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Chapter 45

CHAPTER XLV

I have already had reason to say that Isabel knew her husband to
be displeased by the continuance of Ralph's visit to Rome. That
knowledge was very present to her as she went to her cousin's
hotel the day after she had invited Lord Warburton to give a
tangible proof of his sincerity; and at this moment, as at
others, she had a sufficient perception of the sources of
Osmond's opposition. He wished her to have no freedom of mind,
and he knew perfectly well that Ralph was an apostle of freedom.
It was just because he was this, Isabel said to herself, that it
was a refreshment to go and see him. It will be perceived that
she partook of this refreshment in spite of her husband's
aversion to it, that is partook of it, as she flattered herself,
discreetly. She had not as yet undertaken to act in direct
opposition to his wishes; he was her appointed and inscribed
master; she gazed at moments with a sort of incredulous blankness
at this fact. It weighed upon her imagination, however;
constantly present to her mind were all the traditionary
decencies and sanctities of marriage. The idea of violating them
filled her with shame as well as with dread, for on giving
herself away she had lost sight of this contingency in the
perfect belief that her husband's intentions were as generous as
her own. She seemed to see, none the less, the rapid approach
of the day when she should have to take back something she had
solemnly bestown. Such a ceremony would be odious and monstrous;
she tried to shut her eyes to it meanwhile. Osmond would do
nothing to help it by beginning first; he would put that burden
upon her to the end. He had not yet formally forbidden her to
call upon Ralph; but she felt sure that unless Ralph should very
soon depart this prohibition would come. How could poor Ralph
depart? The weather as yet made it impossible. She could
perfectly understand her husband's wish for the event; she
didn't, to be just, see how he COULD like her to be with her
cousin. Ralph never said a word against him, but Osmond's sore,
mute protest was none the less founded. If he should positively
interpose, if he should put forth his authority, she would have
to decide, and that wouldn't be easy. The prospect made her heart
beat and her cheeks burn, as I say, in advance; there were
moments when, in her wish to avoid an open rupture, she found
herself wishing Ralph would start even at a risk. And it was of
no use that, when catching herself in this state of mind, she
called herself a feeble spirit, a coward. It was not that she
loved Ralph less, but that almost anything seemed preferable to
repudiating the most serious act--the single sacred act--of her
life. That appeared to make the whole future hideous. To break
with Osmond once would be to break for ever; any open
acknowledgement of irreconcilable needs would be an admission
that their whole attempt had proved a failure. For them there
could be no condonement, no compromise, no easy forgetfulness, no
formal readjustment. They had attempted only one thing, but that
one thing was to have been exquisite. Once they missed it nothing
else would do; there was no conceivable substitute for that
success. For the moment, Isabel went to the Hotel de Paris as
often as she thought well; the measure of propriety was in the
canon of taste, and there couldn't have been a better proof that
morality was, so to speak, a matter of earnest appreciation.
Isabel's application of that measure had been particularly free
to-day, for in addition to the general truth that she couldn't
leave Ralph to die alone she had something important to ask of
him. This indeed was Gilbert's business as well as her own.

She came very soon to what she wished to speak of. "I want you to
answer me a question. It's about Lord Warburton."

"I think I guess your question," Ralph answered from his
arm-chair, out of which his thin legs protruded at greater length
than ever.

"Very possibly you guess it. Please then answer it."

"Oh, I don't say I can do that."

"You're intimate with him," she said; "you've a great deal of
observation of him."

"Very true. But think how he must dissimulate!"

"Why should he dissimulate? That's not his nature."

"Ah, you must remember that the circumstances are peculiar," said
Ralph with an air of private amusement.

"To a certain extent--yes. But is he really in love?"

"Very much, I think. I can make that out."

"Ah!" said Isabel with a certain dryness.

Ralph looked at her as if his mild hilarity had been touched with
mystification. "You say that as if you were disappointed."

Isabel got up, slowly smoothing her gloves and eyeing them
thoughtfully. "It's after all no business of mine."

