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Chapter 22

  • On one of the first days of May, some six months after old Mr. Touchett'_eath, a small group that might have been described by a painter as composin_ell was gathered in one of the many rooms of an ancient villa crowning a_live-muffled hill outside of the Roman gate of Florence. The villa was _ong, rather blank-looking structure, with the far-projecting roof whic_uscany loves and which, on the hills that encircle Florence, when considere_rom a distance, makes so harmonious a rectangle with the straight, dark, definite cypresses that usually rise in groups of three or four beside it. Th_ouse had a front upon a little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied _art of the hill-top; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregula_elations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to the base o_he structure and useful as a lounging-place to one or two persons wearin_ore or less of that air of undervalued merit which in Italy, for some reaso_r other, always gracefully invests any one who confidently assumes _erfectly passive attitude—this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposin_ront had a somewhat incommunicative character. It was the mask, not the fac_f the house. It had heavy lids, but no eyes; the house in reality looke_nother way—looked off behind, into splendid openness and the range of th_fternoon light. In that quarter the villa overhung the slope of its hill an_he long valley of the Arno, hazy with Italian colour. It had a narrow garden, in the manner of a terrace, productive chiefly of tangles of wild roses an_ther old stone benches, mossy and sun-warmed. The parapet of the terrace wa_ust the height to lean upon, and beneath it the ground declined into th_agueness of olive-crops and vineyards. It is not, however, with the outsid_f the place that we are concerned; on this bright morning of ripened sprin_ts tenants had reason to prefer the shady side of the wall. The windows o_he ground-floor, as you saw them from the piazza, were, in their nobl_roportions, extremely architectural; but their function seemed less to offe_ommunication with the world than to defy the world to look in. They wer_assively cross-barred, and placed at such a height that curiosity, even o_iptoe, expired before it reached them. In an apartment lighted by a row o_hree of these jealous apertures—one of the several distinct apartments int_hich the villa was divided and which were mainly occupied by foreigners o_andom race long resident in Florence—a gentleman was seated in company with _oung girl and two good sisters from a religious house. The room was, however, less sombre than our indications may have represented, for it had a wide, hig_oor, which now stood open into the tangled garden behind; and the tall iro_attices admitted on occasion more than enough of the Italian sunshine. It wa_oreover a seat of ease, indeed of luxury, telling of arrangements subtl_tudied and refinements frankly proclaimed, and containing a variety of thos_aded hangings of damask and tapestry, those chests and cabinets of carved an_ime-polished oak, those angular specimens of pictorial art in frames a_edantically primitive, those perverse-looking relics of medieval brass an_ottery, of which Italy has long been the not quite exhausted storehouse.
  • These things kept terms with articles of modern furniture in which larg_llowance had been made for a lounging generation; it was to be noticed tha_ll the chairs were deep and well padded and that much space was occupied by _riting-table of which the ingenious perfection bore the stamp of London an_he nineteenth century. There were books in profusion and magazines an_ewspapers, and a few small, odd, elaborate pictures, chiefly in water-colour.
  • One of these productions stood on a drawing-room easel before which, at th_oment we begin to be concerned with her, the young girl I have mentioned ha_laced herself. She was looking at the picture in silence.
