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Chapter 51

  • The Countess was not banished, but she felt the insecurity of her tenure o_er brother's hospitality. A week after this incident Isabel received _elegram from England, dated from Gardencourt and bearing the stamp of Mrs.
  • Touchett's authorship. "Ralph cannot last many days," it ran, "and i_onvenient would like to see you. Wishes me to say that you must come only i_ou've not other duties. Say, for myself, that you used to talk a good dea_bout your duty and to wonder what it was; shall be curious to see whethe_ou've found it out. Ralph is really dying, and there's no other company."
  • Isabel was prepared for this news, having received from Henrietta Stackpole _etailed account of her journey to England with her appreciative patient.
  • Ralph had arrived more dead than alive, but she had managed to convey him t_ardencourt, where he had taken to his bed, which, as Miss Stackpole wrote, h_vidently would never leave again. She added that she had really had tw_atients on her hands instead of one, inasmuch as Mr. Goodwood, who had bee_f no earthly use, was quite as ailing, in a different way, as Mr. Touchett.
  • Afterwards she wrote that she had been obliged to surrender the field to Mrs.
  • Touchett, who had just returned from America and had promptly given her t_nderstand that she didn't wish any interviewing at Gardencourt. Isabel ha_ritten to her aunt shortly after Ralph came to Rome, letting her know of hi_ritical condition and suggesting that she should lose no time in returning t_urope. Mrs. Touchett had telegraphed an acknowledgement of this admonition, and the only further news Isabel received from her was the second telegram _ave just quoted.
  • Isabel stood a moment looking at the latter missive; then, thrusting it int_er pocket, she went straight to the door of her husband's study. Here sh_gain paused an instant, after which she opened the door and went in. Osmon_as seated at the table near the window with a folio volume before him, propped against a pile of books. This volume was open at a page of smal_oloured plates, and Isabel presently saw that he had been copying from it th_rawing of an antique coin. A box of water-colours and fine brushes lay befor_im, and he had already transferred to a sheet of immaculate paper th_elicate, finely-tinted disk. His back was turned toward the door, but h_ecognised his wife without looking round.
  • "Excuse me for disturbing you," she said.
  • "When I come to your room I always knock," he answered, going on with hi_ork.
  • "I forgot; I had something else to think of. My cousin's dying."
  • "Ah, I don't believe that," said Osmond, looking at his drawing through _agnifying glass. "He was dying when we married; he'll outlive us all."
  • Isabel gave herself no time, no thought, to appreciate the careful cynicism o_his declaration; she simply went on quickly, full of her own intention "M_unt has telegraphed for me; I must go to Gardencourt."
  • "Why must you go to Gardencourt?" Osmond asked in the tone of impartia_uriosity.
  • "To see Ralph before he dies."
  • To this, for some time, he made no rejoinder; he continued to give his chie_ttention to his work, which was of a sort that would brook no negligence. "_on't see the need of it," he said at last. "He came to see you here. I didn'_ike that; I thought his being in Rome a great mistake. But I tolerated i_ecause it was to be the last time you should see him. Now you tell me it'_ot to have been the last. Ah, you're not grateful!"
  • "What am I to be grateful for?"
  • Gilbert Osmond laid down his little implements, blew a speck of dust from hi_rawing, slowly got up, and for the first time looked at his wife. "For my no_aving interfered while he was here."
  • "Oh yes, I am. I remember perfectly how distinctly you let me know you didn'_ike it. I was very glad when he went away."
  • "Leave him alone then. Don't run after him."
  • Isabel turned her eyes away from him; they rested upon his little drawing. "_ust go to England," she said, with a full consciousness that her tone migh_trike an irritable man of taste as stupidly obstinate.
  • "I shall not like it if you do," Osmond remarked.
  • "Why should I mind that? You won't like it if I don't. You like nothing I d_r don't do. You pretend to think I lie."
  • Osmond turned slightly pale; he gave a cold smile. "That's why you must g_hen? Not to see your cousin, but to take a revenge on me."
  • "I know nothing about revenge."
  • "I do," said Osmond. "Don't give me an occasion."
  • "You're only too eager to take one. You wish immensely that I would commi_ome folly."
  • "I should be gratified in that case if you disobeyed me."
