Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

Chapter XXXII

It was not of him, nevertheless, that she was thinking while she stood at the window near which we found her a while ago, and it was not of any of the matters I have rapidly sketched. She was not turned to the past, but to the immediate, impending hour. She had reason to expect a scene, and she was not fond of scenes. She was not asking herself what she should say to her visitor; this question had already been answered. What he would say to her — that was the interesting issue. It could be nothing in the least soothing — she had warrant for this, and the conviction doubtless showed in the cloud on her brow. For the rest, however, all clearness reigned in her; she had put away her mourning and she walked in no small shimmering splendour. She only, felt older — ever so much, and as if she were “worth more” for it, like some curious piece in an antiquary’s collection. She was not at any rate left indefinitely to her apprehensions, for a servant at last stood before her with a card on his tray. “Let the gentleman come in,” she said, and continued to gaze out of the window after the footman had retired. It was only when she had heard the door close behind the person who presently entered that she looked round.

Caspar Goodwood stood there — stood and received a moment, from head to foot, the bright, dry gaze with which she rather withheld than offered a greeting. Whether his sense of maturity had kept pace with Isabel’s we shall perhaps presently ascertain; let me say meanwhile that to her critical glance he showed nothing of the injury of time. Straight, strong and hard, there was nothing in his appearance that spoke positively either of youth or of age; if he had neither innocence nor weakness, so he had no practical philosophy. His jaw showed the same voluntary cast as in earlier days; but a crisis like the present had in it of course something grim. He had the air of a man who had travelled hard; he said nothing at first, as if he had been out of breath. This gave Isabel time to make a reflexion: “Poor fellow, what great things he’s capable of, and what a pity he should waste so dreadfully his splendid force! What a pity too that one can’t satisfy everybody!” It gave her time to do more to say at the end of a minute: “I can’t tell you how I hoped you wouldn’t come!”

“I’ve no doubt of that.” And he looked about him for a seat. Not only had he come, but he meant to settle.

“You must be very tired,” said Isabel, seating herself, and generously, as she thought, to give him his opportunity.

“No, I’m not at all tired. Did you ever know me to be tired?”

“Never; I wish I had! When did you arrive?”

“Last night, very late; in a kind of snail-train they call the express. These Italian trains go at about the rate of an American funeral.”

“That’s in keeping — you must have felt as if you were coming to bury me!” And she forced a smile of encouragement to an easy view of their situation. She had reasoned the matter well out, making it perfectly clear that she broke no faith and falsified no contract; but for all this she was afraid of her visitor. She was ashamed of her fear; but she was devoutly thankful there was nothing else to be ashamed of. He looked at her with his stiff insistence, an insistence in which there was such a want of tact; especially when the dull dark beam in his eye rested on her as a physical weight.

“No, I didn’t feel that; I couldn’t think of you as dead. I wish I could!” he candidly declared.

“I thank you immensely.”

“I’d rather think of you as dead than as married to another man.”

“That’s very selfish of you!” she returned with the ardour of a real conviction. “If you’re not happy yourself others have yet a right to be.”

“Very likely it’s selfish; but I don’t in the least mind your saying so. I don’t mind anything you can say now — I don’t feel it. The cruellest things you could think of would be mere pin-pricks. After what you’ve done I shall never feel anything — I mean anything but that. That I shall feel all my life.”

Mr. Goodwood made these detached assertions with dry deliberateness, in his hard, slow American tone, which flung no atmospheric colour over propositions intrinsically crude. The tone made Isabel angry rather than touched her; but her anger perhaps was fortunate, inasmuch as it gave her a further reason for controlling herself. It was under the pressure of this control that she became, after a little, irrelevant. “When did you leave New York?”

He threw up his head as if calculating. “Seventeen days ago.”

“You must have travelled fast in spite of your slow trains.”

“I came as fast as I could. I’d have come five days ago if I had been able.”

“It wouldn’t have made any difference, Mr. Goodwood,” she coldly smiled.

“Not to you — no. But to me.”

“You gain nothing that I see.”

