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Chapter 39

  • It will probably not surprise the reflective reader that Ralph Touchett shoul_ave seen less of his cousin since her marriage than he had done before tha_vent—an event of which he took such a view as could hardly prove _onfirmation of intimacy. He had uttered his thought, as we know, and afte_his had held his peace, Isabel not having invited him to resume a discussio_hich marked an era in their relations. That discussion had made _ifference—the difference he feared rather than the one he hoped. It had no_hilled the girl's zeal in carrying out her engagement, but it had com_angerously near to spoiling a friendship. No reference was ever again mad_etween them to Ralph's opinion of Gilbert Osmond, and by surrounding thi_opic with a sacred silence they managed to preserve a semblance of reciproca_rankness. But there was a difference, as Ralph often said to himself—ther_as a difference. She had not forgiven him, she never would forgive him: tha_as all he had gained. She thought she had forgiven him; she believed sh_idn't care; and as she was both very generous and very proud thes_onvictions represented a certain reality. But whether or no the event shoul_ustify him he would virtually have done her a wrong, and the wrong was of th_ort that women remember best. As Osmond's wife she could never again be hi_riend. If in this character she should enjoy the felicity she expected, sh_ould have nothing but contempt for the man who had attempted, in advance, t_ndermine a blessing so dear; and if on the other hand his warning should b_ustified the vow she had taken that he should never know it would lay upo_er spirit such a burden as to make her hate him. So dismal had been, durin_he year that followed his cousin's marriage, Ralph's prevision of the future; and if his meditations appear morbid we must remember he was not in the bloo_f health. He consoled himself as he might by behaving (as he deemed) beautifully, and was present at the ceremony by which Isabel was united to Mr.
  • Osmond, and which was performed in Florence in the month of June. He learne_rom his mother that Isabel at first had thought of celebrating her nuptial_n her native land, but that as simplicity was what she chiefly desired t_ecure she had finally decided, in spite of Osmond's professed willingness t_ake a journey of any length, that this characteristic would be best embodie_n their being married by the nearest clergyman in the shortest time. Th_hing was done therefore at the little American chapel, on a very hot day, i_he presence only of Mrs. Touchett and her son, of Pansy Osmond and th_ountess Gemini. That severity in the proceedings of which I just spoke was i_art the result of the absence of two persons who might have been looked fo_n the occasion and who would have lent it a certain richness. Madame Merl_ad been invited, but Madame Merle, who was unable to leave Rome, had writte_ gracious letter of excuses. Henrietta Stackpole had not been invited, as he_eparture from America, announced to Isabel by Mr. Goodwood, was in fac_rustrated by the duties of her profession; but she had sent a letter, les_racious than Madame Merle's, intimating that, had she been able to cross th_tlantic, she would have been present not only as a witness but as a critic.
  • Her return to Europe had taken place somewhat later, and she had effected _eeting with Isabel in the autumn, in Paris, when she had indulged—perhaps _rifle too freely—her critical genius. Poor Osmond, who was chiefly th_ubject of it, had protested so sharply that Henrietta was obliged to declar_o Isabel that she had taken a step which put a barrier between them. "I_sn't in the least that you've married—it is that you have married HIM," sh_ad deemed it her duty to remark; agreeing, it will be seen, much more wit_alph Touchett than she suspected, though she had few of his hesitations an_ompunctions. Henrietta's second visit to Europe, however, was not apparentl_o have been made in vain; for just at the moment when Osmond had declared t_sabel that he really must object to that newspaper-woman, and Isabel ha_nswered that it seemed to her he took Henrietta too hard, the good Mr.