  • "If I disobeyed you?" said Isabel in a low tone which had the effect o_ildness.
  • "Let it be clear. If you leave Rome to-day it will be a piece of the mos_eliberate, the most calculated, opposition."
  • "How can you call it calculated? I received my aunt's telegram but thre_inutes ago."
  • "You calculate rapidly; it's a great accomplishment. I don't see why we shoul_rolong our discussion; you know my wish." And he stood there as if h_xpected to see her withdraw.
  • But she never moved; she couldn't move, strange as it may seem; she stil_ished to justify herself; he had the power, in an extraordinary degree, o_aking her feel this need. There was something in her imagination he coul_lways appeal to against her judgement. "You've no reason for such a wish,"
  • said Isabel, "and I've every reason for going. I can't tell you how unjust yo_eem to me. But I think you know. It's your own opposition that's calculated.
  • It's malignant."
  • She had never uttered her worst thought to her husband before, and th_ensation of hearing it was evidently new to Osmond. But he showed n_urprise, and his coolness was apparently a proof that he had believed hi_ife would in fact be unable to resist for ever his ingenious endeavour t_raw her out. "It's all the more intense then," he answered. And he adde_lmost as if he were giving her a friendly counsel: "This is a very importan_atter." She recognised that; she was fully conscious of the weight of th_ccasion; she knew that between them they had arrived at a crisis. Its gravit_ade her careful; she said nothing, and he went on. "You say I've no reason? _ave the very best. I dislike, from the bottom of my soul, what you intend t_o. It's dishonourable; it's indelicate; it's indecent. Your cousin is nothin_hatever to me, and I'm under no obligation to make concessions to him. I'v_lready made the very handsomest. Your relations with him, while he was here, kept me on pins and needles; but I let that pass, because from week to week _xpected him to go. I've never liked him and he has never liked me. That's wh_ou like him—because he hates me," said Osmond with a quick, barely audibl_remor in his voice. "I've an ideal of what my wife should do and should no_o. She should not travel across Europe alone, in defiance of my deepes_esire, to sit at the bedside of other men. Your cousin's nothing to you; he'_othing to us. You smile most expressively when I talk about US, but I assur_ou that WE, WE, Mrs. Osmond, is all I know. I take our marriage seriously; you appear to have found a way of not doing so. I'm not aware that we'r_ivorced or separated; for me we're indissolubly united. You are nearer to m_han any human creature, and I'm nearer to you. It may be a disagreeabl_roximity; it's one, at any rate, of our own deliberate making. You don't lik_o be reminded of that, I know; but I'm perfectly willing, because—because—"
  • And he paused a moment, looking as if he had something to say which would b_ery much to the point. "Because I think we should accept the consequences o_ur actions, and what I value most in life is the honour of a thing!"
  • He spoke gravely and almost gently; the accent of sarcasm had dropped out o_is tone. It had a gravity which checked his wife's quick emotion; th_esolution with which she had entered the room found itself caught in a mes_f fine threads. His last words were not a command, they constituted a kind o_ppeal; and, though she felt that any expression of respect on his part coul_nly be a refinement of egotism, they represented something transcendent an_bsolute, like the sign of the cross or the flag of one's country. He spoke i_he name of something sacred and precious—the observance of a magnificen_orm. They were as perfectly apart in feeling as two disillusioned lovers ha_ver been; but they had never yet separated in act. Isabel had not changed; her old passion for justice still abode within her; and now, in the very thic_f her sense of her husband's blasphemous sophistry, it began to throb to _une which for a moment promised him the victory. It came over her that in hi_ish to preserve appearances he was after all sincere, and that this, as fa_s it went, was a merit. Ten minutes before she had felt all the joy o_rreflective action—a joy to which she had so long been a stranger; but actio_ad been suddenly changed to slow renunciation, transformed by the blight o_smond's touch. If she must renounce, however, she would let him know she wa_ victim rather than a dupe. "I know you're a master of the art of mockery,"
  • she said. "How can you speak of an indissoluble union —how can you speak o_our being contented? Where's our union when you accuse me of falsity? Where'_our contentment when you have nothing but hideous suspicion in your heart?"
  • "It is in our living decently together, in spite of such drawbacks."
  • "We don't live decently together!" cried Isabel.
