The Portrait of a Lady
While this sufficiently intimate colloquy (prolonged for some time after we cease
to follow it) went forward Madame Merle and her companion, breaking a silence
of some duration, had begun to exchange remarks. They were sitting in an
attitude of unexpressed expectancy; an attitude especially marked on the part of
the Countess Gemini, who, being of a more nervous temperament than her
friend, practised with less success the art of disguising impatience. What these
ladies were waiting for would not have been apparent and was perhaps not very
definite to their own minds. Madame Merle waited for Osmond to release their
young friend from her tete-a-tete, and the Countess waited because Madame
Merle did. The Countess, moreover, by waiting, found the time ripe for one of her
pretty perversities. She might have desired for some minutes to place it. Her
brother wandered with Isabel to the end of the garden, to which point her eyes
"My dear," she then observed to her companion, "you'll excuse me if I don't
"Very willingly, for I don't in the least know why you should."
"Haven't you a little plan that you think rather well of?" And the Countess nodded
at the sequestered couple.
Madame Merle's eyes took the same direction; then she looked serenely at her
neighbour. "You know I never understand you very well," she smiled.
"No one can understand better than you when you wish. I see that just now you
"You say things to me that no one else does," said Madame Merle gravely, yet
"You mean things you don't like? Doesn't Osmond sometimes say such things?"
"What your brother says has a point."
"Yes, a poisoned one sometimes. If you mean that I'm not so clever as he you
mustn't think I shall suffer from your sense of our difference. But it will be much
better that you should understand me."
"Why so?" asked Madame Merle. "To what will it conduce?"
"If I don't approve of your plan you ought to know it in order to appreciate the
danger of my interfering with it."
Madame Merle looked as if she were ready to admit that there might be
something in this; but in a moment she said quietly: "You think me more
calculating than I am."
"It's not your calculating I think ill of; it's your calculating wrong. You've done so in
"You must have made extensive calculations yourself to discover that."
"No, I've not had time. I've seen the girl but this once," said the Countess, "and
the conviction has suddenly come to me. I like her very much."
"So do I," Madame Merle mentioned.
"You've a strange way of showing it."
"Surely I've given her the advantage of making your acquaintance."