"I think you're very simple." And Madame Merle kept her eye on her cup. "I've come to that with time. I judged you, as I say, of old; but it's only since your marriage that I've understood you. I've seen better what you have been to your wife than I ever saw what you were for me. Please be very careful of that precious object."
"It already has a wee bit of a tiny crack," said Osmond dryly as he put it down. "If you didn't understand me before I married it was cruelly rash of you to put me into such a box. However, I took a fancy to my box myself; I thought it would be a comfortable fit. I asked very little; I only asked that she should like me."
"That she should like you so much!"
"So much, of course; in such a case one asks the maximum. That she should adore me, if you will. Oh yes, I wanted that."
"I never adored you," said Madame Merle.
"Ah, but you pretended to!"
"It's true that you never accused me of being a comfortable fit," Madame Merle went on.
"My wife has declined — declined to do anything of the sort," said Osmond. "If you're determined to make a tragedy of that, the tragedy's hardly for her."
"The tragedy's for me!" Madame Merle exclaimed, rising with a long low sigh but having a glance at the same time for the contents of her mantel-shelf.
"It appears that I'm to be severely taught the disadvantages of a false position."
"You express yourself like a sentence in a copybook. We must look for our comfort where we can find it. If my wife doesn't like me, at least my child does. I shall look for compensations in Pansy. Fortunately I haven't a fault to find with her."
"Ah," she said softly, "if I had a child — !"
Osmond waited, and then, with a little formal air, "The children of others may be a great interest!" he announced.
"You're more like a copy-book than I. There's something after all that holds us together."
"Is it the idea of the harm I may do you?" Osmond asked.
"No; it's the idea of the good I may do for you. It's that," Madame Merle pursued, "that made me so jealous of Isabel. I want it to be MY work," she added, with her face, which had grown hard and bitter, relaxing to its habit of smoothness.
Her friend took up his hat and his umbrella, and after giving the former article two or three strokes with his coat-cuff, "On the whole, I think," he said, "you had better leave it to me."
After he had left her she went, the first thing, and lifted from the mantel-shelf the attenuated coffee-cup in which he had mentioned the existence of a crack; but she looked at it rather abstractedly. "Have I been so vile all for nothing?" she vaguely wailed.