  • Bantling had appeared upon the scene and proposed that they should take a ru_own to Spain. Henrietta's letters from Spain had proved the most acceptabl_he had yet published, and there had been one in especial, dated from th_lhambra and entitled 'Moors and Moonlight,' which generally passed for he_asterpiece. Isabel had been secretly disappointed at her husband's not seein_is way simply to take the poor girl for funny. She even wondered if his sens_f fun, or of the funny—which would be his sense of humour, wouldn't it?—wer_y chance defective. Of course she herself looked at the matter as a perso_hose present happiness had nothing to grudge to Henrietta's violate_onscience. Osmond had thought their alliance a kind of monstrosity; h_ouldn't imagine what they had in common. For him, Mr. Bantling's fello_ourist was simply the most vulgar of women, and he had also pronounced he_he most abandoned. Against this latter clause of the verdict Isabel ha_ppealed with an ardour that had made him wonder afresh at the oddity of som_f his wife's tastes. Isabel could explain it only by saying that she liked t_now people who were as different as possible from herself. "Why then don'_ou make the acquaintance of your washerwoman?" Osmond had enquired; to whic_sabel had answered that she was afraid her washerwoman wouldn't care for her.
  • Now Henrietta cared so much.
  • Ralph had seen nothing of her for the greater part of the two years that ha_ollowed her marriage; the winter that formed the beginning of her residenc_n Rome he had spent again at San Remo, where he had been joined in the sprin_y his mother, who afterwards had gone with him to England, to see what the_ere doing at the bank—an operation she couldn't induce him to perform. Ralp_ad taken a lease of his house at San Remo, a small villa which he ha_ccupied still another winter; but late in the month of April of this secon_ear he had come down to Rome. It was the first time since her marriage tha_e had stood face to face with Isabel; his desire to see her again was then o_he keenest. She had written to him from time to time, but her letters tol_im nothing he wanted to know. He had asked his mother what she was making o_er life, and his mother had simply answered that she supposed she was makin_he best of it. Mrs. Touchett had not the imagination that communes with th_nseen, and she now pretended to no intimacy with her niece, whom she rarel_ncountered. This young woman appeared to be living in a sufficientl_onourable way, but Mrs. Touchett still remained of the opinion that he_arriage had been a shabby affair. It had given her no pleasure to think o_sabel's establishment, which she was sure was a very lame business. From tim_o time, in Florence, she rubbed against the Countess Gemini, doing her bes_lways to minimise the contact; and the Countess reminded her of Osmond, wh_ade her think of Isabel. The Countess was less talked of in these days; bu_rs. Touchett augured no good of that: it only proved how she had been talke_f before. There was a more direct suggestion of Isabel in the person o_adame Merle; but Madame Merle's relations with Mrs. Touchett had undergone _erceptible change. Isabel's aunt had told her, without circumlocution, tha_he had played too ingenious a part; and Madame Merle, who never quarrelle_ith any one, who appeared to think no one worth it, and who had performed th_iracle of living, more or less, for several years with Mrs. Touchett an_howing no symptom of irritation—Madame Merle now took a very high tone an_eclared that this was an accusation from which she couldn't stoop to defen_erself. She added, however (without stooping), that her behaviour had bee_nly too simple, that she had believed only what she saw, that she saw Isabe_as not eager to marry and Osmond not eager to please (his repeated visits ha_een nothing; he was boring himself to death on his hill-top and he cam_erely for amusement). Isabel had kept her sentiments to herself, and he_ourney to Greece and Egypt had effectually thrown dust in her companion'_yes. Madame Merle accepted the event—she was unprepared to think of it as _candal; but that she had played any part in it, double or single, was a_mputation against which she proudly protested. It was doubtless i_onsequence of Mrs. Touchett's attitude, and of the injury it offered t_abits consecrated by many charming seasons, that Madame Merle had, afte_his, chosen to pass many months in England, where her credit was quit_nimpaired. Mrs. Touchett had done her a wrong; there are some things tha_an't be forgiven. But Madame Merle suffered in silence; there was alway_omething exquisite in her dignity.
  • Ralph, as I say, had wished to see for himself; but while engaged in thi_ursuit he had yet felt afresh what a fool he had been to put the girl on he_uard. He had played the wrong card, and now he had lost the game. He shoul_ee nothing, he should learn nothing; for him she would always wear a mask.
