Fiction > Harvard Classics > Henry James > The Portrait of a Lady > Chapter XXX
Henry James. (1843–1916).  The Portrait of a Lady.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Chapter XXX
UNDER her cousin’s escort Isabel returned on the morrow to Florence, and Ralph Touchett, though usually he was not fond of railway journeys, thought very well of the successive hours passed in the train which hurried his companion away from the city now distinguished by Gilbert Osmond’s preference—hours that were to form the first stage in a still larger scheme of travel. Miss Stackpole had remained behind; she was planning a little trip to Naples, to be executed with Mr. Bantling’s assistance. Isabel was to have but three days in Florence before the 4th of June, the date of Mrs. Touchett’s departure, and she determined to devote the last of these to her promise to go and see Pansy Osmond. Her plan, however, seemed for a moment likely to modify itself, in deference to a plan of Madame Merle’s. This lady was still at Casa Touchett; but she too was on the point of leaving Florence, her next station being an ancient castle in the mountains of Tuscany, the residence of a noble family of that country, whose acquaintance (she had known them, as she said, “for ever”) seemed to Isabel, in the light of certain photographs of their immense crenellated dwelling which her friend was able to show her, a precious privilege.   1
  She mentioned to Madame Merle that Mr. Osmond had asked her to call upon his daughter; she did not mention to her that he had also made her a declaration of love.   2
  “Ah, comme cela se trouve!” the elder lady exclaimed. “I myself have been thinking it would be a kindness to take a look at the child before I go into the country.”   3
  “We can go together, then,” said Isabel, reasonably. I say “reasonably,” because the proposal was not uttered in the spirit of enthusiasm. She had prefigured her visit as made in solitude; she should like it better so. Nevertheless, to her great consideration for Madame Merle she was prepared to sacrifice this mystic sentiment.   4
  Her friend meditated, with her usual suggestive smile. “After all,” she presently said, “why should we both go; having, each of us, so much to do during these last hours?”   5
  “Very good; I can easily go alone.”   6
  “I don’t know about your going alone—to the house of a handsome bachelor. He has been married—but so long ago!”   7
  Isabel stared. “When Mr. Osmond is away, what does it matter?”   8
  “They don’t know he is away, you see.”   9
  “They? Whom do you mean?”  10
  “Every one. But perhaps it doesn’t matter.”  11
  “If you were going, why shouldn’t I?” Isabel asked.  12
  “Because I am an old frump, and you are a beautiful young woman.”  13
  “Granting all that, you have not promised.”  14
  “How much you think of your promises!” said Madame Merle, with a smile of genial mockery.  15
  “I think a great deal of my promises. Does that surprise you?”  16
  “You are right,” Madame Merle reflected audibly. “I really think you wish to be kind to the child.”  17
  “I wish very much to be kind to her.”  18
  “Go and see her, then; no one will be the wiser. And tell her I would have come if you had not.—Or rather,” Madame Merle added—“don’t tell her; she won’t care.”  19
  As Isabel drove, in the publicity of an open vehicle, along the charming winding way which led to Mr. Osmond’s hilltop, she wondered what Madame Merle had meant by no one being the wiser. Once in a while, at large intervals, this lady, in whose discretion, as a general thing, there was something almost brilliant, dropped a remark of ambiguous quality, struck a note that sounded false. What cared Isabel Archer for the vulgar judgments of obscure people? and did Madame Merle suppose that she was capable of doing a deed in secret? Of course not—she must have meant something else—something which in the press of the hours that preceded her departure she had not had time to explain. Isabel would return to this some day; there were certain things as to which she liked to be clear. She heard Pansy strumming at the piano in another apartment, as she herself was ushered into Mr. Osmond’s drawing-room; the little girl was “practising,” and Isabel was pleased to think that she performed this duty faithfully. Presently Pansy came in, smoothing down her frock, and did the honours of her father’s house with the wide-eyed conscientiousness of a sensitive child. Isabel sat there for half-an-hour, and Pansy entertained her like a little lady—not chattering, but conversing, and showing the same courteous interest in Isabel’s affairs that Isabel was so good as to take in hers. Isabel wondered at her; as I have said before, she had never seen a child like that. How well she had been taught, said our keen young lady, how prettily she had been directed and fashioned; and yet how simple, how natural, how innocent she has been kept! Isabel was fond of psychological problems, and it had pleased her, up to this time, to be in doubt as to whether Miss Pansy were not all-knowing. Was her infantine serenity but the perfection of self-consciousness? Was it put on to please her father’s visitor, or was it the direct expression of a little neat, orderly character? The hour that Isabel spent in Mr. Osmond’s beautiful empty, dusky rooms—the windows had been half-darkened, to keep out the heat, and here and there, through an easy crevice, the splendid summer day peeped in, lighting a gleam of faded colour or tarnished gilt in the rich-looking gloom—Isabel’s interview with the daughter of the house, I say, effectually settled this question. Pansy was really a blank page, a pure white surface; she was not clever enough for precocious coquetries. She was not clever; Isabel could see that; she only had nice feelings. There was something touching about her; Isabel had felt it before; she would be an easy victim of fate. She would have no will, no power to resist, no sense of her own importance; only an exquisite taste, and an appreciation, equally exquisite, of such affection as might be bestowed upon her. She would easily be mystified, easily crushed; her force would be solely in her power to cling. She moved about the place with Isabel, who had asked leave to walk through the other rooms again, where Pansy gave her judgment on several works of art. She talked about her prospects, her occupations, her father’s intention; she was not egotistical, but she felt the propriety of giving Isabel the information that so observant a visitor would naturally expect.  20
