The Portrait of a Lady
Madame Merle had proceeded very deliberately, watching her companion and apparently thinking she could proceed safely. As she went on Isabel grew pale; she clasped her hands more tightly in her lap. It was not that her visitor had at last thought it the right time to be insolent; for this was not was the most apparent. It was a worse horror than that. "Who are you – what are you?" Isabel murmured. "What have you to do with my husband?" It was strange that for a moment she drew as near to him as if she had loved him.
"Ah then, you take it heroically! I’m very sorry. Don’t think, however, that I shall do so."
"What have you to do with me?" Isabel went on.
"Madame Merle slowly got up, stroking her muff, but not removing her eyes from Isabel’s face. "Everything!" she answered.
Isabel sat there looking up at her, without rising; her face was almost a prayer to be enlightened. But the light of this woman’s eyes seemed only a darkness. "Oh misery!" she murmured at last; and she feel back, covering her face with her hands. It had come over her like a high-surging wave that Mrs. Touchett was right, Madame Merle had married her. (49.9-11)
She asked herself, with an almost childlike horror of the supposition, whether to this intimate friend of several years the great historical epithet of wicked were to be applied. She knew the idea only by the Bible and other literary works; to the best of her belief she had no personal acquaintance with wickedness. She had desired a large acquaintance with human life, and in spite of her having flattered herself that she cultivated it with some success, this elementary privilege had been denied her. Perhaps it was not wicked – in the historic sense – to be even deeply false; for that was what Madame Merle had been – deeply, deeply, deeply. (49.13)