him feel more so to make the
announcement in rather a loud voice, balancing himself a little
complacently on his toes and looking all round the Coliseum as if
it were filled with an audience. Suddenly Isabel saw him change
colour; there was more of an audience than he had suspected. She
turned and perceived that her two companions had returned from
their excursion. "You must really go away," she said quickly.
"Ah, my dear lady, pity me!" Edward Rosier murmured in a voice
strangely at variance with the announcement I have just quoted.
And then he added eagerly, like a man who in the midst of his
misery is seized by a happy thought: "Is that lady the Countess
Gemini? I've a great desire to be presented to her."
Isabel looked at him a moment. "She has no influence with her
"Ah, what a monster you make him out!" And Rosier faced the
Countess, who advanced, in front of Pansy, with an animation
partly due perhaps to the fact that she perceived her sister-in-law
to be engaged in conversation with a very pretty young man.
"I'm glad you've kept your enamels!" Isabel called as she left
him. She went straight to Pansy, who, on seeing Edward Rosier,
had stopped short, with lowered eyes. "We'll go back to the
carriage," she said gently.
"Yes, it's getting late," Pansy returned more gently still. And
she went on without a murmur, without faltering or glancing back.
Isabel, however, allowing herself this last liberty, saw that a
meeting had immediately taken place between the Countess and Mr.
Rosier. He had removed his hat and was bowing and smiling; he had
evidently introduced himself, while the Countess's expressive
back displayed to Isabel's eye a gracious inclination. These
facts, none the less, were presently lost to sight, for Isabel
and Pansy took their places again in the carriage. Pansy, who
faced her stepmother, at first kept her eyes fixed on her lap;
then she raised them and rested them on Isabel's. There shone out
of each of them a little melancholy ray--a spark of timid passion
which touched Isabel to the heart. At the same time a wave of
envy passed over her soul, as she compared the tremulous longing,
the definite ideal of the child with her own dry despair. "Poor
little Pansy!" she affectionately said.
"Oh never mind!" Pansy answered in the tone of eager apology.
And then there was a silence; the Countess was a long time coming.
"Did you show your aunt everything, and did she enjoy it?" Isabel
asked at last.
"Yes, I showed her everything. I think she was very much pleased."
"And you're not tired, I hope."
"Oh no, thank you, I'm not tired."
The Countess still remained behind, so that Isabel requested the
footman to go into the Coliseum and tell her they were waiting.
He presently returned with the announcement that the Signora
Contessa begged them not to wait--she would come home in a cab!
About a week after this lady's quick sympathies had enlisted
themselves with Mr. Rosier, Isabel, going rather late to dress
for dinner, found Pansy sitting in her room. The girl seemed to
have been awaiting her; she got up from her low chair. "Pardon my
taking the liberty," she said in a small voice. "It will be the
last--for some time."
Her voice was strange, and her eyes, widely opened, had an
excited, frightened look. "You're not going away!" Isabel
"I'm going to the convent."
"To the convent?"
Pansy drew nearer, till she was near enough to put her arms round
Isabel and rest her head on her shoulder. She stood this way a
moment, perfectly still; but her companion could feel her
tremble. The quiver of her little body expressed everything she
was unable to say. Isabel nevertheless pressed her. "Why are you
going to the convent?"
"Because papa thinks it best. He says a young girl's better,
every now and then, for making a little retreat. He says the
world, always the world, is very bad for a young girl. This is
just a chance for a little seclusion--a little reflexion." Pansy
spoke in short detached sentences, as if she could scarce trust
herself; and then she added with a triumph of self-control: "I
think papa's right; I've been so much in the world this winter."
Her announcement had a strange effect on Isabel; it seemed to
carry a larger meaning than the girl herself knew. "When was this
decided?" she asked. "I've heard nothing of it."
"Papa told me half an hour ago; he thought it better it shouldn't
be too much talked about in advance. Madame Catherine's to come
for me at a quarter past seven, and I'm only to take two frocks.
It's only for a few weeks; I'm sure it will be very good. I shall
find all those ladies who used to be so kind to me, and I shall
see the little girls who are being educated. I'm very fond of
little girls," said Pansy with an effect of diminutive grandeur.
"And I'm also very fond of Mother Catherine. I shall be very quiet
and think a great deal."
Isabel listened to her, holding her breath; she was almost
awe-struck. "Think of ME sometimes."
"Ah, come and see me soon!" cried Pansy; and the cry was very
different from the heroic remarks of which she had just delivered
Isabel could say nothing more; she understood nothing; she only
felt how little she yet knew her husband. Her answer to his
daughter was a long, tender kiss.
Half an hour later she learned from her maid that Madame
Catherine had arrived in a cab and had departed again with the
signorina. On going to the drawing-room before dinner she found
the Countess Gemini alone, and this lady characterised the
incident by exclaiming, with a wonderful toss of the head, "En
voila, ma chere, une pose!" But if it was an affectation she
was at a loss to see what her husband affected. She could only
dimly perceive that he had more traditions than she supposed. It
had become her habit to be so careful as to what she said to him
that, strange as it may appear, she hesitated, for several
minutes after he had come in, to allude to his daughter's sudden
departure: she spoke of it only after they were seated at table.
But she had forbidden herself ever to ask Osmond a question. All
she could do was to make a declaration, and there was one that
came very naturally. "I shall miss Pansy very much."
He looked a while, with his head inclined a little, at the basket
of flowers in the middle of the table. "Ah yes," he said at last,
"I had thought of that. You must go and see her, you know; but
not too often. I dare say you wonder why I sent her to the good
sisters; but I doubt if I can make you understand. It doesn't
matter; don't trouble yourself about it. That's why I had not
spoken of it. I didn't believe you would enter into it. But I've
always had the idea; I've always thought it a part of the
education of one's daughter. One's daughter should be fresh and
fair; she should be innocent and gentle. With the manners of the
present time she is liable to become so dusty and crumpled.
Pansy's a little dusty, a little dishevelled; she has knocked
about too much. This bustling, pushing rabble that calls itself
society--one should take her out of it occasionally. Convents are
very quiet, very convenient, very salutary. I like to think of
her there, in the old garden, under the arcade, among those
tranquil virtuous women. Many of them are gentlewomen born;
several of them are noble. She will have her books and her
drawing, she will have her piano. I've made the most liberal
arrangements. There is to be nothing ascetic; there's just to be
a certain little sense of sequestration. She'll have time to
think, and there's something I want her to think about." Osmond
spoke deliberately, reasonably, still with his head on one side,
as if he were looking at the basket of flowers. His tone,
however, was that of a man not so much offering an explanation as
putting a thing into words--almost into pictures--to see,
himself, how it would look. He considered a while the picture he
had evoked and seemed greatly pleased with it. And then he went
on: "The Catholics are very wise after all. The convent is a
great institution; we can't do without it; it corresponds to an
essential need in families, in society. It's a school of good
manners; it's a school of repose. Oh, I don't want to detach my
daughter from the world," he added; "I don't want to make her fix
her thoughts on any other. This one's very well, as SHE should
take it, and she may think of it as much as she likes. Only she
must think of it in the right way."
Isabel gave an extreme attention to this little sketch; she found
it indeed intensely interesting. It seemed to show her how far
her husband's desire to be effective was capable of going--to the
point of playing theoretic tricks on the delicate organism of his
daughter. She could not understand his purpose, no--not wholly;
but she understood it better than he supposed or desired, inasmuch
as she was convinced that the whole proceeding was an elaborate
mystification, addressed to herself and destined to act upon her
imagination. He had wanted to do something sudden and arbitrary,
something unexpected and refined; to mark the difference between
his sympathies and her own, and show that if he regarded his
daughter as a precious work of art it was natural he should be
more and more careful about the finishing touches. If he wished
to be effective he had succeeded; the incident struck a chill
into Isabel's heart. Pansy had known the convent in her childhood
and had found a happy home there; she was fond of the good
sisters, who were very fond of her, and there was therefore for
the moment no definite hardship in her lot. But all the same the
girl had taken fright; the impression her father desired to make
would evidently be sharp enough. The old Protestant tradition had
never faded from Isabel's imagination, and as her thoughts
attached themselves to this striking example of her husband's
genius--she sat looking, like him, at the basket of flowers--poor
little Pansy became the heroine of a tragedy. Osmond wished it to
be known that he shrank from nothing, and his wife found it hard
to pretend to eat her dinner. There was a certain relief
presently, in hearing the high, strained voice of her
sister-in-law. The Countess too, apparently, had been thinking
the thing out, but had arrived at a different conclusion
"It's very absurd, my dear Osmond," she said, "to invent so many
pretty reasons for poor Pansy's banishment. Why, don't you say at
once that you want to get her out of my way? Haven't you
discovered that I think very well of Mr. Rosier? I do indeed; he
seems to me simpaticissimo. He has made me believe in true love;
I never did before! Of course you've made up your mind that with
those convictions I'm dreadful company for Pansy."