  • "Indeed we don't if you go to England."
  • "That's very little; that's nothing. I might do much more."
  • He raised his eyebrows and even his shoulders a little: he had lived lon_nough in Italy to catch this trick. "Ah, if you've come to threaten me _refer my drawing." And he walked back to his table, where he took up th_heet of paper on which he had been working and stood studying it.
  • "I suppose that if I go you'll not expect me to come back," said Isabel.
  • He turned quickly round, and she could see this movement at least was no_esigned. He looked at her a little, and then, "Are you out of your mind?" h_nquired.
  • "How can it be anything but a rupture?" she went on; "especially if all yo_ay is true?" She was unable to see how it could be anything but a rupture; she sincerely wished to know what else it might be.
  • He sat down before his table. "I really can't argue with you on the hypothesi_f your defying me," he said. And he took up one of his little brushes again.
  • She lingered but a moment longer; long enough to embrace with her eye hi_hole deliberately indifferent yet most expressive figure; after which sh_uickly left the room. Her faculties, her energy, her passion, were al_ispersed again; she felt as if a cold, dark mist had suddenly encompasse_er. Osmond possessed in a supreme degree the art of eliciting any weakness.
  • On her way back to her room she found the Countess Gemini standing in the ope_oorway of a little parlour in which a small collection of heterogeneous book_ad been arranged. The Countess had an open volume in her hand; she appeare_o have been glancing down a page which failed to strike her as interesting.
  • At the sound of Isabel's step she raised her head.
  • "Ah my dear," she said, "you, who are so literary, do tell me some amusin_ook to read! Everything here's of a dreariness—! Do you think this would d_e any good?"
  • Isabel glanced at the title of the volume she held out, but without reading o_nderstanding it. "I'm afraid I can't advise you. I've had bad news. M_ousin, Ralph Touchett, is dying."
  • The Countess threw down her book. "Ah, he was so simpatico. I'm awfully sorr_or you."
  • "You would be sorrier still if you knew."
  • "What is there to know? You look very badly," the Countess added. "You mus_ave been with Osmond."
  • Half an hour before Isabel would have listened very coldly to an intimatio_hat she should ever feel a desire for the sympathy of her sister-in-law, an_here can be no better proof of her present embarrassment than the fact tha_he almost clutched at this lady's fluttering attention. "I've been wit_smond," she said, while the Countess's bright eyes glittered at her.
  • "I'm sure then he has been odious!" the Countess cried. "Did he say he wa_lad poor Mr. Touchett's dying?"
  • "He said it's impossible I should go to England."
  • The Countess's mind, when her interests were concerned, was agile; she alread_oresaw the extinction of any further brightness in her visit to Rome. Ralp_ouchett would die, Isabel would go into mourning, and then there would be n_ore dinner-parties. Such a prospect produced for a moment in her countenanc_n expressive grimace; but this rapid, picturesque play of feature was he_nly tribute to disappointment. After all, she reflected, the game was almos_layed out; she had already overstayed her invitation. And then she care_nough for Isabel's trouble to forget her own, and she saw that Isabel'_rouble was deep.
  • It seemed deeper than the mere death of a cousin, and the Countess had n_esitation in connecting her exasperating brother with the expression of he_ister-in-law's eyes. Her heart beat with an almost joyous expectation, for i_he had wished to see Osmond overtopped the conditions looked favourable now.
  • Of course if Isabel should go to England she herself would immediately leav_alazzo Roccanera; nothing would induce her to remain there with Osmond.
  • Nevertheless she felt an immense desire to hear that Isabel would go t_ngland. "Nothing's impossible for you, my dear," she said caressingly. "Wh_lse are you rich and clever and good?"
  • "Why indeed? I feel stupidly weak."
  • "Why does Osmond say it's impossible?" the Countess asked in a tone whic_ufficiently declared that she couldn't imagine.
  • From the moment she thus began to question her, however, Isabel drew back; sh_isengaged her hand, which the Countess had affectionately taken. But sh_nswered this enquiry with frank bitterness. "Because we're so happy togethe_hat we can't separate even for a fortnight."
  • "Ah," cried the Countess while Isabel turned away, "when I want to make _ourney my husband simply tells me I can have no money!"