"You're very philosophic," said her cousin. And then in a moment:
"May I enquire what you're talking about?"

Isabel stared. "I thought you knew. Lord Warburton tells me he
wants, of all things in the world, to marry Pansy. I've told you
that before, without eliciting a comment from you. You might risk
one this morning, I think. Is it your belief that he really cares
for her?"

"Ah, for Pansy, no!" cried Ralph very positively.

"But you said just now he did."

Ralph waited a moment. "That he cared for you, Mrs. Osmond."

Isabel shook her head gravely. "That's nonsense, you know."

"Of course it is. But the nonsense is Warburton's, not mine."

"That would be very tiresome." She spoke, as she flattered
herself, with much subtlety.

"I ought to tell you indeed," Ralph went on, "that to me he has
denied it."

"It's very good of you to talk about it together! Has he also
told you that he's in love with Pansy?"

"He has spoken very well of her--very properly. He has let me
know, of course, that he thinks she would do very well at
Lockleigh."

"Does he really think it?"

"Ah, what Warburton really thinks--!" said Ralph.

Isabel fell to smoothing her gloves again; they were long, loose
gloves on which she could freely expend herself. Soon, however,
she looked up, and then, "Ah, Ralph, you give me no help!" she
cried abruptly and passionately.

It was the first time she had alluded to the need for help, and
the words shook her cousin with their violence. He gave a long
murmur of relief, of pity, of tenderness; it seemed to him that
at last the gulf between them had been bridged. It was this that
made him exclaim in a moment: "How unhappy you must be!"

He had no sooner spoken than she recovered her self-possession,
and the first use she made of it was to pretend she had not heard
him. "When I talk of your helping me I talk great nonsense," she
said with a quick smile. "The idea of my troubling you with my
domestic embarrassments! The matter's very simple; Lord Warburton
must get on by himself. I can't undertake to see him through."

"He ought to succeed easily," said Ralph.

Isabel debated. "Yes--but he has not always succeeded."

"Very true. You know, however, how that always surprised me. Is
Miss Osmond capable of giving us a surprise?"

"It will come from him, rather. I seem to see that after all
he'll let the matter drop."

"He'll do nothing dishonourable," said Ralph.

"I'm very sure of that. Nothing can be more honourable than for
him to leave the poor child alone. She cares for another person,
and it's cruel to attempt to bribe her by magnificent offers to
give him up."

"Cruel to the other person perhaps--the one she cares for. But
Warburton isn't obliged to mind that."

"No, cruel to her," said Isabel. "She would be very unhappy if
she were to allow herself to be persuaded to desert poor Mr.
Rosier. That idea seems to amuse you; of course you're not in
love with him. He has the merit--for Pansy--of being in love with
Pansy. She can see at a glance that Lord Warburton isn't."

"He'd be very good to her," said Ralph.

"He has been good to her already. Fortunately, however, he has
not said a word to disturb her. He could come and bid her
good-bye to-morrow with perfect propriety."

"How would your husband like that?"

"Not at all; and he may be right in not liking it. Only he must
obtain satisfaction himself."

"Has he commissioned you to obtain it?" Ralph ventured to ask.

"It was natural that as an old friend of Lord Warburton's--an
older friend, that is, than Gilbert--I should take an interest in
his intentions."

"Take an interest in his renouncing them, you mean?"

Isabel hesitated, frowning a little. "Let me understand. Are you
pleading his cause?"

"Not in the least. I'm very glad he shouldn't become your
stepdaughter's husband. It makes such a very queer relation to
you!" said Ralph, smiling. "But I'm rather nervous lest your
husband should think you haven't pushed him enough."

Isabel found herself able to smile as well as he. "He knows me
well enough not to have expected me to push. He himself has no
intention of pushing, I presume. I'm not afraid I shall not be
able to justify myself!" she said lightly.

