This passage occurs at the very end of the novella. Winterbourne has been thinking of Daisy often since she died. When he sees his aunt, Mrs. Costello, the next summer, he mentions the message that Daisy left for him before she died. Daisy wanted him to know she was not...
This passage occurs at the very end of the novella. Winterbourne has been thinking of Daisy often since she died. When he sees his aunt, Mrs. Costello, the next summer, he mentions the message that Daisy left for him before she died. Daisy wanted him to know she was not engaged to Mr. Giovanelli. As her mother says at the time Daisy is very ill:
She gave me a message she told me to tell you. She told me to tell you that she never was engaged to that handsome Italian.
Winterbourne says he now understands the message: Daisy wanted him to "esteem" or respect her. At the time she was alive, however, he thought her behavior signaled that she was not a person he needed to "respect."
Of course, saying she "would have appreciated one's esteem" is a cryptic statement, which compels Mrs. Costello to ask if Daisy was signaling she would have returned Mr. Winterbourne's affection had he expressed it. What Mrs. Costello means is: "Are you saying, Winterbourne, that Daisy was telling you she would have accepted a marriage proposal from you?"
Again, we are faced with ambiguity, for Winterbourne doesn't answer. I would take Winterbourne's implied answer to be "yes," but of course, we can't be sure. Winterbourne simply changes the subject and says his aunt was right when she had said he would make a mistake because he was too innocent. Mentioning he made a mistake would again support the idea that Winterbourne felt he should have proposed to Daisy—or that he felt he should have somehow else handled the whole episode differently. We can't be sure how he understands what his mistake was.
The nature of what Winterbourne considers his mistake is never clear: however, he could not have been too deeply attached to Daisy, for the novella ends with the strong suggestion that he is involved in another flirtation.
In sum, a close reading of this ending shows us that this Henry James is communicating through ambiguity and discreet language. Nobody says plainly what they mean, not even the narrator, and one's understanding of the passage depends on the reader's understanding of Winterbourne's character and of the social nuances of the times.