Isabel was glaringly radiant. The servants have hung wreaths of white lilies across the dining room of the Pallazo Roccanera that lighted up the hundred faces of the assistance, transforming them into human flowers and blazing corollas. Their smiles were flaring out to the couple, sat on the dais, with their hands jointed.
The celebration had been a success so far; she had never seen so many people content for her at the same time, on the same spot. If the thought raised a light sadness in her, she dismissed it with a jolt of her beautiful head. Tonight, she had to be happy, triumphant, as Osmond would say.
He had been such a support: leading the bouquets where they were untied and opened, like premature presents. He had ordered all sorts of flowers; from chrysanthemums to roses, but the same hue was to be found in every jar, every mantel, every boutonnière.
White prevailed, a delicate allusion to the color of her dress, but also to the tinge of her face, "so prudently lit, akin to a marble-wrought statue". Osmond had stroked her cheeks, a way of accompanying the compliment, and tactful reminding her his allowances from now on.
Isabel immensely admired the grace of every of his moves, physical as well as mental: a tangible shadow during the hours of awakening, he was a oh! so sympathetic ghost during the quiescence of the night. She liked the way he slid along the rooms, as he was on a liner enroute to a strange and enchanted land that needed preparation and worships.
She felt incredibly lucky, because she partakes in his approbation. If his looks were impenetrable, the attentions he had given her largely proved her point. She did not want to be one of these calculating women, reckoning the tacksies-and-backsies of their potential husband, but some prosaic minds around her have notified Osmond's behavior to her as fit, and laudable, and oh-my-dear-you-are-so-lucky-to-marry-such-a-man-of-taste!
He was, indeed, if only her cousin Ralph admitted it! How wrong he was, in labeling Osmond as a crude and egoist aesthete who cared only to his blue china, his Morrisian tapestries, or his upscale Japanese plates! He was far more than that, and he had revealed to her a world of finesse and beauty, to begin with hers.
"The night will be full of discoveries", he has muttered earlier in the evening, when they were both dancing at a slow pace, and she had the impression that the ceiling light was spinning around her eyes, and she marvelled at this idea, which could only have been suggested by Osmond's poetic mind.
A quiver was bristling from the lowest point of her back; Osmond had leant over her ear: "And you'll be the most beautiful of them". To this, she had smiled shyly, inwardly revelling in the reminder of the pleasures that awaited with their stupor.
For now, she was walking to her cousin, indistinctly crawled on a chair, a bit afar from the rabble of too numerous friends. Ruefully, he was playing with one of the white, dream-like feathers of Italian geese, brought here for the special occasion. They were plucking in the garden, flowers or worms alike, and Isabel could heed, from time to time, a distant cackle.
Ralph threw this portion of concrete air at her and tapped the chair concomitant to his. The feather fell without any hand to collect it. "You look pale", he ejected cheerfully. "Are you sure you are fond of weddings? Maybe you should ask for a reprieve".
She cracked a smile, the first that conveyed a streak of melancholia behind the spirit she always displayed. By an overt stealth, Ralph took her hand and forced her to sit.
"I don't think you are as happy as you pretend to be, Isabel. And you know how it worries me".
Isabel could not help but letting out a laugh.
"Obviously, you know me more than I do, Ralph". He lowered his eyes, always littered with a gravity that resembles not in the slightest to his youth, to her small, tightly constrained visage.
"Perhaps I do, indeed".
Their conversation had then drifted away from the topic; a queer uneasiness had taken over them, after the previous subtle spillage.
Both of them felt the constraints of being in the lookout; Osmond eyed them too much, when they had the privilege of being together; their attitudes, too tranquil, were irking him, Isabel knew; and she did not want to torture what she believed to be the jealousy of a lover, but that Ralph perceived as a base desire of utter possession.
