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The Portrait of a Lady [Volume 2] by Henry James

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The Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James



On the morrow, in the evening, Lord Warburton went again to see
his friends at their hotel, and at this establishment he learned
that they had gone to the opera. He drove to the opera with the
idea of paying them a visit in their box after the easy Italian
fashion; and when he had obtained his admittance--it was one of
the secondary theatres--looked about the large, bare, ill-lighted
house. An act had just terminated and he was at liberty to pursue
his quest. After scanning two or three tiers of boxes he
perceived in one of the largest of these receptacles a lady whom
he easily recognised. Miss Archer was seated facing the stage and
partly screened by the curtain of the box; and beside her,
leaning back in his chair, was Mr. Gilbert Osmond. They appeared
to have the place to themselves, and Warburton supposed their
companions had taken advantage of the recess to enjoy the
relative coolness of the lobby. He stood a while with his eyes on
the interesting pair; he asked himself if he should go up and
interrupt the harmony. At last he judged that Isabel had seen
him, and this accident determined him. There should be no marked
holding off. He took his way to the upper regions and on the
staircase met Ralph Touchett slowly descending, his hat at the
inclination of ennui and his hands where they usually were.

"I saw you below a moment since and was going down to you. I feel
lonely and want company," was Ralph's greeting.

"You've some that's very good which you've yet deserted."

"Do you mean my cousin? Oh, she has a visitor and doesn't want
me. Then Miss Stackpole and Bantling have gone out to a cafe to
eat an ice--Miss Stackpole delights in an ice. I didn't think
they wanted me either. The opera's very bad; the women look like
laundresses and sing like peacocks. I feel very low."

"You had better go home," Lord Warburton said without

"And leave my young lady in this sad place? Ah no, I must watch
over her."

"She seems to have plenty of friends."

"Yes, that's why I must watch," said Ralph with the same large

"If she doesn't want you it's probable she doesn't want me."

"No, you're different. Go to the box and stay there while I walk

Lord Warburton went to the box, where Isabel's welcome was as to
a friend so honourably old that he vaguely asked himself what
queer temporal province she was annexing. He exchanged greetings
with Mr. Osmond, to whom he had been introduced the day before
and who, after he came in, sat blandly apart and silent, as if
repudiating competence in the subjects of allusion now probable.
It struck her second visitor that Miss Archer had, in operatic
conditions, a radiance, even a slight exaltation; as she was,
however, at all times a keenly-glancing, quickly-moving,
completely animated young woman, he may have been mistaken on
this point. Her talk with him moreover pointed to presence of
mind; it expressed a kindness so ingenious and deliberate as to
indicate that she was in undisturbed possession of her faculties.
Poor Lord Warburton had moments of bewilderment. She had
discouraged him, formally, as much as a woman could; what
business had she then with such arts and such felicities, above
all with such tones of reparation--preparation? Her voice had
tricks of sweetness, but why play them on HIM? The others came
back; the bare, familiar, trivial opera began again. The box was
large, and there was room for him to remain if he would sit a
little behind and in the dark. He did so for half an hour, while
Mr. Osmond remained in front, leaning forward, his elbows on his
knees, just behind Isabel. Lord Warburton heard nothing, and from
his gloomy corner saw nothing but the clear profile of this young
lady defined against the dim illumination of the house. When
there was another interval no one moved. Mr. Osmond talked to
Isabel, and Lord Warburton kept his corner. He did so but for a
short time, however; after which he got up and bade good-night to
the ladies. Isabel said nothing to detain him, but it didn't
prevent his being puzzled again. Why should she mark so one of
his values--quite the wrong one--when she would have nothing to
do with another, which was quite the right? He was angry with
himself for being puzzled, and then angry for being angry.
Verdi's music did little to comfort him, and he left the theatre
and walked homeward, without knowing his way, through the
tortuous, tragic streets of Rome, where heavier sorrows than his
had been carried under the stars.

"What's the character of that gentleman?" Osmond asked of Isabel
after he had retired.

"Irreproachable--don't you see it?"

"He owns about half England; that's his character," Henrietta
remarked. "That's what they call a free country!"

"Ah, he's a great proprietor? Happy man!" said Gilbert Osmond.

"Do you call that happiness--the ownership of wretched human
beings?" cried Miss Stackpole. "He owns his tenants and has
thousands of them. It's pleasant to own something, but inanimate
objects are enough for me. I don't insist on flesh and blood and
minds and consciences."

"It seems to me you own a human being or two," Mr. Bantling
suggested jocosely. "I wonder if Warburton orders his tenants
about as you do me."

"Lord Warburton's a great radical," Isabel said. "He has very
advanced opinions."

"He has very advanced stone walls. His park's enclosed by a
gigantic iron fence, some thirty miles round," Henrietta
announced for the information of Mr. Osmond. "I should like him
to converse with a few of our Boston radicals."

"Don't they approve of iron fences?" asked Mr. Bantling.

"Only to shut up wicked conservatives. I always feel as if I were
talking to YOU over something with a neat top-finish of broken

"Do you know him well, this unreformed reformer?" Osmond went on,
questioning Isabel.

"Well enough for all the use I have for him."

"And how much of a use is that?"

"Well, I like to like him."

"'Liking to like'--why, it makes a passion!" said Osmond.

"No"--she considered--"keep that for liking to DISlike."

"Do you wish to provoke me then," Osmond laughed, "to a passion
for HIM?"

She said nothing for a moment, but then met the light question
with a disproportionate gravity. "No, Mr. Osmond; I don't think I
should ever dare to provoke you. Lord Warburton, at any rate,"
she more easily added, "is a very nice man."

"Of great ability?" her friend enquired.

"Of excellent ability, and as good as he looks."

"As good as he's good-looking do you mean? He's very good-looking.
How detestably fortunate!--to be a great English magnate, to be
clever and handsome into the bargain, and, by way of finishing off,
to enjoy your high favour! That's a man I could envy."

Isabel considered him with interest. "You seem to me to be always
envying some one. Yesterday it was the Pope; to-day it's poor
Lord Warburton."

"My envy's not dangerous; it wouldn't hurt a mouse. I don't want
to destroy the people--I only want to BE them. You see it would
destroy only myself."

"You'd like to be the Pope?" said Isabel.

"I should love it--but I should have gone in for it earlier. But
why"--Osmond reverted--"do you speak of your friend as poor?"

"Women--when they are very, very good sometimes pity men after
they've hurt them; that's their great way of showing kindness,"
said Ralph, joining in the conversation for the first time and
with a cynicism so transparently ingenious as to be virtually

"Pray, have I hurt Lord Warburton?" Isabel asked, raising her
eyebrows as if the idea were perfectly fresh.

"It serves him right if you have," said Henrietta while the
curtain rose for the ballet.

Isabel saw no more of her attributive victim for the next
twenty-four hours, but on the second day after the visit to the
opera she encountered him in the gallery of the Capitol, where he
stood before the lion of the collection, the statue of the Dying
Gladiator. She had come in with her companions, among whom, on
this occasion again, Gilbert Osmond had his place, and the party,
having ascended the staircase, entered the first and finest of
the rooms. Lord Warburton addressed her alertly enough, but said
in a moment that he was leaving the gallery. "And I'm leaving
Rome," he added. "I must bid you goodbye." Isabel, inconsequently
enough, was now sorry to hear it. This was perhaps because she
had ceased to be afraid of his renewing his suit; she was
thinking of something else. She was on the point of naming her
regret, but she checked herself and simply wished him a happy
journey; which made him look at her rather unlightedly. "I'm
afraid you'll think me very 'volatile.' I told you the other day
I wanted so much to stop."

"Oh no; you could easily change your mind."

"That's what I have done."

"Bon voyage then."

"You're in a great hurry to get rid of me," said his lordship
quite dismally.

"Not in the least. But I hate partings."

"You don't care what I do," he went on pitifully.

Isabel looked at him a moment. "Ah," she said, "you're not
keeping your promise!"

He coloured like a boy of fifteen. "If I'm not, then it's because
I can't; and that's why I'm going."

"Good-bye then."

"Good-bye." He lingered still, however. "When shall I see you

Isabel hesitated, but soon, as if she had had a happy inspiration:
"Some day after you're married."

"That will never be. It will be after you are."

"That will do as well," she smiled.

"Yes, quite as well. Good-bye."

They shook hands, and he left her alone in the glorious room,
among the shining antique marbles. She sat down in the centre of
the circle of these presences, regarding them vaguely, resting
her eyes on their beautiful blank faces; listening, as it were,
to their eternal silence. It is impossible, in Rome at least, to
look long at a great company of Greek sculptures without feeling
the effect of their noble quietude; which, as with a high door
closed for the ceremony, slowly drops on the spirit the large
white mantle of peace. I say in Rome especially, because the
Roman air is an exquisite medium for such impressions. The golden
sunshine mingles with them, the deep stillness of the past, so
vivid yet, though it is nothing but a void full of names, seems
to throw a solemn spell upon them. The blinds were partly closed
in the windows of the Capitol, and a clear, warm shadow rested on
the figures and made them more mildly human. Isabel sat there a
long time, under the charm of their motionless grace, wondering
to what, of their experience, their absent eyes were open, and
how, to our ears, their alien lips would sound. The dark red
walls of the room threw them into relief; the polished marble
floor reflected their beauty. She had seen them all before, but
her enjoyment repeated itself, and it was all the greater because
she was glad again, for the time, to be alone. At last, however,
her attention lapsed, drawn off by a deeper tide of life. An
occasional tourist came in, stopped and stared a moment at the
Dying Gladiator, and then passed out of the other door, creaking
over the smooth pavement. At the end of half an hour Gilbert
Osmond reappeared, apparently in advance of his companions. He
strolled toward her slowly, with his hands behind him and his
usual enquiring, yet not quite appealing smile. "I'm surprised to
find you alone, I thought you had company.

