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The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 6


Chapter 6
Mrs. Touchett had invited Madame Merle to spend a month with them at Palazzo Crescentini. The wise Madame Merle spoke to Isabel again about Gilbert Osmond, and expressed the hope she might know him, making, however, no such point of the matter as she had done in recommending the girl herself to Mr. Osmond’s attention. Madame Merle was much too clever for that; besides, Isabel offered no resistance whatever to what Madame Merle proposed. In Italy, as in England, Madame Merle had a great number of acquaintances and, as regards her Italian friends, she assured Isabel that she placed Mr. Os­mond near the top of the list. He was an old friend whom she had known for years. He was one of the cleverest and most pleasant of men well, in Europe simply. He was not a natural charmer the impression he made depended upon the state of his nerves and his spirits at the particular moment. Thus, at times, he was easily bored, and dull people always put him out. But a quiet and intelligent girl like Isabel would be sure to place him at his best advantage. Isabel, having remembered that Madame Merle had spoken to her before about Mr. Os­mond, was naturally curious to meet him. She told Madame Merle that she should be happy to know a person of whom her friend thought so highly.
After a few days, Gilbert Osmond came to Palazzo Crescentini to call on Madame Merle, who of course presented him to Isabel. In the general conversation that followed, Isabel took little part, but sat listening as the two old friends talked. Mrs. Touchett was not present, and the two spoke brilliantly of Flor­ence, of Rome, and of other subjects they had in common. Their conversation was easy and natural yet, at the same time, so bright and intelligent that Isabel was quite charmed. There was also something in their visitor that checked her, and made it more important that she should get a good impression of him than that she should cause one herself. Besides, she had little skill in making an impression when she knew one was expected of her. Mr. Osmond, to do him justice, had a well-mannered air of expecting little, a way of making his listener feel com­fortable regardless of the direction or tone of the conversation. Isabel noted that his face was sensitive; he was not handsome, but he was fine, as fine as any of the drawings that hung on the walls of the room. And his voice was fine—but, while very clear in tone, somehow it wasn’t sweet.
“Madame Merle,”
Mr. Osmond said, addressing Isabel, 
“agrees to come to my hilltop some day next week and visit with me in my garden. It would give me pleasure if you would come with her. It’s thought to be very pretty. My daughter too would be glad or rather, for she’s too young to have strong emotions, I should be so glad so very glad.”
Isabel answered that she would be delighted to meet Miss Osmond and that if Madame Merle would show her the way to the hilltop she would greatly enjoy going. Being thus as­sured, their visitor then took his leave; after which Isabel fully expected her friend would make some mention of the fact she had acted so stupidly during the visit. But to her surprise Mad­ame Merle said, 
“You were charming, my dear; you were just as one would have you. You’re never disappointing.”
Possibly because she had expected something quite differ­ent, these words not only surprised but even annoyed Isabel a little. It was the first time she had reacted in this way to any­thing Madame Merle had ever said to her.
 “That’s more than I intended,” Isabel said coldly. “I’m under no obligation that I know of to charm Mr. Osmond.”
“My dear child,” said Madame Merle, growing a little red suddenly, 
“I didn’t speak for him, poor man. I spoke for you. It’s not a question as to his liking you but I thought you per­haps liked him. And anything of that kind that concerns you naturally matters to me. I wish to help you—especially when, at the same time, another old friend is concerned.”
Isabel said nothing in answer, and the matter was politely dropped by the two friends. Still, Isabel remained with a strange curiosity regarding Gilbert Osmond. Later, she put certain questions about him to her cousin Ralph, who had come from San Remo to Florence with Isabel and Mrs. Touchett, and was planning to spend a month or so at Palazzo Crescentini.
“Oh, yes, I ‘know’ him,” said Ralph, 
“not well, but on the whole well enough. I have never been especially interested in furthering our acquaintance, and he has apparently never found my company necessary to his happiness. Who is he? What is he? He’s a vague, unexplained, American who has been living here in Italy these thirty years. He used to live in Rome, but I remember hearing him say that Rome had become too vulgar. He’s very much opposed to anything vulgar—that seems to be his special line. Why do I call him unexplained? Only be­cause I myself know nothing of his family or his personal his­tory. He has a little money, but it appears his means are rather limited. He’s a poor but honest gentleman—that’s what he calls himself. He married young and lost his wife; I believe he has a daughter. He also has a sister who is married to some Italian count or other. She’s nicer than he, I should think, but rather impossible.”
