"No, don't do that. He'll hang on."
"If I discourage him he'll do the same."
"Yes, but in the one case he'll try to talk and explain — which would be exceedingly tiresome. In the other he'll probably hold his tongue and go in for some deeper game. That will leave me quiet. I hate talking with a donkey."
"Is that what you call poor Mr. Rosier?"
"Oh, he's a nuisance — with his eternal majolica."
Madame Merle dropped her eyes; she had a faint smile. "He's a gentleman, he has a charming temper; and, after all, an income of forty thousand francs!"
"It's misery — 'genteel' misery," Osmond broke in. "It's not what I've dreamed of for Pansy."
"Very good then. He has promised me not to speak to her."
"Do you believe him?" Osmond asked absentmindedly.
"Perfectly. Pansy has thought a great deal about him; but I don't suppose you consider that that matters."
"I don't consider it matters at all; but neither do I believe she has thought of him."
"That opinion's more convenient," said Madame Merle quietly.
"Has she told you she's in love with him?"
"For what do you take her? And for what do you take me?" Madame Merle added in a moment.
Osmond had raised his foot and was resting his slim ankle on the other knee; he clasped his ankle in his hand familiarly — his long, fine forefinger and thumb could make a ring for it — and gazed a while before him. "This kind of thing doesn't find me unprepared. It's what I educated her for. It was all for this — that when such a case should come up she should do what I prefer."
"I'm not afraid that she'll not do it."
"Well then, where's the hitch?"
"I don't see any. But, all the same, I recommend you not to get rid of Mr. Rosier. Keep him on hand; he may be useful."
"I can't keep him. Keep him yourself."
"Very good; I'll put him into a corner and allow him so much a day." Madame Merle had, for the most part, while they talked, been glancing about her; it was her habit in this situation, just as it was her habit to interpose a good many blank-looking pauses. A long drop followed the last words I have quoted; and before it had ended she saw Pansy come out of the adjoining room, followed by Edward Rosier. The girl advanced a few steps and then stopped and stood looking at Madame Merle and at her father.
"He has spoken to her," Madame Merle went on to Osmond.
Her companion never turned his head. "So much for your belief in his promises. He ought to be horsewhipped."
"He intends to confess, poor little man!"
Osmond got up; he had now taken a sharp look at his daughter. "It doesn't matter," he murmured, turning away.
Pansy after a moment came up to Madame Merle with her little manner of unfamiliar politeness. This lady's reception of her was not more intimate; she simply, as she rose from the sofa, gave her a friendly smile.
"You're very late," the young creature gently said.
"My dear child, I'm never later than I intend to be."
Madame Merle had not got up to be gracious to Pansy; she moved toward Edward Rosier. He came to meet her and, very quickly, as if to get it off his mind, "I've spoken to her!" he whispered.
"I know it, Mr. Rosier."
"Did she tell you?"
"Yes, she told me. Behave properly for the rest of the evening, and come and see me to-morrow at a quarter past five." She was severe, and in the manner in which she turned her back to him there was a degree of contempt which caused him to mutter a decent imprecation.
He had no intention of speaking to Osmond; it was neither the time nor the place. But he instinctively wandered toward Isabel, who sat talking with an old lady. He sat down on the other side of her; the old lady was Italian, and Rosier took for granted she understood no English. "You said just now you wouldn't help me," he began to Mrs. Osmond. "Perhaps you'll feel differently when you know — when you know — !"
Isabel met his hesitation. "When I know what?"
"That she's all right."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, that we've come to an understanding."
"She's all wrong," said Isabel. "It won't do."