  • His true line would have been to profess delight in her union, so that later, when, as Ralph phrased it, the bottom should fall out of it, she might hav_he pleasure of saying to him that he had been a goose. He would gladly hav_onsented to pass for a goose in order to know Isabel's real situation. A_resent, however, she neither taunted him with his fallacies nor pretende_hat her own confidence was justified; if she wore a mask it completel_overed her face. There was something fixed and mechanical in the serenit_ainted on it; this was not an expression, Ralph said— it was _epresentation, it was even an advertisement. She had lost her child; that wa_ sorrow, but it was a sorrow she scarcely spoke of; there was more to sa_bout it than she could say to Ralph. It belonged to the past, moreover; i_ad occurred six months before and she had already laid aside the tokens o_ourning. She appeared to be leading the life of the world; Ralph heard he_poken of as having a "charming position." He observed that she produced th_mpression of being peculiarly enviable, that it was supposed, among man_eople, to be a privilege even to know her. Her house was not open to ever_ne, and she had an evening in the week to which people were not invited as _atter of course. She lived with a certain magnificence, but you needed to b_ member of her circle to perceive it; for there was nothing to gape at, nothing to criticise, nothing even to admire, in the daily proceedings of Mr.
  • and Mrs. Osmond. Ralph, in all this, recognised the hand of the master; for h_new that Isabel had no faculty for producing studied impressions. She struc_im as having a great love of movement, of gaiety, of late hours, of lon_ides, of fatigue; an eagerness to be entertained, to be interested, even t_e bored, to make acquaintances, to see people who were talked about, t_xplore the neighbourhood of Rome, to enter into relation with certain of th_ustiest relics of its old society. In all this there was much les_iscrimination than in that desire for comprehensiveness of development o_hich he had been used to exercise his wit. There was a kind of violence i_ome of her impulses, of crudity in some of her experiments, which took him b_urprise: it seemed to him that she even spoke faster, moved faster, breathe_aster, than before her marriage. Certainly she had fallen int_xaggerations—she who used to care so much for the pure truth; and whereas o_ld she had a great delight in good-humoured argument, in intellectual play (she never looked so charming as when in the genial heat of discussion sh_eceived a crushing blow full in the face and brushed it away as a feather), she appeared now to think there was nothing worth people's either differin_bout or agreeing upon. Of old she had been curious, and now she wa_ndifferent, and yet in spite of her indifference her activity was greate_han ever. Slender still, but lovelier than before, she had gained no grea_aturity of aspect; yet there was an amplitude and a brilliancy in he_ersonal arrangements that gave a touch of insolence to her beauty. Poo_uman-hearted Isabel, what perversity had bitten her? Her light step drew _ass of drapery behind it; her intelligent head sustained a majesty o_rnament. The free, keen girl had become quite another person; what he saw wa_he fine lady who was supposed to represent something. What did Isabe_epresent? Ralph asked himself; and he could only answer by saying that sh_epresented Gilbert Osmond. "Good heavens, what a function!" he then woefull_xclaimed. He was lost in wonder at the mystery of things.
  • He recognised Osmond, as I say; he recognised him at every turn. He saw how h_ept all things within limits; how he adjusted, regulated, animated thei_anner of life. Osmond was in his element; at last he had material to wor_ith. He always had an eye to effect, and his effects were deeply calculated.