Osmond took a sip of a glass of wine; he looked perfectly
good-humoured. "My dear Amy," he answered, smiling as if he were
uttering a piece of gallantry, "I don't know anything about your
convictions, but if I suspected that they interfere with mine it
would be much simpler to banish YOU."
The Countess was not banished, but she felt the insecurity of her
tenure of her brother's hospitality. A week after this incident
Isabel received a telegram from England, dated from Gardencourt
and bearing the stamp of Mrs. Touchett's authorship. "Ralph
cannot last many days," it ran, "and if convenient would like to
see you. Wishes me to say that you must come only if you've not
other duties. Say, for myself, that you used to talk a good deal
about your duty and to wonder what it was; shall be curious to
see whether you've found it out. Ralph is really dying, and
there's no other company." Isabel was prepared for this news,
having received from Henrietta Stackpole a detailed account of
her journey to England with her appreciative patient. Ralph had
arrived more dead than alive, but she had managed to convey him
to Gardencourt, where he had taken to his bed, which, as Miss
Stackpole wrote, he evidently would never leave again. She added
that she had really had two patients on her hands instead of one,
inasmuch as Mr. Goodwood, who had been of no earthly use, was
quite as ailing, in a different way, as Mr. Touchett. Afterwards
she wrote that she had been obliged to surrender the field to
Mrs. Touchett, who had just returned from America and had
promptly given her to understand that she didn't wish any
interviewing at Gardencourt. Isabel had written to her aunt shortly
after Ralph came to Rome, letting her know of his critical
condition and suggesting that she should lose no time in returning
to Europe. Mrs. Touchett had telegraphed an acknowledgement of
this admonition, and the only further news Isabel received from
her was the second telegram I have just quoted.
Isabel stood a moment looking at the latter missive; then,
thrusting it into her pocket, she went straight to the door of
her husband's study. Here she again paused an instant, after
which she opened the door and went in. Osmond was seated at the
table near the window with a folio volume before him, propped
against a pile of books. This volume was open at a page of small
coloured plates, and Isabel presently saw that he had been
copying from it the drawing of an antique coin. A box of
water-colours and fine brushes lay before him, and he had already
transferred to a sheet of immaculate paper the delicate,
finely-tinted disk. His back was turned toward the door, but he
recognised his wife without looking round.
"Excuse me for disturbing you," she said.
"When I come to your room I always knock," he answered, going on
with his work.
"I forgot; I had something else to think of. My cousin's dying."
"Ah, I don't believe that," said Osmond, looking at his drawing
through a magnifying glass. "He was dying when we married; he'll
outlive us all."
Isabel gave herself no time, no thought, to appreciate the
careful cynicism of this declaration; she simply went on quickly,
full of her own intention "My aunt has telegraphed for me; I must
go to Gardencourt."
"Why must you go to Gardencourt?" Osmond asked in the tone of
"To see Ralph before he dies."
To this, for some time, he made no rejoinder; he continued to
give his chief attention to his work, which was of a sort that
would brook no negligence. "I don't see the need of it," he said
at last. "He came to see you here. I didn't like that; I thought
his being in Rome a great mistake. But I tolerated it because it
was to be the last time you should see him. Now you tell me it's
not to have been the last. Ah, you're not grateful!"
"What am I to be grateful for?"
Gilbert Osmond laid down his little implements, blew a speck of
dust from his drawing, slowly got up, and for the first time
looked at his wife. "For my not having interfered while he was
"Oh yes, I am. I remember perfectly how distinctly you let me
know you didn't like it. I was very glad when he went away."
"Leave him alone then. Don't run after him."
Isabel turned her eyes away from him; they rested upon his little
drawing. "I must go to England," she said, with a full
consciousness that her tone might strike an irritable man of
taste as stupidly obstinate.
"I shall not like it if you do," Osmond remarked.
"Why should I mind that? You won't like it if I don't. You like
nothing I do or don't do. You pretend to think I lie."
Osmond turned slightly pale; he gave a cold smile. "That's why
you must go then? Not to see your cousin, but to take a revenge
"I know nothing about revenge."
"I do," said Osmond. "Don't give me an occasion."
"You're only too eager to take one. You wish immensely that I
would commit some folly."
"I should be gratified in that case if you disobeyed me."
"If I disobeyed you?" said Isabel in a low tone which had the
effect of mildness.
"Let it be clear. If you leave Rome to-day it will be a piece of
the most deliberate, the most calculated, opposition."
"How can you call it calculated? I received my aunt's telegram
but three minutes ago."
"You calculate rapidly; it's a great accomplishment. I don't see
why we should prolong our discussion; you know my wish." And he
stood there as if he expected to see her withdraw.
But she never moved; she couldn't move, strange as it may seem;
she still wished to justify herself; he had the power, in an
extraordinary degree, of making her feel this need. There was
something in her imagination he could always appeal to against
her judgement. "You've no reason for such a wish," said Isabel,
"and I've every reason for going. I can't tell you how unjust you
seem to me. But I think you know. It's your own opposition that's
calculated. It's malignant."
She had never uttered her worst thought to her husband before,
and the sensation of hearing it was evidently new to Osmond. But
he showed no surprise, and his coolness was apparently a proof
that he had believed his wife would in fact be unable to resist
for ever his ingenious endeavour to draw her out. "It's all the
more intense then," he answered. And he added almost as if he
were giving her a friendly counsel: "This is a very important
matter." She recognised that; she was fully conscious of the
weight of the occasion; she knew that between them they had
arrived at a crisis. Its gravity made her careful; she said
nothing, and he went on. "You say I've no reason? I have the very
best. I dislike, from the bottom of my soul, what you intend to
do. It's dishonourable; it's indelicate; it's indecent. Your
cousin is nothing whatever to me, and I'm under no obligation to
make concessions to him. I've already made the very handsomest.
Your relations with him, while he was here, kept me on pins and
needles; but I let that pass, because from week to week I
expected him to go. I've never liked him and he has never liked
me. That's why you like him--because he hates me," said Osmond
with a quick, barely audible tremor in his voice. "I've an ideal
of what my wife should do and should not do. She should not
travel across Europe alone, in defiance of my deepest desire, to
sit at the bedside of other men. Your cousin's nothing to you;
he's nothing to us. You smile most expressively when I talk about
US, but I assure you that WE, WE, Mrs. Osmond, is all I know. I
take our marriage seriously; you appear to have found a way of
not doing so. I'm not aware that we're divorced or separated; for
me we're indissolubly united. You are nearer to me than any human
creature, and I'm nearer to you. It may be a disagreeable
proximity; it's one, at any rate, of our own deliberate making.
You don't like to be reminded of that, I know; but I'm perfectly
willing, because--because--" And he paused a moment, looking as if
he had something to say which would be very much to the point.
"Because I think we should accept the consequences of our
actions, and what I value most in life is the honour of a thing!"
He spoke gravely and almost gently; the accent of sarcasm had
dropped out of his tone. It had a gravity which checked his
wife's quick emotion; the resolution with which she had entered
the room found itself caught in a mesh of fine threads. His last
words were not a command, they constituted a kind of appeal; and,
though she felt that any expression of respect on his part could
only be a refinement of egotism, they represented something
transcendent and absolute, like the sign of the cross or the flag
of one's country. He spoke in the name of something sacred and
precious--the observance of a magnificent form. They were as
perfectly apart in feeling as two disillusioned lovers had ever
been; but they had never yet separated in act. Isabel had not
changed; her old passion for justice still abode within her; and
now, in the very thick of her sense of her husband's blasphemous
sophistry, it began to throb to a tune which for a moment
promised him the victory. It came over her that in his wish to
preserve appearances he was after all sincere, and that this, as
far as it went, was a merit. Ten minutes before she had felt all
the joy of irreflective action--a joy to which she had so long
been a stranger; but action had been suddenly changed to slow
renunciation, transformed by the blight of Osmond's touch. If she
must renounce, however, she would let him know she was a victim
rather than a dupe. "I know you're a master of the art of
mockery," she said. "How can you speak of an indissoluble union
--how can you speak of your being contented? Where's our union
when you accuse me of falsity? Where's your contentment when you
have nothing but hideous suspicion in your heart?"
