One day, toward the end of February, Ralph Touchett made up his mind to return to England. He had his own reasons for this decision, which he was not bound to communicate; but Henrietta Stackpole, to whom he mentioned his intention, flattered herself that she guessed them. She forbore to express them, however; she only said, after a moment, as she sat by his sofa: “I suppose you know you can’t go alone?”
“I’ve no idea of doing that,” Ralph answered. “I shall have people with me.”
“What do you mean by ‘people’? Servants whom you pay?”
“Ah,” said Ralph jocosely, “after all, they’re human beings.”
“Are there any women among them?” Miss Stackpole desired to know.
“You speak as if I had a dozen! No, I confess I haven’t a soubrette in my employment.”
“Well,” said Henrietta calmly, “you can’t go to England that way. You must have a woman’s care.”
“I’ve had so much of yours for the past fortnight that it will last me a good while.”
“You’ve not had enough of it yet. I guess I’ll go with you,” said Henrietta.
“Go with me?” Ralph slowly raised himself from his sofa.
“Yes, I know you don’t like me, but I’ll go with you all the same. It would be better for your health to lie down again.”
Ralph looked at her a little; then he slowly relapsed. “I like you very much,” he said in a moment.
Miss Stackpole gave one of her infrequent laughs. “You needn’t think that by saying that you can buy me off. I’ll go with you, and what is more I’ll take care of you.”
“You’re a very good woman,” said Ralph.
“Wait till I get you safely home before you say that. It won’t be easy. But you had better go, all the same.”
Before she left him, Ralph said to her: “Do you really mean to take care of me?”
“Well, I mean to try.”
“I notify you then that I submit. Oh, I submit!” And it was perhaps a sign of submission that a few minutes after she had left him alone he burst into a loud fit of laughter. It seemed to him so inconsequent, such a conclusive proof of his having abdicated all functions and renounced all exercise, that he should start on a journey across Europe under the supervision of Miss Stackpole. And the great oddity was that the prospect pleased him; he was gratefully, luxuriously passive. He felt even impatient to start; and indeed he had an immense longing to see his own house again. The end of everything was at hand; it seemed to him he could stretch out his arm and touch the goal. But he wanted to die at home; it was the only wish he had left — to extend himself in the large quiet room where he had last seen his father lie, and close his eyes upon the summer dawn.
That same day Caspar Goodwood came to see him, and he informed his visitor that Miss Stackpole had taken him up and was to conduct him back to England. “Ah then,” said Caspar, “I’m afraid I shall be a fifth wheel to the coach. Mrs. Osmond has made me promise to go with you.”
“Good heavens — it’s the golden age! You’re all too kind.”
“The kindness on my part is to her; it’s hardly to you.”
“Granting that, SHE’S kind,” smiled Ralph.
“To get people to go with you? Yes, that’s a sort of kindness,” Goodwood answered without lending himself to the joke. “For myself, however,” he added, “I’ll go so far as to say that I would much rather travel with you and Miss Stackpole than with Miss Stackpole alone.”
“And you’d rather stay here than do either,” said Ralph. “There’s really no need of your coming. Henrietta’s extraordinarily efficient.”
“I’m sure of that. But I’ve promised Mrs. Osmond.”
“You can easily get her to let you off.”
“She wouldn’t let me off for the world. She wants me to look after you, but that isn’t the principal thing. The principal thing is that she wants me to leave Rome.”
“Ah, you see too much in it,” Ralph suggested.
“I bore her,” Goodwood went on; “she has nothing to say to me, so she invented that.”
“Oh then, if it’s a convenience to her I certainly will take you with me. Though I don’t see why it should be a convenience,” Ralph added in a moment.
“Well,” said Caspar Goodwood simply, “she thinks I’m watching her.”
“Trying to make out if she’s happy.”
“That’s easy to make out,” said Ralph. “She’s the most visibly happy woman I know.”