  • Silence—absolute silence—had not fallen upon her companions; but their tal_ad an appearance of embarrassed continuity. The two good sisters had no_ettled themselves in their respective chairs; their attitude expressed _inal reserve and their faces showed the glaze of prudence. They were plain, ample, mild-featured women, with a kind of business-like modesty to which th_mpersonal aspect of their stiffened linen and of the serge that draped the_s if nailed on frames gave an advantage. One of them, a person of a certai_ge, in spectacles, with a fresh complexion and a full cheek, had a mor_iscriminating manner than her colleague, as well as the responsibility o_heir errand, which apparently related to the young girl. This object o_nterest wore her hat—an ornament of extreme simplicity and not at varianc_ith her plain muslin gown, too short for her years, though it must alread_ave been "let out." The gentleman who might have been supposed to b_ntertaining the two nuns was perhaps conscious of the difficulties of hi_unction, it being in its way as arduous to converse with the very meek a_ith the very mighty. At the same time he was clearly much occupied with thei_uiet charge, and while she turned her back to him his eyes rested gravely o_er slim, small figure. He was a man of forty, with a high but well-shape_ead, on which the hair, still dense, but prematurely grizzled, had bee_ropped close. He had a fine, narrow, extremely modelled and composed face, o_hich the only fault was just this effect of its running a trifle too much t_oints; an appearance to which the shape of the beard contributed not _ittle. This beard, cut in the manner of the portraits of the sixteent_entury and surmounted by a fair moustache, of which the ends had a romanti_pward flourish, gave its wearer a foreign, traditionary look and suggeste_hat he was a gentleman who studied style. His conscious, curious eyes, however, eyes at once vague and penetrating, intelligent and hard, expressiv_f the observer as well as of the dreamer, would have assured you that h_tudied it only within well-chosen limits, and that in so far as he sought i_e found it. You would have been much at a loss to determine his origina_lime and country; he had none of the superficial signs that usually rende_he answer to this question an insipidly easy one. If he had English blood i_is veins it had probably received some French or Italian commixture; but h_uggested, fine gold coin as he was, no stamp nor emblem of the common mintag_hat provides for general circulation; he was the elegant complicated meda_truck off for a special occasion. He had a light, lean, rather languid- looking figure, and was apparently neither tall nor short. He was dressed as _an dresses who takes little other trouble about it than to have no vulga_hings.
  • "Well, my dear, what do you think of it?" he asked of the young girl. He use_he Italian tongue, and used it with perfect ease; but this would not hav_onvinced you he was Italian.
  • The child turned her head earnestly to one side and the other. "It's ver_retty, papa. Did you make it yourself?"
  • "Certainly I made it. Don't you think I'm clever?"
  • "Yes, papa, very clever; I also have learned to make pictures." And she turne_ound and showed a small, fair face painted with a fixed and intensely swee_mile.
  • "You should have brought me a specimen of your powers."
  • "I've brought a great many; they're in my trunk."
  • "She draws very—very carefully," the elder of the nuns remarked, speaking i_rench.
  • "I'm glad to hear it. Is it you who have instructed her?"
  • "Happily no," said the good sister, blushing a little. "Ce n'est pas m_artie. I teach nothing; I leave that to those who are wiser. We've a_xcellent drawing-master, Mr.—Mr.—what is his name?" she asked of he_ompanion.
  • Her companion looked about at the carpet. "It's a German name," she said i_talian, as if it needed to be translated.
  • "Yes," the other went on, "he's a German, and we've had him many years."
  • The young girl, who was not heeding the conversation, had wandered away to th_pen door of the large room and stood looking into the garden. "And you, m_ister, are French," said the gentleman.
  • "Yes, sir," the visitor gently replied. "I speak to the pupils in my ow_ongue. I know no other. But we have sisters of other countries—English, German, Irish. They all speak their proper language."
  • The gentleman gave a smile. "Has my daughter been under the care of one of th_rish ladies?" And then, as he saw that his visitors suspected a joke, thoug_ailing to understand it, "You're very complete," he instantly added.
  • "Oh, yes, we're complete. We've everything, and everything's of the best."
  • "We have gymnastics," the Italian sister ventured to remark. "But no_angerous."
  • "I hope not. Is that YOUR branch?" A question which provoked much candi_ilarity on the part of the two ladies; on the subsidence of which thei_ntertainer, glancing at his daughter, remarked that she had grown.
  • "Yes, but I think she has finished. She'll remain—not big," said the Frenc_ister.
  • "I'm not sorry. I prefer women like books—very good and not too long. But _now," the gentleman said, "no particular reason why my child should b_hort."
  • The nun gave a temperate shrug, as if to intimate that such things might b_eyond our knowledge. "She's in very good health; that's the best thing."
  • "Yes, she looks sound." And the young girl's father watched her a moment.
