"In that there's some reason. You're so near the child."
"Ah," said Isabel, "for all the comfort I've given him! If you think me dry, I wonder what HE thinks."
"I believe he thinks you can do more than you have done."
"I can do nothing."
"You can do more at least than I. I don't know what mysterious connection he may have discovered between me and Pansy; but he came to me from the first, as if I held his fortune in my hand. Now he keeps coming back, to spur me up, to know what hope there is, to pour out his feelings."
"He's very much in love," said Isabel.
"Very much — for him."
"Very much for Pansy, you might say as well."
Madame Merle dropped her eyes a moment. "Don't you think she's attractive?"
"The dearest little person possible — but very limited."
"She ought to be all the easier for Mr. Rosier to love. Mr. Rosier's not unlimited."
"No," said Isabel, "he has about the extent of one's pocket-handkerchief — the small ones with lace borders." Her humour had lately turned a good deal to sarcasm, but in a moment she was ashamed of exercising it on so innocent an object as Pansy's suitor. "He's very kind, very honest," she presently added; "and he's not such a fool as he seems."
"He assures me that she delights in him," said Madame Merle.
"I don't know; I've not asked her."
"You've never sounded her a little?"
"It's not my place; it's her father's."
"Ah, you're too literal!" said Madame Merle.
"I must judge for myself."
Madame Merle gave her smile again. "It isn't easy to help you."
"To help me?" said Isabel very seriously. "What do you mean?"
"It's easy to displease you. Don't you see how wise I am to be careful? I notify you, at any rate, as I notified Osmond, that I wash my hands of the love-affairs of Miss Pansy and Mr. Edward Rosier. Je n'y peux rien, moi! I can't talk to Pansy about him. Especially," added Madame Merle, "as I don't think him a paragon of husbands."
Isabel reflected a little; after which, with a smile, "You don't wash your hands then!" she said. After which again she added in another tone: "You can't — you're too much interested."
Madame Merle slowly rose; she had given Isabel a look as rapid as the intimation that had gleamed before our heroine a few moments before. Only this time the latter saw nothing. "Ask him the next time, and you'll see."
"I can't ask him; he has ceased to come to the house. Gilbert has let him know that he's not welcome."
"Ah yes," said Madame Merle, "I forgot that — though it's the burden of his lamentation. He says Osmond has insulted him. All the same," she went on, "Osmond doesn't dislike him so much as he thinks." She had got up as if to close the conversation, but she lingered, looking about her, and had evidently more to say. Isabel perceived this and even saw the point she had in view; but Isabel also had her own reasons for not opening the way.
"That must have pleased him, if you've told him," she answered, smiling.
"Certainly I've told him; as far as that goes I've encouraged him. I've preached patience, have said that his case isn't desperate if he'll only hold his tongue and be quiet. Unfortunately he has taken it into his head to be jealous."
"Jealous of Lord Warburton, who, he says, is always here."
Isabel, who was tired, had remained sitting; but at this she also rose. "Ah!" she exclaimed simply, moving slowly to the fireplace. Madame Merle observed her as she passed and while she stood a moment before the mantel-glass and pushed into its place a wandering tress of hair.
"Poor Mr. Rosier keeps saying there's nothing impossible in Lord Warburton's falling in love with Pansy," Madame Merle went on. Isabel was silent a little; she turned away from the glass. "It's true — there's nothing impossible," she returned at last, gravely and more gently.
"So I've had to admit to Mr. Rosier. So, too, your husband thinks."
"That I don't know."
"Ask him and you'll see."
"I shall not ask him," said Isabel.
"Pardon me; I forgot you had pointed that out. Of course," Madame Merle added, "you've had infinitely more observation of Lord Warburton's behaviour than I."
"I see no reason why I shouldn't tell you that he likes my stepdaughter very much."