"I don't understand what you wish to do," he said in a moment. "I should like to know — so that I may know how to act."
"Just now I wish to go to bed. I'm very tired."
"Sit down and rest; I shall not keep you long. Not there — take a comfortable place." And he arranged a multitude of cushions that were scattered in picturesque disorder upon a vast divan. This was not, however, where she seated herself; she dropped into the nearest chair. The fire had gone out; the lights in the great room were few. She drew her cloak about her; she felt mortally cold. "I think you're trying to humiliate me," Osmond went on. "It's a most absurd undertaking."
"I haven't the least idea what you mean," she returned.
"You've played a very deep game; you've managed it beautifully."
"What is it that I've managed?"
"You've not quite settled it, however; we shall see him again." And he stopped in front of her, with his hands in his pockets, looking down at her thoughtfully, in his usual way, which seemed meant to let her know that she was not an object, but only a rather disagreeable incident, of thought.
"If you mean that Lord Warburton's under an obligation to come back you're wrong," Isabel said. "He's under none whatever."
"That's just what I complain of. But when I say he'll come back I don't mean he'll come from a sense of duty."
"There's nothing else to make him. I think he has quite exhausted Rome."
"Ah no, that's a shallow judgement. Rome's inexhaustible." And Osmond began to walk about again. "However, about that perhaps there's no hurry," he added. "It's rather a good idea of his that we should go to England. If it were not for the fear of finding your cousin there I think I should try to persuade you."
"It may be that you'll not find my cousin," said Isabel.
"I should like to be sure of it. However, I shall be as sure as possible. At the same time I should like to see his house, that you told me so much about at one time: what do you call it? — Gardencourt. It must be a charming thing. And then, you know, I've a devotion to the memory of your uncle: you made me take a great fancy to him. I should like to see where he lived and died. That indeed is a detail. Your friend was right. Pansy ought to see England."
"I've no doubt she would enjoy it," said Isabel.
"But that's a long time hence; next autumn's far off," Osmond continued; "and meantime there are things that more nearly interest us. Do you think me so very proud?" he suddenly asked.
"I think you very strange."
"You don't understand me."
"No, not even when you insult me."
"I don't insult you; I'm incapable of it. I merely speak of certain facts, and if the allusion's an injury to you the fault's not mine. It's surely a fact that you have kept all this matter quite in your own hands."
"Are you going back to Lord Warburton?" Isabel asked. "I'm very tired of his name."
"You shall hear it again before we've done with it."
She had spoken of his insulting her, but it suddenly seemed to her that this ceased to be a pain. He was going down — down; the vision of such a fall made her almost giddy: that was the only pain. He was too strange, too different; he didn't touch her. Still, the working of his morbid passion was extraordinary, and she felt a rising curiosity to know in what light he saw himself justified. "I might say to you that I judge you've nothing to say to me that's worth hearing," she returned in a moment. "But I should perhaps be wrong. There's a thing that would be worth my hearing — to know in the plainest words of what it is you accuse me."
"Of having prevented Pansy's marriage to Warburton. Are those words plain enough?"
"On the contrary, I took a great interest in it. I told you so; and when you told me that you counted on me — that I think was what you said — I accepted the obligation. I was a fool to do so, but I did it."
"You pretended to do it, and you even pretended reluctance to make me more willing to trust you. Then you began to use your ingenuity to get him out of the way."
"I think I see what you mean," said Isabel.
"Where's the letter you told me he had written me?" her husband demanded.
"I haven't the least idea; I haven't asked him."
"You stopped it on the way," said Osmond.
Isabel slowly got up; standing there in her white cloak, which covered her to her feet, she might have represented the angel of disdain, first cousin to that of pity. "Oh, Gilbert, for a man who was so fine — !" she exclaimed in a long murmur.
"I was never so fine as you. You've done everything you wanted. You've got him out of the say without appearing to do so, and you've placed me in the position in which you wished to see me — that of a man who has tried to marry his daughter to a lord, but has grotesquely failed."
"Pansy doesn't care for him. She's very glad he's gone," Isabel said.
"That has nothing to do with the matter."
"And he doesn't care for Pansy."
"That won't do; you told me he did. I don't know why you wanted this particular satisfaction," Osmond continued; "you might have taken some other. It doesn't seem to me that I've been presumptuous — that I have taken too much for granted. I've been very modest about it, very quiet. The idea didn't originate with me. He began to show that he liked her before I ever thought of it. I left it all to you."
"Yes, you were very glad to leave it to me. After this you must attend to such things yourself."
He looked at her a moment; then he turned away. "I thought you were very fond of my daughter."
"I've never been more so than to-day."
"Your affection is attended with immense limitations. However, that perhaps is natural."
"Is this all you wished to say to me?" Isabel asked, taking a candle that stood on one of the tables.
"Are you satisfied? Am I sufficiently disappointed?"
"I don't think that on the whole you're disappointed. You've had another opportunity to try to stupefy me."
"It's not that. It's proved that Pansy can aim high."
"Poor little Pansy!" said Isabel as she turned away with her candle.