The Portrait Of A Lady - Chapter 8
Isabel came back to Florence but only after many months had passed. The warm summer months she spent in Switzerland with her sister Lily, who had come from Albany and brought her two children with her to see part of Europe. Later, when the weather cooled, the group went to Paris and were joined there in October by Mr. Ludlow, Lily’s husband. Isabel enjoyed this whole period spent with her sister and her two young nephews, to whom she naturally played the part of the rich aunt. In early November she accompanied the family as far as London, where she finally saw them off on the train for Liverpool, where the boat waited which would carry them back to America. Isabel would have gone with them to Liverpool, but Mr. Ludlow had asked her as a favor not to do so; it made Lily, he said, very nervous to travel by boat, and the additional excitement of saying good-bye to Isabel at the same time might be too much for her. Isabel therefore wished them all goodbye in London, and from the station walked out alone into the cold London street. The world lay before her—she could do as she chose.
At the moment, she chose to go back to her hotel. Though Paris still attracted her, she wrote that evening to Madame Merle, to say that she would start in a day or so for Rome, where Madame Merle was then living. Accordingly, she made her way down to Rome without stopping at Florence, having gone first to Venice and then south by way of Ancona. She made the trip, for the first time in her life, alone—except for the company of her personal maid.
For her usual traveling companions were now widely separated. Ralph Touchett was spending the winter at Corfu; Miss Stackpole, her American friend, had been called back to the United States by her newspaper; Mrs. Touchett was at Palazzo Crescentini in Florence. Isabel wrote to Mrs. Touchett as soon as she got to Rome, apologizing for not having presented herself just yet in Florence, but her aunt easily forgave her for not visiting her because she took it as a sign that Gilbert Osmond was less of an attraction now in Florence than formerly. Mrs. Touchett, of course, watched to see whether Osmond would find an excuse for going to Rome, but was pleased when she learned that he had not been guilty of being absent from Florence.
Isabel, on her side, remained in Rome only a week or twd and then proposed to Madame Merle that they both take a trip to the east. The two ladies, therefore, soon left on this expedition and spent three months in Greece, in Turkey, and in Egypt. Isabel found much to interest her in these countries. Madame Merle noted, however, that even in those places that suggested quiet and peace Isabel was restless and impatient. She seemed to travel rapidly and recklessly, like a person whose thirst for new adventures was not to be satisfied. Madame Merle, meanwhile, played the part of the rather bored and tired lady-in- waiting. She had come because Isabel invited her, and it was Isabel who paid all the expenses. Yet the two friends got along very well together. To say that Madame Merle improved on acquaintance, only states again the impression she made on Isabel, who had found her from the first so simple and easy to be with.
At the end of the three months Isabel felt she knew Madame Merle much better, though the curtain that seemed to hide part of the woman’s life had still not been lifted. They came back by the last of March and made another stay at Rome. It was now almost a year since Isabel had seen Gilbert Osmond, but a few days after they arrived in Rome he came down from Florence and remained three weeks. Since Isabel was staying in the house of Madame Merle, his old friend, it was inevitable that he should see Isabel every day. When the last of April came, she wrote to Mrs. Touchett that she would now be glad to accept the invitation made long before to stay with her aunt again at Palazzo Crescentini, and a few days later, therefore, she left for Florence to make this visit. Madame Merle on this occasion remained in Rome. Ralph was also expected in Florence from day to day, and Isabel, who had not seen him either in almost a year, was prepared to give him the most affectionate welcome.
Isabel had naturally changed somewhat in the year that had passed. She had moved on, she felt, through space, and seen something more of life. In her own eyes she was now a very different person from the innocent young woman from Albany who had first begun to take the measure of Europe from the quiet garden at Gardencourt—almost two years ago. She flattered herself that she was now wiser in the ways of the world and knew what she wanted. From a desire to keep moving, with the idea that what she was looking for was something which always lay in the distance, she had come to believe that happiness lay more at hand—for those who knew how to reach out and take it. Traveling was hardly a way of life. She had thus decided to marry Gilbert Osmond. Naturally, there was no one to oppose her in this decision. At the same time she felt she should explain to her close associates at least what she intended to do. For this reason she had come to Florence to visit her aunt.
