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Chapter 30

  • She returned on the morrow to Florence, under her cousin's escort, and Ralp_ouchett, though usually restive under railway discipline, thought very wel_f the successive hours passed in the train that hurried his companion awa_rom the city now distinguished by Gilbert Osmond's preference—hours that wer_o form the first stage in a larger scheme of travel. Miss Stackpole ha_emained behind; she was planning a little trip to Naples, to be carried ou_ith Mr. Bantling's aid. Isabel was to have three days in Florence before th_th of June, the date of Mrs. Touchett's departure, and she determined t_evote the last of these to her promise to call on Pansy Osmond. Her plan,
  • however, seemed for a moment likely to modify itself in deference to an ide_f Madame Merle's. This lady was still at Casa Touchett; but she too was o_he point of leaving Florence, her next station being an ancient castle in th_ountains of Tuscany, the residence of a noble family of that country, whos_cquaintance (she had known them, as she said, "forever") seemed to Isabel, i_he light of certain photographs of their immense crenellated dwelling whic_er friend was able to show her, a precious privilege. She mentioned to thi_ortunate woman that Mr. Osmond had asked her to take a look at his daughter,
  • but didn't mention that he had also made her a declaration of love.
  • "Ah, comme cela se trouve!" Madame Merle exclaimed. "I myself have bee_hinking it would be a kindness to pay the child a little visit before I g_ff."
  • "We can go together then," Isabel reasonably said: "reasonably" because th_roposal was not uttered in the spirit of enthusiasm. She had prefigured he_mall pilgrimage as made in solitude; she should like it better so. She wa_evertheless prepared to sacrifice this mystic sentiment to her grea_onsideration for her friend.
  • That personage finely meditated. "After all, why should we both go; having,
  • each of us, so much to do during these last hours?"
  • "Very good; I can easily go alone."
  • "I don't know about your going alone—to the house of a handsome bachelor. H_as been married—but so long ago!"
  • Isabel stared. "When Mr. Osmond's away what does it matter?"
  • "They don't know he's away, you see."
  • "They? Whom do you mean?"
  • "Every one. But perhaps it doesn't signify."
  • "If you were going why shouldn't I?" Isabel asked.
  • "Because I'm an old frump and you're a beautiful young woman."
  • "Granting all that, you've not promised."
  • "How much you think of your promises!" said the elder woman in mild mockery.
  • "I think a great deal of my promises. Does that surprise you?"
  • "You're right," Madame Merle audibly reflected. "I really think you wish to b_ind to the child."
  • "I wish very much to be kind to her."
  • "Go and see her then; no one will be the wiser. And tell her I'd have come i_ou hadn't. Or rather," Madame Merle added, "DON'T tell her. She won't care."
  • As Isabel drove, in the publicity of an open vehicle, along the winding wa_hich led to Mr. Osmond's hill-top, she wondered what her friend had meant b_o one's being the wiser. Once in a while, at large intervals, this lady,
  • whose voyaging discretion, as a general thing, was rather of the open sea tha_f the risky channel, dropped a remark of ambiguous quality, struck a not_hat sounded false. What cared Isabel Archer for the vulgar judgements o_bscure people? and did Madame Merle suppose that she was capable of doing _hing at all if it had to be sneakingly done? Of course not: she must hav_eant something else—something which in the press of the hours that precede_er departure she had not had time to explain. Isabel would return to thi_ome day; there were sorts of things as to which she liked to be clear. Sh_eard Pansy strumming at the piano in another place as she herself was ushere_nto Mr. Osmond's drawing-room; the little girl was "practising," and Isabe_as pleased to think she performed this duty with rigour. She immediately cam_n, smoothing down her frock, and did the honours of her father's house with _ide-eyed earnestness of courtesy. Isabel sat there half an hour, and Pans_ose to the occasion as the small, winged fairy in the pantomime soars by th_id of the dissimulated wire —not chattering, but conversing, and showing th_ame respectful interest in Isabel's affairs that Isabel was so good as t_ake in hers. Isabel wondered at her; she had never had so directly presente_o her nose the white flower of cultivated sweetness. How well the child ha_een taught, said our admiring young woman; how prettily she had been directe_nd fashioned; and yet how simple, how natural, how innocent she had bee_ept! Isabel was fond, ever, of the question of character and quality, o_ounding, as who should say, the deep personal mystery, and it had please_er, up to this time, to be in doubt as to whether this tender slip were no_eally all-knowing. Was the extremity of her candour but the perfection o_elf-consciousness? Was it put on to please her father's visitor, or was i_he direct expression of an unspotted nature? The hour that Isabel spent i_r. Osmond's beautiful empty, dusky rooms—the windows had been half-darkened,
  • to keep out the heat, and here and there, through an easy crevice, th_plendid summer day peeped in, lighting a gleam of faded colour or tarnishe_ilt in the rich gloom—her interview with the daughter of the house, I say,
  • effectually settled this question. Pansy was really a blank page, a pure whit_urface, successfully kept so; she had neither art, nor guile, nor temper, no_alent—only two or three small exquisite instincts: for knowing a friend, fo_voiding a mistake, for taking care of an old toy or a new frock. Yet to be s_ender was to be touching withal, and she could be felt as an easy victim o_ate. She would have no will, no power to resist, no sense of her ow_mportance; she would easily be mystified, easily crushed: her force would b_ll in knowing when and where to cling. She moved about the place with he_isitor, who had asked leave to walk through the other rooms again, wher_ansy gave her judgement on several works of art. She spoke of her prospects,
  • her occupations, her father's intentions; she was not egotistical, but fel_he propriety of supplying the information so distinguished a guest woul_aturally expect.