“Exactly so; I’m satisfied,” Goodwood answered dryly. For all his dryness, however, he had more to say. “I’ve been watching her; I was an old friend and it seemed to me I had the right. She pretends to be happy; that was what she undertook to be; and I thought I should like to see for myself what it amounts to. I’ve seen,” he continued with a harsh ring in his voice, “and I don’t want to see any more. I’m now quite ready to go.”
“Do you know it strikes me as about time you should?” Ralph rejoined. And this was the only conversation these gentlemen had about Isabel Osmond.
Henrietta made her preparations for departure, and among them she found it proper to say a few words to the Countess Gemini, who returned at Miss Stackpole’s pension the visit which this lady had paid her in Florence.
“You were very wrong about Lord Warburton,” she remarked to the Countess. “I think it right you should know that.”
“About his making love to Isabel? My poor lady, he was at her house three times a day. He has left traces of his passage!” the Countess cried.
“He wished to marry your niece; that’s why he came to the house.”
The Countess stared, and then with an inconsiderate laugh: “Is that the story that Isabel tells? It isn’t bad, as such things go. If he wishes to marry my niece, pray why doesn’t he do it? Perhaps he has gone to buy the wedding-ring and will come back with it next month, after I’m gone.”
“No, he’ll not come back. Miss Osmond doesn’t wish to marry him.”
“She’s very accommodating! I knew she was fond of Isabel, but I didn’t know she carried it so far.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Henrietta coldly, and reflecting that the Countess was unpleasantly perverse. “I really must stick to my point — that Isabel never encouraged the attentions of Lord Warburton.”
“My dear friend, what do you and I know about it? All we know is that my brother’s capable of everything.”
“I don’t know what your brother’s capable of,” said Henrietta with dignity.
“It’s not her encouraging Warburton that I complain of; it’s her sending him away. I want particularly to see him. Do you suppose she thought I would make him faithless?” the Countess continued with audacious insistence. “However, she’s only keeping him, one can feel that. The house is full of him there; he’s quite in the air. Oh yes, he has left traces; I’m sure I shall see him yet.”
“Well,” said Henrietta after a little, with one of those inspirations which had made the fortune of her letters to the Interviewer, “perhaps he’ll be more successful with you than with Isabel!”
When she told her friend of the offer she had made Ralph Isabel replied that she could have done nothing that would have pleased her more. It had always been her faith that at bottom Ralph and this young woman were made to understand each other. “I don’t care whether he understands me or not,” Henrietta declared. “The great thing is that he shouldn’t die in the cars.”
“He won’t do that,” Isabel said, shaking her head with an extension of faith.
“He won’t if I can help it. I see you want us all to go. I don’t know what you want to do.”
“I want to be alone,” said Isabel.
“You won’t be that so long as you’ve so much company at home.”
“Ah, they’re part of the comedy. You others are spectators.”
“Do you call it a comedy, Isabel Archer?” Henrietta rather grimly asked.
“The tragedy then if you like. You’re all looking at me; it makes me uncomfortable.”
Henrietta engaged in this act for a while. “You’re like the stricken deer, seeking the innermost shade. Oh, you do give me such a sense of helplessness!” she broke out.
“I’m not at all helpless. There are many things I mean to do.”
“It’s not you I’m speaking of; it’s myself. It’s too much, having come on purpose, to leave you just as I find you.”
“You don’t do that; you leave me much refreshed,” Isabel said.
“Very mild refreshment — sour lemonade! I want you to promise me something.”
“I can’t do that. I shall never make another promise. I made such a solemn one four years ago, and I’ve succeeded so ill in keeping it.”
“You’ve had no encouragement. In this case I should give you the greatest. Leave your husband before the worst comes; that’s what I want you to promise.”
“The worst? What do you call the worst?”
“Before your character gets spoiled.”
“Do you mean my disposition? It won’t get spoiled,” Isabel answered, smiling. “I’m taking very good care of it. I’m extremely struck,” she added, turning away, “with the off-hand way in which you speak of a woman’s leaving her husband. It’s easy to see you’ve never had one!”