Yet it was not to Mrs. Touchett that Isabel spoke immediately of this matter. The first person to whom she gave notice of her decision to marry Gilbert Osmond was Caspar Goodwood. She had already written to him from Rome several weeks before, the reason being that long ago she had promised Mr. Goodwood that he would be the first to know if she decided to marry. She had not heard from him at once, but on the day after she arrived, at Palazzo Crescentini she received a message saying that he was in Florence and was coming that morning to see her.
Isabel had little desire to see Caspar Goodwood. She rather expected a scene, and she was not fond of scenes. He arrived, little changed from the last time Isabel had seen him. Straight, strong, and hard, there was nothing in his appearance that showed in the least the marks of time. He had the same firm mouth and jaw, the same determined expression about the eyes. He had, however, the air of a man who had traveled hard, and he said nothing at first, almost as if he were out of breath. For a few moments there was the usual polite exchange of greetings. But both he and Isabel were obviously tense. He then went on to say that, having received Isabel’s letter some fifteen days before, he had left for Italy immediately on the fastest boat he could get. He had come, he said, for several reasons.
First, he wanted to know something about the man Isabel was marrying. Isabel told him something about Gilbert Osmond—but it was difficult to explain the character of Gilbert Osmond to so completely different a person as Caspar Goodwood. She had to admit that Osmond was not rich, that he had no business of any kind, that he was not known for anything in particular. She resented Mr. Goodwood’s questioning her in these matters, but she said to herself that she owed it to him to satisfy him as far as possible. The satisfaction poor Caspar gained was, of course, small. He sat up very straight, without taking his eyes from Isabel all the time she spoke. He asked her when the marriage would take place—to which she answered:
“I can only say it will be soon. I’ve told no one but yourself and one other person—a very close friend of Mr. Osmond.”
“Is it, then, a marriage your friends do not approve of?” Caspar asked quickly.
“I really haven’t any idea,” said Isabel. “As you well know, I don’t marry to please my friends.”
She paused a moment and then, as though to defend herself against something else she knew must be in his mind, added:
“In your case, I have not deceived you in any way. You cannot possibly hold that against me. I was perfectly free to do as I saw fit.”
“Yes, I know that,” said Caspar. “I remember your making it very plain to me the last time we talked.”
“I gave you full warning that I’d do as I chose.”
“But you also said you’d probably not marry, and you said it in such a manner that I pretty well believed it. Your letters also gave me the same impression.”
Isabel considered this a moment.
“No one can be more surprised than myself at my present intention,” she said.
“You told me if I heard you were engaged I was not to believe ;t,” Caspar went on.
“I heard it fifteen days ago from yourself, but I remembered what you said. You gave me to understand that if I waited long enough—until you had seen something of the world—you might come back to me. I have been waiting all this time. I hoped there might be some mistake now. That’s why I came. I also wanted to see you once more, I sut pose—just as you are.”
There was some further argument of a similar kind; then Caspar made ready to leave. Clearly, though there was much more that he had probably planned to say, there was little need for him to remain longer. No handshake, no sign of parting, was given by either of them. At the door, Caspar simply stopped a moment and said,
“I plan to leave Florence tomorrow.”
“I’m delighted to hear it,” Isabel answered with emotion. Five minutes after he had gone she burst into tears.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What did Isabel do in the summer and fall after her trip to Florence and Rome?
2. Where did Isabel go after she left London? How did she travel?
3. Where were her usual traveling companions?
4. Why did Mrs. Touchett easily forgive Isabel for not stopping in Florence?
5. Where did Isabel and Madame Merle spend the next three months?
6. What was Isabel’s manner during their travels?
7. Where and when did Isabel next see Gilbert Osmond?
8. When did Isabel finally return to Florence? Who else was expected to be staying with Mrs. Touchett?
9. Why had she decided to marry Gilbert Osmond?
10. Why did she give this news to Casper Goodwood first?
11. How did Caspar Goodwood appear to Isabel?
Why did Caspar find it difficult to believe that Isabel was going to get married?