Her mask had dropped for an instant, but she had put it on again,
to Ralph's infinite disappointment. He had caught a glimpse of
her natural face and he wished immensely to look into it. He had
an almost savage desire to hear her complain of her husband--hear
her say that she should be held accountable for Lord Warburton's
defection. Ralph was certain that this was her situation; he knew
by instinct, in advance, the form that in such an event Osmond's
displeasure would take. It could only take the meanest and
cruellest. He would have liked to warn Isabel of it--to let her
see at least how he judged for her and how he knew. It little
mattered that Isabel would know much better; it was for his own
satisfaction more than for hers that he longed to show her he was
not deceived. He tried and tried again to make her betray Osmond;
he felt cold-blooded, cruel, dishonourable almost, in doing so.
But it scarcely mattered, for be only failed. What had she come
for then, and why did she seem almost to offer him a chance to
violate their tacit convention? Why did she ask him his advice if
she gave him no liberty to answer her? How could they talk of her
domestic embarrassments, as it pleased her humorously to
designate them, if the principal factor was not to be mentioned?
These contradictions were themselves but an indication of her
trouble, and her cry for help, just before, was the only thing he
was bound to consider. "You'll be decidedly at variance, all the
same," he said in a moment. And as she answered nothing, looking
as if she scarce understood, "You'll find yourselves thinking
very differently," be continued.

"That may easily happen, among the most united couples!" She took
up her parasol; he saw she was nervous, afraid of what he might
say. "It's a matter we can hardly quarrel about, however," she
added; "for almost all the interest is on his side. That's very
natural. Pansy's after all his daughter--not mine." And she put
out her hand to wish him goodbye.

Ralph took an inward resolution that she shouldn't leave him
without his letting her know that he knew everything: it seemed
too great an opportunity to lose. "Do you know what his interest
will make him say?" he asked as he took her hand. She shook her
head, rather dryly--not discouragingly--and he went on. "It will
make him say that your want of zeal is owing to jealousy." He
stopped a moment; her face made him afraid.

"To jealousy?"

"To jealousy of his daughter."

She blushed red and threw back her head. "You're not kind," she
said in a voice that he had never heard on her lips.

"Be frank with me and you'll see," he answered.

But she made no reply; she only pulled her hand out of his own,
which he tried still to hold, and rapidly withdrew from the room.
She made up her mind to speak to Pansy, and she took an occasion
on the same day, going to the girl's room before dinner. Pansy
was already dressed; she was always in advance of the time: it
seemed to illustrate her pretty patience and the graceful
stillness with which she could sit and wait. At present she was
seated, in her fresh array, before the bed-room fire; she had
blown out her candles on the completion of her toilet, in
accordance with the economical habits in which she had been brought
up sand which she was now more careful than ever to observe; so that
the room was lighted only by a couple of logs. The rooms in
Palazzo Roccanera were as spacious as they were numerous, and
Pansy's virginal bower was an immense chamber with a dark,
heavily-timbered ceiling. Its diminutive mistress, in the midst
of it, appeared but a speck of humanity, and as she got up, with
quick deference, to welcome Isabel, the latter was more than ever
struck with her shy sincerity. Isabel had a difficult task--the
only thing was to perform it as simply as possible. She felt
bitter and angry, but she warned herself against betraying this
heat. She was afraid even of looking too grave, or at least too
stern; she was afraid of causing alarm. Put Pansy seemed to have
guessed she had come more or less as a confessor; for after she
had moved the chair in which she had been sitting a little nearer
to the fire and Isabel had taken her place in it, she kneeled
down on a cushion in front of her, looking up and resting her
clasped hands on her stepmother's knees. What Isabel wished to do
was to hear from her own lips that her mind was not occupied with
Lord Warburton; but if she desired the assurance she felt herself
by no means at liberty to provoke it. The girl's father would
have qualified this as rank treachery; and indeed Isabel knew
that if Pansy should display the smallest germ of a disposition
to encourage Lord Warburton her own duty was to hold her tongue.
It was difficult to interrogate without appearing to suggest;
Pansy's supreme simplicity, an innocence even more complete than
Isabel had yet judged it, gave to the most tentative enquiry
something of the effect of an admonition. As she knelt there in
the vague firelight, with her pretty dress dimly shining, her
hands folded half in appeal and half in submission, her soft
eyes, raised and fixed, full of the seriousness of the situation,
she looked to Isabel like a childish martyr decked out for
sacrifice and scarcely presuming even to hope to avert it. When
Isabel said to her that she had never yet spoken to her of what
might have been going on in relation to her getting married, but
that her silence had not been indifference or ignorance, had only
been the desire to leave her at liberty, Pansy bent forward,
raised her face nearer and nearer, and with a little murmur which
evidently expressed a deep longing, answered that she had greatly
wished her to speak and that she begged her to advise her now.

