‘He’ll say now that you’re not wise,’ said Isabel, as if Gilbert Osmond had never said this before.

Rosier gave her a sharp look. ‘Do you mean that without my bibelots I’m nothing? Do you mean they were the best thing about me? That’s what they told me in Paris; oh they were very frank about it. But they hadn’t seen her!’

‘My dear friend, you deserve to succeed,’ said Isabel very kindly.

‘You say that so sadly that it’s the same as if you said I shouldn’t.’ And he questioned her eyes with the clear trepidation of his own. He had the air of a man who knows he has been the talk of Paris for a week and is full half a head taller in consequence, but who also has a painful suspicion that in spite of this increase of stature one or two persons still have the perversity to think him diminutive. ‘I know what happened here while I was away,’ he went on. ‘What does Mr Osmond expect after she has refused Lord Warburton?’

Isabel debated. ‘That she’ll marry another nobleman.’

‘What other nobleman?’

‘One that he’ll pick out.’

Rosier slowly got up, putting his watch into his waistcoatpocket. ‘You’re laughing at some one, but this time I don’t think it’s at me.’

‘I didn’t mean to laugh,’ said Isabel. ‘I laugh very seldom. Now you had better go away.’

‘I feel very safe!’ Rosier declared without moving. This might be; but it evidently made him feel more so to make the announcement in rather a loud voice, balancing himself a little complacently on his toes and looking all round the Coliseum as if it were filled with an audience. Suddenly Isabel saw him change colour; there was more of an audience than he had suspected. She turned and perceived that her two companions had returned from their excursion. ‘You must really go away,’ she said quickly.

‘Ah, my dear lady, pity me!’ Edward Rosier murmured in a voice strangely at variance with the announcement I have just quoted. And then he added eagerly, like a man who in the midst of his misery is seized by a happy thought: ‘Is that lady the Countess Gemini? I’ve a great desire to be presented to her.’

Isabel looked at him a moment. ‘She has no influence with her brother.’

‘Ah, what a monster you make him out!’ And Rosier faced the Countess, who advanced, in front of Pansy, with an animation partly due perhaps to the fact that she perceived her sister-in-law to be engaged in conversation with a very pretty young man.

‘I’m glad you’ve kept your enamels!’ Isabel called as she left him. She went straight to Pansy, who, on seeing Edward Rosier, had stopped short, with lowered eyes. ‘We’ll go back to the carriage,’ she said gently.

‘Yes, it’s getting late,’ Pansy returned more gently still. And she went on without a murmur, without faltering or glancing back.

Isabel, however, allowing herself this last liberty, saw that a meeting had immediately taken place between the Countess and Mr Rosier. He had removed his hat and was bowing and smiling; he had evidently introduced himself, while the Countess’s expressive back displayed to Isabel’s eye a gracious inclination. These facts, none the less, were presently lost to sight, for Isabel and Pansy took their places again in the carriage. Pansy, who faced her stepmother, at first kept her eyes fixed on her lap; then she raised them and rested them on Isabel’s. There shone out of each of them a little melancholy ray—a spark of timid passion which touched Isabel to the heart. At the same time a wave of envy passed over her soul,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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