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Ralph hasnít seem much of Isabel since sheís been married. He realizes that the discussion he had with her when he found out she was engaged has nearly destroyed their friendship. He had attended the wedding. It was very small. Only he, Mrs. Touchett, Pansy, and Countess Gemini attended. Madame Merle sent excuses from Rome. Henrietta Stackpole had been out of the country at the time, but she wrote to tell Isabel she would only have tried to prevent the marriage. She showed up a few months after the marriage and drove Gilbert Osmond to tell his wife that she was just too much and that he thought of their friendship as a monstrosity. Isabel had been disappointed in her new husbandís lack of a sense of humor in taking Henrietta Stackpole.
Ralph didnít see Isabel for almost two years after her marriage. He saw her six months after her son died. Her letters never revealed anything of import. Meanwhile, Mrs. Touchett had almost severed all ties to Madame Merle. She had told Madame Merle her opinion of Madame Merleís deception and Madame Merle had gotten offended and taken a high tone. Ralph, for his part, has felt stupid all this time for having spoken his mind to Isabel and putting such a distance between them. When he saw her after all that time, he noticed that she seemed to do everything faster. She had given up her love of debate. He felt that "The free, keep girl had become quite another person; what he saw was a fine lady who was supposed to represent something." He knew she was supposed to represent nothing other than Mr. Osmond. Ralph thinks of Mr. Osmond as a man who keeps everything within limits. He could see how Gilbert Osmond "adjusted, regulated, animated their manner of life." He sees that Gilbert Osmond acts disdainfully of the world but really wants nothing more than its attention. His life is nothing more than a pose. Gilbert Osmond had made a fuss about Isabel receiving Ralph when he had last seen her. He had realized this and left Rome to spare causing her any trouble.
Isabel had been wondering what fine principle had been keeping Ralph alive all his time. She didnít know that what was keeping him alive was his desire to see what she would make of her husband. He felt that she had not finished with what she would do in the world and he was fascinated to find out. He had suddenly decided to go to Sicily after having spent all his time at Gardencourt where he has been dreadfully ill. When Lord Warburton speaks to him one evening, Ralph tells him he has decided to stay in Rome and forgo the visit to Sicily for the winter. Warburton is concerned for his health. Ralph tells him he wants to stay near Isabel. He says last time he was in Rome he thought it was his duty to leave in order to help Isabel. Now he feels that itís his duty to stay in Rome and defend her.
He wonders why Warburton has come to Rome with him, aside from his concern for Ralphís health. He asks Warburton if his interest in staying in Rome has anything to do with Pansy Osmond. Warburton admits that he is interested in Pansy as a wife despite their more than twenty year difference in age. He wonders what Isabel will think of it. Ralph is embarrassed to wonder if Warburton is interested in Pansy as a means to get close to Isabel. Warburton is offended at the thought.
The interest of Lord Warburton in Pansy Osmond complicates the plot just enough to give Ralph Touchett a good show. Isabel has already half promised to help Pansy get the man she wants, the less than impressive Edward Rosier. Itís clear that Gilbert Osmond will be happy for Lord Warburton as a son-in-law and will use Isabelís old connection with him in gaining her compliance. Isabel will have to show that she is not hindering Warburtonís engagement to Pansy for personal reasons. If Ralph is staying alive just to see what Isabel will do with herself now that sheís stuck in her marriage, he has arrived in Rome just in time.