"So I have--the best." And she glanced at the Antinous and the

"Do you call them better company than an English peer?"

"Ah, my English peer left me some time ago." She got up, speaking
with intention a little dryly.

Mr. Osmond noted her dryness, which contributed for him to the
interest of his question. "I'm afraid that what I heard the other
evening is true: you're rather cruel to that nobleman."

Isabel looked a moment at the vanquished Gladiator. "It's not
true. I'm scrupulously kind."

"That's exactly what I mean!" Gilbert Osmond returned, and with
such happy hilarity that his joke needs to be explained. We know
that he was fond of originals, of rarities, of the superior and
the exquisite; and now that he had seen Lord Warburton, whom he
thought a very fine example of his race and order, he perceived a
new attraction in the idea of taking to himself a young lady who
had qualified herself to figure in his collection of choice
objects by declining so noble a hand. Gilbert Osmond had a high
appreciation of this particular patriciate; not so much for its
distinction, which he thought easily surpassable, as for its
solid actuality. He had never forgiven his star for not appointing
him to an English dukedom, and he could measure the unexpectedness
of such conduct as Isabel's. It would be proper that the woman he
might marry should have done something of that sort.


Ralph Touchett, in talk with his excellent friend, had rather
markedly qualified, as we know, his recognition of Gilbert
Osmond's personal merits; but he might really have felt himself
illiberal in the light of that gentleman's conduct during the
rest of the visit to Rome. Osmond spent a portion of each day
with Isabel and her companions, and ended by affecting them as
the easiest of men to live with. Who wouldn't have seen that he
could command, as it were, both tact and gaiety?--which perhaps
was exactly why Ralph had made his old-time look of superficial
sociability a reproach to him. Even Isabel's invidious kinsman
was obliged to admit that he was just now a delightful associate.
His good humour was imperturbable, his knowledge of the right
fact, his production of the right word, as convenient as the
friendly flicker of a match for your cigarette. Clearly he was
amused--as amused as a man could be who was so little ever
surprised, and that made him almost applausive. It was not that
his spirits were visibly high--he would never, in the concert of
pleasure, touch the big drum by so much as a knuckle: he had a
mortal dislike to the high, ragged note, to what he called random
ravings. He thought Miss Archer sometimes of too precipitate a
readiness. It was pity she had that fault, because if she had
not had it she would really have had none; she would have been
as smooth to his general need of her as handled ivory to the
palm. If he was not personally loud, however, he was deep, and
during these closing days of the Roman May he knew a complacency
that matched with slow irregular walks under the pines of the
Villa Borghese, among the small sweet meadow-flowers and the
mossy marbles. He was pleased with everything; he had never
before been pleased with so many things at once. Old impressions,
old enjoyments, renewed themselves; one evening, going home to
his room at the inn, he wrote down a little sonnet to which he
prefixed the title of "Rome Revisited." A day or two later he
showed this piece of correct and ingenious verse to Isabel,
explaining to her that it was an Italian fashion to commemorate
the occasions of life by a tribute to the muse.

He took his pleasures in general singly; he was too often--he
would have admitted that--too sorely aware of something wrong,
something ugly; the fertilising dew of a conceivable felicity too
seldom descended on his spirit. But at present he was happy--
happier than he had perhaps ever been in his life, and the
feeling had a large foundation. This was simply the sense of
success--the most agreeable emotion of the human heart. Osmond
had never had too much of it; in this respect he had the
irritation of satiety, as he knew perfectly well and often
reminded himself. "Ah no, I've not been spoiled; certainly I've
not been spoiled," he used inwardly to repeat. "If I do succeed
before I die I shall thoroughly have earned it." He was too apt
to reason as if "earning" this boon consisted above all of
covertly aching for it and might be confined to that exercise.
Absolutely void of it, also, his career had not been; he might
indeed have suggested to a spectator here and there that he was
resting on vague laurels. But his triumphs were, some of them,
now too old; others had been too easy. The present one had been
less arduous than might have been expected, but had been easy--
that is had been rapid--only because he had made an altogether
exceptional effort, a greater effort than he had believed it in
him to make. The desire to have something or other to show for
his "parts"--to show somehow or other--had been the dream of his
youth; but as the years went on the conditions attached to any
marked proof of rarity had affected him more and more as gross
and detestable; like the swallowing of mugs of beer to advertise
what one could "stand." If an anonymous drawing on a museum wall
had been conscious and watchful it might have known this peculiar
pleasure of being at last and all of a sudden identified--as from
the hand of a great master--by the so high and so unnoticed fact
of style. His "style" was what the girl had discovered with a
little help; and now, beside herself enjoying it, she should
publish it to the world without his having any of the trouble.
She should do the thing FOR him, and he would not have waited in

Shortly before the time fixed in advance for her departure this
young lady received from Mrs. Touchett a telegram running as
follows: "Leave Florence 4th June for Bellaggio, and take you if
you have not other views. But can't wait if you dawdle in Rome."
The dawdling in Rome was very pleasant, but Isabel had different
views, and she let her aunt know she would immediately join her.
She told Gilbert Osmond that she had done so, and he replied
that, spending many of his summers as well as his winters in
Italy, he himself would loiter a little longer in the cool shadow
of Saint Peter's. He would not return to Florence for ten days
more, and in that time she would have started for Bellaggio. It
might be months in this case before he should see her again. This
exchange took place in the large decorated sitting-room occupied
by our friends at the hotel; it was late in the evening, and
Ralph Touchett was to take his cousin back to Florence on the
morrow. Osmond had found the girl alone; Miss Stackpole had
contracted a friendship with a delightful American family on the
fourth floor and had mounted the interminable staircase to pay
them a visit. Henrietta contracted friendships, in travelling,
with great freedom, and had formed in railway-carriages several
that were among her most valued ties. Ralph was making
arrangements for the morrow's journey, and Isabel sat alone in a
wilderness of yellow upholstery. The chairs and sofas were
orange; the walls and windows were draped in purple and gilt. The
mirrors, the pictures had great flamboyant frames; the ceiling
was deeply vaulted and painted over with naked muses and cherubs.
For Osmond the place was ugly to distress; the false colours, the
sham splendour were like vulgar, bragging, lying talk. Isabel had
taken in hand a volume of Ampere, presented, on their arrival in
Rome, by Ralph; but though she held it in her lap with her
finger vaguely kept in the place she was not impatient to pursue
her study. A lamp covered with a drooping veil of pink
tissue-paper burned on the table beside her and diffused a
strange pale rosiness over the scene.

"You say you'll come back; but who knows?" Gilbert Osmond said.

"I think you're much more likely to start on your voyage round
the world. You're under no obligation to come back; you can do
exactly what you choose; you can roam through space."

"Well, Italy's a part of space," Isabel answered. "I can take it
on the way."

"On the way round the world? No, don't do that. Don't put us in a
parenthesis--give us a chapter to ourselves. I don't want to see
you on your travels. I'd rather see you when they're over. I
should like to see you when you're tired and satiated," Osmond
added in a moment. "I shall prefer you in that state."

Isabel, with her eyes bent, fingered the pages of M. Ampere. "You
turn things into ridicule without seeming to do it, though not, I
think, without intending it. You've no respect for my travels--
you think them ridiculous."

"Where do you find that?"

She went on in the same tone, fretting the edge of her book with
the paper-knife. "You see my ignorance, my blunders, the way I
wander about as if the world belonged to me, simply because--
because it has been put into my power to do so. You don't think a
woman ought to do that. You think it bold and ungraceful."

"I think it beautiful," said Osmond. "You know my opinions--I've
treated you to enough of them. Don't you remember my telling you
that one ought to make one's life a work of art? You looked
rather shocked at first; but then I told you that it was
exactly what you seemed to me to be trying to do with your own."

She looked up from her book. "What you despise most in the world
is bad, is stupid art."

"Possibly. But yours seem to me very clear and very good."

"If I were to go to Japan next winter you would laugh at me," she
went on.

Osmond gave a smile--a keen one, but not a laugh, for the tone of
their conversation was not jocose. Isabel had in fact her
solemnity; he had seen it before. "You have one!"

"That's exactly what I say. You think such an idea absurd."

"I would give my little finger to go to Japan; it's one of the
countries I want most to see. Can't you believe that, with my
taste for old lacquer?"

"I haven't a taste for old lacquer to excuse me," said Isabel.

"You've a better excuse--the means of going. You're quite wrong
in your theory that I laugh at you. I don't know what has put it
into your head."

"It wouldn't be remarkable if you did think it ridiculous that I
should have the means to travel when you've not; for you know
everything and I know nothing."

"The more reason why you should travel and learn," smiled Osmond.
"Besides," he added as if it were a point to be made, "I don't
know everything."

Isabel was not struck with the oddity of his saying this gravely;
she was thinking that the pleasantest incident of her life--so it
pleased her to qualify these too few days in Rome, which she
might musingly have likened to the figure of some small princess
of one of the ages of dress overmuffled in a mantle of state and
dragging a train that it took pages or historians to hold up--
that this felicity was coming to an end. That most of the
interest of the time had been owing to Mr. Osmond was a reflexion
she was not just now at pains to make; she had already done the
point abundant justice. But she said to herself that if there
were a danger they should never meet again, perhaps after all it
would be as well. Happy things don't repeat themselves, and her
adventure wore already the changed, the seaward face of some
romantic island from which, after feasting on purple grapes, she
was putting off while the breeze rose. She might come back to
Italy and find him different--this strange man who pleased her
just as he was; and it would be better not to come than run the
risk of that. But if she was not to come the greater the pity
that the chapter was closed; she felt for a moment a pang that
touched the source of tears. The sensation kept her silent, and
Gilbert Osmond was silent too; he was looking at her. "Go
everywhere," he said at last, in a low, kind voice; "do everything;
get everything out of life. Be happy,--be triumphant."

