Henry James. (1843–1916). The Portrait of a Lady.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
“Let the gentleman come in,” said Isabel, who continued to gaze out of the window after the footman had retired. It was only when she had heard the door close behind the person who presently entered that she looked round.
Caspar Goodwood stood there—stood and received a moment, from head to foot, the bright, dry gaze with which she rather withheld than offered a greeting. Whether on his side Mr. Goodwood felt himself older than on the first occasion of our meeting him, is a point which we shall perhaps presently ascertain; let me say meanwhile that to Isabel’s critical glance he showed nothing of the injury of time. Straight, strong, and fresh, there was nothing in his appearance that spoke positively either of youth or of age; he looked too deliberate, too serious to be young, and too eager, too active to be old. Old he would never be, and this would serve as a compensation for his never having known the age of chubbiness. Isabel perceived that his jaw had quite the same voluntary look that it had worn in earlier days; but she was prepared to admit that such a moment as the present was not a time for relaxation. He had the air of a man who had travelled hard; he said nothing at first, as if he had been out of breath. This gave Isabel time to make a reflection. “Poor fellow,” she mentally murmured, “what great things he is capable of, and what a pity that he should waste his splendid force! What a pity, too, that one can’t satisfy everybody!” It gave her time to do more—to say at the end of a minute,
“I can’t tell you how I hoped that you wouldn’t come.”
“I have no doubt of that.” And Caspar Goodwood looked about him for a seat. Not only had he come, but he meant to stay a little.
“You must be very tired,” said Isabel, seating herself, generously, as she thought, to give him his opportunity.
“No, I am not at all tired. Did you ever knew me to be tired?”
“Never; I wish I had. When did you arrive here?”
“Last night, very late; in a kind of a snail-train they call the express. These Italian trains go at about the rate of an American funeral.”
“That is in keeping—you must have felt as if you were coming to a funeral,” Isabel said, forcing a smile, in order to offer such encouragement as she might to an easy treatment of their situation. She had reasoned out the matter elaborately; she had made it perfectly clear that she broke no faith, that she falsified no contract; but for all this she was afraid of him. She was ashamed of her fear; but she was devoutly thankful there was nothing else to be ashamed of.
He looked at her with his stiff persistency—a persistency in which there was almost a want of tact; especially as there was a dull dark beam in his eye which rested on her almost like a physical weight.
“No, I didn’t feel that; because I couldn’t think of you as dead. I wish I could!” said Caspar Goodwood, plainly.
“I thank you immensely.”
“I would rather think of you as dead than as married to another man.”
“That is very selfish of you!” Isabel cried, with the ardour of a real conviction. “If you are not happy yourself, others have a right to be.”
“Very likely it is 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 have 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 a sort of 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 said, after a little, irrelevantly, by way of answer to Mr. Goodwood’s speech—“When did you leave New York?”
He threw up his head a moment, as if he were calculating. “Seventeen days ago.”
“You must have travelled fast in spite of your slow trains.”
“I came as fast as I could. I would have come five days ago if I had been able.”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference, Mr. Goodwood,” said Isabel, smiling.
“Not to you—no. But to me.”
“You gain nothing that I see.”
“That is for me to judge!”
“Of course. To me it seems that you only torment yourself.” And then, to change the subject, Isabel asked him if he had seen Henrietta Stackpole.
He looked as if he had not come from Boston to Florence to talk about Henrietta Stackpole; but he answered distinctly enough, that this young lady had come to see him just before he left America.
“She came to see you?”
“Yes, she was in Boston, and she called at my office. It was the day I got your letter.”
“Did you tell her?” Isabel asked, with a certain anxiety.
“Oh no,” said Caspar Goodwood, simply; “I didn’t want to. She will hear it soon enough; she hears everything.”
“I shall write to her; and then she will write to me and scold me,” Isabel declared, trying to smile again.
Caspar, however, remained sternly grave. “I guess she’ll come out,” he said.
“On purpose to scold me?”
“I don’t know. She seemed to think she had not seen Europe thoroughly.”
“I am 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 asked.
“A little. And she doesn’t like him. But of course I don’t marry to please Henrietta,” Isabel added.
It would have been better for poor Caspar if she had tried a little more to gratify Miss Stackpole; but he did not say so; he only asked, presently, when her marriage would take place.
“I don’t know yet. I can only say it will be soon. I have 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?” Caspar Goodwood asked.
“I really haven’t an idea. As I say, I don’t marry for my friends.”
He went on, making no exclamation, no comment, only asking questions.
“What is Mr. Osmond?”
“What is he? Nothing at all but a very good man. He is not in business,” said Isabel. “He is not rich; he is not known for anything in particular.”
She disliked Mr. Goodwood’s questions, but she said to herself that she owed it to him to satisfy him as far as possible.
The satisfaction poor Caspar exhibited was certainly small; he sat very upright, gazing at her.
“Where does he come from?” he went on.
“From nowhere. He has spent most of his life in Italy.”
“You said in your letter that he was an American. Hasn’t he a native place?”
“Yes, but he has forgotten it. He left it as a small boy.”
“Has he never gone back?”
“Why should he go back?” Isabel asked, flushing a little, and defensively. “He has no profession.”
“He might have gone back for his pleasure. Doesn’t he like the United States?”
“He doesn’t know them. Then he is very simple—he contents himself with Italy.”
