"You were very wrong about Lord Warburton," she remarked to the Countess. "I think it right you should know that."
"About his making love to Isabel? My poor lady, he was at her house three times a day. He has left traces of his passage!" the Countess cried.
"He wished to marry your niece; that's why he came to the house."
The Countess stared, and then with an inconsiderate laugh: "Is that the story that Isabel tells? It isn't bad, as such things go. If he wishes to marry my niece, pray why doesn't he do it? Perhaps he has gone to buy the wedding-ring and will come back with it next month, after I'm gone."
"No, he'll not come back. Miss Osmond doesn't wish to marry him."
"She's very accommodating! I knew she was fond of Isabel, but I didn't know she carried it so far."
"I don't understand you," said Henrietta coldly, and reflecting that the Countess was unpleasantly perverse. "I really must stick to my point — that Isabel never encouraged the attentions of Lord Warburton."
"My dear friend, what do you and I know about it? All we know is that my brother's capable of everything."
"I don't know what your brother's capable of," said Henrietta with dignity.
"It's not her encouraging Warburton that I complain of; it's her sending him away. I want particularly to see him. Do you suppose she thought I would make him faithless?" the Countess continued with audacious insistence. "However, she's only keeping him, one can feel that. The house is full of him there; he's quite in the air. Oh yes, he has left traces; I'm sure I shall see him yet."
"Well," said Henrietta after a little, with one of those inspirations which had made the fortune of her letters to the Interviewer, "perhaps he'll be more successful with you than with Isabel!"
When she told her friend of the offer she had made Ralph Isabel replied that she could have done nothing that would have pleased her more. It had always been her faith that at bottom Ralph and this young woman were made to understand each other. "I don't care whether he understands me or not," Henrietta declared. "The great thing is that he shouldn't die in the cars."
"He won't do that," Isabel said, shaking her head with an extension of faith.
"He won't if I can help it. I see you want us all to go. I don't know what you want to do."
"I want to be alone," said Isabel.
"You won't be that so long as you've so much company at home."
"Ah, they're part of the comedy. You others are spectators."
"Do you call it a comedy, Isabel Archer?" Henrietta rather grimly asked.
"The tragedy then if you like. You're all looking at me; it makes me uncomfortable."
Henrietta engaged in this act for a while. "You're like the stricken deer, seeking the innermost shade. Oh, you do give me such a sense of helplessness!" she broke out.
"I'm not at all helpless. There are many things I mean to do."
"It's not you I'm speaking of; it's myself. It's too much, having come on purpose, to leave you just as I find you."
"You don't do that; you leave me much refreshed," Isabel said.
"Very mild refreshment — sour lemonade! I want you to promise me something."
"I can't do that. I shall never make another promise. I made such a solemn one four years ago, and I've succeeded so ill in keeping it."
"You've had no encouragement. In this case I should give you the greatest. Leave your husband before the worst comes; that's what I want you to promise."
"The worst? What do you call the worst?"
"Before your character gets spoiled."
"Do you mean my disposition? It won't get spoiled," Isabel answered, smiling. "I'm taking very good care of it. I'm extremely struck," she added, turning away, "with the off-hand way in which you speak of a woman's leaving her husband. It's easy to see you've never had one!"
"Well," said Henrietta as if she were beginning an argument, "nothing is more common in our Western cities, and it's to them, after all, that we must look in the future." Her argument, however, does not concern this history, which has too many other threads to unwind. She announced to Ralph Touchett that she was ready to leave Rome by any train he might designate, and Ralph immediately pulled himself together for departure. Isabel went to see him at the last, and he made the same remark that Henrietta had made. It struck him that Isabel was uncommonly glad to get rid of them all.
For all answer to this she gently laid her hand on his, and said in a low tone, with a quick smile: "My dear Ralph — !"
It was answer enough, and he was quite contented. But he went on in the same way, jocosely, ingenuously: "I've seen less of you than I might, but it's better than nothing. And then I've heard a great deal about you."