"What do you mean by being triumphant?"

"Well, doing what you like."

"To triumph, then, it seems to me, is to fail! Doing all the vain
things one likes is often very tiresome."

"Exactly," said Osmond with his quiet quickness. "As I intimated
just now, you'll be tired some day." He paused a moment and then
he went on: "I don't know whether I had better not wait till then
for something I want to say to you."

"Ah, I can't advise you without knowing what it is. But I'm
horrid when I'm tired," Isabel added with due inconsequence.

"I don't believe that. You're angry, sometimes--that I can
believe, though I've never seen it. But I'm sure you're never

"Not even when I lose my temper?"

"You don't lose it--you find it, and that must be beautiful."
Osmond spoke with a noble earnestness. "They must be great
moments to see."

"If I could only find it now!" Isabel nervously cried.

"I'm not afraid; I should fold my arms and admire you. I'm
speaking very seriously." He leaned forward, a hand on each knee;
for some moments he bent his eyes on the floor. "What I wish to
say to you," he went on at last, looking up, "is that I find I'm
in love with you."

She instantly rose. "Ah, keep that till I am tired!"

"Tired of hearing it from others?" He sat there raising his eyes
to her. "No, you may heed it now or never, as you please. But
after all I must say it now." She had turned away, but in the
movement she had stopped herself and dropped her gaze upon him.
The two remained a while in this situation, exchanging a long look
--the large, conscious look of the critical hours of life. Then he
got up and came near her, deeply respectful, as if he were afraid
he had been too familiar. "I'm absolutely in love with you."

He had repeated the announcement in a tone of almost impersonal
discretion, like a man who expected very little from it but who
spoke for his own needed relief. The tears came into her eyes:
this time they obeyed the sharpness of the pang that suggested to
her somehow the slipping of a fine bolt--backward, forward, she
couldn't have said which. The words he had uttered made him, as
he stood there, beautiful and generous, invested him as with the
golden air of early autumn; but, morally speaking, she retreated
before them--facing him still--as she had retreated in the other
cases before a like encounter. "Oh don't say that, please," she
answered with an intensity that expressed the dread of having, in
this case too, to choose and decide. What made her dread great
was precisely the force which, as it would seem, ought to have
banished all dread--the sense of something within herself, deep
down, that she supposed to be inspired and trustful passion. It
was there like a large sum stored in a bank--which there was a
terror in having to begin to spend. If she touched it, it would
all come out.

"I haven't the idea that it will matter much to you," said
Osmond. "I've too little to offer you. What I have--it's enough
for me; but it's not enough for you. I've neither fortune, nor
fame, nor extrinsic advantages of any kind. So I offer nothing. I
only tell you because I think it can't offend you, and some day
or other it may give you pleasure. It gives me pleasure, I assure
you," he went on, standing there before her, considerately
inclined to her, turning his hat, which he had taken up, slowly
round with a movement which had all the decent tremor of
awkwardness and none of its oddity, and presenting to her his
firm, refined, slightly ravaged face. "It gives me no pain,
because it's perfectly simple. For me you'll always be the most
important woman in the world."

Isabel looked at herself in this character--looked intently,
thinking she filled it with a certain grace. But what she said
was not an expression of any such complacency. "You don't offend
me; but you ought to remember that, without being offended, one
may be incommoded, troubled." "Incommoded," she heard herself
saying that, and it struck her as a ridiculous word. But it was
what stupidly came to her.

"I remember perfectly. Of course you're surprised and startled.
But if it's nothing but that, it will pass away. And it will
perhaps leave something that I may not be ashamed of."

"I don't know what it may leave. You see at all events that I'm
not overwhelmed," said Isabel with rather a pale smile. "I'm not
too troubled to think. And I think that I'm glad I leave Rome

"Of course I don't agree with you there."

"I don't at all KNOW you," she added abruptly; and then she
coloured as she heard herself saying what she had said almost a
year before to Lord Warburton.

"If you were not going away you'd know me better."

"I shall do that some other time."

"I hope so. I'm very easy to know."

"No, no," she emphatically answered--"there you're not sincere.
You're not easy to know; no one could be less so."

"Well," he laughed, "I said that because I know myself. It may be
a boast, but I do."

"Very likely; but you're very wise."

"So are you, Miss Archer!" Osmond exclaimed.

"I don't feel so just now. Still, I'm wise enough to think you
had better go. Good-night."

"God bless you!" said Gilbert Osmond, taking the hand which she
failed to surrender. After which he added: "If we meet again
you'll find me as you leave me. If we don't I shall be so all the

"Thank you very much. Good-bye."

There was something quietly firm about Isabel's visitor; he might
go of his own movement, but wouldn't be dismissed. "There's one
thing more. I haven't asked anything of you--not even a thought
in the future; you must do me that justice. But there's a little
service I should like to ask. I shall not return home for several
days; Rome's delightful, and it's a good place for a man in my
state of mind. Oh, I know you're sorry to leave it; but you're
right to do what your aunt wishes."

"She doesn't even wish it!" Isabel broke out strangely.

Osmond was apparently on the point of saying something that would
match these words, but he changed his mind and rejoined simply:
"Ah well, it's proper you should go with her, very proper. Do
everything that's proper; I go in for that. Excuse my being so
patronising. You say you don't know me, but when you do you'll
discover what a worship I have for propriety."

"You're not conventional?" Isabel gravely asked.

"I like the way you utter that word! No, I'm not conventional:
I'm convention itself. You don't understand that?" And he paused
a moment, smiling. "I should like to explain it." Then with a
sudden, quick, bright naturalness, "Do come back again,"
he pleaded. "There are so many things we might talk about."

She stood there with lowered eyes. "What service did you speak of
just now?"

"Go and see my little daughter before you leave Florence. She's
alone at the villa; I decided not to send her to my sister, who
hasn't at all my ideas. Tell her she must love her poor father
very much," said Gilbert Osmond gently.

"It will be a great pleasure to me to go," Isabel answered. "I'll
tell her what you say. Once more good-bye."

On this he took a rapid, respectful leave. When he had gone she
stood a moment looking about her and seated herself slowly and
with an air of deliberation. She sat there till her companions
came back, with folded hands, gazing at the ugly carpet. Her
agitation--for it had not diminished--was very still, very deep.
What had happened was something that for a week past her
imagination had been going forward to meet; but here, when it
came, she stopped--that sublime principle somehow broke down. The
working of this young lady's spirit was strange, and I can only
give it to you as I see it, not hoping to make it seem altogether
natural. Her imagination, as I say, now hung back: there was a
last vague space it couldn't cross--a dusky, uncertain tract
which looked ambiguous and even slightly treacherous, like a
moorland seen in the winter twilight. But she was to cross it


She returned on the morrow to Florence, under her cousin's
escort, and Ralph Touchett, though usually restive under railway
discipline, thought very well of the successive hours passed in
the train that hurried his companion away from the city now
distinguished by Gilbert Osmond's preference--hours that were to
form the first stage in a larger scheme of travel. Miss Stackpole
had remained behind; she was planning a little trip to Naples, to
be carried out with Mr. Bantling's aid. Isabel was to have three
days in Florence before the 4th of June, the date of Mrs.
Touchett's departure, and she determined to devote the last of
these to her promise to call on Pansy Osmond. Her plan, however,
seemed for a moment likely to modify itself in deference to an
idea of Madame Merle's. This lady was still at Casa Touchett; but
she too was on the point of leaving Florence, her next station
being an ancient castle in the mountains of Tuscany, the
residence of a noble family of that country, whose acquaintance
(she had known them, as she said, "forever") seemed to Isabel, in
the light of certain photographs of their immense crenellated
dwelling which her friend was able to show her, a precious
privilege. She mentioned to this fortunate woman that Mr. Osmond
had asked her to take a look at his daughter, but didn't mention
that he had also made her a declaration of love.

"Ah, comme cela se trouve!" Madame Merle exclaimed. "I myself
have been thinking it would be a kindness to pay the child a
little visit before I go off."

"We can go together then," Isabel reasonably said: "reasonably"
because the proposal was not uttered in the spirit of enthusiasm.
She had prefigured her small pilgrimage as made in solitude; she
should like it better so. She was nevertheless prepared to
sacrifice this mystic sentiment to her great consideration for
her friend.

That personage finely meditated. "After all, why should we both
go; having, each of us, so much to do during these last hours?"

"Very good; I can easily go alone."

"I don't know about your going alone--to the house of a handsome
bachelor. He has been married--but so long ago!"

Isabel stared. "When Mr. Osmond's away what does it matter?"

"They don't know he's away, you see."

"They? Whom do you mean?"

"Every one. But perhaps it doesn't signify."

"If you were going why shouldn't I?" Isabel asked.

"Because I'm an old frump and you're a beautiful young woman."

"Granting all that, you've not promised."

"How much you think of your promises!" said the elder woman in
mild mockery.

"I think a great deal of my promises. Does that surprise you?"

"You're right," Madame Merle audibly reflected. "I really think
you wish to be kind to the child."

"I wish very much to be kind to her."

"Go and see her then; no one will be the wiser. And tell her I'd
have come if you hadn't. Or rather," Madame Merle added, "DON'T
tell her. She won't care."

