The Golden Bowl


THE GOLDEN BOWL







Volumes I and II, Complete







By Henry James







1904















Contents








BOOK FIRST: THE PRINCE



PART FIRST



PART SECOND



PART THIRD





BOOK SECOND: THE PRINCESS



PART FOURTH



PART FIFTH



PART SIXTH.
























BOOK FIRST: THE PRINCE














PART FIRST


                             I


The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was
one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of
the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber.
Brought up on the legend of the City to which the world paid tribute, he
recognised in the present London much more than in contemporary Rome the
real dimensions of such a case. If it was a question of an Imperium, he
said to himself, and if one wished, as a Roman, to recover a little the
sense of that, the place to do so was on London Bridge, or even, on a fine
afternoon in May, at Hyde Park Corner. It was not indeed to either of
those places that these grounds of his predilection, after all
sufficiently vague, had, at the moment we are concerned with him, guided
his steps; he had strayed, simply enough, into Bond Street, where his
imagination, working at comparatively short range, caused him now and then
to stop before a window in which objects massive and lumpish, in silver
and gold, in the forms to which precious stones contribute, or in leather,
steel, brass, applied to a hundred uses and abuses, were as tumbled
together as if, in the insolence of the Empire, they had been the loot of
far-off victories. The young man’s movements, however, betrayed no
consistency of attention—not even, for that matter, when one of his
arrests had proceeded from possibilities in faces shaded, as they passed
him on the pavement, by huge beribboned hats, or more delicately tinted
still under the tense silk of parasols held at perverse angles in waiting
victorias. And the Prince’s undirected thought was not a little
symptomatic, since, though the turn of the season had come and the flush
of the streets begun to fade, the possibilities of faces, on the August
afternoon, were still one of the notes of the scene. He was too restless—that
was the fact—for any concentration, and the last idea that would
just now have occurred to him in any connection was the idea of pursuit.



He had been pursuing for six months as never in his life before, and what
had actually unsteadied him, as we join him, was the sense of how he had
been justified. Capture had crowned the pursuit—or success, as he
would otherwise have put it, had rewarded virtue; whereby the
consciousness of these things made him, for the hour, rather serious than
gay. A sobriety that might have consorted with failure sat in his handsome
face, constructively regular and grave, yet at the same time oddly and, as
might be, functionally almost radiant, with its dark blue eyes, its dark
brown moustache and its expression no more sharply “foreign” to an English
view than to have caused it sometimes to be observed of him with a shallow
felicity that he looked like a “refined” Irishman. What had happened was
that shortly before, at three o’clock, his fate had practically been
sealed, and that even when one pretended to no quarrel with it the moment
had something of the grimness of a crunched key in the strongest lock that
could be made. There was nothing to do as yet, further, but feel what one
had done, and our personage felt it while he aimlessly wandered. It was
already as if he were married, so definitely had the solicitors, at three
o’clock, enabled the date to be fixed, and by so few days was that date
now distant. He was to dine at half-past eight o’clock with the young lady
on whose behalf, and on whose father’s, the London lawyers had reached an
inspired harmony with his own man of business, poor Calderoni, fresh from
Rome and now apparently in the wondrous situation of being “shown London,”
before promptly leaving it again, by Mr. Verver himself, Mr. Verver whose
easy way with his millions had taxed to such small purpose, in the
arrangements, the principle of reciprocity. The reciprocity with which the
Prince was during these minutes most struck was that of Calderoni’s
bestowal of his company for a view of the lions. If there was one thing in
the world the young man, at this juncture, clearly intended, it was to be
much more decent as a son-in-law than lots of fellows he could think of
had shown themselves in that character. He thought of these fellows, from
whom he was so to differ, in English; he used, mentally, the English term
to describe his difference, for, familiar with the tongue from his
earliest years, so that no note of strangeness remained with him either
for lip or for ear, he found it convenient, in life, for the greatest
number of relations. He found it convenient, oddly, even for his relation
with himself—though not unmindful that there might still, as time
went on, be others, including a more intimate degree of that one, that
would seek, possibly with violence, the larger or the finer issue—which
was it?—of the vernacular. Miss Verver had told him he spoke English
too well—it was his only fault, and he had not been able to speak
worse even to oblige her. “When I speak worse, you see, I speak French,”
he had said; intimating thus that there were discriminations, doubtless of
the invidious kind, for which that language was the most apt. The girl had
taken this, she let him know, as a reflection on her own French, which she
had always so dreamed of making good, of making better; to say nothing of
his evident feeling that the idiom supposed a cleverness she was not a
person to rise to. The Prince’s answer to such remarks—genial,
charming, like every answer the parties to his new arrangement had yet had
from him—was that he was practising his American in order to
converse properly, on equal terms as it were, with Mr. Verver. His
prospective father-in-law had a command of it, he said, that put him at a
disadvantage in any discussion; besides which—well, besides which he
had made to the girl the observation that positively, of all his
observations yet, had most finely touched her.



“You know I think he’s a REAL galantuomo—‘and no mistake.’ There are
plenty of sham ones about. He seems to me simply the best man I’ve ever
seen in my life.”



“Well, my dear, why shouldn’t he be?” the girl had gaily inquired.



It was this, precisely, that had set the Prince to think. The things, or
many of them, that had made Mr. Verver what he was seemed practically to
bring a charge of waste against the other things that, with the other
people known to the young man, had failed of such a result. “Why, his
‘form,’” he had returned, “might have made one doubt.”



“Father’s form?” She hadn’t seen it. “It strikes me he hasn’t got any.”



“He hasn’t got mine—he hasn’t even got yours.”



“Thank you for ‘even’!” the girl had laughed at him. “Oh, yours, my dear,
is tremendous. But your father has his own. I’ve made that out. So don’t
doubt it. It’s where it has brought him out—that’s the point.”



“It’s his goodness that has brought him out,” our young woman had, at
this, objected.



“Ah, darling, goodness, I think, never brought anyone out. Goodness, when
it’s real, precisely, rather keeps people in.” He had been interested in
his discrimination, which amused him. “No, it’s his WAY. It belongs to
him.”



But she had wondered still. “It’s the American way. That’s all.”



“Exactly—it’s all. It’s all, I say! It fits him—so it must be
good for something.”



“Do you think it would be good for you?” Maggie Verver had smilingly
asked.



To which his reply had been just of the happiest. “I don’t feel, my dear,
if you really want to know, that anything much can now either hurt me or
help me. Such as I am—but you’ll see for yourself. Say, however, I
am a galantuomo—which I devoutly hope: I’m like a chicken, at best,
chopped up and smothered in sauce; cooked down as a creme de volaille,
with half the parts left out. Your father’s the natural fowl running about
the bassecour. His feathers, movements, his sounds—those are the
parts that, with me, are left out.”



“All, as a matter of course—since you can’t eat a chicken alive!”



The Prince had not been annoyed at this, but he had been positive. “Well,
I’m eating your father alive—which is the only way to taste him. I
want to continue, and as it’s when he talks American that he is most
alive, so I must also cultivate it, to get my pleasure. He couldn’t make
one like him so much in any other language.”



It mattered little that the girl had continued to demur—it was the
mere play of her joy. “I think he could make you like him in Chinese.”



“It would be an unnecessary trouble. What I mean is that he’s a kind of
result of his inevitable tone. My liking is accordingly FOR the tone—which
has made him possible.”



“Oh, you’ll hear enough of it,” she laughed, “before you’ve done with us.”



Only this, in truth, had made him frown a little.



“What do you mean, please, by my having ‘done’ with you?”



“Why, found out about us all there is to find.”



He had been able to take it indeed easily as a joke. “Ah, love, I began
with that. I know enough, I feel, never to be surprised. It’s you
yourselves meanwhile,” he continued, “who really know nothing. There are
two parts of me”—yes, he had been moved to go on. “One is made up of
the history, the doings, the marriages, the crimes, the follies, the
boundless betises of other people—especially of their infamous waste
of money that might have come to me. Those things are written—literally
in rows of volumes, in libraries; are as public as they’re abominable.
Everybody can get at them, and you’ve, both of you, wonderfully, looked
them in the face. But there’s another part, very much smaller doubtless,
which, such as it is, represents my single self, the unknown, unimportant,
unimportant—unimportant save to YOU—personal quantity. About
this you’ve found out nothing.”



“Luckily, my dear,” the girl had bravely said; “for what then would
become, please, of the promised occupation of my future?”



The young man remembered even now how extraordinarily CLEAR—he
couldn’t call it anything else—she had looked, in her prettiness, as
she had said it. He also remembered what he had been moved to reply. “The
happiest reigns, we are taught, you know, are the reigns without any
history.”



“Oh, I’m not afraid of history!” She had been sure of that. “Call it the
bad part, if you like—yours certainly sticks out of you. What was it
else,” Maggie Verver had also said, “that made me originally think of you?
It wasn’t—as I should suppose you must have seen—what you call
your unknown quantity, your particular self. It was the generations behind
you, the follies and the crimes, the plunder and the waste—the
wicked Pope, the monster most of all, whom so many of the volumes in your
family library are all about. If I’ve read but two or three yet, I shall
give myself up but the more—as soon as I have time—to the
rest. Where, therefore”—she had put it to him again—“without
your archives, annals, infamies, would you have been?”



He recalled what, to this, he had gravely returned. “I might have been in
a somewhat better pecuniary situation.” But his actual situation under the
head in question positively so little mattered to them that, having by
that time lived deep into the sense of his advantage, he had kept no
impression of the girl’s rejoinder. It had but sweetened the waters in
which he now floated, tinted them as by the action of some essence, poured
from a gold-topped phial, for making one’s bath aromatic. No one before
him, never—not even the infamous Pope—had so sat up to his
neck in such a bath. It showed, for that matter, how little one of his
race could escape, after all, from history. What was it but history, and
of THEIR kind very much, to have the assurance of the enjoyment of more
money than the palace-builder himself could have dreamed of? This was the
element that bore him up and into which Maggie scattered, on occasion, her
exquisite colouring drops. They were of the colour—of what on earth?
of what but the extraordinary American good faith? They were of the colour
of her innocence, and yet at the same time of her imagination, with which
their relation, his and these people’s, was all suffused. What he had
further said on the occasion of which we thus represent him as catching
the echoes from his own thoughts while he loitered—what he had
further said came back to him, for it had been the voice itself of his
luck, the soothing sound that was always with him. “You Americans are
almost incredibly romantic.”



“Of course we are. That’s just what makes everything so nice for us.”



“Everything?” He had wondered.



“Well, everything that’s nice at all. The world, the beautiful, world—or
everything in it that is beautiful. I mean we see so much.”



He had looked at her a moment—and he well knew how she had struck
him, in respect to the beautiful world, as one of the beautiful, the most
beautiful things. But what he had answered was: “You see too much—that’s
what may sometimes make you difficulties. When you don’t, at least,” he
had amended with a further thought, “see too little.” But he had quite
granted that he knew what she meant, and his warning perhaps was needless.



He had seen the follies of the romantic disposition, but there seemed
somehow no follies in theirs—nothing, one was obliged to recognise,
but innocent pleasures, pleasures without penalties. Their enjoyment was a
tribute to others without being a loss to themselves. Only the funny
thing, he had respectfully submitted, was that her father, though older
and wiser, and a man into the bargain, was as bad—that is as good—as
herself.



“Oh, he’s better,” the girl had freely declared “that is he’s worse. His
relation to the things he cares for—and I think it beautiful—is
absolutely romantic. So is his whole life over here—it’s the most
romantic thing I know.”



“You mean his idea for his native place?”



“Yes—the collection, the Museum with which he wishes to endow it,
and of which he thinks more, as you know, than of anything in the world.
It’s the work of his life and the motive of everything he does.”



The young man, in his actual mood, could have smiled again—smiled
delicately, as he had then smiled at her. “Has it been his motive in
letting me have you?”



“Yes, my dear, positively—or in a manner,” she had said.



“American City isn’t, by the way, his native town, for, though he’s not
old, it’s a young thing compared with him—a younger one. He started
there, he has a feeling about it, and the place has grown, as he says,
like the programme of a charity performance. You’re at any rate a part of
his collection,” she had explained—“one of the things that can only
be got over here. You’re a rarity, an object of beauty, an object of
price. You’re not perhaps absolutely unique, but you’re so curious and
eminent that there are very few others like you—you belong to a
class about which everything is known. You’re what they call a morceau de
musee.”



“I see. I have the great sign of it,” he had risked—“that I cost a
lot of money.”



“I haven’t the least idea,” she had gravely answered, “what you cost”—and
he had quite adored, for the moment, her way of saying it. He had felt
even, for the moment, vulgar. But he had made the best of that. “Wouldn’t
you find out if it were a question of parting with me? My value would in
that case be estimated.”



She had looked at him with her charming eyes, as if his value were well
before her. “Yes, if you mean that I’d pay rather than lose you.”



And then there came again what this had made him say. “Don’t talk about ME—it’s
you who are not of this age. You’re a creature of a braver and finer one,
and the cinquecento, at its most golden hour, wouldn’t have been ashamed
of you. It would of me, and if I didn’t know some of the pieces your
father has acquired, I should rather fear, for American City, the
criticism of experts. Would it at all events be your idea,” he had then
just ruefully asked, “to send me there for safety?”



“Well, we may have to come to it.”



“I’ll go anywhere you want.”



“We must see first—it will be only if we have to come to it. There
are things,” she had gone on, “that father puts away—the bigger and
more cumbrous of course, which he stores, has already stored in masses,
here and in Paris, in Italy, in Spain, in warehouses, vaults, banks,
safes, wonderful secret places. We’ve been like a pair of pirates—positively
stage pirates, the sort who wink at each other and say ‘Ha-ha!’ when they
come to where their treasure is buried. Ours is buried pretty well
everywhere—except what we like to see, what we travel with and have
about us. These, the smaller pieces, are the things we take out and
arrange as we can, to make the hotels we stay at and the houses we hire a
little less ugly. Of course it’s a danger, and we have to keep watch. But
father loves a fine piece, loves, as he says, the good of it, and it’s for
the company of some of his things that he’s willing to run his risks. And
we’ve had extraordinary luck”—Maggie had made that point; “we’ve
never lost anything yet. And the finest objects are often the smallest.
Values, in lots of cases, you must know, have nothing to do with size. But
there’s nothing, however tiny,” she had wound up, “that we’ve missed.”



“I like the class,” he had laughed for this, “in which you place me! I
shall be one of the little pieces that you unpack at the hotels, or at the
worst in the hired houses, like this wonderful one, and put out with the
family photographs and the new magazines. But it’s something not to be so
big that I have to be buried.”



“Oh,” she had returned, “you shall not be buried, my dear, till you’re
dead. Unless indeed you call it burial to go to American City.”



“Before I pronounce I should like to see my tomb.” So he had had, after
his fashion, the last word in their interchange, save for the result of an
observation that had risen to his lips at the beginning, which he had then
checked, and which now came back to him. “Good, bad or indifferent, I hope
there’s one thing you believe about me.”



He had sounded solemn, even to himself, but she had taken it gaily. “Ah,
don’t fix me down to ‘one’! I believe things enough about you, my dear, to
have a few left if most of them, even, go to smash. I’ve taken care of
THAT. I’ve divided my faith into water-tight compartments. We must manage
not to sink.”



“You do believe I’m not a hypocrite? You recognise that I don’t lie or
dissemble or deceive? Is THAT water-tight?”



The question, to which he had given a certain intensity, had made her, he
remembered, stare an instant, her colour rising as if it had sounded to
her still stranger than he had intended. He had perceived on the spot that
any SERIOUS discussion of veracity, of loyalty, or rather of the want of
them, practically took her unprepared, as if it were quite new to her. He
had noticed it before: it was the English, the American sign that
duplicity, like “love,” had to be joked about. It couldn’t be “gone into.”
So the note of his inquiry was—well, to call it nothing else—
premature; a mistake worth making, however, for the almost overdone
drollery in which her answer instinctively sought refuge.



“Water-tight—the biggest compartment of all? Why, it’s the best
cabin and the main deck and the engine-room and the steward’s pantry! It’s
the ship itself—it’s the whole line. It’s the captain’s table and
all one’s luggage—one’s reading for the trip.” She had images, like
that, that were drawn from steamers and trains, from a familiarity with
“lines,” a command of “own” cars, from an experience of continents and
seas, that he was unable as yet to emulate; from vast modern machineries
and facilities whose acquaintance he had still to make, but as to which it
was part of the interest of his situation as it stood that he could, quite
without wincing, feel his future likely to bristle with them.



It was in fact, content as he was with his engagement and charming as he
thought his affianced bride, his view of THAT furniture that mainly
constituted our young man’s “romance”—and to an extent that made of
his inward state a contrast that he was intelligent enough to feel. He was
intelligent enough to feel quite humble, to wish not to be in the least
hard or voracious, not to insist on his own side of the bargain, to warn
himself in short against arrogance and greed. Odd enough, of a truth, was
his sense of this last danger—which may illustrate moreover his
general attitude toward dangers from within. Personally, he considered, he
hadn’t the vices in question—and that was so much to the good. His
race, on the other hand, had had them handsomely enough, and he was
somehow full of his race. Its presence in him was like the consciousness
of some inexpugnable scent in which his clothes, his whole person, his
hands and the hair of his head, might have been steeped as in some
chemical bath: the effect was nowhere in particular, yet he constantly
felt himself at the mercy of the cause. He knew his antenatal history,
knew it in every detail, and it was a thing to keep causes well before
him. What was his frank judgment of so much of its ugliness, he asked
himself, but a part of the cultivation of humility? What was this so
important step he had just taken but the desire for some new history that
should, so far as possible, contradict, and even if need be flatly
dishonour, the old? If what had come to him wouldn’t do he must MAKE
something different. He perfectly recognised—always in his humility—that
the material for the making had to be Mr. Verver’s millions. There was
nothing else for him on earth to make it with; he had tried before—had
had to look about and see the truth. Humble as he was, at the same time,
he was not so humble as if he had known himself frivolous or stupid. He
had an idea—which may amuse his historian—that when you were
stupid enough to be mistaken about such a matter you did know it.
Therefore he wasn’t mistaken—his future might be MIGHT be
scientific. There was nothing in himself, at all events, to prevent it. He
was allying himself to science, for what was science but the absence of
prejudice backed by the presence of money? His life would be full of
machinery, which was the antidote to superstition, which was in its turn,
too much, the consequence, or at least the exhalation, of archives. He
thought of these—of his not being at all events futile, and of his
absolute acceptance of the developments of the coming age to redress the
balance of his being so differently considered. The moments when he most
winced were those at which he found himself believing that, really,
futility would have been forgiven him. Even WITH it, in that absurd view,
he would have been good enough. Such was the laxity, in the Ververs, of
the romantic spirit. They didn’t, indeed, poor dears, know what, in that
line—the line of futility—the real thing meant. HE did—
having seen it, having tried it, having taken its measure. This was a
memory in fact simply to screen out—much as, just in front of him
while he walked, the iron shutter of a shop, closing early to the stale
summer day, rattled down at the turn of some crank. There was machinery
again, just as the plate glass, all about him, was money, was power, the
power of the rich peoples. Well, he was OF them now, of the rich peoples;
he was on their side—if it wasn’t rather the pleasanter way of
putting it that they were on his.



Something of this sort was in any case the moral and the murmur of his
walk. It would have been ridiculous—such a moral from such a source—if
it hadn’t all somehow fitted to the gravity of the hour, that gravity the
oppression of which I began by recording. Another feature was the
immediate nearness of the arrival of the contingent from home. He was to
meet them at Charing Cross on the morrow: his younger brother, who had
married before him, but whose wife, of Hebrew race, with a portion that
had gilded the pill, was not in a condition to travel; his sister and her
husband, the most anglicised of Milanesi, his maternal uncle, the most
shelved of diplomatists, and his Roman cousin, Don Ottavio, the most
disponible of ex-deputies and of relatives—a scant handful of the
consanguineous who, in spite of Maggie’s plea for hymeneal reserve, were
to accompany him to the altar. It was no great array, yet it was
apparently to be a more numerous muster than any possible to the bride
herself, having no wealth of kinship to choose from and making it up, on
the other hand, by loose invitations. He had been interested in the girl’s
attitude on the matter and had wholly deferred to it, giving him, as it
did, a glimpse, distinctly pleasing, of the kind of ruminations she would
in general be governed by—which were quite such as fell in with his
own taste. They hadn’t natural relations, she and her father, she had
explained; so they wouldn’t try to supply the place by artificial, by
make-believe ones, by any searching of highways and hedges. Oh yes, they
had acquaintances enough—but a marriage was an intimate thing. You
asked acquaintances when you HAD your kith and kin—you asked them
over and above. But you didn’t ask them alone, to cover your nudity and
look like what they weren’t. She knew what she meant and what she liked,
and he was all ready to take from her, finding a good omen in both of the
facts. He expected her, desired her, to have character; his wife SHOULD
have it, and he wasn’t afraid of her having much. He had had, in his
earlier time, to deal with plenty of people who had had it; notably with
the three four ecclesiastics, his great-uncle, the Cardinal, above all,
who had taken a hand and played a part in his education: the effect of all
of which had never been to upset him. He was thus fairly on the look-out
for the characteristic in this most intimate, as she was to come, of his
associates. He encouraged it when it appeared.



He felt therefore, just at present, as if his papers were in order, as if
his accounts so balanced as they had never done in his life before and he
might close the portfolio with a snap. It would open again, doubtless, of
itself, with the arrival of the Romans; it would even perhaps open with
his dining to-night in Portland Place, where Mr. Verver had pitched a tent
suggesting that of Alexander furnished with the spoils of Darius. But what
meanwhile marked his crisis, as I have said, was his sense of the
immediate two or three hours. He paused on corners, at crossings; there
kept rising for him, in waves, that consciousness, sharp as to its source
while vague as to its end, which I began by speaking of—the
consciousness of an appeal to do something or other, before it was too
late, for himself. By any friend to whom he might have mentioned it the
appeal could have been turned to frank derision. For what, for whom indeed
but himself and the high advantages attached, was he about to marry an
extraordinarily charming girl, whose “prospects,” of the solid sort, were
as guaranteed as her amiability? He wasn’t to do it, assuredly, all for
her. The Prince, as happened, however, was so free to feel and yet not to
formulate that there rose before him after a little, definitely, the image
of a friend whom he had often found ironic. He withheld the tribute of
attention from passing faces only to let his impulse accumulate. Youth and
beauty made him scarcely turn, but the image of Mrs. Assingham made him
presently stop a hansom. HER youth, her beauty were things more or less of
the past, but to find her at home, as he possibly might, would be “doing”
what he still had time for, would put something of a reason into his
restlessness and thereby probably soothe it. To recognise the propriety of
this particular pilgrimage—she lived far enough off, in long Cadogan
Place—was already in fact to work it off a little. A perception of
the propriety of formally thanking her, and of timing the act just as he
happened to be doing—this, he made out as he went, was obviously all
that had been the matter with him. It was true that he had mistaken the
mood of the moment, misread it rather, superficially, as an impulse to
look the other way—the other way from where his pledges had
accumulated. Mrs. Assingham, precisely, represented, embodied his pledges—was,
in her pleasant person, the force that had set them successively in
motion. She had MADE his marriage, quite as truly as his papal ancestor
had made his family—though he could scarce see what she had made it
for unless because she too was perversely romantic. He had neither bribed
nor persuaded her, had given her nothing—scarce even till now
articulate thanks; so that her profit-to think of it vulgarly—must
have all had to come from the Ververs.



Yet he was far, he could still remind himself, from supposing that she had
been grossly remunerated. He was wholly sure she hadn’t; for if there were
people who took presents and people who didn’t she would be quite on the
right side and of the proud class. Only then, on the other hand, her
disinterestedness was rather awful—it implied, that is, such abysses
of confidence. She was admirably attached to Maggie—whose possession
of such a friend might moreover quite rank as one of her “assets”; but the
great proof of her affection had been in bringing them, with her design,
together. Meeting him during a winter in Rome, meeting him afterwards in
Paris, and “liking” him, as she had in time frankly let him know from the
first, she had marked him for her young friend’s own and had then,
unmistakably, presented him in a light. But the interest in Maggie—that
was the point—would have achieved but little without her interest in
HIM. On what did that sentiment, unsolicited and unrecompensed, rest? what
good, again—for it was much like his question about Mr. Verver—should
he ever have done her? The Prince’s notion of a recompense to women—similar
in this to his notion of an appeal—was more or less to make love to
them. Now he hadn’t, as he believed, made love the least little bit to
Mrs. Assingham—nor did he think she had for a moment supposed it. He
liked in these days, to mark them off, the women to whom he hadn’t made
love: it represented— and that was what pleased him in it—a
different stage of existence from the time at which he liked to mark off
the women to whom he had. Neither, with all this, had Mrs. Assingham
herself been either aggressive or resentful. On what occasion, ever, had
she appeared to find him wanting? These things, the motives of such
people, were obscure—a little alarmingly so; they contributed to
that element of the impenetrable which alone slightly qualified his sense
of his good fortune. He remembered to have read, as a boy, a wonderful
tale by Allan Poe, his prospective wife’s countryman-which was a thing to
show, by the way, what imagination Americans COULD have: the story of the
shipwrecked Gordon Pym, who, drifting in a small boat further toward the
North Pole—or was it the South?—than anyone had ever done,
found at a given moment before him a thickness of white air that was like
a dazzling curtain of light, concealing as darkness conceals, yet of the
colour of milk or of snow. There were moments when he felt his own boat
move upon some such mystery. The state of mind of his new friends,
including Mrs. Assingham herself, had resemblances to a great white
curtain. He had never known curtains but as purple even to blackness—but
as producing where they hung a darkness intended and ominous. When they
were so disposed as to shelter surprises the surprises were apt to be
shocks.



Shocks, however, from these quite different depths, were not what he saw
reason to apprehend; what he rather seemed to himself not yet to have
measured was something that, seeking a name for it, he would have called
the quantity of confidence reposed in him. He had stood still, at many a
moment of the previous month, with the thought, freshly determined or
renewed, of the general expectation—to define it roughly—of
which he was the subject. What was singular was that it seemed not so much
an expectation of anything in particular as a large, bland, blank
assumption of merits almost beyond notation, of essential quality and
value. It was as if he had been some old embossed coin, of a purity of
gold no longer used, stamped with glorious arms, mediaeval, wonderful, of
which the “worth” in mere modern change, sovereigns and half crowns, would
be great enough, but as to which, since there were finer ways of using it,
such taking to pieces was superfluous. That was the image for the security
in which it was open to him to rest; he was to constitute a possession,
yet was to escape being reduced to his component parts. What would this
mean but that, practically, he was never to be tried or tested? What would
it mean but that, if they didn’t “change” him, they really wouldn’t know—he
wouldn’t know himself—how many pounds, shillings and pence he had to
give? These at any rate, for the present, were unanswerable questions; all
that was before him was that he was invested with attributes. He was taken
seriously. Lost there in the white mist was the seriousness in them that
made them so take him. It was even in Mrs. Assingham, in spite of her
having, as she had frequently shown, a more mocking spirit. All he could
say as yet was that he had done nothing, so far as to break any charm.
What should he do if he were to ask her frankly this afternoon what was,
morally speaking, behind their veil. It would come to asking what they
expected him to do. She would answer him probably: “Oh, you know, it’s
what we expect you to be!” on which he would have no resource but to deny
his knowledge. Would that break the spell, his saying he had no idea? What
idea in fact could he have? He also took himself seriously—made a
point of it; but it wasn’t simply a question of fancy and pretension. His
own estimate he saw ways, at one time and another, of dealing with: but
theirs, sooner or later, say what they might, would put him to the
practical proof. As the practical proof, accordingly, would naturally be
proportionate to the cluster of his attributes, one arrived at a scale
that he was not, honestly, the man to calculate. Who but a billionaire
could say what was fair exchange for a billion? That measure was the
shrouded object, but he felt really, as his cab stopped in Cadogan Place,
a little nearer the shroud. He promised himself, virtually, to give the
latter a twitch.


                            II


“They’re not good days, you know,” he had said to Fanny Assingham after
declaring himself grateful for finding her, and then, with his cup of tea,
putting her in possession of the latest news—the documents signed an
hour ago, de part et d’autre, and the telegram from his backers, who had
reached Paris the morning before, and who, pausing there a little, poor
dears, seemed to think the whole thing a tremendous lark. “We’re very
simple folk, mere country cousins compared with you,” he had also
observed, “and Paris, for my sister and her husband, is the end of the
world. London therefore will be more or less another planet. It has always
been, as with so many of us, quite their Mecca, but this is their first
real caravan; they’ve mainly known ‘old England’ as a shop for articles in
india-rubber and leather, in which they’ve dressed themselves as much as
possible. Which all means, however, that you’ll see them, all of them,
wreathed in smiles. We must be very easy with them. Maggie’s too wonderful—her
preparations are on a scale! She insists on taking in the sposi and my
uncle. The others will come to me. I’ve been engaging their rooms at the
hotel, and, with all those solemn signatures of an hour ago, that brings
the case home to me.”



“Do you mean you’re afraid?” his hostess had amusedly asked.



“Terribly afraid. I’ve now but to wait to see the monster come. They’re
not good days; they’re neither one thing nor the other. I’ve really got
nothing, yet I’ve everything to lose. One doesn’t know what still may
happen.”



The way she laughed at him was for an instant almost irritating; it came
out, for his fancy, from behind the white curtain. It was a sign, that is,
of her deep serenity, which worried instead of soothing him. And to be
soothed, after all, to be tided over, in his mystic impatience, to be told
what he could understand and believe—that was what he had come for.
“Marriage then,” said Mrs. Assingham, “is what you call the monster? I
admit it’s a fearful thing at the best; but, for heaven’s sake, if that’s
what you’re thinking of, don’t run away from it.”



“Ah, to run away from it would be to run away from you,” the Prince
replied; “and I’ve already told you often enough how I depend on you to
see me through.” He so liked the way she took this, from the corner of her
sofa, that he gave his sincerity—for it WAS sincerity—fuller
expression. “I’m starting on the great voyage—across the unknown
sea; my ship’s all rigged and appointed, the cargo’s stowed away and the
company complete. But what seems the matter with me is that I can’t sail
alone; my ship must be one of a pair, must have, in the waste of waters, a—what
do you call it?—a consort. I don’t ask you to stay on board with me,
but I must keep your sail in sight for orientation. I don’t in the least
myself know, I assure you, the points of the compass. But with a lead I
can perfectly follow. You MUST be my lead.”



“How can you be sure,” she asked, “where I should take you?”



“Why, from your having brought me safely thus far. I should never have got
here without you. You’ve provided the ship itself, and, if you’ve not
quite seen me aboard, you’ve attended me, ever so kindly, to the dock.
Your own vessel is, all conveniently, in the next berth, and you can’t
desert me now.”



She showed him again her amusement, which struck him even as excessive, as
if, to his surprise, he made her also a little nervous; she treated him in
fine as if he were not uttering truths, but making pretty figures for her
diversion. “My vessel, dear Prince?” she smiled. “What vessel, in the
world, have I? This little house is all our ship, Bob’s and mine—and
thankful we are, now, to have it. We’ve wandered far, living, as you may
say, from hand to mouth, without rest for the soles of our feet. But the
time has come for us at last to draw in.”



He made at this, the young man, an indignant protest. “You talk about rest—it’s
too selfish!—when you’re just launching me on adventures?”



She shook her head with her kind lucidity. “Not adventures—heaven
forbid! You’ve had yours—as I’ve had mine; and my idea has been, all
along, that we should neither of us begin again. My own last, precisely,
has been doing for you all you so prettily mention. But it consists simply
in having conducted you to rest. You talk about ships, but they’re not the
comparison. Your tossings are over—you’re practically IN port. The
port,” she concluded, “of the Golden Isles.”



He looked about, to put himself more in relation with the place; then,
after an hesitation, seemed to speak certain words instead of certain
others. “Oh, I know where I AM—! I do decline to be left, but what I
came for, of course, was to thank you. If to-day has seemed, for the first
time, the end of preliminaries, I feel how little there would have been
any at all without you. The first were wholly yours.”



“Well,” said Mrs. Assingham, “they were remarkably easy. I’ve seen them,
I’ve HAD them,” she smiled, “more difficult. Everything, you must feel,
went of itself. So, you must feel, everything still goes.”



The Prince quickly agreed. “Oh, beautifully! But you had the conception.”



“Ah, Prince, so had you!”



He looked at her harder a moment. “You had it first. You had it most.”



She returned his look as if it had made her wonder. “I LIKED it, if that’s
what you mean. But you liked it surely yourself. I protest, that I had
easy work with you. I had only at last—when I thought it was time—to
speak for you.”



“All that is quite true. But you’re leaving me, all the same, you’re
leaving me—you’re washing your hands of me,” he went on. “However,
that won’t be easy; I won’t BE left.” And he had turned his eyes about
again, taking in the pretty room that she had just described as her final
refuge, the place of peace for a world-worn couple, to which she had
lately retired with “Bob.” “I shall keep this spot in sight. Say what you
will, I shall need you. I’m not, you know,” he declared, “going to give
you up for anybody.”



“If you’re afraid—which of course you’re not—are you trying to
make me the same?” she asked after a moment.



He waited a minute too, then answered her with a question. “You say you
‘liked’ it, your undertaking to make my engagement possible. It remains
beautiful for me that you did; it’s charming and unforgettable. But, still
more, it’s mysterious and wonderful. WHY, you dear delightful woman, did
you like it?”



“I scarce know what to make,” she said, “of such an inquiry. If you
haven’t by this time found out yourself, what meaning can anything I say
have for you? Don’t you really after all feel,” she added while nothing
came from him—“aren’t you conscious every minute, of the perfection
of the creature of whom I’ve put you into possession?”



“Every minute—gratefully conscious. But that’s exactly the ground of
my question. It wasn’t only a matter of your handing me over—it was
a matter of your handing her. It was a matter of HER fate still more than
of mine. You thought all the good of her that one woman can think of
another, and yet, by your account, you enjoyed assisting at her risk.”



She had kept her eyes on him while he spoke, and this was what, visibly,
determined a repetition for her. “Are you trying to frighten me?”



“Ah, that’s a foolish view—I should be too vulgar. You apparently
can’t understand either my good faith or my humility. I’m awfully humble,”
the young man insisted; “that’s the way I’ve been feeling to-day, with
everything so finished and ready. And you won’t take me for serious.”



She continued to face him as if he really troubled her a little. “Oh, you
deep old Italians!”



