The Portrait of a Lady [Volume 1]
Part 6 out of 7
Isabel's second duty. Isabel submitted, but for the present her
imagination was not kindled; she longed for opportunities, but
these were not the opportunities she meant.
Mrs. Touchett rarely changed her plans, and, having intended
before her husband's death to spend a part of the winter in
Paris, saw no reason to deprive herself--still less to deprive
her companion--of this advantage. Though they would live in great
retirement she might still present her niece, informally, to the
little circle of her fellow countrymen dwelling upon the skirts
of the Champs Elysees. With many of these amiable colonists Mrs.
Touchett was intimate; she shared their expatriation, their
convictions, their pastimes, their ennui. Isabel saw them arrive
with a good deal of assiduity at her aunt's hotel, and pronounced
on them with a trenchancy doubtless to be accounted for by the
temporary exaltation of her sense of human duty. She made up her
mind that their lives were, though luxurious, inane, and incurred
some disfavour by expressing this view on bright Sunday
afternoons, when the American absentees were engaged in calling
on each other. Though her listeners passed for people kept
exemplarily genial by their cooks and dressmakers, two or three
of them thought her cleverness, which was generally admitted,
inferior to that of the new theatrical pieces. "You all live here
this way, but what does it lead to?" she was pleased to ask. "It
doesn't seem to lead to anything, and I should think you'd get
very tired of it."
Mrs. Touchett thought the question worthy of Henrietta Stackpole.
The two ladies had found Henrietta in Paris, and Isabel
constantly saw her; so that Mrs. Touchett had some reason for
saying to herself that if her niece were not clever enough to
originate almost anything, she might be suspected of having
borrowed that style of remark from her journalistic friend. The
first occasion on which Isabel had spoken was that of a visit
paid by the two ladies to Mrs. Luce, an old friend of Mrs.
Touchett's and the only person in Paris she now went to see. Mrs.
Luce had been living in Paris since the days of Louis Philippe;
she used to say jocosely that she was one of the generation of
1830--a joke of which the point was not always taken. When it
failed Mrs. Luce used to explain--"Oh yes, I'm one of the
romantics;" her French had never become quite perfect. She was
always at home on Sunday afternoons and surrounded by sympathetic
compatriots, usually the same. In fact she was at home at all
times, and reproduced with wondrous truth in her well-cushioned
little corner of the brilliant city, the domestic tone of her
native Baltimore. This reduced Mr. Luce, her worthy husband, a
tall, lean, grizzled, well-brushed gentleman who wore a gold
eye-glass and carried his hat a little too much on the back of
his head, to mere platonic praise of the "distractions" of Paris
--they were his great word--since you would never have guessed
from what cares he escaped to them. One of them was that he went
every day to the American banker's, where he found a post-office
that was almost as sociable and colloquial an institution as in
an American country town. He passed an hour (in fine weather) in
a chair in the Champs Elysees, and he dined uncommonly well at
his own table, seated above a waxed floor which it was Mrs.
Luce's happiness to believe had a finer polish than any other in
the French capital. Occasionally he dined with a friend or two at
the Cafe Anglais, where his talent for ordering a dinner was a
source of felicity to his companions and an object of admiration
even to the headwaiter of the establishment. These were his only
known pastimes, but they had beguiled his hours for upwards of
half a century, and they doubtless justified his frequent
declaration that there was no place like Paris. In no other
place, on these terms, could Mr. Luce flatter himself that he was
enjoying life. There was nothing like Paris, but it must be
confessed that Mr. Luce thought less highly of this scene of his
dissipations than in earlier days. In the list of his resources
his political reflections should not be omitted, for they were
doubtless the animating principle of many hours that superficially
seemed vacant. Like many of his fellow colonists Mr. Luce was a
high--or rather a deep--conservative, and gave no countenance to
the government lately established in France. He had no faith in
its duration and would assure you from year to year that its end
was close at hand. "They want to be kept down, sir, to be kept
down; nothing but the strong hand--the iron heel--will do for
them," he would frequently say of the French people; and his
ideal of a fine showy clever rule was that of the superseded
Empire. "Paris is much less attractive than in the days of the
Emperor; HE knew how to make a city pleasant," Mr. Luce had often
remarked to Mrs. Touchett, who was quite of his own way of
thinking and wished to know what one had crossed that odious
Atlantic for but to get away from republics.
"Why, madam, sitting in the Champs Elysees, opposite to the
Palace of Industry, I've seen the court-carriages from the
Tuileries pass up and down as many as seven times a day. I
remember one occasion when they went as high as nine. What do you
see now? It's no use talking, the style's all gone. Napoleon knew
what the French people want, and there'll be a dark cloud over
Paris, our Paris, till they get the Empire back again."
Among Mrs. Luce's visitors on Sunday afternoons was a young man
with whom Isabel had had a good deal of conversation and whom she
found full of valuable knowledge. Mr. Edward Rosier--Ned Rosier
as he was called--was native to New York and had been brought up
in Paris, living there under the eye of his father who, as it
happened, had been an early and intimate friend of the late Mr.
Archer. Edward Rosier remembered Isabel as a little girl; it had
been his father who came to the rescue of the small Archers at
the inn at Neufchatel (he was travelling that way with the boy
and had stopped at the hotel by chance), after their bonne had
gone off with the Russian prince and when Mr. Archer's
whereabouts remained for some days a mystery. Isabel remembered
perfectly the neat little male child whose hair smelt of a
delicious cosmetic and who had a bonne all his own, warranted to
lose sight of him under no provocation. Isabel took a walk with
the pair beside the lake and thought little Edward as pretty as
an angel--a comparison by no means conventional in her mind, for
she had a very definite conception of a type of features which
she supposed to be angelic and which her new friend perfectly
illustrated. A small pink face surmounted by a blue velvet bonnet
and set off by a stiff embroidered collar had become the
countenance of her childish dreams; and she had firmly believed
for some time afterwards that the heavenly hosts conversed among
themselves in a queer little dialect of French-English,
expressing the properest sentiments, as when Edward told her that
he was "defended" by his bonne to go near the edge of the lake,
and that one must always obey to one's bonne. Ned Rosier's
English had improved; at least it exhibited in a less degree the
French variation. His father was dead and his bonne dismissed,
but the young man still conformed to the spirit of their teaching
--he never went to the edge of the lake. There was still
something agreeable to the nostrils about him and something not
offensive to nobler organs. He was a very gentle and gracious
youth, with what are called cultivated tastes--an acquaintance
with old china, with good wine, with the bindings of books, with
the Almanach de Gotha, with the best shops, the best hotels, the
hours of railway-trains. He could order a dinner almost as well
as Mr. Luce, and it was probable that as his experience
accumulated he would be a worthy successor to that gentleman,
whose rather grim politics he also advocated in a soft and
innocent voice. He had some charming rooms in Paris, decorated
with old Spanish altar-lace, the envy of his female friends, who
declared that his chimney-piece was better draped than the high
shoulders of many a duchess. He usually, however, spent a part of
every winter at Pau, and had once passed a couple of months in the
He took a great interest in Isabel and remembered perfectly the
walk at Neufchatel, when she would persist in going so near the
edge. He seemed to recognise this same tendency in the subversive
enquiry that I quoted a moment ago, and set himself to answer our
heroine's question with greater urbanity than it perhaps
deserved. "What does it lead to, Miss Archer? Why Paris leads
everywhere. You can't go anywhere unless you come here first.
Every one that comes to Europe has got to pass through. You don't
mean it in that sense so much? You mean what good it does you?
Well, how can you penetrate futurity? How can you tell what lies
ahead? If it's a pleasant road I don't care where it leads. I
like the road, Miss Archer; I like the dear old asphalte. You can't
get tired of it--you can't if you try. You think you would, but
you wouldn't; there's always something new and fresh. Take the
Hotel Drouot, now; they sometimes have three and four sales a
week. Where can you get such things as you can here? In
spite of all they say I maintain they're cheaper too, if you know
the right places. I know plenty of places, but I keep them to
myself. I'll tell you, if you like, as a particular favour; only
you mustn't tell any one else. Don't you go anywhere without
asking me first; I want you to promise me that. As a general
thing avoid the Boulevards; there's very little to be done on the
Boulevards. Speaking conscientiously--sans blague--I don't believe
any one knows Paris better than I. You and Mrs. Touchett must come
and breakfast with me some day, and I'll show you my things; je ne
vous dis que ca! There has been a great deal of talk about London
of late; it's the fashion to cry up London. But there's nothing in
it--you can't do anything in London. No Louis Quinze--nothing of
the First Empire; nothing but their eternal Queen Anne. It's good
for one's bed-room, Queen Anne--for one's washing-room; but it
isn't proper for a salon. Do I spend my life at the auctioneer's?"
