"Her own children? Surely she has none."
"She may have yet. She had a poor little boy, who died two years ago, six months after his birth. Others therefore may come."
"I hope they will, if it will make her happy. She's a splendid woman."
Madame Merle failed to burst into speech. "Ah, about her there's much to be said. Splendid as you like! We've not exactly made out that you're a parti. The absence of vices is hardly a source of income.
"Pardon me, I think it may be," said Rosier quite lucidly.
"You'll be a touching couple, living on your innocence!"
"I think you underrate me."
"You're not so innocent as that? Seriously," said Madame Merle, "of course forty thousand francs a year and a nice character are a combination to be considered. I don't say it's to be jumped at, but there might be a worse offer. Mr. Osmond, however, will probably incline to believe he can do better."
"HE can do so perhaps; but what can his daughter do? She can't do better than marry the man she loves. For she does, you know," Rosier added eagerly.
"She does — I know it."
"Ah," cried the young man, "I said you were the person to come to."
"But I don't know how you know it, if you haven't asked her," Madame Merle went on.
"In such a case there's no need of asking and telling; as you say, we're an innocent couple. How did YOU know it?"
"I who am not innocent? By being very crafty. Leave it to me; I'll find out for you."
Rosier got up and stood smoothing his hat. "You say that rather coldly. Don't simply find out how it is, but try to make it as it should be."
"I'll do my best. I'll try to make the most of your advantages."
"Thank you so very much. Meanwhile then I'll say a word to Mrs. Osmond."
"Gardez-vous-en bien!" And Madame Merle was on her feet. "Don't set her going, or you'll spoil everything."
Rosier gazed into his hat; he wondered whether his hostess HAD been after all the right person to come to. "I don't think I understand you. I'm an old friend of Mrs. Osmond, and I think she would like me to succeed."
"Be an old friend as much as you like; the more old friends she has the better, for she doesn't get on very well with some of her new. But don't for the present try to make her take up the cudgels for you. Her husband may have other views, and, as a person who wishes her well, I advise you not to multiply points of difference between them."
Poor Rosier's face assumed an expression of alarm; a suit for the hand of Pansy Osmond was even a more complicated business than his taste for proper transitions had allowed. But the extreme good sense which he concealed under a surface suggesting that of a careful owner's "best set" came to his assistance. "I don't see that I'm bound to consider Mr. Osmond so very much!" he exclaimed. "No, but you should consider HER. You say you're an old friend. Would you make her suffer?"
"Not for the world."
"Then be very careful, and let the matter alone till I've taken a few soundings."
"Let the matter alone, dear Madame Merle? Remember that I'm in love."
"Oh, you won't burn up! Why did you come to me, if you're not to heed what I say?"
"You're very kind; I'll be very good," the young man promised. "But I'm afraid Mr. Osmond's pretty hard," he added in his mild voice as he went to the door.
Madame Merle gave a short laugh. "It has been said before. But his wife isn't easy either."
"Ah, she's a splendid woman!" Ned Rosier repeated, for departure. He resolved that his conduct should be worthy of an aspirant who was already a model of discretion; but he saw nothing in any pledge he had given Madame Merle that made it improper he should keep himself in spirits by an occasional visit to Miss Osmond's home. He reflected constantly on what his adviser had said to him, and turned over in his mind the impression of her rather circumspect tone. He had gone to her de confiance, as they put it in Paris; but it was possible he had been precipitate. He found difficulty in thinking of himself as rash — he had incurred this reproach so rarely; but it certainly was true that he had known Madame Merle only for the last month, and that his thinking her a delightful woman was not, when one came to look into it, a reason for assuming that she would be eager to push Pansy Osmond into his arms, gracefully arranged as these members might be to receive her. She had indeed shown him benevolence, and she was a person of consideration among the girl's people, where she had a rather striking appearance (Rosier had more than once wondered how she managed it) of being intimate without being familiar. But possibly he had exaggerated these advantages. There was no particular reason why she should take trouble for him; a charming woman was charming to every one, and Rosier felt rather a fool when he thought of his having appealed to her on the ground that she had distinguished him. Very likely — though she had appeared to say it in joke — she was really only thinking of his bibelots. Had it come into her head that he might offer her two or three of the gems of his collection? If she would only help him to marry Miss Osmond he would present her with his whole museum. He could hardly say so to her outright; it would seem too gross a bribe. But he should like her to believe it.