  • "What do you see in the garden?" he asked in French.
  • "I see many flowers," she replied in a sweet, small voice and with an accen_s good as his own.
  • "Yes, but not many good ones. However, such as they are, go out and gathe_ome for ces dames."
  • The child turned to him with her smile heightened by pleasure. "May I, truly?"
  • "Ah, when I tell you," said her father.
  • The girl glanced at the elder of the nuns. "May I, truly, ma mere?"
  • "Obey monsieur your father, my child," said the sister, blushing again.
  • The child, satisfied with this authorisation, descended from the threshold an_as presently lost to sight. "You don't spoil them," said her father gaily.
  • "For everything they must ask leave. That's our system. Leave is freel_ranted, but they must ask it."
  • "Oh, I don't quarrel with your system; I've no doubt it's excellent. I sen_ou my daughter to see what you'd make of her. I had faith."
  • "One must have faith," the sister blandly rejoined, gazing through he_pectacles.
  • "Well, has my faith been rewarded What have you made of her?"
  • The sister dropped her eyes a moment. "A good Christian, monsieur."
  • Her host dropped his eyes as well; but it was probable that the movement ha_n each case a different spring. "Yes, and what else?"
  • He watched the lady from the convent, probably thinking she would say that _ood Christian was everything; but for all her simplicity she was not so crud_s that. "A charming young lady —a real little woman—a daughter in whom yo_ill have nothing but contentment."
  • "She seems to me very gentille," said the father. "She's really pretty."
  • "She's perfect. She has no faults."
  • "She never had any as a child, and I'm glad you have given her none."
  • "We love her too much," said the spectacled sister with dignity.
  • "And as for faults, how can we give what we have not? Le couvent n'est pa_omme le monde, monsieur. She's our daughter, as you may say. We've had he_ince she was so small."
  • "Of all those we shall lose this year she's the one we shall miss most," th_ounger woman murmured deferentially.
  • "Ah, yes, we shall talk long of her," said the other. "We shall hold her up t_he new ones." And at this the good sister appeared to find her spectacle_im; while her companion, after fumbling a moment, presently drew forth _ocket-handkerchief of durable texture.
  • "It's not certain you'll lose her; nothing's settled yet," their host rejoine_uickly; not as if to anticipate their tears, but in the tone of a man sayin_hat was most agreeable to himself. "We should be very happy to believe that.
  • Fifteen is very young to leave us."
  • "Oh," exclaimed the gentleman with more vivacity than he had yet used, "it i_ot I who wish to take her away. I wish you could keep her always!"
  • "Ah, monsieur," said the elder sister, smiling and getting up, "good as sh_s, she's made for the world. Le monde y gagnera."
  • "If all the good people were hidden away in convents how would the world ge_n?" her companion softly enquired, rising also.
  • This was a question of a wider bearing than the good woman apparentl_upposed; and the lady in spectacles took a harmonising view by sayin_omfortably: "Fortunately there are good people everywhere."
  • "If you're going there will be two less here," her host remarked gallantly.
  • For this extravagant sally his simple visitors had no answer, and they simpl_ooked at each other in decent deprecation; but their confusion was speedil_overed by the return of the young girl with two large bunches of roses—one o_hem all white, the other red.
  • "I give you your choice, mamman Catherine," said the child. "It's only th_olour that's different, mamman Justine; there are just as many roses in on_unch as in the other."
  • The two sisters turned to each other, smiling and hesitating, with "Which wil_ou take?" and "No, it's for you to choose."
  • "I'll take the red, thank you," said Catherine in the spectacles. "I'm so re_yself. They'll comfort us on our way back to Rome."
  • "Ah, they won't last," cried the young girl. I wish I could give you somethin_hat would last!"
  • "You've given us a good memory of yourself, my daughter. That will last!"
  • "I wish nuns could wear pretty things. I would give you my blue beads," th_hild went on.
  • "And do you go back to Rome to-night?" her father enquired.
  • "Yes, we take the train again. We've so much to do la-bas."
  • "Are you not tired?"
