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Chapter 43


CHAPTER XLIII

Three nights after this she took Pansy to a great party, to which
Osmond, who never went to dances, did not accompany them. Pansy
was as ready for a dance as ever; she was not of a generalising
turn and had not extended to other pleasures the interdict she
had seen placed on those of love. If she was biding her time or
hoping to circumvent her father she must have had a prevision of
success. Isabel thought this unlikely; it was much more likely
that Pansy had simply determined to be a good girl. She had never
had such a chance, and she had a proper esteem for chances. She
carried herself no less attentively than usual and kept no less
anxious an eye upon her vaporous skirts; she held her bouquet
very tight and counted over the flowers for the twentieth time.
She made Isabel feel old; it seemed so long since she had been in
a flutter about a ball. Pansy, who was greatly admired, was never
in want of partners, and very soon after their arrival she gave
Isabel, who was not dancing, her bouquet to hold. Isabel had
rendered her this service for some minutes when she became aware
of the near presence of Edward Rosier. He stood before her; he
had lost his affable smile and wore a look of almost military
resolution. The change in his appearance would have made Isabel
smile if she had not felt his case to be at bottom a hard one: he
had always smelt so much more of heliotrope than of gunpowder. He
looked at her a moment somewhat fiercely, as if to notify her he
was dangerous, and then dropped his eyes on her bouquet. After he
had inspected it his glance softened and he said quickly: "It's
all pansies; it must be hers!"

Isabel smiled kindly. "Yes, it's hers; she gave it to me to
hold."

"May I hold it a little, Mrs. Osmond?" the poor young man asked.

"No, I can't trust you; I'm afraid you wouldn't give it back."

"I'm not sure that I should; I should leave the house with it
instantly. But may I not at least have a single flower?"

Isabel hesitated a moment, and then, smiling still, held out the
bouquet. "Choose one yourself. It's frightful what I'm doing for
you."

"Ah, if you do no more than this, Mrs. Osmond!" Rosier exclaimed
with his glass in one eye, carefully choosing his flower.

"Don't put it into your button-hole," she said. "Don't for the
world!"

"I should like her to see it. She has refused to dance with me,
but I wish to show her that I believe in her still."

"It's very well to show it to her, but it's out of place to show
it to others. Her father has told her not to dance with you."

"And is that all YOU can do for me? I expected more from you,
Mrs. Osmond," said the young man in a tone of fine general
reference. "You know our acquaintance goes back very far--quite
into the days of our innocent childhood."

"Don't make me out too old," Isabel patiently answered. "You come
back to that very often, and I've never denied it. But I must
tell you that, old friends as we are, if you had done me the
honour to ask me to marry you I should have refused you on the
spot."

"Ah, you don't esteem me then. Say at once that you think me a
mere Parisian trifler!"

"I esteem you very much, but I'm not in love with you. What I
mean by that, of course, is that I'm not in love with you for
Pansy."

"Very good; I see. You pity me--that's all." And Edward Rosier
looked all round, inconsequently, with his single glass. It was a
revelation to him that people shouldn't be more pleased; but he
was at least too proud to show that the deficiency struck him as
general.

Isabel for a moment said nothing. His manner and appearance had
not the dignity of the deepest tragedy; his little glass, among
other things, was against that. But she suddenly felt touched;
her own unhappiness, after all, had something in common with his,
and it came over her, more than before, that here, in
recognisable, if not in romantic form, was the most affecting
thing in the world--young love struggling with adversity. "Would
you really be very kind to her?" she finally asked in a low tone.

He dropped his eyes devoutly and raised the little flower that he
held in his fingers to his lips. Then he looked at her. "You pity
me; but don't you pity HER a little?"

"I don't know; I'm not sure. She'll always enjoy life."

"It will depend on what you call life!" Mr. Rosier effectively
said. "She won't enjoy being tortured."

"There'll be nothing of that."

"I'm glad to hear it. She knows what she's about. You'll see."

"I think she does, and she'll never disobey her father. But she's
coming back to me," Isabel added, "and I must beg you to go
away."