"It is in our living decently together, in spite of such
"We don't live decently together!" cried Isabel.
"Indeed we don't if you go to England."
"That's very little; that's nothing. I might do much more."
He raised his eyebrows and even his shoulders a little: he had
lived long enough in Italy to catch this trick. "Ah, if you've
come to threaten me I prefer my drawing." And he walked back to
his table, where he took up the sheet of paper on which he had
been working and stood studying it.
"I suppose that if I go you'll not expect me to come back," said
He turned quickly round, and she could see this movement at least
was not designed. He looked at her a little, and then, "Are you
out of your mind?" he enquired.
"How can it be anything but a rupture?" she went on; "especially
if all you say is true?" She was unable to see how it could be
anything but a rupture; she sincerely wished to know what else it
He sat down before his table. "I really can't argue with you on
the hypothesis of your defying me," he said. And he took up one
of his little brushes again.
She lingered but a moment longer; long enough to embrace with her
eye his whole deliberately indifferent yet most expressive
figure; after which she quickly left the room. Her faculties, her
energy, her passion, were all dispersed again; she felt as if a
cold, dark mist had suddenly encompassed her. Osmond possessed in
a supreme degree the art of eliciting any weakness. On her way
back to her room she found the Countess Gemini standing in the
open doorway of a little parlour in which a small collection of
heterogeneous books had been arranged. The Countess had an open
volume in her hand; she appeared to have been glancing down a
page which failed to strike her as interesting. At the sound of
Isabel's step she raised her head.
"Ah my dear," she said, "you, who are so literary, do tell me
some amusing book to read! Everything here's of a dreariness--!
Do you think this would do me any good?"
Isabel glanced at the title of the volume she held out, but
without reading or understanding it. "I'm afraid I can't advise
you. I've had bad news. My cousin, Ralph Touchett, is dying."
The Countess threw down her book. "Ah, he was so simpatico. I'm
awfully sorry for you."
"You would be sorrier still if you knew."
"What is there to know? You look very badly," the Countess added.
"You must have been with Osmond."
Half an hour before Isabel would have listened very coldly to an
intimation that she should ever feel a desire for the sympathy of
her sister-in-law, and there can be no better proof of her
present embarrassment than the fact that she almost clutched at
this lady's fluttering attention. "I've been with Osmond," she
said, while the Countess's bright eyes glittered at her.
"I'm sure then he has been odious!" the Countess cried. "Did he
say he was glad poor Mr. Touchett's dying?"
"He said it's impossible I should go to England."
The Countess's mind, when her interests were concerned, was
agile; she already foresaw the extinction of any further
brightness in her visit to Rome. Ralph Touchett would die, Isabel
would go into mourning, and then there would be no more
dinner-parties. Such a prospect produced for a moment in her
countenance an expressive grimace; but this rapid, picturesque
play of feature was her only tribute to disappointment. After
all, she reflected, the game was almost played out; she had
already overstayed her invitation. And then she cared enough for
Isabel's trouble to forget her own, and she saw that Isabel's
trouble was deep.
It seemed deeper than the mere death of a cousin, and the
Countess had no hesitation in connecting her exasperating brother
with the expression of her sister-in-law's eyes. Her heart beat
with an almost joyous expectation, for if she had wished to see
Osmond overtopped the conditions looked favourable now. Of course
if Isabel should go to England she herself would immediately
leave Palazzo Roccanera; nothing would induce her to remain there
with Osmond. Nevertheless she felt an immense desire to hear that
Isabel would go to England. "Nothing's impossible for you, my
dear," she said caressingly. "Why else are you rich and clever
"Why indeed? I feel stupidly weak."
"Why does Osmond say it's impossible?" the Countess asked in a
tone which sufficiently declared that she couldn't imagine.
From the moment she thus began to question her, however, Isabel
drew back; she disengaged her hand, which the Countess had
affectionately taken. But she answered this enquiry with frank
bitterness. "Because we're so happy together that we can't
separate even for a fortnight."
"Ah," cried the Countess while Isabel turned away, "when I want
to make a journey my husband simply tells me I can have no
Isabel went to her room, where she walked up and down for an
hour. It may appear to some readers that she gave herself much
trouble, and it is certain that for a woman of a high spirit she
had allowed herself easily to be arrested. It seemed to her that
only now she fully measured the great undertaking of matrimony.
Marriage meant that in such a case as this, when one had to
choose, one chose as a matter of course for one's husband. "I'm
afraid--yes, I'm afraid," she said to herself more than once,
stopping short in her walk. But what she was afraid of was not
her husband--his displeasure, his hatred, his revenge; it was not
even her own later judgement of her conduct a consideration which
had often held her in check; it was simply the violence there
would be in going when Osmond wished her to remain. A gulf of
difference had opened between them, but nevertheless it was his
desire that she should stay, it was a horror to him that she
should go. She knew the nervous fineness with which he could feel
an objection. What he thought of her she knew, what he was
capable of saying to her she had felt; yet they were married, for
all that, and marriage meant that a woman should cleave to the
man with whom, uttering tremendous vows, she had stood at the
altar. She sank down on her sofa at last and buried her head in a
pile of cushions.
When she raised her head again the Countess Gemini hovered before
her. She had come in all unperceived; she had a strange smile on
her thin lips and her whole face had grown in an hour a shining
intimation. She lived assuredly, it might be said, at the window
of her spirit, but now she was leaning far out. "I knocked," she
began, "but you didn't answer me. So I ventured in. I've been
looking at you for the past five minutes. You're very unhappy."
"Yes; but I don't think you can comfort me."
"Will you give me leave to try?" And the Countess sat down on
the sofa beside her. She continued to smile, and there was
something communicative and exultant in her expression. She
appeared to have a deal to say, and it occurred to Isabel for the
first time that her sister-in-law might say something really
human. She made play with her glittering eyes, in which there was
an unpleasant fascination. "After all," she soon resumed, "I must
tell you, to begin with, that I don't understand your state of
mind. You seem to have so many scruples, so many reasons, so many
ties. When I discovered, ten years ago, that my husband's dearest
wish was to make me miserable--of late he has simply let me alone
--ah, it was a wonderful simplification! My poor Isabel, you're
not simple enough."
"No, I'm not simple enough," said Isabel.
"There's something I want you to know," the Countess declared--
"because I think you ought to know it. Perhaps you do; perhaps
you've guessed it. But if you have, all I can say is that I
understand still less why you shouldn't do as you like."
"What do you wish me to know?" Isabel felt a foreboding that made
her heart beat faster. The Countess was about to justify herself,
and this alone was portentous.
But she was nevertheless disposed to play a little with her
subject. "In your place I should have guessed it ages ago. Have
you never really suspected?"
"I've guessed nothing. What should I have suspected? I don't know
what you mean."
"That's because you've such a beastly pure mind. I never saw a
woman with such a pure mind!" cried the Countess.
Isabel slowly got up. "You're going to tell me something
"You can call it by whatever name you will!" And the Countess
rose also, while her gathered perversity grew vivid and dreadful.
She stood a moment in a sort of glare of intention and, as seemed
to Isabel even then, of ugliness; after which she said: "My first
sister-in-law had no children."
Isabel stared back at her; the announcement was an anticlimax.
"Your first sister-in-law?"
"I suppose you know at least, if one may mention it, that Osmond
has been married before! I've never spoken to you of his wife; I
thought it mightn't be decent or respectful. But others, less
particular, must have done so. The poor little woman lived hardly
three years and died childless. It wasn't till after her death
that Pansy arrived."
Isabel's brow had contracted to a frown; her lips were parted in
pale, vague wonder. She was trying to follow; there seemed so
much more to follow than she could see. "Pansy's not my husband's
"Your husband's--in perfection! But no one else's husband's. Some
one else's wife's. Ah, my good Isabel," cried the Countess, "with
you one must dot one's i's!"
"I don't understand. Whose wife's?" Isabel asked.