“Well,” said Henrietta as if she were beginning an argument, “nothing is more common in our Western cities, and it’s to them, after all, that we must look in the future.” Her argument, however, does not concern this history, which has too many other threads to unwind. She announced to Ralph Touchett that she was ready to leave Rome by any train he might designate, and Ralph immediately pulled himself together for departure. Isabel went to see him at the last, and he made the same remark that Henrietta had made. It struck him that Isabel was uncommonly glad to get rid of them all.
For all answer to this she gently laid her hand on his, and said in a low tone, with a quick smile: “My dear Ralph —!”
It was answer enough, and he was quite contented. But he went on in the same way, jocosely, ingenuously: “I’ve seen less of you than I might, but it’s better than nothing. And then I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
“I don’t know from whom, leading the life you’ve done.”
“From the voices of the air! Oh, from no one else; I never let other people speak of you. They always say you’re ‘charming,’ and that’s so flat.”
“I might have seen more of you certainly,” Isabel said. “But when one’s married one has so much occupation.”
“Fortunately I’m not married. When you come to see me in England I shall be able to entertain you with all the freedom of a bachelor.” He continued to talk as if they should certainly meet again, and succeeded in making the assumption appear almost just. He made no allusion to his term being near, to the probability that he should not outlast the summer. If he preferred it so, Isabel was willing enough; the reality was sufficiently distinct without their erecting finger-posts in conversation. That had been well enough for the earlier time, though about this, as about his other affairs, Ralph had never been egotistic. Isabel spoke of his journey, of the stages into which he should divide it, of the precautions he should take. “Henrietta’s my greatest precaution,” he went on. “The conscience of that woman’s sublime.”
“Certainly she’ll be very conscientious.”
“Will be? She has been! It’s only because she thinks it’s her duty that she goes with me. There’s a conception of duty for you.”
“Yes, it’s a generous one,” said Isabel, “and it makes me deeply ashamed. I ought to go with you, you know.”
“Your husband wouldn’t like that.”
“No, he wouldn’t like it. But I might go, all the same.”
“I’m startled by the boldness of your imagination. Fancy my being a cause of disagreement between a lady and her husband!”
“That’s why I don’t go,” said Isabel simply — yet not very lucidly.
Ralph understood well enough, however. “I should think so, with all those occupations you speak of.”
“It isn’t that. I’m afraid,” said Isabel. After a pause she repeated, as if to make herself, rather than him, hear the words: “I’m afraid.”
Ralph could hardly tell what her tone meant; it was so strangely deliberate — apparently so void of emotion. Did she wish to do public penance for a fault of which she had not been convicted? or were her words simply an attempt at enlightened self-analysis? However this might be, Ralph could not resist so easy an opportunity. “Afraid of your husband?”
“Afraid of myself!” she said, getting up. She stood there a moment and then added: “If I were afraid of my husband that would be simply my duty. That’s what women are expected to be.”
“Ah yes,” laughed Ralph; “but to make up for it there’s always some man awfully afraid of some woman!”
She gave no heed to this pleasantry, but suddenly took a different turn. “With Henrietta at the head of your little band,” she exclaimed abruptly, “there will be nothing left for Mr. Goodwood!”
“Ah, my dear Isabel,” Ralph answered, “he’s used to that. There is nothing left for Mr. Goodwood.”
She coloured and then observed, quickly, that she must leave him. They stood together a moment; both her hands were in both of his. “You’ve been my best friend,” she said.
“It was for you that I wanted — that I wanted to live. But I’m of no use to you.”
Then it came over her more poignantly that she should not see him again. She could not accept that; she could not part with him that way. “If you should send for me I’d come,” she said at last.
“Your husband won’t consent to that.”
“Oh yes, I can arrange it.”
“I shall keep that for my last pleasure!” said Ralph.