Rosier lingered a moment till Pansy came in sight on the arm of
her cavalier; he stood just long enough to look her in the face.
Then he walked away, holding up his head; and the manner in which
he achieved this sacrifice to expediency convinced Isabel he was
very much in love.

Pansy, who seldom got disarranged in dancing, looking perfectly
fresh and cool after this exercise, waited a moment and then took
back her bouquet. Isabel watched her and saw she was counting the
flowers; whereupon she said to herself that decidedly there were
deeper forces at play than she had recognised. Pansy had seen
Rosier turn away, but she said nothing to Isabel about him; she
talked only of her partner, after he had made his bow and
retired; of the music, the floor, the rare misfortune of having
already torn her dress. Isabel was sure, however, she had
discovered her lover to have abstracted a flower; though this
knowledge was not needed to account for the dutiful grace with
which she responded to the appeal of her next partner. That
perfect amenity under acute constraint was part of a larger
system. She was again led forth by a flushed young man, this time
carrying her bouquet; and she had not been absent many minutes
when Isabel saw Lord Warburton advancing through the crowd. He
presently drew near and bade her good-evening; she had not seen
him since the day before. He looked about him, and then "Where's
the little maid?" he asked. It was in this manner that he had
formed the harmless habit of alluding to Miss Osmond.

"She's dancing," said Isabel. "You'll see her somewhere."

He looked among the dancers and at last caught Pansy's eye. "She
sees me, but she won't notice me," he then remarked. "Are you not
dancing?"

"As you see, I'm a wall-flower."

"Won't you dance with me?"

"Thank you; I'd rather you should dance with the little maid."

"One needn't prevent the other--especially as she's engaged."

"She's not engaged for everything, and you can reserve yourself.
She dances very hard, and you'll be the fresher."

"She dances beautifully," said Lord Warburton, following her with
his eyes. "Ah, at last," he added, "she has given me a smile." He
stood there with his handsome, easy, important physiognomy; and
as Isabel observed him it came over her, as it had done before,
that it was strange a man of his mettle should take an interest
in a little maid. It struck her as a great incongruity; neither
Pansy's small fascinations, nor his own kindness, his good-nature,
not even his need for amusement, which was extreme and constant,
were sufficient to account for it. "I should like to dance with
you," he went on in a moment, turning back to Isabel; "but I
think I like even better to talk with you."

"Yes, it's better, and it's more worthy of your dignity. Great
statesmen oughtn't to waltz."

"Don't be cruel. Why did you recommend me then to dance with Miss
Osmond?"

"Ah, that's different. If you danced with her it would look
simply like a piece of kindness--as if you were doing it for her
amusement. If you dance with me you'll look as if you were doing
it for your own."

"And pray haven't I a right to amuse myself?"

"No, not with the affairs of the British Empire on your hands."

"The British Empire be hanged! You're always laughing at it."

"Amuse yourself with talking to me," said Isabel.

"I'm not sure it's really a recreation. You're too pointed; I've
always to be defending myself. And you strike me as more than
usually dangerous to-night. Will you absolutely not dance?"

"I can't leave my place. Pansy must find me here."

He was silent a little. "You're wonderfully good to her," he said
suddenly.

Isabel stared a little and smiled. "Can you imagine one's not
being?"

"No indeed. I know how one is charmed with her. But you must have
done a great deal for her."

"I've taken her out with me," said Isabel, smiling still. "And
I've seen that she has proper clothes."

"Your society must have been a great benefit to her. You've
talked to her, advised her, helped her to develop."

"Ah yes, if she isn't the rose she has lived near it."

She laughed, and her companion did as much; but there was a
certain visible preoccupation in his face which interfered with
complete hilarity. "We all try to live as near it as we can," he
said after a moment's hesitation.