  • "We are never tired."
  • "Ah, my sister, sometimes," murmured the junior votaress.
  • "Not to-day, at any rate. We have rested too well here. Que Dieu vows garde, ma fine."
  • Their host, while they exchanged kisses with his daughter, went forward t_pen the door through which they were to pass; but as he did so he gave _light exclamation, and stood looking beyond. The door opened into a vaulte_nte-chamber, as high as a chapel and paved with red tiles; and into thi_ntechamber a lady had just been admitted by a servant, a lad in shabb_ivery, who was now ushering her toward the apartment in which our friend_ere grouped. The gentleman at the door, after dropping his exclamation, remained silent; in silence too the lady advanced. He gave her no furthe_udible greeting and offered her no hand, but stood aside to let her pass int_he saloon. At the threshold she hesitated. "Is there any one?" she asked.
  • "Some one you may see."
  • She went in and found herself confronted with the two nuns and their pupil, who was coming forward, between them, with a hand in the arm of each. At th_ight of the new visitor they all paused, and the lady, who had also stopped, stood looking at them. The young girl gave a little soft cry: "Ah, Madam_erle!"
  • The visitor had been slightly startled, but her manner the next instant wa_one the less gracious. "Yes, it's Madame Merle, come to welcome you home."
  • And she held out two hands to the girl, who immediately came up to her, presenting her forehead to be kissed. Madame Merle saluted this portion of he_harming little person and then stood smiling at the two nuns. The_cknowledged her smile with a decent obeisance, but permitted themselves n_irect scrutiny of this imposing, brilliant woman, who seemed to bring in wit_er something of the radiance of the outer world. "These ladies have brough_y daughter home, and now they return to the convent," the gentlema_xplained.
  • "Ah, you go back to Rome? I've lately come from there. It's very lovely now,"
  • said Madame Merle.
  • The good sisters, standing with their hands folded into their sleeves, accepted this statement uncritically; and the master of the house asked hi_ew visitor how long it was since she had left Rome. "She came to see me a_he convent," said the young girl before the lady addressed had time to reply.
  • "I've been more than once, Pansy," Madame Merle declared. "Am I not your grea_riend in Rome?"
  • "I remember the last time best," said Pansy, "because you told me I shoul_ome away."
  • "Did you tell her that?" the child's father asked.
  • "I hardly remember. I told her what I thought would please her. I've been i_lorence a week. I hoped you would come to see me."
  • "I should have done so if I had known you were there. One doesn't know suc_hings by inspiration—though I suppose one ought. You had better sit down."
  • These two speeches were made in a particular tone of voice—a tone half-lowere_nd carefully quiet, but as from habit rather than from any definite need.
  • Madame Merle looked about her, choosing her seat. "You're going to the doo_ith these women? Let me of course not interrupt the ceremony. Je vous salue, mesdames," she added, in French, to the nuns, as if to dismiss them.
  • "This lady's a great friend of ours; you will have seen her at the convent,"
  • said their entertainer. "We've much faith in her judgement, and she'll help m_o decide whether my daughter shall return to you at the end of the holidays."
  • "I hope you'll decide in our favour, madame," the sister in spectacle_entured to remark.
  • "That's Mr. Osmond's pleasantry; I decide nothing," said Madame Merle, bu_lso as in pleasantry. "I believe you've a very good school, but Miss Osmond'_riends must remember that she's very naturally meant for the world."
  • "That's what I've told monsieur," sister Catherine answered. "It's precisel_o fit her for the world," she murmured, glancing at Pansy, who stood, at _ittle distance, attentive to Madame Merle's elegant apparel.
  • "Do you hear that, Pansy? You're very naturally meant for the world," sai_ansy's father.
  • The child fixed him an instant with her pure young eyes. "Am I not meant fo_ou, papa?"
  • Papa gave a quick, light laugh. "That doesn't prevent it! I'm of the world, Pansy."
  • "Kindly permit us to retire," said sister Catherine. "Be good and wise an_appy in any case, my daughter."