Mr. Rosier pursued in answer to another question of Isabel's. "Oh
no; I haven't the means. I wish I had. You think I'm a mere
trifler; I can tell by the expression of your face--you've got a
wonderfully expressive face. I hope you don't mind my saying that;
I mean it as a kind of warning. You think I ought to do something,
and so do I, so long as you leave it vague. But when you come to
the point you see you have to stop. I can't go home and be a
shopkeeper. You think I'm very well fitted? Ah, Miss Archer, you
overrate me. I can buy very well, but I can't sell; you should see
when I sometimes try to get rid of my things. It takes much more
ability to make other people buy than to buy yourself. When I think
how clever they must be, the people who make ME buy! Ah no; I
couldn't be a shopkeeper. I can't be a doctor; it's a repulsive
business. I can't be a clergyman; I haven't got convictions. And
then I can't pronounce the names right in the Bible. They're very
difficult, in the Old Testament particularly. I can't be a lawyer;
I don't understand--how do you call it?--the American procedure. Is
there anything else? There's nothing for a gentleman in America. I
should like to be a diplomatist; but American diplomacy--that's not
for gentlemen either. I'm sure if you had seen the last min--"
Henrietta Stackpole, who was often with her friend when Mr.
Rosier, coming to pay his compliments late in the afternoon,
expressed himself after the fashion I have sketched, usually
interrupted the young man at this point and read him a lecture on
the duties of the American citizen. She thought him most
unnatural; he was worse than poor Ralph Touchett. Henrietta,
however, was at this time more than ever addicted to fine
criticism, for her conscience had been freshly alarmed as regards
Isabel. She had not congratulated this young lady on her
augmentations and begged to be excused from doing so.
"If Mr. Touchett had consulted me about leaving you the money,"
she frankly asserted, "I'd have said to him 'Never!"
"I see," Isabel had answered. "You think it will prove a curse in
disguise. Perhaps it will."
"Leave it to some one you care less for--that's what I should
"To yourself for instance?" Isabel suggested jocosely. And then,
"Do you really believe it will ruin me?" she asked in quite
"I hope it won't ruin you; but it will certainly confirm your
"Do you mean the love of luxury--of extravagance?"
"No, no," said Henrietta; "I mean your exposure on the moral
side. I approve of luxury; I think we ought to be as elegant as
possible. Look at the luxury of our western cities; I've seen
nothing over here to compare with it. I hope you'll never become
grossly sensual; but I'm not afraid of that. The peril for you is
that you live too much in the world of your own dreams. You're
not enough in contact with reality--with the toiling, striving,
suffering, I may even say sinning, world that surrounds you.
You're too fastidious; you've too many graceful illusions. Your
newly-acquired thousands will shut you up more and more to the
society of a few selfish and heartless people who will be
interested in keeping them up."
Isabel's eyes expanded as she gazed at this lurid scene. "What
are my illusions?" she asked. "I try so hard not to have any."
"Well," said Henrietta, "you think you can lead a romantic life,
that you can live by pleasing yourself and pleasing others.
You'll find you're mistaken. Whatever life you lead you must put
your soul in it--to make any sort of success of it; and from the
moment you do that it ceases to be romance, I assure you: it
becomes grim reality! And you can't always please yourself; you
must sometimes please other people. That, I admit, you're very
ready to do; but there's another thing that's still more
important--you must often displease others. You must always be
ready for that--you must never shrink from it. That doesn't suit
you at all--you're too fond of admiration, you like to be thought
well of. You think we can escape disagreeable duties by taking
romantic views--that's your great illusion, my dear. But we
can't. You must be prepared on many occasions in life to please
no one at all--not even yourself."
Isabel shook her head sadly; she looked troubled and frightened.
"This, for you, Henrietta," she said, "must be one of those
It was certainly true that Miss Stackpole, during her visit to
Paris, which had been professionally more remunerative than her
English sojourn, had not been living in the world of dreams. Mr.
Bantling, who had now returned to England, was her companion for
the first four weeks of her stay; and about Mr. Bantling there
was nothing dreamy. Isabel learned from her friend that the two
had led a life of great personal intimacy and that this had been
a peculiar advantage to Henrietta, owing to the gentleman's
remarkable knowledge of Paris. He had explained everything, shown
her everything, been her constant guide and interpreter. They had
breakfasted together, dined together, gone to the theatre
together, supped together, really in a manner quite lived
together. He was a true friend, Henrietta more than once assured
our heroine; and she had never supposed that she could like any
Englishman so well. Isabel could not have told you why, but she
found something that ministered to mirth in the alliance the
correspondent of the Interviewer had struck with Lady Pensil's
brother; her amusement moreover subsisted in face of the fact
that she thought it a credit to each of them. Isabel couldn't rid
herself of a suspicion that they were playing somehow at
cross-purposes--that the simplicity of each had been entrapped.
But this simplicity was on either side none the less honourable.
It was as graceful on Henrietta's part to believe that Mr.
Bantling took an interest in the diffusion of lively journalism
and in consolidating the position of lady-correspondents as it
was on the part of his companion to suppose that the cause of the
Interviewer--a periodical of which he never formed a very
definite conception--was, if subtly analysed (a task to which Mr.
Bantling felt himself quite equal), but the cause of Miss
Stackpole's need of demonstrative affection. Each of these
groping celibates supplied at any rate a want of which the other
was impatiently conscious. Mr. Bantling, who was of rather a slow
and a discursive habit, relished a prompt, keen, positive woman,
who charmed him by the influence of a shining, challenging eye
and a kind of bandbox freshness, and who kindled a perception of
raciness in a mind to which the usual fare of life seemed
unsalted. Henrietta, on the other hand, enjoyed the society of a
gentleman who appeared somehow, in his way, made, by expensive,
roundabout, almost "quaint" processes, for her use, and whose
leisured state, though generally indefensible, was a decided
boon to a breathless mate, and who was furnished with an easy,
traditional, though by no means exhaustive, answer to almost any
social or practical question that could come up. She often found
Mr. Bantling's answers very convenient, and in the press of
catching the American post would largely and showily address them
to publicity. It was to be feared that she was indeed drifting
toward those abysses of sophistication as to which Isabel,
wishing for a good-humoured retort, had warned her. There might
be danger in store for Isabel; but it was scarcely to be hoped
that Miss Stackpole, on her side, would find permanent rest in
any adoption of the views of a class pledged to all the old
abuses. Isabel continued to warn her good-humouredly; Lady
Pensil's obliging brother was sometimes, on our heroine's lips,
an object of irreverent and facetious allusion. Nothing, however,
could exceed Henrietta's amiability on this point; she used to
abound in the sense of Isabel's irony and to enumerate with
elation the hours she had spent with this perfect man of the
world--a term that had ceased to make with her, as previously,
for opprobrium. Then, a few moments later, she would forget that
they had been talking jocosely and would mention with impulsive
earnestness some expedition she had enjoyed in his company. She
would say: "Oh, I know all about Versailles; I went there with
Mr. Bantling. I was bound to see it thoroughly--I warned him when
we went out there that I was thorough: so we spent three days at
the hotel and wandered all over the place. It was lovely weather
--a kind of Indian summer, only not so good. We just lived in
that park. Oh yes; you can't tell me anything about Versailles."
Henrietta appeared to have made arrangements to meet her gallant
friend during the spring in Italy.
Mrs. Touchett, before arriving in Paris, had fixed the day for
her departure and by the middle of February had begun to travel
southward. She interrupted her journey to pay a visit to her son,
who at San Remo, on the Italian shore of the Mediterranean, had
been spending a dull, bright winter beneath a slow-moving white
umbrella. Isabel went with her aunt as a matter of course, though
Mrs. Touchett, with homely, customary logic, had laid before her
a pair of alternatives.
"Now, of course, you're completely your own mistress and are as
free as the bird on the bough. I don't mean you were not so
before, but you're at present on a different footing--property
erects a kind of barrier. You can do a great many things if
you're rich which would be severely criticised if you were poor.
You can go and come, you can travel alone, you can have your own
establishment: I mean of course if you'll take a companion--some
decayed gentlewoman, with a darned cashmere and dyed hair, who
paints on velvet. You don't think you'd like that? Of course you
can do as you please; I only want you to understand how much
you're at liberty. You might take Miss Stackpole as your dame de
compagnie; she'd keep people off very well. I think, however, that
it's a great deal better you should remain with me, in spite of
there being no obligation. It's better for several reasons, quite
apart from your liking it. I shouldn't think you'd like it, but I
recommend you to make the sacrifice. Of course whatever novelty
there may have been at first in my society has quite passed away,
and you see me as I am--a dull, obstinate, narrow-minded old woman."