In answer to which she simply kissed him. It was a Thursday, and that evening Caspar Goodwood came to Palazzo Roccanera. He was among the first to arrive, and he spent some time in conversation with Gilbert Osmond, who almost always was present when his wife received. They sat down together, and Osmond, talkative, communicative, expansive, seemed possessed with a kind of intellectual gaiety. He leaned back with his legs crossed, lounging and chatting, while Goodwood, more restless, but not at all lively, shifted his position, played with his hat, made the little sofa creak beneath him. Osmond’s face wore a sharp, aggressive smile; he was as a man whose perceptions have been quickened by good news. He remarked to Goodwood that he was sorry they were to lose him; he himself should particularly miss him. He saw so few intelligent men — they were surprisingly scarce in Rome. He must be sure to come back; there was something very refreshing, to an inveterate Italian like himself, in talking with a genuine outsider.
“I’m very fond of Rome, you know,” Osmond said; “but there’s nothing I like better than to meet people who haven’t that superstition. The modern world’s after all very fine. Now you’re thoroughly modern and yet are not at all common. So many of the moderns we see are such very poor stuff. If they’re the children of the future we’re willing to die young. Of course the ancients too are often very tiresome. My wife and I like everything that’s really new — not the mere pretence of it. There’s nothing new, unfortunately, in ignorance and stupidity. We see plenty of that in forms that offer themselves as a revelation of progress, of light. A revelation of vulgarity! There’s a certain kind of vulgarity which I believe is really new; I don’t think there ever was anything like it before. Indeed I don’t find vulgarity, at all, before the present century. You see a faint menace of it here and there in the last, but to-day the air has grown so dense that delicate things are literally not recognised. Now, we’ve liked you —!” With which he hesitated a moment, laying his hand gently on Goodwood’s knee and smiling with a mixture of assurance and embarrassment. “I’m going to say something extremely offensive and patronising, but you must let me have the satisfaction of it. We’ve liked you because — because you’ve reconciled us a little to the future. If there are to be a certain number of people like you — a la bonne heure! I’m talking for my wife as well as for myself, you see. She speaks for me, my wife; why shouldn’t I speak for her? We’re as united, you know, as the candlestick and the snuffers. Am I assuming too much when I say that I think I’ve understood from you that your occupations have been — a — commercial? There’s a danger in that, you know; but it’s the way you have escaped that strikes us. Excuse me if my little compliment seems in execrable taste; fortunately my wife doesn’t hear me. What I mean is that you might have been — a — what I was mentioning just now. The whole American world was in a conspiracy to make you so. But you resisted, you’ve something about you that saved you. And yet you’re so modern, so modern; the most modern man we know! We shall always be delighted to see you again.”
I have said that Osmond was in good humour, and these remarks will give ample evidence of the fact. They were infinitely more personal than he usually cared to be, and if Caspar Goodwood had attended to them more closely he might have thought that the defence of delicacy was in rather odd hands. We may believe, however, that Osmond knew very well what he was about, and that if he chose to use the tone of patronage with a grossness not in his habits he had an excellent reason for the escapade. Goodwood had only a vague sense that he was laying it on somehow; he scarcely knew where the mixture was applied. Indeed he scarcely knew what Osmond was talking about; he wanted to be alone with Isabel, and that idea spoke louder to him than her husband’s perfectly-pitched voice. He watched her talking with other people and wondered when she would be at liberty and whether he might ask her to go into one of the other rooms. His humour was not, like Osmond’s, of the best; there was an element of dull rage in his consciousness of things. Up to this time he had not disliked Osmond personally; he had only thought him very well-informed and obliging and more than he had supposed like the person whom Isabel Archer would naturally marry. His host had won in the open field a great advantage over him, and Goodwood had too strong a sense of fair play to have been moved to underrate him on that account. He had not tried positively to think well of him; this was a flight of sentimental benevolence of which, even in the days when he came nearest to reconciling himself to what had happened, Goodwood was quite incapable. He accepted him as rather a brilliant personage of the amateurish kind, afflicted with a redundancy of leisure which it amused him to work off in little refinements of conversation. But he only half trusted him; he could never make out why the deuce Osmond should lavish refinements of any sort upon HIM. It made him suspect that he found some private entertainment in it, and it ministered to a general impression that his triumphant rival had in his composition a streak of perversity. He knew indeed that Osmond could have no reason to wish him evil; he had nothing to fear from him. He had carried off a supreme advantage and could afford to be kind to a man who had lost everything. It was true that Goodwood had at times grimly wished he were dead and would have liked to kill him; but Osmond had no means of knowing this, for practice had made the younger man perfect in the art of appearing inaccessible to-day to any violent emotion. He cultivated this art in order to deceive himself, but it was others that he deceived first. He cultivated it, moreover, with very limited success; of which there could be no better proof than the deep, dumb irritation that reigned in his soul when he heard Osmond speak of his wife’s feelings as if he were commissioned to answer for them.
