Madame Merle gave one of her quick looks again. "Likes her, you mean — as Mr. Rosier means?"
"I don't know how Mr. Rosier means; but Lord Warburton has let me know that he's charmed with Pansy."
"And you've never told Osmond?" This observation was immediate, precipitate; it almost burst from Madame Merle's lips.
Isabel's eyes rested on her. "I suppose he'll know in time; Lord Warburton has a tongue and knows how to express himself."
Madame Merle instantly became conscious that she had spoken more quickly than usual, and the reflection brought the colour to her cheek. She gave the treacherous impulse time to subside and then said as if she had been thinking it over a little: "That would be better than marrying poor Mr. Rosier."
"Much better, I think."
"It would be very delightful; it would be a great marriage. It's really very kind of him."
"Very kind of him?"
"To drop his eyes on a simple little girl."
"I don't see that."
"It's very good of you. But after all, Pansy Osmond — "
"After all, Pansy Osmond's the most attractive person he has ever known!" Isabel exclaimed.
Madame Merle stared, and indeed she was justly bewildered. "Ah, a moment ago I thought you seemed rather to disparage her."
"I said she was limited. And so she is. And so's Lord Warburton."
"So are we all, if you come to that. If it's no more than Pansy deserves, all the better. But if she fixes her affections on Mr. Rosier I won't admit that she deserves it. That will be too perverse."
"Mr. Rosier's a nuisance!" Isabel cried abruptly.
"I quite agree with you, and I'm delighted to know that I'm not expected to feed his flame. For the future, when he calls on me, my door shall be closed to him." And gathering her mantle together Madame Merle prepared to depart. She was checked, however, on her progress to the door, by an inconsequent request from Isabel.
"All the same, you know, be kind to him."
She lifted her shoulders and eyebrows and stood looking at her friend. "I don't understand your contradictions! Decidedly I shan't be kind to him, for it will be a false kindness. I want to see her married to Lord Warburton."
"You had better wait till he asks her."
"If what you say's true, he'll ask her. Especially," said Madame Merle in a moment, "if you make him."
"If I make him?"
"It's quite in your power. You've great influence with him."
Isabel frowned a little. "Where did you learn that?"
"Mrs. Touchett told me. Not you — never!" said Madame Merle, smiling.
"I certainly never told you anything of the sort."
"You MIGHT have done so — so far as opportunity went — when we were by way of being confidential with each other. But you really told me very little; I've often thought so since."
Isabel had thought so too, and sometimes with a certain satisfaction. But she didn't admit it now — perhaps because she wished not to appear to exult in it. "You seem to have had an excellent informant in my aunt," she simply returned.
"She let me know you had declined an offer of marriage from Lord Warburton, because she was greatly vexed and was full of the subject. Of course I think you've done better in doing as you did. But if you wouldn't marry Lord Warburton yourself, make him the reparation of helping him to marry some one else."
Isabel listened to this with a face that persisted in not reflecting the bright expressiveness of Madame Merle's. But in a moment she said, reasonably and gently enough: "I should be very glad indeed if, as regards Pansy, it could be arranged." Upon which her companion, who seemed to regard this as a speech of good omen, embraced her more tenderly than might have been expected and triumphantly withdrew.