As Isabel drove, in the publicity of an open vehicle, along the
winding way which led to Mr. Osmond's hill-top, she wondered what
her friend had meant by no one's being the wiser. Once in a
while, at large intervals, this lady, whose voyaging discretion,
as a general thing, was rather of the open sea than of the risky
channel, dropped a remark of ambiguous quality, struck a note
that sounded false. What cared Isabel Archer for the vulgar
judgements of obscure people? and did Madame Merle suppose that
she was capable of doing a thing at all if it had to be
sneakingly done? Of course not: she must have meant something
else--something which in the press of the hours that preceded her
departure she had not had time to explain. Isabel would return to
this some day; there were sorts of things as to which she liked
to be clear. She heard Pansy strumming at the piano in another
place as she herself was ushered into Mr. Osmond's drawing-room;
the little girl was "practising," and Isabel was pleased to think
she performed this duty with rigour. She immediately came in,
smoothing down her frock, and did the honours of her father's
house with a wide-eyed earnestness of courtesy. Isabel sat there
half an hour, and Pansy rose to the occasion as the small, winged
fairy in the pantomime soars by the aid of the dissimulated wire
--not chattering, but conversing, and showing the same respectful
interest in Isabel's affairs that Isabel was so good as to take
in hers. Isabel wondered at her; she had never had so directly
presented to her nose the white flower of cultivated sweetness.
How well the child had been taught, said our admiring young
woman; how prettily she had been directed and fashioned; and yet
how simple, how natural, how innocent she had been kept! Isabel
was fond, ever, of the question of character and quality, of
sounding, as who should say, the deep personal mystery, and it
had pleased her, up to this time, to be in doubt as to whether
this tender slip were not really all-knowing. Was the extremity
of her candour but the perfection of self-consciousness? Was it
put on to please her father's visitor, or was it the direct
expression of an unspotted nature? The hour that Isabel spent in
Mr. Osmond's beautiful empty, dusky rooms--the windows had been
half-darkened, to keep out the heat, and here and there, through
an easy crevice, the splendid summer day peeped in, lighting a
gleam of faded colour or tarnished gilt in the rich gloom--her
interview with the daughter of the house, I say, effectually
settled this question. Pansy was really a blank page, a pure
white surface, successfully kept so; she had neither art, nor
guile, nor temper, nor talent--only two or three small exquisite
instincts: for knowing a friend, for avoiding a mistake,
for taking care of an old toy or a new frock. Yet to be so tender
was to be touching withal, and she could be felt as an easy
victim of fate. She would have no will, no power to resist, no
sense of her own importance; she would easily be mystified,
easily crushed: her force would be all in knowing when and where
to cling. She moved about the place with her visitor, who had
asked leave to walk through the other rooms again, where Pansy
gave her judgement on several works of art. She spoke of her
prospects, her occupations, her father's intentions; she was not
egotistical, but felt the propriety of supplying the information
so distinguished a guest would naturally expect.

"Please tell me," she said, "did papa, in Rome, go to see Madame
Catherine? He told me he would if he had time. Perhaps he had not
time. Papa likes a great deal of time. He wished to speak about
my education; it isn't finished yet, you know. I don't know what
they can do with me more; but it appears it's far from finished.
Papa told me one day he thought he would finish it himself; for
the last year or two, at the convent, the masters that teach the
tall girls are so very dear. Papa's not rich, and I should be
very sorry if he were to pay much money for me, because I don't
think I'm worth it. I don't learn quickly enough, and I have no
memory. For what I'm told, yes--especially when it's pleasant;
but not for what I learn in a book. There was a young girl who
was my best friend, and they took her away from the convent, when
she was fourteen, to make--how do you say it in English?--to
make a dot. You don't say it in English? I hope it isn't wrong;
I only mean they wished to keep the money to marry her. I don't
know whether it is for that that papa wishes to keep the money--
to marry me. It costs so much to marry!" Pansy went on with a
sigh; "I think papa might make that economy. At any rate I'm too
young to think about it yet, and I don't care for any gentleman;
I mean for any but him. If he were not my papa I should like to
marry him; I would rather be his daughter than the wife of--of
some strange person. I miss him very much, but not so much as you
might think, for I've been so much away from him. Papa has always
been principally for holidays. I miss Madame Catherine almost
more; but you must not tell him that. You shall not see him
again? I'm very sorry, and he'll be sorry too. Of everyone who
comes here I like you the best. That's not a great compliment,
for there are not many people. It was very kind of you to come
to-day--so far from your house; for I'm really as yet only a
child. Oh, yes, I've only the occupations of a child. When did
YOU give them up, the occupations of a child? I should like to
know how old you are, but I don't know whether it's right to ask.
At the convent they told us that we must never ask the age. I
don't like to do anything that's not expected; it looks as if one
had not been properly taught. I myself--I should never like to be
taken by surprise. Papa left directions for everything. I go to
bed very early. When the sun goes off that side I go into the
garden. Papa left strict orders that I was not to get scorched. I
always enjoy the view; the mountains are so graceful. In Rome,
from the convent, we saw nothing but roofs and bell-towers. I
practise three hours. I don't play very well. You play yourself?
I wish very much you'd play something for me; papa has the idea
that I should hear good music. Madame Merle has played for me
several times; that's what I like best about Madame Merle; she
has great facility. I shall never have facility. And I've no
voice--just a small sound like the squeak of a slate-pencil
making flourishes."

Isabel gratified this respectful wish, drew off her gloves and
sat down to the piano, while Pansy, standing beside her, watched
her white hands move quickly over the keys. When she stopped she
kissed the child good-bye, held her close, looked at her long.
"Be very good," she said; "give pleasure to your father."

"I think that's what I live for," Pansy answered. "He has not
much pleasure; he's rather a sad man."

Isabel listened to this assertion with an interest which she felt
it almost a torment to be obliged to conceal. It was her pride
that obliged her, and a certain sense of decency; there were
still other things in her head which she felt a strong impulse,
instantly checked, to say to Pansy about her father; there were
things it would have given her pleasure to hear the child, to
make the child, say. But she no sooner became conscious of these
things than her imagination was hushed with horror at the idea of
taking advantage of the little girl--it was of this she would
have accused herself--and of exhaling into that air where he
might still have a subtle sense for it any breath of her charmed
state. She had come--she had come; but she had stayed only an
hour. She rose quickly from the music-stool; even then, however,
she lingered a moment, still holding her small companion, drawing
the child's sweet slimness closer and looking down at her almost
in envy. She was obliged to confess it to herself--she would have
taken a passionate pleasure in talking of Gilbert Osmond to this
innocent, diminutive creature who was so near him. But she said
no other word; she only kissed Pansy once again. They went
together through the vestibule, to the door that opened on the
court; and there her young hostess stopped, looking rather
wistfully beyond. "I may go no further. I've promised papa not to
pass this door."

"You're right to obey him; he'll never ask you anything

"I shall always obey him. But when will you come again?"

"Not for a long time, I'm afraid."

"As soon as you can, I hope. I'm only a little girl," said Pansy,
"but I shall always expect you." And the small figure stood in
the high, dark doorway, watching Isabel cross the clear, grey
court and disappear into the brightness beyond the big portone,
which gave a wider dazzle as it opened.


Isabel came back to Florence, but only after several months; an
interval sufficiently replete with incident. It is not, however,
during this interval that we are closely concerned with her; our
attention is engaged again on a certain day in the late
spring-time, shortly after her return to Palazzo Crescentini and
a year from the date of the incidents just narrated. She was
alone on this occasion, in one of the smaller of the numerous
rooms devoted by Mrs. Touchett to social uses, and there was that
in her expression and attitude which would have suggested that
she was expecting a visitor. The tall window was open, and though
its green shutters were partly drawn the bright air of the garden
had come in through a broad interstice and filled the room with
warmth and perfume. Our young woman stood near it for some time,
her hands clasped behind her; she gazed abroad with the vagueness
of unrest. Too troubled for attention she moved in a vain circle.
Yet it could not be in her thought to catch a glimpse of her
visitor before he should pass into the house, since the entrance
to the palace was not through the garden, in which stillness and
privacy always reigned. She wished rather to forestall his arrival
by a process of conjecture, and to judge by the expression of her
face this attempt gave her plenty to do. Grave she found herself,
and positively more weighted, as by the experience of the lapse of
the year she had spent in seeing the world. She had ranged, she
would have said, through space and surveyed much of mankind, and
was therefore now, in her own eyes, a very different person from
the frivolous young woman from Albany who had begun to take the
measure of Europe on the lawn at Gardencourt a couple of years
before. She flattered herself she had harvested wisdom and
learned a great deal more of life than this light-minded creature
had even suspected. If her thoughts just now had inclined
themselves to retrospect, instead of fluttering their wings
nervously about the present, they would have evoked a multitude
of interesting pictures. These pictures would have been both
landscapes and figure-pieces; the latter, however, would have
been the more numerous. With several of the images that might
have been projected on such a field we are already acquainted.
There would be for instance the conciliatory Lily, our heroine's
sister and Edmund Ludlow's wife, who had come out from New York
to spend five months with her relative. She had left her husband
behind her, but had brought her children, to whom Isabel now
played with equal munificence and tenderness the part of
maiden-aunt. Mr. Ludlow, toward the last, had been able to snatch
a few weeks from his forensic triumphs and, crossing the ocean
with extreme rapidity, had spent a month with the two ladies in
Paris before taking his wife home. The little Ludlows had not
yet, even from the American point of view, reached the proper
tourist-age; so that while her sister was with her Isabel had
confined her movements to a narrow circle. Lily and the babies
had joined her in Switzerland in the month of July, and they had
spent a summer of fine weather in an Alpine valley where the
flowers were thick in the meadows and the shade of great
chestnuts made a resting-place for such upward wanderings as
might be undertaken by ladies and children on warm afternoons.
They had afterwards reached the French capital, which was
worshipped, and with costly ceremonies, by Lily, but thought of
as noisily vacant by Isabel, who in these days made use of her
memory of Rome as she might have done, in a hot and crowded room,
of a phial of something pungent hidden in her handkerchief.

