Lord Warburton had asked leave to bid good-bye to Pansy, but neither Isabel nor Osmond had made any motion to send for her. He had the air of giving out that his visit must be short; he sat on a small chair, as if it were only for a moment, keeping his hat in his hand. But he stayed and stayed; Isabel wondered what he was waiting for. She believed it was not to see Pansy; she had an impression that on the whole he would rather not see Pansy. It was of course to see herself alone — he had something to say to her. Isabel had no great wish to hear it, for she was afraid it would be an explanation, and she could perfectly dispense with explanations. Osmond, however, presently got up, like a man of good taste to whom it had occurred that so inveterate a visitor might wish to say just the last word of all to the ladies. "I've a letter to write before dinner," he said; "you must excuse me. I'll see if my daughter's disengaged, and if she is she shall know you're here. Of course when you come to Rome you'll always look us up. Mrs. Osmond will talk to you about the English expedition: she decides all those things."
The nod with which, instead of a hand-shake, he wound up this little speech was perhaps rather a meagre form of salutation; but on the whole it was all the occasion demanded. Isabel reflected that after he left the room Lord Warburton would have no pretext for saying, "Your husband's very angry"; which would have been extremely disagreeable to her. Nevertheless, if he had done so, she would have said: "Oh, don't be anxious. He doesn't hate you: it's me that he hates!"
It was only when they had been left alone together that her friend showed a certain vague awkwardness — sitting down in another chair, handling two or three of the objects that were near him. "I hope he'll make Miss Osmond come," he presently remarked. "I want very much to see her."
"I'm glad it's the last time," said Isabel.
"So am I. She doesn't care for me."
"No, she doesn't care for you."
"I don't wonder at it," he returned. Then he added with inconsequence: "You'll come to England, won't you?"
"I think we had better not."
"Ah, you owe me a visit. Don't you remember that you were to have come to Lockleigh once, and you never did?"
"Everything's changed since then," said Isabel.
"Not changed for the worse, surely — as far as we're concerned. To see you under my roof" — and he hung fire but an instant — "would be a great satisfaction."
She had feared an explanation; but that was the only one that occurred. They talked a little of Ralph, and in another moment Pansy came in, already dressed for dinner and with a little red spot in either cheek. She shook hands with Lord Warburton and stood looking up into his face with a fixed smile — a smile that Isabel knew, though his lordship probably never suspected it, to be near akin to a burst of tears.
"I'm going away," he said. "I want to bid you good-bye."
"Good-bye, Lord Warburton." Her voice perceptibly trembled.
"And I want to tell you how much I wish you may be very happy."
"Thank you, Lord Warburton," Pansy answered.
He lingered a moment and gave a glance at Isabel. "You ought to be very happy — you've got a guardian angel."
"I'm sure I shall be happy," said Pansy in the tone of a person whose certainties were always cheerful.
"Such a conviction as that will take you a great way. But if it should ever fail you, remember — remember — " And her interlocutor stammered a little. "Think of me sometimes, you know!" he said with a vague laugh. Then he shook hands with Isabel in silence, and presently he was gone.
When he had left the room she expected an effusion of tears from her stepdaughter; but Pansy in fact treated her to something very different.
"I think you ARE my guardian angel!" she exclaimed very sweetly.
Isabel shook her head. "I'm not an angel of any kind. I'm at the most your good friend."
"You're a very good friend then — to have asked papa to be gentle with me."
"I've asked your father nothing," said Isabel, wondering.
"He told me just now to come to the drawing-room, and then he gave me a very kind kiss."
"Ah," said Isabel, "that was quite his own idea!"
She recognised the idea perfectly; it was very characteristic, and she was to see a great deal more of it. Even with Pansy he couldn't put himself the least in the wrong. They were dining out that day, and after their dinner they went to another entertainment; so that it was not till late in the evening that Isabel saw him alone. When Pansy kissed him before going to bed he returned her embrace with even more than his usual munificence, and Isabel wondered if he meant it as a hint that his daughter had been injured by the machinations of her stepmother. It was a partial expression, at any rate, of what he continued to expect of his wife. She was about to follow Pansy, but he remarked that he wished she would remain; he had something to say to her. Then he walked about the drawing-room a little, while she stood waiting in her cloak.