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The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 13



The Portraıt Of A Lady - Chapter 13
                                                   The Countess had an open book in her hand
Isabel waited a moment longer, long enough to observe Os­mond’s wholly indifferent yet most expressive figure, then quickly left his study. Her strength, her emotion seemed to have left her; she felt as if a cold, chill air had suddenly fallen upon her, leaving her weak and trembling. Her conversations with Osmond of late all had this same effect upon her. On her way back to her own room she found the Countess Gemini standing in the door of a small room where a collection of books had been arranged. The Countess had an open book in her hand; she appeared to have been looking at a page which failed to strike her as interesting. The Countess had been visit-
ing at Palazzo Roccanera for more than a month. Though she was always eager to come to Rome, where she found the social life much more exciting than that of Florence, this was only the second time she had visited Isabel and Osmond since they were married. She complained that her husband, Count Gem­ini, gave her little money with which to travel anywhere, while Osmond had invited her to Rome on only two occasions, once shortly after he and Isabel were married, and again at the pres­ent time. Osmond found his sister something of a “fool,” felt that he and she had little in common, and therefore did his best to avoid her company at all times. The Countess, however, was enjoying her stay in Rome completely. At the sound of Isabel’s step now, she raised her head.
“Ah, my dear,” she said. “You, who are so well-read, do tell me some interesting book to read. Everything here is so dull. Do you think this would do me any good?”
Isabel looked at the book the Countess held in her hand, but without really seeing it. “I’m afraid I can’t advise you. I’ve had bad news. My cousin, Ralph Touchett, is dying.”
“Ah, he was so nice. I’m awfully sorry for you,” said the Countess, throwing down her book.
“You would be sorrier still if you knew.”
“What is there to know? You look very badly. You must have been with Osmond.”
Half an hour before, Isabel would have listened coldly to the suggestion that she would ever feel a desire for sympathy from her sister-in-law, whose very artificial manners usually made Isabel feel cold to her. But now, such was Isabel’s state of mind, that she was glad even for the Countess’ considera­tion. “Yes, I’ve been with Osmond,” she said, while the Coun­tess’ bright eyes shone upon her.
“I’m sure that he has been horrible,” the Countess cried. “Did he say he was glad poor Mr. Touchett is dying?”
“He said it’s impossible I should go to England.”
The Countess seemed genuinely concerned, but also curious, as usual, to an extreme. “But nothing’s impossible for you, my dear,” she said. “Why else are you so rich and clever and good?”
“Today I feel stupidly weak.”
“Why does Osmond say it’s impossible?”
Isabel began to draw back a little from the Countess’ ques­tions—but she answered this one honestly, bitterly, 
“Because we’re so happy together that we can’t separate even for a few weeks.”
Isabel went to her room where she.walked up and down for an hour She was torn between her desire to see Ralph again before he died and her obligation to follow Osmond’s wishes. More than ever before she realized now what marriage meant. When one had to choose, one chose as a matter of course for one’s husband. It was not Osmond himself that she feared, if she decided to go away. What he thought of her she already knew; what he was capable of saying to her she had felt. But they were married, and marriage meant she should stand by him, no matter what the circumstances. To go away now Would be to break violently with all the traditions of married life she personally had always held so dear. She sank down in a chair and buried her head in her hands.
When Isabel raised her head again the Countess stood be­fore her. The Countess meanwhile had also been thinking. She knew that if once Ralph Touchett died, Isabel would go into mourning, and there would be no more bright dinner parties for her in Rome. This was rather disappointing but after all, she reasoned, the game was almost played out... she had al­ready stayed longer at Palazzo Roccanera than she was sup­posed to have stayed. And then, she saw that Isabel’s trouble was deep, and she cared enough about it to forget her own. She had from the first liked and admired Isabel. Isabel had al­ways treated her kindly, while Osmond never hesitated to show the contempt he felt for her. She decided she might help Isa­bel—it would give her genuine pleasure, in any case, to see Os­mond beaten, for a change. “I knocked,” the Countess began, “but you did not answer me. So I came in anyway. I’ve been looking at you for the past few minutes. You’re very unhappy, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but I don’t think you can comfort me,” said Isabel.
