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The Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 24
It would certainly have been hard to see what injury could arise to her from the
visit she presently paid to Mr. Osmond's hill-top. Nothing could have been more
charming than this occasion--a soft afternoon in the full maturity of the Tuscan
spring. The companions drove out of the Roman Gate, beneath the enormous
blank superstructure which crowns the fine clear arch of that portal and makes it
nakedly impressive, and wound between high-walled lanes into which the wealth
of blossoming orchards over-drooped and flung a fragrance, until they reached
the small superurban piazza, of crooked shape, where the long brown wall of the
villa occupied in part by Mr. Osmond formed a principal, or at least a very
imposing, object. Isabel went with her friend through a wide, high court, where a
clear shadow rested below and a pair of light-arched galleries, facing each other
above, caught the upper sunshine upon their slim columns and the flowering
plants in which they were dressed. There was something grave and strong in the
place; it looked somehow as if, once you were in, you would need an act of
energy to get out. For Isabel, however, there was of course as yet no thought of
getting out, but only of advancing. Mr. Osmond met her in the cold ante-
chamber--it was cold even in the month of May--and ushered her, with her
conductress, into the apartment to which we have already been introduced.
Madame Merle was in front, and while Isabel lingered a little, talking with him,
she went forward familiarly and greeted two persons who were seated in the
saloon. One of these was little Pansy, on whom she bestowed a kiss; the other
was a lady whom Mr. Osmond indicated to Isabel as his sister, the Countess
Gemini. "And that's my little girl," he said, "who has just come out of her
convent."
Pansy had on a scant white dress, and her fair hair was neatly arranged in a net;
she wore her small shoes tied sandal-fashion about her ankles. She made Isabel
a little conventual curtsey and then came to be kissed. The Countess Gemini
simply nodded without getting up: Isabel could see she was a woman of high
fashion. She was thin and dark and not at all pretty, having features that
suggested some tropical bird--a long beak-like nose, small, quickly-moving eyes
and a mouth and chin that receded extremely. Her expression, however, thanks
to various intensities of emphasis and wonder, of horror and joy, was not
inhuman, and, as regards her appearance, it was plain she understood herself
and made the most of her points. Her attire, voluminous and delicate, bristling
with elegance, had the look of shimmering plumage, and her attitudes were as
light and sudden as those of a creature who perched upon twigs. She had a
great deal of manner; Isabel, who had never known any one with so much
manner, immediately classed her as the most affected of women. She
remembered that Ralph had not recommended her as an acquaintance; but she
was ready to acknowledge that to a casual view the Countess Gemini revealed
no depths. Her demonstrations suggested the violent waving of some flag of
general truce--white silk with fluttering streamers.
 
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