“There you are,” he returned—“it’s what I wanted you to come to.
That’s the responsible note.”



“Yes,” she went on—“if you’re ‘humble’ you MUST be dangerous.”



She had a pause while he only smiled; then she said: “I don’t in the least
want to lose sight of you. But even if I did I shouldn’t think it right.”



“Thank you for that—it’s what I needed of you. I’m sure, after all,
that the more you’re with me the more I shall understand. It’s the only
thing in the world I want. I’m excellent, I really think, all round—except
that I’m stupid. I can do pretty well anything I SEE. But I’ve got to see
it first.” And he pursued his demonstration. “I don’t in the least mind
its having to be shown me—in fact I like that better. Therefore it
is that I want, that I shall always want, your eyes. Through THEM I wish
to look—even at any risk of their showing me what I mayn’t like. For
then,” he wound up, “I shall know. And of that I shall never be afraid.”



She might quite have been waiting to see what he would come to, but she
spoke with a certain impatience. “What on earth are you talking about?”



But he could perfectly say: “Of my real, honest fear of being ‘off’ some
day, of being wrong, WITHOUT knowing it. That’s what I shall always trust
you for—to tell me when I am. No—with you people it’s a sense.
We haven’t got it—not as you have. Therefore—!” But he had
said enough. “Ecco!” he simply smiled.



It was not to be concealed that he worked upon her, but of course she had
always liked him. “I should be interested,” she presently remarked, “to
see some sense you don’t possess.”



Well, he produced one on the spot. “The moral, dear Mrs. Assingham. I
mean, always, as you others consider it. I’ve of course something that in
our poor dear backward old Rome sufficiently passes for it. But it’s no
more like yours than the tortuous stone staircase—half-ruined into
the bargain!—in some castle of our quattrocento is like the
`lightning elevator’ in one of Mr. Verver’s fifteen-storey buildings. Your
moral sense works by steam—it sends you up like a rocket. Ours is
slow and steep and unlighted, with so many of the steps missing that—well,
that it’s as short, in almost any case, to turn round and come down
again.”



“Trusting,” Mrs. Assingham smiled, “to get up some other way?”



“Yes—or not to have to get up at all. However,” he added, “I told
you that at the beginning.”



“Machiavelli!” she simply exclaimed.



“You do me too much honour. I wish indeed I had his genius. However, if
you really believe I have his perversity you wouldn’t say it. But it’s all
right,” he gaily enough concluded; “I shall always have you to come to.”



On this, for a little, they sat face to face; after which, without
comment, she asked him if he would have more tea. All she would give him,
he promptly signified; and he developed, making her laugh, his idea that
the tea of the English race was somehow their morality, “made,” with
boiling water, in a little pot, so that the more of it one drank the more
moral one would become. His drollery served as a transition, and she put
to him several questions about his sister and the others, questions as to
what Bob, in particular, Colonel Assingham, her husband, could do for the
arriving gentlemen, whom, by the Prince’s leave, he would immediately go
to see. He was funny, while they talked, about his own people too, whom he
described, with anecdotes of their habits, imitations of their manners and
prophecies of their conduct, as more rococo than anything Cadogan Place
would ever have known. This, Mrs. Assingham professed, was exactly what
would endear them to her, and that, in turn, drew from her visitor a fresh
declaration of all the comfort of his being able so to depend on her. He
had been with her, at this point, some twenty minutes; but he had paid her
much longer visits, and he stayed now as if to make his attitude prove his
appreciation. He stayed moreover—THAT was really the sign of the
hour—in spite of the nervous unrest that had brought him and that
had in truth much rather fed on the scepticism by which she had apparently
meant to soothe it. She had not soothed him, and there arrived,
remarkably, a moment when the cause of her failure gleamed out. He had not
frightened her, as she called it—he felt that; yet she was herself
not at ease. She had been nervous, though trying to disguise it; the sight
of him, following on the announcement of his name, had shown her as
disconcerted. This conviction, for the young man, deepened and sharpened;
yet with the effect, too, of making him glad in spite of it. It was as if,
in calling, he had done even better than he intended. For it was somehow
IMPORTANT—that was what it was—that there should be at this
hour something the matter with Mrs. Assingham, with whom, in all their
acquaintance, so considerable now, there had never been the least little
thing the matter. To wait thus and watch for it was to know, of a truth,
that there was something the matter with HIM; since strangely, with so
little to go upon—his heart had positively begun to beat to the tune
of suspense. It fairly befell at last, for a climax, that they almost
ceased to pretend—to pretend, that is, to cheat each other with
forms. The unspoken had come up, and there was a crisis—neither
could have said how long it lasted—during which they were reduced,
for all interchange, to looking at each other on quite an inordinate
scale. They might at this moment, in their positively portentous
stillness, have been keeping it up for a wager, sitting for their
photograph or even enacting a tableau-vivant.



The spectator of whom they would thus well have been worthy might have
read meanings of his own into the intensity of their communion—or
indeed, even without meanings, have found his account, aesthetically, in
some gratified play of our modern sense of type, so scantly to be
distinguished from our modern sense of beauty. Type was there, at the
worst, in Mrs. Assingham’s dark, neat head, on which the crisp black hair
made waves so fine and so numerous that she looked even more in the
fashion of the hour than she desired. Full of discriminations against the
obvious, she had yet to accept a flagrant appearance and to make the best
of misleading signs. Her richness of hue, her generous nose, her eyebrows
marked like those of an actress—these things, with an added
amplitude of person on which middle age had set its seal, seemed to
present her insistently as a daughter of the south, or still more of the
east, a creature formed by hammocks and divans, fed upon sherbets and
waited upon by slaves. She looked as if her most active effort might be to
take up, as she lay back, her mandolin, or to share a sugared fruit with a
pet gazelle. She was in fact, however, neither a pampered Jewess nor a
lazy Creole; New York had been, recordedly, her birthplace and “Europe”
punctually her discipline. She wore yellow and purple because she thought
it better, as she said, while one was about it, to look like the Queen of
Sheba than like a revendeuse; she put pearls in her hair and crimson and
gold in her tea-gown for the same reason: it was her theory that nature
itself had overdressed her and that her only course was to drown, as it
was hopeless to try to chasten, the overdressing. So she was covered and
surrounded with “things,” which were frankly toys and shams, a part of the
amusement with which she rejoiced to supply her friends. These friends
were in the game that of playing with the disparity between her aspect and
her character. Her character was attested by the second movement of her
face, which convinced the beholder that her vision of the humours of the
world was not supine, not passive. She enjoyed, she needed the warm air of
friendship, but the eyes of the American city looked out, somehow, for the
opportunity of it, from under the lids of Jerusalem. With her false
indolence, in short, her false leisure, her false pearls and palms and
courts and fountains, she was a person for whom life was multitudinous
detail, detail that left her, as it at any moment found her, unappalled
and unwearied.



“Sophisticated as I may appear”—it was her frequent phrase—she
had found sympathy her best resource. It gave her plenty to do; it made
her, as she also said, sit up. She had in her life two great holes to
fill, and she described herself as dropping social scraps into them as she
had known old ladies, in her early American time, drop morsels of silk
into the baskets in which they collected the material for some eventual
patchwork quilt.



One of these gaps in Mrs. Assingham’s completeness was her want of
children; the other was her want of wealth. It was wonderful how little
either, in the fulness of time, came to show; sympathy and curiosity could
render their objects practically filial, just as an English husband who in
his military years had “run” everything in his regiment could make economy
blossom like the rose. Colonel Bob had, a few years after his marriage,
left the army, which had clearly, by that time, done its laudable all for
the enrichment of his personal experience, and he could thus give his
whole time to the gardening in question. There reigned among the younger
friends of this couple a legend, almost too venerable for historical
criticism, that the marriage itself, the happiest of its class, dated from
the far twilight of the age, a primitive period when such things—such
things as American girls accepted as “good enough”—had not begun to
be;—so that the pleasant pair had been, as to the risk taken on
either side, bold and original, honourably marked, for the evening of
life, as discoverers of a kind of hymeneal Northwest Passage. Mrs.
Assingham knew better, knew there had been no historic hour, from that of
Pocahontas down, when some young Englishman hadn’t precipitately believed
and some American girl hadn’t, with a few more gradations, availed herself
to the full of her incapacity to doubt; but she accepted resignedly the
laurel of the founder, since she was in fact pretty well the doyenne,
above ground, of her transplanted tribe, and since, above all, she HAD
invented combinations, though she had not invented Bob’s own. It was he
who had done that, absolutely puzzled it out, by himself, from his first
odd glimmer-resting upon it moreover, through the years to come, as proof
enough, in him, by itself, of the higher cleverness. If she kept her own
cleverness up it was largely that he should have full credit. There were
moments in truth when she privately felt how little—striking out as
he had done—he could have afforded that she should show the common
limits. But Mrs. Assingham’s cleverness was in truth tested when her
present visitor at last said to her: “I don’t think, you know, that you’re
treating me quite right. You’ve something on your mind that you don’t tell
me.”



It was positive too that her smile, in reply, was a trifle dim. “Am I
obliged to tell you everything I have on my mind?”



“It isn’t a question of everything, but it’s a question of anything that
may particularly concern me. Then you shouldn’t keep it back. You know
with what care I desire to proceed, taking everything into account and
making no mistake that may possibly injure HER.”



Mrs. Assingham, at this, had after an instant an odd interrogation.
“‘Her’?”



“Her and him. Both our friends. Either Maggie or her father.”



“I have something on my mind,” Mrs. Assingham presently returned;
“something has happened for which I hadn’t been prepared. But it isn’t
anything that properly concerns you.”



The Prince, with immediate gaiety, threw back his head. “What do you mean
by ‘properly’? I somehow see volumes in it. It’s the way people put a
thing when they put it—well, wrong. I put things right. What
is it that has happened for me?”



His hostess, the next moment, had drawn spirit from his tone.



“Oh, I shall be delighted if you’ll take your share of it. Charlotte Stant
is in London. She has just been here.”



“Miss Stant? Oh really?” The Prince expressed clear surprise—a
transparency through which his eyes met his friend’s with a certain
hardness of concussion. “She has arrived from America?” he then quickly
asked.



“She appears to have arrived this noon—coming up from Southampton;
at an hotel. She dropped upon me after luncheon and was here for more than
an hour.”



The young man heard with interest, though not with an interest too great
for his gaiety. “You think then I’ve a share in it? What IS my share?”



“Why, any you like—the one you seemed just now eager to take. It was
you yourself who insisted.”



He looked at her on this with conscious inconsistency, and she could now
see that he had changed colour. But he was always easy.



“I didn’t know then what the matter was.”



“You didn’t think it could be so bad?”



“Do you call it very bad?” the young man asked. “Only,” she smiled,
“because that’s the way it seems to affect YOU.”



He hesitated, still with the trace of his quickened colour, still looking
at her, still adjusting his manner. “But you allowed you were upset.”



“To the extent—yes—of not having in the least looked for her.
Any more,” said Mrs. Assingham, “than I judge Maggie to have done.”



The Prince thought; then as if glad to be able to say something very
natural and true: “No—quite right. Maggie hasn’t looked for her. But
I’m sure,” he added, “she’ll be delighted to see her.”



“That, certainly”—and his hostess spoke with a different shade of
gravity.



“She’ll be quite overjoyed,” the Prince went on. “Has Miss Stant now gone
to her?”



“She has gone back to her hotel, to bring her things here. I can’t have
her,” said Mrs. Assingham, “alone at an hotel.”



“No; I see.”



“If she’s here at all she must stay with me.” He quite took it in. “So
she’s coming now?”



“I expect her at any moment. If you wait you’ll see her.”



“Oh,” he promptly declared—“charming!” But this word came out as if,
a little, in sudden substitution for some other. It sounded accidental,
whereas he wished to be firm. That accordingly was what he next showed
himself. “If it wasn’t for what’s going on these next days Maggie would
certainly want to have her. In fact,” he lucidly continued, “isn’t what’s
happening just a reason to MAKE her want to?” Mrs. Assingham, for answer,
only looked at him, and this, the next instant, had apparently had more
effect than if she had spoken. For he asked a question that seemed
incongruous. “What has she come for!”



It made his companion laugh. “Why, for just what you say. For your
marriage.”



“Mine?”—he wondered.



“Maggie’s—it’s the same thing. It’s ‘for’ your great event. And
then,” said Mrs. Assingham, “she’s so lonely.”



“Has she given you that as a reason?”



“I scarcely remember—she gave me so many. She abounds, poor dear, in
reasons. But there’s one that, whatever she does, I always remember for
myself.”



“And which is that?” He looked as if he ought to guess but couldn’t.



“Why, the fact that she has no home—absolutely none whatever. She’s
extraordinarily alone.”



Again he took it in. “And also has no great means.”



“Very small ones. Which is not, however, with the expense of railways and
hotels, a reason for her running to and fro.”



“On the contrary. But she doesn’t like her country.”



“Hers, my dear man?—it’s little enough ‘hers.’” The attribution, for
the moment, amused his hostess. “She has rebounded now—but she has
had little enough else to do with it.”



“Oh, I say hers,” the Prince pleasantly explained, “very much as, at this
time of day, I might say mine. I quite feel, I assure you, as if the great
place already more or less belonged to ME.”



“That’s your good fortune and your point of view. You own—or you
soon practically WILL own—so much of it. Charlotte owns almost
nothing in the world, she tells me, but two colossal trunks-only one of
which I have given her leave to introduce into this house. She’ll
depreciate to you,” Mrs. Assingham added, “your property.”



He thought of these things, he thought of every thing; but he had always
his resource at hand of turning all to the easy. “Has she come with
designs upon me?” And then in a moment, as if even this were almost too
grave, he sounded the note that had least to do with himself. “Est-elle
toujours aussi belle?” That was the furthest point, somehow, to which
Charlotte Stant could be relegated.



Mrs. Assingham treated it freely. “Just the same. The person in the world,
to my sense, whose looks are most subject to appreciation. It’s all in the
way she affects you. One admires her if one doesn’t happen not to. So, as
well, one criticises her.”



“Ah, that’s not fair!” said the Prince.



“To criticise her? Then there you are! You’re answered.”



“I’m answered.” He took it, humorously, as his lesson—sank his
previous self-consciousness, with excellent effect, in grateful docility.
“I only meant that there are perhaps better things to be done with Miss
Stant than to criticise her. When once you begin THAT, with anyone—!”
He was vague and kind.



“I quite agree that it’s better to keep out of it as long as one can. But
when one MUST do it—”



“Yes?” he asked as she paused. “Then know what you mean.”



“I see. Perhaps,” he smiled, “I don’t know what I mean.”



“Well, it’s what, just now, in all ways, you particularly should know.”
Mrs. Assingham, however, made no more of this, having, before anything
else, apparently, a scruple about the tone she had just used. “I quite
understand, of course, that, given her great friendship with Maggie, she
should have wanted to be present. She has acted impulsively—but she
has acted generously.”



“She has acted beautifully,” said the Prince.



“I say ‘generously’ because I mean she hasn’t, in any way, counted the
cost. She’ll have it to count, in a manner, now,” his hostess continued.
“But that doesn’t matter.”



He could see how little. “You’ll look after her.”



“I’ll look after her.”



“So it’s all right.”



“It’s all right,” said Mrs. Assingham. “Then why are you troubled?”



It pulled her up—but only for a minute. “I’m not—any more than
you.”



The Prince’s dark blue eyes were of the finest, and, on occasion,
precisely, resembled nothing so much as the high windows of a Roman
palace, of an historic front by one of the great old designers, thrown
open on a feast-day to the golden air. His look itself, at such times,
suggested an image—that of some very noble personage who, expected,
acclaimed by the crowd in the street and with old precious stuffs falling
over the sill for his support, had gaily and gallantly come to show
himself: always moreover less in his own interest than in that of
spectators and subjects whose need to admire, even to gape, was
periodically to be considered. The young man’s expression became, after
this fashion, something vivid and concrete—a beautiful personal
presence, that of a prince in very truth, a ruler, warrior, patron,
lighting up brave architecture and diffusing the sense of a function. It
had been happily said of his face that the figure thus appearing in the
great frame was the ghost of some proudest ancestor. Whoever the ancestor
now, at all events, the Prince was, for Mrs. Assingham’s benefit, in view
of the people. He seemed, leaning on crimson damask, to take in the bright
day. He looked younger than his years; he was beautiful, innocent, vague.



“Oh, well, I’M not!” he rang out clear.


“I should like to SEE you, sir!” she said. “For you wouldn’t have a
shadow of excuse.” He showed how he agreed that he would have been at a
loss for one, and the fact of their serenity was thus made as important
as if some danger of its opposite had directly menaced them. The only
thing was that if the evidence of their cheer was so established Mrs.
Assingham had a little to explain her original manner, and she came to
this before they dropped the question. “My first impulse is always to
behave, about everything, as if I feared complications. But I don’t fear
them—I really like them. They’re quite my element.”

He deferred, for her, to this account of herself. “But still,”
he said, “if we’re not in the presence of a complication.”



She hesitated. “A handsome, clever, odd girl staying with one is always a
complication.”



The young man weighed it almost as if the question were new to him. “And
will she stay very long?”



His friend gave a laugh. “How in the world can I know? I’ve scarcely asked
her.”



“Ah yes. You can’t.”



But something in the tone of it amused her afresh. “Do you think you
could?”



“I?” he wondered.



“Do you think you could get it out of her for me—the probable length
of her stay?”



He rose bravely enough to the occasion and the challenge. “I daresay, if
you were to give me the chance.”



“Here it is then for you,” she answered; for she had heard, within the
minute, the stop of a cab at her door. “She’s back.”


                            III


It had been said as a joke, but as, after this, they awaited their friend
in silence, the effect of the silence was to turn the time to gravity—a
gravity not dissipated even when the Prince next spoke. He had been
thinking the case over and making up his mind. A handsome, clever, odd
girl staying with one was a complication. Mrs. Assingham, so far, was
right. But there were the facts—the good relations, from schooldays,
of the two young women, and the clear confidence with which one of them
had arrived. “She can come, you know, at any time, to US.”



Mrs. Assingham took it up with an irony beyond laughter. “You’d like her
for your honeymoon?”



“Oh no, you must keep her for that. But why not after?”



She had looked at him a minute; then, at the sound of a voice in the
corridor, they had got up. “Why not? You’re splendid!” Charlotte Stant,
the next minute, was with them, ushered in as she had alighted from her
cab, and prepared for not finding Mrs. Assingham alone—this would
have been to be noticed—by the butler’s answer, on the stairs, to a
question put to him. She could have looked at her hostess with such
straightness and brightness only from knowing that the Prince was also
there—the discrimination of but a moment, yet which let him take her
in still better than if she had instantly faced him. He availed himself of
the chance thus given him, for he was conscious of all these things. What
he accordingly saw, for some seconds, with intensity, was a tall, strong,
charming girl who wore for him, at first, exactly the look of her
adventurous situation, a suggestion, in all her person, in motion and
gesture, in free, vivid, yet altogether happy indications of dress, from
the becoming compactness of her hat to the shade of tan in her shoes, of
winds and waves and custom-houses, of far countries and long journeys, the
knowledge of how and where and the habit, founded on experience, of not
being afraid. He was aware, at the same time, that of this combination the
“strongminded” note was not, as might have been apprehended, the basis; he
was now sufficiently familiar with English-speaking types, he had sounded
attentively enough such possibilities, for a quick vision of differences.
He had, besides, his own view of this young lady’s strength of mind. It
was great, he had ground to believe, but it would never interfere with the
play of her extremely personal, her always amusing taste. This last was
the thing in her—for she threw it out positively, on the spot, like
a light—that she might have reappeared, during these moments, just
to cool his worried eyes with. He saw her in her light that immediate,
exclusive address to their friend was like a lamp she was holding aloft
for his benefit and for his pleasure. It showed him everything—above
all her presence in the world, so closely, so irretrievably
contemporaneous with his own: a sharp, sharp fact, sharper during these
instants than any other at all, even than that of his marriage, but
accompanied, in a subordinate and controlled way, with those others,
facial, physiognomic, that Mrs. Assingham had been speaking of as subject
to appreciation. So they were, these others, as he met them again, and
that was the connection they instantly established with him. If they had
to be interpreted, this made at least for intimacy. There was but one way
certainly for HIM—to interpret them in the sense of the already
known.



Making use then of clumsy terms of excess, the face was too narrow and too
long, the eyes not large, and the mouth, on the other hand, by no means
small, with substance in its lips and a slight, the very slightest,
tendency to protrusion in the solid teeth, otherwise indeed well arrayed
and flashingly white. But it was, strangely, as a cluster of possessions
of his own that these things, in Charlotte Stant, now affected him; items
in a full list, items recognised, each of them, as if, for the long
interval, they had been “stored” wrapped up, numbered, put away in a
cabinet. While she faced Mrs. Assingham the door of the cabinet had opened
of itself; he took the relics out, one by one, and it was more and more,
each instant, as if she were giving him time. He saw again that her thick
hair was, vulgarly speaking, brown, but that there was a shade of tawny
autumn leaf in it, for “appreciation”—a colour indescribable and of
which he had known no other case, something that gave her at moments the
sylvan head of a huntress. He saw the sleeves of her jacket drawn to her
wrists, but he again made out the free arms within them to be of the
completely rounded, the polished slimness that Florentine sculptors, in
the great time, had loved, and of which the apparent firmness is expressed
in their old silver and old bronze. He knew her narrow hands, he knew her
long fingers and the shape and colour of her finger-nails, he knew her
special beauty of movement and line when she turned her back, and the
perfect working of all her main attachments, that of some wonderful
finished instrument, something intently made for exhibition, for a prize.
He knew above all the extraordinary fineness of her flexible waist, the
stem of an expanded flower, which gave her a likeness also to some long,
loose silk purse, well filled with gold pieces, but having been passed,
empty, through a finger-ring that held it together. It was as if, before
she turned to him, he had weighed the whole thing in his open palm and
even heard a little the chink of the metal. When she did turn to him it
was to recognise with her eyes what he might have been doing. She made no
circumstance of thus coming upon him, save so far as the intelligence in
her face could at any moment make a circumstance of almost anything. If
when she moved off she looked like a huntress, she looked when she came
nearer like his notion, perhaps not wholly correct, of a muse. But what
she said was simply: “You see you’re not rid of me. How is dear Maggie?”



It was to come soon enough by the quite unforced operation of chance, the
young man’s opportunity to ask her the question suggested by Mrs.
Assingham shortly before her entrance. The license, had he chosen to
embrace it, was within a few minutes all there—the license given him
literally to inquire of this young lady how long she was likely to be with
them. For a matter of the mere domestic order had quickly determined, on
Mrs. Assingham’s part, a withdrawal, of a few moments, which had the
effect of leaving her visitors free. “Mrs. Betterman’s there?” she had
said to Charlotte in allusion to some member of the household who was to
have received her and seen her belongings settled; to which Charlotte had
replied that she had encountered only the butler, who had been quite
charming. She had deprecated any action taken on behalf of her effects;
but her hostess, rebounding from accumulated cushions, evidently saw more
in Mrs. Betterman’s non-appearance than could meet the casual eye. What
she saw, in short, demanded her intervention, in spite of an earnest “Let
ME go!” from the girl, and a prolonged smiling wail over the trouble she
was giving. The Prince was quite aware, at this moment, that departure,
for himself, was indicated; the question of Miss Stant’s installation
didn’t demand his presence; it was a case for one to go away—if one
hadn’t a reason for staying. He had a reason, however—of that he was
equally aware; and he had not for a good while done anything more
conscious and intentional than not, quickly, to take leave. His visible
insistence—for it came to that—even demanded of him a certain
disagreeable effort, the sort of effort he had mostly associated with
acting for an idea. His idea was there, his idea was to find out
something, something he wanted much to know, and to find it out not
tomorrow, not at some future time, not in short with waiting and
wondering, but if possible before quitting the place. This particular
curiosity, moreover, confounded itself a little with the occasion offered
him to satisfy Mrs. Assingham’s own; he wouldn’t have admitted that he was
staying to ask a rude question—there was distinctly nothing rude in
his having his reasons. It would be rude, for that matter, to turn one’s
back, without a word or two, on an old friend.



Well, as it came to pass, he got the word or two, for Mrs. Assingham’s
preoccupation was practically simplifying. The little crisis was of
shorter duration than our account of it; duration, naturally, would have
forced him to take up his hat. He was somehow glad, on finding himself
alone with Charlotte, that he had not been guilty of that inconsequence.
Not to be flurried was the kind of consistency he wanted, just as
consistency was the kind of dignity. And why couldn’t he have dignity when
he had so much of the good conscience, as it were, on which such
advantages rested? He had done nothing he oughtn’t—he had in fact
done nothing at all. Once more, as a man conscious of having known many
women, he could assist, as he would have called it, at the recurrent, the
predestined phenomenon, the thing always as certain as sunrise or the
coming round of Saints’ days, the doing by the woman of the thing that
gave her away. She did it, ever, inevitably, infallibly—she couldn’t
possibly not do it. It was her nature, it was her life, and the man could
always expect it without lifting a finger. This was HIS, the man’s, any
man’s, position and strength—that he had necessarily the advantage,
that he only had to wait, with a decent patience, to be placed, in spite
of himself, it might really be said, in the right. Just so the punctuality
of performance on the part of the other creature was her weakness and her
deep misfortune—not less, no doubt, than her beauty. It produced for
the man that extraordinary mixture of pity and profit in which his
relation with her, when he was not a mere brute, mainly consisted; and
gave him in fact his most pertinent ground of being always nice to her,
nice about her, nice FOR her. She always dressed her act up, of course,
she muffled and disguised and arranged it, showing in fact in these
dissimulations a cleverness equal to but one thing in the world, equal to
her abjection: she would let it be known for anything, for everything, but
the truth of which it was made. That was what, precisely, Charlotte Stant
would be doing now; that was the present motive and support, to a
certainty, of each of her looks and motions. She was the twentieth woman,
she was possessed by her doom, but her doom was also to arrange
appearances, and what now concerned him was to learn how she proposed. He
would help her, would arrange WITH her to any point in reason; the only
thing was to know what appearance could best be produced and best be
preserved. Produced and preserved on her part of course; since on his own
there had been luckily no folly to cover up, nothing but a perfect accord
between conduct and obligation.



They stood there together, at all events, when the door had closed behind
their friend, with a conscious, strained smile and very much as if each
waited for the other to strike the note or give the pitch. The young man
held himself, in his silent suspense—only not more afraid because he
felt her own fear. She was afraid of herself, however; whereas, to his
gain of lucidity, he was afraid only of her. Would she throw herself into
his arms, or would she be otherwise wonderful? She would see what he would
do—so their queer minute without words told him; and she would act
accordingly. But what could he do but just let her see that he would make
anything, everything, for her, as honourably easy as possible? Even if she
should throw herself into his arms he would make that easy—easy,
that is, to overlook, to ignore, not to remember, and not, by the same
token, either, to regret. This was not what in fact happened, though it
was also not at a single touch, but by the finest gradations, that his
tension subsided. “It’s too delightful to be back!” she said at last; and
it was all she definitely gave him—being moreover nothing but what
anyone else might have said. Yet with two or three other things that, on
his response, followed it, it quite pointed the path, while the tone of
it, and her whole attitude, were as far removed as need have been from the
truth of her situation. The abjection that was present to him as of the
essence quite failed to peep out, and he soon enough saw that if she was
arranging she could be trusted to arrange. Good—it was all he asked;
and all the more that he could admire and like her for it.



The particular appearance she would, as they said, go in for was that of
having no account whatever to give him—it would be in fact that of
having none to give anybody—of reasons or of motives, of comings or
of goings. She was a charming young woman who had met him before, but she
was also a charming young woman with a life of her own. She would take it
high—up, up, up, ever so high. Well then, he would do the same; no
height would be too great for them, not even the dizziest conceivable to a
young person so subtle. The dizziest seemed indeed attained when, after
another moment, she came as near as she was to come to an apology for her
abruptness.



“I’ve been thinking of Maggie, and at last I yearned for her. I wanted to
see her happy—and it doesn’t strike me I find you too shy to tell me
I SHALL.”



“Of course she’s happy, thank God! Only it’s almost terrible, you know,
the happiness of young, good, generous creatures. It rather frightens one.
But the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints,” said the Prince, “have her in
their keeping.”



“Certainly they have. She’s the dearest of the dear. But I needn’t tell
you,” the girl added.



“Ah,” he returned with gravity, “I feel that I’ve still much to learn
about her.” To which he subjoined “She’ll rejoice awfully in your being
with us.”



“Oh, you don’t need me!” Charlotte smiled. “It’s her hour. It’s a great
hour. One has seen often enough, with girls, what it is. But that,” she
said, “is exactly why. Why I’ve wanted, I mean, not to miss it.”



He bent on her a kind, comprehending face. “You mustn’t miss anything.” He
had got it, the pitch, and he could keep it now, for all he had needed was
to have it given him. The pitch was the happiness of his wife that was to
be—the sight of that happiness as a joy for an old friend. It was,
yes, magnificent, and not the less so for its coming to him, suddenly, as
sincere, as nobly exalted. Something in Charlotte’s eyes seemed to tell
him this, seemed to plead with him in advance as to what he was to find in
it. He was eager—and he tried to show her that too—to find
what she liked; mindful as he easily could be of what the friendship had
been for Maggie. It had been armed with the wings of young imagination,
young generosity; it had been, he believed—always counting out her
intense devotion to her father—the liveliest emotion she had known
before the dawn of the sentiment inspired by himself. She had not, to his
knowledge, invited the object of it to their wedding, had not thought of
proposing to her, for a matter of a couple of hours, an arduous and
expensive journey. But she had kept her connected and informed, from week
to week, in spite of preparations and absorptions. “Oh, I’ve been writing
to Charlotte—I wish you knew her better:” he could still hear, from
recent weeks, this record of the fact, just as he could still be
conscious, not otherwise than queerly, of the gratuitous element in
Maggie’s wish, which he had failed as yet to indicate to her. Older and
perhaps more intelligent, at any rate, why shouldn’t Charlotte respond—and
be quite FREE to respond—to such fidelities with something more than
mere formal good manners? The relations of women with each other were of
the strangest, it was true, and he probably wouldn’t have trusted here a
young person of his own race. He was proceeding throughout on the ground
of the immense difference—difficult indeed as it might have been to
disembroil in this young person HER race-quality. Nothing in her
definitely placed her; she was a rare, a special product. Her singleness,
her solitude, her want of means, that is her want of ramifications and
other advantages, contributed to enrich her somehow with an odd, precious
neutrality, to constitute for her, so detached yet so aware, a sort of
small social capital. It was the only one she had—it was the only
one a lonely, gregarious girl COULD have, since few, surely, had in
anything like the same degree arrived at it, and since this one indeed had
compassed it but through the play of some gift of nature to which you
could scarce give a definite name.



It wasn’t a question of her strange sense for tongues, with which she
juggled as a conjuror at a show juggled with balls or hoops or lighted
brands—it wasn’t at least entirely that, for he had known people
almost as polyglot whom their accomplishment had quite failed to make
interesting. He was polyglot himself, for that matter—as was the
case too with so many of his friends and relations; for none of whom, more
than for himself, was it anything but a common convenience. The point was
that in this young woman it was a beauty in itself, and almost a mystery:
so, certainly, he had more than once felt in noting, on her lips, that
rarest, among the Barbarians, of all civil graces, a perfect felicity in
the use of Italian. He had known strangers—a few, and mostly men—who
spoke his own language agreeably; but he had known neither man nor woman
who showed for it Charlotte’s almost mystifying instinct. He remembered
how, from the first of their acquaintance, she had made no display of it,
quite as if English, between them, his English so matching with hers, were
their inevitable medium. He had perceived all by accident—by hearing
her talk before him to somebody else that they had an alternative as good;
an alternative in fact as much better as the amusement for him was greater
in watching her for the slips that never came. Her account of the mystery
didn’t suffice: her recall of her birth in Florence and Florentine
childhood; her parents, from the great country, but themselves already of
a corrupt generation, demoralised, falsified, polyglot well before her,
with the Tuscan balia who was her first remembrance; the servants of the
villa, the dear contadini of the poder, the little girls and the other
peasants of the next podere, all the rather shabby but still ever so
pretty human furniture of her early time, including the good sisters of
the poor convent of the Tuscan hills, the convent shabbier than almost
anything else, but prettier too, in which she had been kept at school till
the subsequent phase, the phase of the much grander institution in Paris
at which Maggie was to arrive, terribly frightened, and as a smaller girl,
three years before her own ending of her period of five. Such
reminiscences, naturally, gave a ground, but they had not prevented him
from insisting that some strictly civil ancestor—generations back,
and from the Tuscan hills if she would-made himself felt, ineffaceably, in
her blood and in her tone. She knew nothing of the ancestor, but she had
taken his theory from him, gracefully enough, as one of the little
presents that make friendship flourish. These matters, however, all melted
together now, though a sense of them was doubtless concerned, not
unnaturally, in the next thing, of the nature of a surmise, that his
discretion let him articulate. “You haven’t, I rather gather, particularly
liked your country?” They would stick, for the time, to their English.



“It doesn’t, I fear, seem particularly mine. And it doesn’t in the least
matter, over there, whether one likes it or not—that is to anyone
but one’s self. But I didn’t like it,” said Charlotte Stant.



“That’s not encouraging then to me, is it?” the Prince went on.



“Do you mean because you’re going?”



“Oh yes, of course we’re going. I’ve wanted immensely to go.” She
hesitated. “But now?—immediately?”



“In a month or two—it seems to be the new idea.” On which there was
something in her face—as he imagined—that made him say:
“Didn’t Maggie write to you?”



“Not of your going at once. But of course you must go. And of course you
must stay”—Charlotte was easily clear—“as long as possible.”



“Is that what you did?” he laughed. “You stayed as long as possible?”



“Well, it seemed to me so—but I hadn’t ‘interests.’ You’ll have them—on
a great scale. It’s the country for interests,” said Charlotte. “If I had
only had a few I doubtless wouldn’t have left it.”



He waited an instant; they were still on their feet. “Yours then are
rather here?”



“Oh, mine!”—the girl smiled. “They take up little room, wherever
they are.”



It determined in him, the way this came from her and what it somehow did
for her-it determined in him a speech that would have seemed a few minutes
before precarious and in questionable taste. The lead she had given him
made the difference, and he felt it as really a lift on finding an honest
and natural word rise, by its license, to his lips. Nothing surely could
be, for both of them, more in the note of a high bravery. “I’ve been
thinking it all the while so probable, you know, that you would have seen
your way to marrying.”