That was all he had had an ear for in what his host said to him this evening; he had been conscious that Osmond made more of a point even than usual of referring to the conjugal harmony prevailing at Palazzo Roccanera. He had been more careful than ever to speak as if he and his wife had all things in sweet community and it were as natural to each of them to say “we” as to say “I”. In all this there was an air of intention that had puzzled and angered our poor Bostonian, who could only reflect for his comfort that Mrs. Osmond’s relations with her husband were none of his business. He had no proof whatever that her husband misrepresented her, and if he judged her by the surface of things was bound to believe that she liked her life. She had never given him the faintest sign of discontent. Miss Stackpole had told him that she had lost her illusions, but writing for the papers had made Miss Stackpole sensational. She was too fond of early news. Moreover, since her arrival in Rome she had been much on her guard; she had pretty well ceased to flash her lantern at him. This indeed, it may be said for her, would have been quite against her conscience. She had now seen the reality of Isabel’s situation, and it had inspired her with a just reserve. Whatever could be done to improve it the most useful form of assistance would not be to inflame her former lovers with a sense of her wrongs. Miss Stackpole continued to take a deep interest in the state of Mr. Goodwood’s feelings, but she showed it at present only by sending him choice extracts, humorous and other, from the American journals, of which she received several by every post and which she always perused with a pair of scissors in her hand. The articles she cut out she placed in an envelope addressed to Mr. Goodwood, which she left with her own hand at his hotel. He never asked her a question about Isabel: hadn’t he come five thousand miles to see for himself? He was thus not in the least authorised to think Mrs. Osmond unhappy; but the very absence of authorisation operated as an irritant, ministered to the harshness with which, in spite of his theory that he had ceased to care, he now recognised that, so far as she was concerned, the future had nothing more for him. He had not even the satisfaction of knowing the truth; apparently he could not even be trusted to respect her if she WERE unhappy. He was hopeless, helpless, useless. To this last character she had called his attention by her ingenious plan for making him leave Rome. He had no objection whatever to doing what he could for her cousin, but it made him grind his teeth to think that of all the services she might have asked of him this was the one she had been eager to select. There had been no danger of her choosing one that would have kept him in Rome.
To-night what he was chiefly thinking of was that he was to leave her to-morrow and that he had gained nothing by coming but the knowledge that he was as little wanted as ever. About herself he had gained no knowledge; she was imperturbable, inscrutable, impenetrable. He felt the old bitterness, which he had tried so hard to swallow, rise again in his throat, and he knew there are disappointments that last as long as life. Osmond went on talking; Goodwood was vaguely aware that he was touching again upon his perfect intimacy with his wife. It seemed to him for a moment that the man had a kind of demonic imagination; it was impossible that without malice he should have selected so unusual a topic. But what did it matter, after all, whether he were demonic or not, and whether she loved him or hated him? She might hate him to the death without one’s gaining a straw one’s self. “You travel, by the by, with Ralph Touchett,” Osmond said. “I suppose that means you’ll move slowly?”
“I don’t know. I shall do just as he likes.”
“You’re very accommodating. We’re immensely obliged to you; you must really let me say it. My wife has probably expressed to you what we feel. Touchett has been on our minds all winter; it has looked more than once as if he would never leave Rome. He ought never to have come; it’s worse than an imprudence for people in that state to travel; it’s a kind of indelicacy. I wouldn’t for the world be under such an obligation to Touchett as he has been to — to my wife and me. Other people inevitably have to look after him, and every one isn’t so generous as you.”
