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The Portrait of a Lady

Chapter 42
She had answered nothing because his words had put the situation before her and she was
absorbed in looking at it. There was something in them that suddenly made vibrations
deep, so that she had been afraid to trust herself to speak. After he had gone she leaned
back in her chair and closed her eyes; and for a long time, far into the night and still
further, she sat in the still drawing-room, given up to her meditation. A servant came in to
attend to the fire, and she bade him bring fresh candles and then go to bed. Osmond had
told her to think of what he had said; and she did so indeed, and of many other things.
The suggestion from another that she had a definite influence on Lord Warburton--this
had given her the start that accompanies unexpected recognition. Was it true that there
was something still between them that might be a handle to make him declare himself to
Pansy--a susceptibility, on his part, to approval, a desire to do what would please her?
Isabel had hitherto not asked herself the question, because she had not been forced; but
now that it was directly presented to her she saw the answer, and the answer frightened
her. Yes, there was something--something on Lord Warburton's part. When he had first
come to Rome she believed the link that united them to be completely snapped; but little
by little she had been reminded that it had yet a palpable existence. It was as thin as a
hair, but there were moments when she seemed to hear it vibrate. For herself nothing was
changed; what she once thought of him she always thought; it was needless this feeling
should change; it seemed to her in fact a better feeling than ever. But he? had he still the
idea that she might be more to him than other women? Had he the wish to profit by the
memory of the few moments of intimacy through which they had once passed? Isabel
knew she had read some of the signs of such a disposition. But what were his hopes, his
pretensions, and in what strange way were they mingled with his evidently very sincere
appreciation of poor Pansy? Was he in love with Gilbert Osmond's wife, and if so what
comfort did he expect to derive from it? If he was in love with Pansy he was not in love
with her stepmother, and if he was in love with her stepmother he was not in love with
Pansy. Was she to cultivate the advantage she possessed in order to make him commit
himself to Pansy, knowing he would do so for her sake and not for the small creature's
own--was this the service her husband had asked of her? This at any rate was the duty
with which she found herself confronted--from the moment she admitted to herself that
her old friend had still an uneradicated predilection for her society. It was not an
agreeable task; it was in fact a repulsive one. She asked herself with dismay whether Lord
Warburton were pretending to be in love with Pansy in order to cultivate another
satisfaction and what might be called other chances. Of this refinement of duplicity she
presently acquitted him; she preferred to believe him in perfect good faith. But if his
admiration for Pansy were a delusion this was scarcely better than its being an
affectation. Isabel wandered among these ugly possibilities until she had completely lost
her way; some of them, as she suddenly encountered them, seemed ugly enough. Then
she broke out of the labyrinth, rubbing her eyes, and declared that her imagination surely
did her little honour and that her husband's did him even less. Lord Warburton was as
disinterested as he need be, and she was no more to him than she need wish. She would
rest upon this till the contrary should be proved; proved more effectually than by a
cynical intimation of Osmond's.
 
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