She looked at him an instant, and, just for these seconds, he feared for
what he might have spoiled. “To marrying whom?”



“Why, some good, kind, clever, rich American.”



Again his security hung in the balance—then she was, as he felt,
admirable.



“I tried everyone I came across. I did my best. I showed I had come, quite
publicly, FOR that. Perhaps I showed it too much. At any rate it was no
use. I had to recognise it. No one would have me.” Then she seemed to show
as sorry for his having to hear of her anything so disconcerting. She
pitied his feeling about it; if he was disappointed she would cheer him
up. “Existence, you know, all the same, doesn’t depend on that. I mean,”
she smiled, “on having caught a husband.”



“Oh—existence!” the Prince vaguely commented. “You think I ought to
argue for more than mere existence?” she asked. “I don’t see why MY
existence—even reduced as much as you like to being merely mine—should
be so impossible. There are things, of sorts, I should be able to have—things
I should be able to be. The position of a single woman to-day is very
favourable, you know.”



“Favourable to what?”



“Why, just TO existence—which may contain, after all, in one way and
another, so much. It may contain, at the worst, even affections;
affections in fact quite particularly; fixed, that is, on one’s friends.
I’m extremely fond of Maggie, for instance—I quite adore her. How
could I adore her more if I were married to one of the people you speak
of?”



The Prince gave a laugh. “You might adore HIM more—!”



“Ah, but it isn’t, is it?” she asked, “a question of that.”



“My dear friend,” he returned, “it’s always a question of doing the best
for one’s self one can—without injury to others.” He felt by this
time that they were indeed on an excellent basis; so he went on again, as
if to show frankly his sense of its firmness. “I venture therefore to
repeat my hope that you’ll marry some capital fellow; and also to repeat
my belief that such a marriage will be more favourable to you, as you call
it, than even the spirit of the age.”



She looked at him at first only for answer, and would have appeared to
take it with meekness had she not perhaps appeared a little more to take
it with gaiety. “Thank you very much,” she simply said; but at that moment
their friend was with them again. It was undeniable that, as she came in,
Mrs. Assingham looked, with a certain smiling sharpness, from one of them
to the other; the perception of which was perhaps what led Charlotte, for
reassurance, to pass the question on. “The Prince hopes so much I shall
still marry some good person.”



Whether it worked for Mrs. Assingham or not, the Prince was himself, at
this, more than ever reassured. He was SAFE, in a word—that was what
it all meant; and he had required to be safe. He was really safe enough
for almost any joke. “It’s only,” he explained to their hostess, “because
of what Miss Stant has been telling me. Don’t we want to keep up her
courage?” If the joke was broad he had at least not begun it—not,
that is, AS a joke; which was what his companion’s address to their friend
made of it. “She has been trying in America, she says, but hasn’t brought
it off.”



The tone was somehow not what Mrs. Assingham had expected, but she made
the best of it. “Well then,” she replied to the young man, “if you take
such an interest you must bring it off.”



“And you must help, dear,” Charlotte said unperturbed—“as you’ve
helped, so beautifully, in such things before.” With which, before Mrs.
Assingham could meet the appeal, she had addressed herself to the Prince
on a matter much nearer to him. “YOUR marriage is on Friday?—on
Saturday?”



“Oh, on Friday, no! For what do you take us? There’s not a vulgar omen
we’re neglecting. On Saturday, please, at the Oratory, at three o’clock—before
twelve assistants exactly.”



“Twelve including ME?”



It struck him—he laughed. “You’ll make the thirteenth. It won’t do!”



“Not,” said Charlotte, “if you’re going in for ‘omens.’ Should you like me
to stay away?”



“Dear no—we’ll manage. We’ll make the round number—we’ll have
in some old woman. They must keep them there for that, don’t they?”



Mrs. Assingham’s return had at last indicated for him his departure; he
had possessed himself again of his hat and approached her to take leave.
But he had another word for Charlotte. “I dine to-night with Mr. Verver.
Have you any message?”



The girl seemed to wonder a little. “For Mr. Verver?”



“For Maggie—about her seeing you early. That, I know, is what she’ll
like.”



“Then I’ll come early—thanks.”



“I daresay,” he went on, “she’ll send for you. I mean send a carriage.”



“Oh, I don’t require that, thanks. I can go, for a penny, can’t I?” she
asked of Mrs. Assingham, “in an omnibus.”



“Oh, I say!” said the Prince while Mrs. Assingham looked at her blandly.



“Yes, love—and I’ll give you the penny. She shall get there,” the
good lady added to their friend.



But Charlotte, as the latter took leave of her, thought of something else.
“There’s a great favour, Prince, that I want to ask of you. I want,
between this and Saturday, to make Maggie a marriage-present.”



“Oh, I say!” the young man again soothingly exclaimed.



“Ah, but I MUST,” she went on. “It’s really almost for that I came back.
It was impossible to get in America what I wanted.”



Mrs. Assingham showed anxiety. “What is it then, dear, you want?”



But the girl looked only at their companion. “That’s what the Prince, if
he’ll be so good, must help me to decide.”



“Can’t I,” Mrs. Assingham asked, “help you to decide?”



“Certainly, darling, we must talk it well over.” And she kept her eyes on
the Prince. “But I want him, if he kindly will, to go with me to look. I
want him to judge with me and choose. That, if you can spare the hour,”
she said, “is the great favour I mean.”



He raised his eyebrows at her—he wonderfully smiled. “What you came
back from America to ask? Ah, certainly then, I must find the hour!” He
wonderfully smiled, but it was rather more, after all, than he had been
reckoning with. It went somehow so little with the rest that, directly,
for him, it wasn’t the note of safety; it preserved this character, at the
best, but by being the note of publicity. Quickly, quickly, however, the
note of publicity struck him as better than any other. In another moment
even it seemed positively what he wanted; for what so much as publicity
put their relation on the right footing? By this appeal to Mrs. Assingham
it was established as right, and she immediately showed that such was her
own understanding.



“Certainly, Prince,” she laughed, “you must find the hour!” And it was
really so express a license from her, as representing friendly judgment,
public opinion, the moral law, the margin allowed a husband about to be,
or whatever, that, after observing to Charlotte that, should she come to
Portland Place in the morning, he would make a point of being there to see
her and so, easily, arrange with her about a time, he took his departure
with the absolutely confirmed impression of knowing, as he put it to
himself, where he was. Which was what he had prolonged his visit for. He
was where he could stay.


                             IV


“I don’t quite see, my dear,” Colonel Assingham said to his wife the night
of Charlotte’s arrival, “I don’t quite see, I’m bound to say, why you take
it, even at the worst, so ferociously hard. It isn’t your fault, after
all, is it? I’ll be hanged, at any rate, if it’s mine.”



The hour was late, and the young lady who had disembarked at Southampton
that morning to come up by the “steamer special,” and who had then settled
herself at an hotel only to re-settle herself a couple of hours later at a
private house, was by this time, they might hope, peacefully resting from
her exploits. There had been two men at dinner, rather battered
brothers-in-arms, of his own period, casually picked up by her host the
day before, and when the gentlemen, after the meal, rejoined the ladies in
the drawing-room, Charlotte, pleading fatigue, had already excused
herself. The beguiled warriors, however, had stayed till after eleven—Mrs.
Assingham, though finally quite without illusions, as she said, about the
military character, was always beguiling to old soldiers; and as the
Colonel had come in, before dinner, only in time to dress, he had not till
this moment really been summoned to meet his companion over the situation
that, as he was now to learn, their visitor’s advent had created for them.
It was actually more than midnight, the servants had been sent to bed, the
rattle of the wheels had ceased to come in through a window still open to
the August air, and Robert Assingham had been steadily learning, all the
while, what it thus behoved him to know. But the words just quoted from
him presented themselves, for the moment, as the essence of his spirit and
his attitude. He disengaged, he would be damned if he didn’t—they
were both phrases he repeatedly used—his responsibility. The
simplest, the sanest, the most obliging of men, he habitually indulged in
extravagant language. His wife had once told him, in relation to his
violence of speech; that such excesses, on his part, made her think of a
retired General whom she had once seen playing with toy soldiers, fighting
and winning battles, carrying on sieges and annihilating enemies with
little fortresses of wood and little armies of tin. Her husband’s
exaggerated emphasis was his box of toy soldiers, his military game. It
harmlessly gratified in him, for his declining years, the military
instinct; bad words, when sufficiently numerous and arrayed in their
might, could represent battalions, squadrons, tremendous cannonades and
glorious charges of cavalry. It was natural, it was delightful—the
romance, and for her as well, of camp life and of the perpetual booming of
guns. It was fighting to the end, to the death, but no one was ever
killed.



Less fortunate than she, nevertheless, in spite of his wealth of
expression, he had not yet found the image that described her favourite
game; all he could do was practically to leave it to her, emulating her
own philosophy. He had again and again sat up late to discuss those
situations in which her finer consciousness abounded, but he had never
failed to deny that anything in life, anything of hers, could be a
situation for himself. She might be in fifty at once if she liked—and
it was what women did like, at their ease, after all; there always being,
when they had too much of any, some man, as they were well aware, to get
them out. He wouldn’t at any price, have one, of any sort whatever, of his
own, or even be in one along with her. He watched her, accordingly, in her
favourite element, very much as he had sometimes watched, at the Aquarium,
the celebrated lady who, in a slight, though tight, bathing-suit, turned
somersaults and did tricks in the tank of water which looked so cold and
uncomfortable to the non-amphibious. He listened to his companion
to-night, while he smoked his last pipe, he watched her through her
demonstration, quite as if he had paid a shilling. But it was true that,
this being the case, he desired the value of his money. What was it, in
the name of wonder, that she was so bent on being responsible FOR? What
did she pretend was going to happen, and what, at the worst, could the
poor girl do, even granting she wanted to do anything? What, at the worst,
for that matter, could she be conceived to have in her head?



“If she had told me the moment she got here,” Mrs. Assingham replied, “I
shouldn’t have my difficulty in finding out. But she wasn’t so obliging,
and I see no sign at all of her becoming so. What’s certain is that she
didn’t come for nothing. She wants”—she worked it out at her leisure—“to
see the Prince again. THAT isn’t what troubles me. I mean that such a
fact, as a fact, isn’t. But what I ask myself is, What does she want it
FOR?”



“What’s the good of asking yourself if you know you don’t know?” The
Colonel sat back at his own ease, with an ankle resting on the other knee
and his eyes attentive to the good appearance of an extremely slender foot
which he kept jerking in its neat integument of fine-spun black silk and
patent leather. It seemed to confess, this member, to consciousness of
military discipline, everything about it being as polished and perfect, as
straight and tight and trim, as a soldier on parade. It went so far as to
imply that someone or other would have “got” something or other,
confinement to barracks or suppression of pay, if it hadn’t been just as
it was. Bob Assingham was distinguished altogether by a leanness of
person, a leanness quite distinct from physical laxity, which might have
been determined, on the part of superior powers, by views of transport and
accommodation, and which in fact verged on the abnormal. He “did” himself
as well as his friends mostly knew, yet remained hungrily thin, with
facial, with abdominal cavities quite grim in their effect, and with a
consequent looseness of apparel that, combined with a choice of queer
light shades and of strange straw-like textures, of the aspect of Chinese
mats, provocative of wonder at his sources of supply, suggested the habit
of tropic islands, a continual cane-bottomed chair, a governorship
exercised on wide verandahs. His smooth round head, with the particular
shade of its white hair, was like a silver pot reversed; his cheekbones
and the bristle of his moustache were worthy of Attila the Hun. The
hollows of his eyes were deep and darksome, but the eyes within them, were
like little blue flowers plucked that morning. He knew everything that
could be known about life, which he regarded as, for far the greater part,
a matter of pecuniary arrangement. His wife accused him of a want, alike,
of moral and of intellectual reaction, or rather indeed of a complete
incapacity for either. He never went even so far as to understand what she
meant, and it didn’t at all matter, since he could be in spite of the
limitation a perfectly social creature. The infirmities, the predicaments
of men neither surprised nor shocked him, and indeed—which was
perhaps his only real loss in a thrifty career—scarce even amused;
he took them for granted without horror, classifying them after their kind
and calculating results and chances. He might, in old bewildering
climates, in old campaigns of cruelty and license, have had such
revelations and known such amazements that he had nothing more to learn.
But he was wholly content, in spite of his fondness, in domestic
discussion, for the superlative degree; and his kindness, in the oddest
way, seemed to have nothing to do with his experience. He could deal with
things perfectly, for all his needs, without getting near them.



This was the way he dealt with his wife, a large proportion of whose
meanings he knew he could neglect. He edited, for their general economy,
the play of her mind, just as he edited, savingly, with the stump of a
pencil, her redundant telegrams. The thing in the world that was least of
a mystery to him was his Club, which he was accepted as perhaps too
completely managing, and which he managed on lines of perfect penetration.
His connection with it was really a master-piece of editing. This was in
fact, to come back, very much the process he might have been proposing to
apply to Mrs. Assingham’s view of what was now before them; that is to
their connection with Charlotte Stant’s possibilities. They wouldn’t
lavish on them all their little fortune of curiosity and alarm; certainly
they wouldn’t spend their cherished savings so early in the day. He liked
Charlotte, moreover, who was a smooth and compact inmate, and whom he felt
as, with her instincts that made against waste, much more of his own sort
than his wife. He could talk with her about Fanny almost better than he
could talk with Fanny about Charlotte. However, he made at present the
best of the latter necessity, even to the pressing of the question he has
been noted as having last uttered. “If you can’t think what to be afraid
of, wait till you can think. Then you’ll do it much better. Or otherwise,
if that’s waiting too long, find out from HER. Don’t try to find out from
ME. Ask her herself.”



Mrs. Assingham denied, as we know, that her husband had a play of mind; so
that she could, on her side, treat these remarks only as if they had been
senseless physical gestures or nervous facial movements. She overlooked
them as from habit and kindness; yet there was no one to whom she talked
so persistently of such intimate things. “It’s her friendship with Maggie
that’s the immense complication. Because THAT,” she audibly mused, “is so
natural.”



“Then why can’t she have come out for it?”



“She came out,” Mrs. Assingham continued to meditate, “because she hates
America. There was no place for her there—she didn’t fit in. She
wasn’t in sympathy—no more were the people she saw. Then it’s
hideously dear; she can’t, on her means, begin to live there. Not at all
as she can, in a way, here.”



“In the way, you mean, of living with US?”



“Of living with anyone. She can’t live by visits alone—and she
doesn’t want to. She’s too good for it even if she could. But she will—she
MUST, sooner or later—stay with THEM. Maggie will want her—Maggie
will make her. Besides, she’ll want to herself.”



“Then why won’t that do,” the Colonel asked, “for you to think it’s what
she has come for?”



“How will it do, HOW?”—she went on as without hearing him.



“That’s what one keeps feeling.”



“Why shouldn’t it do beautifully?”



“That anything of the past,” she brooded, “should come back NOW? How will
it do, how will it do?”



“It will do, I daresay, without your wringing your hands over it. When, my
dear,” the Colonel pursued as he smoked, “have you ever seen anything of
yours—anything that you’ve done—NOT do?”



“Ah, I didn’t do this!” It brought her answer straight. “I didn’t bring
her back.”



“Did you expect her to stay over there all her days to oblige you?”



“Not a bit—for I shouldn’t have minded her coming after their
marriage. It’s her coming, this way, before.” To which she added with
inconsequence: “I’m too sorry for her—of course she can’t enjoy it.
But I don’t see what perversity rides her. She needn’t have looked it all
so in the face—as she doesn’t do it, I suppose, simply for
discipline. It’s almost—that’s the bore of it—discipline to
ME.”



“Perhaps then,” said Bob Assingham, “that’s what has been her idea. Take
it, for God’s sake, as discipline to you and have done with it. It will
do,” he added, “for discipline to me as well.”



She was far, however, from having done with it; it was a situation with
such different sides, as she said, and to none of which one could, in
justice, be blind. “It isn’t in the least, you know, for instance, that I
believe she’s bad. Never, never,” Mrs. Assingham declared. “I don’t think
that of her.”



“Then why isn’t that enough?”



Nothing was enough, Mrs. Assingham signified, but that she should develop
her thought. “She doesn’t deliberately intend, she doesn’t consciously
wish, the least complication. It’s perfectly true that she thinks Maggie a
dear—as who doesn’t? She’s incapable of any PLAN to hurt a hair of
her head. Yet here she is—and there THEY are,” she wound up.



Her husband again, for a little, smoked in silence. “What in the world,
between them, ever took place?”



“Between Charlotte and the Prince? Why, nothing—except their having
to recognise that nothing COULD. That was their little romance—it
was even their little tragedy.”



“But what the deuce did they DO?”



“Do? They fell in love with each other—but, seeing it wasn’t
possible, gave each other up.”



“Then where was the romance?”



“Why, in their frustration, in their having the courage to look the facts
in the face.”



“What facts?” the Colonel went on.



“Well, to begin with, that of their neither of them having the means to
marry. If she had had even a little—a little, I mean, for two—I
believe he would bravely have done it.” After which, as her husband but
emitted an odd vague sound, she corrected herself. “I mean if he himself
had had only a little—or a little more than a little, a little for a
prince. They would have done what they could”—she did them justice”—if
there had been a way. But there wasn’t a way, and Charlotte, quite to her
honour, I consider, understood it. He HAD to have money—it was a
question of life and death. It wouldn’t have been a bit amusing, either,
to marry him as a pauper—I mean leaving him one. That was what she
had—as HE had—the reason to see.”



“And their reason is what you call their romance?”



She looked at him a moment. “What do you want more?”



“Didn’t HE,” the Colonel inquired, “want anything more? Or didn’t, for
that matter, poor Charlotte herself?”



She kept her eyes on him; there was a manner in it that half answered.
“They were thoroughly in love. She might have been his—” She checked
herself; she even for a minute lost herself. “She might have been anything
she liked—except his wife.”



“But she wasn’t,” said the Colonel very smokingly.



“She wasn’t,” Mrs. Assingham echoed.



The echo, not loud but deep, filled for a little the room. He seemed to
listen to it die away; then he began again. “How are you sure?”



She waited before saying, but when she spoke it was definite. “There
wasn’t time.”



He had a small laugh for her reason; he might have expected some other.
“Does it take so much time?”



She herself, however, remained serious. “It takes more than they had.”



He was detached, but he wondered. “What was the matter with their time?”
After which, as, remembering it all, living it over and piecing it
together, she only considered, “You mean that you came in with your idea?”
he demanded.



It brought her quickly to the point, and as if also in a measure to answer
herself. “Not a bit of it—THEN. But you surely recall,” she went on,
“the way, a year ago, everything took place. They had parted before he had
ever heard of Maggie.”



“Why hadn’t he heard of her from Charlotte herself?”



“Because she had never spoken of her.”



“Is that also,” the Colonel inquired, “what she has told you?”



“I’m not speaking,” his wife returned, “of what she has told me. That’s
one thing. I’m speaking of what I know by myself. That’s another.”



“You feel, in other words, that she lies to you?” Bob Assingham more
sociably asked.



She neglected the question, treating it as gross. “She never so much, at
the time, as named Maggie.”



It was so positive that it appeared to strike him. “It’s he then who has
told you?”



She after a moment admitted it. “It’s he.”



“And he doesn’t lie?”



“No—to do him justice. I believe he absolutely doesn’t. If I hadn’t
believed it,” Mrs. Assingham declared, for her general justification, “I
would have had nothing to do with him—that is in this connection.
He’s a gentleman—I mean ALL as much of one as he ought to be. And he
had nothing to gain. That helps,” she added, “even a gentleman. It was I
who named Maggie to him—a year from last May. He had never heard of
her before.”



“Then it’s grave,” said the Colonel.



She hesitated. “Do you mean grave for me?”



“Oh, that everything’s grave for ‘you’ is what we take for granted and are
fundamentally talking about. It’s grave—it WAS—for Charlotte.
And it’s grave for Maggie. That is it WAS—when he did see her. Or
when she did see HIM.”



“You don’t torment me as much as you would like,” she presently went on,
“because you think of nothing that I haven’t a thousand times thought of,
and because I think of everything that you never will. It would all,” she
recognised, “have been grave if it hadn’t all been right. You can’t make
out,” she contended, “that we got to Rome before the end of February.”



He more than agreed. “There’s nothing in life, my dear, that I CAN make
out.”



Well, there was nothing in life, apparently, that she, at real need,
couldn’t. “Charlotte, who had been there, that year, from early, quite
from November, left suddenly, you’ll quite remember, about the 10th of
April. She was to have stayed on—she was to have stayed, naturally,
more or less, for us; and she was to have stayed all the more that the
Ververs, due all winter, but delayed, week after week, in Paris, were at
last really coming. They were coming—that is Maggie was—largely
to see her, and above all to be with her THERE. It was all altered—by
Charlotte’s going to Florence. She went from one day to the other—you
forget everything. She gave her reasons, but I thought it odd, at the
time; I had a sense that something must have happened. The difficulty was
that, though I knew a little, I didn’t know enough. I didn’t know her
relation with him had been, as you say, a ‘near’ thing—that is I
didn’t know HOW near. The poor girl’s departure was a flight—she
went to save herself.”



He had listened more than he showed—as came out in his tone. “To
save herself?”



“Well, also, really, I think, to save HIM too. I saw it afterwards—I
see it all now. He would have been sorry—he didn’t want to hurt
her.”



“Oh, I daresay,” the Colonel laughed. “They generally don’t!”



“At all events,” his wife pursued, “she escaped—they both did; for
they had had simply to face it. Their marriage couldn’t be, and, if that
was so, the sooner they put the Apennines between them the better. It had
taken them, it is true, some time to feel this and to find it out. They
had met constantly, and not always publicly, all that winter; they had met
more than was known—though it was a good deal known. More,
certainly,” she said, “than I then imagined—though I don’t know what
difference it would after all have made with me. I liked him, I thought
him charming, from the first of our knowing him; and now, after more than
a year, he has done nothing to spoil it. And there are things he might
have done—things that many men easily would. Therefore I believe in
him, and I was right, at first, in knowing I was going to. So I haven’t”—and
she stated it as she might have quoted from a slate, after adding up the
items, the sum of a column of figures—“so I haven’t, I say to
myself, been a fool.”



“Well, are you trying to make out that I’ve said you have? All their case
wants, at any rate,” Bob Assingham declared, “is that you should leave it
well alone. It’s theirs now; they’ve bought it, over the counter, and paid
for it. It has ceased to be yours.”



“Of which case,” she asked, “are you speaking?”



He smoked a minute: then with a groan: “Lord, are there so many?”



“There’s Maggie’s and the Prince’s, and there’s the Prince’s and
Charlotte’s.”



“Oh yes; and then,” the Colonel scoffed, “there’s Charlotte’s and the
Prince’s.”



“There’s Maggie’s and Charlotte’s,” she went on—“and there’s also
Maggie’s and mine. I think too that there’s Charlotte’s and mine. Yes,”
she mused, “Charlotte’s and mine is certainly a case. In short, you see,
there are plenty. But I mean,” she said, “to keep my head.”



“Are we to settle them all,” he inquired, “to-night?”



“I should lose it if things had happened otherwise—if I had acted
with any folly.” She had gone on in her earnestness, unheeding of his
question. “I shouldn’t be able to bear that now. But my good conscience is
my strength; no one can accuse me. The Ververs came on to Rome alone—Charlotte,
after their days with her in Florence, had decided about America. Maggie,
I daresay, had helped her; she must have made her a present, and a
handsome one, so that many things were easy. Charlotte left them, came to
England, ‘joined’ somebody or other, sailed for New York. I have still her
letter from Milan, telling me; I didn’t know at the moment all that was
behind it, but I felt in it nevertheless the undertaking of a new life.
Certainly, in any case, it cleared THAT air—I mean the dear old
Roman, in which we were steeped. It left the field free—it gave me a
free hand. There was no question for me of anybody else when I brought the
two others together. More than that, there was no question for them. So
you see,” she concluded, “where that puts me.” She got up, on the words,
very much as if they were the blue daylight towards which, through a
darksome tunnel, she had been pushing her way, and the elation in her
voice, combined with her recovered alertness, might have signified the
sharp whistle of the train that shoots at last into the open. She turned
about the room; she looked out a moment into the August night; she
stopped, here and there, before the flowers in bowls and vases. Yes, it
was distinctly as if she had proved what was needing proof, as if the
issue of her operation had been, almost unexpectedly, a success. Old
arithmetic had perhaps been fallacious, but the new settled the question.
Her husband, oddly, however, kept his place without apparently measuring
these results. As he had been amused at her intensity, so he was not
uplifted by her relief; his interest might in fact have been more enlisted
than he allowed. “Do you mean,” he presently asked, “that he had already
forgot about Charlotte?”



She faced round as if he had touched a spring. “He WANTED to, naturally—and
it was much the best thing he could do.” She was in possession of the main
case, as it truly seemed; she had it all now. “He was capable of the
effort, and he took the best way. Remember too what Maggie then seemed to
us.”



“She’s very nice; but she always seems to me, more than anything else, the
young woman who has a million a year. If you mean that that’s what she
especially seemed to him, you of course place the thing in your light. The
effort to forget Charlotte couldn’t, I grant you, have been so difficult.”



This pulled her up but for an instant. “I never said he didn’t from the
first—I never said that he doesn’t more and more—like Maggie’s
money.”



“I never said I shouldn’t have liked it myself,” Bob Assingham returned.
He made no movement; he smoked another minute. “How much did Maggie know?”



“How much?” She seemed to consider—as if it were between quarts and
gallons—how best to express the quantity. “She knew what Charlotte,
in Florence, had told her.”



“And what had Charlotte told her?”



“Very little.”



“What makes you so sure?”



“Why, this—that she couldn’t tell her.” And she explained a little
what she meant. “There are things, my dear—haven’t you felt it
yourself, coarse as you are?—that no one could tell Maggie. There
are things that, upon my word, I shouldn’t care to attempt to tell her
now.”



The Colonel smoked on it. “She’d be so scandalised?”



“She’d be so frightened. She’d be, in her strange little way, so hurt. She
wasn’t born to know evil. She must never know it.” Bob Assingham had a
queer grim laugh; the sound of which, in fact, fixed his wife before him.
“We’re taking grand ways to prevent it.”



But she stood there to protest. “We’re not taking any ways. The ways are
all taken; they were taken from the moment he came up to our carriage that
day in Villa Borghese—the second or third of her days in Rome, when,
as you remember, you went off somewhere with Mr. Verver, and the Prince,
who had got into the carriage with us, came home with us to tea. They had
met; they had seen each other well; they were in relation: the rest was to
come of itself and as it could. It began, practically, I recollect, in our
drive. Maggie happened to learn, by some other man’s greeting of him, in
the bright Roman way, from a streetcorner as we passed, that one of the
Prince’s baptismal names, the one always used for him among his relations,
was Amerigo: which (as you probably don’t know, however, even after a
lifetime of ME), was the name, four hundred years ago, or whenever, of the
pushing man who followed, across the sea, in the wake of Columbus and
succeeded, where Columbus had failed, in becoming godfather, or
name-father, to the new Continent; so that the thought of any connection
with him can even now thrill our artless breasts.”



The Colonel’s grim placidity could always quite adequately meet his wife’s
not infrequent imputation of ignorances, on the score of the land of her
birth, unperturbed and unashamed; and these dark depths were even at the
present moment not directly lighted by an inquiry that managed to be
curious without being apologetic. “But where does the connection come in?”



His wife was prompt. “By the women—that is by some obliging woman,
of old, who was a descendant of the pushing man, the make-believe
discoverer, and whom the Prince is therefore luckily able to refer to as
an ancestress. A branch of the other family had become great—great
enough, at least, to marry into his; and the name of the navigator,
crowned with glory, was, very naturally, to become so the fashion among
them that some son, of every generation, was appointed to wear it. My
point is, at any rate, that I recall noticing at the time how the Prince
was, from the start, helped with the dear Ververs by his wearing it. The
connection became romantic for Maggie the moment she took it in; she
filled out, in a flash, every link that might be vague. ‘By that sign,’ I
quite said to myself, ‘he’ll conquer’—with his good fortune, of
course, of having the other necessary signs too. It really,” said Mrs.
Assingham, “was, practically, the fine side of the wedge. Which struck me
as also,” she wound up, “a lovely note for the candour of the Ververs.”



The Colonel took in the tale, but his comment was prosaic. “He knew,
Amerigo, what he was about. And I don’t mean the OLD one.”



“I know what you mean!” his wife bravely threw off.



“The old one”—he pointed his effect “isn’t the only discoverer in
the family.”



“Oh, as much as you like! If he discovered America—or got himself
honoured as if he had—his successors were, in due time, to discover
the Americans. And it was one of them in particular, doubtless, who was to
discover how patriotic we are.”



“Wouldn’t this be the same one,” the Colonel asked, “who really discovered
what you call the connection?”



She gave him a look. “The connection’s a true thing—the connection’s
perfectly historic, Your insinuations recoil upon your cynical mind. Don’t
you understand,” she asked, “that the history of such people is known,
root and branch, at every moment of its course?”



“Oh, it’s all right,” said Bob Assingham.



“Go to the British Museum,” his companion continued with spirit.



“And what am I to do there?”



“There’s a whole immense room, or recess, or department, or whatever,
filled with books written about his family alone. You can see for
yourself.”



“Have you seen for YOUR self?”



She faltered but an instant. “Certainly—I went one day with Maggie.
We looked him up, so to say. They were most civil.” And she fell again
into the current her husband had slightly ruffled. “The effect was
produced, the charm began to work, at all events, in Rome, from that hour
of the Prince’s drive with us. My only course, afterwards, had to be to
make the best of it. It was certainly good enough for that,” Mrs.
Assingham hastened to add, “and I didn’t in the least see my duty in
making the worst. In the same situation, to-day; I wouldn’t act
differently. I entered into the case as it then appeared to me—and
as, for the matter of that, it still does. I LIKED it, I thought all sorts
of good of it, and nothing can even now,” she said with some intensity,
“make me think anything else.”



“Nothing can ever make you think anything you don’t want to,” the Colonel,
still in his chair, remarked over his pipe. “You’ve got a precious power
of thinking whatever you do want. You want also, from moment to moment, to
think such desperately different things. What happened,” he went on, “was
that you fell violently in love with the Prince yourself, and that as you
couldn’t get me out of the way you had to take some roundabout course. You
couldn’t marry him, any more than Charlotte could—that is not to
yourself. But you could to somebody else—it was always the Prince,
it was always marriage. You could to your little friend, to whom there
were no objections.”



“Not only there were no objections, but there were reasons, positive ones—and
all excellent, all charming.” She spoke with an absence of all repudiation
of his exposure of the spring of her conduct; and this abstention, clearly
and effectively conscious, evidently cost her nothing. “It IS always the
Prince; and it IS always, thank heaven, marriage. And these are the
things, God grant, that it will always be. That I could help, a year ago,
most assuredly made me happy, and it continues to make me happy.”



“Then why aren’t you quiet?”



“I AM quiet,” said Fanny Assingham.



He looked at her, with his colourless candour, still in his place; she
moved about again, a little, emphasising by her unrest her declaration of
her tranquillity. He was as silent, at first, as if he had taken her
answer, but he was not to keep it long. “What do you make of it that, by
your own show, Charlotte couldn’t tell her all? What do you make of it
that the Prince didn’t tell her anything? Say one understands that there
are things she can’t be told—since, as you put it, she is so easily
scared and shocked.” He produced these objections slowly, giving her time,
by his pauses, to stop roaming and come back to him. But she was roaming
still when he concluded his inquiry. “If there hadn’t been anything there
shouldn’t have been between the pair before Charlotte bolted—in
order, precisely, as you say, that there SHOULDN’T be: why in the world
was what there HAD been too bad to be spoken of?”



Mrs. Assingham, after this question, continued still to circulate—not
directly meeting it even when at last she stopped.



“I thought you wanted me to be quiet.”



“So I do—and I’m trying to make you so much so that you won’t worry
more. Can’t you be quiet on THAT?”



She thought a moment—then seemed to try. “To relate that she had to
‘bolt’ for the reasons we speak of, even though the bolting had done for
her what she wished—THAT I can perfectly feel Charlotte’s not
wanting to do.”



“Ah then, if it HAS done for her what she wished-!” But the Colonel’s
conclusion hung by the “if” which his wife didn’t take up. So it hung but
the longer when he presently spoke again. “All one wonders, in that case,
is why then she has come back to him.”



“Say she hasn’t come back to him. Not really to HIM.”



“I’ll say anything you like. But that won’t do me the same good as your
saying it.”



“Nothing, my dear, will do you good,” Mrs. Assingham returned. “You don’t
care for anything in itself; you care for nothing but to be grossly amused
because I don’t keep washing my hands—!”



“I thought your whole argument was that everything is so right that this
is precisely what you do.”



But his wife, as it was a point she had often made, could go on as she had
gone on before. “You’re perfectly indifferent, really; you’re perfectly
immoral. You’ve taken part in the sack of cities, and I’m sure you’ve done
dreadful things yourself. But I DON’T trouble my head, if you like. ‘So
now there!’” she laughed.



He accepted her laugh, but he kept his way. “Well, I back poor Charlotte.”



“‘Back’ her?”



“To know what she wants.”



“Ah then, so do I. She does know what she wants.” And Mrs. Assingham
produced this quantity, at last, on the girl’s behalf, as the ripe result
of her late wanderings and musings. She had groped through their talk, for
the thread, and now she had got it. “She wants to be magnificent.”



“She is,” said the Colonel almost cynically.



“She wants”—his wife now had it fast “to be thoroughly superior, and
she’s capable of that.”



“Of wanting to?”



“Of carrying out her idea.”



“And what IS her idea?”



“To see Maggie through.”



Bob Assingham wondered. “Through what?”



“Through everything. She KNOWS the Prince.”



“And Maggie doesn’t. No, dear thing”—Mrs. Assingham had to recognise
it—“she doesn’t.”



“So that Charlotte has come out to give her lessons?”



She continued, Fanny Assingham, to work out her thought. “She has done
this great thing for him. That is, a year ago, she practically did it. She
practically, at any rate, helped him to do it himself—and helped me
to help him. She kept off, she stayed away, she left him free; and what,
moreover, were her silences to Maggie but a direct aid to him? If she had
spoken in Florence; if she had told her own poor story; if she had, come
back at any time—till within a few weeks ago; if she hadn’t gone to
New York and hadn’t held out there: if she hadn’t done these things all
that has happened since would certainly have been different. Therefore
she’s in a position to be consistent now. She knows the Prince,” Mrs.
Assingham repeated. It involved even again her former recognition. “And
Maggie, dear thing, doesn’t.”



