Chapter 30

She returned on the morrow to Florence, under her cousin’s escort, and Ralph Touchett, though usually restive under railway discipline, thought very well of the successive hours passed in the train that hurried his companion away from the city now distinguished by Gilbert Osmond’s preference—hours that were to form the first stage in a larger scheme of travel. Miss Stackpole had remained behind; she was planning a little trip to Naples, to be carried out with Mr Bantling’s aid. Isabel was to have three days in Florence before the 4th of June, the date of Mrs Touchett’s departure, and she determined to devote the last of these to her promise to call on Pansy Osmond. Her plan, however, seemed for a moment likely to modify itself in deference to an idea of Madame Merle’s. This lady was still at Casa1 Touchett; but she too was on the point of leaving Florence, her next station being an ancient castle in the mountains of Tuscany, the residence of a noble family of that country, whose acquaintance (she had known them, as she said, ‘forever’) seemed to Isabel, in the light of certain photographs of their immense crenellated dwelling which her friend was able to show her, a precious privilege. She mentioned to this fortunate woman that Mr Osmond had asked her to take a look at his daughter, but didn’t mention that he had also made her a declaration of love.

Ah, comme cela se trouve!2 Madame Merle exclaimed. ‘I myself have been thinking it would be a kindness to pay the child a little visit before I go off.’

‘We can go together then,’ Isabel reasonably said: ‘reasonably’ because the proposal was not uttered in the spirit of enthusiasm. She had prefigured her small pilgrimage as made in solitude; she should like it better so. She was nevertheless prepared to sacrifice this mystic sentiment to her great consideration for her friend.

That personage finely meditated. ‘After all, why should we both go; having, each of us, so much to do during these last hours?’

‘Very good; I can easily go alone.’

‘I don’t know about your going alone—to the house of a handsome bachelor. He has been married—but so long ago!’

Isabel stared. ‘When Mr Osmond’s away what does it matter?’

‘They don’t know he’s away, you see.’

‘They? Whom do you mean?’

‘Every one. But perhaps it doesn’t signify.’

‘If you were going why shouldn’t I?’ Isabel asked.

‘Because I’m an old frump and you’re a beautiful young woman.’

‘Granting all that, you’ve not promised.’3

‘How much you think of your promises!’ said the elder woman in mild mockery.

‘I think a great deal of my promises. Does that surprise you?’

‘You’re right,’ Madame Merle audibly reflected. ‘I really think you wish to be kind to the child.’

‘I wish very much to be kind to her.’

‘Go and see her then; no one will be the wiser. And tell her I’d have come if you hadn’t. Or rather,’ Madame Merle added, ‘don’t tell her. She won’t care.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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