"No one can think of me as Mr. Rosier does; no one has the right."
"Ah, but I don't admit Mr. Rosier's right!" Isabel hypocritically cried.
Pansy only gazed at her, evidently much puzzled; and Isabel, taking advantage of it, began to represent to her the wretched consequences of disobeying her father. At this Pansy stopped her with the assurance that she would never disobey him, would never marry without his consent. And she announced, in the serenest, simplest tone, that, though she might never marry Mr. Rosier, she would never cease to think of him. She appeared to have accepted the idea of eternal singleness; but Isabel of course was free to reflect that she had no conception of its meaning. She was perfectly sincere; she was prepared to give up her lover. This might seem an important step toward taking another, but for Pansy, evidently, it failed to lead in that direction. She felt no bitterness toward her father; there was no bitterness in her heart; there was only the sweetness of fidelity to Edward Rosier, and a strange, exquisite intimation that she could prove it better by remaining single than even by marrying him.
"Your father would like you to make a better marriage," said Isabel. "Mr. Rosier's fortune is not at all large."
"How do you mean better — if that would be good enough? And I have myself so little money; why should I look for a fortune?"
"Your having so little is a reason for looking for more." With which Isabel was grateful for the dimness of the room; she felt as if her face were hideously insincere. It was what she was doing for Osmond; it was what one had to do for Osmond! Pansy's solemn eyes, fixed on her own, almost embarrassed her; she was ashamed to think she had made so light of the girl's preference.
"What should you like me to do?" her companion softly demanded.
The question was a terrible one, and Isabel took refuge in timorous vagueness. "To remember all the pleasure it's in your power to give your father."
"To marry some one else, you mean — if he should ask me?"
For a moment Isabel's answer caused itself to be waited for; then she heard herself utter it in the stillness that Pansy's attention seemed to make. "Yes — to marry some one else."
The child's eyes grew more penetrating; Isabel believed she was doubting her sincerity, and the impression took force from her slowly getting up from her cushion. She stood there a moment with her small hands unclasped and then quavered out: "Well, I hope no one will ask me!"
"There has been a question of that. Some one else would have been ready to ask you."
"I don't think he can have been ready," said Pansy.
"It would appear so if he had been sure he'd succeed."
"If he had been sure? Then he wasn't ready!"
Isabel thought this rather sharp; she also got up and stood a moment looking into the fire. "Lord Warburton has shown you great attention," she resumed; "of course you know it's of him I speak." She found herself, against her expectation, almost placed in the position of justifying herself; which led her to introduce this nobleman more crudely than she had intended.
"He has been very kind to me, and I like him very much. But if you mean that he'll propose for me I think you're mistaken."
"Perhaps I am. But your father would like it extremely."
Pansy shook her head with a little wise smile. "Lord Warburton won't propose simply to please papa."
"Your father would like you to encourage him," Isabel went on mechanically.
"How can I encourage him?"
"I don't know. Your father must tell you that."
Pansy said nothing for a moment; she only continued to smile as if she were in possession of a bright assurance. "There's no danger — no danger!" she declared at last.
There was a conviction in the way she said this, and a felicity in her believing it, which conduced to Isabel's awkwardness. She felt accused of dishonesty, and the idea was disgusting. To repair her self-respect she was on the point of saying that Lord Warburton had let her know that there was a danger. But she didn't; she only said — in her embarrassment rather wide of the mark — that he surely had been most kind, most friendly.
"Yes, he has been very kind," Pansy answered. "That's what I like him for."
"Why then is the difficulty so great?"
"I've always felt sure of his knowing that I don't want — what did you say I should do? — to encourage him. He knows I don't want to marry, and he wants me to know that he therefore won't trouble me. That's the meaning of his kindness. It's as if he said to me: 'I like you very much, but if it doesn't please you I'll never say it again.' I think that's very kind, very noble," Pansy went on with deepening positiveness. "That is all we've said to each other. And he doesn't care for me either. Ah no, there's no danger."
Isabel was touched with wonder at the depths of perception of which this submissive little person was capable; she felt afraid of Pansy's wisdom — began almost to retreat before it. "You must tell your father that," she remarked reservedly.
"I think I'd rather not," Pansy unreservedly answered.
"You oughtn't to let him have false hopes."
"Perhaps not; but it will be good for me that he should. So long as he believes that Lord Warburton intends anything of the kind you say, papa won't propose any one else. And that will be an advantage for me," said the child very lucidly.
There was something brilliant in her lucidity, and it made her companion draw a long breath. It relieved this friend of a heavy responsibility. Pansy had a sufficient illumination of her own, and Isabel felt that she herself just now had no light to spare from her small stock. Nevertheless it still clung to her that she must be loyal to Osmond, that she was on her honour in dealing with his daughter. Under the influence of this sentiment she threw out another suggestion before she retired — a suggestion with which it seemed to her that she should have done her utmost.
"Your father takes for granted at least that you would like to marry a nobleman."
Pansy stood in the open doorway; she had drawn back the curtain for Isabel to pass. "I think Mr. Rosier looks like one!" she remarked very gravely.