Isabel turned away; Pansy was about to be restored to her, and
she welcomed the diversion. We know how much she liked Lord
Warburton; she thought him pleasanter even than the sum of his
merits warranted; there was something in his friendship that
appeared a kind of resource in case of indefinite need; it was
like having a large balance at the bank. She felt happier when he
was in the room; there was something reassuring in his approach;
the sound of his voice reminded her of the beneficence of nature.
Yet for all that it didn't suit her that he should be too near
her, that he should take too much of her good-will for granted.
She was afraid of that; she averted herself from it; she wished
he wouldn't. She felt that if he should come too near, as it
were, it might be in her to flash out and bid him keep his
distance. Pansy came back to Isabel with another rent in her
skirt, which was the inevitable consequence of the first and
which she displayed to Isabel with serious eyes. There were too
many gentlemen in uniform; they wore those dreadful spurs, which
were fatal to the dresses of little maids. It hereupon became
apparent that the resources of women are innumerable. Isabel
devoted herself to Pansy's desecrated drapery; she fumbled for a
pin and repaired the injury; she smiled and listened to her
account of her adventures. Her attention, her sympathy were
immediate and active; and they were in direct proportion to a
sentiment with which they were in no way connected--a lively
conjecture as to whether Lord Warburton might be trying to make
love to her. It was not simply his words just then; it was others
as well; it was the reference and the continuity. This was what
she thought about while she pinned up Pansy's dress. If it were
so, as she feared, he was of course unwitting; he himself had not
taken account of his intention. But this made it none the more
auspicious, made the situation none less impossible. The sooner
he should get back into right relations with things the better.
He immediately began to talk to Pansy--on whom it was certainly
mystifying to see that he dropped a smile of chastened devotion.
Pansy replied, as usual, with a little air of conscientious
aspiration; he had to bend toward her a good deal in onversation,
and her eyes, as usual, wandered up and down his robust person as
if he had offered it to her for exhibition. She always seemed a
little frightened; yet her fright was not of the painful
character that suggests dislike; on the contrary, she looked as
if she knew that he knew she liked him. Isabel left them together
a little and wandered toward a friend whom she saw near and with
whom she talked till the music of the following dance began, for
which she knew Pansy to be also engaged. The girl joined her
presently, with a little fluttered flush, and Isabel, who
scrupulously took Osmond's view of his daughter's complete
dependence, consigned her, as a precious and momentary loan, to
her appointed partner. About all this matter she had her own
imaginations, her own reserves; there were moments when Pansy's
extreme adhesiveness made each of them, to her sense, look
foolish. But Osmond had given her a sort of tableau of her
position as his daughter's duenna, which consisted of gracious
alternations of concession and contraction; and there were
directions of his which she liked to think she obeyed to the
letter. Perhaps, as regards some of them, it was because her
doing so appeared to reduce them to the absurd.

After Pansy had been led away, she found Lord Warburton drawing
near her again. She rested her eyes on him steadily; she wished
she could sound his thoughts. But he had no appearance of
confusion. "She has promised to dance with me later," he said.

"I'm glad of that. I suppose you've engaged her for the cotillion."

At this he looked a little awkward. "No, I didn't ask her for
that. It's a quadrille."

"Ah, you're not clever!" said Isabel almost angrily. "I told her
to keep the cotillion in case you should ask for it."

"Poor little maid, fancy that!" And Lord Warburton laughed
frankly. "Of course I will if you like."

"If I like? Oh, if you dance with her only because I like it--!"

"I'm afraid I bore her. She seems to have a lot of young fellows
on her book."

Isabel dropped her eyes, reflecting rapidly; Lord Warburton stood
there looking at her and she felt his eyes on her face. She felt
much inclined to ask him to remove them. She didn't do so,
however; she only said to him, after a minute, with her own
raised: "Please let me understand."

"Understand what?"

"You told me ten days ago that you'd like to marry my
stepdaughter. You've not forgotten it!"

"Forgotten it? I wrote to Mr. Osmond about it this morning."

"Ah," said Isabel, "he didn't mention to me that he had heard
from you."

Lord Warburton stammered a little. "I--I didn't send my letter."

"Perhaps you forgot THAT."

"No, I wasn't satisfied with it. It's an awkward sort of letter
to write, you know. But I shall send it to-night."

"At three o'clock in the morning?"

"I mean later, in the course of the day."