"The wife of a horrid little Swiss who died--how long?--a dozen,
more than fifteen, years ago. He never recognised Miss Pansy, nor,
knowing what he was about, would have anything to say to her; and
there was no reason why he should. Osmond did, and that was better;
though he had to fit on afterwards the whole rigmarole of his own
wife's having died in childbirth, and of his having, in grief and
horror, banished the little girl from his sight for as long as
possible before taking her home from nurse. His wife had really
died, you know, of quite another matter and in quite another place:
in the Piedmontese mountains, where they had gone, one August,
because her health appeared to require the air, but where she was
suddenly taken worse-- fatally ill. The story passed, sufficiently;
it was covered by the appearances so long as nobody heeded, as
nobody cared to look into it. But of course I knew--without
researches," the Countess lucidly proceeded; "as also, you'll
understand, without a word said between us--I mean between Osmond
and me. Don't you see him looking at me, in silence, that way, to
settle it?--that is to settle ME if I should say anything. I said
nothing, right or left--never a word to a creature, if you can
believe that of me: on my honour, my dear, I speak of the thing to
you now, after all this time, as I've never, never spoken. It was
to be enough for me, from the first, that the child was my
niece--from the moment she was my brother's daughter. As for her
veritable mother--!" But with this Pansy's wonderful aunt
dropped--as, involuntarily, from the impression of her
sister-in-law's face, out of which more eyes might have seemed to
look at her than she had ever had to meet.
She had spoken no name, yet Isabel could but check, on her own
lips, an echo of the unspoken. She sank to her seat again,
hanging her head. "Why have you told me this?" she asked in a
voice the Countess hardly recognised.
"Because I've been so bored with your not knowing. I've been
bored, frankly, my dear, with not having told you; as if,
stupidly, all this time I couldn't have managed! Ca me depasse,
if you don't mind my saying so, the things, all round you, that
you've appeared to succeed in not knowing. It's a sort of
assistance--aid to innocent ignorance--that I've always been a
bad hand at rendering; and in this connexion, that of keeping
quiet for my brother, my virtue has at any rate finally found
itself exhausted. It's not a black lie, moreover, you know," the
Countess inimitably added. "The facts are exactly what I tell
"I had no idea," said Isabel presently; and looked up at her in a
manner that doubtless matched the apparent witlessness of this
"So I believed--though it was hard to believe. Had it never
occurred to you that he was for six or seven years her lover?"
"I don't know. Things HAVE occurred to me, and perhaps that was
what they all meant."
"She has been wonderfully clever, she has been magnificent, about
Pansy!" the Countess, before all this view of it, cried.
"Oh, no idea, for me," Isabel went on, "ever DEFINITELY took that
form." She appeared to be making out to herself what had been and
what hadn't. "And as it is--I don't understand."
She spoke as one troubled and puzzled, yet the poor Countess
seemed to have seen her revelation fall below its
possibilities of effect. She had expected to kindle some
responsive blaze, but had barely extracted a spark. Isabel showed
as scarce more impressed than she might have been, as a young
woman of approved imagination, with some fine sinister passage of
public history. "Don't you recognise how the child could never
pass for HER husband's?--that is with M. Merle himself," her
companion resumed. "They had been separated too long for that,
and he had gone to some far country--I think to South America. If
she had ever had children--which I'm not sure of--she had lost
them. The conditions happened to make it workable, under stress
(I mean at so awkward a pinch), that Osmond should acknowledge
the little girl. His wife was dead--very true; but she had not
been dead too long to put a certain accommodation of dates out of
the question--from the moment, I mean, that suspicion wasn't
started; which was what they had to take care of. What was more
natural than that poor Mrs. Osmond, at a distance and for a world
not troubling about trifles, should have left behind her,
poverina, the pledge of her brief happiness that had cost her
her life? With the aid of a change of residence--Osmond had been
living with her at Naples at the time of their stay in the Alps,
and he in due course left it for ever--the whole history was
successfully set going. My poor sister-in-law, in her grave,
couldn't help herself, and the real mother, to save HER skin,
renounced all visible property in the child."
"Ah, poor, poor woman!" cried Isabel, who herewith burst into
tears. It was a long time since she had shed any; she had
suffered a high reaction from weeping. But now they flowed with
an abundance in which the Countess Gemini found only another
"It's very kind of you to pity her!" she discordantly laughed.
"Yes indeed, you have a way of your own--!"
"He must have been false to his wife--and so very soon!" said
Isabel with a sudden check.
"That's all that's wanting--that you should take up her cause!"
the Countess went on. "I quite agree with you, however, that it
was much too soon."
"But to me, to me--?" And Isabel hesitated as if she had not
heard; as if her question--though it was sufficiently there in
her eyes--were all for herself.
"To you he has been faithful? Well, it depends, my dear, on what
you call faithful. When he married you he was no longer the lover
of another woman--SUCH a lover as he had been, cara mia,
between their risks and their precautions, while the thing
lasted! That state of affairs had passed away; the lady had
repented, or at all events, for reasons of her own, drawn back:
she had always had, too, a worship of appearances so intense that
even Osmond himself had got bored with it. You may therefore
imagine what it was--when he couldn't patch it on conveniently to
ANY of those he goes in for! But the whole past was between
"Yes," Isabel mechanically echoed, "the whole past is between
"Ah, this later past is nothing. But for six or seven years, as I
say, they had kept it up."
She was silent a little. "Why then did she want him to marry
"Ah my dear, that's her superiority! Because you had money; and
because she believed you would be good to Pansy."
"Poor woman--and Pansy who doesn't like her!" cried Isabel.
"That's the reason she wanted some one whom Pansy would like. She
knows it; she knows everything."
"Will she know that you've told me this?"
"That will depend upon whether you tell her. She's prepared for
it, and do you know what she counts upon for her defence? On your
believing that I lie. Perhaps you do; don't make yourself
uncomfortable to hide it. Only, as it happens this time, I don't.
I've told plenty of little idiotic fibs, but they've never hurt
any one but myself."
Isabel sat staring at her companion's story as at a bale of
fantastic wares some strolling gypsy might have unpacked on the
carpet at her feet. "Why did Osmond never marry her?" she finally
"Because she had no money." The Countess had an answer for
everything, and if she lied she lied well. "No one knows, no one
has ever known, what she lives on, or how she has got all those
beautiful things. I don't believe Osmond himself knows. Besides,
she wouldn't have married him."
"How can she have loved him then?"
"She doesn't love him in that way. She did at first, and then, I
suppose, she would have married him; but at that time her husband
was living. By the time M. Merle had rejoined--I won't say his
ancestors, because he never had any--her relations with Osmond
had changed, and she had grown more ambitious. Besides, she has
never had, about him," the Countess went on, leaving Isabel to
wince for it so tragically afterwards--"she HAD never had, what
you might call any illusions of INTELLIGENCE. She hoped she might
marry a great man; that has always been her idea. She has waited
and watched and plotted and prayed; but she has never succeeded.
I don't call Madame Merle a success, you know. I don't know what
she may accomplish yet, but at present she has very little to
show. The only tangible result she has ever achieved--except, of
course, getting to know every one and staying with them free of
expense--has been her bringing you and Osmond together. Oh, she
did that, my dear; you needn't look as if you doubted it. I've
watched them for years; I know everything--everything. I'm
thought a great scatterbrain, but I've had enough application of
mind to follow up those two. She hates me, and her way of showing
it is to pretend to be for ever defending me. When people say
I've had fifteen lovers she looks horrified and declares that
quite half of them were never proved. She has been afraid of me
for years, and she has taken great comfort in the vile, false
things people have said about me. She has been afraid I'd expose
her, and she threatened me one day when Osmond began to pay his
court to you. It was at his house in Florence; do you remember
that afternoon when she brought you there and we had tea in the
garden? She let me know then that if I should tell tales two
could play at that game. She pretends there's a good deal more to
tell about me than about her. It would be an interesting
comparison! I don't care a fig what she may say, simply because I
know YOU don't care a fig. You can't trouble your head about me
less than you do already. So she may take her revenge as she
chooses; I don't think she'll frighten you very much. Her great
idea has been to be tremendously irreproachable--a kind of
full-blown lily--the incarnation of propriety. She has always
worshipped that god. There should be no scandal about Caesar's
wife, you know; and, as I say, she has always hoped to marry
Caesar. That was one reason she wouldn't marry Osmond; the fear
that on seeing her with Pansy people would put things together--
would even see a resemblance. She has had a terror lest the
mother should betray herself. She has been awfully careful; the
mother has never done so."
