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The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 11

 

The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 11
 
                                A few days later Lord Warburton happened to question her about young Mr. Rosier
 
PARTI
 
Isabel shortly had an opportunity to state the position at which she had arrived when, a few days later, Lord Warburton happened to question her about young Mr. Rosier. Isabel told him at once what she believed to be the true facts. Edward Rosier, she said, was a pleasant young man, even attractive in many ways. He was very much in love with Pansy, and Pansy appeared to be in love with him—though Pansy was naturally obedient to her father’s wishes. Osmond, however, objected to
 
their marriage because, though Rosier had a fortune which gave him some fifteen hundred pounds a year to live on, Os­mond did not feel that this was enough.
 
Lord Warburton listened closely to what Isabel told him but said nothing himself. Whether or not her words influenced him directly in any way she never knew—but a week or so later he appeared at Palazzo Roccanera to say that he was leaving Rome the following day and returning .to England. Certainly, the information Isabel had given him he could have gotten from several other sources. He may even have suspected the true facts, for Mr. Rosier was no great stranger to him. Lord Warburton had seen the sad young man on various occasions throughout Rome. It was also possible that Lord Warburton’s interest in Pansy was no more than a passing fancy, occasioned by the fact that she was so close to Isabel, or reminded him of Isabel. But whatever the real explanation, Lord Warburton gave as his excuse for leaving Rome at this time the fact that he had been called back unexpectedly to London by reason of poli­tics. He greeted both Isabel and Osmond warmly and also asked that he be permitted to say good-bye to Pansy. He sug­gested that they all make an effort to visit him, sometime later in the year, at his place at Lockleigh. He would be delighted, he said, to have them, and would guarantee to make their stay ever so pleasant. If there was anything awkward in his visit or in his explanation of why he was leaving Rome so suddenly, it did not show on the surface. Lord Warburton talked easily and cheerfully, and Isabel saw that, having decided upon with­drawing from the scene, he was capable of doing it skillfully. She was glad for him; she liked him well enough to wish him to appear to carry it off without difficulty.
 
Osmond was at first embarrassed by Lord Warburton’s visit and could find nothing to say. He and Isabel, in fact, had just been discussing Lord Warburton before he arrived. Osmond had shown himself impatient at Lord Warburton’s absence dur­ing the whole previous week from Palazzo Roccanera. For some ten days he had also been waiting for a letter which Lord Warburton was supposed to have written him, asking for Pan­sy’s hand in marriage. The letter never arrived. Osmond soon gained control over himself, however, and was as skilled as Lord
 
Warburton in hiding his true feelings. He accepted Lord War- burton’s invitation to visit Lockleigh with what seemed to be genuine enthusiasm; he himself had not been in England, he said, in many years and would welcome such a trip. Yet Isa­bel was conscious of his true emotions. She felt almost sorry for him; he was forced to suffer the sharp pain of loss without the relief of cursing. He had had a great hope, and, as he saw it disappear into smoke, he was now obliged to sit and smile and look pleased.
 
Later that evening, however, some time after Lord Warbur­ton had left and he and Isabel were alone at last, Osmond was able to express himself more freely. Pansy had just kissed him good night and he returned her kiss with more than the usual affection. Isabel wondered if he meant by this to suggest that his daughter had also been injured by her stepmother’s actions. Isabel was about to follow Pansy, but Osmond remarked that he wished her to remain; he had something to say to her. Then he walked about the drawing room a little, while she stood waiting.
 
“I don’t understand what you wish to do,” he said in a mo­ment. “I should like to know—so that in the future I may know how to act.”
 
“Just now I wish to go to bed. I’m very tired.”
 
“Sit down and rest; I shall not keep you long.” He motioned her to a chair and she sat down. The fire was burning low. The lights in the room were few. “I think you’re trying to humiliate me,” Osmond went on. “It’s very foolish of you.”
 
“I haven’t the least idea what you mean,” said Isabel. “You’ve played a very deep game; you’ve managed it very well.”
 
“There’s a thing that might be worth my hearing—to know in the plainest words of what it is you accuse me.”
 
“Of having prevented Pansy’s marriage to Warburton. Are those words plain enough?”
 
“I did nothing of the kind,” said Isabel. “Possibly I did not take as active a part in the matter as you would have wished— but I did not consciously prevent their marriage. When you first told me that you counted on me, I accepted the obligation. I was a fool to do so, but I did it. But you expected too much-
 
you went too far. If you wished to lay hands on the gentleman, you should have done so yourself.”
“You mean you pretended to help me. You even hesitated at first in order that I might trust in you more. But at the same time you were cleverly trying to get Warburton out of the way. Where’s the letter you told me he had written to me?”
 
“I haven’t the least idea,” said Isabel. “He said he had writ­ten it. He said he was sending it to you. Once I even reminded him that it had not yet arrived.”
 
