Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 32


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 be 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.

Henry James