"Yes, yes, the mother has done so," said Isabel, who had listened
to all this with a face more and more wan. "She betrayed herself
to me the other day, though I didn't recognise her. There
appeared to have been a chance of Pansy's making a great
marriage, and in her disappointment at its not coming off she
almost dropped the mask."
"Ah, that's where she'd dish herself!" cried the Countess. "She
has failed so dreadfully that she's determined her daughter shall
make it up."
Isabel started at the words "her daughter," which her guest threw
off so familiarly. "It seems very wonderful," she murmured; and
in this bewildering impression she had almost lost her sense of
being personally touched by the story.
"Now don't go and turn against the poor innocent child!" the
Countess went on. "She's very nice, in spite of her deplorable
origin. I myself have liked Pansy; not, naturally, because she
was hers, but because she had become yours."
"Yes, she has become mine. And how the poor woman must have
suffered at seeing me--!" Isabel exclaimed while she flushed at
"I don't believe she has suffered; on the contrary, she has
enjoyed. Osmond's marriage has given his daughter a great little
lift. Before that she lived in a hole. And do you know what the
mother thought? That you might take such a fancy to the child
that you'd do something for her. Osmond of course could never
give her a portion. Osmond was really extremely poor; but of
course you know all about that. Ah, my dear," cried the Countess,
"why did you ever inherit money?" She stopped a moment as if she
saw something singular in Isabel's face. "Don't tell me now that
you'll give her a dot. You're capable of that, but I would refuse
to believe it. Don't try to be too good. Be a little easy and
natural and nasty; feel a little wicked, for the comfort of it,
once in your life!"
"It's very strange. I suppose I ought to know, but I'm sorry,"
Isabel said. "I'm much obliged to you."
"Yes, you seem to be!" cried the Countess with a mocking laugh.
"Perhaps you are--perhaps you're not. You don't take it as I
should have thought."
"How should I take it?" Isabel asked.
"Well, I should say as a woman who has been made use of." Isabel
made no answer to this; she only listened, and the Countess went
on. "They've always been bound to each other; they remained so
even after she broke off--or HE did. But he has always been more
for her than she has been for him. When their little carnival was
over they made a bargain that each should give the other complete
liberty, but that each should also do everything possible to help
the other on. You may ask me how I know such a thing as that. I
know it by the way they've behaved. Now see how much better women
are than men! She has found a wife for Osmond, but Osmond has
never lifted a little finger for HER. She has worked for him,
plotted for him, suffered for him; she has even more than once
found money for him; and the end of it is that he's tired of her.
She's an old habit; there are moments when he needs her, but on
the whole he wouldn't miss her if she were removed. And, what's
more, today she knows it. So you needn't be jealous!" the
Countess added humorously.
Isabel rose from her sofa again; she felt bruised and scant of
breath; her head was humming with new knowledge. "I'm much
obliged to you," she repeated. And then she added abruptly, in
quite a different tone: "How do you know all this?"
This enquiry appeared to ruffle the Countess more than Isabel's
expression of gratitude pleased her. She gave her companion a
bold stare, with which, "Let us assume that I've invented it!"
she cried. She too, however, suddenly changed her tone and,
laying her hand on Isabel's arm, said with the penetration of her
sharp bright smile: "Now will you give up your journey?"
Isabel started a little; she turned away. But she felt weak and
in a moment had to lay her arm upon the mantel-shelf for support.
She stood a minute so, and then upon her arm she dropped her
dizzy head, with closed eyes and pale lips.
"I've done wrong to speak--I've made you ill!" the Countess
"Ah, I must see Ralph!" Isabel wailed; not in resentment, not in
the quick passion her companion had looked for; but in a tone of
far-reaching, infinite sadness.
There was a train for Turin and Paris that evening; and after the
Countess had left her Isabel had a rapid and decisive conference
with her maid, who was discreet, devoted and active. After this
she thought (except of her journey) only of one thing. She must
go and see Pansy; from her she couldn't turn away. She had not
seen her yet, as Osmond had given her to understand that it was
too soon to begin. She drove at five o'clock to a high floor in a
narrow street in the quarter of the Piazza Navona, and was
admitted by the portress of the convent, a genial and obsequious
person. Isabel had been at this institution before; she had come
with Pansy to see the sisters. She knew they were good women, and
she saw that the large rooms were clean and cheerful and that the
well-used garden had sun for winter and shade for spring. But she
disliked the place, which affronted and almost frightened her;
not for the world would she have spent a night there. It produced
to-day more than before the impression of a well-appointed
prison; for it was not possible to pretend Pansy was free to
leave it. This innocent creature had been presented to her in a
new and violent light, but the secondary effect of the revelation
was to make her reach out a hand.
The portress left her to wait in the parlour of the convent while
she went to make it known that there was a visitor for the dear
young lady. The parlour was a vast, cold apartment, with
new-looking furniture; a large clean stove of white porcelain,
unlighted, a collection of wax flowers under glass, and a series
of engravings from religious pictures on the walls. On the other
occasion Isabel had thought it less like Rome than like
Philadelphia, but to-day she made no reflexions; the apartment
only seemed to her very empty and very soundless. The portress
returned at the end of some five minutes, ushering in another
person. Isabel got up, expecting to see one of the ladies of the
sisterhood, but to her extreme surprise found herself confronted
with Madame Merle. The effect was strange, for Madame Merle was
already so present to her vision that her appearance in the flesh
was like suddenly, and rather awfully, seeing a painted picture
move. Isabel had been thinking all day of her falsity, her
audacity, her ability, her probable suffering; and these dark
things seemed to flash with a sudden light as she entered the
room. Her being there at all had the character of ugly evidence,
of handwritings, of profaned relics, of grim things produced in
court. It made Isabel feel faint; if it had been necessary to
speak on the spot she would have been quite unable. But no such
necessity was distinct to her; it seemed to her indeed that she
had absolutely nothing to say to Madame Merle. In one's relations
with this lady, however, there were never any absolute
necessities; she had a manner which carried off not only her own
deficiencies but those of other people. But she was different
from usual; she came in slowly, behind the portress, and Isabel
instantly perceived that she was not likely to depend upon her
habitual resources. For her too the occasion was exceptional, and
she had undertaken to treat it by the light of the moment. This
gave her a peculiar gravity; she pretended not even to smile, and
though Isabel saw that she was more than ever playing a part it
seemed to her that on the whole the wonderful woman had never
been so natural. She looked at her young friend from head to
foot, but not harshly nor defiantly; with a cold gentleness
rather, and an absence of any air of allusion to their last
meeting. It was as if she had wished to mark a distinction. She
had been irritated then, she was reconciled now.
"You can leave us alone," she said to the portress; "in five
minutes this lady will ring for you." And then she turned to
Isabel, who, after noting what has just been mentioned, had
ceased to notice and had let her eyes wander as far as the limits
of the room would allow. She wished never to look at Madame Merle
again. "You're surprised to find me here, and I'm afraid you're
not pleased," this lady went on. "You don't see why I should have
come; it's as if I had anticipated you. I confess I've been
rather indiscreet--I ought to have asked your permission." There
was none of the oblique movement of irony in this; it was said
simply and mildly; but Isabel, far afloat on a sea of wonder and
pain, could not have told herself with what intention it was
uttered. "But I've not been sitting long," Madame Merle
continued; "that is I've not been long with Pansy. I came to see
her because it occurred to me this afternoon that she must be
rather lonely and perhaps even a little miserable. It may be good
for a small girl; I know so little about small girls; I can't
tell. At any rate it's a little dismal. Therefore I came--on the
chance. I knew of course that you'd come, and her father as well;
still, I had not been told other visitors were forbidden. The
good woman--what's her name? Madame Catherine--made no objection
whatever. I stayed twenty minutes with Pansy; she has a charming
little room, not in the least conventual, with a piano and
flowers. She has arranged it delightfully; she has so much taste.