She was high, she was lucid, she was almost inspired; and it was but the
deeper drop therefore to her husband’s flat common sense. “In other words
Maggie is, by her ignorance, in danger? Then if she’s in danger, there IS
danger.”



“There WON’T be—with Charlotte’s understanding of it. That’s where
she has had her conception of being able to be heroic, of being able in
fact to be sublime. She is, she will be”—the good lady by this time
glowed. “So she sees it—to become, for her best friend, an element
of POSITIVE safety.”



Bob Assingham looked at it hard. “Which of them do you call her best
friend?”



She gave a toss of impatience. “I’ll leave you to discover!” But the grand
truth thus made out she had now completely adopted. “It’s for US,
therefore, to be hers.”



“‘Hers’?”



“You and I. It’s for us to be Charlotte’s. It’s for us, on our side, to
see HER through.”



“Through her sublimity?”



“Through her noble, lonely life. Only—that’s essential—it
mustn’t be lonely. It will be all right if she marries.”



“So we’re to marry her?”



“We’re to marry her. It will be,” Mrs. Assingham continued, “the great
thing I can do.” She made it out more and more. “It will make up.”



“Make up for what?” As she said nothing, however, his desire for lucidity
renewed itself. “If everything’s so all right what is there to make up
for?”



“Why, if I did do either of them, by any chance, a wrong. If I made a
mistake.”



“You’ll make up for it by making another?” And then as she again took her
time: “I thought your whole point is just that you’re sure.”



“One can never be ideally sure of anything. There are always
possibilities.”



“Then, if we can but strike so wild, why keep meddling?”



It made her again look at him. “Where would you have been, my dear, if I
hadn’t meddled with YOU?”



“Ah, that wasn’t meddling—I was your own. I was your own,” said the
Colonel, “from the moment I didn’t object.”



“Well, these people won’t object. They are my own too—in the sense
that I’m awfully fond of them. Also in the sense,” she continued, “that I
think they’re not so very much less fond of me. Our relation, all round,
exists—it’s a reality, and a very good one; we’re mixed up, so to
speak, and it’s too late to change it. We must live IN it and with it.
Therefore to see that Charlotte gets a good husband as soon as possible—that,
as I say, will be one of my ways of living. It will cover,” she said with
conviction, “all the ground.” And then as his own conviction appeared to
continue as little to match: “The ground, I mean, of any nervousness I may
ever feel. It will be in fact my duty and I shan’t rest till my duty’s
performed.” She had arrived by this time at something like exaltation. “I
shall give, for the next year or two if necessary, my life to it. I shall
have done in that case what I can.”



He took it at last as it came. “You hold there’s no limit to what you
‘can’?”



“I don’t say there’s no limit, or anything of the sort. I say there are
good chances—enough of them for hope. Why shouldn’t there be when a
girl is, after all, all that she is?”



“By after ‘all’ you mean after she’s in love with somebody else?”



The Colonel put his question with a quietude doubtless designed to be
fatal; but it scarcely pulled her up. “She’s not too much in love not
herself to want to marry. She would now particularly like to.”



“Has she told you so?”



“Not yet. It’s too soon. But she will. Meanwhile, however, I don’t require
the information. Her marrying will prove the truth.”



“And what truth?”



“The truth of everything I say.”



“Prove it to whom?”



“Well, to myself, to begin with. That will be enough for me—to work
for her. What it will prove,” Mrs. Assingham presently went on, “will be
that she’s cured. That she accepts the situation.”



He paid this the tribute of a long pull at his pipe. “The situation of
doing the one thing she can that will really seem to cover her tracks?”



His wife looked at him, the good dry man, as if now at last he was merely
vulgar. “The one thing she can do that will really make new tracks
altogether. The thing that, before any other, will be wise and right. The
thing that will best give her her chance to be magnificent.”



He slowly emitted his smoke. “And best give you, by the same token, yours
to be magnificent with her?”



“I shall be as magnificent, at least, as I can.”



Bob Assingham got up. “And you call ME immoral?”



She hesitated. “I’ll call you stupid if you prefer. But stupidity pushed
to a certain point IS, you know, immorality. Just so what is morality but
high intelligence?” This he was unable to tell her; which left her more
definitely to conclude. “Besides, it’s all, at the worst, great fun.”



“Oh, if you simply put it at THAT—!”



His implication was that in this case they had a common ground; yet even
thus he couldn’t catch her by it. “Oh, I don’t mean,” she said from the
threshold, “the fun that you mean. Good-night.” In answer to which, as he
turned out the electric light, he gave an odd, short groan, almost a
grunt. He HAD apparently meant some particular kind.


                            V


“Well, now I must tell you, for I want to be absolutely honest.” So
Charlotte spoke, a little ominously, after they had got into the Park. “I
don’t want to pretend, and I can’t pretend a moment longer. You may think
of me what you will, but I don’t care. I knew I shouldn’t and I find now
how little. I came back for this. Not really for anything else. For this,”
she repeated as, under the influence of her tone, the Prince had already
come to a pause.



“For ‘this’?” He spoke as if the particular thing she indicated were vague
to him—or were, rather, a quantity that couldn’t, at the most, be
much.



It would be as much, however, as she should be able to make it. “To have
one hour alone with you.” It had rained heavily in the night, and though
the pavements were now dry, thanks to a cleansing breeze, the August
morning, with its hovering, thick-drifting clouds and freshened air, was
cool and grey. The multitudinous green of the Park had been deepened, and
a wholesome smell of irrigation, purging the place of dust and of odours
less acceptable, rose from the earth. Charlotte had looked about her, with
expression, from the first of their coming in, quite as if for a deep
greeting, for general recognition: the day was, even in the heart of
London, of a rich, low-browed, weatherwashed English type. It was as if it
had been waiting for her, as if she knew it, placed it, loved it, as if it
were in fact a part of what she had come back for. So far as this was the
case the impression of course could only be lost on a mere vague Italian;
it was one of those for which you had to be, blessedly, an American—as
indeed you had to be, blessedly, an American for all sorts of things: so
long as you hadn’t, blessedly or not, to remain in America. The Prince
had, by half-past ten—as also by definite appointment—called
in Cadogan Place for Mrs. Assingham’s visitor, and then, after brief
delay, the two had walked together up Sloane Street and got straight into
the Park from Knightsbridge. The understanding to this end had taken its
place, after a couple of days, as inevitably consequent on the appeal made
by the girl during those first moments in Mrs. Assingham’s drawing-room.
It was an appeal the couple of days had done nothing to invalidate—everything,
much rather, to place in a light, and as to which, obviously, it wouldn’t
have fitted that anyone should raise an objection. Who was there, for that
matter, to raise one, from the moment Mrs. Assingham, informed and
apparently not disapproving, didn’t intervene? This the young man had
asked himself—with a very sufficient sense of what would have made
him ridiculous. He wasn’t going to begin—that at least was certain—by
showing a fear. Even had fear at first been sharp in him, moreover, it
would already, not a little, have dropped; so happy, all round, so
propitious, he quite might have called it, had been the effect of this
rapid interval.



The time had been taken up largely by his active reception of his own
wedding-guests and by Maggie’s scarce less absorbed entertainment of her
friend, whom she had kept for hours together in Portland Place; whom she
had not, as wouldn’t have been convenient, invited altogether as yet to
migrate, but who had been present, with other persons, his contingent, at
luncheon, at tea, at dinner, at perpetual repasts—he had never in
his life, it struck him, had to reckon with so much eating—whenever
he had looked in. If he had not again, till this hour, save for a minute,
seen Charlotte alone, so, positively, all the while, he had not seen even
Maggie; and if, therefore, he had not seen even Maggie, nothing was more
natural than that he shouldn’t have seen Charlotte. The exceptional
minute, a mere snatch, at the tail of the others, on the huge Portland
Place staircase had sufficiently enabled the girl to remind him—so
ready she assumed him to be—of what they were to do. Time pressed if
they were to do it at all. Everyone had brought gifts; his relations had
brought wonders—how did they still have, where did they still find,
such treasures? She only had brought nothing, and she was ashamed; yet
even by the sight of the rest of the tribute she wouldn’t be put off. She
would do what she could, and he was, unknown to Maggie, he must remember,
to give her his aid. He had prolonged the minute so far as to take time to
hesitate, for a reason, and then to risk bringing his reason out. The risk
was because he might hurt her—hurt her pride, if she had that
particular sort. But she might as well be hurt one way as another; and,
besides, that particular sort of pride was just what she hadn’t. So his
slight resistance, while they lingered, had been just easy enough not to
be impossible.



“I hate to encourage you—and for such a purpose, after all—to
spend your money.”



She had stood a stair or two below him; where, while she looked up at him
beneath the high, domed light of the hall, she rubbed with her palm the
polished mahogany of the balustrade, which was mounted on fine ironwork,
eighteenth-century English. “Because you think I must have so little? I’ve
enough, at any rate—enough for us to take our hour. Enough,” she had
smiled, “is as good as a feast! And then,” she had said, “it isn’t of
course a question of anything expensive, gorged with treasure as Maggie
is; it isn’t a question of competing or outshining. What, naturally, in
the way of the priceless, hasn’t she got? Mine is to be the offering of
the poor—something, precisely, that—no rich person COULD ever
give her, and that, being herself too rich ever to buy it, she would
therefore never have.” Charlotte had spoken as if after so much thought.
“Only, as it can’t be fine, it ought to be funny—and that’s the sort
of thing to hunt for. Hunting in London, besides, is amusing in itself.”



He recalled even how he had been struck with her word. “‘Funny’?” “Oh, I
don’t mean a comic toy—I mean some little thing with a charm. But
absolutely RIGHT, in its comparative cheapness. That’s what I call funny,”
she had explained. “You used,” she had also added, “to help me to get
things cheap in Rome. You were splendid for beating down. I have them all
still, I needn’t say—the little bargains I there owed you. There are
bargains in London in August.”



“Ah, but I don’t understand your English buying, and I confess I find it
dull.” So much as that, while they turned to go up together, he had
objected. “I understood my poor dear Romans.”



“It was they who understood you—that was your pull,” she had
laughed. “Our amusement here is just that they don’t understand us. We can
make it amusing. You’ll see.”



If he had hesitated again it was because the point permitted. “The
amusement surely will be to find our present.”



“Certainly—as I say.”



“Well, if they don’t come down—?”



“Then we’ll come up. There’s always something to be done. Besides,
Prince,” she had gone on, “I’m not, if you come to that, absolutely a
pauper. I’m too poor for some things,” she had said—yet, strange as
she was, lightly enough; “but I’m not too poor for others.” And she had
paused again at the top. “I’ve been saving up.”



He had really challenged it. “In America?”



“Yes, even there—with my motive. And we oughtn’t, you know,” she had
wound up, “to leave it beyond to-morrow.”



That, definitely, with ten words more, was what had passed—he
feeling all the while how any sort of begging-off would only magnify it.
He might get on with things as they were, but he must do anything rather
than magnify. Besides which it was pitiful to make her beg of him. He WAS
making her—she had begged; and this, for a special sensibility in
him, didn’t at all do. That was accordingly, in fine, how they had come to
where they were: he was engaged, as hard as possible, in the policy of not
magnifying. He had kept this up even on her making a point—and as if
it were almost the whole point—that Maggie of course was not to have
an idea. Half the interest of the thing at least would be that she
shouldn’t suspect; therefore he was completely to keep it from her—as
Charlotte on her side would—that they had been anywhere at all
together or had so much as seen each other for five minutes alone. The
absolute secrecy of their little excursion was in short of the essence;
she appealed to his kindness to let her feel that he didn’t betray her.
There had been something, frankly, a little disconcerting in such an
appeal at such an hour, on the very eve of his nuptials: it was one thing
to have met the girl casually at Mrs. Assingham’s and another to arrange
with her thus for a morning practically as private as their old mornings
in Rome and practically not less intimate. He had immediately told Maggie,
the same evening, of the minutes that had passed between them in Cadogan
Place—though not mentioning those of Mrs. Assingham’s absence any
more than he mentioned the fact of what their friend had then, with such
small delay, proposed. But what had briefly checked his assent to any
present, to any positive making of mystery—what had made him, while
they stood at the top of the stairs, demur just long enough for her to
notice it—was the sense of the resemblance of the little plan before
him to occasions, of the past, from which he was quite disconnected, from
which he could only desire to be. This was like beginning something over,
which was the last thing he wanted. The strength, the beauty of his actual
position was in its being wholly a fresh start, was that what it began
would be new altogether. These items of his consciousness had clustered so
quickly that by the time Charlotte read them in his face he was in
presence of what they amounted to. She had challenged them as soon as read
them, had met them with a “Do you want then to go and tell her?” that had
somehow made them ridiculous. It had made him, promptly, fall back on
minimizing it—that is on minimizing “fuss.” Apparent scruples were,
obviously, fuss, and he had on the spot clutched, in the light of this
truth, at the happy principle that would meet every case.



This principle was simply to be, with the girl, always simple—and
with the very last simplicity. That would cover everything. It had
covered, then and there, certainly, his immediate submission to the sight
of what was clearest. This was, really, that what she asked was little
compared to what she gave. What she gave touched him, as she faced him,
for it was the full tune of her renouncing. She really renounced—renounced
everything, and without even insisting now on what it had all been for
her. Her only insistence was her insistence on the small matter of their
keeping their appointment to themselves. That, in exchange for
“everything,” everything she gave up, was verily but a trifle. He let
himself accordingly be guided; he so soon assented, for enlightened
indulgence, to any particular turn she might wish the occasion to take,
that the stamp of her preference had been well applied to it even while
they were still in the Park. The application in fact presently required
that they should sit down a little, really to see where they were; in
obedience to which propriety they had some ten minutes, of a quality quite
distinct, in a couple of penny-chairs under one of the larger trees. They
had taken, for their walk, to the cropped, rain-freshened grass, after
finding it already dry; and the chairs, turned away from the broad alley,
the main drive and the aspect of Park Lane, looked across the wide reaches
of green which seemed in a manner to refine upon their freedom. They
helped Charlotte thus to make her position—her temporary position—still
more clear, and it was for this purpose, obviously, that, abruptly, on
seeing her opportunity, she sat down. He stood for a little before her, as
if to mark the importance of not wasting time, the importance she herself
had previously insisted on; but after she had said a few words it was
impossible for him not to resort again to good-nature. He marked as he
could, by this concession, that if he had finally met her first proposal
for what would be “amusing” in it, so any idea she might have would
contribute to that effect. He had consequently—in all consistency—to
treat it as amusing that she reaffirmed, and reaffirmed again, the truth
that was HER truth.



“I don’t care what you make of it, and I don’t ask anything whatever of
you—anything but this. I want to have said it—that’s all; I
want not to have failed to say it. To see you once and be with you, to be
as we are now and as we used to be, for one small hour—or say for
two—that’s what I have had for weeks in my head. I mean, of course,
to get it BEFORE—before what you’re going to do. So, all the while,
you see,” she went on with her eyes on him, “it was a question for me if I
should be able to manage it in time. If I couldn’t have come now I
probably shouldn’t have come at all—perhaps even ever. Now that I’m
here I shall stay, but there were moments, over there, when I despaired.
It wasn’t easy—there were reasons; but it was either this or
nothing. So I didn’t struggle, you see, in vain. AFTER—oh, I didn’t
want that! I don’t mean,” she smiled, “that it wouldn’t have been
delightful to see you even then—to see you at any time; but I would
never have come for it. This is different. This is what I wanted. This is
what I’ve got. This is what I shall always have. This is what I should
have missed, of course,” she pursued, “if you had chosen to make me miss
it. If you had thought me horrid, had refused to come, I should,
naturally, have been immensely ‘sold.’ I had to take the risk. Well,
you’re all I could have hoped. That’s what I was to have said. I didn’t
want simply to get my time with you, but I wanted you to know. I wanted
you”—she kept it up, slowly, softly, with a small tremor of voice,
but without the least failure of sense or sequence—“I wanted you to
understand. I wanted you, that is, to hear. I don’t care, I think, whether
you understand or not. If I ask nothing of you I don’t—I mayn’t—ask
even so much as that. What you may think of me—that doesn’t in the
least matter. What I want is that it shall always be with you—so
that you’ll never be able quite to get rid of it—that I DID. I won’t
say that you did—you may make as little of that as you like. But
that I was here with you where we are and as we are—I just saying
this. Giving myself, in other words, away—and perfectly willing to
do it for nothing. That’s all.”



She paused as if her demonstration was complete—yet, for the moment,
without moving; as if in fact to give it a few minutes to sink in; into
the listening air, into the watching space, into the conscious hospitality
of nature, so far as nature was, all Londonised, all vulgarised, with them
there; or even, for that matter, into her own open ears, rather than into
the attention of her passive and prudent friend. His attention had done
all that attention could do; his handsome, slightly anxious, yet still
more definitely “amused” face sufficiently played its part. He clutched,
however, at what he could best clutch at—the fact that she let him
off, definitely let him off. She let him off, it seemed, even from so much
as answering; so that while he smiled back at her in return for her
information he felt his lips remain closed to the successive vaguenesses
of rejoinder, of objection, that rose for him from within. Charlotte
herself spoke again at last—“You may want to know what I get by it.
But that’s my own affair.” He really didn’t want to know even this—or
continued, for the safest plan, quite to behave as if he didn’t; which
prolonged the mere dumbness of diversion in which he had taken refuge. He
was glad when, finally—the point she had wished to make seeming
established to her satisfaction—they brought to what might pass for
a close the moment of his life at which he had had least to say. Movement
and progress, after this, with more impersonal talk, were naturally a
relief; so that he was not again, during their excursion, at a loss for
the right word. The air had been, as it were, cleared; they had their
errand itself to discuss, and the opportunities of London, the sense of
the wonderful place, the pleasures of prowling there, the question of
shops, of possibilities, of particular objects, noticed by each in
previous prowls. Each professed surprise at the extent of the other’s
knowledge; the Prince in especial wondered at his friend’s possession of
her London. He had rather prized his own possession, the guidance he could
really often give a cabman; it was a whim of his own, a part of his
Anglomania, and congruous with that feature, which had, after all, so much
more surface than depth. When his companion, with the memory of other
visits and other rambles, spoke of places he hadn’t seen and things he
didn’t know, he actually felt again—as half the effect—just a
shade humiliated. He might even have felt a trifle annoyed—if it
hadn’t been, on this spot, for his being, even more, interested. It was a
fresh light on Charlotte and on her curious world-quality, of which, in
Rome, he had had his due sense, but which clearly would show larger on the
big London stage. Rome was, in comparison, a village, a family-party, a
little old-world spinnet for the fingers of one hand. By the time they
reached the Marble Arch it was almost as if she were showing him a new
side, and that, in fact, gave amusement a new and a firmer basis. The
right tone would be easy for putting himself in her hands. Should they
disagree a little—frankly and fairly—about directions and
chances, values and authenticities, the situation would be quite
gloriously saved. They were none the less, as happened, much of one mind
on the article of their keeping clear of resorts with which Maggie would
be acquainted. Charlotte recalled it as a matter of course, named it in
time as a condition—they would keep away from any place to which he
had already been with Maggie.



This made indeed a scant difference, for though he had during the last
month done few things so much as attend his future wife on her making of
purchases, the antiquarii, as he called them with Charlotte, had not been
the great affair. Except in Bond Street, really, Maggie had had no use for
them: her situation indeed, in connection with that order of traffic, was
full of consequences produced by her father’s. Mr. Verver, one of the
great collectors of the world, hadn’t left his daughter to prowl for
herself; he had little to do with shops, and was mostly, as a purchaser,
approached privately and from afar. Great people, all over Europe, sought
introductions to him; high personages, incredibly high, and more of them
than would ever be known, solemnly sworn as everyone was, in such cases,
to discretion, high personages made up to him as the one man on the short
authentic list likely to give the price. It had therefore been easy to
settle, as they walked, that the tracks of the Ververs, daughter’s as well
as father’s, were to be avoided; the importance only was that their talk
about it led for a moment to the first words they had as yet exchanged on
the subject of Maggie. Charlotte, still in the Park, proceeded to them—for
it was she who began—with a serenity of appreciation that was odd,
certainly, as a sequel to her words of ten minutes before. This was
another note on her—what he would have called another light—for
her companion, who, though without giving a sign, admired, for what it
was, the simplicity of her transition, a transition that took no trouble
either to trace or to explain itself. She paused again an instant, on the
grass, to make it; she stopped before him with a sudden “Anything of
course, dear as she is, will do for her. I mean if I were to give her a
pin-cushion from the Baker-Street Bazaar.”



“That’s exactly what I meant”—the Prince laughed out this
allusion to their snatch of talk in Portland Place. “It’s just what I
suggested.”



She took, however, no notice of the reminder; she went on in her own way.
“But it isn’t a reason. In that case one would never do anything for her.
I mean,” Charlotte explained, “if one took advantage of her character.”



“Of her character?”



“We mustn’t take advantage of her character,” the girl, again unheeding,
pursued. “One mustn’t, if not for HER, at least for one’s self. She saves
one such trouble.”



She had spoken thoughtfully, with her eyes on her friend’s; she might have
been talking, preoccupied and practical, of someone with whom he was
comparatively unconnected. “She certainly GIVES one no trouble,” said the
Prince. And then as if this were perhaps ambiguous or inadequate: “She’s
not selfish—God forgive her!—enough.”



“That’s what I mean,” Charlotte instantly said. “She’s not selfish enough.
There’s nothing, absolutely, that one NEED do for her. She’s so modest,”
she developed—“she doesn’t miss things. I mean if you love her—or,
rather, I should say, if she loves you. She lets it go.”



The Prince frowned a little—as a tribute, after all, to seriousness.
“She lets what—?”



“Anything—anything that you might do and that you don’t. She lets
everything go but her own disposition to be kind to you. It’s of herself
that she asks efforts—so far as she ever HAS to ask them. She
hasn’t, much. She does everything herself. And that’s terrible.”



The Prince had listened; but, always with propriety, he didn’t commit
himself. “Terrible?”



“Well, unless one is almost as good as she. It makes too easy terms for
one. It takes stuff, within one, so far as one’s decency is concerned, to
stand it. And nobody,” Charlotte continued in the same manner, “is decent
enough, good enough, to stand it—not without help from religion, or
something of that kind. Not without prayer and fasting—that is
without taking great care. Certainly,” she said, “such people as you and I
are not.”



The Prince, obligingly, thought an instant. “Not good enough to stand it?”



“Well, not good enough not rather to feel the strain. We happen each, I
think, to be of the kind that are easily spoiled.”



Her friend, again, for propriety, followed the argument. “Oh, I don’t
know. May not one’s affection for her do something more for one’s decency,
as you call it, than her own generosity—her own affection, HER
‘decency’—has the unfortunate virtue to undo?”



“Ah, of course it must be all in that.”



But she had made her question, all the same, interesting to him. “What it
comes to—one can see what you mean—is the way she believes in
one. That is if she believes at all.”



“Yes, that’s what it comes to,” said Charlotte Stant.



“And why,” he asked, almost soothingly, “should it be terrible?” He
couldn’t, at the worst, see that.



“Because it’s always so—the idea of having to pity people.”



“Not when there’s also, with it, the idea of helping them.”



“Yes, but if we can’t help them?”



“We CAN—we always can. That is,” he competently added, “if we care
for them. And that’s what we’re talking about.”



“Yes”—she on the whole assented. “It comes back then to our
absolutely refusing to be spoiled.”



“Certainly. But everything,” the Prince laughed as they went on—“all
your ‘decency,’ I mean—comes back to that.”



She walked beside him a moment. “It’s just what I meant,” she then
reasonably said.


                            VI


The man in the little shop in which, well after this, they lingered
longest, the small but interesting dealer in the Bloomsbury street who was
remarkable for an insistence not importunate, inasmuch as it was mainly
mute, but singularly, intensely coercive—this personage fixed on his
visitors an extraordinary pair of eyes and looked from one to the other
while they considered the object with which he appeared mainly to hope to
tempt them. They had come to him last, for their time was nearly up; an
hour of it at least, from the moment of their getting into a hansom at the
Marble Arch, having yielded no better result than the amusement invoked
from the first. The amusement, of course, was to have consisted in
seeking, but it had also involved the idea of finding; which latter
necessity would have been obtrusive only if they had found too soon. The
question at present was if they were finding, and they put it to each
other, in the Bloomsbury shop, while they enjoyed the undiverted attention
of the shopman. He was clearly the master, and devoted to his business—the
essence of which, in his conception, might precisely have been this
particular secret that he possessed for worrying the customer so little
that it fairly made for their relations a sort of solemnity. He had not
many things, none of the redundancy of “rot” they had elsewhere seen, and
our friends had, on entering, even had the sense of a muster so scant
that, as high values obviously wouldn’t reign, the effect might be almost
pitiful. Then their impression had changed; for, though the show was of
small pieces, several taken from the little window and others extracted
from a cupboard behind the counter—dusky, in the rather low-browed
place, despite its glass doors—each bid for their attention spoke,
however modestly, for itself, and the pitch of their entertainer’s
pretensions was promptly enough given. His array was heterogeneous and not
at all imposing; still, it differed agreeably from what they had hitherto
seen.



Charlotte, after the incident, was to be full of impressions, of several
of which, later on, she gave her companion—always in the interest of
their amusement—the benefit; and one of the impressions had been
that the man himself was the greatest curiosity they had looked at. The
Prince was to reply to this that he himself hadn’t looked at him; as,
precisely, in the general connection, Charlotte had more than once, from
other days, noted, for his advantage, her consciousness of how, below a
certain social plane, he never SAW. One kind of shopman was just like
another to him—which was oddly inconsequent on the part of a mind
that, where it did notice, noticed so much. He took throughout, always,
the meaner sort for granted—the night of their meanness, or whatever
name one might give it for him, made all his cats grey. He didn’t, no
doubt, want to hurt them, but he imaged them no more than if his eyes
acted only for the level of his own high head. Her own vision acted for
every relation—this he had seen for himself: she remarked beggars,
she remembered servants, she recognised cabmen; she had often
distinguished beauty, when out with him, in dirty children; she had
admired “type” in faces at hucksters’ stalls. Therefore, on this occasion,
she had found their antiquario interesting; partly because he cared so for
his things, and partly because he cared—well, so for them. “He likes
his things—he loves them,” she was to say; “and it isn’t only—it
isn’t perhaps even at all—that he loves to sell them. I think he
would love to keep them if he could; and he prefers, at any rate, to sell
them to right people. We, clearly, were right people—he knows them
when he sees them; and that’s why, as I say, you could make out, or at
least I could, that he cared for us. Didn’t you see”—she was
to ask it with an insistence—“the way he looked at us and took us
in? I doubt if either of us have ever been so well looked at before. Yes,
he’ll remember us”—she was to profess herself convinced of that
almost to uneasiness. “But it was after all”—this was perhaps
reassuring—“because, given his taste, since he HAS taste, he was
pleased with us, he was struck—he had ideas about us. Well, I should
think people might; we’re beautiful—aren’t we?—and he knows.
Then, also, he has his way; for that way of saying nothing with his lips
when he’s all the while pressing you so with his face, which shows how he
knows you feel it—that is a regular way.”



Of decent old gold, old silver, old bronze, of old chased and jewelled
artistry, were the objects that, successively produced, had ended by
numerously dotting the counter, where the shopman’s slim, light fingers,
with neat nails, touched them at moments, briefly, nervously, tenderly, as
those of a chess-player rest, a few seconds, over the board, on a figure
he thinks he may move and then may not: small florid ancientries,
ornaments, pendants, lockets, brooches, buckles, pretexts for dim
brilliants, bloodless rubies, pearls either too large or too opaque for
value; miniatures mounted with diamonds that had ceased to dazzle;
snuffboxes presented to—or by—the too-questionable great;
cups, trays, taper-stands, suggestive of pawn-tickets, archaic and brown,
that would themselves, if preserved, have been prized curiosities. A few
commemorative medals, of neat outline but dull reference; a classic
monument or two, things of the first years of the century; things
consular, Napoleonic, temples, obelisks, arches, tinily re-embodied,
completed the discreet cluster; in which, however, even after tentative
reinforcement from several quaint rings, intaglios, amethysts, carbuncles,
each of which had found a home in the ancient sallow satin of some
weakly-snapping little box, there was, in spite of the due proportion of
faint poetry, no great force of persuasion. They looked, the visitors,
they touched, they vaguely pretended to consider, but with scepticism, so
far as courtesy permitted, in the quality of their attention. It was
impossible they shouldn’t, after a little, tacitly agree as to the
absurdity of carrying to Maggie a token from such a stock. It would be—that
was the difficulty—pretentious without being “good”; too usual, as a
treasure, to have been an inspiration of the giver, and yet too primitive
to be taken as tribute welcome on any terms. They had been out more than
two hours and, evidently, had found nothing. It forced from Charlotte a
kind of admission.



“It ought, really, if it should be a thing of this sort, to take its
little value from having belonged to one’s self.”



“Ecco!” said the Prince—just triumphantly enough. “There you are.”



Behind the dealer were sundry small cupboards in the wall. Two or three of
these Charlotte had seen him open, so that her eyes found themselves
resting on those he had not visited. But she completed her admission.
“There’s nothing here she could wear.”



It was only after a moment that her companion rejoined. “Is there anything—do
you think—that you could?”



It made her just start. She didn’t, at all events, look at the objects;
she but looked for an instant very directly at him. “No.”



“Ah!” the Prince quietly exclaimed.



“Would it be,” Charlotte asked, “your idea to offer me something?”



“Well, why not—as a small ricordo.”



“But a ricordo of what?”



“Why, of ‘this’—as you yourself say. Of this little hunt.”



“Oh, I say it—but hasn’t my whole point been that I don’t ask you
to. Therefore,” she demanded—but smiling at him now—“where’s
the logic?”



“Oh, the logic—!” he laughed.



“But logic’s everything. That, at least, is how I feel it. A ricordo from
you—from you to me—is a ricordo of nothing. It has no
reference.”



“Ah, my dear!” he vaguely protested. Their entertainer, meanwhile, stood
there with his eyes on them, and the girl, though at this minute more
interested in her passage with her friend than in anything else, again met
his gaze. It was a comfort to her that their foreign tongue covered what
they said—and they might have appeared of course, as the Prince now
had one of the snuffboxes in his hand, to be discussing a purchase.



“You don’t refer,” she went on to her companion. “I refer.”



He had lifted the lid of his little box and he looked into it hard. “Do
you mean by that then that you would be free—?”



“‘Free’—?”



“To offer me something?”



This gave her a longer pause, and when she spoke again she might have
seemed, oddly, to be addressing the dealer. “Would you allow me—?”



“No,” said the Prince into his little box.



“You wouldn’t accept it from me?”



“No,” he repeated in the same way.



She exhaled a long breath that was like a guarded sigh. “But you’ve
touched an idea that HAS been mine. It’s what I’ve wanted.” Then she
added: “It was what I hoped.”



He put down his box—this had drawn his eyes. He made nothing,
clearly, of the little man’s attention. “It’s what you brought me out
for?”



“Well, that’s, at any rate,” she returned, “my own affair. But it won’t
do?”



“It won’t do, cara mia.”



“It’s impossible?”



“It’s impossible.” And he took up one of the brooches.



She had another pause, while the shopman only waited. “If I were to accept
from you one of these charming little ornaments as you suggest, what
should I do with it?”



He was perhaps at last a little irritated; he even—as if HE might
understand—looked vaguely across at their host. “Wear it, per
Bacco!”



“Where then, please? Under my clothes?”



“Wherever you like. But it isn’t then, if you will,” he added, “worth
talking about.”



“It’s only worth talking about, mio caro,” she smiled, “from your having
begun it. My question is only reasonable—so that your idea may stand
or fall by your answer to it. If I should pin one of these things on for
you would it be, to your mind, that I might go home and show it to Maggie
as your present?”



They had had between them often in talk the refrain, jocosely,
descriptively applied, of “old Roman.” It had been, as a pleasantry, in
the other time, his explanation to her of everything; but nothing, truly,
had even seemed so old-Roman as the shrug in which he now indulged. “Why
in the world not?”



“Because—on our basis—it would be impossible to give her an
account of the pretext.”



“The pretext—?” He wondered.



“The occasion. This ramble that we shall have had together and that we’re
not to speak of.”



“Oh yes,” he said after a moment “I remember we’re not to speak of it.”



“That of course you’re pledged to. And the one thing, you see, goes with
the other. So you don’t insist.”



He had again, at random, laid back his trinket; with which he quite turned
to her, a little wearily at last—even a little impatiently. “I don’t
insist.”



It disposed for the time of the question, but what was next apparent was
that it had seen them no further. The shopman, who had not stirred, stood
there in his patience—which, his mute intensity helping, had almost
the effect of an ironic comment. The Prince moved to the glass door and,
his back to the others, as with nothing more to contribute, looked—though
not less patiently—into the street. Then the shopman, for Charlotte,
momentously broke silence. “You’ve seen, disgraziatamente, signora
principessa,” he sadly said, “too much”—and it made the Prince face
about. For the effect of the momentous came, if not from the sense, from
the sound of his words; which was that of the suddenest, sharpest Italian.
Charlotte exchanged with her friend a glance that matched it, and just for
the minute they were held in check. But their glance had, after all, by
that time, said more than one thing; had both exclaimed on the
apprehension, by the wretch, of their intimate conversation, let alone of
her possible, her impossible, title, and remarked, for mutual reassurance,
that it didn’t, all the same, matter. The Prince remained by the door, but
immediately addressing the speaker from where he stood.



“You’re Italian then, are you?”



But the reply came in English. “Oh dear no.”



“You’re English?”



To which the answer was this time, with a smile, in briefest Italian.
“Che!” The dealer waived the question—he practically disposed of it
by turning straightway toward a receptacle to which he had not yet
resorted and from which, after unlocking it, he extracted a square box, of
some twenty inches in height, covered with worn-looking leather. He placed
the box on the counter, pushed back a pair of small hooks, lifted the lid
and removed from its nest a drinking-vessel larger than a common cup, yet
not of exorbitant size, and formed, to appearance, either of old fine gold
or of some material once richly gilt. He handled it with tenderness, with
ceremony, making a place for it on a small satin mat. “My Golden Bowl,” he
observed—and it sounded, on his lips, as if it said everything. He
left the important object—for as “important” it did somehow present
itself—to produce its certain effect. Simple, but singularly
elegant, it stood on a circular foot, a short pedestal with a slightly
spreading base, and, though not of signal depth, justified its title by
the charm of its shape as well as by the tone of its surface. It might
have been a large goblet diminished, to the enhancement of its happy
curve, by half its original height. As formed of solid gold it was
impressive; it seemed indeed to warn off the prudent admirer. Charlotte,
with care, immediately took it up, while the Prince, who had after a
minute shifted his position again, regarded it from a distance.