Mrs. Ludlow sacrificed, as I say, to Paris, yet had doubts and
wonderments not allayed at that altar; and after her husband had
joined her found further chagrin in his failure to throw himself
into these speculations. They all had Isabel for subject; but
Edmund Ludlow, as he had always done before, declined to be
surprised, or distressed, or mystified, or elated, at anything
his sister-in-law might have done or have failed to do. Mrs.
Ludlow's mental motions were sufficiently various. At one moment
she thought it would be so natural for that young woman to come
home and take a house in New York--the Rossiters', for instance,
which had an elegant conservatory and was just round the corner
from her own; at another she couldn't conceal her surprise at the
girl's not marrying some member of one of the great aristocracies.
On the whole, as I have said, she had fallen from high communion
with the probabilities. She had taken more satisfaction in
Isabel's accession of fortune than if the money had been left to
herself; it had seemed to her to offer just the proper setting
for her sister's slightly meagre, but scarce the less eminent
figure. Isabel had developed less, however, than Lily had thought
likely--development, to Lily's understanding, being somehow
mysteriously connected with morning-calls and evening-parties.
Intellectually, doubtless, she had made immense strides; but she
appeared to have achieved few of those social conquests of which
Mrs. Ludlow had expected to admire the trophies. Lily's
conception of such achievements was extremely vague; but this was
exactly what she had expected of Isabel--to give it form and
body. Isabel could have done as well as she had done in New York;
and Mrs. Ludlow appealed to her husband to know whether there was
any privilege she enjoyed in Europe which the society of that
city might not offer her. We know ourselves that Isabel had made
conquests--whether inferior or not to those she might have
effected in her native land it would be a delicate matter to
decide; and it is not altogether with a feeling of complacency
that I again mention that she had not rendered these honourable
victories public. She had not told her sister the history of Lord
Warburton, nor had she given her a hint of Mr. Osmond's state of
mind; and she had had no better reason for her silence than that
she didn't wish to speak. It was more romantic to say nothing,
and, drinking deep, in secret, of romance, she was as little
disposed to ask poor Lily's advice as she would have been to
close that rare volume forever. But Lily knew nothing of these
discriminations, and could only pronounce her sister's career a
strange anti-climax--an impression confirmed by the fact that
Isabel's silence about Mr. Osmond, for instance, was in direct
proportion to the frequency with which he occupied her thoughts.
As this happened very often it sometimes appeared to Mrs. Ludlow
that she had lost her courage. So uncanny a result of so
exhilarating an incident as inheriting a fortune was of course
perplexing to the cheerful Lily; it added to her general sense
that Isabel was not at all like other people.

Our young lady's courage, however, might have been taken as
reaching its height after her relations had gone home. She could
imagine braver things than spending the winter in Paris--Paris
had sides by which it so resembled New York, Paris was like
smart, neat prose--and her close correspondence with Madame
Merle did much to stimulate such flights. She had never had a
keener sense of freedom, of the absolute boldness and wantonness
of liberty, than when she turned away from the platform at the
Euston Station on one of the last days of November, after the
departure of the train that was to convey poor Lily, her husband
and her children to their ship at Liverpool. It had been good for
her to regale; she was very conscious of that; she was very
observant, as we know, of what was good for her, and her effort
was constantly to find something that was good enough. To profit
by the present advantage till the latest moment she had made the
journey from Paris with the unenvied travellers. She would have
accompanied them to Liverpool as well, only Edmund Ludlow had
asked her, as a favour, not to do so; it made Lily so fidgety and
she asked such impossible questions. Isabel watched the train
move away; she kissed her hand to the elder of her small nephews,
a demonstrative child who leaned dangerously far out of the
window of the carriage and made separation an occasion of violent
hilarity, and then she walked back into the foggy London street.
The world lay before her--she could do whatever she chose. There
was a deep thrill in it all, but for the present her choice was
tolerably discreet; she chose simply to walk back from Euston
Square to her hotel. The early dusk of a November afternoon had
already closed in; the street-lamps, in the thick, brown air,
looked weak and red; our heroine was unattended and Euston Square
was a long way from Piccadilly. But Isabel performed the journey
with a positive enjoyment of its dangers and lost her way almost
on purpose, in order to get more sensations, so that she was
disappointed when an obliging policeman easily set her right
again. She was so fond of the spectacle of human life that she
enjoyed even the aspect of gathering dusk in the London streets--
the moving crowds, the hurrying cabs, the lighted shops, the
flaring stalls, the dark, shining dampness of everything. That
evening, at her hotel, she wrote to Madame Merle that she should
start in a day or two for Rome. She made her way down to Rome
without touching at Florence--having gone first to Venice and
then proceeded southward by Ancona. She accomplished this journey
without other assistance than that of her servant, for her
natural protectors were not now on the ground. Ralph Touchett was
spending the winter at Corfu, and Miss Stackpole, in the
September previous, had been recalled to America by a telegram
from the Interviewer. This journal offered its brilliant
correspondent a fresher field for her genius than the mouldering
cities of Europe, and Henrietta was cheered on her way by a
promise from Mr. Bantling that he would soon come over to see
her. Isabel wrote to Mrs. Touchett to apologise for not
presenting herself just yet in Florence, and her aunt replied
characteristically enough. Apologies, Mrs. Touchett intimated,
were of no more use to her than bubbles, and she herself never
dealt in such articles. One either did the thing or one didn't,
and what one "would" have done belonged to the sphere of the
irrelevant, like the idea of a future life or of the origin of
things. Her letter was frank, but (a rare case with Mrs.
Touchett) not so frank as it pretended. She easily forgave her
niece for not stopping at Florence, because she took it for a
sign that Gilbert Osmond was less in question there than
formerly. She watched of course to see if he would now find a
pretext for going to Rome, and derived some comfort from learning
that he had not been guilty of an absence. Isabel, on her side,
had not been a fortnight in Rome before she proposed to Madame
Merle that they should make a little pilgrimage to the East.
Madame Merle remarked that her friend was restless, but she added
that she herself had always been consumed with the desire to
visit Athens and Constantinople. The two ladies accordingly
embarked on this expedition, and spent three months in Greece, in
Turkey, in Egypt. Isabel found much to interest her in these
countries, though Madame Merle continued to remark that even
among the most classic sites, the scenes most calculated to
suggest repose and reflexion, a certain incoherence prevailed in
her. Isabel travelled rapidly and recklessly; she was like a
thirsty person draining cup after cup. Madame Merle meanwhile, as
lady-in-waiting to a princess circulating incognita, panted a
little in her rear. It was on Isabel's invitation she had come,
and she imparted all due dignity to the girl's uncountenanced
state. She played her part with the tact that might have been
expected of her, effacing herself and accepting the position of a
companion whose expenses were profusely paid. The situation,
however, had no hardships, and people who met this reserved
though striking pair on their travels would not have been able to
tell you which was patroness and which client. To say that Madame
Merle improved on acquaintance states meagrely the impression she
made on her friend, who had found her from the first so ample and
so easy. At the end of an intimacy of three months Isabel felt
she knew her better; her character had revealed itself, and the
admirable woman had also at last redeemed her promise of relating
her history from her own point of view--a consummation the more
desirable as Isabel had already heard it related from the point
of view of others. This history was so sad a one (in so far as it
concerned the late M. Merle, a positive adventurer, she might
say, though originally so plausible, who had taken advantage,
years before, of her youth and of an inexperience in which
doubtless those who knew her only now would find it difficult to
believe); it abounded so in startling and lamentable incidents
that her companion wondered a person so eprouvee could have
kept so much of her freshness, her interest in life. Into this
freshness of Madame Merle's she obtained a considerable insight;
she seemed to see it as professional, as slightly mechanical,
carried about in its case like the fiddle of the virtuoso, or
blanketed and bridled like the "favourite" of the jockey. She
liked her as much as ever, but there was a corner of the curtain
that never was lifted; it was as if she had remained after all
something of a public performer, condemned to emerge only in
character and in costume. She had once said that she came from a
distance, that she belonged to the "old, old" world, and Isabel
never lost the impression that she was the product of a different
moral or social clime from her own, that she had grown up under
other stars.

She believed then that at bottom she had a different morality. Of
course the morality of civilised persons has always much in
common; but our young woman had a sense in her of values gone
wrong or, as they said at the shops, marked down. She considered,
with the presumption of youth, that a morality differing from her
own must be inferior to it; and this conviction was an aid to
detecting an occasional flash of cruelty, an occasional lapse
from candour, in the conversation of a person who had raised
delicate kindness to an art and whose pride was too high for the
narrow ways of deception. Her conception of human motives might,
in certain lights, have been acquired at the court of some
kingdom in decadence, and there were several in her list of which
our heroine had not even heard. She had not heard of everything,
that was very plain; and there were evidently things in the world
of which it was not advantageous to hear. She had once or twice
had a positive scare; since it so affected her to have to
exclaim, of her friend, "Heaven forgive her, she doesn't
understand me!" Absurd as it may seem this discovery operated as
a shock, left her with a vague dismay in which there was even an
element of foreboding. The dismay of course subsided, in the
light of some sudden proof of Madame Merle's remarkable
intelligence; but it stood for a high-water-mark in the ebb and
flow of confidence. Madame Merle had once declared her belief
that when a friendship ceases to grow it immediately begins to
decline--there being no point of equilibrium between liking more
and liking less. A stationary affection, in other words, was
impossible--it must move one way or the other. However that might
be, the girl had in these days a thousand uses for her sense of
the romantic, which was more active than it had ever been. I do
not allude to the impulse it received as she gazed at the
Pyramids in the course of an excursion from Cairo, or as she
stood among the broken columns of the Acropolis and fixed her
eyes upon the point designated to her as the Strait of Salamis;
deep and memorable as these emotions had remained. She came back
by the last of March from Egypt and Greece and made another stay
in Rome. A few days after her arrival Gilbert Osmond descended
from Florence and remained three weeks, during which the fact of
her being with his old friend Madame Merle, in whose house she
had gone to lodge, made it virtually inevitable that he should
see her every day. When the last of April came she wrote to Mrs.
Touchett that she should now rejoice to accept an invitation
given long before, and went to pay a visit at Palazzo Crescentini,
Madame Merle on this occasion remaining in Rome. She found her
aunt alone; her cousin was still at Corfu. Ralph, however, was
expected in Florence from day to day, and Isabel, who had not
seen him for upwards of a year, was prepared to give him the most
affectionate welcome.