"I don't think you're at all dull," Isabel had replied to this.
"But you do think I'm obstinate and narrow-minded? I told you so!"
said Mrs. Touchett with much elation at being justified.
Isabel remained for the present with her aunt, because, in spite
of eccentric impulses, she had a great regard for what was usually
deemed decent, and a young gentlewoman without visible relations
had always struck her as a flower without foliage. It was true
that Mrs. Touchett's conversation had never again appeared so
brilliant as that first afternoon in Albany, when she sat in her
damp waterproof and sketched the opportunities that Europe would
offer to a young person of taste. This, however, was in a great
measure the girl's own fault; she had got a glimpse of her aunt's
experience, and her imagination constantly anticipated the
judgements and emotions of a woman who had very little of the same
faculty. Apart from this, Mrs. Touchett had a great merit; she was
as honest as a pair of compasses. There was a comfort in her
stiffness and firmness; you knew exactly where to find her and
were never liable to chance encounters and concussions. On her own
ground she was perfectly present, but was never over-inquisitive as
regards the territory of her neighbour. Isabel came at last to
have a kind of undemonstrable pity for her; there seemed
something so dreary in the condition of a person whose nature
had, as it were, so little surface--offered so limited a face to
the accretions of human contact. Nothing tender, nothing
sympathetic, had ever had a chance to fasten upon it--no
wind-sown blossom, no familiar softening moss. Her offered, her
passive extent, in other words, was about that of a knife-edge.
Isabel had reason to believe none the less that as she advanced in
life she made more of those concessions to the sense of something
obscurely distinct from convenience--more of them than she
independently exacted. She was learning to sacrifice consistency
to considerations of that inferior order for which the excuse must
be found in the particular case. It was not to the credit of her
absolute rectitude that she should have gone the longest way round
to Florence in order to spend a few weeks with her invalid son;
since in former years it had been one of her most definite
convictions that when Ralph wished to see her he was at liberty to
remember that Palazzo Crescentini contained a large apartment
known as the quarter of the signorino.
"I want to ask you something," Isabel said to this young man the
day after her arrival at San Remo--"something I've thought more
than once of asking you by letter, but that I've hesitated on the
whole to write about. Face to face, nevertheless, my question
seems easy enough. Did you know your father intended to leave me
so much money?"
Ralph stretched his legs a little further than usual and gazed a
little more fixedly at the Mediterranean.
"What does it matter, my dear Isabel, whether I knew? My father
was very obstinate."
"So," said the girl, "you did know."
"Yes; he told me. We even talked it over a little." "What did he
do it for?" asked Isabel abruptly. "Why, as a kind of compliment."
"A compliment on what?"
"On your so beautifully existing."
"He liked me too much," she presently declared.
"That's a way we all have."
"If I believed that I should be very unhappy. Fortunately I don't
believe it. I want to be treated with justice; I want nothing but
"Very good. But you must remember that justice to a lovely being is
after all a florid sort of sentiment."
"I'm not a lovely being. How can you say that, at the very moment
when I'm asking such odious questions? I must seem to you
"You seem to me troubled," said Ralph.
"I am troubled."
For a moment she answered nothing; then she broke out: "Do you
think it good for me suddenly to be made so rich? Henrietta
"Oh, hang Henrietta!" said Ralph coarsely, "If you ask me I'm
delighted at it."
"Is that why your father did it--for your amusement?"
"I differ with Miss Stackpole," Ralph went on more gravely. "I
think it very good for you to have means."
Isabel looked at him with serious eyes. "I wonder whether you know
what's good for me--or whether you care."
"If I know depend upon it I care. Shall I tell you what it is?
Not to torment yourself."
"Not to torment you, I suppose you mean."
"You can't do that; I'm proof. Take things more easily. Don't ask
yourself so much whether this or that is good for you. Don't
question your conscience so much--it will get out of tune like a
strummed piano. Keep it for great occasions. Don't try so much
to form your character--it's like trying to pull open a tight,
tender young rose. Live as you like best, and your character will
take care of itself. Most things are good for you; the exceptions
are very rare, and a comfortable income's not one of them." Ralph
paused, smiling; Isabel had listened quickly. "You've too much power
of thought--above all too much conscience," Ralph added. "It's out
of all reason, the number of things you think wrong. Put back
your watch. Diet your fever. Spread your wings; rise above the
ground. It's never wrong to do that."
She had listened eagerly, as I say; and it was her nature to
understand quickly. "I wonder if you appreciate what you say. If
you do, you take a great responsibility."
"You frighten me a little, but I think I'm right," said Ralph,
persisting in cheer.
"All the same what you say is very true," Isabel pursued. "You
could say nothing more true. I'm absorbed in myself--I look at life
too much as a doctor's prescription. Why indeed should we
perpetually be thinking whether things are good for us, as if we
were patients lying in a hospital? Why should I be so afraid of
not doing right? As if it mattered to the world whether I do
right or wrong!"
"You're a capital person to advise," said Ralph; "you take the
wind out of my sails!"
She looked at him as if she had not heard him--though she was
following out the train of reflexion which he himself had kindled.
"I try to care more about the world than about myself--but I
always come back to myself. It's because I'm afraid." She stopped;
her voice had trembled a little. "Yes, I'm afraid; I can't tell
you. A large fortune means freedom, and I'm afraid of that. It's
such a fine thing, and one should make such a good use of it. If
one shouldn't one would be ashamed. And one must keep thinking;
it's a constant effort. I'm not sure it's not a greater happiness
to be powerless."
"For weak people I've no doubt it's a greater happiness. For weak
people the effort not to be contemptible must be great."
"And how do you know I'm not weak?" Isabel asked.
"Ah," Ralph answered with a flush that the girl noticed, "if you
are I'm awfully sold!"
The charm of the Mediterranean coast only deepened for our heroine
on acquaintance, for it was the threshold of Italy, the gate of
admirations. Italy, as yet imperfectly seen and felt, stretched
before her as a land of promise, a land in which a love of the
beautiful might be comforted by endless knowledge. Whenever she
strolled upon the shore with her cousin--and she was the companion
of his daily walk--she looked across the sea, with longing eyes,
to where she knew that Genoa lay. She was glad to pause, however,
on the edge of this larger adventure; there was such a thrill even
in the preliminary hovering. It affected her moreover as a peaceful
interlude, as a hush of the drum and fife in a career which she
had little warrant as yet for regarding as agitated, but which
nevertheless she was constantly picturing to herself by the light
of her hopes, her fears, her fancies, her ambitions, her
predilections, and which reflected these subjective accidents in a
manner sufficiently dramatic. Madame Merle had predicted to Mrs.
Touchett that after their young friend had put her hand into her
pocket half a dozen times she would be reconciled to the idea that
it had been filled by a munificent uncle; and the event justified,
as it had so often justified before, that lady's perspicacity.
Ralph Touchett had praised his cousin for being morally
inflammable, that is for being quick to take a hint that was meant
as good advice. His advice had perhaps helped the matter; she had
at any rate before leaving San Remo grown used to feeling rich. The
consciousness in question found a proper place in rather a dense
little group of ideas that she had about herself, and often it
was by no means the least agreeable. It took perpetually for
granted a thousand good intentions. She lost herself in a maze
of visions; the fine things to be done by a rich, independent,
generous girl who took a large human view of occasions and
obligations were sublime in the mass. Her fortune therefore became
to her mind a part of her better self; it gave her importance, gave
her even, to her own imagination, a certain ideal beauty. What it
did for her in the imagination of others is another affair, and
on this point we must also touch in time. The visions I have just
spoken of were mixed with other debates. Isabel liked better to
think of the future than of the past; but at times, as she
listened to the murmur of the Mediterranean waves, her glance
took a backward flight. It rested upon two figures which, in
spite of increasing distance, were still sufficiently salient;
they were recognisable without difficulty as those of Caspar
Goodwood and Lord Warburton. It was strange how quickly these
images of energy had fallen into the background of our young
lady's life. It was in her disposition at all times to lose faith
in the reality of absent things; she could summon back her faith,
in case of need, with an effort, but the effort was often painful
even when the reality had been pleasant. The past was apt to look
dead and its revival rather to show the livid light of a
judgement-day. The girl moreover was not prone to take for
granted that she herself lived in the mind of others--she had not
the fatuity to believe she left indelible traces. She was capable
of being wounded by the discovery that she had been forgotten;
but of all liberties the one she herself found sweetest was the
liberty to forget. She had not given her last shilling,
sentimentally speaking, either to Caspar Goodwood or to Lord
Warburton, and yet couldn't but feel them appreciably in debt to
her. She had of course reminded herself that she was to hear from
Mr. Goodwood again; but this was not to be for another year
and a half, and in that time a great many things might happen.
