"Of course that seems to you too fatuous."
"No," said Isabel after a little; "it seems to me too touching."
"That's the same thing. It makes me so ridiculous that you pity me."
She stroked out her long gloves again. "I know you've a great affection for me. I can't get rid of that."
"For heaven's sake don't try. Keep that well in sight. It will convince you how intensely I want you to do well."
"And how little you trust me!"
There was a moment's silence; the warm noontide seemed to listen. "I trust you, but I don't trust him," said Ralph.
She raised her eyes and gave him a wide, deep look. "You've said it now, and I'm glad you've made it so clear. But you'll suffer by it."
"Not if you're just."
"I'm very just," said Isabel. "What better proof of it can there be than that I'm not angry with you? I don't know what's the matter with me, but I'm not. I was when you began, but it has passed away. Perhaps I ought to be angry, but Mr. Osmond wouldn't think so. He wants me to know everything; that's what I like him for. You've nothing to gain, I know that. I've never been so nice to you, as a girl, that you should have much reason for wishing me to remain one. You give very good advice; you've often done so. No, I'm very quiet; I've always believed in your wisdom," she went on, boasting of her quietness, yet speaking with a kind of contained exaltation. It was her passionate desire to be just; it touched Ralph to the heart, affected him like a caress from a creature he had injured. He wished to interrupt, to reassure her; for a moment he was absurdly inconsistent; he would have retracted what he had said. But she gave him no chance; she went on, having caught a glimpse, as she thought, of the heroic line and desiring to advance in that direction. "I see you've some special idea; I should like very much to hear it. I'm sure it's disinterested; I feel that. It seems a strange thing to argue about, and of course I ought to tell you definitely that if you expect to dissuade me you may give it up. You'll not move me an inch; it's too late. As you say, I'm caught. Certainly it won't be pleasant for you to remember this, but your pain will be in your own thoughts. I shall never reproach you."
"I don't think you ever will," said Ralph. "It's not in the least the sort of marriage I thought you'd make."
"What sort of marriage was that, pray?"
"Well, I can hardly say. I hadn't exactly a positive view of it, but I had a negative. I didn't think you'd decide for — well, for that type."
"What's the matter with Mr. Osmond's type, if it be one? His being so independent, so individual, is what I most see in him," the girl declared. "What do you know against him? You know him scarcely at all."
"Yes," Ralph said, "I know him very little, and I confess I haven't facts and items to prove him a villain. But all the same I can't help feeling that you're running a grave risk."
"Marriage is always a grave risk, and his risk's as grave as mine."
"That's his affair! If he's afraid, let him back out. I wish to God he would."
Isabel reclined in her chair, folding her arms and gazing a while at her cousin. "I don't think I understand you," she said at last coldly. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I believed you'd marry a man of more importance."
Cold, I say, her tone had been, but at this a colour like a flame leaped into her face. "Of more importance to whom? It seems to me enough that one's husband should be of importance to one's self!"
Ralph blushed as well; his attitude embarrassed him. Physically speaking he proceeded to change it; he straightened himself, then leaned forward, resting a hand on each knee. He fixed his eyes on the ground; he had an air of the most respectful deliberation.
"I'll tell you in a moment what I mean," he presently said. He felt agitated, intensely eager; now that he had opened the discussion he wished to discharge his mind. But he wished also to be superlatively gentle.
Isabel waited a little — then she went on with majesty. "In everything that makes one care for people Mr. Osmond is pre-eminent. There may be nobler natures, but I've never had the pleasure of meeting one. Mr. Osmond's is the finest I know; he's good enough for me, and interesting enough, and clever enough. I'm far more struck with what he has and what he represents than with what he may lack."
"I had treated myself to a charming vision of your future," Ralph observed without answering this; "I had amused myself with planning out a high destiny for you. There was to be nothing of this sort in it. You were not to come down so easily or so soon."
"Come down, you say?"
"Well, that renders my sense of what has happened to you. You seemed to me to be soaring far up in the blue — to be, sailing in the bright light, over the heads of men. Suddenly some one tosses up a faded rosebud — a missile that should never have reached you — and straight you drop to the ground. It hurts me," said Ralph audaciously, "hurts me as if I had fallen myself!"