The Portrait of a Lady HTML version

Chapter 39
It will probably not surprise the reflective reader that Ralph Touchett should have seen
less of his cousin since her marriage than he had done before that event--an event of
which he took such a view as could hardly prove a confirmation of intimacy. He had
uttered his thought, as we know, and after this had held his peace, Isabel not having
invited him to resume a discussion which marked an era in their relations. That
discussion had made a difference--the difference he feared rather than the one he hoped.
It had not chilled the girl's zeal in carrying out her engagement, but it had come
dangerously near to spoiling a friendship. No reference was ever again made between
them to Ralph's opinion of Gilbert Osmond, and by surrounding this topic with a sacred
silence they managed to preserve a semblance of reciprocal frankness. But there was a
difference, as Ralph often said to himself--there was a difference. She had not forgiven
him, she never would forgive him: that was all he had gained. She thought she had
forgiven him; she believed she didn't care; and as she was both very generous and very
proud these convictions represented a certain reality. But whether or no the event should
justify him he would virtually have done her a wrong, and the wrong was of the sort that
women remember best. As Osmond's wife she could never again be his friend. If in this
character she should enjoy the felicity she expected, she would have nothing but
contempt for the man who had attempted, in advance, to undermine a blessing so dear;
and if on the other hand his warning should be justified the vow she had taken that he
should never know it would lay upon her spirit such a burden as to make her hate him. So
dismal had been, during the year that followed his cousin's marriage, Ralph's prevision of
the future; and if his meditations appear morbid we must remember he was not in the
bloom of health. He consoled himself as he might by behaving (as he deemed)
beautifully, and was present at the ceremony by which Isabel was united to Mr. Osmond,
and which was performed in Florence in the month of June. He learned from his mother
that Isabel at first had thought of celebrating her nuptials in her native land, but that as
simplicity was what she chiefly desired to secure she had finally decided, in spite of
Osmond's professed willingness to make a journey of any length, that this characteristic
would be best embodied in their being married by the nearest clergyman in the shortest
time. The thing was done therefore at the little American chapel, on a very hot day, in the
presence only of Mrs. Touchett and her son, of Pansy Osmond and the Countess Gemini.
That severity in the proceedings of which I just spoke was in part the result of the
absence of two persons who might have been looked for on the occasion and who would
have lent it a certain richness. Madame Merle had been invited, but Madame Merle, who
was unable to leave Rome, had written a gracious letter of excuses. Henrietta Stackpole
had not been invited, as her departure from America, announced to Isabel by Mr.
Goodwood, was in fact frustrated by the duties of her profession; but she had sent a letter,
less gracious than Madame Merle's, intimating that, had she been able to cross the
Atlantic, she would have been present not only as a witness but as a critic. Her return to
Europe had taken place somewhat later, and she had effected a meeting with Isabel in the
autumn, in Paris, when she had indulged--perhaps a trifle too freely--her critical genius.
Poor Osmond, who was chiefly the subject of it, had protested so sharply that Henrietta
was obliged to declare to Isabel that she had taken a step which put a barrier between