Chapter 32

It was not of him, nevertheless, that she was thinking while she stood at the window near which we found her a while ago, and it was not of any of the matters I have rapidly sketched. She was not turned to the past, but to the immediate, impending hour. She had reason to expect a scene, and she was not fond of scenes. She was not asking herself what she should say to her visitor; this question had already been answered. What he would say to her—that was the interesting issue. It could be nothing in the least soothing—she had warrant for this, and the conviction doubtless showed in the cloud on her brow. For the rest, however, all clearness reigned in her; she had put away her mourning and she walked in no small shimmering splendour. She only felt older—ever so much, and as if she were ‘worth more’ for it, like some curious piece in an antiquary’s collection. She was not at any rate left indefinitely to her apprehensions, for a servant at last stood before her with a card on his tray. ‘Let the gentleman come in,’ she said, and continued to gaze out of the window after the footman had retired. It was only when she had heard the door close behind the person who presently entered that she looked round.

Caspar Goodwood stood there—stood and received a moment, from head to foot, the bright, dry gaze with which she rather with-held than offered a greeting. Whether his sense of maturity had kept pace with Isabel’s we shall perhaps presently ascertain; let me say meanwhile that to her critical glance he showed nothing of the injury of time. Straight, strong and hard, there was nothing in his appearance that spoke positively either of youth or of age; if he had neither innocence nor weakness, so he had no practical philosophy. His jaw showed the same voluntary cast as in earlier days; but a crisis like the present had in it of course something grim. He had the air of a man who had travelled hard; he said nothing at first, as if he had been out of breath. This gave Isabel time to make a reflexion: ‘Poor fellow, what great things he’s capable of, and what a pity he should waste so dreadfully his splendid force! What a pity too that one can’t satisfy everybody!’ It gave her time to do more—to say at the end of a minute: ‘I can’t tell you how I hoped you wouldn’t come!’

‘I’ve no doubt of that.’ And he looked about him for a seat. Not only had he come, but he meant to settle.

‘You must be very tired,’ said Isabel, seating herself, and generously, as she thought, to give him his opportunity.

‘No, I’m not at all tired. Did you ever know me to be tired?’

‘Never; I wish I had! When did you arrive?’

‘Last night, very late; in a kind of snail-train they call the express. These Italian trains go at about the rate of an American funeral.’

‘That’s in keeping—you must have felt as if you were coming to bury me!’ And she forced a smile of encouragement to an easy view of their situation. She had reasoned the matter well out, making it perfectly clear that she broke no faith and falsified no contract; but for all this she was afraid of her visitor. She was ashamed of her fear; but she was devoutly thankful there was nothing else to be ashamed of. He looked at her with his stiff insistence, and insistence in which there was such a want of tact; especially when the dull dark beam in his eye rested on her as a physical weight.

‘No, I didn’t feel that; I couldn’t think of you as dead. I wish I could!’ he candidly declared.

‘I thank you immensely.’

‘I’d rather think of you as dead than as married to another man.’

‘That’s very selfish of you!’ she returned with the ardour of a real conviction. ‘If you’re not happy yourself others have yet a right to be.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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