‘Leave him alone then. Don’t run after him.’

Isabel turned her eyes away from him; they rested upon his little drawing. ‘I must go to England,’ she said, with a full consciousness that her tone might strike an irritable man of taste as stupidly obstinate.

‘I shall not like it if you do.’ Osmond remarked.

‘Why should I mind that? You won’t like it if I don’t. You like nothing I do or don’t do. You pretend to think I lie.’

Osmond turned slightly pale; he gave a cold smile. ‘That’s why you must go then? Not to see your cousin, but to take a revenge on me.’

‘I know nothing about revenge.’

‘I do,’ said Osmond. ‘Don’t give me an occasion.’

‘You’re only too eager to take one. You wish immensely that I would commit some folly.’

‘I should be gratified in that case if you disobeyed me.’

‘If I disobeyed you?’ said Isabel in a low tone which had the effect of mildness.

‘Let it be clear. If you leave Rome to-day it will be a piece of the most deliberate, the most calculated, opposition.’

‘How can you call it calculated? I received my aunt’s telegram but three minutes ago.’

‘You calculate rapidly; it’s a great accomplishment. I don’t see why we should prolong our discussion; you know my wish.’ And he stood there as if he expected to see her withdraw.

But she never moved; she couldn’t move, strange as it may seem; she still wished to justify herself; he had the power, in an extraordinary degree, of making her feel this need. There was something in her imagination he could always appeal to against her judgement. ‘You’ve no reason for such a wish,’ said Isabel, ‘and I’ve every reason for going. I can’t tell you how unjust you seem to me. But I think you know. It’s your own opposition that’s calculated. It’s malignant.’

She had never uttered her worst thought to her husband before, and the sensation of hearing it was evidently new to Osmond. But he showed no surprise, and his coolness was apparently a proof that he had believed his wife would in fact be unable to resist for ever his ingenious endeavour to draw her out. ‘It’s all the more intense then,’ he answered. And he added almost as if he were giving her a friendly counsel: ‘This is a very important matter.’ She recognized that; she was fully conscious of the weight of the occasion; she knew that between them they had arrived at a crisis. Its gravity made her careful; she said nothing, and he went on. ‘You say I’ve no reason? I have the very best. I dislike, from the bottom of my soul, what you intend to do. It’s dishonourable; it’s indelicate; it’s indecent. Your cousin is nothing whatever to me, and I’m under no obligation to make concessions to him. I’ve already made the very handsomest. Your relations with him, while he was here, kept me on pins and needles; but I let that pass, because from week to week I expected him to go. I’ve never liked him and he has never liked me. That’s why you like him—because he hates me,’ said Osmond with a quick, barely audible tremor in his voice. ‘I’ve an ideal of what my wife should do and should not do. She should not travel across Europe alone, in defiance of my deepest desire, to sit at the bedside of other men. Your cousin’s nothing to you; he’s nothing to us. You smile most expressively when I talk about us, but I assure you that we, we, Mrs Osmond, is all I know. I take our marriage seriously; you appear to have found a way of not doing so. I’m not aware that we’re divorced or separated; for me we’re indissolubly united. You are nearer to me than any human creature, and I’m nearer to you. It may be a disagreeable proximity; it’s one, at any rate, of our own deliberate making. You don’t like to be reminded of that, I know; but I’m perfectly

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