  • "I shall certainly come back and see you," Pansy returned, recommencing he_mbraces, which were presently interrupted by Madame Merle.
  • "Stay with me, dear child," she said, "while your father takes the good ladie_o the door."
  • Pansy stared, disappointed, yet not protesting. She was evidently impregnate_ith the idea of submission, which was due to any one who took the tone o_uthority; and she was a passive spectator of the operation of her fate. "Ma_ not see mamman Catherine get into the carriage?" she nevertheless asked ver_ently.
  • "It would please me better if you'd remain with me," said Madame Merle, whil_r. Osmond and his companions, who had bowed low again to the other visitor, passed into the ante-chamber.
  • "Oh yes, I'll stay," Pansy answered; and she stood near Madame Merle, surrendering her little hand, which this lady took. She stared out of th_indow; her eyes had filled with tears.
  • "I'm glad they've taught you to obey," said Madame Merle. "That's what goo_ittle girls should do."
  • "Oh yes, I obey very well," cried Pansy with soft eagerness, almost wit_oastfulness, as if she had been speaking of her piano-playing. And then sh_ave a faint, just audible sigh.
  • Madame Merle, holding her hand, drew it across her own fine palm and looked a_t. The gaze was critical, but it found nothing to deprecate; the child'_mall hand was delicate and fair. "I hope they always see that you wea_loves," she said in a moment. "Little girls usually dislike them."
  • "I used to dislike them, but I like them now," the child made answer.
  • "Very good, I'll make you a present of a dozen."
  • "I thank you very much. What colours will they be?" Pansy demanded wit_nterest.
  • Madame Merle meditated. "Useful colours."
  • "But very pretty?"
  • "Are you very fond of pretty things?"
  • "Yes; but—but not too fond," said Pansy with a trace of asceticism.
  • "Well, they won't be too pretty," Madame Merle returned with a laugh. She too_he child's other hand and drew her nearer; after which, looking at her _oment, "Shall you miss mother Catherine?" she went on.
  • "Yes—when I think of her."
  • "Try then not to think of her. Perhaps some day," added Madame Merle, "you'l_ave another mother."
  • "I don't think that's necessary," Pansy said, repeating her little sof_onciliatory sigh. "I had more than thirty mothers at the convent."
  • Her father's step sounded again in the antechamber, and Madame Merle got up, releasing the child. Mr. Osmond came in and closed the door; then, withou_ooking at Madame Merle, he pushed one or two chairs back into their places.
  • His visitor waited a moment for him to speak, watching him as he moved about.
  • Then at last she said: "I hoped you'd have come to Rome. I thought it possibl_ou'd have wished yourself to fetch Pansy away."
  • "That was a natural supposition; but I'm afraid it's not the first time I'v_cted in defiance of your calculations."
  • "Yes," said Madame Merle, "I think you very perverse."
  • Mr. Osmond busied himself for a moment in the room—there was plenty of spac_n it to move about—in the fashion of a man mechanically seeking pretexts fo_ot giving an attention which may be embarrassing. Presently, however, he ha_xhausted his pretexts; there was nothing left for him—unless he took up _ook—but to stand with his hands behind him looking at Pansy. "Why didn't yo_ome and see the last of mamman Catherine?" he asked of her abruptly i_rench.
  • Pansy hesitated a moment, glancing at Madame Merle. "I asked her to stay wit_e," said this lady, who had seated herself again in another place.
  • "Ah, that was better," Osmond conceded. With which he dropped into a chair an_at looking at Madame Merle; bent forward a little, his elbows on the edge o_he arms and his hands interlocked.
  • "She's going to give me some gloves," said Pansy.
  • "You needn't tell that to every one, my dear," Madame Merle observed.
  • "You're very kind to her," said Osmond. "She's supposed to have everything sh_eeds."
  • "I should think she had had enough of the nuns."
  • "If we're going to discuss that matter she had better go out of the room."
  • "Let her stay," said Madame Merle. "We'll talk of something else."
  • "If you like I won't listen," Pansy suggested with an appearance of candou_hich imposed conviction.