“You stopped it on the way.”
 
 Isabel slowly got up. She looked at her husband with the greatest contempt. “Oh, Gilbert, for a man who was once so fine—,” she said bitterly.
 
“I was never so fine as you. You’ve done everything you wanted. You’ve got him out of the way without appearing to do so, and you’ve placed me in the position in which you wished to see me—that of a man who has tried to marry his daughter to a lord, but has sadly failed.”
 
“Pansy doesn’t care for him. She’s very glad he’s gone,” Isa­bel said.
 
“That has nothing to do with the matter.”
 
“And he doesn’t care for Pansy.”
 
“That won’t do; you told me he did. I don’t know why you wanted this particular satisfaction,” Osmond continued. “You might have taken some other. I don’t think I asked too much or took too much for granted. I’ve been very modest about it, very quiet. The idea didn’t start with me. He began to show that he liked Pansy before I ever thought of it. I left it all to you.” “Yes, you were very glad to leave it to me. After this, you must attend to such things yourself.”
 
Osmond looked at her a moment; then he turned away and started for the door. “I thought you were fond of my daughter,” he said. “Your affection seems to have very serious limitations. However, perhaps that is natural.”
 
“Is that all you wished to say to me?” Isabel asked.
 
“Aren’t you satisfied? Certainly, I am sufficiently disap­pointed.”
 
“I don’t think that on the whole you’re disappointed,” said Isabel. “You’ve had another opportunity to insult me.”
 
“It’s not that. It’s proved at least that Pansy can aim high.” “Poor little Pansy!” said Isabel as she turned away and Os­mond went out of the room, leaving her standing there alone.
 
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
 
A. 1. What did Isabel tell Lord Warburton about Pansy and Mr.
Rosier?
2. What did Lord Warburton do a week or so later?
3. Could he have found out about Pansy and Rosier from other people besides Isabel?
4. Why could his interest in Pansy have been only a passing fancy?
5. What excuse did he give for leaving Rome?
6. Why had Osmond been impatient with Lord Warburton before he called?
7. Why did Isabel feel almost sorry for Osmond?
8. How did Osmond act toward Pansy that evening?
9. Of what did Osmond accuse Isabel?
10. Why was Isabel sorry for Pansy?
 
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
 
source             humiliate
guarantee       bitter
skillful             limitation
discuss           sufficient
genuine           insult
loss                 a passing fancy
injure              take for granted
 
PART II
 
Isabel sat down. She no longer felt tired. Though the fire in the fireplace had almost died out, she did not feel cold. The scene through which she had just passed was significant, not so much in itself, but as one more in a long series of similar argu­ments that had taken place between her and Osmond within the last year or two. It seemed to Isabel that her marriage was
 
approaching a climax. There now existed a gulf between her and her husband which grew wider each day. They looked at each other across this gulf with eyes that spoke of the decep­tion they both felt they had suffered. Isabel examined her own conscience again to discover whether the fault was hers, but she was convinced that she had never tried consciously to de­ceive Osmond in any way. She had only admired and believed. She had taken all the first steps with the greatest confidence and only later had she found the path to be dark and narrow, with a dead wall at the end.
 
Instead of leading to high places of happiness, from which the world would seem to lie below one, the path led down into darkness, where the sound of other lives, easier and freer, were heard as from above. Isabel’s chief problem at present was her growing lack of faith in Osmond. This was an emotion not easily explained, but much time and still more suffering had finally brought it to the surface. She flattered herself that she had kept her failing faith to herself—that no one knew of it ex­cept Osmond. Oh, Osmond knew it—and there were times when she thought he enjoyed it.
 
But now others—Ralph in particular—were beginning to sus­pect it. It had come gradually—it was not until after the first year of their life together, so wonderfully intimate at first, had closed, that she had taken alarm. Then the shadows began to gather; It was as if Osmond intentionally—and with some evil purpose—had put out the lights one by one. These shadows were not the result of her imagination. She was sure of this. She had done her best to be faithful and just, to see only the truth. But it was almost as if Osmond had the evil eye; every­thing he touched withered and died. There was never any great wrong he had done. He was not violent; he was not cruel. She had her freedom. She could come and go as she liked. Her hus­band was perfectly polite. Yet she simply believed that he hated her. He had discovered that she was different, that she was not what he had expected her to be. He had thought at first that he could change her, and she had honestly done her best to be what he would like. But there were certain things which they must do, certain attitudes which they must show to the world, certain people they must know and must not know. When Isa-
bel sensed this narrow system closing around her on all sides, she felt shut up as though by the walls of a prison. She had naturally resisted. At first she resisted humorously, kindly- then, as the situation grew more serious, eagerly, and with passion. She had argued the cause of freedom, of doing as they chose to do, of living their own lives and not caring for the opinions of others—but all in vain.
 