“That’s for me to judge!”

“Of course. To me it seems that you only torment yourself.” And then, to change the subject, she asked him if he had seen Henrietta Stackpole. He looked as if he had not come from Boston to Florence to talk of Henrietta Stackpole; but he answered, distinctly enough, that this young lady had been with him just before he left America. “She came to see you?” Isabel then demanded.

“Yes, she was in Boston, and she called at my office. It was the day I had got your letter.”

“Did you tell her?” Isabel asked with a certain anxiety.

“Oh no,” said Caspar Goodwood simply; “I didn’t want to do that. She’ll hear it quick enough; she hears everything.”

“I shall write to her, and then she’ll write to me and scold me,” Isabel declared, trying to smile again.

Caspar, however, remained sternly grave. “I guess she’ll come right out,” he said.

“On purpose to scold me?”

“I don’t know. She seemed to think she had not seen Europe thoroughly.”

“I’m glad you tell me that,” Isabel said. “I must prepare for her.”

Mr. Goodwood fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor; then at last, raising them, “Does she know Mr. Osmond?” he enquired.

“A little. And she doesn’t like him. But of course I don’t marry to please Henrietta,” she added. It would have been better for poor Caspar if she had tried a little more to gratify Miss Stackpole; but he didn’t say so; he only asked, presently, when her marriage would take place. To which she made answer that she didn’t know yet. “I can only say it will be soon. I’ve told no one but yourself and one other person — an old friend of Mr. Osmond’s.”

“Is it a marriage your friends won’t like?” he demanded.

“I really haven’t an idea. As I say, I don’t marry for my friends.”

He went on, making no exclamation, no comment, only asking questions, doing it quite without delicacy. “Who and what then is Mr. Gilbert Osmond?”

“Who and what? Nobody and nothing but a very good and very honourable man. He’s not in business,” said Isabel. “He’s not rich; he’s not known for anything in particular.”

She disliked Mr. Goodwood’s questions, but she said to herself that she owed it to him to satisfy him as far as possible. The satisfaction poor Caspar exhibited was, however, small; he sat very upright, gazing at her. “Where does he come from? Where does he belong?”

She had never been so little pleased with the way he said “belawng.” “He comes from nowhere. He has spent most of his life in Italy.”

“You said in your letter he was American. Hasn’t he a native place?”

“Yes, but he has forgotten it. He left it as a small boy.”

“Has he never gone back?”

“Why should he go back?” Isabel asked, flushing all defensively. “He has no profession.”

“He might have gone back for his pleasure. Doesn’t he like the United States?”

“He doesn’t know them. Then he’s very quiet and very simple — he contents himself with Italy.”

“With Italy and with you,” said Mr. Goodwood with gloomy plainness and no appearance of trying to make an epigram. “What has he ever done?” he added abruptly.

“That I should marry him? Nothing at all,” Isabel replied while her patience helped itself by turning a little to hardness. “If he had done great things would you forgive me any better? Give me up, Mr. Goodwood; I’m marrying a perfect nonentity. Don’t try to take an interest in him. You can’t.”

“I can’t appreciate him; that’s what you mean. And you don’t mean in the least that he’s a perfect nonentity. You think he’s grand, you think he’s great, though no one else thinks so.”

Isabel’s colour deepened; she felt this really acute of her companion, and it was certainly a proof of the aid that passion might render perceptions she had never taken for fine. “Why do you always comeback to what others think? I can’t discuss Mr. Osmond with you.”

“Of course not,” said Caspar reasonably. And he sat there with his air of stiff helplessness, as if not only this were true, but there were nothing else that they might discuss.

“You see how little you gain,” she accordingly broke out —“how little comfort or satisfaction I can give you.”

“I didn’t expect you to give me much.”

“I don’t understand then why you came.”

“I came because I wanted to see you once more — even just as you are.”

“I appreciate that; but if you had waited a while, sooner or later we should have been sure to meet, and our meeting would have been pleasanter for each of us than this.”

“Waited till after you’re married? That’s just what I didn’t want to do. You’ll be different then.”