“Will you give me leave to try?” said the Countess, and she sat down alongside Isabel. She appeared to have something definite to say and it occurred to Isabel that for the first time
her sister-in-law might say something human as well. What the Countess told her, of course, proved to be not only human but also far more important than anything Isabel could pos­sibly have expected.
“I must say, to begin with,” the Countess continued, “that I don’t understand your frame of mind. You have too many reasons for everything, too many ideals. You’re too pure in thought and spirit for your own good. In your place, I would have guessed it ages ago. Have you never suspected anything?”
While Isabel listened, the Countess went on to say that her first sister-in-law, Osmond’s first wife, had died three years after her marriage to Osmond without ever having borne him a child. Pansy was Osmond’s daughter all right—but by another wom­an. This woman was Madame Merle. She and Osmond had been intimate for some seven or eight years. The facts of the child’s birth had been neatly concealed by making it appear that Osmond’s wife had borne the child just before she died. Osmond and his wife had been living originally in Naples; later they went to Switzerland when the wife became ill. The wife died while there, but Osmond stayed on in Switzerland for some time, never returning to Naples. Then it was, by a re­arranging of the dates, that the whole later history of Pansy’s birth was set going, and the impression given that the child had been born just before the death of the first Mrs. Osmond.
The Countess went on piling up detail after detail, which Isabel,.in her emotional state, had difficulty in following. But she tried to listen closely and even managed an occasional ques­tion. Why had Osmond and Madame Merle never married? she asked. The Countess drew a quick breath and went on to explain that Madame Merle did not have a sufficiently large fortune to attract Osmond into marriage. Madame Merle too, for her part, hoped to marry a greater man—that had always been her idea. She was ambitious, she had waited and watched and plotted—but had never succeeded. Yet she had never com­pletely failed Osmond either; she had been faithful in her way. She had brought him and Isabel together, and also arranged in this way for Pansy to have a mother who could give her the comforts of wealth which neither she nor Osmond had been able to provide.
“When their little affair was over,” the Countess concluded, “both she and Osmond more or less agreed that each should have his freedom, but that each should also do everything pos­sible to help the other. Now see how much better women are than men. She has found a wife for Osmond, but Osmond nevei lifted a finger for her. She has worked for him, plotted for him, suffered for him—she has even more than once found money for him. The end of it is that he grew tired of her. She was just an old habit. There were moments when he needed her, but on the whole he wouldn’t have missed her if she had been removed. And what’s more, she knew all this.” The Coun­tess paused to see what the effect of her words had been upon Isabel. Then she added suddenly: “Now will you give up your trip to England to see your cousin?”
Isabel started a little; she turned away. Various thoughts were crowding in upon her. Now she understood many things she had been unable to understand before—but they brought her pain, not relief. She got up, stood a minute so, but felt weak and had to lay her arm upon the chimneyplace for support. She then dropped her head upon her arm—her eyes closed, her lips were pale.
“I’ve done wrong to speak—I’ve made you ill,” the Coun­tess said.
“Ah, I must see Ralph,” Isabel cried—not in anger, not in the quick passion the Countess had expected her to show, but in a tone of deep and far-reaching sadness.
Comprehension, Discussion, and Vocabulary Review
A. 1. How did Isabel feel after she left Osmond?
2. Why didn’t the Countess Gemini visit the Osmonds very often?
3. What did the Countess guess that Osmond had said about Ralph?
4. Why was Isabel torn between Ralph and Osmond?
5. Why did the Countess decide to help Isabel?
6. What did the Countess say about Osmond’s first wife?
7. Whose child was Pansy?
8. How had they arranged to make people think that the child was the first Mrs. Osmond’s?
9. Why hadn’t Osmond and Madame Merle ever married? ,
10. What had Osmond and Madame Merle agreed to do for each other?
11. How did Isabel feel after the Countess had told her these things?
B. Use the following words and expressions in sentences of your own:
expressive               ill
sister-in-law           sadness
mourn                     of late
ideal                        have an effect on
pure                         have in common
conceal                   walk up and down
date                         sink down
occasional             after all
conclude                pile up