"Very good. You still wish then to marry her?"

"Very much indeed."

"Aren't you afraid that you'll bore her?" And as her companion
stared at this enquiry Isabel added: "If she can't dance with you
for half an hour how will she be able to dance with you for
life?"

"Ah," said Lord Warburton readily, "I'll let her dance with other
people! About the cotillion, the fact is I thought that you--
that you--"

"That I would do it with you? I told you I'd do nothing."

"Exactly; so that while it's going on I might find some quiet
corner where we may sit down and talk."

"Oh," said Isabel gravely, "you're much too considerate of me."

When the cotillion came Pansy was found to have engaged herself,
thinking, in perfect humility, that Lord Warburton had no
intentions. Isabel recommended him to seek another partner, but
he assured her that he would dance with no one but herself. As,
however, she had, in spite of the remonstrances of her hostess,
declined other invitations on the ground that she was not dancing
at all, it was not possible for her to make an exception in Lord
Warburton's favour.

"After all I don't care to dance," he said; "it's a barbarous
amusement: I'd much rather talk." And he intimated that he had
discovered exactly the corner he had been looking for--a quiet
nook in one of the smaller rooms, where the music would come to
them faintly and not interfere with conversation. Isabel had
decided to let him carry out his idea; she wished to be
satisfied. She wandered away from the ball-room with him, though
she knew her husband desired she should not lose sight of his
daughter. It was with his daughter's pretendant, however; that
would make it right for Osmond. On her way out of the ball-room
she came upon Edward Rosier, who was standing in a doorway, with
folded arms, looking at the dance in the attitude of a young man
without illusions. She stopped a moment and asked him if he were
not dancing.

"Certainly not, if I can't dance with HER!" he answered.

"You had better go away then," said Isabel with the manner of
good counsel.

"I shall not go till she does!" And he let Lord Warburton pass
without giving him a look.

This nobleman, however, had noticed the melancholy youth, and he
asked Isabel who her dismal friend was, remarking that he had
seen him somewhere before.

"It's the young man I've told you about, who's in love with
Pansy."

"Ah yes, I remember. He looks rather bad."

"He has reason. My husband won't listen to him."

"What's the matter with him?" Lord Warburton enquired. "He seems
very harmless."

"He hasn't money enough, and he isn't very clever."

Lord Warburton listened with interest; he seemed struck with this
account of Edward Rosier. "Dear me; he looked a well-set-up young
fellow."

"So he is, but my husband's very particular."

"Oh, I see." And Lord Warburton paused a moment. "How much money
has he got?" he then ventured to ask.

"Some forty thousand francs a year."

"Sixteen hundred pounds? Ah, but that's very good, you know."

"So I think. My husband, however, has larger ideas."

"Yes; I've noticed that your husband has very large ideas. Is he
really an idiot, the young man?"

"An idiot? Not in the least; he's charming. When he was twelve
years old I myself was in love with him."

"He doesn't look much more than twelve to-day," Lord Warburton
rejoined vaguely, looking about him. Then with more point, "Don't
you think we might sit here?" he asked.

"Wherever you please." The room was a sort of boudoir, pervaded
by a subdued, rose-coloured light; a lady and gentleman moved out
of it as our friends came in. "It's very kind of you to take such
an interest in Mr. Rosier," Isabel said.

"He seems to me rather ill-treated. He had a face a yard long. I
wondered what ailed him."

"You're a just man," said Isabel. "You've a kind thought even for
a rival."

Lord Warburton suddenly turned with a stare. "A rival! Do you
call him my rival?"

"Surely--if you both wish to marry the same person."

"Yes--but since he has no chance!"

"I like you, however that may be, for putting your self in his
place. It shows imagination."

"You like me for it?" And Lord Warburton looked at her with an
uncertain eye. "I think you mean you're laughing at me for it."

"Yes, I'm laughing at you a little. But I like you as somebody to
laugh at."

"Ah well, then, let me enter into his situation a little more.
What do you suppose one could do for him?"

"Since I have been praising your imagination I'll leave you to
imagine that yourself," Isabel said. "Pansy too would like you
for that."