It was heavier than Charlotte had thought. “Gold, really gold?” she asked
of their companion.



He hesitated. “Look a little, and perhaps you’ll make out.”



She looked, holding it up in both her fine hands, turning it to the light.
“It may be cheap for what it is, but it will be dear, I’m afraid, for me.”



“Well,” said the man, “I can part with it for less than its value. I got
it, you see, for less.”



“For how much then?”



Again he waited, always with his serene stare. “Do you like it then?”



Charlotte turned to her friend. “Do YOU like it?” He came no nearer; he
looked at their companion. “Cos’e?”



“Well, signori miei, if you must know, it’s just a perfect crystal.”



“Of course we must know, per Dio!” said the Prince. But he turned away
again—he went back to his glass door.



Charlotte set down the bowl; she was evidently taken. “Do you mean it’s
cut out of a single crystal?”



“If it isn’t I think I can promise you that you’ll never find any joint or
any piecing.”



She wondered. “Even if I were to scrape off the gold?”



He showed, though with due respect, that she amused him. “You couldn’t
scrape it off—it has been too well put on; put on I don’t know when
and I don’t know how. But by some very fine old worker and by some
beautiful old process.”



Charlotte, frankly charmed with the cup, smiled back at him now. “A lost
art?”



“Call it a lost art,”



“But of what time then is the whole thing?”



“Well, say also of a lost time.”



The girl considered. “Then if it’s so precious, how comes it to be cheap?”



Her interlocutor once more hung fire, but by this time the Prince had lost
patience. “I’ll wait for you out in the air,” he said to his companion,
and, though he spoke without irritation, he pointed his remark by passing
immediately into the street, where, during the next minutes, the others
saw him, his back to the shopwindow, philosophically enough hover and
light a fresh cigarette. Charlotte even took, a little, her time; she was
aware of his funny Italian taste for London street-life.



Her host meanwhile, at any rate, answered her question. “Ah, I’ve had it a
long time without selling it. I think I must have been keeping it, madam,
for you.”



“You’ve kept it for me because you’ve thought I mightn’t see what’s the
matter with it?”



He only continued to face her—he only continued to appear to follow
the play of her mind. “What IS the matter with it?”



“Oh, it’s not for me to say; it’s for you honestly to tell me. Of course I
know something must be.”



“But if it’s something you can’t find out, isn’t it as good as if it were
nothing?”



“I probably SHOULD find out as soon as I had paid for it.”



“Not,” her host lucidly insisted, “if you hadn’t paid too much.”



“What do you call,” she asked, “little enough?”



“Well, what should you say to fifteen pounds?”



“I should say,” said Charlotte with the utmost promptitude, “that it’s
altogether too much.”



The dealer shook his head slowly and sadly, but firmly. “It’s my price,
madam—and if you admire the thing I think it really might be yours.
It’s not too much. It’s too little. It’s almost nothing. I can’t go
lower.”



Charlotte, wondering, but resisting, bent over the bowl again. “Then it’s
impossible. It’s more than I can afford.”



“Ah,” the man returned, “one can sometimes afford for a present more than
one can afford for one’s self.” He said it so coaxingly that she found
herself going on without, as might be said, putting him in his place. “Oh,
of course it would be only for a present—!”



“Then it would be a lovely one.”



“Does one make a present,” she asked, “of an object that contains, to
one’s knowledge, a flaw?”



“Well, if one knows of it one has only to mention it. The good faith,” the
man smiled, “is always there.”



“And leave the person to whom one gives the thing, you mean, to discover
it?”



“He wouldn’t discover it—if you’re speaking of a gentleman.”



“I’m not speaking of anyone in particular,” Charlotte said.



“Well, whoever it might be. He might know—and he might try. But he
wouldn’t find.”



She kept her eyes on him as if, though unsatisfied, mystified, she yet had
a fancy for the bowl. “Not even if the thing should come to pieces?” And
then as he was silent: “Not even if he should have to say to me ‘The
Golden Bowl is broken’?”



He was still silent; after which he had his strangest smile. “Ah, if
anyone should WANT to smash it—!”



She laughed; she almost admired the little man’s expression. “You mean one
could smash it with a hammer?”



“Yes; if nothing else would do. Or perhaps even by dashing it with
violence—say upon a marble floor.”



“Oh, marble floors!” But she might have been thinking—for they were
a connection, marble floors; a connection with many things: with her old
Rome, and with his; with the palaces of his past, and, a little, of hers;
with the possibilities of his future, with the sumptuosities of his
marriage, with the wealth of the Ververs. All the same, however, there
were other things; and they all together held for a moment her fancy.
“Does crystal then break—when it IS crystal? I thought its beauty
was its hardness.”



Her friend, in his way, discriminated. “Its beauty is its BEING crystal.
But its hardness is certainly, its safety. It doesn’t break,” he went on,
“like vile glass. It splits—if there is a split.”



“Ah!”—Charlotte breathed with interest. “If there is a split.” And
she looked down again at the bowl. “There IS a split, eh? Crystal does
split, eh?”



“On lines and by laws of its own.”



“You mean if there’s a weak place?”



For all answer, after an hesitation, he took the bowl up again, holding it
aloft and tapping it with a key. It rang with the finest, sweetest sound.
“Where is the weak place?”



She then did the question justice. “Well, for ME, only the price. I’m
poor, you see—very poor. But I thank you and I’ll think.” The
Prince, on the other side of the shop-window, had finally faced about and,
as to see if she hadn’t done, was trying to reach, with his eyes, the
comparatively dim interior. “I like it,” she said—“I want it. But I
must decide what I can do.”



The man, not ungraciously, resigned himself. “Well, I’ll keep it for you.”



The small quarter-of-an-hour had had its marked oddity—this she felt
even by the time the open air and the Bloomsbury aspects had again, in
their protest against the truth of her gathered impression, made her more
or less their own. Yet the oddity might have been registered as small as
compared to the other effect that, before they had gone much further, she
had, with her companion, to take account of. This latter was simply the
effect of their having, by some tacit logic, some queer inevitability,
quite dropped the idea of a continued pursuit. They didn’t say so, but it
was on the line of giving up Maggie’s present that they practically
proceeded—the line of giving it up without more reference to it. The
Prince’s first reference was in fact quite independently made. “I hope you
satisfied yourself, before you had done, of what was the matter with that
bowl.”



“No indeed, I satisfied myself of nothing. Of nothing at least but that
the more I looked at it the more I liked it, and that if you weren’t so
unaccommodating this would be just the occasion for your giving me the
pleasure of accepting it.”



He looked graver for her, at this, than he had looked all the morning. “Do
you propose it seriously—without wishing to play me a trick?”



She wondered. “What trick would it be?”



He looked at her harder. “You mean you really don’t know?”



“But know what?”



“Why, what’s the matter with it. You didn’t see, all the while?”



She only continued, however, to stare. “How could you see—out in the
street?”



“I saw before I went out. It was because I saw that I did go out. I didn’t
want to have another scene with you, before that rascal, and I judged you
would presently guess for yourself.”



“Is he a rascal?” Charlotte asked. “His price is so moderate.” She waited
but a moment. “Five pounds. Really so little.”



“Five pounds?”



He continued to look at her. “Five pounds.”



He might have been doubting her word, but he was only, it appeared,
gathering emphasis. “It would be dear—to make a gift of—at
five shillings. If it had cost you even but five pence I wouldn’t take it
from you.”



“Then,” she asked, “what IS the matter?”



“Why, it has a crack.”



It sounded, on his lips, so sharp, it had such an authority, that she
almost started, while her colour, at the word, rose. It was as if he had
been right, though his assurance was wonderful. “You answer for it without
having looked?”



“I did look. I saw the object itself. It told its story. No wonder it’s
cheap.”



“But it’s exquisite,” Charlotte, as if with an interest in it now made
even tenderer and stranger, found herself moved to insist.



“Of course it’s exquisite. That’s the danger.” Then a light visibly came
to her—a light in which her friend suddenly and intensely showed.
The reflection of it, as she smiled at him, was in her own face. “The
danger—I see—is because you’re superstitious.”



“Per Dio, I’m superstitious! A crack is a crack—and an omen’s an
omen.”



“You’d be afraid—?”



“Per Bacco!”



“For your happiness?”



“For my happiness.”



“For your safety?”



“For my safety.”



She just paused. “For your marriage?”



“For my marriage. For everything.”



She thought again. “Thank goodness then that if there BE a crack we know
it! But if we may perish by cracks in things that we don’t know—!”
And she smiled with the sadness of it. “We can never then give each other
anything.”



He considered, but he met it. “Ah, but one does know. I do, at
least—and by instinct. I don’t fail. That will always protect me.”



It was funny, the way he said such things; yet she liked him, really, the
more for it. They fell in for her with a general, or rather with a
special, vision. But she spoke with a mild despair.



“What then will protect ME?”



“Where I’m concerned I will. From me at least you’ve nothing to
fear,” he now quite amiably responded. “Anything you consent to accept
from me—” But he paused.



“Well?”



“Well, shall be perfect.”



“That’s very fine,” she presently answered. “It’s vain, after all, for you
to talk of my accepting things when you’ll accept nothing from me.”



Ah, THERE, better still, he could meet her. “You attach an impossible
condition. That, I mean, of my keeping your gift so to myself.”



Well, she looked, before him there, at the condition—then, abruptly,
with a gesture, she gave it up. She had a headshake of disenchantment—so
far as the idea had appealed to her. It all appeared too difficult. “Oh,
my ‘condition’—I don’t hold to it. You may cry it on the housetops—anything
I ever do.”



“Ah well, then—!” This made, he laughed, all the difference.



But it was too late. “Oh, I don’t care now! I SHOULD have liked the Bowl.
But if that won’t do there’s nothing.”



He considered this; he took it in, looking graver again; but after a
moment he qualified. “Yet I shall want some day to give you something.”



She wondered at him. “What day?”



“The day you marry. For you WILL marry. You must—SERIOUSLY—marry.”



She took it from him, but it determined in her the only words she was to
have uttered, all the morning, that came out as if a spring had been
pressed. “To make you feel better?”



“Well,” he replied frankly, wonderfully—“it will. But here,” he
added, “is your hansom.”



He had signalled—the cab was charging. She put out no hand for their
separation, but she prepared to get in. Before she did so, however, she
said what had been gathering while she waited. “Well, I would marry, I
think, to have something from you in all freedom.”














PART SECOND


                           VII


Adam Verver, at Fawns, that autumn Sunday, might have been observed to
open the door of the billiard-room with a certain freedom—might have
been observed, that is, had there been a spectator in the field. The
justification of the push he had applied, however, and of the push,
equally sharp, that, to shut himself in, he again applied—the ground
of this energy was precisely that he might here, however briefly, find
himself alone, alone with the handful of letters, newspapers and other
unopened missives, to which, during and since breakfast, he had lacked
opportunity to give an eye. The vast, square, clean apartment was empty,
and its large clear windows looked out into spaces of terrace and garden,
of park and woodland and shining artificial lake, of richly-condensed
horizon, all dark blue upland and church-towered village and strong
cloudshadow, which were, together, a thing to create the sense, with
everyone else at church, of one’s having the world to one’s self. We share
this world, none the less, for the hour, with Mr. Verver; the very fact of
his striking, as he would have said, for solitude, the fact of his quiet
flight, almost on tiptoe, through tortuous corridors, investing him with
an interest that makes our attention—tender indeed almost to
compassion—qualify his achieved isolation. For it may immediately be
mentioned that this amiable man bethought himself of his personal
advantage, in general, only when it might appear to him that other
advantages, those of other persons, had successfully put in their claim.
It may be mentioned also that he always figured other persons—such
was the law of his nature—as a numerous array, and that, though
conscious of but a single near tie, one affection, one duty deepest-rooted
in his life, it had never, for many minutes together, been his portion not
to feel himself surrounded and committed, never quite been his refreshment
to make out where the many-coloured human appeal, represented by
gradations of tint, diminishing concentric zones of intensity, of
importunity, really faded to the blessed impersonal whiteness for which
his vision sometimes ached. It shaded off, the appeal—he would have
admitted that; but he had as yet noted no point at which it positively
stopped.



Thus had grown in him a little habit—his innermost secret, not
confided even to Maggie, though he felt she understood it, as she
understood, to his view, everything—thus had shaped itself the
innocent trick of occasionally making believe that he had no conscience,
or at least that blankness, in the field of duty, did reign for an hour; a
small game to which the few persons near enough to have caught him playing
it, and of whom Mrs. Assingham, for instance, was one, attached
indulgently that idea of quaintness, quite in fact that charm of the
pathetic, involved in the preservation by an adult of one of childhood’s
toys. When he took a rare moment “off,” he did so with the touching,
confessing eyes of a man of forty-seven caught in the act of handling a
relic of infancy—sticking on the head of a broken soldier or trying
the lock of a wooden gun. It was essentially, in him, the IMITATION of
depravity—which, for amusement, as might have been, he practised
“keeping up.” In spite of practice he was still imperfect, for these so
artlessly-artful interludes were condemned, by the nature of the case, to
brevity. He had fatally stamped himself—it was his own fault—a
man who could be interrupted with impunity. The greatest of wonders,
moreover, was exactly in this, that so interrupted a man should ever have
got, as the phrase was, should above all have got so early, to where he
was. It argued a special genius; he was clearly a case of that. The spark
of fire, the point of light, sat somewhere in his inward vagueness as a
lamp before a shrine twinkles in the dark perspective of a church; and
while youth and early middle-age, while the stiff American breeze of
example and opportunity were blowing upon it hard, had made of the chamber
of his brain a strange workshop of fortune. This establishment, mysterious
and almost anonymous, the windows of which, at hours of highest pressure,
never seemed, for starers and wonderers, perceptibly to glow, must in fact
have been during certain years the scene of an unprecedented, a miraculous
white-heat, the receipt for producing which it was practically felt that
the master of the forge could not have communicated even with the best
intentions.



The essential pulse of the flame, the very action of the cerebral
temperature, brought to the highest point, yet extraordinarily contained—these
facts themselves were the immensity of the result; they were one with
perfection of machinery, they had constituted the kind of acquisitive
power engendered and applied, the necessary triumph of all operations. A
dim explanation of phenomena once vivid must at all events for the moment
suffice us; it being obviously no account of the matter to throw on our
friend’s amiability alone the weight of the demonstration of his economic
history. Amiability, of a truth, is an aid to success; it has even been
known to be the principle of large accumulations; but the link, for the
mind, is none the less fatally missing between proof, on such a scale, of
continuity, if of nothing more insolent, in one field, and accessibility
to distraction in every other. Variety of imagination—what is that
but fatal, in the world of affairs, unless so disciplined as not to be
distinguished from monotony? Mr. Verver then, for a fresh, full period, a
period betraying, extraordinarily, no wasted year, had been inscrutably
monotonous behind an iridescent cloud. The cloud was his native envelope—the
soft looseness, so to say, of his temper and tone, not directly expressive
enough, no doubt, to figure an amplitude of folds, but of a quality
unmistakable for sensitive feelers. He was still reduced, in fine, to
getting his rare moments with himself by feigning a cynicism. His real
inability to maintain the pretence, however, had perhaps not often been
better instanced than by his acceptance of the inevitable to-day—his
acceptance of it on the arrival, at the end of a quarter-of-an hour, of
that element of obligation with which he had all the while known he must
reckon. A quarter-of-an-hour of egoism was about as much as he, taking one
situation with another, usually got. Mrs. Rance opened the door—more
tentatively indeed than he himself had just done; but on the other hand,
as if to make up for this, she pushed forward even more briskly on seeing
him than he had been moved to do on seeing nobody. Then, with force, it
came home to him that he had, definitely, a week before, established a
precedent. He did her at least that justice—it was a kind of justice
he was always doing someone. He had on the previous Sunday liked to stop
at home, and he had exposed himself thereby to be caught in the act. To
make this possible, that is, Mrs. Rance had only had to like to do the
same—the trick was so easily played. It had not occurred to him to
plan in any way for her absence—which would have destroyed, somehow,
in principle, the propriety of his own presence. If persons under his roof
hadn’t a right not to go to church, what became, for a fair mind, of his
own right? His subtlest manoeuvre had been simply to change from the
library to the billiard-room, it being in the library that his guest, or
his daughter’s, or the guest of the Miss Lutches—he scarce knew in
which light to regard her—had then, and not unnaturally, of course,
joined him. It was urged on him by his memory of the duration of the visit
she had that time, as it were, paid him, that the law of recurrence would
already have got itself enacted. She had spent the whole morning with him,
was still there, in the library, when the others came back—thanks to
her having been tepid about their taking, Mr. Verver and she, a turn
outside. It had been as if she looked on that as a kind of subterfuge—almost
as a form of disloyalty. Yet what was it she had in mind, what did she
wish to make of him beyond what she had already made, a patient,
punctilious host, mindful that she had originally arrived much as a
stranger, arrived not at all deliberately or yearningly invited?—so
that one positively had her possible susceptibilities the MORE on one’s
conscience. The Miss Lutches, the sisters from the middle West, were there
as friends of Maggie’s, friends of the earlier time; but Mrs. Rance was
there—or at least had primarily appeared—only as a friend of
the Miss Lutches.



This lady herself was not of the middle West—she rather insisted on
it—but of New Jersey, Rhode Island or Delaware, one of the smallest
and most intimate States: he couldn’t remember which, though she insisted
too on that. It was not in him—we may say it for him—to go so
far as to wonder if their group were next to be recruited by some friend
of her own; and this partly because she had struck him, verily, rather as
wanting to get the Miss Lutches themselves away than to extend the actual
circle, and partly, as well as more essentially, because such connection
as he enjoyed with the ironic question in general resided substantially
less in a personal use of it than in the habit of seeing it as easy to
others. He was so framed by nature as to be able to keep his
inconveniences separate from his resentments; though indeed if the sum of
these latter had at the most always been small, that was doubtless in some
degree a consequence of the fewness of the former. His greatest
inconvenience, he would have admitted, had he analyzed, was in finding it
so taken for granted that, as he had money, he had force. It pressed upon
him hard, and all round, assuredly, this attribution of power. Everyone
had need of one’s power, whereas one’s own need, at the best, would have
seemed to be but some trick for not communicating it. The effect of a
reserve so merely, so meanly defensive would in most cases, beyond
question, sufficiently discredit the cause; wherefore, though it was
complicating to be perpetually treated as an infinite agent, the outrage
was not the greatest of which a brave man might complain. Complaint,
besides, was a luxury, and he dreaded the imputation of greed. The other,
the constant imputation, that of being able to “do,” would have no ground
if he hadn’t been, to start with—this was the point—provably
luxurious. His lips, somehow, were closed—and by a spring connected
moreover with the action of his eyes themselves. The latter showed him
what he had done, showed him where he had come out; quite at the top of
his hill of difficulty, the tall sharp spiral round which he had begun to
wind his ascent at the age of twenty, and the apex of which was a platform
looking down, if one would, on the kingdoms of the earth and with
standing-room for but half-a-dozen others.



His eyes, in any case, now saw Mrs. Rance approach with an instant failure
to attach to the fact any grossness of avidity of Mrs. Rance’s own—or
at least to descry any triumphant use even for the luridest impression of
her intensity. What was virtually supreme would be her vision of his
having attempted, by his desertion of the library, to mislead her—which
in point of fact barely escaped being what he had designed. It was not
easy for him, in spite of accumulations fondly and funnily regarded as of
systematic practice, not now to be ashamed; the one thing comparatively
easy would be to gloss over his course. The billiard-room was NOT, at the
particular crisis, either a natural or a graceful place for the nominally
main occupant of so large a house to retire to—and this without
prejudice, either, to the fact that his visitor wouldn’t, as he
apprehended, explicitly make him a scene. Should she frankly denounce him
for a sneak he would simply go to pieces; but he was, after an instant,
not afraid of that. Wouldn’t she rather, as emphasising their communion,
accept and in a manner exploit the anomaly, treat it perhaps as romantic
or possibly even as comic?—show at least that they needn’t mind even
though the vast table, draped in brown holland, thrust itself between them
as an expanse of desert sand. She couldn’t cross the desert, but she
could, and did, beautifully get round it; so that for him to convert it
into an obstacle he would have had to cause himself, as in some childish
game or unbecoming romp, to be pursued, to be genially hunted. This last
was a turn he was well aware the occasion should on no account take; and
there loomed before him—for the mere moment—the prospect of
her fairly proposing that they should knock about the balls. That danger
certainly, it struck him, he should manage in some way to deal with. Why
too, for that matter, had he need of defences, material or other?—how
was it a question of dangers really to be called such? The deep danger,
the only one that made him, as an idea, positively turn cold, would have
been the possibility of her seeking him in marriage, of her bringing up
between them that terrible issue. Here, fortunately, she was powerless, it
being apparently so provable against her that she had a husband in
undiminished existence.



She had him, it was true, only in America, only in Texas, in Nebraska, in
Arizona or somewhere—somewhere that, at old Fawns House, in the
county of Kent, scarcely counted as a definite place at all; it showed
somehow, from afar, as so lost, so indistinct and illusory, in the great
alkali desert of cheap Divorce. She had him even in bondage, poor man, had
him in contempt, had him in remembrance so imperfect as barely to assert
itself, but she had him, none the less, in existence unimpeached: the Miss
Lutches had seen him in the flesh—as they had appeared eager to
mention; though when they were separately questioned their descriptions
failed to tally. He would be at the worst, should it come to the worst,
Mrs. Rance’s difficulty, and he served therefore quite enough as the stout
bulwark of anyone else. This was in truth logic without a flaw, yet it
gave Mr. Verver less comfort than it ought. He feared not only danger—he
feared the idea of danger, or in other words feared, hauntedly, himself.
It was above all as a symbol that Mrs. Rance actually rose before him—a
symbol of the supreme effort that he should have sooner or later, as he
felt, to make. This effort would be to say No—he lived in terror of
having to. He should be proposed to at a given moment—it was only a
question of time—and then he should have to do a thing that would be
extremely disagreeable. He almost wished, on occasion, that he wasn’t so
sure he WOULD do it. He knew himself, however, well enough not to doubt:
he knew coldly, quite bleakly, where he would, at the crisis, draw the
line. It was Maggie’s marriage and Maggie’s finer happiness—happy as
he had supposed her before—that had made the difference; he hadn’t
in the other time, it now seemed to him, had to think of such things. They
hadn’t come up for him, and it was as if she, positively, had herself kept
them down. She had only been his child—which she was indeed as much
as ever; but there were sides on which she had protected him as if she
were more than a daughter. She had done for him more than he knew—much,
and blissfully, as he always HAD known. If she did at present more than
ever, through having what she called the change in his life to make up to
him for, his situation still, all the same, kept pace with her activity—his
situation being simply that there was more than ever to be done.



There had not yet been quite so much, on all the showing, as since their
return from their twenty months in America, as since their settlement
again in England, experimental though it was, and the consequent sense,
now quite established for him, of a domestic air that had cleared and
lightened, producing the effect, for their common personal life, of wider
perspectives and large waiting spaces. It was as if his son-in-law’s
presence, even from before his becoming his son-in-law, had somehow filled
the scene and blocked the future—very richly and handsomely, when
all was said, not at all inconveniently or in ways not to have been
desired: inasmuch as though the Prince, his measure now practically taken,
was still pretty much the same “big fact,” the sky had lifted, the horizon
receded, the very foreground itself expanded, quite to match him, quite to
keep everything in comfortable scale. At first, certainly, their decent
little old-time union, Maggie’s and his own, had resembled a good deal
some pleasant public square, in the heart of an old city, into which a
great Palladian church, say—something with a grand architectural
front—had suddenly been dropped; so that the rest of the place, the
space in front, the way round, outside, to the east end, the margin of
street and passage, the quantity of over-arching heaven, had been
temporarily compromised. Not even then, of a truth, in a manner
disconcerting—given, that is, for the critical, or at least the
intelligent, eye, the great style of the facade and its high place in its
class. The phenomenon that had since occurred, whether originally to have
been pronounced calculable or not, had not, naturally, been the miracle of
a night, but had taken place so gradually, quietly, easily, that from this
vantage of wide, wooded Fawns, with its eighty rooms, as they said, with
its spreading park, with its acres and acres of garden and its majesty of
artificial lake—though that, for a person so familiar with the
“great” ones, might be rather ridiculous—no visibility of transition
showed, no violence of adjustment, in retrospect, emerged. The Palladian
church was always there, but the piazza took care of itself. The sun
stared down in his fulness, the air circulated, and the public not less;
the limit stood off, the way round was easy, the east end was as fine, in
its fashion, as the west, and there were also side doors for entrance,
between the two—large, monumental, ornamental, in their style—as
for all proper great churches. By some such process, in fine, had the
Prince, for his father-in-law, while remaining solidly a feature, ceased
to be, at all ominously, a block.



Mr. Verver, it may further be mentioned, had taken at no moment sufficient
alarm to have kept in detail the record of his reassurance; but he would
none the less not have been unable, not really have been indisposed, to
impart in confidence to the right person his notion of the history of the
matter. The right person—it is equally distinct—had not, for
this illumination, been wanting, but had been encountered in the form of
Fanny Assingham, not for the first time indeed admitted to his counsels,
and who would have doubtless at present, in any case, from plenitude of
interest and with equal guarantees, repeated his secret. It all came then,
the great clearance, from the one prime fact that the Prince, by good
fortune, hadn’t proved angular. He clung to that description of his
daughter’s husband as he often did to terms and phrases, in the human, the
social connection, that he had found for himself: it was his way to have
times of using these constantly, as if they just then lighted the world,
or his own path in it, for him—even when for some of his
interlocutors they covered less ground. It was true that with Mrs.
Assingham he never felt quite sure of the ground anything covered; she
disputed with him so little, agreed with him so much, surrounded him with
such systematic consideration, such predetermined tenderness, that it was
almost—which he had once told her in irritation as if she were
nursing a sick baby. He had accused her of not taking him seriously, and
she had replied—as from her it couldn’t frighten him—that she
took him religiously, adoringly. She had laughed again, as she had laughed
before, on his producing for her that good right word about the happy
issue of his connection with the Prince—with an effect the more odd
perhaps as she had not contested its value. She couldn’t of course,
however, be, at the best, as much in love with his discovery as he was
himself. He was so much so that he fairly worked it—to his own
comfort; came in fact sometimes near publicly pointing the moral of what
might have occurred if friction, so to speak, had occurred. He pointed it
frankly one day to the personage in question, mentioned to the Prince the
particular justice he did him, was even explicit as to the danger that, in
their remarkable relation, they had thus escaped. Oh, if he HAD been
angular!—who could say what might THEN have happened? He spoke—and
it was the way he had spoken to Mrs. Assingham too—as if he grasped
the facts, without exception, for which angularity stood.



It figured for him, clearly, as a final idea, a conception of the last
vividness. He might have been signifying by it the sharp corners and hard
edges, all the stony pointedness, the grand right geometry of his
spreading Palladian church. Just so, he was insensible to no feature of
the felicity of a contact that, beguilingly, almost confoundingly, was a
contact but with practically yielding lines and curved surfaces. “You’re
round, my boy,” he had said—“you’re ALL, you’re variously and
inexhaustibly round, when you might, by all the chances, have been
abominably square. I’m not sure, for that matter,” he had added, “that
you’re not square in the general mass—whether abominably or not. The
abomination isn’t a question, for you’re inveterately round—that’s
what I mean—in the detail. It’s the sort of thing, in you, that one
feels—or at least I do—with one’s hand. Say you had been
formed, all over, in a lot of little pyramidal lozenges like that
wonderful side of the Ducal Palace in Venice—so lovely in a
building, but so damnable, for rubbing against, in a man, and especially
in a near relation. I can see them all from here—each of them
sticking out by itself—all the architectural cut diamonds that would
have scratched one’s softer sides. One would have been scratched by
diamonds—doubtless the neatest way if one was to be scratched at all—but
one would have been more or less reduced to a hash. As it is, for living
with, you’re a pure and perfect crystal. I give you my idea—I think
you ought to have it—just as it has come to me.” The Prince had
taken the idea, in his way, for he was well accustomed, by this time, to
taking; and nothing perhaps even could more have confirmed Mr. Verver’s
account of his surface than the manner in which these golden drops evenly
flowed over it. They caught in no interstice, they gathered in no
concavity; the uniform smoothness betrayed the dew but by showing for the
moment a richer tone. The young man, in other words, unconfusedly smiled—though
indeed as if assenting, from principle and habit, to more than he
understood. He liked all signs that things were well, but he cared rather
less WHY they were.



In regard to the people among whom he had since his marriage been living,
the reasons they so frequently gave—so much oftener than he had ever
heard reasons given before—remained on the whole the element by
which he most differed from them; and his father-in-law and his wife were,
after all, only first among the people among whom he had been living. He
was never even yet sure of how, at this, that or the other point, he would
strike them; they felt remarkably, so often, things he hadn’t meant, and
missed not less remarkably, and not less often, things he had. He had
fallen back on his general explanation—“We haven’t the same values;”
by which he understood the same measure of importance. His “curves”
apparently were important because they had been unexpected, or, still
more, unconceived; whereas when one had always, as in his relegated old
world, taken curves, and in much greater quantities too, for granted, one
was no more surprised at the resulting feasibility of intercourse than one
was surprised at being upstairs in a house that had a staircase. He had in
fact on this occasion disposed alertly enough of the subject of Mr.
Verver’s approbation. The promptitude of his answer, we may in fact well
surmise, had sprung not a little from a particular kindled remembrance;
this had given his acknowledgment its easiest turn. “Oh, if I’m a crystal
I’m delighted that I’m a perfect one, for I believe that they sometimes
have cracks and flaws—in which case they’re to be had very cheap!”
He had stopped short of the emphasis it would have given his joke to add
that there had been certainly no having HIM cheap; and it was doubtless a
mark of the good taste practically reigning between them that Mr. Verver
had not, on his side either, taken up the opportunity. It is the latter’s
relation to such aspects, however, that now most concerns us, and the
bearing of his pleased view of this absence of friction upon Amerigo’s
character as a representative precious object. Representative precious
objects, great ancient pictures and other works of art, fine eminent
“pieces” in gold, in silver, in enamel, majolica, ivory, bronze, had for a
number of years so multiplied themselves round him and, as a general
challenge to acquisition and appreciation, so engaged all the faculties of
his mind, that the instinct, the particular sharpened appetite of the
collector, had fairly served as a basis for his acceptance of the Prince’s
suit.



Over and above the signal fact of the impression made on Maggie herself,
the aspirant to his daughter’s hand showed somehow the great marks and
signs, stood before him with the high authenticities, he had learned to
look for in pieces of the first order. Adam Verver knew, by this time,
knew thoroughly; no man in Europe or in America, he privately believed,
was less capable, in such estimates, of vulgar mistakes. He had never
spoken of himself as infallible—it was not his way; but, apart from
the natural affections, he had acquainted himself with no greater joy, of
the intimately personal type, than the joy of his originally coming to
feel, and all so unexpectedly, that he had in him the spirit of the
connoisseur. He had, like many other persons, in the course of his
reading, been struck with Keats’s sonnet about stout Cortez in the
presence of the Pacific; but few persons, probably, had so devoutly fitted
the poet’s grand image to a fact of experience. It consorted so with Mr.
Verver’s consciousness of the way in which, at a given moment, he had
stared at HIS Pacific, that a couple of perusals of the immortal lines had
sufficed to stamp them in his memory. His “peak in Darien” was the sudden
hour that had transformed his life, the hour of his perceiving with a mute
inward gasp akin to the low moan of apprehensive passion, that a world was
left him to conquer and that he might conquer it if he tried. It had been
a turning of the page of the book of life—as if a leaf long inert
had moved at a touch and, eagerly reversed, had made such a stir of the
air as sent up into his face the very breath of the Golden Isles. To rifle
the Golden Isles had, on the spot, become the business of his future, and
with the sweetness of it—what was most wondrous of all—still
more even in the thought than in the act. The thought was that of the
affinity of Genius, or at least of Taste, with something in himself—with
the dormant intelligence of which he had thus almost violently become
aware and that affected him as changing by a mere revolution of the screw
his whole intellectual plane. He was equal, somehow, with the great seers,
the invokers and encouragers of beauty—and he didn’t after all
perhaps dangle so far below the great producers and creators. He had been
nothing of that kind before-too decidedly, too dreadfully not; but now he
saw why he had been what he had, why he had failed and fallen short even
in huge success; now he read into his career, in one single magnificent
night, the immense meaning it had waited for.



It was during his first visit to Europe after the death of his wife, when
his daughter was ten years old, that the light, in his mind, had so broken—and
he had even made out at that time why, on an earlier occasion, the journey
of his honeymoon year, it had still been closely covered. He had “bought”
then, so far as he had been able, but he had bought almost wholly for the
frail, fluttered creature at his side, who had had her fancies, decidedly,
but all for the art, then wonderful to both of them, of the Rue de la
Paix, the costly authenticities of dressmakers and jewellers. Her flutter—pale
disconcerted ghost as she actually was, a broken white flower tied round,
almost grotesquely for his present sense, with a huge satin “bow” of the
Boulevard—her flutter had been mainly that of ribbons, frills and
fine fabrics; all funny, pathetic evidence, for memory, of the
bewilderments overtaking them as a bridal pair confronted with
opportunity. He could wince, fairly, still, as he remembered the sense in
which the poor girl’s pressure had, under his fond encouragement indeed,
been exerted in favour of purchase and curiosity. These were wandering
images, out of the earlier dusk, that threw her back, for his pity, into a
past more remote than he liked their common past, their young affection,
to appear. It would have had to be admitted, to an insistent criticism,
that Maggie’s mother, all too strangely, had not so much failed of faith
as of the right application of it; since she had exercised it eagerly and
restlessly, made it a pretext for innocent perversities in respect to
which philosophic time was at, last to reduce all groans to gentleness.
And they had loved each other so that his own intelligence, on the higher
line, had temporarily paid for it. The futilities, the enormities, the
depravities, of decoration and ingenuity, that, before his sense was
unsealed, she had made him think lovely! Musing, reconsidering little man
that he was, and addicted to silent pleasures—as he was accessible
to silent pains—he even sometimes wondered what would have become of
his intelligence, in the sphere in which it was to learn more and more
exclusively to play, if his wife’s influence upon it had not been, in the
strange scheme of things, so promptly removed. Would she have led him
altogether, attached as he was to her, into the wilderness of mere
mistakes? Would she have prevented him from ever scaling his vertiginous
Peak?—or would she, otherwise, have been able to accompany him to
that eminence, where he might have pointed out to her, as Cortez to HIS
companions, the revelation vouchsafed? No companion of Cortez had
presumably been a real lady: Mr. Verver allowed that historic fact to
determine his inference.