  • Isabel went to her room, where she walked up and down for an hour. It ma_ppear to some readers that she gave herself much trouble, and it is certai_hat for a woman of a high spirit she had allowed herself easily to b_rrested. It seemed to her that only now she fully measured the grea_ndertaking of matrimony. Marriage meant that in such a case as this, when on_ad to choose, one chose as a matter of course for one's husband. "I'_fraid—yes, I'm afraid," she said to herself more than once, stopping short i_er walk. But what she was afraid of was not her husband—his displeasure, hi_atred, his revenge; it was not even her own later judgement of her conduct _onsideration which had often held her in check; it was simply the violenc_here would be in going when Osmond wished her to remain. A gulf of differenc_ad opened between them, but nevertheless it was his desire that she shoul_tay, it was a horror to him that she should go. She knew the nervous finenes_ith which he could feel an objection. What he thought of her she knew, wha_e was capable of saying to her she had felt; yet they were married, for al_hat, and marriage meant that a woman should cleave to the man with whom, uttering tremendous vows, she had stood at the altar. She sank down on he_ofa at last and buried her head in a pile of cushions.
  • When she raised her head again the Countess Gemini hovered before her. She ha_ome in all unperceived; she had a strange smile on her thin lips and he_hole face had grown in an hour a shining intimation. She lived assuredly, i_ight be said, at the window of her spirit, but now she was leaning far out.
  • "I knocked," she began, "but you didn't answer me. So I ventured in. I've bee_ooking at you for the past five minutes. You're very unhappy."
  • "Yes; but I don't think you can comfort me."
  • "Will you give me leave to try?" And the Countess sat down on the sofa besid_er. She continued to smile, and there was something communicative an_xultant in her expression. She appeared to have a deal to say, and i_ccurred to Isabel for the first time that her sister-in-law might sa_omething really human. She made play with her glittering eyes, in which ther_as an unpleasant fascination. "After all," she soon resumed, "I must tel_ou, to begin with, that I don't understand your state of mind. You seem t_ave so many scruples, so many reasons, so many ties. When I discovered, te_ears ago, that my husband's dearest wish was to make me miserable—of late h_as simply let me alone —ah, it was a wonderful simplification! My poo_sabel, you're not simple enough."
  • "No, I'm not simple enough," said Isabel.
  • "There's something I want you to know," the Countess declared— "because _hink you ought to know it. Perhaps you do; perhaps you've guessed it. But i_ou have, all I can say is that I understand still less why you shouldn't d_s you like."
  • "What do you wish me to know?" Isabel felt a foreboding that made her hear_eat faster. The Countess was about to justify herself, and this alone wa_ortentous.
  • But she was nevertheless disposed to play a little with her subject. "In you_lace I should have guessed it ages ago. Have you never really suspected?"
  • "I've guessed nothing. What should I have suspected? I don't know what yo_ean."
  • "That's because you've such a beastly pure mind. I never saw a woman with suc_ pure mind!" cried the Countess.
  • Isabel slowly got up. "You're going to tell me something horrible."
  • "You can call it by whatever name you will!" And the Countess rose also, whil_er gathered perversity grew vivid and dreadful. She stood a moment in a sor_f glare of intention and, as seemed to Isabel even then, of ugliness; afte_hich she said: "My first sister-in-law had no children."
  • Isabel stared back at her; the announcement was an anticlimax. "Your firs_ister-in-law?"
  • "I suppose you know at least, if one may mention it, that Osmond has bee_arried before! I've never spoken to you of his wife; I thought it mightn't b_ecent or respectful. But others, less particular, must have done so. The poo_ittle woman lived hardly three years and died childless. It wasn't till afte_er death that Pansy arrived."
  • Isabel's brow had contracted to a frown; her lips were parted in pale, vagu_onder. She was trying to follow; there seemed so much more to follow than sh_ould see. "Pansy's not my husband's child then?"
  • "Your husband's—in perfection! But no one else's husband's. Some one else'_ife's. Ah, my good Isabel," cried the Countess, "with you one must dot one'_'s!"
  • "I don't understand. Whose wife's?" Isabel asked.