“With Italy and with you,” said Mr. Goodwood, with gloomy plainness, and no appearance of trying to make an epigram. “What has he ever done?” he added, abruptly.
“That I should marry him? Nothing at all,” Isabel replied, with a smile that had gradually become a trifle defiant. “If he had done great things would you forgive me any better? Give me up, Mr. Goodwood; I am marrying a nonentity. Don’t try to take an interest in him; you can’t.”
“I can’t appreciate him; that’s what you mean. And you don’t mean in the least that he is a nonentity. You think he is a great man, though no one else thinks so.”
Isabel’s colour deepened; she thought this very clever of her companion, and it was certainly a proof of the clairvoyance of such a feeling as his.
“Why do you always come back to what others think? I can’t discuss Mr. Osmond with you.”
“Of course not,” said Caspar, reasonably.
And he sat there with his air of stiff helplessness, as if not only this were true, but there were nothing else that they might discuss.
“You see how little you gain,” Isabel broke out—“how little comfort or satisfaction I can give you.”
“I didn’t expect you to give me much.”
“I don’t understand, then, why you came.”
“I came because I wanted to see you once more—as you are.”
“I appreciate that; but if you had waited a while, sooner or later we should have been sure to meet, and our meeting would have been pleasanter for each of us than this.”
“Waited till after you are married? That is just what I didn’t want to do. You will be different then.”
“Not very. I shall still be a great friend of yours. You will see.”
“That will make it all the worse,” said Mr. Goodwood, grimly.
“Ah, you are unaccommodating! I can’t promise to dislike you, in order to help you to resign yourself.”
“I shouldn’t care if you did!”
Isabel got up, with a movement of repressed impatience, and walked to the window, where she remained a moment, looking out. When she turned round, her visitor was still motionless in his place. She came towards him again and stopped, resting her hand on the back of the chair she had just quitted.
“Do you mean you came simply to look at me? That’s better for you, perhaps, than for me.”
“I wished to hear the sound of your voice,” said Caspar.
“You have heard it, and you see it says nothing very sweet.”
“It gives me pleasure, all the same.”
And with this he got up.
She had felt pain and displeasure when she received that morning the note in which he told her that he was in Florence, and, with her permission, would come within an hour to see her. She had been vexed and distressed, though she had sent back word by his messenger that he might come when he would. She had not been better pleased when she saw him; his being there at all was so full of implication. It implied things she could never assent to—rights, reproaches, remonstrance, rebuke, the expectation of making her change her purpose. These things, however, if implied, had not been expressed; and now our young lady, strangely enough, began to resent her visitor’s remarkable self-control.
There was a dumb misery about him which irritated her; there was a manly staying of his hand which made her heart beat faster. She felt her agitation rising, and she said to herself that she was as angry as a woman who had been in the wrong. She was not in the wrong; she had fortunately not that bitterness to swallow; but, all the same, she wished he would denounce her a little. She had wished his visit would be short; it had no purpose, no propriety; yet now that he seemed to be turning away, she felt a sudden horror of his leaving her without uttering a word that would give her an opportunity to defend herself more than she had done in writing to him a month before, in a few carefully chosen words, to announce her engagement. If she were not in the wrong, however, why should she desire to defend herself? It was an excess of generosity on Isabel’s part to desire that Mr. Goodwood should be angry.
If he had not held himself hard it might have made him so to hear the tone in which she suddenly exclaimed, as if she were accusing him of having accused her,
“I have not deceived you! I was perfectly free!”
“Yes, I know that,” said Caspar.
“I gave you full warning that I would do as I chose.”
“You said you would probably never marry, and you said it so positively that I pretty well believed it.”
Isabel was silent an instant.
“No one can be more surprised than myself at my present intention.”
“You told me that if I heard you were engaged, I was not to believe it,” Caspar went on. “I heard it twenty days ago from yourself, but I remembered what you had said. I thought there might be some mistake, and that is partly why I came.”
“If you wish me to repeat it by word of mouth, that is soon done. There is no mistake at all.”
“I saw that as soon as I came into the room.”
“What good would it do you that I shouldn’t marry?” Isabel asked, with a certain fierceness.
“I should like it better than this.”
“You are very selfish, as I said before.”
“I know that. I am selfish as iron.”
“Even iron sometimes melts. If you will be reasonable I will see you again.”
“Don’t you call me reasonable now?”
“I don’t know what to say to you,” she answered, with sudden humility.
“I sha’n’t trouble you for a long time,” the young man went on. He made a step towards the door, but he stopped. “Another reason why I came was that I wanted to hear what you would say in explanation of your having changed your mind.”
Isabel’s humbleness as suddenly deserted her.
“In explanation? Do you think I am bound to explain?”
Caspar gave her one of his long dumb looks.
“You were very positive. I did believe it.”
“So did I. Do you think I could explain if I would?”
“No, I suppose not. Well,” he added, “I have done what I wished. I have seen you.”
“How little you make of these terrible journeys,” Isabel murmured.
“If you are afraid I am tired, you may be at your ease about that.” He turned away, this time in earnest, and no handshake, no sign of parting, was exchanged between them. At the door he stopped, with his hand on the knob. “I shall leave Florence to-morrow,” he said.
“I am delighted to hear it!” she answered, passionately. And he went out. Five minutes after he had gone she burst into tears.