She had indeed failed to say to herself that her American suitor
might find some other girl more comfortable to woo; because,
though it was certain many other girls would prove so, she had
not the smallest belief that this merit would attract him. But
she reflected that she herself might know the humiliation of
change, might really, for that matter, come to the end of the
things that were not Caspar (even though there appeared so many
of them), and find rest in those very elements of his presence
which struck her now as impediments to the finer respiration. It
was conceivable that these impediments should some day prove a
sort of blessing in disguise--a clear and quiet harbour enclosed
by a brave granite breakwater. But that day could only come in
its order, and she couldn't wait for it with folded hands. That
Lord Warburton should continue to cherish her image seemed to her
more than a noble humility or an enlightened pride ought to wish
to reckon with. She had so definitely undertaken to preserve no
record of what had passed between them that a corresponding
effort on his own part would be eminently just. This was not, as
it may seem, merely a theory tinged with sarcasm. Isabel candidly
believed that his lordship would, in the usual phrase, get over
his disappointment. He had been deeply affected--this she
believed, and she was still capable of deriving pleasure from the
belief; but it was absurd that a man both so intelligent and so
honourably dealt with should cultivate a scar out of proportion
to any wound. Englishmen liked moreover to be comfortable, said
Isabel, and there could be little comfort for Lord Warburton, in
the long run, in brooding over a self-sufficient American girl
who had been but a casual acquaintance. She flattered herself
that, should she hear from one day to another that he had married
some young woman of his own country who had done more to deserve
him, she should receive the news without a pang even of surprise.
It would have proved that he believed she was firm--which was
what she wished to seem to him. That alone was grateful to her
On one of the first days of May, some six months after old Mr.
Touchett's death, a small group that might have been described by
a painter as composing well was gathered in one of the many rooms
of an ancient villa crowning an olive-muffled hill outside of the
Roman gate of Florence. The villa was a long, rather
blank-looking structure, with the far-projecting roof which
Tuscany loves and which, on the hills that encircle Florence,
when considered from a distance, makes so harmonious a rectangle
with the straight, dark, definite cypresses that usually rise in
groups of three or four beside it. The house had a front upon a
little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied a part of the
hill-top; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregular
relations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to
the base of the structure and useful as a lounging-place to one
or two persons wearing more or less of that air of undervalued
merit which in Italy, for some reason or other, always gracefully
invests any one who confidently assumes a perfectly passive
attitude--this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposing front
had a somewhat incommunicative character. It was the mask, not
the face of the house. It had heavy lids, but no eyes; the house
in reality looked another way--looked off behind, into splendid
openness and the range of the afternoon light. In that quarter
the villa overhung the slope of its hill and the 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 and other old stone benches, mossy and sun-warmed. The
parapet of the terrace was just the height to lean upon, and
beneath it the ground declined into the vagueness of olive-crops
and vineyards. It is not, however, with the outside of the place
that we are concerned; on this bright morning of ripened spring
its tenants had reason to prefer the shady side of the wall. The
windows of the ground-floor, as you saw them from the piazza,
were, in their noble proportions, extremely architectural; but
their function seemed less to offer communication with the world
than to defy the world to look in. They were massively
cross-barred, and placed at such a height that curiosity, even on
tiptoe, expired before it reached them. In an apartment lighted
by a row of three of these jealous apertures--one of the several
distinct apartments into which the villa was divided and which
were mainly occupied by foreigners of random race long resident
in Florence--a gentleman was seated in company with a young 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, high door, which now stood open into the
tangled garden behind; and the tall iron lattices admitted on
occasion more than enough of the Italian sunshine. It was
moreover a seat of ease, indeed of luxury, telling of
arrangements subtly studied and refinements frankly proclaimed,
and containing a variety of those faded hangings of damask and
tapestry, those chests and cabinets of carved and time-polished
oak, those angular specimens of pictorial art in frames as
pedantically primitive, those perverse-looking relics of medieval
brass and pottery, of which Italy has long been the not quite
exhausted storehouse. These things kept terms with articles of
modern furniture in which large allowance had been made for a
lounging generation; it was to be noticed that all the chairs
were deep and well padded and that much space was occupied by a
writing-table of which the ingenious perfection bore the stamp of
London and the nineteenth century. There were books in profusion
and magazines and newspapers, and a few small, odd, elaborate
pictures, chiefly in water-colour. One of these productions stood
on a drawing-room easel before which, at the moment we begin to
be concerned with her, the young girl I have mentioned had placed
herself. She was looking at the picture in silence.
Silence--absolute silence--had not fallen upon her companions;
but their talk had an appearance of embarrassed continuity. The
two good sisters had not settled themselves in their respective
chairs; their attitude expressed a final 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 the impersonal aspect of their stiffened linen and of the
serge that draped them as if nailed on frames gave an advantage.
One of them, a person of a certain age, in spectacles, with a
fresh complexion and a full cheek, had a more discriminating
manner than her colleague, as well as the responsibility of their
errand, which apparently related to the young girl. This object
of interest wore her hat--an ornament of extreme simplicity and
not at variance with her plain muslin gown, too short for her
years, though it must already have been "let out." The gentleman
who might have been supposed to be entertaining the two nuns was
perhaps conscious of the difficulties of his function, it being
in its way as arduous to converse with the very meek as with the
very mighty. At the same time he was clearly much occupied with
their quiet charge, and while she turned her back to him his eyes
rested gravely on her slim, small figure. He was a man of forty,
with a high but well-shaped head, on which the hair, still dense,
but prematurely grizzled, had been cropped close. He had a fine,
narrow, extremely modelled and composed face, of which the only
fault was just this effect of its running a trifle too much to
points; an appearance to which the shape of the beard contributed
not a little. This beard, cut in the manner of the portraits of
the sixteenth century and surmounted by a fair moustache, of
which the ends had a romantic upward flourish, gave its wearer a
foreign, traditionary look and suggested that he was a gentleman
who studied style. His conscious, curious eyes, however, eyes at
once vague and penetrating, intelligent and hard, expressive of
the observer as well as of the dreamer, would have assured you
that he studied it only within well-chosen limits, and that in so
far as he sought it he found it. You would have been much at a
loss to determine his original clime and country; he had none of
the superficial signs that usually render the answer to this
question an insipidly easy one. If he had English blood in his
veins it had probably received some French or Italian commixture;
but he suggested, fine gold coin as he was, no stamp nor emblem
of the common mintage that provides for general circulation; he
was the elegant complicated medal struck 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 a
man dresses who takes little other trouble about it than to have
no vulgar things.
"Well, my dear, what do you think of it?" he asked of the young
girl. He used the Italian tongue, and used it with perfect ease;
but this would not have convinced you he was Italian.
The child turned her head earnestly to one side and the other.
"It's very pretty, 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 turned round and showed a small, fair face painted with a
fixed and intensely sweet smile.
"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 in French.
"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 ma partie. I teach nothing; I leave that to those who
are wiser. We've an excellent drawing-master, Mr.--Mr.--what is
his name?" she asked of her companion.
Her companion looked about at the carpet. "It's a German name,"
she said in Italian, as if it needed to be translated.
"Yes," the other went on, "he's a German, and we've had him many
The young girl, who was not heeding the conversation, had
wandered away to the open door of the large room and stood
looking into the garden. "And you, my sister, are French," said
"Yes, sir," the visitor gently replied. "I speak to the pupils in
my own tongue. I know no other. But we have sisters of other
countries--English, German, Irish. They all speak their proper
The gentleman gave a smile. "Has my daughter been under the care
of one of the Irish ladies?" And then, as he saw that his
visitors suspected a joke, though failing to understand it,
"You're very complete," he instantly added.
"Oh, yes, we're complete. We've everything, and everything's of
"We have gymnastics," the Italian sister ventured to remark. "But
"I hope not. Is that YOUR branch?" A question which provoked much
candid hilarity on the part of the two ladies; on the subsidence
of which their entertainer, glancing at his daughter, remarked
that she had grown.
"Yes, but I think she has finished. She'll remain--not big," said
the French sister.
"I'm not sorry. I prefer women like books--very good and not too
long. But I know," the gentleman said, "no particular reason why
my child should be short."
The nun gave a temperate shrug, as if to intimate that such
things might be beyond 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 accent as good as his own.
"Yes, but not many good ones. However, such as they are, go out
and gather some 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
"Obey monsieur your father, my child," said the sister, blushing
The child, satisfied with this authorisation, descended from the
threshold and was 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
freely granted, but they must ask it."
