‘You must have changed immensely. A year ago you valued your liberty beyond everything. You wanted only to see life.’

‘I’ve seen it,’ said Isabel. ‘It doesn’t look to me now, I admit, such an inviting expanse.’

‘I don’t pretend it is; only I had an idea that you took a genial view of it and wanted to survey the whole field.’

‘I’ve seen that one can’t do anything so general. One must choose a corner and cultivate that.’

‘That’s what I think. And one must choose as good a corner as possible. I had no idea, all winter, while I read your delightful letters, that you were choosing. You said nothing about it, and your silence put me off my guard.’

‘It was not a matter I was likely to write to you about. Besides, I knew nothing of the future. It has all come lately. If you had been on your guard, however,’ Isabel asked, ‘what would you have done?’

‘I should have said “Wait a little longer.”’

‘Wait for what?’

‘Well, for a little more light,’ said Ralph with rather an absurd smile, while his hands found their way into his pockets.

‘Where should my light have come from? From you?’

‘I might have struck a spark or two.’

Isabel had drawn off her gloves; she smoothed them out as they lay upon her knee. The mildness of this movement was accidental, for her expression was not conciliatory. ‘You’re beating about the bush, Ralph. You wish to say you don’t like Mr Osmond, and yet you’re afraid.’

“‘Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike”? I’m willing to wound him, yes—but not to wound you. I’m afraid of you, not of him. If you marry him it won’t be a fortunate way for me to have spoken.’

If I marry him! Have you had any expectation of dissuading me?’

‘Of course that seems to you too fatuous.’

‘No,’ said Isabel after a little; ‘it seems to me too touching.’

‘That’s the same thing. It makes me so ridiculous that you pity me.’

She stroked out her long gloves again. ‘I know you’ve a great affection for me. I can’t get rid of that.’

‘For heaven’s sake don’t try. Keep that well in sight. It will convince you how intensely I want you to do well.’

‘And how little you trust me!’

There was a moment’s silence; the warm noontide seemed to listen. ‘I trust you, but I don’t trust him,’ said Ralph.

She raised her eyes and gave him a wide, deep look. ‘You’ve said it now, and I’m glad you’ve made it so clear. But you’ll suffer by it.’

‘Not if you’re just.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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