  • "You may listen, charming child, because you won't understand," her fathe_eplied. The child sat down, deferentially, near the open door, within sigh_f the garden, into which she directed her innocent, wistful eyes; and Mr.
  • Osmond went on irrelevantly, addressing himself to his other companion.
  • "You're looking particularly well."
  • "I think I always look the same," said Madame Merle.
  • "You always ARE the same. You don't vary. You're a wonderful woman."
  • "Yes, I think I am."
  • "You sometimes change your mind, however. You told me on your return fro_ngland that you wouldn't leave Rome again for the present."
  • "I'm pleased that you remember so well what I say. That was my intention. Bu_'ve come to Florence to meet some friends who have lately arrived and as t_hose movements I was at that time uncertain."
  • "That reason's characteristic. You're always doing something for you_riends."
  • Madame Merle smiled straight at her host. "It's less characteristic than you_omment upon it which is perfectly insincere. I don't, however, make a crim_f that," she added, "because if you don't believe what you say there's n_eason why you should. I don't ruin myself for my friends; I don't deserv_our praise. I care greatly for myself."
  • "Exactly; but yourself includes so many other selves—so much of every one els_nd of everything. I never knew a person whose life touched so many othe_ives."
  • "What do you call one's life?" asked Madame Merle. "One's appearance, one'_ovements, one's engagements, one's society?"
  • "I call YOUR life your ambitions," said Osmond.
  • Madame Merle looked a moment at Pansy. "I wonder if she understands that," sh_urmured.
  • "You see she can't stay with us!" And Pansy's father gave rather a joyles_mile. "Go into the garden, mignonne, and pluck a flower or two for Madam_erle," he went on in French.
  • "That's just what I wanted to do," Pansy exclaimed, rising with promptness an_oiselessly departing. Her father followed her to the open door, stood _oment watching her, and then came back, but remained standing, or rathe_trolling to and fro, as if to cultivate a sense of freedom which in anothe_ttitude might be wanting.
  • "My ambitions are principally for you," said Madame Merle, looking up at hi_ith a certain courage.
  • "That comes back to what I say. I'm part of your life—I and a thousand others.
  • You're not selfish—I can't admit that. If you were selfish, what should I be?
  • What epithet would properly describe me?"
  • "You're indolent. For me that's your worst fault."
  • "I'm afraid it's really my best."
  • "You don't care," said Madame Merle gravely.
  • "No; I don't think I care much. What sort of a fault do you call that? M_ndolence, at any rate, was one of the reasons I didn't go to Rome. But it wa_nly one of them."
  • "It's not of importance—to me at least—that you didn't go; though I shoul_ave been glad to see you. I'm glad you're not in Rome now—which you might be, would probably be, if you had gone there a month ago. There's something _hould like you to do at present in Florence."
  • "Please remember my indolence," said Osmond.
  • "I do remember it; but I beg you to forget it. In that way you'll have bot_he virtue and the reward. This is not a great labour, and it may prove a rea_nterest. How long is it since you made a new acquaintance?"
  • "I don't think I've made any since I made yours."
  • "It's time then you should make another. There's a friend of mine I want yo_o know."
  • Mr. Osmond, in his walk, had gone back to the open door again and was lookin_t his daughter as she moved about in the intense sunshine. "What good will i_o me?" he asked with a sort of genial crudity.
  • Madame Merle waited. "It will amuse you." There was nothing crude in thi_ejoinder; it had been thoroughly well considered.
  • "If you say that, you know, I believe it," said Osmond, coming toward her.
  • "There are some points in which my confidence in you is complete. I'_erfectly aware, for instance, that you know good society from bad."
  • "Society is all bad."
  • "Pardon me. That isn't—the knowledge I impute to you—a common sort of wisdom.
  • You've gained it in the right way—experimentally; you've compared an immens_umber of more or less impossible people with each other."
  • "Well, I invite you to profit by my knowledge."
  • "To profit? Are you very sure that I shall?"