Domination was the appanage of men stronger than he was, but he did not take umbrage of his "lack of masculinity" (it dawned on him that Osmond, when insulting him silently between his lips, was thinking of the same thing: the day of bringing into the open the mutual hatred; the day when the American had realized Ralph was not in a position of injuring him, but that Isabel could give him that chance. The words had fired, acidic, devoid of the usual honey with which Osmond liked them to be imbued).
But there they were: holding hands, in a sibling fashion. The danger had clearly been dodged, by Isabel's volition, and Ralph was too courteous to tempt her with the same weapons so cleverly used on her by the man who had been so careful in the set-up of her chains. Tonight, he would yank them for the first time. Tonight, Ralph would lose; and the sentient smile of Osmond's frigid lips was playing with that baleful idea.
Ralph clutched his fists, and Isabel let out an exclamation before a harshness she did not suspect. Had he not been so ill, he would have put up a fight, on the very spot, and claim Isabel – not for him, but for her. Her freedom for which himself had given clearance was shrinking; soon trailed away into the catcher's nets. She would be picked and framed, like a magnificent bird of passion, and soon to be parchementized. She had prepared her own gilded nail, and hold to her torturer the tool by which she would be secured to a wall of preys. He could not let her to this fate; yet the decision did not rely on his hands.
"Isabel! Are you aware of the petty wrongdoing you are on the brink of committing?"
A perfumed, prepared smile answered him. She did want so much to comfort him; blinding him with smoke of childhood pipes and mirrors of painted dolls, that she rebuffed herself on the way. Her bravery was painful and out of place. She looked doubly disorientated and arrogant; and for one moment, he fancied to see Osmond's misty eyes in the beloved face.
"Isabel, the act of self-sacrifice has been played out, you don't need to cling to your mask so strenuously".
But she was erect now, a defensive air stuck to her face and eyes askew, like a Walkyrie agitated by the excitation of a forthcoming battle. Nettled she was already, and she had not been married for more than a few hours. Except that he was responsible for the wound; he had exposed her to the thrills of wasting her money too lavishly, and used her as a decoy for meager, listless wolves, that were more occupied to live up to their lustred fur than to their recumbent victims.
She did not seem to have hearkened his words.
The emotion that Ralph had evinced resembled the aggressiveness that possessed her younger self, when her mother, afraid of spoiling the child, refused her the vital playground in the botanical garden; a springboard for her serendipitous explorations.
The bell of resentment still twinkled in her, for, with the passing away of her young years and the slow blossoming of her first growth, the unfair restriction was still incomprehensible to her; still painful to the remnants of the little girl within. This time of takedowns and disbeliefs had made out the conviction of the necessary wariness one should flare up when confronting adults, and, when the second tenure of her adulthood took momentum, the negative impact of her external world was as clear as her forthright blue eyes elicited.
She assured herself that Osmond was drawing from her the sick reticence of her youth for a cure; either foolishness or pigheadedness of a young woman inexperienced in nothing else than an idle vacancy, that meant sinister casualties.
Scathingly, she had left Ralph with the sensation of parting from an unusual intimacy. However, she was resolved, since Osmond had flagged to her the undesirability of her cousin's presence, to leave him for good.
Osmond was always right, and she had a blind trust in his perceptive power. Besides, Ralph was desperate to make the impression of the knowing man; the one that understood and the one that forgave. The falsity of this illusion was such an intolerable absurdity. No, the breaking up would not take the toll on her, or Ralph himself, save on his vanity.
"Shall we go, my dear?"
Osmond's mellow voice emptied her last thought; making room for new, refreshing one that she was eager to foster. Her life was waiting for her to many feats and feasts; the impending subjectivity of love could not bear with any temporization.
She was still holding to her righteous conviction, when Osmond opened the door of the marital suite.
The rattle of the key into the lock did not tamper with her joy, nor the quick succession of expirations that her now husband drawn out of his naked chest. The alabaster skin slithered among her rustling dress. Near the ivy-covered window, a blast of wind obstructed Isabel's filmy, filled with surprise, cry.
Behind Osmond's back, her pale eyes were carving endless new doctrines in the newly odoriferous air.