It was not of him, nevertheless, that she was thinking while she
stood at the window near which we found her a while ago, and it
was not of any of the matters I have rapidly sketched. She was
not turned to the past, but to the immediate, impending hour. She
had reason to expect a scene, and she was not fond of scenes. She
was not asking herself what she should say to her visitor; this
question had already been answered. What he would say to her--
that was the interesting issue. It could be nothing in the least
soothing--she had warrant for this, and the conviction doubtless
showed in the cloud on her brow. For the rest, however, all
clearness reigned in her; she had put away her mourning and she
walked in no small shimmering splendour. She only, felt older--
ever so much, and as if she were "worth more" for it, like some
curious piece in an antiquary's collection. She was not at any
rate left indefinitely to her apprehensions, for a servant at
last stood before her with a card on his tray. "Let the gentleman
come in," she said, and continued to gaze out of the window after
the footman had retired. It was only when she had heard the door
close behind the person who presently entered that she looked

Caspar Goodwood stood there--stood and received a moment, from
head to foot, the bright, dry gaze with which she rather withheld
than offered a greeting. Whether his sense of maturity had kept
pace with Isabel's we shall perhaps presently ascertain; let me
say meanwhile that to her critical glance he showed nothing of
the injury of time. Straight, strong and hard, there was nothing
in his appearance that spoke positively either of youth or of
age; if he had neither innocence nor weakness, so he had no
practical philosophy. His jaw showed the same voluntary cast as
in earlier days; but a crisis like the present had in it of
course something grim. He had the air of a man who had travelled
hard; he said nothing at first, as if he had been out of breath.
This gave Isabel time to make a reflexion: "Poor fellow, what
great things he's capable of, and what a pity he should waste so
dreadfully his splendid force! What a pity too that one can't
satisfy everybody!" It gave her time to do more to say at the end
of a minute: "I can't tell you how I hoped you wouldn't come!"

"I've no doubt of that." And he looked about him for a seat. Not
only had he come, but he meant to settle.

"You must be very tired," said Isabel, seating herself, and
generously, as she thought, to give him his opportunity.

"No, I'm not at all tired. Did you ever know me to be tired?"

"Never; I wish I had! When did you arrive?"

"Last night, very late; in a kind of snail-train they call the
express. These Italian trains go at about the rate of an American

"That's in keeping--you must have felt as if you were coming to
bury me!" And she forced a smile of encouragement to an easy view
of their situation. She had reasoned the matter well out, making
it perfectly clear that she broke no faith and falsified no
contract; but for all this she was afraid of her visitor. She was
ashamed of her fear; but she was devoutly thankful there was
nothing else to be ashamed of. He looked at her with his stiff
insistence, an insistence in which there was such a want of tact;
especially when the dull dark beam in his eye rested on her as a
physical weight.

"No, I didn't feel that; I couldn't think of you as dead. I wish
I could!" he candidly declared.

"I thank you immensely."

"I'd rather think of you as dead than as married to another man."

"That's very selfish of you!" she returned with the ardour of a
real conviction. "If you're not happy yourself others have yet a
right to be."

"Very likely it's selfish; but I don't in the least mind your
saying so. I don't mind anything you can say now--I don't feel
it. The cruellest things you could think of would be mere
pin-pricks. After what you've done I shall never feel anything--
I mean anything but that. That I shall feel all my life."

Mr. Goodwood made these detached assertions with dry deliberateness,
in his hard, slow American tone, which flung no atmospheric colour
over propositions intrinsically crude. The tone made Isabel angry
rather than touched her; but her anger perhaps was fortunate,
inasmuch as it gave her a further reason for controlling herself.
It was under the pressure of this control that she became, after
a little, irrelevant. "When did you leave New York?"

He threw up his head as if calculating. "Seventeen days ago."

"You must have travelled fast in spite of your slow trains."

"I came as fast as I could. I'd have come five days ago if I had
been able."

"It wouldn't have made any difference, Mr. Goodwood," she coldly

"Not to you--no. But to me."

"You gain nothing that I see."

"That's for me to judge!"

"Of course. To me it seems that you only torment yourself." And
then, to change the subject, she asked him if he had seen
Henrietta Stackpole. He looked as if he had not come from Boston
to Florence to talk of Henrietta Stackpole; but he answered,
distinctly enough, that this young lady had been with him just
before he left America. "She came to see you?" Isabel then

"Yes, she was in Boston, and she called at my office. It was the
day I had got your letter."

"Did you tell her?" Isabel asked with a certain anxiety.

"Oh no," said Caspar Goodwood simply; "I didn't want to do that.
She'll hear it quick enough; she hears everything."

"I shall write to her, and then she'll write to me and scold me,"
Isabel declared, trying to smile again.

Caspar, however, remained sternly grave. "I guess she'll come
right out," he said.

"On purpose to scold me?"

"I don't know. She seemed to think she had not seen Europe

"I'm glad you tell me that," Isabel said. "I must prepare for

Mr. Goodwood fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor; then at
last, raising them, "Does she know Mr. Osmond?" he enquired.

"A little. And she doesn't like him. But of course I don't marry
to please Henrietta," she added. It would have been better for
poor Caspar if she had tried a little more to gratify Miss
Stackpole; but he didn't say so; he only asked, presently, when
her marriage would take place. To which she made answer that she
didn't know yet. "I can only say it will be soon. I've told no
one but yourself and one other person--an old friend of Mr.

"Is it a marriage your friends won't like?" he demanded.

"I really haven't an idea. As I say, I don't marry for my

He went on, making no exclamation, no comment, only asking
questions, doing it quite without delicacy. "Who and what then is
Mr. Gilbert Osmond?"

"Who and what? Nobody and nothing but a very good and very
honourable man. He's not in business," said Isabel. "He's not
rich; he's not known for anything in particular."

She disliked Mr. Goodwood's questions, but she said to herself
that she owed it to him to satisfy him as far as possible. The
satisfaction poor Caspar exhibited was, however, small; he sat
very upright, gazing at her. "Where does he come from? Where
does he belong?"

She had never been so little pleased with the way he said
"belawng." "He comes from nowhere. He has spent most of his life
in Italy."

"You said in your letter he was American. Hasn't he a native

"Yes, but he has forgotten it. He left it as a small boy."

"Has he never gone back?"

"Why should he go back?" Isabel asked, flushing all defensively.
"He has no profession."

"He might have gone back for his pleasure. Doesn't he like the
United States?"

"He doesn't know them. Then he's very quiet and very simple--he
contents himself with Italy."

"With Italy and with you," said Mr. Goodwood with gloomy
plainness and no appearance of trying to make an epigram. "What
has he ever done?" he added abruptly.

"That I should marry him? Nothing at all," Isabel replied while
her patience helped itself by turning a little to hardness. "If
he had done great things would you forgive me any better? Give me
up, Mr. Goodwood; I'm marrying a perfect nonentity. Don't try to
take an interest in him. You can't."

"I can't appreciate him; that's what you mean. And you don't mean
in the least that he's a perfect nonentity. You think he's grand,
you think he's great, though no one else thinks so."

Isabel's colour deepened; she felt this really acute of her
companion, and it was certainly a proof of the aid that passion
might render perceptions she had never taken for fine. "Why do
you always comeback to what others think? I can't discuss Mr.
Osmond with you."

"Of course not," said Caspar reasonably. And he sat there with
his air of stiff helplessness, as if not only this were true, but
there were nothing else that they might discuss.

"You see how little you gain," she accordingly broke out--"how
little comfort or satisfaction I can give you."

"I didn't expect you to give me much."

"I don't understand then why you came."

"I came because I wanted to see you once more--even just as you

"I appreciate that; but if you had waited a while, sooner or
later we should have been sure to meet, and our meeting would
have been pleasanter for each of us than this."

"Waited till after you're married? That's just what I didn't want
to do. You'll be different then."

"Not very. I shall still be a great friend of yours. You'll see."

"That will make it all the worse," said Mr. Goodwood grimly.

"Ah, you're unaccommodating! I can't promise to dislike you in
order to help you to resign yourself."

"I shouldn't care if you did!"

Isabel got up with a movement of repressed impatience and walked
to the window, where she remained a moment looking out. When she
turned round her visitor was still motionless in his place. She
came toward him again and stopped, resting her hand on the back
of the chair she had just quitted. "Do you mean you came simply
to look at me? That's better for you perhaps than for me."

"I wished to hear the sound of your voice," he said.

"You've heard it, and you see it says nothing very sweet."