"Oh, I don't quarrel with your system; I've no doubt it's
excellent. I sent you my daughter to see what you'd make of her.
I had faith."
"One must have faith," the sister blandly rejoined, gazing
through her spectacles.
"Well, has my faith been rewarded What have you made of her?"
The sister dropped her eyes a moment. "A good Christian,
Her host dropped his eyes as well; but it was probable that the
movement had in each case a different spring. "Yes, and what
He watched the lady from the convent, probably thinking she would
say that a good Christian was everything; but for all her
simplicity she was not so crude as that. "A charming young lady
--a real little woman--a daughter in whom you will have nothing
"She seems to me very gentille," said the father. "She's really
"She's perfect. She has no faults."
"She never had any as a child, and I'm glad you have given her
"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 pas comme le monde, monsieur. She's our daughter, as you
may say. We've had her since she was so small."
"Of all those we shall lose this year she's the one we shall miss
most," the younger woman murmured deferentially.
"Ah, yes, we shall talk long of her," said the other. "We shall
hold her up to the new ones." And at this the good sister
appeared to find her spectacles dim; while her companion, after
fumbling a moment, presently drew forth a pocket-handkerchief of
"It's not certain you'll lose her; nothing's settled yet," their
host rejoined quickly; not as if to anticipate their tears, but
in the tone of a man saying what 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 is not 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 she is, she's made for the world. Le monde y gagnera."
"If all the good people were hidden away in convents how would
the world get on?" her companion softly enquired, rising also.
This was a question of a wider bearing than the good woman
apparently supposed; and the lady in spectacles took a
harmonising view by saying comfortably: "Fortunately there are
good people everywhere."
"If you're going there will be two less here," her host remarked
For this extravagant sally his simple visitors had no answer, and
they simply looked at each other in decent deprecation; but their
confusion was speedily covered by the return of the young girl
with two large bunches of roses--one of them all white, the other
"I give you your choice, mamman Catherine," said the child.
"It's only the colour that's different, mamman Justine; there are
just as many roses in one bunch as in the other."
The two sisters turned to each other, smiling and hesitating,
with "Which will you take?" and "No, it's for you to choose."
"I'll take the red, thank you," said Catherine in the spectacles.
"I'm so red myself. 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 something that would last!"
"You've given us a good memory of yourself, my daughter. That
"I wish nuns could wear pretty things. I would give you my blue
beads," the child 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 to open the door through which they were to pass; but as
he did so he gave a slight exclamation, and stood looking beyond.
The door opened into a vaulted ante-chamber, as high as a chapel
and paved with red tiles; and into this antechamber a lady had
just been admitted by a servant, a lad in shabby livery, who was
now ushering her toward the apartment in which our friends were
grouped. The gentleman at the door, after dropping his
exclamation, remained silent; in silence too the lady advanced.
He gave her no further audible greeting and offered her no hand,
but stood aside to let her pass into the 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 the sight 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, Madame Merle!"
The visitor had been slightly startled, but her manner the next
instant was none 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 her charming little person
and then stood smiling at the two nuns. They acknowledged her
smile with a decent obeisance, but permitted themselves no direct
scrutiny of this imposing, brilliant woman, who seemed to bring
in with her something of the radiance of the outer world.
"These ladies have brought my daughter home, and now they return
to the convent," the gentleman explained.
"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 his new visitor how long it was since she had
left Rome. "She came to see me at the 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 great friend in Rome?"
"I remember the last time best," said Pansy, "because you told me
I should come 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 in Florence 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 such things 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-lowered and 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 door with 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 me to 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
spectacles ventured to remark.
"That's Mr. Osmond's pleasantry; I decide nothing," said Madame
Merle, but also as in pleasantry. "I believe you've a very good
school, but Miss Osmond's friends must remember that she's very
naturally meant for the world."
"That's what I've told monsieur," sister Catherine answered.
"It's precisely to fit her for the world," she murmured, glancing
at Pansy, who stood, at a little distance, attentive to Madame
Merle's elegant apparel.
"Do you hear that, Pansy? You're very naturally meant for the
world," said Pansy's father.
The child fixed him an instant with her pure young eyes. "Am I
not meant for you, 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 and happy in any case, my daughter."
"I shall certainly come back and see you," Pansy returned,
recommencing her embraces, which were presently interrupted by
"Stay with me, dear child," she said, "while your father takes
the good ladies to the door."
Pansy stared, disappointed, yet not protesting. She was evidently
impregnated with the idea of submission, which was due to any one
who took the tone of authority; and she was a passive spectator
of the operation of her fate. "May I not see mamman Catherine get
into the carriage?" she nevertheless asked very gently.
"It would please me better if you'd remain with me," said Madame
Merle, while Mr. 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 the window; her eyes had filled with tears.
"I'm glad they've taught you to obey," said Madame Merle. "That's
what good little girls should do."
"Oh yes, I obey very well," cried Pansy with soft eagerness,
almost with boastfulness, as if she had been speaking of her
piano-playing. And then she gave a faint, just audible sigh.
Madame Merle, holding her hand, drew it across her own fine palm
and looked at it. The gaze was critical, but it found nothing to
deprecate; the child's small hand was delicate and fair. "I hope
they always see that you wear gloves," she said in a moment.
"Little girls usually dislike them."
"I used to dislike them, but I like them now," the child made
"Very good, I'll make you a present of a dozen."
"I thank you very much. What colours will they be?" Pansy
demanded with interest.
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
"Well, they won't be too pretty," Madame Merle returned with a
laugh. She took the child's other hand and drew her nearer; after
which, looking at her a moment, "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'll have another mother."
"I don't think that's necessary," Pansy said, repeating her
little soft conciliatory sigh. "I had more than thirty mothers at
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, without looking 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 possible
you'd have wished yourself to fetch Pansy away."
"That was a natural supposition; but I'm afraid it's not the
first time I've acted 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 space in it to move about--in the fashion of a man
mechanically seeking pretexts for not giving an attention which
may be embarrassing. Presently, however, he had exhausted his
pretexts; there was nothing left for him--unless he took up a
book--but to stand with his hands behind him looking at Pansy.
"Why didn't you come and see the last of mamman Catherine?" he
asked of her abruptly in French.
Pansy hesitated a moment, glancing at Madame Merle. "I asked her
to stay with me," said this lady, who had seated herself again in
"Ah, that was better," Osmond conceded. With which he dropped
into a chair and sat looking at Madame Merle; bent forward a
little, his elbows on the edge of the arms and his hands
"She's going to give me some gloves," said Pansy.
"You needn't tell that to every one, my dear," Madame Merle
"You're very kind to her," said Osmond. "She's supposed to have
everything she needs."
"I should think she had had enough of the nuns."
"If we're going to discuss that matter she had better go out of
"Let her stay," said Madame Merle. "We'll talk of something
"If you like I won't listen," Pansy suggested with an appearance
of candour which imposed conviction.
"You may listen, charming child, because you won't understand,"
her father replied. The child sat down, deferentially, near the
open door, within sight of 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
"I think I always look the same," said Madame Merle.
"You always ARE the same. You don't vary. You're a wonderful
"Yes, I think I am."
"You sometimes change your mind, however. You told me on your
return from England that you wouldn't leave Rome again for the
"I'm pleased that you remember so well what I say. That was my
intention. But I've come to Florence to meet some friends who
have lately arrived and as to whose movements I was at that time
"That reason's characteristic. You're always doing something for
Madame Merle smiled straight at her host. "It's less
characteristic than your comment upon it which is perfectly
insincere. I don't, however, make a crime of that," she added,
"because if you don't believe what you say there's no reason why
you should. I don't ruin myself for my friends; I don't deserve
your praise. I care greatly for myself."
"Exactly; but yourself includes so many other selves--so much of
every one else and of everything. I never knew a person whose
life touched so many other lives."
"What do you call one's life?" asked Madame Merle. "One's
appearance, one's movements, 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," she murmured.
"You see she can't stay with us!" And Pansy's father gave rather a
joyless smile. "Go into the garden, mignonne, and pluck a flower
or two for Madame Merle," he went on in French.
"That's just what I wanted to do," Pansy exclaimed, rising with
promptness and noiselessly departing. Her father followed her to
the open door, stood a moment watching her, and then came back,
but remained standing, or rather strolling to and fro, as if to
cultivate a sense of freedom which in another attitude might be
"My ambitions are principally for you," said Madame Merle, looking
up at him with 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
"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? My indolence, at any rate, was one of the reasons I didn't
go to Rome. But it was only one of them."