One day Osmond had told her that she had too many ideas and that she must get rid of them. He had once said the same thing before they were married—but in a more casual way. Later he really meant it—he wished her to have nothing of her own but her pretty appearance. Isabel had known that she had too many ideas; she had more even than she had realized. Yes, in this sense she had deceived Osmond. But this was what one got married for—to share one’s ideas. One simply couldn’t pull them up by the roots and throw them away. The fact of the matter was that, in general, Isabel had a certain way of looking at life that offended Osmond. Heavens knows that it was an innocent, honest way.
 
The strange thing was that she should not have suspected from the first that Osmond’s character was so different from her own. She had thought his character so large, so generous, so perfectly that of an honest man and a gentleman. Hadn’t he assured her that he was a free spirit, without prejudices or other narrow limitations? Hadn’t he all the appearance of a man liv­ing in the open air of the world, indifferent to small considera­tions, caring only for truth and knowledge, and believing that two intelligent people should look for them together and, whether they found them or not, find at least some happiness along the way? Only when months had passed and Isabel had followed him further into the deeper and darker comers of his mind had she found out what Osmond was really like.
 
Ralph Touchett had suspected the real character of Osmond from the first, without being able to put his finger on the diffi­culty. When Ralph had visited Isabel during the later years of her marriage he had had an opportunity to study Osmond at closer quarters. Ralph, who was a clever man, had never been more clever than when he observed that, while appearing to care only for things of more lasting value, Osmond lived com-pletely for the world. Far from being its master, as he pre­tended, he was only its servant, and the degree of its attention was his own measure of success. He lived with his eye on the wor.d from morning to night, and the world was so stupid that it nev er discovered the trick. Everything he did was a pose—a pose so carefully considered that if one were not on guard one mistook it for natural instinct. Ralph had never met a man who lived so much in the land of consideration. Osmond’s tastes, his studies in art, his various collections were all for a purpose. His life on his hilltop in Florence had been the conscious atti­tude of years, while his elegant appearance, his love of his daughter, his good manners and his bad manners were all part of the same general picture of himself which Osmond kept con­tinuously in his mind.
 
A nervous trembling seemed to take possession of Isabel as she thought back upon her life of the past few years. A ser­vant came into the room at this moment to attend to the fire, but she told him she was not cold. She said that she planned to remain there for only a few minutes longer. Actually, she felt as if she were suffering from a fever. The servant lit an­other of the lamps in the room, and then went out, while Isabel continued to sit thinking as before. Her cheek burned as she asked herself if she had really married only a beautiful theory just in order to be able to do something useful with her money.
 
She was to answer quickly that this had been only half the story. She had really been in love with Osmond when she mar­ried him and could not have done otherwise. He seemed better, finer to her then than anyone else. She believed him to be poor and lonely—but very noble. That is what had interested her and seemed to give her her great opportunity. It would be a wonderful thing to love him and to help him. Now, however, she saw him as Ralph saw him. What was coming? What was before them? These were the questions she next asked herself. What would Osmond do—what would she do? When a man hated his wife, what did it lead to?
 
She knew that Osmond was angry about the matter of Lord Warburton. He was also annoyed by the fact that Ralph Tou- chett remained in Rome, while she continued to see him regu­larly. Osmond had told her only a week before that it was not
 
decent for her to visit Ralph in his hotel. But she believed Ralph was dying, and that it was her duty to spend as much time with him as possible. She also enjoyed being with Ralph. There was something so honest and direct about him. Ralph was generous in nature and her husband was not. Ralph’s talk, his smile, the simple fact that he was in Rome made the nar­row circle in which she now moved seem somehow larger and less limiting. Ralph made her feel the good of the world. He made her feel what might have been. It lived before her again— it had never had time to die—the scene that morning in the gar­den of Mrs. Touchett’s home in Florence, when Ralph had warned her against marrying Osmond. She had only to close her eyes to see the place, to hear Ralph’s voice, to feel the warm, sweet air. How could Ralph have known? What a mys­tery it all was to her! She asked herself once again why she had failed to listen when a friend so true and honest as Ralph had tried so desperately to help her.
 
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
 
A. 1. Why did Isabel feel that her marriage was approaching a
climax?
2. What was Isabel’s chief problem at present?
3. How did she believe that Osmond had come to feel about her?
4. How had Osmond wanted them to live?
5. Why did Osmond tell her that she had too many ideas?
6. What had Isabel believed about Osmond before she mar­ried him?
7. What had Ralph observed about Osmond?
8. Why had Isabel felt she was doing something useful with her money when she married Osmond?
9.For what other reason was Osmond annoyed with Isabel? 
10. What did Isabel think about when she saw Ralph now?
 
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
 
intimate                 actual                                  instead of
wither                     desperate                           as if
system                   die out                                 do your best
pose                      be convinced                       in vain