  • "The wife of a horrid little Swiss who died—how long?—a dozen, more tha_ifteen, years ago. He never recognised Miss Pansy, nor, knowing what he wa_bout, would have anything to say to her; and there was no reason why h_hould. Osmond did, and that was better; though he had to fit on afterward_he whole rigmarole of his own wife's having died in childbirth, and of hi_aving, in grief and horror, banished the little girl from his sight for a_ong as possible before taking her home from nurse. His wife had really died, you know, of quite another matter and in quite another place: in th_iedmontese mountains, where they had gone, one August, because her healt_ppeared to require the air, but where she was suddenly taken worse— fatall_ll. The story passed, sufficiently; it was covered by the appearances so lon_s nobody heeded, as nobody cared to look into it. But of course _new—without researches," the Countess lucidly proceeded; "as also, you'l_nderstand, without a word said between us—I mean between Osmond and me. Don'_ou see him looking at me, in silence, that way, to settle it?—that is t_ettle ME if I should say anything. I said nothing, right or left—never a wor_o a creature, if you can believe that of me: on my honour, my dear, I spea_f the thing to you now, after all this time, as I've never, never spoken. I_as to be enough for me, from the first, that the child was my niece—from th_oment she was my brother's daughter. As for her veritable mother—!" But wit_his Pansy's wonderful aunt dropped—as, involuntarily, from the impression o_er sister-in-law's face, out of which more eyes might have seemed to look a_er than she had ever had to meet.
  • She had spoken no name, yet Isabel could but check, on her own lips, an ech_f the unspoken. She sank to her seat again, hanging her head. "Why have yo_old me this?" she asked in a voice the Countess hardly recognised.
  • "Because I've been so bored with your not knowing. I've been bored, frankly, my dear, with not having told you; as if, stupidly, all this time I couldn'_ave managed! Ca me depasse, if you don't mind my saying so, the things, al_ound you, that you've appeared to succeed in not knowing. It's a sort o_ssistance—aid to innocent ignorance—that I've always been a bad hand a_endering; and in this connexion, that of keeping quiet for my brother, m_irtue has at any rate finally found itself exhausted. It's not a black lie, moreover, you know," the Countess inimitably added. "The facts are exactl_hat I tell you."
  • "I had no idea," said Isabel presently; and looked up at her in a manner tha_oubtless matched the apparent witlessness of this confession.
  • "So I believed—though it was hard to believe. Had it never occurred to yo_hat he was for six or seven years her lover?"
  • "I don't know. Things HAVE occurred to me, and perhaps that was what they al_eant."
  • "She has been wonderfully clever, she has been magnificent, about Pansy!" th_ountess, before all this view of it, cried.
  • "Oh, no idea, for me," Isabel went on, "ever DEFINITELY took that form." Sh_ppeared to be making out to herself what had been and what hadn't. "And as i_s—I don't understand."
  • She spoke as one troubled and puzzled, yet the poor Countess seemed to hav_een her revelation fall below its possibilities of effect. She had expecte_o kindle some responsive blaze, but had barely extracted a spark. Isabe_howed as scarce more impressed than she might have been, as a young woman o_pproved imagination, with some fine sinister passage of public history.
  • "Don't you recognise how the child could never pass for HER husband's?—that i_ith M. Merle himself," her companion resumed. "They had been separated to_ong for that, and he had gone to some far country—I think to South America.
  • If she had ever had children—which I'm not sure of—she had lost them. Th_onditions happened to make it workable, under stress (I mean at so awkward _inch), that Osmond should acknowledge the little girl. His wife was dead—ver_rue; but she had not been dead too long to put a certain accommodation o_ates out of the question—from the moment, I mean, that suspicion wasn'_tarted; which was what they had to take care of. What was more natural tha_hat poor Mrs. Osmond, at a distance and for a world not troubling abou_rifles, should have left behind her, poverina, the pledge of her brie_appiness that had cost her her life? With the aid of a change o_esidence—Osmond had been living with her at Naples at the time of their sta_n the Alps, and he in due course left it for ever—the whole history wa_uccessfully set going. My poor sister-in-law, in her grave, couldn't hel_erself, and the real mother, to save HER skin, renounced all visible propert_n the child."
  • "Ah, poor, poor woman!" cried Isabel, who herewith burst into tears. It was _ong time since she had shed any; she had suffered a high reaction fro_eeping. But now they flowed with an abundance in which the Countess Gemin_ound only another discomfiture.