"It's not of importance--to me at least--that you didn't go;
though I should have 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 I should 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 both the virtue and the reward. This is not a great labour,
and it may prove a real interest. How long is it since you made a
"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 you to know."
Mr. Osmond, in his walk, had gone back to the open door again and
was looking at his daughter as she moved about in the intense
sunshine. "What good will it do me?" he asked with a sort of
Madame Merle waited. "It will amuse you." There was nothing crude
in this rejoinder; 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'm perfectly 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 immense number 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 to make an effort!"
"Ah, there you are! I knew something tiresome was coming. What in
the world--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 in old days?"
"I recognise some things. But they're none of them probable in
this poor life."
"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, whom you'll not have forgotten."
"A niece? The word niece suggests youth and ignorance. I see what
you're coming to."
"Yes, she's young--twenty-three years old. She's a great friend of
mine. I met her for the first time in England, several months ago,
and we struck up a grand alliance. I like her immensely, and I do
what I don't do every day--I admire 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
and unprecedentedly virtuous? It's only on those conditions that
I care to make her acquaintance. You know I asked you some time
ago never to speak to me of a creature who shouldn't correspond to
that description. I know plenty of dingy people; I don't want to
know any more."
"Miss Archer isn't dingy; she's as bright as the morning. She
corresponds to your description; it's for that I wish you to know
her. She fills all your requirements."
"More or less, of course."
"No; quite literally. She's beautiful, accomplished, generous and,
for an American, well-born. She's also very clever and very
amiable, and she has a handsome fortune."
Mr. Osmond listened to this in silence, appearing to turn it over
in his mind with his eyes on his informant. "What do you want to
do with her?" he asked at last.
"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. "I only 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 of it."
The two stood there face to face; she settled her mantilla,
looking down at it as she did so. "You're looking very well,"
Osmond repeated still less relevantly than before. "You have some
idea. You're never so well as when you'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 indirect and circumspect, as if they had
approached each other obliquely and addressed each other by
implication. The effect of each appeared to be to intensify to an
appreciable degree the self-consciousness of the other. Madame
Merle of course carried off any embarrassment better than her
friend; but even Madame Merle had not on this occasion the form
she would have liked to have--the perfect self-possession she
would have wished to wear for her host. The point to 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 to face 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 to accept the satisfaction of knowing as
a compensation for the inconvenience--whatever it might be--of
being known. "I wish very much you were not 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--as for instance your saying just now that your
ambitions are for me. I don't understand it; I don't see how or
why they should be. But it touches me, all the same."
"You'll probably understand it even less as time goes on. There
are some things you'll never understand. There's no particular
need you should."
"You, after all, are the most remarkable of women," said Osmond.
"You have more in you than almost any one. I don't see why you
think Mrs. Touchett's niece 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
appreciated such 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
"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--Palazzo Crescentini--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
Madame Merle looked at him in the manner of a woman whom no
question he could ever put would find unprepared. "Do you wish to
know why? Because I've spoken of you to her."
Osmond frowned and turned away. "I'd rather not know that." Then
in a moment he pointed out the easel supporting the little
water-colour drawing. "Have you seen what's there--my last?"
Madame Merle drew near and considered. "Is it the Venetian
Alps--one of your last year's sketches?"
"Yes--but how you guess everything!"
She looked a moment longer, then turned away. "You know I
don't care for your drawings."
"I know it, yet I'm always surprised at it. They're really so much
better than most people's."
"That may very well be. But as the only thing you do--well, it's
so little. I should 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 a different tone: "In itself your little picture's very
good." She looked about the 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 come back; I know
none better anywhere. You understand this sort of thing as nobody
anywhere 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 about it."
"I don't object to showing my things--when people are not
"You do it delightfully. As cicerone of your museum you appear to
Mr. Osmond, in return for this compliment, simply looked at once
colder and more 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
"Satisfactory woman!--I mean you. And if I go to see her shall I
see the mother?"
"The mother? She has none--nor father either."
"The aunt then--whom did you say?--Mrs. Touchett. I can easily
keep her out of the way."
"I don't object to her," said Osmond; "I rather like Mrs.
Touchett. She has a sort of old-fashioned character that's
passing away--a vivid identity. But that long 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 being about when I'm there, because he doesn't like me."
"What could he be more asinine than that? Did you say she has
looks?" Osmond went on.
"Yes; but I won't say it again, lest you should be disappointed
in them. Come and 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
"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
"I think you'll understand this one after you've seen Miss
Archer. Suspend your judgement." Madame Merle, as she spoke, had
drawn near the open door of the garden, where she stood a moment
looking out. "Pansy has really grown pretty," she presently
"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 very charming."
"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's not in a hurry."
"We'll go and get them."
"She doesn't like me," the visitor murmured as she raised her
parasol and they passed into the garden.
Madame Merle, who had come to Florence on Mrs. Touchett's arrival
at the invitation of this lady--Mrs. Touchett offering her for a
month the hospitality of Palazzo Crescentini--the judicious
Madame Merle spoke to Isabel afresh about Gilbert Osmond and
expressed the hope she might know him; making, however, no such
point of the matter as we have seen her do in recommending the
girl herself to Mr. Osmond's attention. The reason of this was
perhaps that Isabel offered no resistance whatever to Madame
Merle's proposal. In Italy, as in England, the lady had a
multitude of friends, both among the natives of the country and
its heterogeneous visitors. She had mentioned to Isabel most of
the people the girl would find it well to "meet"--of course, she
said, Isabel could know whomever in the wide world she would--and
had placed Mr. Osmond near the top of the list. He was an old
friend of her own; she had known him these dozen years; he was
one of the cleverest and most agreeable men--well, in Europe
simply. He was altogether above the respectable average; quite
another affair. He wasn't a professional charmer--far from it,
and the effect he produced depended a good deal on the state of
his nerves and his spirits. When not in the right mood he could
fall as low as any one, saved only by his looking at such hours
rather like a demoralised prince in exile. But if he cared or was
interested or rightly challenged--just exactly rightly it had to
be--then one felt his cleverness and his distinction. Those
qualities didn't depend, in him, as in so many people, on his not
committing or exposing himself. He had his perversities--which
indeed Isabel would find to be the case with all the men really
worth knowing--and didn't cause his light to shine equally for
all persons. Madame Merle, however, thought she could undertake
that for Isabel he would be brilliant. He was easily bored, too
easily, and dull people always put him out; but a quick and
cultivated girl like Isabel would give him a stimulus which was
too absent from his life. At any rate he was a person not to miss.
One shouldn't attempt to live in Italy without making a friend of
Gilbert Osmond, who knew more about the country than any one
except two or three German professors. And if they had more
knowledge than he it was he who had most perception and taste--
being artistic through and through. Isabel remembered that her
friend had spoken of him during their plunge, at Gardencourt, into
the deeps of talk, and wondered a little what was the nature of
the tie binding these superior spirits. She felt that Madame
Merle's ties always somehow had histories, and such an impression
was part of the interest created by this inordinate woman. As
regards her relations with Mr. Osmond, however, she hinted at
nothing but a long-established calm friendship. Isabel said she
should be happy to know a person who had enjoyed so high a
confidence for so many years. "You ought to see a great many men,"
Madame Merle remarked; "you ought to see as many as possible, so
as to get used to them."
"Used to them?" Isabel repeated with that solemn stare which
sometimes seemed to proclaim her deficient in the sense of comedy.
"Why, I'm not afraid of them--I'm as used to them as the cook to
"Used to them, I mean, so as to despise them. That's what one
comes to with most of them. You'll pick out, for your society, the
few whom you don't despise."
This was a note of cynicism that Madame Merle didn't often allow
herself to sound; but Isabel was not alarmed, for she had never
supposed that as one saw more of the world the sentiment of
respect became the most active of one's emotions. It was excited,
none the less, by the beautiful city of Florence, which pleased
her not less than Madame Merle had promised; and if her unassisted
perception had not been able to gauge its charms she had clever
companions as priests to the mystery. She was--in no want indeed
of esthetic illumination, for Ralph found it a joy that renewed
his own early passion to act as cicerone to his eager young
kinswoman. Madame Merle remained at home; she had seen the
treasures of Florence again and again and had always something
else to do. But she talked of all things with remarkable
vividness of memory--she recalled the right-hand corner of the
large Perugino and the position of the hands of the Saint
Elizabeth in the picture next to it. She had her opinions as to
the character of many famous works of art, differing often from
Ralph with great sharpness and defending her interpretations with
as much ingenuity as good-humour. Isabel listened to the
discussions taking place between the two with a sense that she
might derive much benefit from them and that they were among the
advantages she couldn't have enjoyed for instance in Albany. In
the clear May mornings before the formal breakfast--this repast
at Mrs. Touchett's was served at twelve o'clock--she wandered
with her cousin through the narrow and sombre Florentine streets,
resting a while in the thicker dusk of some historic church or
the vaulted chambers of some dispeopled convent. She went to the
galleries and palaces; she looked at the pictures and statues
that had hitherto been great names to her, and exchanged for a
knowledge which was sometimes a limitation a presentiment which
proved usually to have been a blank. She performed all those acts
of mental prostration in which, on a first visit to Italy, youth
and enthusiasm so freely indulge; she felt her heart beat in the
presence of immortal genius and knew the sweetness of rising
tears in eyes to which faded fresco and darkened marble grew dim.