  • They were produced by no vulgar means, but the motive was as vulgar as the ar_as great. To surround his interior with a sort of invidious sanctity, t_antalise society with a sense of exclusion, to make people believe his hous_as different from every other, to impart to the face that he presented to th_orld a cold originality—this was the ingenious effort of the personage t_hom Isabel had attributed a superior morality. "He works with superio_aterial," Ralph said to himself; "it's rich abundance compared with hi_ormer resources." Ralph was a clever man; but Ralph had never—to his ow_ense—been so clever as when he observed, in petto, that under the guise o_aring only for intrinsic values Osmond lived exclusively for the world. Fa_rom being its master as he pretended to be, he was its very humble servant, and the degree of its attention was his only measure of success. He lived wit_is eye on it from morning till night, and the world was so stupid it neve_uspected the trick. Everything he did was pose—pose so subtly considered tha_f one were not on the lookout one mistook it for impulse. Ralph had never me_ man who lived so much in the land of consideration. His tastes, his studies, his accomplishments, his collections, were all for a purpose. His life on hi_ill-top at Florence had been the conscious attitude of years. His solitude, his ennui, his love for his daughter, his good manners, his bad manners, wer_o many features of a mental image constantly present to him as a model o_mpertinence and mystification. His ambition was not to please the world, bu_o please himself by exciting the world's curiosity and then declining t_atisfy it. It had made him feel great, ever, to play the world a trick. Th_hing he had done in his life most directly to please himself was his marryin_iss Archer; though in this case indeed the gullible world was in a manne_mbodied in poor Isabel, who had been mystified to the top of her bent. Ralp_f course found a fitness in being consistent; he had embraced a creed, and a_e had suffered for it he could not in honour forsake it. I give this littl_ketch of its articles for what they may at the time have been worth. It wa_ertain that he was very skilful in fitting the facts to his theory—even th_act that during the month he spent in Rome at this period the husband of th_oman he loved appeared to regard him not in the least as an enemy.
  • For Gilbert Osmond Ralph had not now that importance. It was not that he ha_he importance of a friend; it was rather that he had none at all. He wa_sabel's cousin and he was rather unpleasantly ill—it was on this basis tha_smond treated with him. He made the proper enquiries, asked about his health, about Mrs. Touchett, about his opinion of winter climates, whether he wer_omfortable at his hotel. He addressed him, on the few occasions of thei_eeting, not a word that was not necessary; but his manner had always th_rbanity proper to conscious success in the presence of conscious failure. Fo_ll this, Ralph had had, toward the end, a sharp inward vision of Osmond'_aking it of small ease to his wife that she should continue to receive Mr.
  • Touchett. He was not jealous—he had not that excuse; no one could be jealou_f Ralph. But he made Isabel pay for her old-time kindness, of which so muc_as still left; and as Ralph had no idea of her paying too much, so when hi_uspicion had become sharp, he had taken himself off. In doing so he ha_eprived Isabel of a very interesting occupation: she had been constantl_ondering what fine principle was keeping him alive. She had decided that i_as his love of conversation; his conversation had been better than ever. H_ad given up walking; be was no longer a humorous stroller. He sat all day i_ chair —almost any chair would serve, and was so dependent on what you woul_o for him that, had not his talk been highly contemplative, you might hav_hought he was blind. The reader already knows more about him than Isabel wa_ver to know, and the reader may therefore be given the key to the mystery.
  • What kept Ralph alive was simply the fact that he had not yet seen enough o_he person in the world in whom he was most interested: he was not ye_atisfied. There was more to come; he couldn't make up his mind to lose that.
  • He wanted to see what she would make of her husband—or what her husband woul_ake of her. This was only the first act of the drama, and he was determine_o sit out the performance. His determination had held good; it had kept hi_oing some eighteen months more, till the time of his return to Rome with Lor_arburton. It had given him indeed such an air of intending to liv_ndefinitely that Mrs. Touchett, though more accessible to confusions o_hought in the matter of this strange, unremunerative—and unremunerated—son o_ers than she had ever been before, had, as we have learned, not scrupled t_mbark for a distant land. If Ralph had been kept alive by suspense it wa_ith a good deal of the same emotion—the excitement of wondering in what stat_he should find him—that Isabel mounted to his apartment the day after Lor_arburton had notified her of his arrival in Rome.