12. What did Isabel do after Caspar left?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
Mrs. Touchett was no more pleased than was Caspar Goodwood when, an hour later, Isabel broke the news to her of her engagement. Mrs. Touchett’s reaction, of course, was considerably less violent than that of Mr. Goodwood. Isabel had only waited to tell he^ aunt till she had seen Mr. Goodwood. She had the rather strange impression that it would not be proper to make the fact public before she had heard what Mr. Goodwood would say about it. He had really said less than she expected, and now she had an angry sense of having lost time. But she would lose no more; she waited until Mrs. Touchett came into the drawing room in the late morning, and then she began,
“Aunt Lydia, I’ve something to tell you.”
Mrs. Touchett gave a little jump, and looked at her angrily.
“You needn’t tell me; I know what it is.”
“I don’t know how you know.”
“The same way I know when a window’s open—by feeling the cold air. You’re going to marry that man.”
“What man do you mean?” Isabel asked.
“Madame Merle’s friend—Mr. Osmond.”
“I don’t know why you call him Madame Merle’s friend. Is that the principal thing he’s known by?”
“If he’s not her friend he should be—after what she has done for him. I shouldn’t have expected it of her. I’m disappointed.
She has deceived me badly. She had as good as promised me she’d prevent it.”
“If you mean that Madame Merle had any active part in bringing about my engagement, you’re greatly mistaken,” Isabel answered coldly.
“You mean that your own personal charms were great enough to attract the man without first having to tie him up. I agree with you. Your attractions are very great—but, even so, he would never have given you a moment’s thought if she hadn’t put him up to it. Gilbert Osmond has a very good opinion of himself, but he was not a man to take trouble.
Madame Merle took the trouble for him.”
“He has taken a great deal for himself,” cried Isabel.
Mrs. Touchett seemed to agree.
“I think he must, after all, to have made you like him so much.”
“I thought he even pleased you.”
“He did at one time—but only as an acquaintance. There is nothing to him. He has no money; he has no name; he has no importance. I value such things, and, unlike many people, I have the courage to say so. I think they’re important.”
Isabel hesitated a little.
“I think I value everything that’s important too,” she said. “I care very much for money, and that’s why I wish Mr. Osmond to have a little.”
“Give it to him, then; but marry someone else,” said Mrs. Touchett.
She paused a moment as though turning something over in her mind. “I suppose, really, it’s our fault,” she said at last.
“We’ve acted stupidly. Someone should have done something before it was too late. I saw it coming—but, as you know, it has never been my manner to interfere.”
“You never do, and I’m greatly obliged to you. You’ve always been very understanding.”
Mrs. Touchett’s bright little eyes, active as they usually were, fastened themselves suddenly upon Isabel’s face.
“Would you have listened to Ralph?” she asked.
“Not if he spoke unkindly of Mr. Osmond.”
“Ralph doesn’t speak unkindly of anyone, you know that perfectly. He cares very much for you.”
“I know he does,” said Isabel. “And I shall feel the value of it now, for he knows that whatever I do I do with reason.”
_ “He never believed you would do this. I told him you were capable of it, and he argued the other way.”
“He probably said what he did only for purposes of argument,” the girl said, smiling; then added,
“You don’t accuse Ralph of deceiving you. Why should you accuse Madame Merle?”
“He never pretended he’d prevent your engagement.”
“I’m glad of it,” cried Isabel.
“He is a good friend and I wish very much that when he comes you’d tell him first what I have decided.”
“Of course, I’ll mention it,” said Mrs. Touchett. “I shall say nothing more to you about the matter—but I give you notice I shall talk with Ralph and with others too.”
Mrs. Touchett, true to her words, advised Ralph of Isabel’s plans as soon as he arrived, which was two days later. To Isabel, Ralph showed no evidence of knowing anything about her engagement. Their first conversation was about his health. She had many questions to ask about Corfu. She was surprised by his appearance, for she had forgotten how really sick he was. She wondered if he were really worse, or whether she was no longer accustomed to being with a sick person. Ralph had never been a handsome man—but now his features were sharper and more drawn; his face, lean, pale, and almost ugly. He also seemed to care less and less about how he looked. He wore the same brown jacket he had worn for several seasons; his hands seemed to have fixed themselves into its deep pockets. He leaned forward as he walked, and each of his movements showed his great physical weakness. Despite all this, Isabel found him to be just as good company as ever. His spirits had not suffered and he still had the same pleasant good humor in everything he said and did. Isabel realized once again how really fond of him she was.