                             VIII


What was at all events not permanently hidden from him was a truth much
less invidious about his years of darkness. It was the strange scheme of
things again: the years of darkness had been needed to render possible the
years of light. A wiser hand than he at first knew had kept him hard at
acquisition of one sort as a perfect preliminary to acquisition of
another, and the preliminary would have been weak and wanting if the good
faith of it had been less. His comparative blindness had made the good
faith, which in its turn had made the soil propitious for the flower of
the supreme idea. He had had to LIKE forging and sweating, he had had to
like polishing and piling up his arms. They were things at least he had
had to believe he liked, just as he had believed he liked transcendent
calculation and imaginative gambling all for themselves, the creation of
“interests” that were the extinction of other interests, the livid
vulgarity, even, of getting in, or getting out, first. That had of course
been so far from really the case—with the supreme idea, all the
while, growing and striking deep, under everything, in the warm, rich
earth. He had stood unknowing, he had walked and worked where it was
buried, and the fact itself, the fact of his fortune, would have been a
barren fact enough if the first sharp tender shoot had never struggled
into day. There on one side was the ugliness his middle time had been
spared; there on the other, from all the portents, was the beauty with
which his age might still be crowned. He was happier, doubtless, than he
deserved; but THAT, when one was happy at all, it was easy to be. He had
wrought by devious ways, but he had reached the place, and what would ever
have been straighter, in any man’s life, than his way, now, of occupying
it? It hadn’t merely, his plan, all the sanctions of civilization; it was
positively civilization condensed, concrete, consummate, set down by his
hands as a house on a rock—a house from whose open doors and
windows, open to grateful, to thirsty millions, the higher, the highest
knowledge would shine out to bless the land. In this house, designed as a
gift, primarily, to the people of his adoptive city and native State, the
urgency of whose release from the bondage of ugliness he was in a position
to measure—in this museum of museums, a palace of art which was to
show for compact as a Greek temple was compact, a receptacle of treasures
sifted to positive sanctity, his spirit to-day almost altogether lived,
making up, as he would have said, for lost time and haunting the portico
in anticipation of the final rites.



These would be the “opening exercises,” the august dedication of the
place. His imagination, he was well aware, got over the ground faster than
his judgment; there was much still to do for the production of his first
effect. Foundations were laid and walls were rising, the structure of the
shell all determined; but raw haste was forbidden him in a connection so
intimate with the highest effects of patience and piety; he should belie
himself by completing without a touch at least of the majesty of delay a
monument to the religion he wished to propagate, the exemplary passion,
the passion for perfection at any price. He was far from knowing as yet
where he would end, but he was admirably definite as to where he wouldn’t
begin. He wouldn’t begin with a small show—he would begin with a
great, and he could scarce have indicated, even had he wished to try, the
line of division he had drawn. He had taken no trouble to indicate it to
his fellow-citizens, purveyors and consumers, in his own and the
circumjacent commonwealths, of comic matter in large lettering, diurnally
“set up,” printed, published, folded and delivered, at the expense of his
presumptuous emulation of the snail. The snail had become for him, under
this ironic suggestion, the loveliest beast in nature, and his return to
England, of which we are present witnesses, had not been unconnected with
the appreciation so determined. It marked what he liked to mark, that he
needed, on the matter in question, instruction from no one on earth. A
couple of years of Europe again, of renewed nearness to changes and
chances, refreshed sensibility to the currents of the market, would fall
in with the consistency of wisdom, the particular shade of enlightened
conviction, that he wished to observe. It didn’t look like much for a
whole family to hang about waiting-they being now, since the birth of his
grandson, a whole family; and there was henceforth only one ground in all
the world, he felt, on which the question of appearance would ever really
again count for him. He cared that a work of art of price should “look
like” the master to whom it might perhaps be deceitfully attributed; but
he had ceased on the whole to know any matter of the rest of life by its
looks.



He took life in general higher up the stream; so far as he was not
actually taking it as a collector, he was taking it, decidedly, as a
grandfather. In the way of precious small pieces he had handled nothing so
precious as the Principino, his daughter’s first-born, whose Italian
designation endlessly amused him and whom he could manipulate and dandle,
already almost toss and catch again, as he couldn’t a correspondingly rare
morsel of an earlier pate tendre. He could take the small clutching child
from his nurse’s arms with an iteration grimly discountenanced, in respect
to their contents, by the glass doors of high cabinets. Something clearly
beatific in this new relation had, moreover, without doubt, confirmed for
him the sense that none of his silent answers to public detraction, to
local vulgarity, had ever been so legitimately straight as the mere
element of attitude—reduce it, he said, to that—in his easy
weeks at Fawns. The element of attitude was all he wanted of these weeks,
and he was enjoying it on the spot, even more than he had hoped: enjoying
it in spite of Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches; in spite of the small
worry of his belief that Fanny Assingham had really something for him that
she was keeping back; in spite of his full consciousness, overflowing the
cup like a wine too generously poured, that if he had consented to marry
his daughter, and thereby to make, as it were, the difference, what
surrounded him now was, exactly, consent vivified, marriage demonstrated,
the difference, in fine, definitely made. He could call back his prior,
his own wedded consciousness—it was not yet out of range of vague
reflection. He had supposed himself, above all he had supposed his wife,
as married as anyone could be, and yet he wondered if their state had
deserved the name, or their union worn the beauty, in the degree to which
the couple now before him carried the matter. In especial since the birth
of their boy, in New York—the grand climax of their recent American
period, brought to so right an issue—the happy pair struck him as
having carried it higher, deeper, further; to where it ceased to concern
his imagination, at any rate, to follow them. Extraordinary, beyond
question, was one branch of his characteristic mute wonderment—it
characterised above all, with its subject before it, his modesty: the
strange dim doubt, waking up for him at the end of the years, of whether
Maggie’s mother had, after all, been capable of the maximum. The maximum
of tenderness he meant—as the terms existed for him; the maximum of
immersion in the fact of being married. Maggie herself was capable; Maggie
herself at this season, was, exquisitely, divinely, the maximum: such was
the impression that, positively holding off a little for the practical,
the tactful consideration it inspired in him, a respect for the beauty and
sanctity of it almost amounting to awe—such was the impression he
daily received from her. She was her mother, oh yes—but her mother
and something more; it becoming thus a new light for him, and in such a
curious way too, that anything more than her mother should prove at this
time of day possible.



He could live over again at almost any quiet moment the long process of
his introduction to his present interests—an introduction that had
depended all on himself, like the “cheek” of the young man who approaches
a boss without credentials or picks up an acquaintance, makes even a real
friend, by speaking to a passer in the street. HIS real friend, in all the
business, was to have been his own mind, with which nobody had put him in
relation. He had knocked at the door of that essentially private house,
and his call, in truth, had not been immediately answered; so that when,
after waiting and coming back, he had at last got in, it was, twirling his
hat, as an embarrassed stranger, or, trying his keys, as a thief at night.
He had gained confidence only with time, but when he had taken real
possession of the place it had been never again to come away. All of which
success represented, it must be allowed, his one principle of pride. Pride
in the mere original spring, pride in his money, would have been pride in
something that had come, in comparison, so easily. The right ground for
elation was difficulty mastered, and his difficulty—thanks to his
modesty—had been to believe in his facility. THIS was the problem he
had worked out to its solution—the solution that was now doing more
than all else to make his feet settle and his days flush; and when he
wished to feel “good,” as they said at American City, he had but to
retrace his immense development. That was what the whole thing came back
to—that the development had not been somebody’s else passing
falsely, accepted too ignobly, for his. To think how servile he might have
been was absolutely to respect himself, was in fact, as much as he liked,
to admire himself, as free. The very finest spring that ever responded to
his touch was always there to press—the memory of his freedom as
dawning upon him, like a sunrise all pink and silver, during a winter
divided between Florence, Rome and Naples some three years after his
wife’s death. It was the hushed daybreak of the Roman revelation in
particular that he could usually best recover, with the way that there,
above all, where the princes and Popes had been before him, his divination
of his faculty most went to his head. He was a plain American citizen,
staying at an hotel where, sometimes, for days together, there were twenty
others like him; but no Pope, no prince of them all had read a richer
meaning, he believed, into the character of the Patron of Art. He was
ashamed of them really, if he wasn’t afraid, and he had on the whole never
so climbed to the tip-top as in judging, over a perusal of Hermann Grimm,
where Julius II and Leo X were “placed” by their treatment of Michael
Angelo. Far below the plain American citizen—in the case at least in
which this personage happened not to be too plain to be Adam Verver. Going
to our friend’s head, moreover, some of the results of such comparisons
may doubtless be described as having stayed there. His freedom to see—of
which the comparisons were part—what could it do but steadily grow
and grow?



It came perhaps even too much to stand to him for ALL freedom—since,
for example, it was as much there as ever at the very time of Mrs. Rance’s
conspiring against him, at Fawns, with the billiard-room and the Sunday
morning, on the occasion round which we have perhaps drawn our circle too
wide. Mrs. Rance at least controlled practically each other license of the
present and the near future: the license to pass the hour as he would have
found convenient; the license to stop remembering, for a little, that,
though if proposed to—and not only by this aspirant but by any other—he
wouldn’t prove foolish, the proof of wisdom was none the less, in such a
fashion, rather cruelly conditioned; the license in especial to proceed
from his letters to his journals and insulate, orientate, himself afresh
by the sound, over his gained interval, of the many-mouthed monster the
exercise of whose lungs he so constantly stimulated. Mrs. Rance remained
with him till the others came back from church, and it was by that time
clearer than ever that his ordeal, when it should arrive, would be really
most unpleasant. His impression—this was the point—took
somehow the form not so much of her wanting to press home her own
advantage as of her building better than she knew; that is of her
symbolising, with virtual unconsciousness, his own special deficiency, his
unfortunate lack of a wife to whom applications could be referred. The
applications, the contingencies with which Mrs. Rance struck him as
potentially bristling, were not of a sort, really, to be met by one’s
self. And the possibility of them, when his visitor said, or as good as
said, “I’m restrained, you see, because of Mr. Rance, and also because I’m
proud and refined; but if it WASN’T for Mr. Rance and for my refinement
and my pride!”—the possibility of them, I say, turned to a great
murmurous rustle, of a volume to fill the future; a rustle of petticoats,
of scented, many-paged letters, of voices as to which, distinguish
themselves as they might from each other, it mattered little in what part
of the resounding country they had learned to make themselves prevail. The
Assinghams and the Miss Lutches had taken the walk, through the park, to
the little old church, “on the property,” that our friend had often found
himself wishing he were able to transport, as it stood, for its simple
sweetness, in a glass case, to one of his exhibitory halls; while Maggie
had induced her husband, not inveterate in such practices, to make with
her, by carriage, the somewhat longer pilgrimage to the nearest altar,
modest though it happened to be, of the faith—her own as it had been
her mother’s, and as Mr. Verver himself had been loosely willing, always,
to let it be taken for his—without the solid ease of which, making
the stage firm and smooth, the drama of her marriage might not have been
acted out.



What at last appeared to have happened, however, was that the divided
parties, coming back at the same moment, had met outside and then drifted
together, from empty room to room, yet not in mere aimless quest of the
pair of companions they had left at home. The quest had carried them to
the door of the billiard-room, and their appearance, as it opened to admit
them, determined for Adam Verver, in the oddest way in the world, a new
and sharp perception. It was really remarkable: this perception expanded,
on the spot, as a flower, one of the strangest, might, at a breath, have
suddenly opened. The breath, for that matter, was more than anything else,
the look in his daughter’s eyes—the look with which he SAW her take
in exactly what had occurred in her absence: Mrs. Rance’s pursuit of him
to this remote locality, the spirit and the very form, perfectly
characteristic, of his acceptance of the complication—the seal set,
in short, unmistakably, on one of Maggie’s anxieties. The anxiety, it was
true, would have been, even though not imparted, separately shared; for
Fanny Assingham’s face was, by the same stroke, not at all thickly veiled
for him, and a queer light, of a colour quite to match, fairly glittered
in the four fine eyes of the Miss Lutches. Each of these persons—counting
out, that is, the Prince and the Colonel, who didn’t care, and who didn’t
even see that the others did—knew something, or had at any rate had
her idea; the idea, precisely, that this was what Mrs. Rance, artfully
biding her time, WOULD do. The special shade of apprehension on the part
of the Miss Lutches might indeed have suggested the vision of an energy
supremely asserted. It was droll, in truth, if one came to that, the
position of the Miss Lutches: they had themselves brought, they had
guilelessly introduced Mrs. Rance, strong in the fact of Mr. Rance’s
having been literally beheld of them; and it was now for them, positively,
as if their handful of flowers—since Mrs. Rance was a handful!—had
been but the vehicle of a dangerous snake. Mr. Verver fairly felt in the
air the Miss Lutches’ imputation—in the intensity of which, really,
his own propriety might have been involved.



That, none the less, was but a flicker; what made the real difference, as
I have hinted, was his mute passage with Maggie. His daughter’s anxiety
alone had depths, and it opened out for him the wider that it was
altogether new. When, in their common past, when till this moment, had she
shown a fear, however dumbly, for his individual life? They had had fears
together, just as they had had joys, but all of hers, at least, had been
for what equally concerned them. Here of a sudden was a question that
concerned him alone, and the soundless explosion of it somehow marked a
date. He was on her mind, he was even in a manner on her hands—as a
distinct thing, that is, from being, where he had always been, merely deep
in her heart and in her life; too deep down, as it were, to be disengaged,
contrasted or opposed, in short objectively presented. But time finally
had done it; their relation was altered: he SAW, again, the difference
lighted for her. This marked it to himself—and it wasn’t a question
simply of a Mrs. Rance the more or the less. For Maggie too, at a stroke,
almost beneficently, their visitor had, from being an inconvenience,
become a sign. They had made vacant, by their marriage, his immediate
foreground, his personal precinct—they being the Princess and the
Prince. They had made room in it for others—so others had become
aware. He became aware himself, for that matter, during the minute Maggie
stood there before speaking; and with the sense, moreover, of what he saw
her see, he had the sense of what she saw HIM. This last, it may be added,
would have been his intensest perception had there not, the next instant,
been more for him in Fanny Assingham. Her face couldn’t keep it from him;
she had seen, on top of everything, in her quick way, what they both were
seeing.


                             IX


So much mute communication was doubtless, all this time, marvellous, and
we may confess to having perhaps read into the scene, prematurely, a
critical character that took longer to develop. Yet the quiet hour of
reunion enjoyed that afternoon by the father and the daughter did really
little else than deal with the elements definitely presented to each in
the vibration produced by the return of the church-goers. Nothing
allusive, nothing at all insistent, passed between them either before or
immediately after luncheon—except indeed so far as their failure
soon again to meet might be itself an accident charged with reference. The
hour or two after luncheon—and on Sundays with especial rigour, for
one of the domestic reasons of which it belonged to Maggie quite
multitudinously to take account—were habitually spent by the
Princess with her little boy, in whose apartment she either frequently
found her father already established or was sooner or later joined by him.
His visit to his grandson, at some hour or other, held its place, in his
day, against all interventions, and this without counting his grandson’s
visits to HIM, scarcely less ordered and timed, and the odd bits, as he
called them, that they picked up together when they could—communions
snatched, for the most part, on the terrace, in the gardens or the park,
while the Principino, with much pomp and circumstance of perambulator,
parasol, fine lace over-veiling and incorruptible female attendance, took
the air. In the private apartments, which, occupying in the great house
the larger part of a wing of their own, were not much more easily
accessible than if the place had been a royal palace and the small child
an heir-apparent—in the nursery of nurseries the talk, at these
instituted times, was always so prevailingly with or about the master of
the scene that other interests and other topics had fairly learned to
avoid the slighting and inadequate notice there taken of them. They came
in, at the best, but as involved in the little boy’s future, his past, or
his comprehensive present, never getting so much as a chance to plead
their own merits or to complain of being neglected. Nothing perhaps, in
truth, had done more than this united participation to confirm in the
elder parties that sense of a life not only uninterrupted but more deeply
associated, more largely combined, of which, on Adam Verver’s behalf, we
have made some mention. It was of course an old story and a familiar idea
that a beautiful baby could take its place as a new link between a wife
and a husband, but Maggie and her father had, with every ingenuity,
converted the precious creature into a link between a mamma and a
grandpapa. The Principino, for a chance spectator of this process, might
have become, by an untoward stroke, a hapless half-orphan, with the place
of immediate male parent swept bare and open to the next nearest sympathy.



They had no occasion thus, the conjoined worshippers, to talk of what the
Prince might be or might do for his son—the sum of service, in his
absence, so completely filled itself out. It was not in the least,
moreover, that there was doubt of him, for he was conspicuously addicted
to the manipulation of the child, in the frank Italian way, at such
moments as he judged discreet in respect to other claims: conspicuously,
indeed, that is, for Maggie, who had more occasion, on the whole, to speak
to her husband of the extravagance of her father than to speak to her
father of the extravagance of her husband. Adam Verver had, all round, in
this connection, his own serenity. He was sure of his son-in-law’s
auxiliary admiration—admiration, he meant, of his grand-son; since,
to begin with, what else had been at work but the instinct—or it
might fairly have been the tradition—of the latter’s making the
child so solidly beautiful as to HAVE to be admired? What contributed most
to harmony in this play of relations, however, was the way the young man
seemed to leave it to be gathered that, tradition for tradition, the
grandpapa’s own was not, in any estimate, to go for nothing. A tradition,
or whatever it was, that had flowered prelusively in the Princess herself—well,
Amerigo’s very discretions were his way of taking account of it. His
discriminations in respect to his heir were, in fine, not more angular
than any others to be observed in him; and Mr. Verver received perhaps
from no source so distinct an impression of being for him an odd and
important phenomenon as he received from this impunity of appropriation,
these unchallenged nursery hours. It was as if the grandpapa’s special
show of the character were but another side for the observer to study,
another item for him to note. It came back, this latter personage knew, to
his own previous perception—that of the Prince’s inability, in any
matter in which he was concerned, to CONCLUDE. The idiosyncrasy, for him,
at each stage, had to be demonstrated—on which, however, he
admirably accepted it. This last was, after all, the point; he really
worked, poor young man, for acceptance, since he worked so constantly for
comprehension. And how, when you came to that, COULD you know that a horse
wouldn’t shy at a brass-band, in a country road, because it didn’t shy at
a traction-engine? It might have been brought up to traction-engines
without having been brought up to brass-bands. Little by little, thus,
from month to month, the Prince was learning what his wife’s father had
been brought up to; and now it could be checked off—he had been
brought, up to the romantic view of principini. Who would have thought it,
and where would it all stop? The only fear somewhat sharp for Mr. Verver
was a certain fear of disappointing him for strangeness. He felt that the
evidence he offered, thus viewed, was too much on the positive side. He
didn’t know—he was learning, and it was funny for him—to how
many things he HAD been brought up. If the Prince could only strike
something to which he hadn’t! This wouldn’t, it seemed to him, ruffle the
smoothness, and yet MIGHT, a little, add to the interest.



What was now clear, at all events, for the father and the daughter, was
their simply knowing they wanted, for the time, to be together—at
any cost, as it were; and their necessity so worked in them as to bear
them out of the house, in a quarter hidden from that in which their
friends were gathered, and cause them to wander, unseen, unfollowed, along
a covered walk in the “old” garden, as it was called, old with an
antiquity of formal things, high box and shaped yew and expanses of brick
wall that had turned at once to purple and to pink. They went out of a
door in the wall, a door that had a slab with a date set above it, 1713,
but in the old multiplied lettering, and then had before them a small
white gate, intensely white and clean amid all the greenness, through
which they gradually passed to where some of the grandest trees spaciously
clustered and where they would find one of the quietest places. A bench
had been placed, long ago, beneath a great oak that helped to crown a mild
eminence, and the ground sank away below it, to rise again, opposite, at a
distance sufficient to enclose the solitude and figure a bosky horizon.
Summer, blissfully, was with them yet, and the low sun made a splash of
light where it pierced the looser shade; Maggie, coming down to go out,
had brought a parasol, which, as, over her charming bare head, she now
handled it, gave, with the big straw hat that her father in these days
always wore a good deal tipped back, definite intention to their walk.
They knew the bench; it was “sequestered”—they had praised it for
that together, before, and liked the word; and after they had begun to
linger there they could have smiled (if they hadn’t been really too
serious, and if the question hadn’t so soon ceased to matter), over the
probable wonder of the others as to what would have become of them.



The extent to which they enjoyed their indifference to any judgment of
their want of ceremony, what did that of itself speak but for the way
that, as a rule, they almost equally had others on their mind? They each
knew that both were full of the superstition of not “hurting,” but might
precisely have been asking themselves, asking in fact each other, at this
moment, whether that was to be, after all, the last word of their
conscientious development. Certain it was, at all events, that, in
addition to the Assinghams and the Lutches and Mrs. Rance, the attendance
at tea, just in the right place on the west terrace, might perfectly
comprise the four or five persons—among them the very pretty, the
typically Irish Miss Maddock, vaunted, announced and now brought—from
the couple of other houses near enough, one of these the minor residence
Of their proprietor, established, thriftily, while he hired out his
ancestral home, within sight and sense of his profit. It was not less
certain, either, that, for once in a way, the group in question must all
take the case as they found it. Fanny Assingham, at any time, for that
matter, might perfectly be trusted to see Mr. Verver and his daughter, to
see their reputation for a decent friendliness, through any momentary
danger; might be trusted even to carry off their absence for Amerigo, for
Amerigo’s possible funny Italian anxiety; Amerigo always being, as the
Princess was well aware, conveniently amenable to this friend’s
explanations, beguilements, reassurances, and perhaps in fact rather more
than less dependent on them as his new life—since that was his own
name for it—opened out. It was no secret to Maggie—it was
indeed positively a public joke for her—that she couldn’t explain as
Mrs. Assingham did, and that, the Prince liking explanations, liking them
almost as if he collected them, in the manner of book-plates or
postage-stamps, for themselves, his requisition of this luxury had to be
met. He didn’t seem to want them as yet for use—rather for ornament
and amusement, innocent amusement of the kind he most fancied and that was
so characteristic of his blessed, beautiful, general, slightly indolent
lack of more dissipated, or even just of more sophisticated, tastes.



However that might be, the dear woman had come to be frankly and gaily
recognised—and not least by herself—as filling in the intimate
little circle an office that was not always a sinecure. It was almost as
if she had taken, with her kind, melancholy Colonel at her heels, a
responsible engagement; to be within call, as it were, for all those
appeals that sprang out of talk, that sprang not a little, doubtless too,
out of leisure. It naturally led her position in the household, as, she
called it, to considerable frequency of presence, to visits, from the good
couple, freely repeated and prolonged, and not so much as under form of
protest. She was there to keep him quiet—it was Amerigo’s own
description of her influence; and it would only have needed a more visible
disposition to unrest in him to make the account perfectly fit. Fanny
herself limited indeed, she minimised, her office; you didn’t need a
jailor, she contended, for a domesticated lamb tied up with pink ribbon.
This was not an animal to be controlled—it was an animal to be, at
the most, educated. She admitted accordingly that she was educative—which
Maggie was so aware that she herself, inevitably, wasn’t; so it came round
to being true that what she was most in charge of was his mere
intelligence. This left, goodness knew, plenty of different calls for
Maggie to meet—in a case in which so much pink ribbon, as it might
be symbolically named, was lavished on the creature. What it all amounted
to, at any rate, was that Mrs. Assingham would be keeping him quiet now,
while his wife and his father-in-law carried out their own little frugal
picnic; quite moreover, doubtless, not much less neededly in respect to
the members of the circle that were with them there than in respect to the
pair they were missing almost for the first time. It was present to Maggie
that the Prince could bear, when he was with his wife, almost any
queerness on the part of people, strange English types, who bored him,
beyond convenience, by being so little as he himself was; for this was one
of the ways in which a wife was practically sustaining. But she was as
positively aware that she hadn’t yet learned to see him as meeting such
exposure in her absence. How did he move and talk, how above all did he,
or how WOULD he, look—he who, with his so nobly handsome face, could
look such wonderful things—in case of being left alone with some of
the subjects of his wonder? There were subjects for wonder among these
very neighbours; only Maggie herself had her own odd way—which
didn’t moreover the least irritate him—of really liking them in
proportion as they could strike her as strange. It came out in her by
heredity, he amused himself with declaring, this love of chinoiseries; but
she actually this evening didn’t mind—he might deal with her Chinese
as he could.



Maggie indeed would always have had for such moments, had they oftener
occurred, the impression made on her by a word of Mrs. Assingham’s, a word
referring precisely to that appetite in Amerigo for the explanatory which
we have just found in our path. It wasn’t that the Princess could be
indebted to another person, even to so clever a one as this friend, for
seeing anything in her husband that she mightn’t see unaided; but she had
ever, hitherto, been of a nature to accept with modest gratitude any
better description of a felt truth than her little limits—terribly
marked, she knew, in the direction of saying the right things—enabled
her to make. Thus it was, at any rate, that she was able to live more or
less in the light of the fact expressed so lucidly by their common
comforter—the fact that the Prince was saving up, for some very
mysterious but very fine eventual purpose, all the wisdom, all the answers
to his questions, all the impressions and generalisations, he gathered;
putting them away and packing them down because he wanted his great gun to
be loaded to the brim on the day he should decide to let it off. He wanted
first to make sure of the whole of the subject that was unrolling itself
before him; after which the innumerable facts he had collected would find
their use. He knew what he was about—-trust him at last therefore to
make, and to some effect, his big noise. And Mrs. Assingham had repeated
that he knew what he was about. It was the happy form of this assurance
that had remained with Maggie; it could always come in for her that
Amerigo knew what he was about. He might at moments seem vague, seem
absent, seem even bored: this when, away from her father, with whom it was
impossible for him to appear anything but respectfully occupied, he let
his native gaiety go in outbreaks of song, or even of quite whimsical
senseless sound, either expressive of intimate relaxation or else
fantastically plaintive. He might at times reflect with the frankest
lucidity on the circumstance that the case was for a good while yet
absolutely settled in regard to what he still had left, at home, of his
very own; in regard to the main seat of his affection, the house in Rome,
the big black palace, the Palazzo Nero, as he was fond of naming it, and
also on the question of the villa in the Sabine hills, which she had, at
the time of their engagement, seen and yearned over, and the Castello
proper, described by him always as the “perched” place, that had, as she
knew, formerly stood up, on the pedestal of its mountain-slope, showing
beautifully blue from afar, as the head and front of the princedom. He
might rejoice in certain moods over the so long-estranged state of these
properties, not indeed all irreclaimably alienated, but encumbered with
unending leases and charges, with obstinate occupants, with
impossibilities of use—all without counting the cloud of mortgages
that had, from far back, buried them beneath the ashes of rage and
remorse, a shroud as thick as the layer once resting on the towns at the
foot of Vesuvius, and actually making of any present restorative effort a
process much akin to slow excavation. Just so he might with another turn
of his humour almost wail for these brightest spots of his lost paradise,
declaring that he was an idiot not to be able to bring himself to face the
sacrifices—sacrifices resting, if definitely anywhere, with Mr.
Verver—necessary for winning them back.



One of the most comfortable things between the husband and the wife
meanwhile—one of those easy certitudes they could be merely gay
about—was that she never admired him so much, or so found him
heartbreakingly handsome, clever, irresistible, in the very degree in
which he had originally and fatally dawned upon her, as when she saw other
women reduced to the same passive pulp that had then begun, once for all,
to constitute HER substance. There was really nothing they had talked of
together with more intimate and familiar pleasantry than of the license
and privilege, the boundless happy margin, thus established for each: she
going so far as to put it that, even should he some day get drunk and beat
her, the spectacle of him with hated rivals would, after no matter what
extremity, always, for the sovereign charm of it, charm of it in itself
and as the exhibition of him that most deeply moved her, suffice to bring
her round. What would therefore be more open to him than to keep her in
love with him? He agreed, with all his heart, at these light moments, that
his course wouldn’t then be difficult, inasmuch as, so simply constituted
as he was on all the precious question—and why should he be ashamed
of it?—he knew but one way with the fair. They had to be fair—and
he was fastidious and particular, his standard was high; but when once
this was the case what relation with them was conceivable, what relation
was decent, rudimentary, properly human, but that of a plain interest in
the fairness? His interest, she always answered, happened not to be
“plain,” and plainness, all round, had little to do with the matter, which
was marked, on the contrary, by the richest variety of colour; but the
working basis, at all events, had been settled—the Miss Maddocks of
life been assured of their importance for him. How conveniently assured
Maggie—to take him too into the joke—had more than once gone
so far as to mention to her father; since it fell in easily with the
tenderness of her disposition to remember she might occasionally make him
happy by an intimate confidence. This was one of her rules-full as she was
of little rules, considerations, provisions. There were things she of
course couldn’t tell him, in so many words, about Amerigo and herself, and
about their happiness and their union and their deepest depths—and
there were other things she needn’t; but there were also those that were
both true and amusing, both communicable and real, and of these, with her
so conscious, so delicately cultivated scheme of conduct as a daughter,
she could make her profit at will. A pleasant hush, for that matter, had
fallen on most of the elements while she lingered apart with her
companion; it involved, this serenity, innumerable complete assumptions:
since so ordered and so splendid a rest, all the tokens, spreading about
them, of confidence solidly supported, might have suggested for persons of
poorer pitch the very insolence of facility. Still, they weren’t insolent—THEY
weren’t, our pair could reflect; they were only blissful and grateful and
personally modest, not ashamed of knowing, with competence, when great
things were great, when good things were good, and when safe things were
safe, and not, therefore, placed below their fortune by timidity which
would have been as bad as being below it by impudence. Worthy of it as
they were, and as each appears, under our last possible analysis, to have
wished to make the other feel that they were, what they most finally
exhaled into the evening air as their eyes mildly met may well have been a
kind of helplessness in their felicity. Their rightness, the justification
of everything—something they so felt the pulse of—sat there
with them; but they might have been asking themselves a little blankly to
what further use they could put anything so perfect. They had created and
nursed and established it; they had housed it here in dignity and crowned
it with comfort; but mightn’t the moment possibly count for them—or
count at least for us while we watch them with their fate all before them—as
the dawn of the discovery that it doesn’t always meet ALL contingencies to
be right? Otherwise why should Maggie have found a word of definite doubt—the
expression of the fine pang determined in her a few hours before—rise
after a time to her lips? She took so for granted moreover her companion’s
intelligence of her doubt that the mere vagueness of her question could
say it all. “What is it, after all, that they want to do to you?” “They”
were for the Princess too the hovering forces of which Mrs. Rance was the
symbol, and her father, only smiling back now, at his ease, took no
trouble to appear not to know what she meant. What she meant—when
once she had spoken—could come out well enough; though indeed it was
nothing, after they had come to the point, that could serve as ground for
a great defensive campaign. The waters of talk spread a little, and Maggie
presently contributed an idea in saying: “What has really happened is that
the proportions, for us, are altered.” He accepted equally, for the time,
this somewhat cryptic remark; he still failed to challenge her even when
she added that it wouldn’t so much matter if he hadn’t been so terribly
young. He uttered a sound of protest only when she went to declare that
she ought as a daughter, in common decency, to have waited. Yet by that
time she was already herself admitting that she should have had to wait
long—if she waited, that is, till he was old. But there was a way.
“Since you ARE an irresistible youth, we’ve got to face it. That, somehow,
is what that woman has made me feel. There’ll be others.”


                              X


To talk of it thus appeared at last a positive relief to him. “Yes,
there’ll be others. But you’ll see me through.”



She hesitated. “Do you mean if you give in?”



“Oh no. Through my holding out.”



Maggie waited again, but when she spoke it had an effect of abruptness.
“Why SHOULD you hold out forever?”



He gave, none the less, no start—and this as from the habit of
taking anything, taking everything, from her as harmonious. But it was
quite written upon him too, for that matter, that holding out wouldn’t be,
so very completely, his natural, or at any rate his acquired, form. His
appearance would have testified that he might have to do so a long time—for
a man so greatly beset. This appearance, that is, spoke but little, as
yet, of short remainders and simplified senses—and all in spite of
his being a small, spare, slightly stale person, deprived of the general
prerogative of presence. It was not by mass or weight or vulgar immediate
quantity that he would in the future, any more than he had done in the
past, insist or resist or prevail. There was even something in him that
made his position, on any occasion, made his relation to any scene or to
any group, a matter of the back of the stage, of an almost visibly
conscious want of affinity with the footlights. He would have figured less
than anything the stage-manager or the author of the play, who most occupy
the foreground; he might be, at the best, the financial “backer,” watching
his interests from the wing, but in rather confessed ignorance of the
mysteries of mimicry. Barely taller than his daughter, he pressed at no
point on the presumed propriety of his greater stoutness. He had lost
early in life much of his crisp, closely-curling hair, the fineness of
which was repeated in a small neat beard, too compact to be called “full,”
though worn equally, as for a mark where other marks were wanting, on lip
and cheek and chin. His neat, colourless face, provided with the merely
indispensable features, suggested immediately, for a description, that it
was CLEAR, and in this manner somewhat resembled a small decent room,
clean-swept and unencumbered with furniture, but drawing a particular
advantage, as might presently be noted, from the outlook of a pair of
ample and uncurtained windows. There was something in Adam Verver’s eyes
that both admitted the morning and the evening in unusual quantities and
gave the modest area the outward extension of a view that was “big” even
when restricted to stars. Deeply and changeably blue, though not
romantically large, they were yet youthfully, almost strangely beautiful,
with their ambiguity of your scarce knowing if they most carried their
possessor’s vision out or most opened themselves to your own. Whatever you
might feel, they stamped the place with their importance, as the
house-agents say; so that, on one side or the other, you were never out of
their range, were moving about, for possible community, opportunity, the
sight of you scarce knew what, either before them or behind them. If other
importances, not to extend the question, kept themselves down, they were
in no direction less obtruded than in that of our friend’s dress, adopted
once for all as with a sort of sumptuary scruple. He wore every day of the
year, whatever the occasion, the same little black “cut away” coat, of the
fashion of his younger time; he wore the same cool-looking trousers,
chequered in black and white—the proper harmony with which, he
inveterately considered, was a sprigged blue satin necktie; and, over his
concave little stomach, quaintly indifferent to climates and seasons, a
white duck waistcoat. “Should you really,” he now asked, “like me to
marry?” He spoke as if, coming from his daughter herself, it MIGHT be an
idea; which, for that matter, he would be ready to carry out should she
definitely say so.