  • She spent an hour with him; it was the first of several visits. Gilbert Osmon_alled on him punctually, and on their sending their carriage for him Ralp_ame more than once to Palazzo Roccanera. A fortnight elapsed, at the end o_hich Ralph announced to Lord Warburton that he thought after all he wouldn'_o to Sicily. The two men had been dining together after a day spent by th_atter in ranging about the Campagna. They had left the table, and Warburton, before the chimney, was lighting a cigar, which he instantly removed from hi_ips.
  • "Won't go to Sicily? Where then will you go?"
  • "Well, I guess I won't go anywhere," said Ralph, from the sofa, al_hamelessly.
  • "Do you mean you'll return to England?"
  • "Oh dear no; I'll stay in Rome."
  • "Rome won't do for you. Rome's not warm enough."
  • "It will have to do. I'll make it do. See how well I've been."
  • Lord Warburton looked at him a while, puffing a cigar and as if trying to se_t. "You've been better than you were on the journey, certainly. I wonder ho_ou lived through that. But I don't understand your condition. I recommend yo_o try Sicily."
  • "I can't try," said poor Ralph. "I've done trying. I can't move further. _an't face that journey. Fancy me between Scylla and Charybdis! I don't wan_o die on the Sicilian plains—to be snatched away, like Proserpine in the sam_ocality, to the Plutonian shades."
  • "What the deuce then did you come for?" his lordship enquired.
  • "Because the idea took me. I see it won't do. It really doesn't matter where _m now. I've exhausted all remedies, I've swallowed all climates. As I'm her_'ll stay. I haven't a single cousin in Sicily—much less a married one."
  • "Your cousin's certainly an inducement. But what does the doctor say?"
  • "I haven't asked him, and I don't care a fig. If I die here Mrs. Osmond wil_ury me. But I shall not die here."
  • "I hope not." Lord Warburton continued to smoke reflectively. "Well, I mus_ay," he resumed, "for myself I'm very glad you don't insist on Sicily. I ha_ horror of that journey."
  • "Ah, but for you it needn't have mattered. I had no idea of dragging you in m_rain."
  • "I certainly didn't mean to let you go alone."
  • "My dear Warburton, I never expected you to come further than this," Ralp_ried.
  • "I should have gone with you and seen you settled," said Lord Warburton.
  • "You're a very good Christian. You're a very kind man."
  • "Then I should have come back here."
  • "And then you'd have gone to England."
  • "No, no; I should have stayed."
  • "Well," said Ralph, "if that's what we are both up to, I don't see wher_icily comes in!"
  • His companion was silent; he sat staring at the fire. At last, looking up, "_ay, tell me this," he broke out; "did you really mean to go to Sicily when w_tarted?"
  • "Ah, vous m'en demandez trop! Let me put a question first. Did you come wit_e quite—platonically?"
  • "I don't know what you mean by that. I wanted to come abroad."
  • "I suspect we've each been playing our little game."
  • "Speak for yourself. I made no secret whatever of my desiring to be here _hile."
  • "Yes, I remember you said you wished to see the Minister of Foreign Affairs."
  • "I've seen him three times. He's very amusing."
  • "I think you've forgotten what you came for," said Ralph.
  • "Perhaps I have," his companion answered rather gravely.
  • These two were gentlemen of a race which is not distinguished by the absenc_f reserve, and they had travelled together from London to Rome without a_llusion to matters that were uppermost in the mind of each. There was an ol_ubject they had once discussed, but it had lost its recognised place in thei_ttention, and even after their arrival in Rome, where many things led back t_t, they had kept the same half-diffident, half-confident silence.
  • "I recommend you to get the doctor's consent, all the same," Lord Warburto_ent on, abruptly, after an interval.
  • "The doctor's consent will spoil it. I never have it when I can help it."
  • "What then does Mrs. Osmond think?" Ralph's friend demanded. I've not tol_er. She'll probably say that Rome's too cold and even offer to go with me t_atania. She's capable of that."
  • "In your place I should like it."
  • "Her husband won't like it."
  • "Ah well, I can fancy that; though it seems to me you're not bound to mind hi_ikings. They're his affair."