  • "It's very kind of you to pity her!" she discordantly laughed. "Yes indeed, you have a way of your own—!"
  • "He must have been false to his wife—and so very soon!" said Isabel with _udden check.
  • "That's all that's wanting—that you should take up her cause!" the Countes_ent on. "I quite agree with you, however, that it was much too soon."
  • "But to me, to me—?" And Isabel hesitated as if she had not heard; as if he_uestion—though it was sufficiently there in her eyes—were all for herself.
  • "To you he has been faithful? Well, it depends, my dear, on what you cal_aithful. When he married you he was no longer the lover of another woman—SUC_ lover as he had been, cara mia, between their risks and their precautions, while the thing lasted! That state of affairs had passed away; the lady ha_epented, or at all events, for reasons of her own, drawn back: she had alway_ad, too, a worship of appearances so intense that even Osmond himself had go_ored with it. You may therefore imagine what it was—when he couldn't patch i_n conveniently to ANY of those he goes in for! But the whole past was betwee_hem."
  • "Yes," Isabel mechanically echoed, "the whole past is between them."
  • "Ah, this later past is nothing. But for six or seven years, as I say, the_ad kept it up."
  • She was silent a little. "Why then did she want him to marry me?"
  • "Ah my dear, that's her superiority! Because you had money; and because sh_elieved you would be good to Pansy."
  • "Poor woman—and Pansy who doesn't like her!" cried Isabel.
  • "That's the reason she wanted some one whom Pansy would like. She knows it; she knows everything."
  • "Will she know that you've told me this?"
  • "That will depend upon whether you tell her. She's prepared for it, and do yo_now what she counts upon for her defence? On your believing that I lie.
  • Perhaps you do; don't make yourself uncomfortable to hide it. Only, as i_appens this time, I don't. I've told plenty of little idiotic fibs, bu_hey've never hurt any one but myself."
  • Isabel sat staring at her companion's story as at a bale of fantastic ware_ome strolling gypsy might have unpacked on the carpet at her feet. "Why di_smond never marry her?" she finally asked.
  • "Because she had no money." The Countess had an answer for everything, and i_he lied she lied well. "No one knows, no one has ever known, what she live_n, or how she has got all those beautiful things. I don't believe Osmon_imself knows. Besides, she wouldn't have married him."
  • "How can she have loved him then?"
  • "She doesn't love him in that way. She did at first, and then, I suppose, sh_ould have married him; but at that time her husband was living. By the tim_. Merle had rejoined—I won't say his ancestors, because he never had any—he_elations with Osmond had changed, and she had grown more ambitious. Besides, she has never had, about him," the Countess went on, leaving Isabel to winc_or it so tragically afterwards—"she HAD never had, what you might call an_llusions of INTELLIGENCE. She hoped she might marry a great man; that ha_lways been her idea. She has waited and watched and plotted and prayed; bu_he has never succeeded. I don't call Madame Merle a success, you know. _on't know what she may accomplish yet, but at present she has very little t_how. The only tangible result she has ever achieved—except, of course, getting to know every one and staying with them free of expense—has been he_ringing you and Osmond together. Oh, she did that, my dear; you needn't loo_s if you doubted it. I've watched them for years; I kno_verything—everything. I'm thought a great scatterbrain, but I've had enoug_pplication of mind to follow up those two. She hates me, and her way o_howing it is to pretend to be for ever defending me. When people say I've ha_ifteen lovers she looks horrified and declares that quite half of them wer_ever proved. She has been afraid of me for years, and she has taken grea_omfort in the vile, false things people have said about me. She has bee_fraid I'd expose her, and she threatened me one day when Osmond began to pa_is court to you. It was at his house in Florence; do you remember tha_fternoon when she brought you there and we had tea in the garden? She let m_now then that if I should tell tales two could play at that game. Sh_retends there's a good deal more to tell about me than about her. It would b_n interesting comparison! I don't care a fig what she may say, simply becaus_ know YOU don't care a fig. You can't trouble your head about me less tha_ou do already. So she may take her revenge as she chooses; I don't thin_he'll frighten you very much. Her great idea has been to be tremendousl_rreproachable—a kind of full-blown lily—the incarnation of propriety. She ha_lways worshipped that god. There should be no scandal about Caesar's wife, you know; and, as I say, she has always hoped to marry Caesar. That was on_eason she wouldn't marry Osmond; the fear that on seeing her with Pans_eople would put things together— would even see a resemblance. She has had _error lest the mother should betray herself. She has been awfully careful; the mother has never done so."
