"I like you very much; but, if you please, we won't analyse. Pardon me if I seem patronising, but I think you a perfect little gentleman. I must tell you, however, that I've not the marrying of Pansy Osmond."
"I didn't suppose that. But you've seemed to me intimate with her family, and I thought you might have influence."
Madame Merle considered. "Whom do you call her family?"
"Why, her father; and — how do you say it in English? — her belle-mere."
"Mr. Osmond's her father, certainly; but his wife can scarcely be termed a member of her family. Mrs. Osmond has nothing to do with marrying her."
"I'm sorry for that," said Rosier with an amiable sigh of good faith. "I think Mrs. Osmond would favour me."
"Very likely — if her husband doesn't."
He raised his eyebrows. "Does she take the opposite line from him?"
"In everything. They think quite differently."
"Well," said Rosier, "I'm sorry for that; but it's none of my business. She's very fond of Pansy."
"Yes, she's very fond of Pansy."
"And Pansy has a great affection for her. She has told me how she loves her as if she were her own mother."
"You must, after all, have had some very intimate talk with the poor child," said Madame Merle. "Have you declared your sentiments?"
"Never!" cried Rosier, lifting his neatly-gloved hand. "Never till I've assured myself of those of the parents."
"You always wait for that? You've excellent principles; you observe the proprieties."
"I think you're laughing at me," the young man murmured, dropping back in his chair and feeling his small moustache. "I didn't expect that of you, Madame Merle."
She shook her head calmly, like a person who saw things as she saw them. "You don't do me justice. I think your conduct in excellent taste and the best you could adopt. Yes, that's what I think."
"I wouldn't agitate her — only to agitate her; I love her too much for that," said Ned Rosier.
"I'm glad, after all, that you've told me," Madame Merle went on. "Leave it to me a little; I think I can help you."
"I said you were the person to come to!" her visitor cried with prompt elation.
"You were very clever," Madame Merle returned more dryly. "When I say I can help you I mean once assuming your cause to be good. Let us think a little if it is."
"I'm awfully decent, you know," said Rosier earnestly. "I won't say I've no faults, but I'll say I've no vices."
"All that's negative, and it always depends, also, on what people call vices. What's the positive side? What's the virtuous? What have you got besides your Spanish lace and your Dresden teacups?"
"I've a comfortable little fortune — about forty thousand francs a year. With the talent I have for arranging, we can live beautifully on such an income."
"Beautifully, no. Sufficiently, yes. Even that depends on where you live."
"Well, in Paris. I would undertake it in Paris."
Madame Merle's mouth rose to the left. "It wouldn't be famous; you'd have to make use of the teacups, and they'd get broken."
"We don't want to be famous. If Miss Osmond should have everything pretty it would be enough. When one's as pretty as she one can afford — well, quite cheap faience. She ought never to wear anything but muslin — without the sprig," said Rosier reflectively.
"Wouldn't you even allow her the sprig? She'd be much obliged to you at any rate for that theory."
"It's the correct one, I assure you; and I'm sure she'd enter into it. She understands all that; that's why I love her."
"She's a very good little girl, and most tidy — also extremely graceful. But her father, to the best of my belief, can give her nothing."
Rosier scarce demurred. "I don't in the least desire that he should. But I may remark, all the same, that he lives like a rich man."
"The money's his wife's; she brought him a large fortune."
"Mrs. Osmond then is very fond of her stepdaughter; she may do something."
"For a love-sick swain you have your eyes about you!" Madame Merle exclaimed with a laugh.
"I esteem a dot very much. I can do without it, but I esteem it."
"Mrs. Osmond," Madame Merle went on, "will probably prefer to keep her money for her own children."