It was surprising for a variety of reasons which I shall presently touch upon. On the evening I speak of, while Lord Warburton sat there, she had been on the point of taking the great step of going out of the room and leaving her companions alone. I say the great step, because it was in this light that Gilbert Osmond would have regarded it, and Isabel was trying as much as possible to take her husband's view. She succeeded after a fashion, but she fell short of the point I mention. After all she couldn't rise to it; something held her and made this impossible. It was not exactly that it would be base or insidious; for women as a general thing practise such manoeuvres with a perfectly good conscience, and Isabel was instinctively much more true than false to the common genius of her sex. There was a vague doubt that interposed — a sense that she was not quite sure. So she remained in the drawing-room, and after a while Lord Warburton went off to his party, of which he promised to give Pansy a full account on the morrow. After he had gone she wondered if she had prevented something which would have happened if she had absented herself for a quarter of an hour; and then she pronounced — always mentally — that when their distinguished visitor should wish her to go away he would easily find means to let her know it. Pansy said nothing whatever about him after he had gone, and Isabel studiously said nothing, as she had taken a vow of reserve until after he should have declared himself. He was a little longer in coming to this than might seem to accord with the description he had given Isabel of his feelings. Pansy went to bed, and Isabel had to admit that she could not now guess what her stepdaughter was thinking of. Her transparent little companion was for the moment not to be seen through.
She remained alone, looking at the fire, until, at the end of half an hour, her husband came in. He moved about a while in silence and then sat down; he looked at the fire like herself. But she now had transferred her eyes from the flickering flame in the chimney to Osmond's face, and she watched him while he kept his silence. Covert observation had become a habit with her; an instinct, of which it is not an exaggeration to say that it was allied to that of self-defence, had made it habitual. She wished as much as possible to know his thoughts, to know what he would say, beforehand, so that she might prepare her answer. Preparing answers had not been her strong point of old; she had rarely in this respect got further than thinking afterwards of clever things she might have said. But she had learned caution — learned it in a measure from her husband's very countenance. It was the same face she had looked into with eyes equally earnest perhaps, but less penetrating, on the terrace of a Florentine villa; except that Osmond had grown slightly stouter since his marriage. He still, however, might strike one as very distinguished.
"Has Lord Warburton been here?" he presently asked.
"Yes, he stayed half an hour."
"Did he see Pansy?"
"Yes; he sat on the sofa beside her."
"Did he talk with her much?"
"He talked almost only to her."
"It seems to me he's attentive. Isn't that what you call it?"
"I don't call it anything," said Isabel; "I've waited for you to give it a name."
"That's a consideration you don't always show," Osmond answered after a moment.
"I've determined, this time, to try and act as you'd like. I've so often failed of that."
Osmond turned his head slowly, looking at her. "Are you trying to quarrel with me?"
"No, I'm trying to live at peace."
"Nothing's more easy; you know I don't quarrel myself."
"What do you call it when you try to make me angry?" Isabel asked.
"I don't try; if I've done so it has been the most natural thing in the world. Moreover I'm not in the least trying now."
Isabel smiled. "It doesn't matter. I've determined never to be angry again."
"That's an excellent resolve. Your temper isn't good."
"No — it's not good." She pushed away the book she had been reading and took up the band of tapestry Pansy had left on the table.
"That's partly why I've not spoken to you about this business of my daughter's," Osmond said, designating Pansy in the manner that was most frequent with him. "I was afraid I should encounter opposition — that you too would have views on the subject. I've sent little Rosier about his business."
"You were afraid I'd plead for Mr. Rosier? Haven't you noticed that I've never spoken to you of him?"
"I've never given you a chance. We've so little conversation in these days. I know he was an old friend of yours."
"Yes; he's an old friend of mine." Isabel cared little more for him than for the tapestry that she held in her hand; but it was true that he was an old friend and that with her husband she felt a desire not to extenuate such ties. He had a way of expressing contempt for them which fortified her loyalty to them, even when, as in the present case, they were in themselves insignificant. She sometimes felt a sort of passion of tenderness for memories which had no other merit than that they belonged to her unmarried life. "But as regards Pansy," she added in a moment, "I've given him no encouragement."