"It's much better that we should always act together," Madame Merle went on.
"Do you mean that as a threat?" asked the Countess rising. Madame Merle shook her head as for quiet amusement. "No indeed, you've not my coolness!"
Isabel and Mr. Osmond were now slowly coming toward them and Isabel had taken Pansy by the hand. "Do you pretend to believe he'd make her happy?" the Countess demanded.
"If he should marry Miss Archer I suppose he'd behave like a gentleman."
The Countess jerked herself into a succession of attitudes. "Do you mean as most gentlemen behave? That would be much to be thankful for! Of course Osmond's a gentleman; his own sister needn't be reminded of that. But does he think he can marry any girl he happens to pick out? Osmond's a gentleman, of course; but I must say I've NEVER, no, no, never, seen any one of Osmond's pretensions! What they're all founded on is more than I can say. I'm his own sister; I might be supposed to know. Who is he, if you please? What has he ever done? If there had been anything particularly grand in his origin — if he were made of some superior clay — I presume I should have got some inkling of it. If there had been any great honours or splendours in the family I should certainly have made the most of them: they would have been quite in my line. But there's nothing, nothing, nothing. One's parents were charming people of course; but so were yours, I've no doubt. Every one's a charming person nowadays. Even I'm a charming person; don't laugh, it has literally been said. As for Osmond, he has always appeared to believe that he's descended from the gods."
"You may say what you please," said Madame Merle, who had listened to this quick outbreak none the less attentively, we may believe, because her eye wandered away from the speaker and her hands busied themselves with adjusting the knots of ribbon on her dress. "You Osmonds are a fine race — your blood must flow from some very pure source. Your brother, like an intelligent man, has had the conviction of it if he has not had the proofs. You're modest about it, but you yourself are extremely distinguished. What do you say about your niece? The child's a little princess. Nevertheless," Madame Merle added, "it won't be an easy matter for Osmond to marry Miss Archer. Yet he can try."
"I hope she'll refuse him. It will take him down a little."
"We mustn't forget that he is one of the cleverest of men."
"I've heard you say that before, but I haven't yet discovered what he has done."
"What he has done? He has done nothing that has had to be undone. And he has known how to wait."
"To wait for Miss Archer's money? How much of it is there?"
"That's not what I mean," said Madame Merle. "Miss Archer has seventy thousand pounds."
"Well, it's a pity she's so charming," the Countess declared. "To be sacrificed, any girl would do. She needn't be superior."
"If she weren't superior your brother would never look at her. He must have the best."
"Yes," returned the Countess as they went forward a little to meet the others, "he's very hard to satisfy. That makes me tremble for her happiness!"