‘I’ve a few good things,’ Mr Osmond allowed; ‘indeed I’ve nothing very bad. But I’ve not what I should have liked.’

He stood there a little awkwardly, smiling and glancing about; his manner was an odd mixture of the detached and the involved. He seemed to hint that nothing but the right ‘values’ was of any consequence. Isabel made a rapid induction: perfect simplicity was not the badge of his family. Even the little girl from the convent, who, in her prim white dress, with her small submissive face and her hands locked before her, stood there as if she were about to partake of her first communion, even Mr Osmond’s diminutive daughter had a kind of finish that was not entirely artless.

‘You’d have liked a few things from the Uffizi and the Pitti1—that’s what you’d have liked,’ said Madame Merle.

‘Poor Osmond, with his old curtains and crucifixes!’ the Countess Gemini exclaimed: she appeared to call her brother only by his family-name. Her ejaculation had no particular object; she smiled at Isabel as she made it and looked at her from head to foot.

Her brother had not heard her; he seemed to be thinking what he could say to Isabel. ‘Won’t you have some tea?—you must be very tired,’ he at last bethought himself of remarking.

‘No indeed, I’m not tired; what have I done to tire me?’ Isabel felt a certain need of being very direct, of pretending to nothing; there was something in the air, in her general impression of things—she could hardly have said what it was—that deprived her of all disposition to put herself forward. The place, the occasion, the combination of people, signified more than lay on the surface; she would try to understand—she would not simply utter graceful platitudes. Poor Isabel was doubtless not aware that many women would have uttered graceful platitudes to cover the working of their observation. It must be confessed that her pride was a trifle alarmed. A man she had heard spoken of in terms that excited interest and who was evidently capable of distinguishing himself, had invited her, a young lady not lavish of her favours, to come to his house. Now that she had done so the burden of the entertainment rested naturally on his wit. Isabel was not rendered less observant, and for the moment, we judge, she was not rendered more indulgent, by perceiving that Mr Osmond carried his burden less complacently than might have been expected. ‘What a fool I was to have let myself so needlessly in—!’ she could fancy his exclaiming to himself.

‘You’ll be tired when you go home, if he shows you all his bibelots2 and gives you a lecture on each,’ said the Countess Gemini.

‘I’m not afraid of that; but if I’m tired I shall at least have learned something.’

‘Very little, I suspect. But my sister’s dreadfully afraid of learning anything,’ said Mr Osmond.

‘Oh, I confess to that; I don’t want to know anything more—I know too much already. The more you know the more unhappy you are.’

‘You should not undervalue knowledge before Pansy, who has not finished her education,’ Madame Merle interposed with a smile.

‘Pansy will never know any harm,’ said the child’s father. ‘Pansy’s a little convent-flower.’

‘Oh, the convents, the convents!’ cried the Countess with a flutter of her ruffles. ‘Speak to me of the convents! You may learn anything there; I’m a convent-flower myself. I don’t pretend to be good, but the nuns do. Don’t you see what I mean?’ she went on, appealing to Isabel.

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