‘To a certain extent—yes. But is he really in love?’

‘Very much, I think. I can make that out.’

‘Ah!’ said Isabel with a certain dryness.

Ralph looked at her as if his mild hilarity had been touched with mystification. ‘You say that as if you were disappointed.’

Isabel got up, slowly smoothing her gloves and eyeing them thoughtfully. ‘It’s after all no business of mine.’

‘You’re very philosophic,’ said her cousin. And then in a moment: ‘May I enquire what you’re talking about?’

Isabel stared. ‘I thought you knew. Lord Warburton tells me he wants, of all things in the world, to marry Pansy. I’ve told you that before, without eliciting a comment from you. You might risk one this morning, I think. Is it your belief that he really cares for her?’

‘Ah, for Pansy, no!’ cried Ralph very positively.

‘But you said just now he did.’

Ralph waited a moment. ‘That he cared for you, Mrs Osmond.’

Isabel shook her head gravely. ‘That’s nonsense, you know.’

‘Of course it is. But the nonsense is Warburton’s, not mine.’

‘That would be very tiresome.’ She spoke, as she flattered herself, with much subtlety.

‘I ought to tell you indeed,’ Ralph went on, ‘that to me he has denied it.’

‘It’s very good of you to talk about it together! Has he also told you that he’s in love with Pansy?’

‘He has spoken very well of her—very properly. He has let me know, of course, that he thinks she would do very well at Lockleigh.’

‘Does he really think it?’

‘Ah, what Warburton really thinks—!’ said Ralph.

Isabel fell to smoothing her gloves again; they were long, loose gloves on which she could freely expend herself. Soon, however, she looked up, and then, ‘Ah, Ralph, you give me no help!’ she cried abruptly and passionately.

It was the first time she had alluded to the need for help, and the words shook her cousin with their violence. He gave a long murmur of relief, of pity, of tenderness; it seemed to him that at last the gulf between them had been bridged. It was this that made him exclaim in a moment: ‘How unhappy you must be!’

He had no sooner spoken than she recovered her self-possession, and the first use she made of it was to pretend she had not heard him. ‘When I talk of your helping me I talk great nonsense,’ she said with a quick smile. ‘The idea of my troubling you with my domestic embarrassments! The matter’s very simple; Lord Warburton must get on by himself. I can’t undertake to see him through.’

‘He ought to succeed easily,’ said Ralph.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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