  “Please tell me,” she said, “did papa, in Rome, go to see Madame Catherine? He told me he would if he had time. Perhaps he had not time. Papa likes a great deal of time. He wished to speak about my education; it isn’t finished yet, you know. I don’t know what they can do with me more; but it appears it is far from finished. Papa told me one day he thought he would finish it himself; for the last year or two, at the convent, the masters that teach the tall girls are so very dear. Papa is not rich, and I should be very sorry if he were to pay much money for me, because I don’t think I am worth it. I don’t learn quickly enough, and I have got no memory. For what I am told, yes—especially when it is pleasant; but not for what I learn in a book. There was a young girl, who was my best friend, and they took her away from the convent when she was fourteen, to make—how do you say it in English?—to make a dot. You don’t say it in English? I hope it isn’t wrong; I only mean they wished to keep the money, to marry her. I don’t know whether it is for that that papa wishes to keep the money, to marry me. It costs so much to marry!” Pansy went on, with a sigh; “I think papa might make that economy. At any rate I am too young to think about it yet, and I don’t care for any gentleman; I mean for any but him. If he were not my papa I should like to marry him; I would rather be his daughter than the wife of—of some strange person. I miss him very much, but not so much as you might think, for I have been so much away from him. Papa has always been principally for holidays. I miss Madame Catherine almost more; but you must not tell him that. You shall not see him again? I am very sorry for that. Of every one who comes here I like you the best. That is not a great compliment, for there are not many people. It was very kind of you to come to-day—so far from your house; for I am as yet only a child. Oh, yes, I have only the occupations of a child. When did you give them up, the occupations of a child? I should like to know how old you are, but I don’t know whether it is right to ask. At the convent they told us that we must never ask the age. I don’t like to do anything that is not expected; it looks at if one had not been properly taught. I myself—I should never like to be taken by surprise. Papa left directions for everything. I go to bed very early. When the sun goes off that side I go into the garden. Papa left strict orders that I was not to get scorched. I always enjoy the view; the mountains are so graceful. In Rome, from the convent, we saw nothing but roofs and bell-towers. I practise three hours. I do not play very well. You play yourself? I wish very much that you would play something for me; papa wishes very much that I should hear good music. Madame Merle has played for me several times; that is what I like best about Madame Merle; she has great facility. I shall never have facility. And I have no voice—just a little thread.”  21
  Isabel gratified this respectful wish, drew off her gloves, and sat down to the piano, while Pansy, standing beside her, watched her white hands move quickly over the keys. When she stopped, she kissed the child good-bye, and held her a moment, looking at her.  22
  “Be a good child,” she said; “give pleasure to your father.”  23
  “I think that is what I live for,” Pansy answered. “He has not much pleasure; he is rather a sad man.”  24
  Isabel listened to this assertion with an interest which she felt it to be almost a torment that she was obliged to conceal from the child. It was her pride that obliged her, and a certain sense of decency; there were still other things in her head which she felt a strong impulse, instantly checked, to say to Pansy about her father; there were things it would have given her pleasure to hear the child, to make the child, say. But she no sooner became conscious of these things than her imagination was hushed with horror at the idea of taking advantage of the little girl—it was of this she would have accused herself—and of leaving an audible trace of her emotion behind. She had come—she had come; but she had stayed only an hour! She rose quickly from the music-stool; even then, however, she lingered a moment, still holding her small companion, drawing the child’s little tender person closer, and looking down at her. She was obliged to confess it to herself—she would have taken a passionate pleasure in talking about Gilbert Osmond to this innocent, diminutive creature who was near to him. But she said not another word; she only kissed Pansy once more. They went together through the vestibule, to the door which opened into the court; and there Pansy stopped, looking rather wistfully beyond.  25
  “I may go no further,” she said. “I have promised papa not to go out of this door.”  26
  “You are right to obey him; he will never ask you anything unreasonable.”  27
  “I shall always obey him. But when will you come again?”  28
  “Not for a long time, I am afraid.”  29
  “As soon as you can, I hope. I am only a little girl,” said Pansy, “but I shall always expect you.”  30
  And the small figure stood in the high, dark doorway, watching Isabel cross the clear, grey court, and disappear into the brightness beyond the big portone, which gave a wider gleam as it opened.  31



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