Definite, however, just yet, she was not prepared to be, though it seemed
to come to her with force, as she thought, that there was a truth, in the
connection, to utter. “What I feel is that there is somehow something that
used to be right and that I’ve made wrong. It used to be right that you
hadn’t married, and that you didn’t seem to want to. It used also”—she
continued to make out “to seem easy for the question not to come up.
That’s what I’ve made different. It does come up. It WILL come up.”



“You don’t think I can keep it down?” Mr. Verver’s tone was cheerfully
pensive.



“Well, I’ve given you, by MY move, all the trouble of having to.”



He liked the tenderness of her idea, and it made him, as she sat near him,
pass his arm about her. “I guess I don’t feel as if you had ‘moved’ very
far. You’ve only moved next door.”



“Well,” she continued, “I don’t feel as if it were fair for me just to
have given you a push and left you so. If I’ve made the difference for
you, I must think of the difference.”



“Then what, darling,” he indulgently asked, “DO you think?”



“That’s just what I don’t yet know. But I must find out. We must think
together—as we’ve always thought. What I mean,” she went on after a
moment, “is that it strikes me that I ought to at least offer you some
alternative. I ought to have worked one out for you.”



“An alternative to what?”



“Well, to your simply missing what you’ve lost—without anything
being done about it.”



“But what HAVE I lost?”



She thought a minute, as if it were difficult to say, yet as if she more
and more saw it. “Well, whatever it was that, BEFORE, kept us from
thinking, and kept you, really, as you might say, in the market. It was as
if you couldn’t be in the market when you were married to me. Or rather as
if I kept people off, innocently, by being married to you. Now that I’m
married to some one else you’re, as in consequence, married to nobody.
Therefore you may be married to anybody, to everybody. People don’t see
why you shouldn’t be married to THEM.”



“Isn’t it enough of a reason,” he mildly inquired, “that I don’t want to
be?”



“It’s enough of a reason, yes. But to BE enough of a reason it has to be
too much of a trouble. I mean FOR you. It has to be too much of a fight.
You ask me what you’ve lost,” Maggie continued to explain. “The not having
to take the trouble and to make the fight—that’s what you’ve lost.
The advantage, the happiness of being just as you were—because I was
just as I was—that’s what you miss.”



“So that you think,” her father presently said, “that I had better get
married just in order to be as I was before?”



The detached tone of it—detached as if innocently to amuse her by
showing his desire to accommodate—was so far successful as to draw
from her gravity a short, light laugh. “Well, what I don’t want you to
feel is that if you were to I shouldn’t understand. I SHOULD understand.
That’s all,” said the Princess gently.



Her companion turned it pleasantly over. “You don’t go so far as to wish
me to take somebody I don’t like?”



“Ah, father,” she sighed, “you know how far I go—how far I COULD go.
But I only wish that if you ever SHOULD like anybody, you may never doubt
of my feeling how I’ve brought you to it. You’ll always know that I know
that it’s my fault.”



“You mean,” he went on in his contemplative way, “that it will be you
who’ll take the consequences?”



Maggie just considered. “I’ll leave you all the good ones, but I’ll take
the bad.”



“Well, that’s handsome.” He emphasised his sense of it by drawing her
closer and holding her more tenderly. “It’s about all I could expect of
you. So far as you’ve wronged me, therefore, we’ll call it square. I’ll
let you know in time if I see a prospect of your having to take it up. But
am I to understand meanwhile,” he soon went on, “that, ready as you are to
see me through my collapse, you’re not ready, or not AS ready, to see me
through my resistance? I’ve got to be a regular martyr before you’ll be
inspired?”



She demurred at his way of putting it. “Why, if you like it, you know, it
won’t BE a collapse.”



“Then why talk about seeing me through at all? I shall only collapse if I
do like it. But what I seem to feel is that I don’t WANT to like it. That
is,” he amended, “unless I feel surer I do than appears very probable. I
don’t want to have to THINK I like it in a case when I really shan’t. I’ve
had to do that in some cases,” he confessed—“when it has been a
question of other things. I don’t want,” he wound up, “to be MADE to make
a mistake.”



“Ah, but it’s too dreadful,” she returned, “that you should even have to
FEAR—or just nervously to dream—that you may be. What does
that show, after all,” she asked, “but that you do really, well within,
feel a want? What does it show but that you’re truly susceptible?”



“Well, it may show that”—he defended himself against nothing. “But
it shows also, I think, that charming women are, in the kind of life we’re
leading now, numerous and formidable.”



Maggie entertained for a moment the proposition; under cover of which,
however, she passed quickly from the general to the particular. “Do you
feel Mrs. Rance to be charming?”



“Well, I feel her to be formidable. When they cast a spell it comes to the
same thing. I think she’d do anything.”



“Oh well, I’d help you,” the Princess said with decision, “as against HER—if
that’s all you require. It’s too funny,” she went on before he again
spoke, “that Mrs. Rance should be here at all. But if you talk of the life
we lead, much of it is, altogether, I’m bound to say, too funny. The thing
is,” Maggie developed under this impression, “that I don’t think we lead,
as regards other people, any life at all. We don’t at any rate, it seems
to me, lead half the life we might. And so it seems, I think, to Amerigo.
So it seems also, I’m sure, to Fanny Assingham.”



Mr. Verver-as if from due regard for these persons—considered a
little. “What life would they like us to lead?”



“Oh, it’s not a question, I think, on which they quite feel together. SHE
thinks, dear Fanny, that we ought to be greater.”



“Greater—?” He echoed it vaguely. “And Amerigo too, you say?”



“Ah yes"-her reply was prompt “but Amerigo doesn’t mind. He doesn’t care,
I mean, what we do. It’s for us, he considers, to see things exactly as we
wish. Fanny herself,” Maggie pursued, “thinks he’s magnificent.
Magnificent, I mean, for taking everything as it is, for accepting the
‘social limitations’ of our life, for not missing what we don’t give him.”



Mr. Verver attended. “Then if he doesn’t miss it his magnificence is
easy.”



“It IS easy-that’s exactly what I think. If there were things he DID miss,
and if in spite of them he were always sweet, then, no doubt, he would be
a more or less unappreciated hero. He COULD be a Hero—he WILL be one
if it’s ever necessary. But it will be about something better than our
dreariness. I know,” the Princess declared, “where he’s
magnificent.” And she rested a minute on that. She ended, however, as she
had begun. “We’re not, all the same, committed to anything stupid. If we
ought to be grander, as Fanny thinks, we CAN be grander. There’s nothing
to prevent.”



“Is it a strict moral obligation?” Adam Verver inquired.



“No—it’s for the amusement.”



“For whose? For Fanny’s own?”



“For everyone’s—though I dare say Fanny’s would be a large part.”
She hesitated; she had now, it might have appeared, something more to
bring out, which she finally produced. “For yours in particular, say—if
you go into the question.” She even bravely followed it up. “I haven’t
really, after all, had to think much to see that much more can be done for
you than is done.”



Mr. Verver uttered an odd vague sound. “Don’t you think a good deal is
done when you come out and talk to me this way?”



“Ah,” said his daughter, smiling at him, “we make too much of that!” And
then to explain: “That’s good, and it’s natural—but it isn’t great.
We forget that we’re as free as air.”



“Well, THAT’S great,” Mr. Verver pleaded. “Great if we act on it. Not if
we don’t.”



She continued to smile, and he took her smile; wondering again a little by
this time, however; struck more and more by an intensity in it that belied
a light tone. “What do you want,” he demanded, “to do to me?” And he
added, as she didn’t say: “You’ve got something in your mind.” It had come
to him within the minute that from the beginning of their session there
she had been keeping something back, and that an impression of this had
more than once, in spite of his general theoretic respect for her present
right to personal reserves and mysteries, almost ceased to be vague in
him. There had been from the first something in her anxious eyes, in the
way she occasionally lost herself, that it would perfectly explain. He was
therefore now quite sure.



“You’ve got something up your sleeve.”



She had a silence that made him right. “Well, when I tell you you’ll
understand. It’s only up my sleeve in the sense of being in a letter I got
this morning. All day, yes—it HAS been in my mind. I’ve been asking
myself if it were quite the right moment, or in any way fair, to ask you
if you could stand just now another woman.”



It relieved him a little, yet the beautiful consideration of her manner
made it in a degree portentous. “Stand one—?”



“Well, mind her coming.”



He stared—then he laughed. “It depends on who she is.”



“There—you see! I’ve at all events been thinking whether you’d take
this particular person but as a worry the more. Whether, that is, you’d go
so far with her in your notion of having to be kind.”



He gave at this the quickest shake to his foot. How far would she go in
HER notion of it.



“Well,” his daughter returned, “you know how far, in a general way,
Charlotte Stant goes.”



“Charlotte? Is SHE coming?”



“She writes me, practically, that she’d like to if we’re so good as to ask
her.”



Mr. Verver continued to gaze, but rather as if waiting for more. Then, as
everything appeared to have come, his expression had a drop. If this was
all it was simple. “Then why in the world not?”



Maggie’s face lighted anew, but it was now another light. “It isn’t a want
of tact?”



“To ask her?”



“To propose it to you.”



“That I should ask her?”



He put the question as an effect of his remnant of vagueness, but this had
also its own effect. Maggie wondered an instant; after which, as with a
flush of recognition, she took it up. “It would be too beautiful if you
WOULD!”



This, clearly, had not been her first idea—the chance of his words
had prompted it. “Do you mean write to her myself?”



“Yes—it would be kind. It would be quite beautiful of you. That is,
of course,” said Maggie, “if you sincerely CAN.”



He appeared to wonder an instant why he sincerely shouldn’t, and indeed,
for that matter, where the question of sincerity came in. This virtue,
between him and his daughter’s friend, had surely been taken for granted.
“My dear child,” he returned, “I don’t think I’m afraid of Charlotte.”



“Well, that’s just what it’s lovely to have from you. From the moment
you’re NOT—the least little bit—I’ll immediately invite her.”



“But where in the world is she?” He spoke as if he had not thought of
Charlotte, nor so much as heard her name pronounced, for a very long time.
He quite in fact amicably, almost amusedly, woke up to her.



“She’s in Brittany, at a little bathing-place, with some people I don’t
know. She’s always with people, poor dear—she rather has to be; even
when, as is sometimes the case; they’re people she doesn’t immensely
like.”



“Well, I guess she likes US,” said Adam Verver. “Yes—fortunately she
likes us. And if I wasn’t afraid of spoiling it for you,” Maggie added,
“I’d even mention that you’re not the one of our number she likes least.”



“Why should that spoil it for me?”



“Oh, my dear, you know. What else have we been talking about? It costs you
so much to be liked. That’s why I hesitated to tell you of my letter.”



He stared a moment—as if the subject had suddenly grown out of
recognition. “But Charlotte—on other visits—never used to cost
me anything.”



“No—only her ‘keep,’” Maggie smiled.



“Then I don’t think I mind her keep—if that’s all.” The Princess,
however, it was clear, wished to be thoroughly conscientious. “Well, it
may not be quite all. If I think of its being pleasant to have her, it’s
because she WILL make a difference.”



“Well, what’s the harm in that if it’s but a difference for the better?”



“Ah then—there you are!” And the Princess showed in her smile her
small triumphant wisdom. “If you acknowledge a possible difference for the
better we’re not, after all, so tremendously right as we are. I mean we’re
not—as satisfied and amused. We do see there are ways of being
grander.”



“But will Charlotte Stant,” her father asked with surprise, “make us
grander?”



Maggie, on this, looking at him well, had a remarkable reply. “Yes, I
think. Really grander.”



He thought; for if this was a sudden opening he wished but the more to
meet it. “Because she’s so handsome?”



“No, father.” And the Princess was almost solemn. “Because she’s so
great.”



“Great—?”



“Great in nature, in character, in spirit. Great in life.”



“So?” Mr. Verver echoed. “What has she done—in life?”



“Well, she has been brave and bright,” said Maggie. “That mayn’t sound
like much, but she has been so in the face of things that might well have
made it too difficult for many other girls. She hasn’t a creature in the
world really—that is nearly—belonging to her. Only
acquaintances who, in all sorts of ways, make use of her, and distant
relations who are so afraid she’ll make use of THEM that they seldom let
her look at them.”



Mr. Verver was struck—and, as usual, to some purpose. “If we get her
here to improve us don’t we too then make use of her?”



It pulled the Princess up, however, but an instant. “We’re old, old
friends—we do her good too. I should always, even at the worst—speaking
for myself—admire her still more than I used her.”



“I see. That always does good.”



Maggie hesitated. “Certainly—she knows it. She knows, I mean, how
great I think her courage and her cleverness. She’s not afraid—not
of anything; and yet she no more ever takes a liberty with you than if she
trembled for her life. And then she’s INTERESTING—which plenty of
other people with plenty of other merits never are a bit.” In which fine
flicker of vision the truth widened to the Princess’s view. “I myself of
course don’t take liberties, but then I do, always, by nature, tremble for
my life. That’s the way I live.”



“Oh I say, love!” her father vaguely murmured.



“Yes, I live in terror,” she insisted. “I’m a small creeping thing.”



“You’ll not persuade me that you’re not as good as Charlotte Stant,” he
still placidly enough remarked.



“I may be as good, but I’m not so great—and that’s what we’re
talking about. She has a great imagination. She has, in every way, a great
attitude. She has above all a great conscience.” More perhaps than ever in
her life before Maggie addressed her father at this moment with a shade of
the absolute in her tone. She had never come so near telling him what he
should take it from her to believe. “She has only twopence in the world—but
that has nothing to do with it. Or rather indeed”—she quickly
corrected herself—“it has everything. For she doesn’t care. I never
saw her do anything but laugh at her poverty. Her life has been harder
than anyone knows.”



It was moreover as if, thus unprecedentedly positive, his child had an
effect upon him that Mr. Verver really felt as a new thing. “Why then
haven’t you told me about her before?”



“Well, haven’t we always known—?”



“I should have thought,” he submitted, “that we had already pretty well
sized her up.”



“Certainly—we long ago quite took her for granted. But things
change, with time, and I seem to know that, after this interval, I’m going
to like her better than ever. I’ve lived more myself, I’m older, and one
judges better. Yes, I’m going to see in Charlotte,” said the Princess—and
speaking now as with high and free expectation—“more than I’ve ever
seen.”



“Then I’ll try to do so too. She WAS”—it came back to Mr. Verver
more—“the one of your friends I thought the best for you.”



His companion, however, was so launched in her permitted liberty of
appreciation that she for the moment scarce heard him. She was lost in the
case she made out, the vision of the different ways in which Charlotte had
distinguished herself.



“She would have liked for instance—I’m sure she would have liked
extremely—to marry; and nothing in general is more ridiculous, even
when it has been pathetic, than a woman who has tried and has not been
able.”



It had all Mr. Verver’s attention. “She has ‘tried’—?”



“She has seen cases where she would have liked to.”



“But she has not been able?”



“Well, there are more cases, in Europe, in which it doesn’t come to girls
who are poor than in which it does come to them. Especially,” said Maggie
with her continued competence, “when they’re Americans.”



Well, her father now met her, and met her cheerfully, on all sides.
“Unless you mean,” he suggested, “that when the girls are American there
are more cases in which it comes to the rich than to the poor.”



She looked at him good-humouredly. “That may be—but I’m not going to
be smothered in MY case. It ought to make me—if I were in danger of
being a fool—all the nicer to people like Charlotte. It’s not hard
for ME,” she practically explained, “not to be ridiculous—unless in
a very different way. I might easily be ridiculous, I suppose, by behaving
as if I thought I had done a great thing. Charlotte, at any rate, has done
nothing, and anyone can see it, and see also that it’s rather strange; and
yet no one—no one not awfully presumptuous or offensive would like,
or would dare, to treat her, just as she is, as anything but quite RIGHT.
That’s what it is to have something about you that carries things off.”



Mr. Verver’s silence, on this, could only be a sign that she had caused
her story to interest him; though the sign when he spoke was perhaps even
sharper. “And is it also what you mean by Charlotte’s being ‘great’?”



“Well,” said Maggie, “it’s one of her ways. But she has many.”



Again for a little her father considered. “And who is it she has tried to
marry?”



Maggie, on her side as well, waited as if to bring it out with effect; but
she after a minute either renounced or encountered an obstacle. “I’m
afraid I’m not sure.”



“Then how do you know?”



“Well, I don’t KNOW”—and, qualifying again, she was earnestly
emphatic. “I only make it out for myself.”



“But you must make it out about someone in particular.”



She had another pause. “I don’t think I want even for myself to put names
and times, to pull away any veil. I’ve an idea there has been, more than
once, somebody I’m not acquainted with—and needn’t be or want to be.
In any case it’s all over, and, beyond giving her credit for everything,
it’s none of my business.”



Mr. Verver deferred, yet he discriminated. “I don’t see how you can give
credit without knowing the facts.”



“Can’t I give it—generally—for dignity? Dignity, I mean, in
misfortune.”



“You’ve got to postulate the misfortune first.”



“Well,” said Maggie, “I can do that. Isn’t it always a misfortune to be—when
you’re so fine—so wasted? And yet,” she went on, “not to wail about
it, not to look even as if you knew it?”



Mr. Verver seemed at first to face this as a large question, and then,
after a little, solicited by another view, to let the appeal drop. “Well,
she mustn’t be wasted. We won’t at least have waste.”



It produced in Maggie’s face another gratitude. “Then, dear sir, that’s
all I want.”



And it would apparently have settled their question and ended their talk
if her father had not, after a little, shown the disposition to revert.
“How many times are you supposing that she has tried?”



Once more, at this, and as if she hadn’t been, couldn’t be, hated to be,
in such delicate matters, literal, she was moved to attenuate. “Oh, I
don’t say she absolutely ever TRIED—!”



He looked perplexed. “But if she has so absolutely failed, what then had
she done?”



“She has suffered—she has done that.” And the Princess added: “She
has loved—and she has lost.”



Mr. Verver, however, still wondered. “But how many times.”



Maggie hesitated, but it cleared up. “Once is enough. Enough, that is, for
one to be kind to her.”



Her father listened, yet not challenging—only as with a need of some
basis on which, under these new lights, his bounty could be firm. “But has
she told you nothing?”



“Ah, thank goodness, no!”



He stared. “Then don’t young women tell?”



“Because, you mean, it’s just what they’re supposed to do?” She looked at
him, flushed again now; with which, after another hesitation, “Do young
men tell?” she asked.



He gave a short laugh. “How do I know, my dear, what young men do?”



“Then how do I know, father, what vulgar girls do?”



“I see—I see,” he quickly returned.



But she spoke the next moment as if she might, odiously, have been sharp.
“What happens at least is that where there’s a great deal of pride there’s
a great deal of silence. I don’t know, I admit, what I should do if
I were lonely and sore—for what sorrow, to speak of, have I ever had
in my life? I don’t know even if I’m proud—it seems to me the
question has never come up for me.”



“Oh, I guess you’re proud, Mag,” her father cheerfully interposed. “I mean
I guess you’re proud enough.”



“Well then, I hope I’m humble enough too. I might, at all events, for all
I know, be abject under a blow. How can I tell? Do you realise, father,
that I’ve never had the least blow?”



He gave her a long, quiet look. “Who SHOULD realise if I don’t?”



“Well, you’ll realise when I HAVE one!” she exclaimed with a short laugh
that resembled, as for good reasons, his own of a minute before. “I
wouldn’t in any case have let her tell me what would have been dreadful to
me. For such wounds and shames are dreadful: at least,” she added,
catching herself up, “I suppose they are; for what, as I say, do I know of
them? I don’t WANT to know!”—she spoke quite with vehemence. “There
are things that are sacred whether they’re joys or pains. But one can
always, for safety, be kind,” she kept on; “one feels when that’s right.”



She had got up with these last words; she stood there before him with that
particular suggestion in her aspect to which even the long habit of their
life together had not closed his sense, kept sharp, year after year, by
the collation of types and signs, the comparison of fine object with fine
object, of one degree of finish, of one form of the exquisite with another—the
appearance of some slight, slim draped “antique” of Vatican or Capitoline
halls, late and refined, rare as a note and immortal as a link, set in
motion by the miraculous infusion of a modern impulse and yet, for all the
sudden freedom of folds and footsteps forsaken after centuries by their
pedestal, keeping still the quality, the perfect felicity, of the statue;
the blurred, absent eyes, the smoothed, elegant, nameless head, the
impersonal flit of a creature lost in an alien age and passing as an image
in worn relief round and round a precious vase. She had always had odd
moments of striking him, daughter of his very own though she was, as a
figure thus simplified, “generalised” in its grace, a figure with which
his human connection was fairly interrupted by some vague analogy of turn
and attitude, something shyly mythological and nymphlike. The trick, he
was not uncomplacently aware, was mainly of his own mind; it came from his
caring for precious vases only less than for precious daughters. And what
was more to the point still, it often operated while he was quite at the
same time conscious that Maggie had been described, even in her
prettiness, as “prim”—Mrs. Rance herself had enthusiastically used
the word of her; while he remembered that when once she had been told
before him, familiarly, that she resembled a nun, she had replied that she
was delighted to hear it and would certainly try to; while also, finally,
it was present to him that, discreetly heedless, thanks to her long
association with nobleness in art, to the leaps and bounds of fashion, she
brought her hair down very straight and flat over her temples, in the
constant manner of her mother, who had not been a bit mythological. Nymphs
and nuns were certainly separate types, but Mr. Verver, when he really
amused himself, let consistency go. The play of vision was at all events
so rooted in him that he could receive impressions of sense even while
positively thinking. He was positively thinking while Maggie stood there,
and it led for him to yet another question—which in its turn led to
others still. “Do you regard the condition as hers then that you spoke of
a minute ago?”



“The condition—?”



“Why that of having loved so intensely that she’s, as you say, ‘beyond
everything’?”



Maggie had scarcely to reflect—her answer was so prompt. “Oh no.
She’s beyond nothing. For she has had nothing.”



“I see. You must have had things to be them. It’s a kind of law of
perspective.”



Maggie didn’t know about the law, but she continued definite. “She’s not,
for example, beyond help.”



“Oh well then, she shall have all we can give her. I’ll write to her,” he
said, “with pleasure.”



“Angel!” she answered as she gaily and tenderly looked at him.



True as this might be, however, there was one thing more—he was an
angel with a human curiosity. “Has she told you she likes me much?”



“Certainly she has told me—but I won’t pamper you. Let it be enough
for you it has always been one of my reasons for liking HER.”



“Then she’s indeed not beyond everything,” Mr. Verver more or less
humorously observed.



“Oh it isn’t, thank goodness, that she’s in love with you. It’s not, as I
told you at first, the sort of thing for you to fear.”



He had spoken with cheer, but it appeared to drop before this reassurance,
as if the latter overdid his alarm, and that should be corrected. “Oh, my
dear, I’ve always thought of her as a little girl.”



“Ah, she’s not a little girl,” said the Princess.



“Then I’ll write to her as a brilliant woman.”



“It’s exactly what she is.”



Mr. Verver had got up as he spoke, and for a little, before retracing
their steps, they stood looking at each other as if they had really
arranged something. They had come out together for themselves, but it had
produced something more. What it had produced was in fact expressed by the
words with which he met his companion’s last emphasis. “Well, she has a
famous friend in you, Princess.”



Maggie took this in—it was too plain for a protest. “Do you know
what I’m really thinking of?” she asked.



He wondered, with her eyes on him—eyes of contentment at her freedom
now to talk; and he wasn’t such a fool, he presently showed, as not,
suddenly, to arrive at it. “Why, of your finding her at last yourself a
husband.”



“Good for YOU!” Maggie smiled. “But it will take,” she added, “some
looking.”



“Then let me look right here with you,” her father said as they walked on.


                             XI


Mrs. Assingham and the Colonel, quitting Fawns before the end of
September, had come back later on; and now, a couple of weeks after, they
were again interrupting their stay, but this time with the question of
their return left to depend, on matters that were rather hinted at than
importunately named. The Lutches and Mrs. Rance had also, by the action of
Charlotte Stant’s arrival, ceased to linger, though with hopes and
theories, as to some promptitude of renewal, of which the lively
expression, awakening the echoes of the great stone-paved, oak-panelled,
galleried hall that was not the least interesting feature of the place,
seemed still a property of the air. It was on this admirable spot that,
before her October afternoon had waned, Fanny Assingham spent with her
easy host a few moments which led to her announcing her own and her
husband’s final secession, at the same time as they tempted her to point
the moral of all vain reverberations. The double door of the house stood
open to an effect of hazy autumn sunshine, a wonderful, windless, waiting,
golden hour, under the influence of which Adam Verver met his genial
friend as she came to drop into the post-box with her own hand a thick
sheaf of letters. They presently thereafter left the house together and
drew out half-an-hour on the terrace in a manner they were to revert to in
thought, later on, as that of persons who really had been taking leave of
each other at a parting of the ways. He traced his impression, on coming
to consider, back to a mere three words she had begun by using about
Charlotte Stant. She simply “cleared them out”—those had been the
three words, thrown off in reference to the general golden peace that the
Kentish October had gradually ushered in, the “halcyon” days the full
beauty of which had appeared to shine out for them after Charlotte’s
arrival. For it was during these days that Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches
had been observed to be gathering themselves for departure, and it was
with that difference made that the sense of the whole situation showed
most fair—the sense of how right they had been to engage for so
ample a residence, and of all the pleasure so fruity an autumn there could
hold in its lap. This was what had occurred, that their lesson had been
learned; and what Mrs. Assingham had dwelt upon was that without Charlotte
it would have been learned but half. It would certainly not have been
taught by Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches if these ladies had remained
with them as long as at one time seemed probable. Charlotte’s light
intervention had thus become a cause, operating covertly but none the less
actively, and Fanny Assingham’s speech, which she had followed up a
little, echoed within him, fairly to startle him, as the indication of
something irresistible. He could see now how this superior force had
worked, and he fairly liked to recover the sight—little harm as he
dreamed of doing, little ill as he dreamed of wishing, the three ladies,
whom he had after all entertained for a stiffish series of days. She had
been so vague and quiet about it, wonderful Charlotte, that he hadn’t
known what was happening—happening, that is, as a result of her
influence. “Their fires, as they felt her, turned to smoke,” Mrs.
Assingham remarked; which he was to reflect on indeed even while they
strolled. He had retained, since his long talk with Maggie—the talk
that had settled the matter of his own direct invitation to her friend—an
odd little taste, as he would have described it, for hearing things said
about this young woman, hearing, so to speak, what COULD be said about
her: almost as it her portrait, by some eminent hand, were going on, so
that he watched it grow under the multiplication of touches. Mrs.
Assingham, it struck him, applied two or three of the finest in their
discussion of their young friend—so different a figure now from that
early playmate of Maggie’s as to whom he could almost recall from of old
the definite occasions of his having paternally lumped the two children
together in the recommendation that they shouldn’t make too much noise nor
eat too much jam. His companion professed that in the light of Charlotte’s
prompt influence she had not been a stranger to a pang of pity for their
recent visitors. “I felt in fact, privately, so sorry for them, that I
kept my impression to myself while they were here—wishing not to put
the rest of you on the scent; neither Maggie, nor the Prince, nor
yourself, nor even Charlotte HERself, if you didn’t happen to notice.
Since you didn’t, apparently, I perhaps now strike you as extravagant. But
I’m not—I followed it all. One SAW the consciousness I speak of come
over the poor things, very much as I suppose people at the court of the
Borgias may have watched each other begin to look queer after having had
the honour of taking wine with the heads of the family. My comparison’s
only a little awkward, for I don’t in the least mean that Charlotte was
consciously dropping poison into their cup. She was just herself their
poison, in the sense of mortally disagreeing with them—but she
didn’t know it.”



“Ah, she didn’t know it?” Mr. Verver had asked with interest.



“Well, I THINK she didn’t”—Mrs. Assingham had to admit that she
hadn’t pressingly sounded her. “I don’t pretend to be sure, in every
connection, of what Charlotte knows. She doesn’t, certainly, like to make
people suffer—not, in general, as is the case with so many of us,
even other women: she likes much rather to put them at their ease with
her. She likes, that is—as all pleasant people do—to be
liked.”



“Ah, she likes to be liked?” her companion had gone on.



“She did, at the same time, no doubt, want to help us—to put us at
our ease. That is she wanted to put you—and to put Maggie about you.
So far as that went she had a plan. But it was only AFTER—it was not
before, I really believe—that she saw how effectively she could
work.”



Again, as Mr. Verver felt, he must have taken it up. “Ah, she wanted to
help us?—wanted to help ME?”



“Why,” Mrs. Assingham asked after an instant, “should it surprise you?”



He just thought. “Oh, it doesn’t!”



“She saw, of course, as soon as she came, with her quickness, where we all
were. She didn’t need each of us to go, by appointment, to her room at
night, or take her out into the fields, for our palpitating tale. No doubt
even she was rather impatient.”



“OF the poor things?” Mr. Verver had here inquired while he waited.



“Well, of your not yourselves being so—and of YOUR not in
particular. I haven’t the least doubt in the world, par exemple, that she
thinks you too meek.”



“Oh, she thinks me too meek?”



“And she had been sent for, on the very face of it, to work right in. All
she had to do, after all, was to be nice to you.”



“To—a—ME?” said Adam Verver.



He could remember now that his friend had positively had a laugh for his
tone. “To you and to every one. She had only to be what she is—and
to be it all round. If she’s charming, how can she help it? So it was, and
so only, that she ‘acted’-as the Borgia wine used to act. One saw it come
over them—the extent to which, in her particular way, a woman, a
woman other, and SO other, than themselves, COULD be charming. One saw
them understand and exchange looks, then one saw them lose heart and
decide to move. For what they had to take home was that it’s she who’s the
real thing.”



“Ah, it’s she who’s the real thing?” As HE had not hitherto taken it home
as completely as the Miss Lutches and Mrs. Rance, so, doubtless, he had
now, a little, appeared to offer submission in his appeal. “I see, I see”—he
could at least simply take it home now; yet as not without wanting, at the
same time, to be sure of what the real thing was. “And what would it be—a—definitely
that you understand by that?”



She had only for an instant not found it easy to say. “Why, exactly what
those women themselves want to be, and what her effect on them is to make
them recognise that they never will.”



“Oh—of course never?”



It not only remained and abode with them, it positively developed and
deepened, after this talk, that the luxurious side of his personal
existence was now again furnished, socially speaking, with the thing
classed and stamped as “real”—just as he had been able to think of
it as not otherwise enriched in consequence of his daughter’s marriage.
The note of reality, in so much projected light, continued to have for him
the charm and the importance of which the maximum had occasionally been
reached in his great “finds”—continued, beyond any other, to keep
him attentive and gratified. Nothing perhaps might affect us as queerer,
had we time to look into it, than this application of the same measure of
value to such different pieces of property as old Persian carpets, say,
and new human acquisitions; all the more indeed that the amiable man was
not without an inkling, on his own side, that he was, as a taster of life,
economically constructed. He put into his one little glass everything he
raised to his lips, and it was as if he had always carried in his pocket,
like a tool of his trade, this receptacle, a little glass cut with a
fineness of which the art had long since been lost, and kept in an old
morocco case stamped in uneffaceable gilt with the arms of a deposed
dynasty. As it had served him to satisfy himself, so to speak, both about
Amerigo and about the Bernadino Luini he had happened to come to knowledge
of at the time he was consenting to the announcement of his daughter’s
betrothal, so it served him at present to satisfy himself about Charlotte
Stant and an extraordinary set of oriental tiles of which he had lately
got wind, to which a provoking legend was attached, and as to which he had
made out, contentedly, that further news was to be obtained from a certain
Mr. Gutermann-Seuss of Brighton. It was all, at bottom, in him, the
aesthetic principle, planted where it could burn with a cold, still flame;
where it fed almost wholly on the material directly involved, on the idea
(followed by appropriation) of plastic beauty, of the thing visibly
perfect in its kind; where, in short, in spite of the general tendency of
the “devouring element” to spread, the rest of his spiritual furniture,
modest, scattered, and tended with unconscious care, escaped the
consumption that in so many cases proceeds from the undue keeping-up of
profane altar-fires. Adam Verver had in other words learnt the lesson of
the senses, to the end of his own little book, without having, for a day,
raised the smallest scandal in his economy at large; being in this
particular not unlike those fortunate bachelors, or other gentlemen of
pleasure, who so manage their entertainment of compromising company that
even the austerest housekeeper, occupied and competent below-stairs, never
feels obliged to give warning.



That figure has, however, a freedom that the occasion doubtless scarce
demands, though we may retain it for its rough negative value. It was to
come to pass, by a pressure applied to the situation wholly from within,
that before the first ten days of November had elapsed he found himself
practically alone at Fawns with his young friend; Amerigo and Maggie
having, with a certain abruptness, invited his assent to their going
abroad for a month, since his amusement was now scarce less happily
assured than his security. An impulse eminently natural had stirred within
the Prince; his life, as for some time established, was deliciously dull,
and thereby, on the whole, what he best liked; but a small gust of
yearning had swept over him, and Maggie repeated to her father, with
infinite admiration, the pretty terms in which, after it had lasted a
little, he had described to her this experience. He called it a
“serenade,” a low music that, outside one of the windows of the sleeping
house, disturbed his rest at night. Timid as it was, and plaintive, he yet
couldn’t close his eyes for it, and when finally, rising on tiptoe, he had
looked out, he had recognised in the figure below with a mandolin, all
duskily draped in her grace, the raised appealing eyes and the one
irresistible voice of the ever-to-be-loved Italy. Sooner or later, that
way, one had to listen; it was a hovering, haunting ghost, as of a
creature to whom one had done a wrong, a dim, pathetic shade crying out to
be comforted. For this there was obviously but one way—as there were
doubtless also many words for the simple fact that so prime a Roman had a
fancy for again seeing Rome. They would accordingly—hadn’t they
better?—go for a little; Maggie meanwhile making the too-absurdly
artful point with her father, so that he repeated it, in his amusement, to
Charlotte Stant, to whom he was by this time conscious of addressing many
remarks, that it was absolutely, when she came to think, the first thing
Amerigo had ever asked of her. “She doesn’t count of course his having
asked of her to marry him”— this was Mr. Verver’s indulgent
criticism; but he found Charlotte, equally touched by the ingenuous
Maggie, in easy agreement with him over the question. If the Prince had
asked something of his wife every day in the year, this would be still no
reason why the poor dear man should not, in a beautiful fit of
homesickness, revisit, without reproach, his native country.