"It's difficult for me to advise you," Isabel returned. "I don't
know how I can undertake that. That's for your father; you must
get his advice and, above all, you must act on it."

At this Pansy dropped her eyes; for a moment she said nothing. "I
think I should like your advice better than papa's," she
presently remarked.

"That's not as it should be," said Isabel coldly. "I love you
very much, but your father loves you better."

"It isn't because you love me--it's because you're a lady," Pansy
answered with the air of saying something very reasonable. "A
lady can advise a young girl better than a man."

"I advise you then to pay the greatest respect to your father's
wishes."

"Ah yes," said the child eagerly, "I must do that."

"But if I speak to you now about your getting married it's not
for your own sake, it's for mine," Isabel went on. "If I try to
learn from you what you expect, what you desire, it's only that I
may act accordingly."

Pansy stared, and then very quickly, "Will you do everything I
want?" she asked.

"Before I say yes I must know what such things are."

Pansy presently told her that the only thing she wanted in life
was to marry Mr. Rosier. He had asked her and she had told him
she would do so if her papa would allow it. Now her papa
wouldn't allow it.

"Very well then, it's impossible," Isabel pronounced.

"Yes, it's impossible," said Pansy without a sigh and with the
same extreme attention in her clear little face.

"You must think of something else then," Isabel went on; but
Pansy, sighing at this, told her that she had attempted that feat
without the least success.

"You think of those who think of you," she said with a faint
smile. "I know Mr. Rosier thinks of me."

"He ought not to," said Isabel loftily. "Your father has
expressly requested he shouldn't."

"He can't help it, because he knows I think of HIM."

"You shouldn't think of him. There's some excuse for him,
perhaps; but there's none for you."

"I wish you would try to find one," the girl exclaimed as if she
were praying to the Madonna.

"I should be very sorry to attempt it," said the Madonna with
unusual frigidity. "If you knew some one else was thinking of
you, would you think of him?"

"No one can think of me as Mr. Rosier does; no one has the
right."

"Ah, but I don't admit Mr. Rosier's right!" Isabel hypocritically
cried.

Pansy only gazed at her, evidently much puzzled; and Isabel,
taking advantage of it, began to represent to her the wretched
consequences of disobeying her father. At this Pansy stopped her
with the assurance that she would never disobey him, would never
marry without his consent. And she announced, in the serenest,
simplest tone, that, though she might never marry Mr. Rosier, she
would never cease to think of him. She appeared to have accepted
the idea of eternal singleness; but Isabel of course was free to
reflect that she had no conception of its meaning. She was
perfectly sincere; she was prepared to give up her lover. This
might seem an important step toward taking another, but for
Pansy, evidently, it failed to lead in that direction. She felt
no bitterness toward her father; there was no bitterness in her
heart; there was only the sweetness of fidelity to Edward Rosier,
and a strange, exquisite intimation that she could prove it
better by remaining single than even by marrying him.

"Your father would like you to make a better marriage," said
Isabel. "Mr. Rosier's fortune is not at all large."

"How do you mean better--if that would be good enough? And I have
myself so little money; why should I look for a fortune?"