Of course it's all none of my business, but I feel happier since
I've seen her. She may even have a maid if she likes; but of
course she has no occasion to dress. She wears a little black
frock; she looks so charming. I went afterwards to see Mother
Catherine, who has a very good room too; I assure you I don't
find the poor sisters at all monastic. Mother Catherine has a
most coquettish little toilet-table, with something that looked
uncommonly like a bottle of eau-de-Cologne. She speaks
delightfully of Pansy; says it's a great happiness for them to
have her. She's a little saint of heaven and a model to the
oldest of them. Just as I was leaving Madame Catherine the
portress came to say to her that there was a lady for the
signorina. Of course I knew it must be you, and I asked her to
let me go and receive you in her place. She demurred greatly--I
must tell you that--and said it was her duty to notify the Mother
Superior; it was of such high importance that you should be
treated with respect. I requested her to let the Mother Superior
alone and asked her how she supposed I would treat you!"
So Madame Merle went on, with much of the brilliancy of a woman
who had long been a mistress of the art of conversation. But
there were phases and gradations in her speech, not one of which
was lost upon Isabel's ear, though her eyes were absent from her
companion's face. She had not proceeded far before Isabel noted a
sudden break in her voice, a lapse in her continuity, which was
in itself a complete drama. This subtle modulation marked a
momentous discovery--the perception of an entirely new attitude
on the part of her listener. Madame Merle had guessed in the
space of an instant that everything was at end between them, and
in the space of another instant she had guessed the reason why.
The person who stood there was not the same one she had seen
hitherto, but was a very different person--a person who knew her
secret. This discovery was tremendous, and from the moment she
made it the most accomplished of women faltered and lost her
courage. But only for that moment. Then the conscious stream of
her perfect manner gathered itself again and flowed on as
smoothly as might be to the end. But it was only because she had
the end in view that she was able to proceed. She had been
touched with a point that made her quiver, and she needed all the
alertness of her will to repress her agitation. Her only safety
was in her not betraying herself. She resisted this, but the
startled quality of her voice refused to improve--she couldn't
help it--while she heard herself say she hardly knew what. The
tide of her confidence ebbed, and she was able only just to glide
into port, faintly grazing the bottom.
Isabel saw it all as distinctly as if it had been reflected in a
large clear glass. It might have been a great moment for her, for
it might have been a moment of triumph. That Madame Merle had
lost her pluck and saw before her the phantom of exposure--this
in itself was a revenge, this in itself was almost the promise of
a brighter day. And for a moment during which she stood
apparently looking out of the window, with her back half-turned,
Isabel enjoyed that knowledge. On the other side of the window
lay the garden of the convent; but this is not what she saw; she
saw nothing of the budding plants and the glowing afternoon. She
saw, in the crude light of that revelation which had already
become a part of experience and to which the very frailty of the
vessel in which it had been offered her only gave an intrinsic
price, the dry staring fact that she had been an applied handled
hung-up tool, as senseless and convenient as mere shaped wood and
iron. All the bitterness of this knowledge surged into her soul
again; it was as if she felt on her lips the taste of dishonour.
There was a moment during which, if she had turned and spoken,
she would have said something that would hiss like a lash. But
she closed her eyes, and then the hideous vision dropped. What
remained was the cleverest woman in the world standing there
within a few feet of her and knowing as little what to think as
the meanest. Isabel's only revenge was to be silent still--to
leave Madame Merle in this unprecedented situation. She left her
there for a period that must have seemed long to this lady, who
at last seated herself with a movement which was in itself a
confession of helplessness. Then Isabel turned slow eyes, looking
down at her. Madame Merle was very pale; her own eyes covered
Isabel's face. She might see what she would, but her danger was
over. Isabel would never accuse her, never reproach her; perhaps
because she never would give her the opportunity to defend
"I'm come to bid Pansy good-bye," our young woman said at last.
"I go to England to-night."
"Go to England to-night!" Madame Merle repeated sitting there and
looking up at her.
"I'm going to Gardencourt. Ralph Touchett's dying."
"Ah, you'll feel that." Madame Merle recovered herself; she had a
chance to express sympathy. "Do you go alone?"
"Yes; without my husband."
Madame Merle gave a low vague murmur; a sort of recognition of
the general sadness of things. "Mr. Touchett never liked me, but
I'm sorry he's dying. Shall you see his mother?"
"Yes; she has returned from America."
"She used to be very kind to me; but she has changed. Others too
have changed," said Madame Merle with a quiet noble pathos. She
paused a moment, then added: "And you'll see dear old Gardencourt
"I shall not enjoy it much," Isabel answered.
"Naturally--in your grief. But it's on the whole, of all the
houses I know, and I know many, the one I should have liked best
to live in. I don't venture to send a message to the people,"
Madame Merle added; "but I should like to give my love to the
Isabel turned away. "I had better go to Pansy. I've not much
While she looked about her for the proper egress, the door opened
and admitted one of the ladies of the house, who advanced with a
discreet smile, gently rubbing, under her long loose sleeves, a
pair of plump white hands. Isabel recognised Madame Catherine,
whose acquaintance she had already made, and begged that she
would immediately let her see Miss Osmond. Madame Catherine
looked doubly discreet, but smiled very blandly and said: "It
will be good for her to see you. I'll take you to her myself."
Then she directed her pleased guarded vision to Madame Merle.
"Will you let me remain a little?" this lady asked. "It's so good
to be here."
"You may remain always if you like!" And the good sister gave a
She led Isabel out of the room, through several corridors, and up
a long staircase. All these departments were solid and bare,
light and clean; so, thought Isabel, are the great penal
establishments. Madame Catherine gently pushed open the door of
Pansy's room and ushered in the visitor; then stood smiling with
folded hands while the two others met and embraced.
"She's glad to see you," she repeated; "it will do her good." And
she placed the best chair carefully for Isabel. But she made no
movement to seat herself; she seemed ready to retire. "How does
this dear child look?" she asked of Isabel, lingering a moment.
"She looks pale," Isabel answered.
"That's the pleasure of seeing you. She's very happy. Elle
eclaire la maison," said the good sister.
Pansy wore, as Madame Merle had said, a little black dress; it
was perhaps this that made her look pale. "They're very good to
me--they think of everything!" she exclaimed with all her
customary eagerness to accommodate.
"We think of you always--you're a precious charge," Madame
Catherine remarked in the tone of a woman with whom benevolence
was a habit and whose conception of duty was the acceptance of
every care. It fell with a leaden weight on Isabel's ears; it
seemed to represent the surrender of a personality, the authority
of the Church.
When Madame Catherine had left them together Pansy kneeled down
and hid her head in her stepmother's lap. So she remained some
moments, while Isabel gently stroked her hair. Then she got up,
averting her face and looking about the room. "Don't you think
I've arranged it well? I've everything I have at home."
"It's very pretty; you're very comfortable." Isabel scarcely knew
what she could say to her. On the one hand she couldn't let her
think she had come to pity her, and on the other it would be a
dull mockery to pretend to rejoice with her. So she simply added
after a moment: "I've come to bid you good-bye. I'm going to
Pansy's white little face turned red. "To England! Not to come
"I don't know when I shall come back."
"Ah, I'm sorry," Pansy breathed with faintness. She spoke as if
she had no right to criticise; but her tone expressed a depth of
"My cousin, Mr. Touchett, is very ill; he'll probably die. I wish
to see him," Isabel said.
"Ah yes; you told me he would die. Of course you must go. And
will papa go?"
"No; I shall go alone."
For a moment the girl said nothing. Isabel had often wondered
what she thought of the apparent relations of her father with his
wife; but never by a glance, by an intimation, had she let it be
seen that she deemed them deficient in an air of intimacy. She
made her reflexions, Isabel was sure; and she must have had a
conviction that there were husbands and wives who were more
intimate than that. But Pansy was not indiscreet even in thought;
she would as little have ventured to judge her gentle stepmother
as to criticise her magnificent father. Her heart may have stood
almost as still as it would have done had she seen two of the
saints in the great picture in the convent chapel turn their
painted heads and shake them at each other. But as in this latter
case she would (for very solemnity's sake) never have mentioned
the awful phenomenon, so she put away all knowledge of the secrets
of larger lives than her own. "You'll be very far away," she
presently went on.
"Yes; I shall be far away. But it will scarcely matter," Isabel
explained; "since so long as you're here I can't be called near
"Yes, but you can come and see me; though you've not come very
"I've not come because your father forbade it. To-day I bring
nothing with me. I can't amuse you."
"I'm not to be amused. That's not what papa wishes."