"It gives me pleasure, all the same." And with this he got up.
She had felt pain and displeasure on receiving early that day the
news he was in Florence and by her leave would come within an
hour to see her. She had been vexed and distressed, though she
had sent back word by his messenger that he might come when he
would. She had not been better pleased when she saw him; his
being there at all was so full of heavy implications. It implied
things she could never assent to--rights, reproaches,
remonstrance, rebuke, the expectation of making her change her
purpose. These things, however, if implied, had not been
expressed; and now our young lady, strangely enough, began to
resent her visitor's remarkable self-control. There was a dumb
misery about him that irritated her; there was a manly staying of
his hand that made her heart beat faster. She felt her agitation
rising, and she said to herself that she was angry in the way a
woman is angry when she has been in the wrong. She was not in the
wrong; she had fortunately not that bitterness to swallow; but,
all the same, she wished he would denounce her a little. She had
wished his visit would be short; it had no purpose, no propriety;
yet now that he seemed to be turning away she felt a sudden
horror of his leaving her without uttering a word that would give
her an opportunity to defend herself more than she had done in
writing to him a month before, in a few carefully chosen words,
to announce her engagement. If she were not in the wrong,
however, why should she desire to defend herself? It was an
excess of generosity on Isabel's part to desire that Mr. Goodwood
should be angry. And if he had not meanwhile held himself hard it
might have made him so to hear the tone in which she suddenly
exclaimed, as if she were accusing him of having accused her:
"I've not deceived you! I was perfectly free!"

"Yes, I know that," said Caspar.

"I gave you full warning that I'd do as I chose."

"You said you'd probably never marry, and you said it with such a
manner that I pretty well believed it."

She considered this an instant. "No one can be more surprised
than myself at my present intention."

"You told me that if I heard you were engaged I was not to
believe it," Caspar went on. "I heard it twenty days ago from
yourself, but I remembered what you had said. I thought there
might be some mistake, and that's partly why I came."

"If you wish me to repeat it by word of mouth, that's soon done.
There's no mistake whatever."

"I saw that as soon as I came into the room."

"What good would it do you that I shouldn't marry?" she asked
with a certain fierceness.

"I should like it better than this."

"You're very selfish, as I said before."

"I know that. I'm selfish as iron."

"Even iron sometimes melts! If you'll be reasonable I'll see you

"Don't you call me reasonable now?"

"I don't know what to say to you," she answered with sudden

"I shan't trouble you for a long time," the young man went on. He
made a step towards the door, but he stopped. "Another reason why
I came was that I wanted to hear what you would say in explanation
of your having changed your mind."

Her humbleness as suddenly deserted her. "In explanation? Do you
think I'm bound to explain?"

He gave her one of his long dumb looks. "You were very positive.
I did believe it."

"So did I. Do you think I could explain if I would?"

"No, I suppose not. Well," he added, "I've done what I wished.
I've seen you."

"How little you make of these terrible journeys," she felt the
poverty of her presently replying.

"If you're afraid I'm knocked up--in any such way as that--you
may he at your ease about it." He turned away, this time in
earnest, and no hand-shake, no sign of parting, was exchanged
between them.

At the door he stopped with his hand on the knob. "I shall leave
Florence to-morrow," he said without a quaver.

"I'm delighted to hear it!" she answered passionately. Five
minutes after he had gone out she burst into tears.


Her fit of weeping, however, was soon smothered, and the signs of
it had vanished when, an hour later, she broke the news to her
aunt. I use this expression because she had been sure Mrs.
Touchett would not be pleased; Isabel had only waited to tell her
till she had seen Mr. Goodwood. She had an odd impression that it
would not be honourable to make the fact public before she should
have heard what Mr. Goodwood would say about it. He had said
rather less than she expected, and she now had a somewhat angry
sense of having lost time. But she would lose no more; she waited
till Mrs. Touchett came into the drawing-room before the mid-day
breakfast, and then she began. "Aunt Lydia, I've something to
tell you."

Mrs. Touchett gave a little jump and looked at her almost
fiercely. "You needn't tell me; I know what it is."

"I don't know how you know."

"The same way that I know when the window's open--by feeling a
draught. You're going to marry that man."

"What man do you mean?" Isabel enquired with great dignity.

"Madame Merle's friend--Mr. Osmond."

"I don't know why you call him Madame Merle's friend. Is that the
principal thing he's known by?"

"If he's not her friend he ought to be--after what she has done
for him!" cried Mrs. Touchett. "I shouldn't have expected it of
her; I'm disappointed."

"If you mean that Madame Merle has had anything to do with my
engagement you're greatly mistaken," Isabel declared with a sort
of ardent coldness.

"You mean that your attractions were sufficient, without the
gentleman's having had to be lashed up? You're quite right.
They're immense, your attractions, and he would never have
presumed to think of you if she hadn't put him up to it. He has a
very good opinion of himself, but he was not a man to take
trouble. Madame Merle took the trouble for him."

"He has taken a great deal for himself!" cried Isabel with a
voluntary laugh.

Mrs. Touchett gave a sharp nod. "I think he must, after all, to
have made you like him so much."

"I thought he even pleased YOU."

"He did, at one time; and that's why I'm angry with him."

"Be angry with me, not with him," said the girl.

"Oh, I'm always angry with you; that's no satisfaction! Was it
for this that you refused Lord Warburton?"

"Please don't go back to that. Why shouldn't I like Mr. Osmond,
since others have done so?"

"Others, at their wildest moments, never wanted to marry him.
There's nothing OF him," Mrs. Touchett explained.

"Then he can't hurt me," said Isabel.

"Do you think you're going to be happy? No one's happy, in such
doings, you should know."

"I shall set the fashion then. What does one marry for?"

"What YOU will marry for, heaven only knows. People usually marry
as they go into partnership--to set up a house. But in your
partnership you'll bring everything."

"Is it that Mr. Osmond isn't rich? Is that what you're talking
about?" Isabel asked.

"He has no money; he has no name; he has no importance. I value
such things and I have the courage to say it; I think they're very
precious. Many other people think the same, and they show it. But
they give some other reason."

Isabel hesitated a little. "I think I value everything that's
valuable. I care very much for money, and that's why I wish Mr.
Osmond to have a little."

"Give it to him then; but marry some one else."

"His name's good enough for me," the girl went on. "It's a very
pretty name. Have I such a fine one myself?"

"All the more reason you should improve on it. There are only a
dozen American names. Do you marry him out of charity?"

"It was my duty to tell you, Aunt Lydia, but I don't think it's my
duty to explain to you. Even if it were I shouldn't be able. So
please don't remonstrate; in talking about it you have me at a
disadvantage. I can't talk about it."

"I don't remonstrate, I simply answer you: I must give some sign
of intelligence. I saw it coming, and I said nothing. I never

"You never do, and I'm greatly obliged to you. You've been very

"It was not considerate--it was convenient," said Mrs. Touchett.
"But I shall talk to Madame Merle."

"I don't see why you keep bringing her in. She has been a very
good friend to me."

"Possibly; but she has been a poor one to me."

"What has she done to you?"

"She has deceived me. She had as good as promised me to prevent
your engagement."

"She couldn't have prevented it."

"She can do anything; that's what I've always liked her for. I
knew she could play any part; but I understood that she played
them one by one. I didn't understand that she would play two at
the same time."

"I don't know what part she may have played to you," Isabel said;
"that's between yourselves. To me she has been honest and kind
and devoted."

"Devoted, of course; she wished you to marry her candidate. She
told me she was watching you only in order to interpose."

"She said that to please you," the girl answered; conscious,
however, of the inadequacy of the explanation.

"To please me by deceiving me? She knows me better. Am I pleased

"I don't think you're ever much pleased," Isabel was obliged to
reply. "If Madame Merle knew you would learn the truth what had
she to gain by insincerity?"

"She gained time, as you see. While I waited for her to interfere
you were marching away, and she was really beating the drum."

"That's very well. But by your own admission you saw I was
marching, and even if she had given the alarm you wouldn't have
tried to stop me."

"No, but some one else would."

"Whom do you mean?" Isabel asked, looking very hard at her aunt.
Mrs. Touchett's little bright eyes, active as they usually were,
sustained her gaze rather than returned it. "Would you have
listened to Ralph?"

"Not if he had abused Mr. Osmond."

"Ralph doesn't abuse people; you know that perfectly. He cares
very much for you."

"I know he does," said Isabel; "and I shall feel the value of it
now, for he knows that whatever I do I do with reason."

"He never believed you would do this. I told him you were capable
of it, and he argued the other way."

"He did it for the sake of argument," the girl smiled. "You don't
accuse him of having deceived you; why should you accuse Madame

"He never pretended he'd prevent it."

"I'm glad of that!" cried Isabel gaily. "I wish very much," she
presently added, "that when he comes you'd tell him first of my

"Of course I'll mention it," said Mrs. Touchett. "I shall say
nothing more to you about it, but I give you notice I shall talk
to others."

"That's as you please. I only meant that it's rather better the
announcement should come from you than from me."

"I quite agree with you; it's much more proper!" And on this the
aunt and the niece went to breakfast, where Mrs. Touchett, as good
as her word, made no allusion to Gilbert Osmond. After an interval
of silence, however, she asked her companion from whom she had
received a visit an hour before.

"From an old friend--an American gentleman," Isabel said with a
colour in her cheek.

"An American gentleman of course. It's only an American gentleman
who calls at ten o'clock in the morning."

"It was half-past ten; he was in a great hurry; he goes away this

"Couldn't he have come yesterday, at the usual time?"

"He only arrived last night."

"He spends but twenty-four hours in Florence?" Mrs. Touchett
cried. "He's an American gentleman truly."

"He is indeed," said Isabel, thinking with perverse admiration of
what Caspar Goodwood had done for her.