  • "Yes, yes, the mother has done so," said Isabel, who had listened to all thi_ith a face more and more wan. "She betrayed herself to me the other day, though I didn't recognise her. There appeared to have been a chance of Pansy'_aking a great marriage, and in her disappointment at its not coming off sh_lmost dropped the mask."
  • "Ah, that's where she'd dish herself!" cried the Countess. "She has failed s_readfully that she's determined her daughter shall make it up."
  • Isabel started at the words "her daughter," which her guest threw off s_amiliarly. "It seems very wonderful," she murmured; and in this bewilderin_mpression she had almost lost her sense of being personally touched by th_tory.
  • "Now don't go and turn against the poor innocent child!" the Countess went on.
  • "She's very nice, in spite of her deplorable origin. I myself have like_ansy; not, naturally, because she was hers, but because she had becom_ours."
  • "Yes, she has become mine. And how the poor woman must have suffered at seein_e—!" Isabel exclaimed while she flushed at the thought.
  • "I don't believe she has suffered; on the contrary, she has enjoyed. Osmond'_arriage has given his daughter a great little lift. Before that she lived i_ hole. And do you know what the mother thought? That you might take such _ancy to the child that you'd do something for her. Osmond of course coul_ever give her a portion. Osmond was really extremely poor; but of course yo_now all about that. Ah, my dear," cried the Countess, "why did you eve_nherit money?" She stopped a moment as if she saw something singular i_sabel's face. "Don't tell me now that you'll give her a dot. You're capabl_f that, but I would refuse to believe it. Don't try to be too good. Be _ittle easy and natural and nasty; feel a little wicked, for the comfort o_t, once in your life!"
  • "It's very strange. I suppose I ought to know, but I'm sorry," Isabel said.
  • "I'm much obliged to you."
  • "Yes, you seem to be!" cried the Countess with a mocking laugh. "Perhaps yo_re—perhaps you're not. You don't take it as I should have thought."
  • "How should I take it?" Isabel asked.
  • "Well, I should say as a woman who has been made use of." Isabel made n_nswer to this; she only listened, and the Countess went on. "They've alway_een bound to each other; they remained so even after she broke off—or HE did.
  • But he has always been more for her than she has been for him. When thei_ittle carnival was over they made a bargain that each should give the othe_omplete liberty, but that each should also do everything possible to help th_ther on. You may ask me how I know such a thing as that. I know it by the wa_hey've behaved. Now see how much better women are than men! She has found _ife for Osmond, but Osmond has never lifted a little finger for HER. She ha_orked for him, plotted for him, suffered for him; she has even more than onc_ound money for him; and the end of it is that he's tired of her. She's an ol_abit; there are moments when he needs her, but on the whole he wouldn't mis_er if she were removed. And, what's more, today she knows it. So you needn'_e jealous!" the Countess added humorously.
  • Isabel rose from her sofa again; she felt bruised and scant of breath; he_ead was humming with new knowledge. "I'm much obliged to you," she repeated.
  • And then she added abruptly, in quite a different tone: "How do you know al_his?"
  • This enquiry appeared to ruffle the Countess more than Isabel's expression o_ratitude pleased her. She gave her companion a bold stare, with which, "Le_s assume that I've invented it!" she cried. She too, however, suddenl_hanged her tone and, laying her hand on Isabel's arm, said with th_enetration of her sharp bright smile: "Now will you give up your journey?"
  • Isabel started a little; she turned away. But she felt weak and in a momen_ad to lay her arm upon the mantel-shelf for support. She stood a minute so, and then upon her arm she dropped her dizzy head, with closed eyes and pal_ips.
  • "I've done wrong to speak—I've made you ill!" the Countess cried.
  • "Ah, I must see Ralph!" Isabel wailed; not in resentment, not in the quic_assion her companion had looked for; but in a tone of far-reaching, infinit_adness.