"Then it hardly matters whether I'm in Rome or in England."
"You're not happy, Mrs. Osmond," said Pansy.
"Not very. But it doesn't matter."
"That's what I say to myself. What does it matter? But I should
like to come out."
"I wish indeed you might."
"Don't leave me here," Pansy went on gently.
Isabel said nothing for a minute; her heart beat fast. "Will you
come away with me now?" she asked.
Pansy looked at her pleadingly. "Did papa tell you to bring me?"
"No; it's my own proposal."
"I think I had better wait then. Did papa send me no message?"
"I don't think he knew I was coming."
"He thinks I've not had enough," said Pansy. "But I have. The
ladies are very kind to me and the little girls come to see me.
There are some very little ones--such charming children. Then my
room--you can see for yourself. All that's very delightful. But
I've had enough. Papa wished me to think a little--and I've
thought a great deal."
"What have you thought?"
"Well, that I must never displease papa."
"You knew that before."
"Yes; but I know it better. I'll do anything--I'll do anything,"
said Pansy. Then, as she heard her own words, a deep, pure blush
came into her face. Isabel read the meaning of it; she saw the
poor girl had been vanquished. It was well that Mr. Edward Rosier
had kept his enamels! Isabel looked into her eyes and saw there
mainly a prayer to be treated easily. She laid her hand on
Pansy's as if to let her know that her look conveyed no diminution
of esteem; for the collapse of the girl's momentary resistance
(mute and modest thought it had been) seemed only her tribute to
the truth of things. She didn't presume to judge others, but she
had judged herself; she had seen the reality. She had no vocation
for struggling with combinations; in the solemnity of
sequestration there was something that overwhelmed her. She bowed
her pretty head to authority and only asked of authority to be
merciful. Yes; it was very well that Edward Rosier had reserved a
Isabel got up; her time was rapidly shortening. "Good-bye then. I
leave Rome to-night."
Pansy took hold of her dress; there was a sudden change in the
child's face. "You look strange, you frighten me."
"Oh, I'm very harmless," said Isabel.
"Perhaps you won't come back?"
"Perhaps not. I can't tell."
"Ah, Mrs. Osmond, you won't leave me!"
Isabel now saw she had guessed everything. "My dear child, what
can I do for you?" she asked.
"I don't know--but I'm happier when I think of you."
"You can always think of me."
"Not when you're so far. I'm a little afraid," said Pansy.
"What are you afraid of?"
"Of papa--a little. And of Madame Merle. She has just been to see
"You must not say that," Isabel observed.
"Oh, I'll do everything they want. Only if you're here I shall do
it more easily."
Isabel considered. "I won't desert you," she said at last.
"Good-bye, my child."
Then they held each other a moment in a silent embrace, like two
sisters; and afterwards Pansy walked along the corridor with her
visitor to the top of the staircase. "Madame Merle has been
here," she remarked as they went; and as Isabel answered nothing
she added abruptly: "I don't like Madame Merle!"
Isabel hesitated, then stopped. "You must never say that--that
you don't like Madame Merle."
Pansy looked at her in wonder; but wonder with Pansy had never
been a reason for non-compliance. "I never will again," she said
with exquisite gentleness. At the top of the staircase they had
to separate, as it appeared to be part of the mild but very
definite discipline under which Pansy lived that she should not
go down. Isabel descended, and when she reached the bottom the
girl was standing above. "You'll come back?" she called out in a
voice that Isabel remembered afterwards.
"Yes--I'll come back."
Madame Catherine met Mrs. Osmond below and conducted her to the
door of the parlour, outside of which the two stood talking a
minute. "I won't go in," said the good sister. "Madame Merle's
waiting for you."
At this announcement Isabel stiffened; she was on the point of
asking if there were no other egress from the convent. But a
moment's reflexion assured her that she would do well not to
betray to the worthy nun her desire to avoid Pansy's other
friend. Her companion grasped her arm very gently and, fixing her
a moment with wise, benevolent eyes, said in French and almost
familiarly: "Eh bien, chere Madame, qu'en pensez-vous?"
"About my step-daughter? Oh, it would take long to tell you."
"We think it's enough," Madame Catherine distinctly observed. And
she pushed open the door of the parlour.
Madame Merle was sitting just as Isabel had left her, like a
woman so absorbed in thought that she had not moved a little
finger. As Madame Catherine closed the door she got up, and
Isabel saw that she had been thinking to some purpose. She had
recovered her balance; she was in full possession of her
resources. "I found I wished to wait for you," she said urbanely.
"But it's not to talk about Pansy."
Isabel wondered what it could be to talk about, and in spite of
Madame Merle's declaration she answered after a moment: "Madame
Catherine says it's enough."
"Yes; it also seems to me enough. I wanted to ask you another
word about poor Mr. Touchett," Madame Merle added. "Have you
reason to believe that he's really at his last?"
"I've no information but a telegram. Unfortunately it only
confirms a probability."
"I'm going to ask you a strange question," said Madame Merle.
"Are you very fond of your cousin?" And she gave a smile as
strange as her utterance.
"Yes, I'm very fond of him. But I don't understand you."
She just hung fire. "It's rather hard to explain. Something has
occurred to me which may not have occurred to you, and I give you
the benefit of my idea. Your cousin did you once a great service.
Have you never guessed it?"
"He has done me many services."
"Yes; but one was much above the rest. He made you a rich woman."
"HE made me--?"
Madame Merle appearing to see herself successful, she went on
more triumphantly: "He imparted to you that extra lustre which
was required to make you a brilliant match. At bottom it's him
you've to thank." She stopped; there was something in Isabel's
"I don't understand you. It was my uncle's money."
"Yes; it was your uncle's money, but it was your cousin's idea.
He brought his father over to it. Ah, my dear, the sum was
Isabel stood staring; she seemed to-day to live in a world
illumined by lurid flashes. "I don't know why you say such
things. I don't know what you know."
"I know nothing but what I've guessed. But I've guessed that."
Isabel went to the door and, when she had opened it, stood a
moment with her hand on the latch. Then she said--it was her only
revenge: "I believed it was you I had to thank!"
Madame Merle dropped her eyes; she stood there in a kind of proud
penance. "You're very unhappy, I know. But I'm more so."
"Yes; I can believe that. I think I should like never to see you
Madame Merle raised her eyes. "I shall go to America," she
quietly remarked while Isabel passed out.
It was not with surprise, it was with a feeling which in other
circumstances would have had much of the effect of joy, that as
Isabel descended from the Paris Mail at Charing Cross she stepped
into the arms, as it were--or at any rate into the hands--of
Henrietta Stackpole. She had telegraphed to her friend from
Turin, and though she had not definitely said to herself that
Henrietta would meet her, she had felt her telegram would produce
some helpful result. On her long journey from Rome her mind had
been given up to vagueness; she was unable to question the
future. She performed this journey with sightless eyes and took
little pleasure in the countries she traversed, decked out though
they were in the richest freshness of spring. Her thoughts
followed their course through other countries--strange-looking,
dimly-lighted, pathless lands, in which there was no change of
seasons, but only, as it seemed, a perpetual dreariness of
winter. She had plenty to think about; but it was neither
reflexion nor conscious purpose that filled her mind.
Disconnected visions passed through it, and sudden dull gleams of
memory, of expectation. The past and the future came and went at
their will, but she saw them only in fitful images, which rose
and fell by a logic of their own. It was extraordinary the things
she remembered. Now that she was in the secret, now that she knew
something that so much concerned her and the eclipse of which had
made life resemble an attempt to play whist with an imperfect
pack of cards, the truth of things, their mutual relations, their
meaning, and for the most part their horror, rose before her with
a kind of architectural vastness. She remembered a thousand
trifles; they started to life with the spontaneity of a shiver.
She had thought them trifles at the time; now she saw that they
had been weighted with lead. Yet even now they were trifles after
all, for of what use was it to her to understand them? Nothing
seemed of use to her to-day. All purpose, all intention, was
suspended; all desire too save the single desire to reach her
much-embracing refuge. Gardencourt had been her starting-point,
and to those muffled chambers it was at least a temporary
solution to return. She had gone forth in her strength; she would
come back in her weakness, and if the place had been a rest to
her before, it would be a sanctuary now. She envied Ralph his
dying, for if one were thinking of rest that was the most perfect
of all. To cease utterly, to give it all up and not know anything
more--this idea was as sweet as the vision of a cool bath in a
marble tank, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land.