  • "Please tell me," she said, "did papa, in Rome, go to see Madame Catherine? H_old me he would if he had time. Perhaps he had not time. Papa likes a grea_eal of time. He wished to speak about my education; it isn't finished yet,
  • you know. I don't know what they can do with me more; but it appears it's fa_rom finished. Papa told me one day he thought he would finish it himself; fo_he last year or two, at the convent, the masters that teach the tall girl_re so very dear. Papa's not rich, and I should be very sorry if he were t_ay much money for me, because I don't think I'm worth it. I don't lear_uickly enough, and I have no memory. For what I'm told, yes—especially whe_t's pleasant; but not for what I learn in a book. There was a young girl wh_as my best friend, and they took her away from the convent, when she wa_ourteen, to make—how do you say it in English?—to make a dot. You don't sa_t in English? I hope it isn't wrong; I only mean they wished to keep th_oney to marry her. I don't know whether it is for that that papa wishes t_eep the money— to marry me. It costs so much to marry!" Pansy went on with _igh; "I think papa might make that economy. At any rate I'm too young t_hink about it yet, and I don't care for any gentleman; I mean for any bu_im. If he were not my papa I should like to marry him; I would rather be hi_aughter than the wife of—of some strange person. I miss him very much, bu_ot so much as you might think, for I've been so much away from him. Papa ha_lways been principally for holidays. I miss Madame Catherine almost more; bu_ou must not tell him that. You shall not see him again? I'm very sorry, an_e'll be sorry too. Of everyone who comes here I like you the best. That's no_ great compliment, for there are not many people. It was very kind of you t_ome to-day—so far from your house; for I'm really as yet only a child. Oh,
  • yes, I've only the occupations of a child. When did YOU give them up, th_ccupations of a child? I should like to know how old you are, but I don'_now whether it's right to ask. At the convent they told us that we must neve_sk the age. I don't like to do anything that's not expected; it looks as i_ne had not been properly taught. I myself—I should never like to be taken b_urprise. Papa left directions for everything. I go to bed very early. Whe_he sun goes off that side I go into the garden. Papa left strict orders tha_ was not to get scorched. I always enjoy the view; the mountains are s_raceful. In Rome, from the convent, we saw nothing but roofs and bell-towers.
  • I practise three hours. I don't play very well. You play yourself? I wish ver_uch you'd play something for me; papa has the idea that I should hear goo_usic. Madame Merle has played for me several times; that's what I like bes_bout Madame Merle; she has great facility. I shall never have facility. An_'ve no voice—just a small sound like the squeak of a slate-pencil makin_lourishes."
  • Isabel gratified this respectful wish, drew off her gloves and sat down to th_iano, while Pansy, standing beside her, watched her white hands move quickl_ver the keys. When she stopped she kissed the child good-bye, held her close,
  • looked at her long. "Be very good," she said; "give pleasure to your father."
  • "I think that's what I live for," Pansy answered. "He has not much pleasure;
  • he's rather a sad man."
  • Isabel listened to this assertion with an interest which she felt it almost _orment to be obliged to conceal. It was her pride that obliged her, and _ertain sense of decency; there were still other things in her head which sh_elt a strong impulse, instantly checked, to say to Pansy about her father;
  • there were things it would have given her pleasure to hear the child, to mak_he child, say. But she no sooner became conscious of these things than he_magination was hushed with horror at the idea of taking advantage of th_ittle girl—it was of this she would have accused herself—and of exhaling int_hat air where he might still have a subtle sense for it any breath of he_harmed state. She had come—she had come; but she had stayed only an hour. Sh_ose quickly from the music-stool; even then, however, she lingered a moment,
  • still holding her small companion, drawing the child's sweet slimness close_nd looking down at her almost in envy. She was obliged to confess it t_erself—she would have taken a passionate pleasure in talking of Gilber_smond to this innocent, diminutive creature who was so near him. But she sai_o other word; she only kissed Pansy once again. They went together throug_he vestibule, to the door that opened on the court; and there her youn_ostess stopped, looking rather wistfully beyond. "I may go no further. I'v_romised papa not to pass this door."
  • "You're right to obey him; he'll never ask you anything unreasonable."
  • "I shall always obey him. But when will you come again?"
  • "Not for a long time, I'm afraid."
  • "As soon as you can, I hope. I'm only a little girl," said Pansy, "but I shal_lways expect you." And the small figure stood in the high, dark doorway,
  • watching Isabel cross the clear, grey court and disappear into the brightnes_eyond the big portone, which gave a wider dazzle as it opened.