But the return, every day, was even pleasanter than the going
forth; the return into the wide, monumental court of the great
house in which Mrs. Touchett, many years before, had established
herself, and into the high, cool rooms where the carven rafters
and pompous frescoes of the sixteenth century looked down on the
familiar commodities of the age of advertisement. Mrs. Touchett
inhabited an historic building in a narrow street whose very name
recalled the strife of medieval factions; and found compensation
for the darkness of her frontage in the modicity of her rent and
the brightness of a garden where nature itself looked as archaic
as the rugged architecture of the palace and which cleared and
scented the rooms in regular use. To live in such a place was,
for Isabel, to hold to her ear all day a shell of the sea of the
past. This vague eternal rumour kept her imagination awake.
Gilbert Osmond came to see Madame Merle, who presented him to the
young lady lurking at the other side of the room. Isabel took on
this occasion little part in the talk; she scarcely even smiled
when the others turned to her invitingly; she sat there as if she
had been at the play and had paid even a large sum for her place.
Mrs. Touchett was not present, and these two had it, for the
effect of brilliancy, all their own way. They talked of the
Florentine, the Roman, the cosmopolite world, and might have been
distinguished performers figuring for a charity. It all had the
rich readiness that would have come from rehearsal. Madame Merle
appealed to her as if she had been on the stage, but she could
ignore any learnt cue without spoiling the scene--though of
course she thus put dreadfully in the wrong the friend who had
told Mr. Osmond she could be depended on. This was no matter for
once; even if more had been involved she could have made no
attempt to shine. There was something in the visitor that checked
her and held her in suspense--made it more important she should
get an impression of him than that she should produce one
herself. Besides, she had little skill in producing an impression
which she knew to be expected: nothing could be happier, in
general, than to seem dazzling, but she had a perverse
unwillingness to glitter by arrangement. Mr. Osmond, to do him
justice, had a well-bred air of expecting nothing, a quiet ease
that covered everything, even the first show of his own wit.
This was the more grateful as his face, his head, was sensitive;
he was not handsome, but he was fine, as fine as one of the
drawings in the long gallery above the bridge of the Uffizi. And
his very voice was fine--the more strangely that, with its
clearness, it yet somehow wasn't sweet. This had had really to do
with making her abstain from interference. His utterance was the
vibration of glass, and if she had put out her finger she might
have changed the pitch and spoiled the concert. Yet before he
went she had to speak.
"Madame Merle," he said, "consents to come up to my hill-top some
day next week and drink tea in my garden. It would give me much
pleasure if you would come with her. It's thought rather pretty--
there's what they call a general view. My daughter too would
be so glad--or rather, for she's too young to have strong
emotions, I should be so glad--so very glad." And Mr. Osmond
paused with a slight air of embarrassment, leaving his sentence
unfinished. "I should be so happy if you could know my daughter,"
he went on a moment afterwards.
Isabel replied that she should be delighted to see Miss Osmond
and that if Madame Merle would show her the way to the hill-top
she should be very grateful. Upon this assurance the visitor took
his leave; after which Isabel fully expected her friend would
scold her for having been so stupid. But to her surprise that
lady, who indeed never fell into the mere matter-of-course, said
to her in a few moments
"You were charming, my dear; you were just as one would have
wished you. You're never disappointing."
A rebuke might possibly have been irritating, though it is much
more probable that Isabel would have taken it in good part; but,
strange to say, the words that Madame Merle actually used caused
her the first feeling of displeasure she had known this ally to
excite. "That's more than I intended," she answered coldly. "I'm
under no obligation that I know of to charm Mr. Osmond."
Madame Merle perceptibly flushed, but we know it was not her
habit to retract. "My dear child, I didn't speak for him, poor
man; I spoke for yourself. It's not of course a question as to
his liking you; it matters little whether he likes you or not!
But I thought you liked HIM."
"I did," said Isabel honestly. "But I don't see what that matters
"Everything that concerns you matters to me," Madame Merle
returned with her weary nobleness; "especially when at the same
time another old friend's concerned."
Whatever Isabel's obligations may have been to Mr. Osmond, it
must be admitted that she found them sufficient to lead her to
put to Ralph sundry questions about him. She thought Ralph's
judgements distorted by his trials, but she flattered herself she
had learned to make allowance for that.
"Do I know him?" said her cousin. "Oh, yes, I 'know' him; not
well, but on the whole enough. I've never cultivated his society,
and he apparently has never found mine indispensable to his
happiness. Who is he, what is he? He's a vague, unexplained
American who has been living these thirty years, or less, in
Italy. Why do I call him unexplained? Only as a cover for my
ignorance; I don't know his antecedents, his family, his origin.
For all I do know he may be a prince in disguise; he rather looks
like one, by the way--like a prince who has abdicated in a fit of
fastidiousness and has been in a state of disgust ever since. He
used to live in Rome; but of late years he has taken up his abode
here; I remember hearing him say that Rome has grown vulgar. He
has a great dread of vulgarity; that's his special line; he
hasn't any other that I know of. He lives on his income, which I
suspect of not being vulgarly large. He's a poor but honest
gentleman that's what he calls himself. He married young and lost
his wife, and I believe he has a daughter. He also has a sister,
who's married to some small Count or other, of these parts; I
remember meeting her of old. She's nicer than he, I should think,
but rather impossible. I remember there used to be some stories
about her. I don't think I recommend you to know her. But why
don't you ask Madame Merle about these people? She knows them all
much better than I."
"I ask you because I want your opinion as well as hers," said
"A fig for my opinion! If you fall in love with Mr. Osmond what
will you care for that?"
"Not much, probably. But meanwhile it has a certain importance.
The more information one has about one's dangers the better."
"I don't agree to that--it may make them dangers. We know too much
about people in these days; we hear too much. Our ears, our minds,
our mouths, are stuffed with personalities. Don't mind anything
any one tells you about any one else. Judge everyone and
everything for yourself."
"That's what I try to do," said Isabel "but when you do that
people call you conceited."
"You're not to mind them--that's precisely my argument; not to
mind what they say about yourself any more than what they say
about your friend or your enemy."
Isabel considered. "I think you're right; but there are some
things I can't help minding: for instance when my friend's
attacked or when I myself am praised."
"Of course you're always at liberty to judge the critic. Judge
people as critics, however," Ralph added, "and you'll condemn
"I shall see Mr. Osmond for myself," said Isabel. "I've promised
to pay him a visit."
"To pay him a visit?"
"To go and see his view, his pictures, his daughter--I don't know
exactly what. Madame Merle's to take me; she tells me a great
many ladies call on him."
"Ah, with Madame Merle you may go anywhere, de confiance," said
Ralph. "She knows none but the best people."
Isabel said no more about Mr. Osmond, but she presently remarked
to her cousin that she was not satisfied with his tone about
Madame Merle. "It seems to me you insinuate things about her. I
don't know what you mean, but if you've any grounds for disliking
her I think you should either mention them frankly or else say
nothing at all."
Ralph, however, resented this charge with more apparent
earnestness than he commonly used. "I speak of Madame Merle
exactly as I speak to her: with an even exaggerated respect."
"Exaggerated, precisely. That's what I complain of."
"I do so because Madame Merle's merits are exaggerated."
"By whom, pray? By me? If so I do her a poor service."
"No, no; by herself."
"Ah, I protest!" Isabel earnestly cried. "If ever there was a
woman who made small claims--!"
"You put your finger on it," Ralph interrupted. "Her modesty's
exaggerated. She has no business with small claims--she has a
perfect right to make large ones."
"Her merits are large then. You contradict yourself."
"Her merits are immense," said Ralph. "She's indescribably
blameless; a pathless desert of virtue; the only woman I know who
never gives one a chance."
"A chance for what?"
"Well, say to call her a fool! She's the only woman I know who
has but that one little fault."
Isabel turned away with impatience. "I don't understand you;
you're too paradoxical for my plain mind."