  • "It's what I hope. It will depend on yourself. If I could only induce you t_ake an effort!"
  • "Ah, there you are! I knew something tiresome was coming. What in th_orld—that's likely to turn up here—is worth an effort?"
  • Madame Merle flushed as with a wounded intention. "Don't be foolish, Osmond.
  • No one knows better than you what IS worth an effort. Haven't I seen you i_ld days?"
  • "I recognise some things. But they're none of them probable in this poo_ife."
  • "It's the effort that makes them probable," said Madame Merle.
  • "There's something in that. Who then is your friend?"
  • "The person I came to Florence to see. She's a niece of Mrs. Touchett, who_ou'll not have forgotten."
  • "A niece? The word niece suggests youth and ignorance. I see what you'r_oming to."
  • "Yes, she's young—twenty-three years old. She's a great friend of mine. I me_er for the first time in England, several months ago, and we struck up _rand alliance. I like her immensely, and I do what I don't do every day—_dmire her. You'll do the same."
  • "Not if I can help it."
  • "Precisely. But you won't be able to help it."
  • "Is she beautiful, clever, rich, splendid, universally intelligent an_nprecedentedly virtuous? It's only on those conditions that I care to mak_er acquaintance. You know I asked you some time ago never to speak to me of _reature who shouldn't correspond to that description. I know plenty of ding_eople; I don't want to know any more."
  • "Miss Archer isn't dingy; she's as bright as the morning. She corresponds t_our description; it's for that I wish you to know her. She fills all you_equirements."
  • "More or less, of course."
  • "No; quite literally. She's beautiful, accomplished, generous and, for a_merican, well-born. She's also very clever and very amiable, and she has _andsome fortune."
  • Mr. Osmond listened to this in silence, appearing to turn it over in his min_ith his eyes on his informant. "What do you want to do with her?" he asked a_ast.
  • "What you see. Put her in your way."
  • "Isn't she meant for something better than that?"
  • "I don't pretend to know what people are meant for," said Madame Merle. "_nly know what I can do with them."
  • "I'm sorry for Miss Archer!" Osmond declared.
  • Madame Merle got up. "If that's a beginning of interest in her I take note o_t."
  • The two stood there face to face; she settled her mantilla, looking down at i_s she did so. "You're looking very well," Osmond repeated still les_elevantly than before. "You have some idea. You're never so well as whe_ou've got an idea; they're always becoming to you."
  • In the manner and tone of these two persons, on first meeting at any juncture, and especially when they met in the presence of others, was something indirec_nd circumspect, as if they had approached each other obliquely and addresse_ach other by implication. The effect of each appeared to be to intensify t_n appreciable degree the self-consciousness of the other. Madame Merle o_ourse carried off any embarrassment better than her friend; but even Madam_erle had not on this occasion the form she would have liked to have—th_erfect self-possession she would have wished to wear for her host. The poin_o be made is, however, that at a certain moment the element between them, whatever it was, always levelled itself and left them more closely face t_ace than either ever was with any one else. This was what had happened now.
  • They stood there knowing each other well and each on the whole willing t_ccept the satisfaction of knowing as a compensation for th_nconvenience—whatever it might be—of being known. "I wish very much you wer_ot so heartless," Madame Merle quietly said. "It has always been against you, and it will be against you now."
  • "I'm not so heartless as you think. Every now and then something touches me—a_or instance your saying just now that your ambitions are for me. I don'_nderstand it; I don't see how or why they should be. But it touches me, al_he same."
  • "You'll probably understand it even less as time goes on. There are som_hings you'll never understand. There's no particular need you should."
  • "You, after all, are the most remarkable of women," said Osmond. "You hav_ore in you than almost any one. I don't see why you think Mrs. Touchett'_iece should matter very much to me, when— when—" But he paused a moment.
  • "When I myself have mattered so little?"
  • "That of course is not what I meant to say. When I've known and appreciate_uch a woman as you."
  • "Isabel Archer's better than I," said Madame Merle.
  • Her companion gave a laugh. "How little you must think of her to say that!"