When, after three days, Ralph still had said nothing about her engagement, Isabel thought that perhaps his physical condition made him indifferent. The fact was that the news had really been a great shock to him. At first he felt angry and annoyed, then confused. It seemed to him that all his plans had gone wrong and that the one person in the world in whom he was most interested—whom he loved, in his own curious way was lost forever. For several days he moved awkwardly about the house like a ship without a sail, or sat in the garden in a great, cane chair, his long legs extended, his head thrown back, and his hat pulled over his eyes. He felt cold about the heart; he had never liked anything less. Yet what could he do? What could he say? He could not pretend to like what was going on; nor could he try to turn Isabel away from Mr. Osmond, for, in trying, he might only wound her and make her an enemy for life. So he withdrew behind a wall of silence.
Only when Isabel pressed him did Ralph admit, one day, that his mother had told him the news and that he was little pleased. As he and Isabel then continued to talk about the matter, he was led at last, even against his better intentions, to speak his mind. His remarks about Gilbert Osmond were hardly flattering, and he said that he felt Isabel was running a great risk in marrying such a man.
“I had treated myself to a more charming picture of your future,” Ralph said.
“I had amused myself with planning out a higher destiny for you. There was to be nothing of this kind. You seemed to be sailing along so beautifully—high above the heads of such men—and then you drop to the ground. It hurts me—hurts me as if I had fallen myself.”
Isabel could hardly be expected to understand. Ralph’s point of view but, despite this fact, she felt a need to explain her position to him more fully. In her talks with Caspar Goodwood and Mrs. Touchett she had been content to state the obvious facts. But with Ralph it was different. She had deep respect and affection for him. She wanted him to understand how she herself felt. Thus she defended Gilbert Osmond as being the most noble person she had ever known.
If he had little importance to other people, she said, he was important to her. He was good enough, interesting enough, clever enough and she was far more impressed by what he represented than by what he lacked. He had a fine mind, he was kind and gentle. He had never struggled vulgarly for success, but now, with her help, he would have the means perhaps of expressing himself.
Ralph listened with great attention, as if everything Isabel said deserved to be considered seriously. In truth, he was only half thinking of the things she said. He was more impressed by her deep, good faith. She was wrong, but she believed. She was deceived; but her own arguments were to her convincing. It was wonderfully characteristic of her that, having made up a fine theory about Gilbert Osmond, she loved him not for what he really possessed but for his very weaknesses dressed out as honors. Ralph remembered what he had said to his father about wishing to put into Isabel’s hands the means of satisfying her imagination and this was the sad advantage the girl had taken of the money that had been left to her.
Poor Ralph felt sick; he felt ashamed. He had also said to her just now things he had not wanted to say, foolish things which, as he had feared, had served no purpose at all. A coolness which might well last forever had all of a sudden grown up between them. He and Isabel walked out into the court and reached the foot of the great stone stairs. Isabel, with hardly a look behind her, ran up the stairs and left him standing there alone. Ralph watched her in silence. It seemed as though she were disappearing out of his life. The chill of the high-walled court struck him suddenly and made him shake. He moved quickly toward the sunshine but with the feeling that there was little comfort to be found anywhere for him now.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. What was Mrs. Touchett’s reaction to the news of Isabel’s engagement?
2. Why was Mrs. Touchett disappointed in Madame Merle?
3. What things did Mrs. Touchett value?
4. What did Mrs. Touchett suggest that Isabel do instead of marrying Osmond?
5. What changes did Isabel see in Ralph?
6. Why did Isabel think that Ralph said nothing about her engagement?
7. What were the reasons that Ralph remained silent?
8. What did Ralph finally say to her about her engagement?
9. Why did Isabel want Ralph to understand how she felt?
10. How did Isabel defend Osmond?
11. In what way was Ralph impressed by what she said?
12. How did Ralph feel after Isabel left him?
B. Use the following words and own
engagement break the news to
interfere make public put him
oblige up to it take the
accuse trouble to do it true to
press your words treated
faith myself speak my mind
convince make up