Ralph suggested that if Isabel wished to learn more about Mr. Osmond, she should ask Madame Merle, who knew him quite well. Isabel, however, felt that it would be better to wait and judge for herself. She had an opportunity to do this very soon, for during the following week, accompanied by Madame Merle, she made a visit to Mr. Osmond’s hilltop. 
Nothing could have been more charming than this occasion the spring after­noon was warm and pleasant. To arrive at Mr. Osmond’s home just outside the town’s ancient walls, the two companions drove through much of the beautiful old city of Florence. Later they had to walk through a wide court which led to the house. 
Here the sun shone pleasantly and flowers grew. There was some­thing strong and grave in the feeling of the great old house; it looked somehow as if, once you were in, you would need great strength to get out. 
Mr. Osmond met them as they passed through the courtyard and walked with them to one of the sit­ting rooms inside. His manner was familiar and friendly as he presented Isabel to the two people who sat waiting there. One of these was little Pansy. Madame Merle leaned over and kissed the child lightly on the cheek. The other was a lady whom Mr. Osmond introduced 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 simple white dress, and her hair was neatly arranged. She bowed politely to Isabel and then came forward to be kissed. The Countess Gemini greeted Isabel without get­ting up; Isabel could see that she was a woman of high fashion. She was thin and dark and not at all pretty, having features that suggested those of some wild bird a long, sharp nose, small, quickly moving eyes, and a thin mouth. Yet her expres­sion was not at all unpleasant and, as regards her elegant ap­pearance, it was clear that she understood herself and made the most of her points. She had a great deal of manner; Isabel, who had never known anyone with so much manner, immedi­ately classed her, rightly or wrongly, as the most affected of women.
“You’ll believe I’m glad to see you when I tell you it’s only because you are here that I came myself,” the Countess said. She spoke in a rather sudden, excited way which seemed, how­ever, to be her usual manner of expression. 
“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 to live in such a place; it quite ruins my horses to have to climb up here. I should also tell you that Osmond doesn’t often invite me. I don’t think he likes to have me. It was my own idea to come today. I like to see new people and I’m sure you’re very new. But don’t sit there: Chat chair’s not what it looks. There are some good seats here, but there are also some things which are awful.”
“I don’t like to have you, my dear?” asked her brother. 
“I’m sure you’re properly appreciated wherever you go.”
“I don’t see anything very awful here,” Isabel remarked, looking about her. 
“Everything seems to be beautiful and quite perfe
“I’\ s a few good things,” Mr. Osmond allowed. 
“In fact, I’ve no:hing very bad. But I’ve not what I should have liked to have.”
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. How did Madame Merle succeed in making Isabel curious
about Gilbert Osmond?
2. Why was Isabel charmed with Osmond?
3. How did,she find his face and his voice?
4. What did Osmond invite them to do?
5. Why was Isabel annoyed at Madame Merle’s remarks after Osmond had left?
6. What did Ralph Touchett have to say about Osmond?
7. What feeling did Isabel get from Osmond’s house?
8. Who was the Countess Gemini? What was she like?
9. How did Isabel class the Countess?
10. What did the Countess say about visiting her brother?
11. What did Osmond say about the things he had in the house?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your
recommend                        make a point of depend
l                                            upon take part in have in
ist                                            common make an
brilliant                                     impression give
vague                                  (someone) pleasure take
vulgar                            my leave
He stood there a little awkwardly, smiling and looking about. In his manner he seemed to suggest that nothing but the “right values,” either in the furnishings of a house or in one’s personal  life, was of any importance. Isabel was suddenly struck with the idea that nothing simple or natural had a place here. Even /the little girl from the convent, in her plain white dress, with her quiet eyes and her hands locked before her, stood as though forming a part of the general picture. To the smallest detail everything had the appearance of being planned and arranged.