Two days afterward Ralph arrived; but though Isabel was sure that
Mrs. Touchett had lost no time in imparting to him the great fact,
he showed at first no open knowledge of it. Their prompted talk
was naturally of his health; Isabel had many questions to ask
about Corfu. She had been shocked by his appearance when he came
into the room; she had forgotten how ill he looked. In spite of
Corfu he looked very ill to-day, and she wondered if he were
really worse or if she were simply disaccustomed to living with
an invalid. Poor Ralph made no nearer approach to conventional
beauty as he advanced in life, and the now apparently complete
loss of his health had done little to mitigate the natural oddity
of his person. Blighted and battered, but still responsive and
still ironic, his face was like a lighted lantern patched with
paper and unsteadily held; his thin whisker languished upon a
lean cheek; the exorbitant curve of his nose defined itself more
sharply. Lean he was altogether, lean and long and loose-jointed;
an accidental cohesion of relaxed angles. His brown velvet jacket
had become perennial; his hands had fixed themselves in his
pockets; he shambled and stumbled and shuffled in a manner that
denoted great physical helplessness. It was perhaps this
whimsical gait that helped to mark his character more than ever
as that of the humorous invalid--the invalid for whom even his
own disabilities are part of the general joke. They might well
indeed with Ralph have been the chief cause of the want of
seriousness marking his view of a world in which the reason for
his own continued presence was past finding out. Isabel had grown
fond of his ugliness; his awkwardness had become dear to her. They
had been sweetened by association; they struck her as the very
terms on which it had been given him to be charming. He was so
charming that her sense of his being ill had hitherto had a sort
of comfort in it; the state of his health had seemed not a
limitation, but a kind of intellectual advantage; it absolved him
from all professional and official emotions and left him the
luxury of being exclusively personal. The personality so
resulting was delightful; he had remained proof against the
staleness of disease; he had had to consent to be deplorably ill,
yet had somehow escaped being formally sick. Such had been the
girl's impression of her cousin; and when she had pitied him it
was only on reflection. As she reflected a good deal she had
allowed him a certain amount of compassion; but she always
had a dread of wasting that essence--a precious article, worth
more to the giver than to any one else. Now, however, it took no
great sensibility to feel that poor Ralph's tenure of life was
less elastic than it should be. He was a bright, free, generous
spirit, he had all the illumination of wisdom and none of its
pedantry, and yet he was distressfully dying.

Isabel noted afresh that life was certainly hard for some people,
and she felt a delicate glow of shame as she thought how easy it
now promised to become for herself. She was prepared to learn that
Ralph was not pleased with her engagement; but she was not
prepared, in spite of her affection for him, to let this fact
spoil the situation. She was not even prepared, or so she thought,
to resent his want of sympathy; for it would be his privilege--it
would be indeed his natural line--to find fault with any step she
might take toward marriage. One's cousin always pretended to hate
one's husband; that was traditional, classical; it was a part of
one's cousin's always pretending to adore one. Ralph was nothing
if not critical; and though she would certainly, other things
being equal, have been as glad to marry to please him as to
please any one, it would be absurd to regard as important that
her choice should square with his views. What were his views
after all? He had pretended to believe she had better have
married Lord Warburton; but this was only because she had refused
that excellent man. If she had accepted him Ralph would certainly
have taken another tone; he always took the opposite. You could
criticise any marriage; it was the essence of a marriage to be
open to criticism. How well she herself, should she only give her
mind to it, might criticise this union of her own! She had other
employment, however, and Ralph was welcome to relieve her of the
care. Isabel was prepared to be most patient and most indulgent.
He must have seen that, and this made it the more odd he should
say nothing. After three days had elapsed without his speaking
our young woman wearied of waiting; dislike it as he would, he
might at least go through the form. We, who know more about poor
Ralph than his cousin, may easily believe that during the hours
that followed his arrival at Palazzo Crescentini he had privately
gone through many forms. His mother had literally greeted him
with the great news, which had been even more sensibly chilling
than Mrs. Touchett's maternal kiss. Ralph was shocked and
humiliated; his calculations had been false and the person in the
world in whom he was most interested was lost. He drifted about
the house like a rudderless vessel in a rocky stream, or sat in
the garden of the palace on a great cane chair, his long legs
extended, his head thrown back and his hat pulled over his eyes.
He felt cold about the heart; he had never liked anything less.
What could he do, what could he say? If the girl were
irreclaimable could he pretend to like it? To attempt to reclaim
her was permissible only if the attempt should succeed. To try to
persuade her of anything sordid or sinister in the man to whose
deep art she had succumbed would be decently discreet only in the
event of her being persuaded. Otherwise he should simply have
damned himself. It cost him an equal effort to speak his thought
and to dissemble; he could neither assent with sincerity nor
protest with hope. Meanwhile he knew--or rather he supposed--that
the affianced pair were daily renewing their mutual vows. Osmond
at this moment showed himself little at Palazzo Crescentini; but
Isabel met him every day elsewhere, as she was free to do after
their engagement had been made public. She had taken a carriage
by the month, so as not to be indebted to her aunt for the means
of pursuing a course of which Mrs. Touchett disapproved, and she
drove in the morning to the Cascine. This suburban wilderness,
during the early hours, was void of all intruders, and our young
lady, joined by her lover in its quietest part, strolled with him
a while through the grey Italian shade and listened to the


One morning, on her return from her drive, some half-hour before
luncheon, she quitted her vehicle in the court of the palace and,
instead of ascending the great staircase, crossed the court,
passed beneath another archway and entered the garden. A sweeter
spot at this moment could not have been imagined. The stillness
of noontide hung over it, and the warm shade, enclosed and still,
made bowers like spacious caves. Ralph was sitting there in the
clear gloom, at the base of a statue of Terpsichore--a dancing
nymph with taper fingers and inflated draperies in the manner of
Bernini; the extreme relaxation of his attitude suggested at
first to Isabel that he was asleep. Her light footstep on the
grass had not roused him, and before turning away she stood for a
moment looking at him. During this instant he opened his eyes;
upon which she sat down on a rustic chair that matched with his
own. Though in her irritation she had accused him of indifference
she was not blind to the fact that he had visibly had something to
brood over. But she had explained his air of absence partly by the
languor of his increased weakness, partly by worries connected
with the property inherited from his father--the fruit of
eccentric arrangements of which Mrs. Touchett disapproved and
which, as she had told Isabel, now encountered opposition from the
other partners in the bank. He ought to have gone to England, his
mother said, instead of coming to Florence; he had not been there for
months, and took no more interest in the bank than in the state of

"I'm sorry I waked you," Isabel said; "you look too tired."

"I feel too tired. But I was not asleep. I was thinking of you."

"Are you tired of that?"

"Very much so. It leads to nothing. The road's long and I never

"What do you wish to arrive at?" she put to him, closing her

"At the point of expressing to myself properly what I think of
your engagement."

"Don't think too much of it," she lightly returned.

"Do you mean that it's none of my business?"

"Beyond a certain point, yes."

"That's the point I want to fix. I had an idea you may have found
me wanting in good manners. I've never congratulated you."

"Of course I've noticed that. I wondered why you were silent."

"There have been a good many reasons. I'll tell you now," Ralph
said. He pulled off his hat and laid it on the ground; then he sat
looking at her. He leaned back under the protection of Bernini,
his head against his marble pedestal, his arms dropped on either
side of him, his hands laid upon the rests of his wide chair. He
looked awkward, uncomfortable; he hesitated long. Isabel said
nothing; when people were embarrassed she was usually sorry for
them, but she was determined not to help Ralph to utter a word
that should not be to the honour of her high decision. "I
think I've hardly got over my surprise," he went on at last. "You
were the last person I expected to see caught."

"I don't know why you call it caught."

"Because you're going to be put into a cage."

"If I like my cage, that needn't trouble you," she answered.

"That's what I wonder at; that's what I've been thinking of."

"If you've been thinking you may imagine how I've thought! I'm
satisfied that I'm doing well."

"You must have changed immensely. A year ago you valued your
liberty beyond everything. You wanted only to see life."

"I've seen it," said Isabel. "It doesn't look to me now, I admit,
such an inviting expanse."

"I don't pretend it is; only I had an idea that you took a genial
view of it and wanted to survey the whole field."

"I've seen that one can't do anything so general. One must choose
a corner and cultivate that."

"That's what I think. And one must choose as good a corner as
possible. I had no idea, all winter, while I read your delightful
letters, that you were choosing. You said nothing about it, and
your silence put me off my guard."

"It was not a matter I was likely to write to you about. Besides,
I knew nothing of the future. It has all come lately. If you had
been on your guard, however," Isabel asked, "what would you have

"I should have said 'Wait a little longer.'"

"Wait for what?"

"Well, for a little more light," said Ralph with rather an absurd
smile, while his hands found their way into his pockets.

"Where should my light have come from? From you?"

"I might have struck a spark or two."

Isabel had drawn off her gloves; she smoothed them out as they lay
upon her knee. The mildness of this movement was accidental, for
her expression was not conciliatory. "You're beating about the
bush, Ralph. You wish to say you don't like Mr. Osmond, and yet
you're afraid."

"Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike? I'm willing to
wound HIM, yes--but not to wound you. I'm afraid of you, not of
him. If you marry him it won't be a fortunate way for me to have

"IF I marry him! Have you had any expectation of dissuading me?"

"Of course that seems to you too fatuous."

"No," said Isabel after a little; "it seems to me too touching."

"That's the same thing. It makes me so ridiculous that you pity

She stroked out her long gloves again. "I know you've a great
affection for me. I can't get rid of that."

"For heaven's sake don't try. Keep that well in sight. It will
convince you how intensely I want you to do well."

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