“I’ve nothing else to do,” Caspar said dryly.
Osmond looked at him a moment askance. “You ought to marry, and then you’d have plenty to do! It’s true that in that case you wouldn’t be quite so available for deeds of mercy.”
“Do you find that as a married man you’re so much occupied?” the young man mechanically asked.
“Ah, you see, being married’s in itself an occupation. It isn’t always active; it’s often passive; but that takes even more attention. Then my wife and I do so many things together. We read, we study, we make music, we walk, we drive — we talk even, as when we first knew each other. I delight, to this hour, in my wife’s conversation. If you’re ever bored take my advice and get married. Your wife indeed may bore you, in that case; but you’ll never bore yourself. You’ll always have something to say to yourself — always have a subject of reflection.”
“I’m not bored,” said Goodwood. “I’ve plenty to think about and to say to myself.”
“More than to say to others!” Osmond exclaimed with a light laugh. “Where shall you go next? I mean after you’ve consigned Touchett to his natural caretakers — I believe his mother’s at last coming back to look after him. That little lady’s superb; she neglects her duties with a finish —! Perhaps you’ll spend the summer in England?”
“I don’t know. I’ve no plans.”
“Happy man! That’s a little bleak, but it’s very free.”
“Oh yes, I’m very free.”
“Free to come back to Rome I hope,” said Osmond as he saw a group of new visitors enter the room. “Remember that when you do come we count on you!”
Goodwood had meant to go away early, but the evening elapsed without his having a chance to speak to Isabel otherwise than as one of several associated interlocutors. There was something perverse in the inveteracy with which she avoided him; his unquenchable rancour discovered an intention where there was certainly no appearance of one. There was absolutely no appearance of one. She met his eyes with her clear hospitable smile, which seemed almost to ask that he would come and help her to entertain some of her visitors. To such suggestions, however, he opposed but a stiff impatience. He wandered about and waited; he talked to the few people he knew, who found him for the first time rather self-contradictory. This was indeed rare with Caspar Goodwood, though he often contradicted others. There was often music at Palazzo Roccanera, and it was usually very good. Under cover of the music he managed to contain himself; but toward the end, when he saw the people beginning to go, he drew near to Isabel and asked her in a low tone if he might not speak to her in one of the other rooms, which he had just assured himself was empty. She smiled as if she wished to oblige him but found her self absolutely prevented. “I’m afraid it’s impossible. People are saying good-night, and I must be where they can see me.”
“I shall wait till they are all gone then.”
She hesitated a moment. “Ah, that will be delightful!” she exclaimed.
And he waited, though it took a long time yet. There were several people, at the end, who seemed tethered to the carpet. The Countess Gemini, who was never herself till midnight, as she said, displayed no consciousness that the entertainment was over; she had still a little circle of gentlemen in front of the fire, who every now and then broke into a united laugh. Osmond had disappeared — he never bade good-bye to people; and as the Countess was extending her range, according to her custom at this period of the evening, Isabel had sent Pansy to bed. Isabel sat a little apart; she too appeared to wish her sister-in-law would sound a lower note and let the last loiterers depart in peace.
“May I not say a word to you now?” Goodwood presently asked her. She got up immediately, smiling. “Certainly, we’ll go somewhere else if you like.” They went together, leaving the Countess with her little circle, and for a moment after they had crossed the threshold neither of them spoke. Isabel would not sit down; she stood in the middle of the room slowly fanning herself; she had for him the same familiar grace. She seemed to wait for him to speak. Now that he was alone with her all the passion he had never stifled surged into his senses; it hummed in his eyes and made things swim round him. The bright, empty room grew dim and blurred, and through the heaving veil he felt her hover before him with gleaming eyes and parted lips. If he had seen more distinctly he would have perceived her smile was fixed and a trifle forced — that she was frightened at what she saw in his own face. “I suppose you wish to bid me goodbye?” she said.
“Yes — but I don’t like it. I don’t want to leave Rome,” he answered with almost plaintive honesty.
“I can well imagine. It’s wonderfully good of you. I can’t tell you how kind I think you.”