"Let me explain. When I say she exaggerates I don't mean it in
the vulgar sense--that she boasts, overstates, gives too fine an
account of herself. I mean literally that she pushes the search
for perfection too far--that her merits are in themselves
overstrained. She's too good, too kind, too clever, too learned,
too accomplished, too everything. She's too complete, in a word.
I confess to you that she acts on my nerves and that I feel about
her a good deal as that intensely human Athenian felt about
Aristides the Just."
Isabel looked hard at her cousin; but the mocking spirit, if it
lurked in his words, failed on this occasion to peep from his
face. "Do you wish Madame Merle to be banished?"
"By no means. She's much too good company. I delight in Madame
Merle," said Ralph Touchett simply.
"You're very odious, sir!" Isabel exclaimed. And then she asked
him if he knew anything that was not to the honour of her
"Nothing whatever. Don't you see that's just what I mean? On the
character of every one else you may find some little black speck;
if I were to take half an hour to it, some day, I've no doubt I
should be able to find one on yours. For my own, of course, I'm
spotted like a leopard. But on Madame Merle's nothing, nothing,
"That's just what I think!" said Isabel with a toss of her head.
"That is why I like her so much."
"She's a capital person for you to know. Since you wish to see
the world you couldn't have a better guide."
"I suppose you mean by that that she's worldly?"
"Worldly? No," said Ralph, "she's the great round world itself!"
It had certainly not, as Isabel for the moment took it into her
head to believe, been a refinement of malice in him to say that
he delighted in Madame Merle. Ralph Touchett took his refreshment
wherever he could find it, and he would not have forgiven himself
if he had been left wholly unbeguiled by such a mistress of the
social art. There are deep-lying sympathies and antipathies, and
it may have been that, in spite of the administered justice she
enjoyed at his hands, her absence from his mother's house would
not have made life barren to him. But Ralph Touchett had learned
more or less inscrutably to attend, and there could have been
nothing so "sustained" to attend to as the general performance of
Madame Merle. He tasted her in sips, he let her stand, with an
opportuneness she herself could not have surpassed. There were
moments when he felt almost sorry for her; and these, oddly
enough, were the moments when his kindness was least
demonstrative. He was sure she had been yearningly ambitious and
that what she had visibly accomplished was far below her secret
measure. She had got herself into perfect training, but had won
none of the prizes. She was always plain Madame Merle, the widow
of a Swiss negociant, with a small income and a large acquaintance,
who stayed with people a great deal and was almost as universally
"liked" as some new volume of smooth twaddle. The contrast
between this position and any one of some half-dozen others that
he supposed to have at various moments engaged her hope had an
element of the tragical. His mother thought he got on beautifully
with their genial guest; to Mrs. Touchett's sense two persons who
dealt so largely in too-ingenious theories of conduct--that is of
their own--would have much in common. He had given due
consideration to Isabel's intimacy with her eminent friend,
having long since made up his mind that he could not, without
opposition, keep his cousin to himself; and he made the best of
it, as he had done of worse things. He believed it would take
care of itself; it wouldn't last forever. Neither of these two
superior persons knew the other as well as she supposed, and
when each had made an important discovery or two there would be,
if not a rupture, at least a relaxation. Meanwhile he was quite
willing to admit that the conversation of the elder lady was an
advantage to the younger, who had a great deal to learn and would
doubtless learn it better from Madame Merle than from some other
instructors of the young. It was not probable that Isabel would
It would certainly have been hard to see what injury could arise
to her from the visit she presently paid to Mr. Osmond's
hill-top. Nothing could have been more charming than this
occasion--a soft afternoon in the full maturity of the Tuscan
spring. The companions drove out of the Roman Gate, beneath the
enormous blank superstructure which crowns the fine clear arch of
that portal and makes it nakedly impressive, and wound between
high-walled lanes into which the wealth of blossoming orchards
over-drooped and flung a fragrance, until they reached the small
superurban piazza, of crooked shape, where the long brown wall
of the villa occupied in part by Mr. Osmond formed a principal,
or at least a very imposing, object. Isabel went with her friend
through a wide, high court, where a clear shadow rested below and
a pair of light-arched galleries, facing each other above, caught
the upper sunshine upon their slim columns and the flowering
plants in which they were dressed. There was something grave and
strong in the place; it looked somehow as if, once you were in,
you would need an act of energy to get out. For Isabel, however,
there was of course as yet no thought of getting out, but only of
advancing. Mr. Osmond met her in the cold ante-chamber--it was
cold even in the month of May--and ushered her, with her
conductress, into the apartment to which we have already been
introduced. Madame Merle was in front, and while Isabel lingered
a little, talking with him, she went forward familiarly and
greeted two persons who were seated in the saloon. One of these
was little Pansy, on whom she bestowed a kiss; the other was a
lady whom Mr. Osmond indicated to Isabel as his sister, the
Countess Gemini. "And that's my little girl," he said, "who has
just come out of her convent."
Pansy had on a scant white dress, and her fair hair was neatly
arranged in a net; she wore her small shoes tied sandal-fashion
about her ankles. She made Isabel a little conventual curtsey
and then came to be kissed. The Countess Gemini simply nodded
without getting up: Isabel could see she was a woman of high
fashion. She was thin and dark and not at all pretty, having
features that suggested some tropical bird--a long beak-like nose,
small, quickly-moving eyes and a mouth and chin that receded
extremely. Her expression, however, thanks to various intensities
of emphasis and wonder, of horror and joy, was not inhuman, and,
as regards her appearance, it was plain she understood herself
and made the most of her points. Her attire, voluminous and
delicate, bristling with elegance, had the look of shimmering
plumage, and her attitudes were as light and sudden as those of a
creature who perched upon twigs. She had a great deal of manner;
Isabel, who had never known any one with so much manner,
immediately classed her as the most affected of women. She
remembered that Ralph had not recommended her as an acquaintance;
but she was ready to acknowledge that to a casual view the
Countess Gemini revealed no depths. Her demonstrations suggested
the violent waving of some flag of general truce--white silk with
"You'll believe I'm glad to see you when I tell you it's only
because I knew you were to be here that I came myself. I don't
come and see my brother--I make him come and see me. This hill of
his is impossible--I don't see what possesses him. Really,
Osmond, you'll be the ruin of my horses some day, and if it hurts
them you'll have to give me another pair. I heard them wheezing
to-day; I assure you I did. It's very disagreeable to hear one's
horses wheezing when one's sitting in the carriage; it sounds too
as if they weren't what they should be. But I've always had good
horses; whatever else I may have lacked I've always managed that.
My husband doesn't know much, but I think he knows a horse. In
general Italians don't, but my husband goes in, according to his
poor light, for everything English. My horses are English--so
it's all the greater pity they should be ruined. I must tell
you," she went on, directly addressing Isabel, "that Osmond
doesn't often invite me; I don't think he likes to have me. It
was quite my own idea, coming to-day. I like to see new people,
and I'm sure you're very new. But don't sit there; that chair's
not what it looks. There are some very good seats here, but there
are also some horrors."
These remarks were delivered with a series of little jerks and
pecks, of roulades of shrillness, and in an accent that was as
some fond recall of good English, or rather of good American, in
"I don't like to have you, my dear?" said her brother. "I'm sure
"I don't see any horrors anywhere," Isabel returned, looking
about her. "Everything seems to me beautiful and precious."
"I've a few good things," Mr. Osmond allowed; "indeed I've
nothing very bad. But I've not what I should have liked."
He stood there a little awkwardly, smiling and glancing about;
his manner was an odd mixture of the detached and the involved.
He seemed to hint that nothing but the right "values" was of any
consequence. Isabel made a rapid induction: perfect simplicity
was not the badge of his family. Even the little girl from the
convent, who, in her prim white dress, with her small submissive
face and her hands locked before her, stood there as if she were
about to partake of her first communion, even Mr. Osmond's
diminutive daughter had a kind of finish that was not entirely
"You'd have liked a few things from the Uffzi and the Pitti--
that's what you'd have liked," said Madame Merle.
"Poor Osmond, with his old curtains and crucifixes!" the Countess
Gemini exclaimed: she appeared to call her brother only by his
family-name. Her ejaculation had no particular object; she smiled
at Isabel as she made it and looked at her from head to foot.
Her brother had not heard her; he seemed to be thinking what he
could say to Isabel. "Won't you have some tea?--you must be very
tired," he at last bethought himself of remarking.
"No indeed, I'm not tired; what have I done to tire me?" Isabel
felt a certain need of being very direct, of pretending to
nothing; there was something in the air, in her general impression
of things--she could hardly have said what it was--that deprived
her of all disposition to put herself forward. The place, the
occasion, the combination of people, signified more than lay on
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