"Miss Osmond? Ah, she, I flatter myself, likes me already."

"Very much, I think."

He waited a little; he was still questioning her face. "Well
then, I don't understand you. You don't mean that she cares for
him?"

A quick blush sprang to his brow. "You told me she would have no
wish apart from her father's, and as I've gathered that he would
favour me--!" He paused a little and then suggested "Don't you
see?" through his blush.

"Yes, I told you she has an immense wish to please her father,
and that it would probably take her very far."

"That seems to me a very proper feeling," said Lord Warburton.

"Certainly; it's a very proper feeling." Isabel remained silent
for some moments; the room continued empty; the sound of the
music reached them with its richness softened by the interposing
apartments. Then at last she said: "But it hardly strikes me as
the sort of feeling to which a man would wish to be indebted for
a wife."

"I don't know; if the wife's a good one and he thinks she does
well!"

"Yes, of course you must think that."

"I do; I can't help it. You call that very British, of course."

"No, I don't. I think Pansy would do wonderfully well to marry
you, and I don't know who should know it better than you. But
you're not in love."

"Ah, yes I am, Mrs. Osmond!"

Isabel shook her head. "You like to think you are while you sit
here with me. But that's not how you strike me."

"I'm not like the young man in the doorway. I admit that. But
what makes it so unnatural? Could any one in the world be more
loveable than Miss Osmond?"

"No one, possibly. But love has nothing to do with good reasons."

"I don't agree with you. I'm delighted to have good reasons."

"Of course you are. If you were really in love you wouldn't care
a straw for them."

"Ah, really in love--really in love!" Lord Warburton exclaimed,
folding his arms, leaning back his head and stretching himself a
little. "You must remember that I'm forty-two years old. I won't
pretend I'm as I once was."

"Well, if you're sure," said Isabel, "it's all right."

He answered nothing; he sat there, with his head back, looking
before him. Abruptly, however, he changed his position; he turned
quickly to his friend. "Why are you so unwilling, so sceptical?"
She met his eyes, and for a moment they looked straight at each
other. If she wished to be satisfied she saw something that
satisfied her; she saw in his expression the gleam of an idea
that she was uneasy on her own account--that she was perhaps even
in fear. It showed a suspicion, not a hope, but such as it was it
told her what she wanted to know. Not for an instant should he
suspect her of detecting in his proposal of marrying her
step-daughter an implication of increased nearness to herself, or
of thinking it, on such a betrayal, ominous. In that brief,
extremely personal gaze, however, deeper meanings passed between
them than they were conscious of at the moment.

"My dear Lord Warburton," she said, smiling, "you may do, so far
as I'm concerned, whatever comes into your head."

And with this she got up and wandered into the adjoining room,
where, within her companion's view, she was immediately addressed
by a pair of gentlemen, high personages in the Roman world, who
met her as if they had been looking for her. While she talked
with them she found herself regretting she had moved; it looked a
little like running away--all the more as Lord Warburton didn't
follow her. She was glad of this, however, and at any rate she
was satisfied. She was so well satisfied that when, in passing
back into the ball-room, she found Edward Rosier still planted in
the doorway, she stopped and spoke to him again. "You did right
not to go away. I've some comfort for you."

"I need it," the young man softly wailed, "when I see you so
awfully thick with him!"

"Don't speak of him; I'll do what I can for you. I'm afraid it
won't be much, but what I can I'll do."

He looked at her with gloomy obliqueness. "What has suddenly
brought you round?"

"The sense that you are an inconvenience in doorways!" she
answered, smiling as she passed him. Half an hour later she took
leave, with Pansy, and at the foot of the staircase the two
ladies, with many other departing guests, waited a while for
their carriage. Just as it approached Lord Warburton came out of
the house and assisted them to reach their vehicle. He stood a
moment at the door, asking Pansy if she had amused herself; and
she, having answered him, fell back with a little air of fatigue.
Then Isabel, at the window, detaining him by a movement of her
finger, murmured gently: "Don't forget to send your letter to her
father!"

Henry James