"Your having so little is a reason for looking for more." With
which Isabel was grateful for the dimness of the room; she felt
as if her face were hideously insincere. It was what she was
doing for Osmond; it was what one had to do for Osmond! Pansy's
solemn eyes, fixed on her own, almost embarrassed her; she was
ashamed to think she had made so light of the girl's preference.

"What should you like me to do?" her companion softly demanded.

The question was a terrible one, and Isabel took refuge in
timorous vagueness. "To remember all the pleasure it's in your
power to give your father."

"To marry some one else, you mean--if he should ask me?"

For a moment Isabel's answer caused itself to be waited for; then
she heard herself utter it in the stillness that Pansy's
attention seemed to make. "Yes--to marry some one else."

The child's eyes grew more penetrating; Isabel believed she was
doubting her sincerity, and the impression took force from her
slowly getting up from her cushion. She stood there a moment with
her small hands unclasped and then quavered out: "Well, I hope no
one will ask me!"

"There has been a question of that. Some one else would have been
ready to ask you."

"I don't think he can have been ready," said Pansy.

"It would appear so if he had been sure he'd succeed."

"If he had been sure? Then he wasn't ready!"

Isabel thought this rather sharp; she also got up and stood a
moment looking into the fire. "Lord Warburton has shown you great
attention," she resumed; "of course you know it's of him I
speak." She found herself, against her expectation, almost placed
in the position of justifying herself; which led her to introduce
this nobleman more crudely than she had intended.

"He has been very kind to me, and I like him very much. But if
you mean that he'll propose for me I think you're mistaken."

"Perhaps I am. But your father would like it extremely."

Pansy shook her head with a little wise smile. "Lord Warburton
won't propose simply to please papa."

"Your father would like you to encourage him," Isabel went on
mechanically.

"How can I encourage him?"

"I don't know. Your father must tell you that."

Pansy said nothing for a moment; she only continued to smile as
if she were in possession of a bright assurance. "There's no
danger--no danger!" she declared at last.

There was a conviction in the way she said this, and a felicity
in her believing it, which conduced to Isabel's awkwardness. She
felt accused of dishonesty, and the idea was disgusting. To
repair her self-respect she was on the point of saying that Lord
Warburton had let her know that there was a danger. But she
didn't; she only said--in her embarrassment rather wide of the
mark--that he surely had been most kind, most friendly.

"Yes, he has been very kind," Pansy answered. "That's what I like
him for."

"Why then is the difficulty so great?"

"I've always felt sure of his knowing that I don't want--what did
you say I should do?--to encourage him. He knows I don't want to
marry, and he wants me to know that he therefore won't trouble
me. That's the meaning of his kindness. It's as if he said to me:
'I like you very much, but if it doesn't please you I'll never
say it again.' I think that's very kind, very noble," Pansy went
on with deepening positiveness. "That is all we've said to each
other. And he doesn't care for me either. Ah no, there's no
danger."

Isabel was touched with wonder at the depths of perception of
which this submissive little person was capable; she felt afraid
of Pansy's wisdom--began almost to retreat before it. "You must
tell your father that," she remarked reservedly.

"I think I'd rather not," Pansy unreservedly answered.

"You oughtn't to let him have false hopes."

"Perhaps not; but it will be good for me that he should. So long
as he believes that Lord Warburton intends anything of the kind
you say, papa won't propose any one else. And that will be an
advantage for me," said the child very lucidly.

There was something brilliant in her lucidity, and it made her
companion draw a long breath. It relieved this friend of a heavy
responsibility. Pansy had a sufficient illumination of her own,
and Isabel felt that she herself just now had no light to spare
from her small stock. Nevertheless it still clung to her that she
must be loyal to Osmond, that she was on her honour in dealing
with his daughter. Under the influence of this sentiment she
threw out another suggestion before she retired--a suggestion
with which it seemed to her that she should have done her utmost.

"Your father takes for granted at least that you would like to
marry a nobleman."

Pansy stood in the open doorway; she had drawn back the curtain
for Isabel to pass. "I think Mr. Rosier looks like one!" she
remarked very gravely.

Henry James