She had moments indeed in her journey from Rome which were almost
as good as being dead. She sat in her corner, so motionless, so
passive, simply with the sense of being carried, so detached from
hope and regret, that she recalled to herself one of those
Etruscan figures couched upon the receptacle of their ashes.
There was nothing to regret now--that was all over. Not only the
time of her folly, but the time of her repentance was far. The
only thing to regret was that Madame Merle had been so--well, so
unimaginable. Just here her intelligence dropped, from literal
inability to say what it was that Madame Merle had been. Whatever
it was it was for Madame Merle herself to regret it; and
doubtless she would do so in America, where she had announced she
was going. It concerned Isabel no more; she only had an
impression that she should never again see Madame Merle. This
impression carried her into the future, of which from time to
time she had a mutilated glimpse. She saw herself, in the distant
years, still in the attitude of a woman who had her life to live,
and these intimations contradicted the spirit of the present
hour. It might be desirable to get quite away, really away,
further away than little grey-green England, but this privilege
was evidently to be denied her. Deep in her soul--deeper than any
appetite for renunciation--was the sense that life would be her
business for a long time to come. And at moments there was
something inspiring, almost enlivening, in the conviction. It was
a proof of strength--it was a proof she should some day be happy
again. It couldn't be she was to live only to suffer; she was
still young, after all, and a great many things might happen to
her yet. To live only to suffer--only to feel the injury of life
repeated and enlarged--it seemed to her she was too valuable, too
capable, for that. Then she wondered if it were vain and stupid
to think so well of herself. When had it even been a guarantee to
be valuable? Wasn't all history full of the destruction of
precious things? Wasn't it much more probable that if one were
fine one would suffer? It involved then perhaps an admission that
one had a certain grossness; but Isabel recognised, as it passed
before her eyes, the quick vague shadow of a long future. She
should never escape; she should last to the end. Then the middle
years wrapped her about again and the grey curtain of her
indifference closed her in.
Henrietta kissed her, as Henrietta usually kissed, as if she were
afraid she should be caught doing it; and then Isabel stood there
in the crowd, looking about her, looking for her servant. She
asked nothing; she wished to wait. She had a sudden perception
that she should be helped. She rejoiced Henrietta had come; there
was something terrible in an arrival in London. The dusky, smoky,
far-arching vault of the station, the strange, livid light, the
dense, dark, pushing crowd, filled her with a nervous fear and
made her put her arm into her friend's. She remembered she had
once liked these things; they seemed part of a mighty spectacle
in which there was something that touched her. She remembered how
she walked away from Euston, in the winter dusk, in the crowded
streets, five years before. She could not have done that to-day,
and the incident came before her as the deed of another person.
"It's too beautiful that you should have come," said Henrietta,
looking at her as if she thought Isabel might be prepared to
challenge the proposition. "If you hadn't--if you hadn't; well, I
don't know," remarked Miss Stackpole, hinting ominously at her
powers of disapproval.
Isabel looked about without seeing her maid. Her eyes rested on
another figure, however, which she felt she had seen before; and
in a moment she recognised the genial countenance of Mr.
Bantling. He stood a little apart, and it was not in the power of
the multitude that pressed about him to make him yield an inch of
the ground he had taken--that of abstracting himself discreetly
while the two ladies performed their embraces.
"There's Mr. Bantling," said Isabel, gently, irrelevantly,
scarcely caring much now whether she should find her maid or not.
"Oh yes, he goes everywhere with me. Come here, Mr. Bantling!"
Henrietta exclaimed. Whereupon the gallant bachelor advanced with
a smile--a smile tempered, however, by the gravity of the
occasion. "Isn't it lovely she has come?" Henrietta asked. "He
knows all about it," she added; "we had quite a discussion. He
said you wouldn't, I said you would."
"I thought you always agreed," Isabel smiled in return. She felt
she could smile now; she had seen in an instant, in Mr.
Bantling's brave eyes, that he had good news for her. They seemed
to say he wished her to remember he was an old friend of her
cousin--that he understood, that it was all right. Isabel gave
him her hand; she thought of him, extravagantly, as a beautiful
"Oh, I always agree," said Mr. Bantling. "But she doesn't, you
"Didn't I tell you that a maid was a nuisance?" Henrietta
enquired. "Your young lady has probably remained at Calais."
"I don't care," said Isabel, looking at Mr. Bantling, whom she
had never found so interesting.
"Stay with her while I go and see," Henrietta commanded, leaving
the two for a moment together.
They stood there at first in silence, and then Mr. Bantling asked
Isabel how it had been on the Channel.
"Very fine. No, I believe it was very rough," she said, to her
companion's obvious surprise. After which she added: "You've been
to Gardencourt, I know."
"Now how do you know that?"
"I can't tell you--except that you look like a person who has
been to Gardencourt."
"Do you think I look awfully sad? It's awfully sad there, you
"I don't believe you ever look awfully sad. You look awfully
kind," said Isabel with a breadth that cost her no effort. It
seemed to her she should never again feel a superficial
Poor Mr. Bantling, however, was still in this inferior stage. He
blushed a good deal and laughed, he assured her that he was often
very blue, and that when he was blue he was awfully fierce. "You
can ask Miss Stackpole, you know. I was at Gardencourt two days
"Did you see my cousin?"
"Only for a little. But he had been seeing people; Warburton had
been there the day before. Ralph was just the same as usual,
except that he was in bed and that he looks tremendously ill and
that he can't speak," Mr. Bantling pursued. "He was awfully
jolly and funny all the same. He was just as clever as ever. It's
Even in the crowded, noisy station this simple picture was vivid.
"Was that late in the day?"
"Yes; I went on purpose. We thought you'd like to know."
"I'm greatly obliged to you. Can I go down tonight?"
"Ah, I don't think SHE'LL let you go," said Mr. Bantling. "She
wants you to stop with her. I made Touchett's man promise to
telegraph me to-day, and I found the telegram an hour ago at my
club. 'Quiet and easy,' that's what it says, and it's dated two
o'clock. So you see you can wait till to-morrow. You must be
"Yes, I'm awfully tired. And I thank you again."
"Oh," said Mr. Bantling, "We were certain you would like the last
news." On which Isabel vaguely noted that he and Henrietta seemed
after all to agree. Miss Stackpole came back with Isabel's maid,
whom she had caught in the act of proving her utility. This
excellent person, instead of losing herself in the crowd, had
simply attended to her mistress's luggage, so that the latter was
now at liberty to leave the station. "You know you're not to
think of going to the country to-night," Henrietta remarked to
her. "It doesn't matter whether there's a train or not. You're to
come straight to me in Wimpole Street. There isn't a corner to be
had in London, but I've got you one all the same. It isn't a
Roman palace, but it will do for a night."
"I'll do whatever you wish," Isabel said.
"You'll come and answer a few questions; that's what I wish."
"She doesn't say anything about dinner, does she, Mrs. Osmond?"
Mr. Bantling enquired jocosely.
Henrietta fixed him a moment with her speculative gaze. "I see
you're in a great hurry to get your own. You'll be at the
Paddington Station to-morrow morning at ten."
"Don't come for my sake, Mr. Bantling," said Isabel.
"He'll come for mine," Henrietta declared as she ushered her
friend into a cab. And later, in a large dusky parlour in Wimpole
Street--to do her justice there had been dinner enough--she asked
those questions to which she had alluded at the station. "Did
your husband make you a scene about your coming?" That was Miss
Stackpole's first enquiry.
"No; I can't say he made a scene."
"He didn't object then?"
"Yes, he objected very much. But it was not what you'd call a
"What was it then?"
"It was a very quiet conversation."
Henrietta for a moment regarded her guest. "It must have been
hellish," she then remarked. And Isabel didn't deny that it had
been hellish. But she confined herself to answering Henrietta's
questions, which was easy, as they were tolerably definite. For
the present she offered her no new information. "Well," said Miss
Stackpole at last, "I've only one criticism to make. I don't see
why you promised little Miss Osmond to go back."
"I'm not sure I myself see now," Isabel replied. "But I did
"If you've forgotten your reason perhaps you won't return."
Isabel waited a moment. "Perhaps I shall find another."
"You'll certainly never find a good one."
"In default of a better my having promised will do," Isabel