“Poor Osmond,” said Countess Gemini, 
“with his old cur­tains and objects of art.” 
She seemed to call her brother only by his family name. Her remark had no particular point; she smiled at Isabel as she made it and looked at her from head to foot.
Her brother paid her little attention; he seemed to be think­ing of what he could say to Isabel. 
“Won’t you have something to eat or to drink you must be very tired,” he at last remarked. Isabel answered that she was not at all tired.
“Well, you’ll be tired when you get home if Osmond shows you all his works of art and explains each of them to you,” broke in the Countess Gemini.
“I’m not afraid of that,” said Isabel. 
“If I’m tired I shall at least have learned something.”
“Very little, I suspect,” said Mr. Osmond. 
“But my sister’s afraid of learning anything.”
“Oh, I admit to that,” said the Countess. 
“I don’t want to know anything more I know too much already. The more you know, the more unhappy you are.”
Mr. Osmond turned to Isabel and smiled in a way to suggest that only such a person as his sister would be capable of so stupid a remark; he then turned the conversation to another subject. He presently sat down on the other side of his daugh­ter, who had shyly touched Isabel’s fingers with her own. He drew the child out of her chair and made her stand between his knees as he passed his hand around her slender shoulders. The child fixed her eyes on Isabel as though unable to resist the attraction of so beautiful a young woman. Mr. Osmond talked of many things. 
Madame Merle had said he could be most pleasant when he chose, and today, after a little, he ap­peared not only to have chosen but to have decided upon such a course. 
Madame Merle and the Countess, meanwhile, sat to one side and talked in the easy manner of two people who had known each other a long time. Mr. Osmond spoke of the pleasures of living in Florence in “the country,” as he expressed it, as op­posed to living in one of the larger cities. There were both ad­vantages and disadvantages to this manner of life, he explained. Strangers had the tendency to see such a world as all romantic. Yet for persons like himself Florence suited his purposes very well. He was not exactly what might be considered a success­ful man; he had not money enough to do many of the things he would like to do. With its rich treasures of art and beauty, 
Florence therefore suited him perfectly. He admitted, how­ever, that Italy had a tendency to ruin many people; and he was foolish enough to believe at times that he himself might have been a better man if he had spent less of his time there. Italy robbed one of his natural ambitions, made one spend too much time with things of the spirit and with matters of art and cul­ture.
“I’m perfectly aware,” he said, 
“that I myself have become as dull and useless as a key that has no lock to fit it. It helps me to talk to you a little not that I dare to pretend that I can turn the difficult lock I suspect your mind of being. But you’ll be going away before I see you three times, and perhaps I shall never see you after that. That’s another of the disadvantages of living in Florence. Here, people come only to visit. When they’re unpleasant, it’s bad enough. When they’re pleasant, it’s still worse. As soon as you like them, they’re off again. But per­haps you mean to stay—to settle. That would be really charm­ing.”
Isabel explained that she would remain in Florence for a time but then planned to travel. 
“Of course, I may return here later even to live,” she said. 
“I haven’t quite decided. I’m real­ly rather ashamed of my plans. I make a new one each day.”
“I don’t see why you should be ashamed; it’s the greatest of pleasures to plan and to change,” said her companion.
“But one should be more serious, it seems to me,” said Isa­bel. 
“One should choose or have some definite plan in life and be faithful to that.”
“By that rule, then,” said Mr. Osmond, 
“I have been both  as serious and faithful as anyone might wish. For I made a plan years ago and have followed it religiously. I decided not to worry not to struggle to be happy with little.”
“You make it sound very simple.”
“It was simple for me because I could do little else. I had no future; I was poor; and I was not a man of genius. I had no talents even. I took my measure early in life. I was just the most exacting young man living. I was also a gentleman and liked nice things and liked to be surrounded by nice things. So what other course was left to me? 
Obviously, there was nothing I could do in Italy but I was too fond of it to leave or to try to change it. So I stayed on and have passed a great many years here on this quiet plan. I may say, however, that I have not been unhappy. I don’t mean that I’ve cared for nothing more; but the things I’ve cared for have been definite, limited. My pleas­ures have also been simple ones, finding, for example, an old religious object of art at an especially low price (I’ve never bought anything dear, of course) or discovering in some little art shop some valuable painting that had gone unrecognized for years.”