  • "Do you suppose I'm capable of jealousy? Please answer me that."
  • "With regard to me? No; on the whole I don't."
  • "Come and see me then, two days hence. I'm staying at Mrs. Touchett's—Palazz_rescentini—and the girl will be there."
  • "Why didn't you ask me that at first simply, without speaking of the girl?"
  • said Osmond. "You could have had her there at any rate."
  • Madame Merle looked at him in the manner of a woman whom no question he coul_ver put would find unprepared. "Do you wish to know why? Because I've spoke_f you to her."
  • Osmond frowned and turned away. "I'd rather not know that." Then in a momen_e pointed out the easel supporting the little water-colour drawing. "Have yo_een what's there—my last?"
  • Madame Merle drew near and considered. "Is it the Venetian Alps—one of you_ast year's sketches?"
  • "Yes—but how you guess everything!"
  • She looked a moment longer, then turned away. "You know I don't care for you_rawings."
  • "I know it, yet I'm always surprised at it. They're really so much better tha_ost people's."
  • "That may very well be. But as the only thing you do—well, it's so little. _hould have liked you to do so many other things: those were my ambitions."
  • "Yes; you've told me many times—things that were impossible."
  • "Things that were impossible," said Madame Merle. And then in quite _ifferent tone: "In itself your little picture's very good." She looked abou_he room—at the old cabinets, pictures, tapestries, surfaces of faded silk.
  • "Your rooms at least are perfect. I'm struck with that afresh whenever I com_ack; I know none better anywhere. You understand this sort of thing as nobod_nywhere does. You've such adorable taste."
  • "I'm sick of my adorable taste," said Gilbert Osmond.
  • "You must nevertheless let Miss Archer come and see it. I've told her abou_t."
  • "I don't object to showing my things—when people are not idiots."
  • "You do it delightfully. As cicerone of your museum you appear to particula_dvantage."
  • Mr. Osmond, in return for this compliment, simply looked at once colder an_ore attentive. "Did you say she was rich?"
  • "She has seventy thousand pounds."
  • "En ecus bien comptes?"
  • "There's no doubt whatever about her fortune. I've seen it, as I may say."
  • "Satisfactory woman!—I mean you. And if I go to see her shall I see th_other?"
  • "The mother? She has none—nor father either."
  • "The aunt then—whom did you say?—Mrs. Touchett. I can easily keep her out o_he way."
  • "I don't object to her," said Osmond; "I rather like Mrs. Touchett. She has _ort of old-fashioned character that's passing away—a vivid identity. But tha_ong jackanapes the son—is he about the place?"
  • "He's there, but he won't trouble you."
  • "He's a good deal of a donkey."
  • "I think you're mistaken. He's a very clever man. But he's not fond of bein_bout when I'm there, because he doesn't like me."
  • "What could he be more asinine than that? Did you say she has looks?" Osmon_ent on.
  • "Yes; but I won't say it again, lest you should be disappointed in them. Com_nd make a beginning; that's all I ask of you."
  • "A beginning of what?"
  • Madame Merle was silent a little. "I want you of course to marry her."
  • "The beginning of the end? Well, I'll see for myself. Have you told her that?"
  • "For what do you take me? She's not so coarse a piece of machinery—nor am I."
  • "Really," said Osmond after some meditation, "I don't understand you_mbitions."
  • "I think you'll understand this one after you've seen Miss Archer. Suspen_our judgement." Madame Merle, as she spoke, had drawn near the open door o_he garden, where she stood a moment looking out. "Pansy has really grow_retty," she presently added.
  • "So it seemed to me."
  • "But she has had enough of the convent."
  • "I don't know," said Osmond. "I like what they've made of her. It's ver_harming."
  • "That's not the convent. It's the child's nature."
  • "It's the combination, I think. She's as pure as a pearl."
  • "Why doesn't she come back with my flowers then?" Madame Merle asked. "She'_ot in a hurry."
  • "We'll go and get them."
  • "She doesn't like me," the visitor murmured as she raised her parasol and the_assed into the garden.