For a moment more he said nothing. “With a few words like that you make me go.”
“You must come back some day,” she brightly returned.
“Some day? You mean as long a time hence as possible.”
“Oh no; I don’t mean all that.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand! But I said I’d go, and I’ll go,” Goodwood added.
“Come back whenever you like,” said Isabel with attempted lightness.
“I don’t care a straw for your cousin!” Caspar broke out.
“Is that what you wished to tell me?”
“No, no; I didn’t want to tell you anything; I wanted to ask you —” he paused a moment, and then —“what have you really made of your life?” he said, in a low, quick tone. He paused again, as if for an answer; but she said nothing, and he went on: “I can’t understand, I can’t penetrate you! What am I to believe — what do you want me to think?” Still she said nothing; she only stood looking at him, now quite without pretending to ease. “I’m told you’re unhappy, and if you are I should like to know it. That would be something for me. But you yourself say you’re happy, and you’re somehow so still, so smooth, so hard. You’re completely changed. You conceal everything; I haven’t really come near you.”
“You come very near,” Isabel said gently, but in a tone of warning.
“And yet I don’t touch you! I want to know the truth. Have you done well?”
“You ask a great deal.”
“Yes — I’ve always asked a great deal. Of course you won’t tell me. I shall never know if you can help it. And then it’s none of my business.” He had spoken with a visible effort to control himself, to give a considerate form to an inconsiderate state of mind. But the sense that it was his last chance, that he loved her and had lost her, that she would think him a fool whatever he should say, suddenly gave him a lash and added a deep vibration to his low voice. “You’re perfectly inscrutable, and that’s what makes me think you’ve something to hide. I tell you I don’t care a straw for your cousin, but I don’t mean that I don’t like him. I mean that it isn’t because I like him that I go away with him. I’d go if he were an idiot and you should have asked me. If you should ask me I’d go to Siberia tomorrow. Why do you want me to leave the place? You must have some reason for that; if you were as contented as you pretend you are you wouldn’t care. I’d rather know the truth about you, even if it’s damnable, than have come here for nothing. That isn’t what I came for. I thought I shouldn’t care. I came because I wanted to assure myself that I needn’t think of you any more. I haven’t thought of anything else, and you’re quite right to wish me to go away. But if I must go, there’s no harm in my letting myself out for a single moment, is there? If you’re really hurt — if HE hurts you — nothing I say will hurt you. When I tell you I love you it’s simply what I came for. I thought it was for something else; but it was for that. I shouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe I should never see you again. It’s the last time — let me pluck a single flower! I’ve no right to say that, I know; and you’ve no right to listen. But you don’t listen; you never listen, you’re always thinking of something else. After this I must go, of course; so I shall at least have a reason. Your asking me is no reason, not a real one. I can’t judge by your husband,” he went on irrelevantly, almost incoherently; “I don’t understand him; he tells me you adore each other. Why does he tell me that? What business is it of mine? When I say that to you, you look strange. But you always look strange. Yes, you’ve something to hide. It’s none of my business — very true. But I love you,” said Caspar Goodwood.
As he said, she looked strange. She turned her eyes to the door by which they had entered and raised her fan as if in warning.
“You’ve behaved so well; don’t spoil it,” she uttered softly.
“No one hears me. It’s wonderful what you tried to put me off with. I love you as I’ve never loved you.”
“I know it. I knew it as soon as you consented to go.”
“You can’t help it — of course not. You would if you could, but you can’t, unfortunately. Unfortunately for me, I mean. I ask nothing — nothing, that is, I shouldn’t. But I do ask one sole satisfaction:— that you tell me — that you tell me —!”
“That I tell you what?”
“Whether I may pity you.”
“Should you like that?” Isabel asked, trying to smile again.
“To pity you? Most assuredly! That at least would be doing something. I’d give my life to it.”
She raised her fan to her face, which it covered all except her eyes. They rested a moment on his. “Don’t give your life to it; but give a thought to it every now and then.” And with that she went back to the Countess Gemini.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10