  • "I don't want to make any more trouble between them," said Ralph.
  • "Is there so much already?"
  • "There's complete preparation for it. Her going off with me would make th_xplosion. Osmond isn't fond of his wife's cousin."
  • "Then of course he'd make a row. But won't he make a row if you stop here?"
  • "That's what I want to see. He made one the last time I was in Rome, and the_ thought it my duty to disappear. Now I think it's my duty to stop and defen_er."
  • "My dear Touchett, your defensive powers—!" Lord Warburton began with a smile.
  • But he saw something in his companion's face that checked him. "Your duty, i_hese premises, seems to me rather a nice question," he observed instead.
  • Ralph for a short time answered nothing. "It's true that my defensive power_re small," he returned at last; "but as my aggressive ones are still smalle_smond may after all not think me worth his gunpowder. At any rate," he added,
  • "there are things I'm curious to see."
  • "You're sacrificing your health to your curiosity then?"
  • "I'm not much interested in my health, and I'm deeply interested in Mrs.
  • Osmond."
  • "So am I. But not as I once was," Lord Warburton added quickly. This was on_f the allusions he had not hitherto found occasion to make.
  • "Does she strike you as very happy?" Ralph enquired, emboldened by thi_onfidence.
  • "Well, I don't know; I've hardly thought. She told me the other night she wa_appy."
  • "Ah, she told YOU, of course," Ralph exclaimed, smiling.
  • "I don't know that. It seems to me I was rather the sort of person she migh_ave complained to."
  • "Complained? She'll never complain. She has done it—what she HAS done—and sh_nows it. She'll complain to you least of all. She's very careful."
  • "She needn't be. I don't mean to make love to her again."
  • "I'm delighted to hear it. There can be no doubt at least of YOUR duty."
  • "Ah no," said Lord Warburton gravely; "none!"
  • "Permit me to ask," Ralph went on, "whether it's to bring out the fact tha_ou don't mean to make love to her that you're so very civil to the littl_irl?"
  • Lord Warburton gave a slight start; he got up and stood before the fire, looking at it hard. "Does that strike you as very ridiculous?"
  • "Ridiculous? Not in the least, if you really like her."
  • "I think her a delightful little person. I don't know when a girl of that ag_as pleased me more."
  • "She's a charming creature. Ah, she at least is genuine."
  • "Of course there's the difference in our ages—more than twenty years."
  • "My dear Warburton," said Ralph, "are you serious?"
  • "Perfectly serious—as far as I've got."
  • "I'm very glad. And, heaven help us," cried Ralph, "how cheered-up old Osmon_ill be!"
  • His companion frowned. "I say, don't spoil it. I shouldn't propose for hi_aughter to please HIM."
  • "He'll have the perversity to be pleased all the same."
  • "He's not so fond of me as that," said his lordship.
  • "As that? My dear Warburton, the drawback of your position is that peopl_eedn't be fond of you at all to wish to be connected with you. Now, with m_n such a case, I should have the happy confidence that they loved me."
  • Lord Warburton seemed scarcely in the mood for doing justice to genera_xioms—he was thinking of a special case. "Do you judge she'll be pleased?"
  • "The girl herself? Delighted, surely."
  • "No, no; I mean Mrs. Osmond."
  • Ralph looked at him a moment. "My dear fellow, what has she to do with it?"
  • "Whatever she chooses. She's very fond of Pansy."
  • "Very true—very true." And Ralph slowly got up. "It's an interestin_uestion—how far her fondness for Pansy will carry her." He stood there _oment with his hands in his pockets and rather a clouded brow. "I hope, yo_now, that you're very—very sure. The deuce!" he broke off. "I don't know ho_o say it."
  • "Yes, you do; you know how to say everything."
  • "Well, it's awkward. I hope you're sure that among Miss Osmond's merits he_eing—a—so near her stepmother isn't a leading one?"
  • "Good heavens, Touchett!" cried Lord Warburton angrily, "for what do you tak_e?"