‘Very likely it’s selfish; but I don’t in the least mind your saying so. I don’t mind anything you can say now—I don’t feel it. The cruellest things you could think of would be mere pin-pricks. After what you’ve done I shall never feel anything—I mean anything but that. That I shall feel all my life.’

Mr Goodwood made these detached assertions with dry deliberateness, in his hard, slow American tone, which flung no atmospheric colour over propositions intrinsically crude. The tone made Isabel angry rather than touched her; but her anger perhaps was fortunate, inasmuch as it gave her a further reason for controlling herself. It was under the pressure of this control that she became, after a little, irrelevant. ‘When did you leave New York?’

He threw up his head as if calculating. ‘Seventeen days ago.’

‘You must have travelled fast in spite of your slow trains.’

‘I came as fast as I could. I’d have come five days ago if I had been able.’

‘It wouldn’t have made any difference, Mr Goodwood,’ she coldly smiled.

‘Not to you—no. But to me.’

‘You gain nothing that I see.’

‘That’s for me to judge!’

‘Of course. To me it seems that you only torment yourself.’ And then, to change the subject, she asked him if he had seen Henrietta Stackpole. He looked as if he had not come from Boston to Florence to talk of Henrietta Stackpole; but he answered, distinctly enough, that this young lady had been with him just before he left America. ‘She came to see you?’ Isabel then demanded.

‘Yes, she was in Boston, and she called at my office. It was the day I had got your letter.’

‘Did you tell her?’ Isabel asked with a certain anxiety.

‘Oh no,’ said Caspar Goodwood simply; ‘I didn’t want to do that. She’ll hear it quick enough; she hears everything.’

‘I shall write to her, and then she’ll write to me and scold me,’ Isabel declared, trying to smile again.

Caspar, however, remained sternly grave. ‘I guess she’ll come right out,’ he said.

‘On purpose to scold me?’

‘I don’t know. She seemed to think she had not seen Europe thoroughly.’

‘I’m glad you tell me that,’ Isabel said. ‘I must prepare for her.’

Mr Goodwood fixed his eyes for a moment on the floor; then at last, raising them, ‘Does she know Mr Osmond?’ he enquired.

‘A little. And she doesn’t like him. But of course I don’t marry to please Henrietta,’ she added. It would have been better for poor Caspar if she had tried a little more to gratify Miss Stackpole; but he didn’t say so; he only asked, presently, when her marriage would take place. To which she made answer that she didn’t know yet. ‘I can only say it will be soon. I’ve told no one but yourself and one other person—an old friend of Mr Osmond’s.’

‘Is it a marriage your friends won’t like?’ he demanded.

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