Near the end of February, Ralph decides it is time for him to return to England. He knows that his death is near, and he wants to pass away at his beloved home, Gardencourt. Henrietta offers to accompany him and care for him, as does Goodwood per his previous promise to Isabel. The businessman also believes he bores Isabel in Rome; he is also tired of seeing Isabel pretend to be happy in her marriage to Osmond.
Isabel has arranged for Goodwood to care for Ralph because she knows that Osmond will not allow her to travel to Gardencourt do so. At this stage, Isabel is still unwilling to disobey her husband.
Before leaving, Henrietta visits the Countess Gemini once more. The journalist tells the Countess that she was wrong in her belief that Isabel and Lord Warburton were enjoying an affair, with Warburton actually courting Pansy for a period of time. The Countess highlights that fact that no proposal from Warburton to Pansy eventuated.
Henrietta displays her honest nature by admitting her error to the Countess in her usual forthright manner. The Countess wisely notes that it is still likely that Lord Warburton does, in fact, love Isabel.
Henrietta urges Isabel to leave Osmond before their relationship grows yet more dire. Isabel insists that she is confident in her own strength of identity and in weathering the ills of her husband.
Isabel again refuses to leave Osmond due to the breach in social duty this would cause. She made a poor decision, but she believes that she made it free of her own will and will therefore bear the results stoically.
When Isabel visits Ralph before his departure for England, she admits that she is sometimes afraid of herself, but never afraid of Osmond. Her admission of unhappiness is accompanied by the confession that Ralph is her best friend and that she adores him. He responds that Isabel has given him life for far longer than he dared to hope.
The cousins know that this is perhaps their final parting and wish one another well. Isabel and Ralph are frank in their adoration for each other; they have moved beyond the tension caused by Ralph’s admission that he loves Isabel romantically.
Isabel instructs Ralph to send for her if he desires her company at Gardencourt. Ralph is concerned that Osmond will not allow such travel, but she promises she will come in spite of Osmond’s likely objections.
For once, Isabel makes a promise in which she prioritizes her own family above Osmond’s needs.
Goodwood visits Isabel at her home, where Osmond talks to him about the increased harmony that Goodwood’s presence has afforded his marriage. Osmond is exceedingly more personal in his conversation than usual, although Goodwood does not directly recognize it. Osmond exaggerates his and Isabel’s solidarity and claims that he and Isabel can now view their future more clearly together. Osmond’s comments confuse and anger Goodwood, but he reminds himself that Isabel’s relationship with her husband is none of his business.
Osmond blatantly lies to Goodwood in order to steer Goodwood away from pursuing Isabel by pretending that their marriage is wonderful. This is Osmond’s signature move: putting on a façade in order to manipulate those around him for personal benefit.
Osmond also paints Goodwood as the true version of a modern man, and suggests that he find purpose in life by finding a wife—“You ought to marry, then you’d have plenty to do!”
Osmond acknowledges Goodwood’s American New World enterprise and then cruelly insults Goodwood by suggesting he must find himself a wife, despite knowing Goodwood has only ever wanted to marry Isabel.
Having waited some time so see Isabel privately, Goodwood is able to tell her that he does not want to leave her in Rome. He is concerned about Osmond’s oppressive character, despite Osmond having treated him elegantly while Goodwood has been in Rome. The narrator suggests that Goodwood goes so far as to wish Osmond dead, although Goodwood does not voice this desire aloud. Goodwood also asks Isabel if she is genuinely happy, for she conceals her true feelings from all of her family and friends. Overall, the man is frustrated by his inability to know the truth of Isabel’s situation, declaring “I can’t understand, I can’t penetrate you!” He is sure that she is hiding something from him.
Goodwood now shares Ralph’s concern that Osmond might hurt her. His reveals his continued love for Isabel through his care for her wellbeing, and is greatly upset that he cannot help her in her current situation, despite knowing something is wrong. As suggested earlier in the story, Goodwood is a knight-like character who wants to aid Isabel in her distress. The pun on “penetrate” alludes to the strong chemistry between Isabel and Goodwood that Isabel has repeatedly denied.
Goodwood is quite honest when he also reveals that he still loves Isabel. What’s more, he asks her leave to pity her. He thinks that at least by pitying Isabel, he is still dedicating his life to her. Isabel hides almost her entire face behind her fan, telling Goodwood that he has behaved so well in her company, but is now almost spoiling it. She suggests that Goodwood cannot dedicate his life to pitying her, but that he might think of Isabel from time to time. Isabel then returns to the company of the Countess Gemini.
Once more, Isabel is unable to cut off her unwanted suitors’ attentions entirely, for she enjoys elements of their courtship. She therefore invites Goodwood to keep her in his thoughts, untoward behavior for a married woman.