This simple record of Mr. Osmond’s life would have been rather dry if Isabel had fully believed it; but her imagination supplied the human details which she was sure had not been lacking. His life had touched other lives more than he admit­ted; naturally she couldn’t expect him to enter into this. Her thoughts were interrupted at the moment, however, when Mad­ame Merle rose and proposed to the Countess Gemini that they go into the garden. The Countess, rising and shaking her­self as a bird might shake out its feathers, moved at once in that direction. 
“Poor Miss Archer,” she said, observing the group behind her. 
“She has been brought quite into the family.”
Isabel saw Madame Merle and the Countess pass out through the open door of the great room and rather supposed that she and Mr. Osmond too were to go into the garden. But Mr. Osmond, though having risen to his feet, stood there with apparently no intention of leaving the room. His hands were in the pockets of his coat and his daughter stood at his side looking up first into his face, and then at Isabel’s. Isabel waited to have her own movements directed, yet nothing was said until after   the others had left. Then Mr. Osmond turned to her suddenly and said, 
“Miss Archer, what do you think of my sister?”
Isabel got up and faced him with some surprise. 
“Ah, don’t ask me that I’ve seen your sister too little,” she said. Her tone was gentle, but final. She walked toward one of the pictures hanging on the opposite wall as though to see it better.
“Yes, you’ve seen her very little,” added Osmond, who had caught her tone but could hardly leave the subject hanging in the air, 
“ but you must have observed that there is very little of her to see. I was just curious to know what you thought of our family tone how it might appear to a free, unprejudiced mind like yours.”
The understanding had been that Mr. Osmond should show Isabel his treasures. His pictures and the many objects which filled his shelves all looked like treasures. She stood looking up now at the picture before her.
“Let me take down that picture you need more light,” said Osmond, his manner again friendly and eager. Accordingly, he took down the picture, carried it toward the window, and explained some curious facts'about it. Isabel looked at other works of art, and he gave her such further information as might appear proper to a young lady making a social call on a sum­mer afternoon. His pictures and other objects were interesting; but after a while Isabel felt their owner more so. He was like no one she had ever known. Most of the people she knew could be easily divided into groups or classes. But her mind held no class offering a natural place for Mr. Osmond he was some­one apart.
It was not that she recognized all these truths at the mo­ment, but they gradually fell into order as, with time, she came to know Mr. Osmond better. On this particular occasion, the few afternoon hours they spent together passed rapidly. They moved from room to room. Osmond talked, and Isabel mainly listened. 
Soon it was the hour to leave, and Madame Merle came from the garden looking for her. Yet even in this short time Isabel had come to realize that she had never met a man of so fine a finish. This difference was physical to begin with, but it extended to everything about Gilbert Osmond to his character, his way of speaking, even His thoughts and ideas. It was probably this same sensitive quality that made him impa­tient of vulgar troubles and had led him to live apart in a care­fully arranged world of his own, thinking about art and beauty and history. In a sense, he reminded Isabel of Ralph, who also gave the appearance of thinking that life was something to be judged only from a distance, but in Ralph all this was the re­sult of his taking a humorous view of everything. In Mr. Os­mond, this attitude was studied and intentional; it was the key to everything he was or ever hoped to be.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. Why did Isabel think that there was nothing simple or
natural in Osmond’s house?
2. What attitude did Osmond and his sister display toward each other?
3. What course of behavior did Osmond appear to have chosen?
4. What did Osmond say about the advantages and disadvan­tages of living in Florence?
5. What did Isabel say about her plans for the future?
6. What kind of life did Osmond say he had led? What pleas­ures had he taken for himself?
7. Why didn’t Isabel fully believe what he said about himself?
8. Why did Osmond say that he was asking Isabel her opinion about his sister?
9. Why did Isabel find Osmond more interesting than his pictures?
10. How did Isabel find Osmond both similar to and different from Ralph?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your
disadvantage                        be struck with an idea
ambition                                form a part of from
culture                                  head to foot think of
prejudice                               decide upon as
extend                                 opposed to be aware
quality                                   be ashamed of