“Not very. I shall still be a great friend of yours. You’ll see.”

“That will make it all the worse,” said Mr. Goodwood grimly.

“Ah, you’re unaccommodating! I can’t promise to dislike you in order to help you to resign yourself.”

“I shouldn’t care if you did!”

Isabel got up with a movement of repressed impatience and walked to the window, where she remained a moment looking out. When she turned round her visitor was still motionless in his place. She came toward him again and stopped, resting her hand on the back of the chair she had just quitted. “Do you mean you came simply to look at me? That’s better for you perhaps than for me.”

“I wished to hear the sound of your voice,” he said.

“You’ve heard it, and you see it says nothing very sweet.”

“It gives me pleasure, all the same.” And with this he got up. She had felt pain and displeasure on receiving early that day the news he was in Florence and by her leave would come within an hour to see her. She had been vexed and distressed, though she had sent back word by his messenger that he might come when he would. She had not been better pleased when she saw him; his being there at all was so full of heavy implications. It implied things she could never assent to — rights, reproaches, remonstrance, rebuke, the expectation of making her change her purpose. These things, however, if implied, had not been expressed; and now our young lady, strangely enough, began to resent her visitor’s remarkable self-control. There was a dumb misery about him that irritated her; there was a manly staying of his hand that made her heart beat faster. She felt her agitation rising, and she said to herself that she was angry in the way a woman is angry when she has been in the wrong. She was not in the wrong; she had fortunately not that bitterness to swallow; but, all the same, she wished he would denounce her a little. She had wished his visit would be short; it had no purpose, no propriety; yet now that he seemed to be turning away she felt a sudden horror of his leaving her without uttering a word that would give her an opportunity to defend herself more than she had done in writing to him a month before, in a few carefully chosen words, to announce her engagement. If she were not in the wrong, however, why should she desire to defend herself? It was an excess of generosity on Isabel’s part to desire that Mr. Goodwood should be angry. And if he had not meanwhile held himself hard it might have made him so to hear the tone in which she suddenly exclaimed, as if she were accusing him of having accused her: “I’ve not deceived you! I was perfectly free!”

“Yes, I know that,” said Caspar.

“I gave you full warning that I’d do as I chose.”

“You said you’d probably never marry, and you said it with such a manner that I pretty well believed it.”

She considered this an instant. “No one can be more surprised than myself at my present intention.”

“You told me that if I heard you were engaged I was not to believe it,” Caspar went on. “I heard it twenty days ago from yourself, but I remembered what you had said. I thought there might be some mistake, and that’s partly why I came.”

“If you wish me to repeat it by word of mouth, that’s soon done. There’s no mistake whatever.”

“I saw that as soon as I came into the room.”

“What good would it do you that I shouldn’t marry?” she asked with a certain fierceness.

“I should like it better than this.”

“You’re very selfish, as I said before.”

“I know that. I’m selfish as iron.”

“Even iron sometimes melts! If you’ll be reasonable I’ll see you again.”

“Don’t you call me reasonable now?”

“I don’t know what to say to you,” she answered with sudden humility.

“I shan’t trouble you for a long time,” the young man went on. He made a step towards the door, but he stopped. “Another reason why I came was that I wanted to hear what you would say in explanation of your having changed your mind.”

Her humbleness as suddenly deserted her. “In explanation? Do you think I’m bound to explain?”

He gave her one of his long dumb looks. “You were very positive. I did believe it.”

“So did I. Do you think I could explain if I would?”

“No, I suppose not. Well,” he added, “I’ve done what I wished. I’ve seen you.”

“How little you make of these terrible journeys,” she felt the poverty of her presently replying.

“If you’re afraid I’m knocked up — in any such way as that — you may he at your ease about it.” He turned away, this time in earnest, and no hand-shake, no sign of parting, was exchanged between them.

At the door he stopped with his hand on the knob. “I shall leave Florence to-morrow,” he said without a quaver.

“I’m delighted to hear it!” she answered passionately. Five minutes after he had gone out she burst into tears.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/j2p/chapter32.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38