What his father-in-law frankly counselled was that the reasonable, the
really too reasonable, pair should, while they were about it, take three
or four weeks of Paris as well—Paris being always, for Mr. Verver,
in any stress of sympathy, a suggestion that rose of itself to the lips.
If they would only do that, on their way back, or however they preferred
it, Charlotte and he would go over to join them there for a small look—though
even then, assuredly, as he had it at heart to add, not in the least
because they should have found themselves bored at being left together.
The fate of this last proposal indeed was that it reeled, for the moment,
under an assault of destructive analysis from Maggie, who—having, as
she granted, to choose between being an unnatural daughter or an unnatural
mother, and “electing” for the former—wanted to know what would
become of the Principino if the house were cleared of everyone but the
servants. Her question had fairly resounded, but it had afterwards, like
many of her questions, dropped still more effectively than it had risen:
the highest moral of the matter being, before the couple took their
departure, that Mrs. Noble and Dr. Brady must mount unchallenged guard
over the august little crib. If she hadn’t supremely believed in the
majestic value of the nurse, whose experience was in itself the amplest of
pillows, just as her attention was a spreading canopy from which precedent
and reminiscence dropped as thickly as parted curtains—if she hadn’t
been able to rest in this confidence she would fairly have sent her
husband on his journey without her. In the same manner, if the sweetest—for
it was so she qualified him—of little country doctors hadn’t proved
to her his wisdom by rendering irresistible, especially on rainy days and
in direct proportion to the frequency of his calls, adapted to all
weathers, that she should converse with him for hours over causes and
consequences, over what he had found to answer with his little five at
home, she would have drawn scant support from the presence of a mere
grandfather and a mere brilliant friend. These persons, accordingly, her
own predominance having thus, for the time, given way, could carry with a
certain ease, and above all with mutual aid, their consciousness of a
charge. So far as their office weighed they could help each other with it—which
was in fact to become, as Mrs. Noble herself loomed larger for them, not a
little of a relief and a diversion.



Mr. Verver met his young friend, at certain hours, in the day-nursery,
very much as he had regularly met the child’s fond mother—Charlotte
having, as she clearly considered, given Maggie equal pledges and desiring
never to fail of the last word for the daily letter she had promised to
write. She wrote with high fidelity, she let her companion know, and the
effect of it was, remarkably enough, that he himself didn’t write. The
reason of this was partly that Charlotte “told all about him”—which
she also let him know she did—and partly that he enjoyed feeling, as
a consequence, that he was generally, quite systematically, eased and, as
they said, “done” for. Committed, as it were, to this charming and clever
young woman, who, by becoming for him a domestic resource, had become for
him practically a new person—and committed, especially, in his own
house, which somehow made his sense of it a deeper thing—he took an
interest in seeing how far the connection could carry him, could perhaps
even lead him, and in thus putting to the test, for pleasant verification,
what Fanny Assingham had said, at the last, about the difference such a
girl could make. She was really making one now, in their simplified
existence, and a very considerable one, though there was no one to compare
her with, as there had been, so usefully, for Fanny—no Mrs. Rance,
no Kitty, no Dotty Lutch, to help her to be felt, according to Fanny’s
diagnosis, as real. She was real, decidedly, from other causes, and Mr.
Verver grew in time even a little amused at the amount of machinery Mrs.
Assingham had seemed to see needed for pointing it. She was directly and
immediately real, real on a pleasantly reduced and intimate scale, and at
no moments more so than during those—at which we have just glanced—when
Mrs. Noble made them both together feel that she, she alone, in the
absence of the queen-mother, was regent of the realm and governess of the
heir. Treated on such occasions as at best a pair of dangling and merely
nominal court-functionaries, picturesque hereditary triflers entitled to
the petites entrees but quite external to the State, which began and ended
with the Nursery, they could only retire, in quickened sociability, to
what was left them of the Palace, there to digest their gilded
insignificance and cultivate, in regard to the true Executive, such
snuff-taking ironies as might belong to rococo chamberlains moving among
china lap-dogs.



Every evening, after dinner, Charlotte Stant played to him; seated at the
piano and requiring no music, she went through his “favourite things”—and
he had many favourites—with a facility that never failed, or that
failed but just enough to pick itself up at a touch from his fitful voice.
She could play anything, she could play everything—always
shockingly, she of course insisted, but always, by his own vague measure,
very much as if she might, slim, sinuous and strong, and with practised
passion, have been playing lawn-tennis or endlessly and rhythmically
waltzing. His love of music, unlike his other loves, owned to vaguenesses,
but while, on his comparatively shaded sofa, and smoking, smoking, always
smoking, in the great Fawns drawing-room as everywhere, the cigars of his
youth, rank with associations—while, I say, he so listened to
Charlotte’s piano, where the score was ever absent but, between the
lighted candles, the picture distinct, the vagueness spread itself about
him like some boundless carpet, a surface delightfully soft to the
pressure of his interest. It was a manner of passing the time that rather
replaced conversation, but the air, at the end, none the less, before they
separated, had a way of seeming full of the echoes of talk. They
separated, in the hushed house, not quite easily, yet not quite awkwardly
either, with tapers that twinkled in the large dark spaces, and for the
most part so late that the last solemn servant had been dismissed for the
night.



Late as it was on a particular evening toward the end of October, there
had been a full word or two dropped into the still-stirring sea of other
voices—a word or two that affected our friend even at the moment,
and rather oddly, as louder and rounder than any previous sound; and then
he had lingered, under pretext of an opened window to be made secure,
after taking leave of his companion in the hall and watching her glimmer
away up the staircase. He had for himself another impulse than to go to
bed; picking up a hat in the hall, slipping his arms into a sleeveless
cape and lighting still another cigar, he turned out upon the terrace
through one of the long drawing-room windows and moved to and fro there
for an hour beneath the sharp autumn stars. It was where he had walked in
the afternoon sun with Fanny Assingham, and the sense of that other hour,
the sense of the suggestive woman herself, was before him again as, in
spite of all the previous degustation we have hinted at, it had not yet
been. He thought, in a loose, an almost agitated order, of many things;
the power that was in them to agitate having been part of his conviction
that he should not soon sleep. He truly felt for a while that he should
never sleep again till something had come to him; some light, some idea,
some mere happy word perhaps, that he had begun to want, but had been till
now, and especially the last day or two, vainly groping for. “Can you
really then come if we start early?”—that was practically all he had
said to the girl as she took up her bedroom light. And “Why in the world
not, when I’ve nothing else to do, and should, besides, so immensely like
it?”—this had as definitely been, on her side, the limit of the
little scene. There had in fact been nothing to call a scene, even of the
littlest, at all—though he perhaps didn’t quite know why something
like the menace of one hadn’t proceeded from her stopping half-way
upstairs to turn and say, as she looked down on him, that she promised to
content herself, for their journey, with a toothbrush and a sponge. There
hovered about him, at all events, while he walked, appearances already
familiar, as well as two or three that were new, and not the least vivid
of the former connected itself with that sense of being treated with
consideration which had become for him, as we have noted, one of the minor
yet so far as there were any such, quite one of the compensatory,
incidents of being a father-in-law. It had struck him, up to now, that
this particular balm was a mixture of which Amerigo, as through some
hereditary privilege, alone possessed the secret; so that he found himself
wondering if it had come to Charlotte, who had unmistakably acquired it,
through the young man’s having amiably passed it on. She made use, for her
so quietly grateful host, however this might be, of quite the same shades
of attention and recognition, was mistress in an equal degree of the
regulated, the developed art of placing him high in the scale of
importance. That was even for his own thought a clumsy way of expressing
the element of similarity in the agreeable effect they each produced on
him, and it held him for a little only because this coincidence in their
felicity caused him vaguely to connect or associate them in the matter of
tradition, training, tact, or whatever else one might call it. It might
almost have been—if such a link between them was to be imagined—that
Amerigo had, a little, “coached” or incited their young friend, or perhaps
rather that she had simply, as one of the signs of the general perfection
Fanny Assingham commended in her, profited by observing, during her short
opportunity before the start of the travellers, the pleasant application
by the Prince of his personal system. He might wonder what exactly it was
that they so resembled each other in treating him like—from what
noble and propagated convention, in cases in which the exquisite
“importance” was to be neither too grossly attributed nor too grossly
denied, they had taken their specific lesson; but the difficulty was here
of course that one could really never know—couldn’t know without
having been one’s self a personage; whether a Pope, a King, a President, a
Peer, a General, or just a beautiful Author.



Before such a question, as before several others when they recurred, he
would come to a pause, leaning his arms on the old parapet and losing
himself in a far excursion. He had as to so many of the matters in hand a
divided view, and this was exactly what made him reach out, in his unrest,
for some idea, lurking in the vast freshness of the night, at the breath
of which disparities would submit to fusion, and so, spreading beneath
him, make him feel that he floated. What he kept finding himself return
to, disturbingly enough, was the reflection, deeper than anything else,
that in forming a new and intimate tie he should in a manner abandon, or
at the best signally relegate, his daughter. He should reduce to definite
form the idea that he had lost her—as was indeed inevitable—by
her own marriage; he should reduce to definite form the idea of his having
incurred an injury, or at the best an inconvenience, that required some
makeweight and deserved some amends. And he should do this the more, which
was the great point, that he should appear to adopt, in doing it, the
sentiment, in fact the very conviction, entertained, and quite
sufficiently expressed, by Maggie herself, in her beautiful generosity, as
to what he had suffered—putting it with extravagance—at her
hands. If she put it with extravagance the extravagance was yet sincere,
for it came—which she put with extravagance too—from her
persistence, always, in thinking, feeling, talking about him, as young. He
had had glimpses of moments when to hear her thus, in her absolutely
unforced compunction, one would have supposed the special edge of the
wrong she had done him to consist in his having still before him years and
years to groan under it. She had sacrificed a parent, the pearl of
parents, no older than herself: it wouldn’t so much have mattered if he
had been of common parental age. That he wasn’t, that he was just her
extraordinary equal and contemporary, this was what added to her act the
long train of its effect. Light broke for him at last, indeed, quite as a
consequence of the fear of breathing a chill upon this luxuriance of her
spiritual garden. As at a turn of his labyrinth he saw his issue, which
opened out so wide, for the minute, that he held his breath with wonder.
He was afterwards to recall how, just then, the autumn night seemed to
clear to a view in which the whole place, everything round him, the wide
terrace where he stood, the others, with their steps, below, the gardens,
the park, the lake, the circling woods, lay there as under some strange
midnight sun. It all met him during these instants as a vast expanse of
discovery, a world that looked, so lighted, extraordinarily new, and in
which familiar objects had taken on a distinctness that, as if it had been
a loud, a spoken pretension to beauty, interest, importance, to he scarce
knew what, gave them an inordinate quantity of character and, verily, an
inordinate size. This hallucination, or whatever he might have called it,
was brief, but it lasted long enough to leave him gasping. The gasp of
admiration had by this time, however, lost itself in an intensity that
quickly followed—the way the wonder of it, since wonder was in
question, truly had been the strange DELAY of his vision. He had these
several days groped and groped for an object that lay at his feet and as
to which his blindness came from his stupidly looking beyond. It had sat
all the while at his hearth-stone, whence it now gazed up in his face.



Once he had recognised it there everything became coherent. The sharp
point to which all his light converged was that the whole call of his
future to him, as a father, would be in his so managing that Maggie would
less and less appear to herself to have forsaken him. And it not only
wouldn’t be decently humane, decently possible, not to make this relief
easy to her—the idea shone upon him, more than that, as exciting,
inspiring, uplifting. It fell in so beautifully with what might be
otherwise possible; it stood there absolutely confronted with the material
way in which it might be met. The way in which it might be met was by his
putting his child at peace, and the way to put her at peace was to provide
for his future—that is for hers—by marriage, by a marriage as
good, speaking proportionately, as hers had been. As he fairly inhaled
this measure of refreshment he tasted the meaning of recent agitations. He
had seen that Charlotte could contribute—what he hadn’t seen was
what she could contribute TO. When it had all supremely cleared up and he
had simply settled this service to his daughter well before him as the
proper direction of his young friend’s leisure, the cool darkness had
again closed round him, but his moral lucidity was constituted. It wasn’t
only moreover that the word, with a click, so fitted the riddle, but that
the riddle, in such perfection, fitted the word. He might have been
equally in want and yet not have had his remedy. Oh, if Charlotte didn’t
accept him, of course the remedy would fail; but, as everything had fallen
together, it was at least there to be tried. And success would be great—that
was his last throb—if the measure of relief effected for Maggie
should at all prove to have been given by his own actual sense of
felicity. He really didn’t know when in his life he had thought of
anything happier. To think of it merely for himself would have been, even
as he had just lately felt, even doing all justice to that condition—yes,
impossible. But there was a grand difference in thinking of it for his
child.


                             XII


It was at Brighton, above all, that this difference came out; it was
during the three wonderful days he spent there with Charlotte that he had
acquainted himself further—though doubtless not even now quite
completely—with the merits of his majestic scheme. And while,
moreover, to begin with, he still but held his vision in place, steadying
it fairly with his hands, as he had often steadied, for inspection, a
precarious old pot or kept a glazed picture in its right relation to the
light, the other, the outer presumptions in his favour, those independent
of what he might himself contribute and that therefore, till he should
“speak,” remained necessarily vague—that quantity, I say, struck him
as positively multiplying, as putting on, in the fresh Brighton air and on
the sunny Brighton front, a kind of tempting palpability. He liked, in
this preliminary stage, to feel that he should be able to “speak” and that
he would; the word itself being romantic, pressing for him the spring of
association with stories and plays where handsome and ardent young men, in
uniforms, tights, cloaks, high-boots, had it, in soliloquies, ever on
their lips; and the sense on the first day that he should probably have
taken the great step before the second was over conduced already to make
him say to his companion that they must spend more than their mere night
or two. At his ease on the ground of what was before him he at all events
definitely desired to be, and it was strongly his impression that he was
proceeding step by step. He was acting—it kept coming back to that—not
in the dark, but in the high golden morning; not in precipitation, flurry,
fever, dangers these of the path of passion properly so called, but with
the deliberation of a plan, a plan that might be a thing of less joy than
a passion, but that probably would, in compensation for that loss, be
found to have the essential property, to wear even the decent dignity, of
reaching further and of providing for more contingencies. The season was,
in local parlance, “on,” the elements were assembled; the big windy hotel,
the draughty social hall, swarmed with “types,” in Charlotte’s constant
phrase, and resounded with a din in which the wild music of gilded and
befrogged bands, Croatian, Dalmatian, Carpathian, violently exotic and
nostalgic, was distinguished as struggling against the perpetual popping
of corks. Much of this would decidedly have disconcerted our friends if it
hadn’t all happened, more preponderantly, to give them the brighter
surprise. The noble privacy of Fawns had left them—had left Mr.
Verver at least—with a little accumulated sum of tolerance to spend
on the high pitch and high colour of the public sphere. Fawns, as it had
been for him, and as Maggie and Fanny Assingham had both attested, was out
of the world, whereas the scene actually about him, with the very sea a
mere big booming medium for excursions and aquariums, affected him as so
plump in the conscious centre that nothing could have been more complete
for representing that pulse of life which they had come to unanimity at
home on the subject of their advisedly not hereafter forgetting. The pulse
of life was what Charlotte, in her way, at home, had lately reproduced,
and there were positively current hours when it might have been open to
her companion to feel himself again indebted to her for introductions. He
had “brought” her, to put it crudely, but it was almost as if she were
herself, in her greater gaiety, her livelier curiosity and intensity, her
readier, happier irony, taking him about and showing him the place. No
one, really, when he came to think, had ever taken him about before—it
had always been he, of old, who took others and who in particular took
Maggie. This quickly fell into its relation with him as part of an
experience—marking for him, no doubt, what people call,
considerately, a time of life; a new and pleasant order, a flattered
passive state, that might become—why shouldn’t it?— one of the
comforts of the future.



Mr. Gutermann-Seuss proved, on the second day—our friend had waited
till then—a remarkably genial, a positively lustrous young man
occupying a small neat house in a quarter of the place remote from the
front and living, as immediate and striking signs testified, in the bosom
of his family. Our visitors found themselves introduced, by the operation
of close contiguity, to a numerous group of ladies and gentlemen older and
younger, and of children larger and smaller, who mostly affected them as
scarce less anointed for hospitality and who produced at first the
impression of a birthday party, of some anniversary gregariously and
religiously kept, though they subsequently fell into their places as
members of one quiet domestic circle, preponderantly and directly indebted
for their being, in fact, to Mr. Gutermann-Seuss. To the casual eye a mere
smart and shining youth of less than thirty summers, faultlessly appointed
in every particular, he yet stood among his progeny—eleven in all,
as he confessed without a sigh, eleven little brown clear faces, yet with
such impersonal old eyes astride of such impersonal old noses—while
he entertained the great American collector whom he had so long hoped he
might meet, and whose charming companion, the handsome, frank, familiar
young lady, presumably Mrs. Verver, noticed the graduated offspring,
noticed the fat, ear-ringed aunts and the glossy, cockneyfied, familiar
uncles, inimitable of accent and assumption, and of an attitude of cruder
intention than that of the head of the firm; noticed the place in short,
noticed the treasure produced, noticed everything, as from the habit of a
person finding her account at any time, according to a wisdom well learned
of life, in almost any “funny” impression. It really came home to her
friend on the spot that this free range of observation in her, picking out
the frequent funny with extraordinary promptness, would verily henceforth
make a different thing for him of such experiences, of the customary hunt
for the possible prize, the inquisitive play of his accepted monomania;
which different thing could probably be a lighter and perhaps thereby a
somewhat more boisterously refreshing form of sport. Such omens struck him
as vivid, in any case, when Mr. Gutermann-Seuss, with a sharpness of
discrimination he had at first scarce seemed to promise, invited his
eminent couple into another room, before the threshold of which the rest
of the tribe, unanimously faltering, dropped out of the scene. The
treasure itself here, the objects on behalf of which Mr. Verver’s interest
had been booked, established quickly enough their claim to engage the
latter’s attention; yet at what point of his past did our friend’s memory,
looking back and back, catch him, in any such place, thinking so much less
of wares artfully paraded than of some other and quite irrelevant
presence? Such places were not strange to him when they took the form of
bourgeois back-parlours, a trifle ominously grey and grim from their north
light, at watering-places prevailingly homes of humbug, or even when they
wore some aspect still less, if not perhaps still more, insidious. He had
been everywhere, pried and prowled everywhere, going, on occasion, so far
as to risk, he believed, life, health and the very bloom of honour; but
where, while precious things, extracted one by one from thrice-locked yet
often vulgar drawers and soft satchels of old oriental ilk, were
impressively ranged before him, had he, till now, let himself, in
consciousness, wander like one of the vague?



He didn’t betray it—ah THAT he knew; but two recognitions took place
for him at once, and one of them suffered a little in sweetness by the
confusion. Mr. Gutermann-Seuss had truly, for the crisis, the putting down
of his cards, a rare manner; he was perfect master of what not to say to
such a personage as Mr. Verver while the particular importance that
dispenses with chatter was diffused by his movements themselves, his
repeated act of passage between a featureless mahogany meuble and a table
so virtuously disinterested as to look fairly smug under a cotton cloth of
faded maroon and indigo, all redolent of patriarchal teas. The Damascene
tiles, successively, and oh so tenderly, unmuffled and revealed, lay there
at last in their full harmony and their venerable splendour, but the
tribute of appreciation and decision was, while the spectator considered,
simplified to a point that but just failed of representing levity on the
part of a man who had always acknowledged without shame, in such affairs,
the intrinsic charm of what was called discussion. The infinitely ancient,
the immemorial amethystine blue of the glaze, scarcely more meant to be
breathed upon, it would seem, than the cheek of royalty—this
property of the ordered and matched array had inevitably all its
determination for him, but his submission was, perhaps for the first time
in his life, of the quick mind alone, the process really itself, in its
way, as fine as the perfection perceived and admired: every inch of the
rest of him being given to the foreknowledge that an hour or two later he
should have “spoken.” The burning of his ships therefore waited too near
to let him handle his opportunity with his usual firm and sentient fingers—waited
somehow in the predominance of Charlotte’s very person, in her being there
exactly as she was, capable, as Mr. Gutermann-Seuss himself was capable,
of the right felicity of silence, but with an embracing ease, through it
all, that made deferred criticism as fragrant as some joy promised a lover
by his mistress, or as a big bridal bouquet held patiently behind her. He
couldn’t otherwise have explained, surely, why he found himself thinking,
to his enjoyment, of so many other matters than the felicity of his
acquisition and the figure of his cheque, quite equally high; any more
than why, later on, with their return to the room in which they had been
received and the renewed encompassment of the tribe, he felt quite merged
in the elated circle formed by the girl’s free response to the collective
caress of all the shining eyes, and by her genial acceptance of the heavy
cake and port wine that, as she was afterwards to note, added to their
transaction, for a finish, the touch of some mystic rite of old Jewry.



This characterisation came from her as they walked away—walked
together, in the waning afternoon, back to the breezy sea and the bustling
front, back to the nimble and the flutter and the shining shops that
sharpened the grin of solicitation on the mask of night. They were walking
thus, as he felt, nearer and nearer to where he should see his ships burn,
and it was meanwhile for him quite as if this red glow would impart, at
the harmonious hour, a lurid grandeur to his good faith. It was meanwhile
too a sign of the kind of sensibility often playing up in him that—fabulous
as this truth may sound—he found a sentimental link, an obligation
of delicacy, or perhaps even one of the penalties of its opposite, in his
having exposed her to the north light, the quite properly hard
business-light, of the room in which they had been alone with the treasure
and its master. She had listened to the name of the sum he was capable of
looking in the face. Given the relation of intimacy with him she had
already, beyond all retractation, accepted, the stir of the air produced
at the other place by that high figure struck him as a thing that, from
the moment she had exclaimed or protested as little as he himself had
apologised, left him but one thing more to do. A man of decent feeling
didn’t thrust his money, a huge lump of it, in such a way, under a poor
girl’s nose—a girl whose poverty was, after a fashion, the very
basis of her enjoyment of his hospitality—without seeing, logically,
a responsibility attached. And this was to remain none the less true for
the fact that twenty minutes later, after he had applied his torch,
applied it with a sign or two of insistence, what might definitely result
failed to be immediately clear. He had spoken—spoken as they sat
together on the out-of-the-way bench observed during one of their walks
and kept for the previous quarter of the present hour well in his memory’s
eye; the particular spot to which, between intense pauses and intenser
advances, he had all the while consistently led her. Below the great
consolidated cliff, well on to where the city of stucco sat most
architecturally perched, with the rumbling beach and the rising tide and
the freshening stars in front and above, the safe sense of the whole place
yet prevailed in lamps and seats and flagged walks, hovering also overhead
in the close neighbourhood of a great replete community about to assist
anew at the removal of dish-covers.



“We’ve had, as it seems to me, such quite beautiful days together, that I
hope it won’t come to you too much as a shock when I ask if you think you
could regard me with any satisfaction as a husband.” As if he had known
she wouldn’t, she of course couldn’t, at all gracefully, and whether or
no, reply with a rush, he had said a little more—quite as he had
felt he must in thinking it out in advance. He had put the question on
which there was no going back and which represented thereby the sacrifice
of his vessels, and what he further said was to stand for the redoubled
thrust of flame that would make combustion sure. “This isn’t sudden to me,
and I’ve wondered at moments if you haven’t felt me coming to it. I’ve
been coming ever since we left Fawns—I really started while we were
there.” He spoke slowly, giving her, as he desired, time to think; all the
more that it was making her look at him steadily, and making her also, in
a remarkable degree, look “well” while she did so—a large and, so
far, a happy, consequence. She wasn’t at all events shocked—which he
had glanced at but for a handsome humility—and he would give her as
many minutes as she liked. “You mustn’t think I’m forgetting that I’m not
young.”



“Oh, that isn’t so. It’s I that am old. You ARE young.” This was what she
had at first answered—and quite in the tone too of having taken her
minutes. It had not been wholly to the point, but it had been kind—which
was what he most wanted. And she kept, for her next words, to kindness,
kept to her clear, lowered voice and unshrinking face. “To me too it
thoroughly seems that these days have been beautiful. I shouldn’t be
grateful to them if I couldn’t more or less have imagined their bringing
us to this.” She affected him somehow as if she had advanced a step to
meet him and yet were at the same time standing still. It only meant,
however, doubtless, that she was, gravely and reasonably, thinking—as
he exactly desired to make her. If she would but think enough she would
probably think to suit him. “It seems to me,” she went on, “that it’s for
YOU to be sure.”



“Ah, but I AM sure,” said Adam Verver. “On matters of importance I never
speak when I’m not. So if you can yourself FACE such a union you needn’t
in the least trouble.”



She had another pause, and she might have been felt as facing it while,
through lamplight and dusk, through the breath of the mild, slightly damp
southwest, she met his eyes without evasion. Yet she had at the end of
another minute debated only to the extent of saying: “I won’t pretend I
don’t think it would be good for me to marry. Good for me, I mean,” she
pursued, “because I’m so awfully unattached. I should like to be a little
less adrift. I should like to have a home. I should like to have an
existence. I should like to have a motive for one thing more than another—a
motive outside of myself. In fact,” she said, so sincerely that it almost
showed pain, yet so lucidly that it almost showed humour, “in fact, you
know, I want to BE married. It’s—well, it’s the condition.”



“The condition—?” He was just vague.



“It’s the state, I mean. I don’t like my own. ‘Miss,’ among us all, is too
dreadful—except for a shopgirl. I don’t want to be a horrible
English old-maid.”



“Oh, you want to be taken care of. Very well then, I’ll do it.”



“I dare say it’s very much that. Only I don’t see why, for what I speak
of,” she smiled—“for a mere escape from my state—I need do
quite so MUCH.”



“So much as marry me in particular?”



Her smile was as for true directness. “I might get what I want for less.”



“You think it so much for you to do?”



“Yes,” she presently said, “I think it’s a great deal.”



Then it was that, though she was so gentle, so quite perfect with him, and
he felt he had come on far—then it was that of a sudden something
seemed to fail and he didn’t quite know where they were. There rose for
him, with this, the fact, to be sure, of their disparity, deny it as
mercifully and perversely as she would. He might have been her father. “Of
course, yes—that’s my disadvantage: I’m not the natural, I’m so far
from being the ideal match to your youth and your beauty. I’ve the
drawback that you’ve seen me always, so inevitably, in such another
light.”



But she gave a slow headshake that made contradiction soft—made it
almost sad, in fact, as from having to be so complete; and he had already,
before she spoke, the dim vision of some objection in her mind beside
which the one he had named was light, and which therefore must be
strangely deep. “You don’t understand me. It’s of all that it is for YOU
to do—it’s of that I’m thinking.”



Oh, with this, for him, the thing was clearer! “Then you needn’t think. I
know enough what it is for me to do.”



But she shook her head again. “I doubt if you know. I doubt if you CAN.”



“And why not, please—when I’ve had you so before me? That I’m old
has at least THAT fact about it to the good—that I’ve known you long
and from far back.”



“Do you think you’ve ‘known’ me?” asked Charlotte Stant. He hesitated—for
the tone of it, and her look with it might have made him doubt. Just these
things in themselves, however, with all the rest, with his fixed purpose
now, his committed deed, the fine pink glow, projected forward, of his
ships, behind him, definitely blazing and crackling—this quantity
was to push him harder than any word of her own could warn him. All that
she was herself, moreover, was so lighted, to its advantage, by the pink
glow. He wasn’t rabid, but he wasn’t either, as a man of a proper spirit,
to be frightened. “What is that then—if I accept it—but as
strong a reason as I can want for just LEARNING to know you?”



She faced him always—kept it up as for honesty, and yet at the same
time, in her odd way, as for mercy. “How can you tell whether if you did
you would?”



It was ambiguous for an instant, as she showed she felt. “I mean when it’s
a question of learning, one learns sometimes too late.”



“I think it’s a question,” he promptly enough made answer, “of liking you
the more just for your saying these things. You should make something,” he
added, “of my liking you.”



“I make everything. But are you sure of having exhausted all other ways?”



This, of a truth, enlarged his gaze. “But what other ways?”



“Why, you’ve more ways of being kind than anyone I ever knew.”



“Take it then,” he answered, “that I’m simply putting them all together
for you.” She looked at him, on this, long again—still as if it
shouldn’t be said she hadn’t given him time or had withdrawn from his
view, so to speak, a single inch of her surface. This at least she was
fully to have exposed. It represented her as oddly conscientious, and he
scarce knew in what sense it affected him. On the whole, however, with
admiration. “You’re very, very honourable.”



“It’s just what I want to be. I don’t see,” she added, “why you’re not
right, I don’t see why you’re not happy, as you are. I can not ask myself,
I can not ask YOU,” she went on, “if you’re really as much at liberty as
your universal generosity leads you to assume. Oughtn’t we,” she asked,
“to think a little of others? Oughtn’t I, at least, in loyalty—at
any rate in delicacy—to think of Maggie?” With which, intensely
gentle, so as not to appear too much to teach him his duty, she explained.
“She’s everything to you—she has always been. Are you so certain
that there’s room in your life—?”



“For another daughter?—is that what you mean?” She had not hung upon
it long, but he had quickly taken her up.



He had not, however, disconcerted her. “For another young woman—very
much of her age, and whose relation to her has always been so different
from what our marrying would make it. For another companion,” said
Charlotte Stant.



“Can’t a man be, all his life then,” he almost fiercely asked, “anything
but a father?” But he went on before she could answer. “You talk about
differences, but they’ve been already made—as no one knows better
than Maggie. She feels the one she made herself by her own marriage—made,
I mean, for me. She constantly thinks of it—it allows her no rest.
To put her at peace is therefore,” he explained, “what I’m trying, with
you, to do. I can’t do it alone, but I can do it with your help. You can
make her,” he said, “positively happy about me.”



“About you?” she thoughtfully echoed. “But what can I make her about
herself?”



“Oh, if she’s at ease about me the rest will take care of itself. The
case,” he declared, “is in your hands. You’ll effectually put out of her
mind that I feel she has abandoned me.”



Interest certainly now was what he had kindled in her face, but it was all
the more honourable to her, as he had just called it that she should want
to see each of the steps of his conviction. “If you’ve been driven to the
‘likes’ of me, mayn’t it show that you’ve felt truly forsaken?”



“Well, I’m willing to suggest that, if I can show at the same time that I
feel consoled.”



“But HAVE you,” she demanded, “really felt so?” He hesitated.



“Consoled?”



“Forsaken.”



“No—I haven’t. But if it’s her idea—!” If it was her idea, in
short, that was enough. This enunciation of motive, the next moment,
however, sounded to him perhaps slightly thin, so that he gave it another
touch. “That is if it’s my idea. I happen, you see, to like my idea.”



“Well, it’s beautiful and wonderful. But isn’t it, possibly,” Charlotte
asked, “not quite enough to marry me for?”



“Why so, my dear child? Isn’t a man’s idea usually what he does marry
for?”



Charlotte, considering, looked as if this might perhaps be a large
question, or at all events something of an extension of one they were
immediately concerned with. “Doesn’t that a good deal depend on the sort
of thing it may be?” She suggested that, about marriage, ideas, as he
called them, might differ; with which, however, giving no more time to it,
she sounded another question. “Don’t you appear rather to put it to me
that I may accept your offer for Maggie’s sake? Somehow”—she turned
it over—“I don’t so clearly SEE her quite so much finding
reassurance, or even quite so much needing it.”



“Do you then make nothing at all of her having been so ready to leave us?”



Ah, Charlotte on the contrary made much! “She was ready to leave us
because she had to be. From the moment the Prince wanted it she could only
go with him.”



“Perfectly—so that, if you see your way, she will be able to ‘go
with him’ in future as much as she likes.”



Charlotte appeared to examine for a minute, in Maggie’s interest, this
privilege—the result of which was a limited concession. “You’ve
certainly worked it out!”



“Of course I’ve worked it out—that’s exactly what I HAVE done. She
hadn’t for a long time been so happy about anything as at your being there
with me.”



“I was to be with you,” said Charlotte, “for her security.”



“Well,” Adam Verver rang out, “this IS her security. You’ve only, if you
can’t see it, to ask her.”



“‘Ask’ her?”—the girl echoed it in wonder. “Certainly—in so
many words. Telling her you don’t believe me.”



Still she debated. “Do you mean write it to her?”



“Quite so. Immediately. To-morrow.”



“Oh, I don’t think I can write it,” said Charlotte Stant. “When I write to
her”—and she looked amused for so different a shade—“it’s
about the Principino’s appetite and Dr. Brady’s visits.”



“Very good then—put it to her face to face. We’ll go straight to
Paris to meet them.”



Charlotte, at this, rose with a movement that was like a small cry; but
her unspoken sense lost itself while she stood with her eyes on him—he
keeping his seat as for the help it gave him, a little, to make his appeal
go up. Presently, however, a new sense had come to her, and she covered
him, kindly, with the expression of it. “I do think, you know, you must
rather ‘like’ me.”



“Thank you,” said Adam Verver. “You WILL put it to her yourself then?”



She had another hesitation. “We go over, you say, to meet them?”



“As soon as we can get back to Fawns. And wait there for them, if
necessary, till they come.”



“Wait—a—at Fawns?”



“Wait in Paris. That will be charming in itself.”



“You take me to pleasant places.” She turned it over. “You propose to me
beautiful things.”



“It rests but with you to make them beautiful and pleasant. You’ve made
Brighton—!”



“Ah!”—she almost tenderly protested. “With what I’m doing now?”



“You’re promising me now what I want. Aren’t you promising me,” he
pressed, getting up, “aren’t you promising me to abide by what Maggie
says?”



Oh, she wanted to be sure she was. “Do you mean she’ll ASK it of me?”



It gave him indeed, as by communication, a sense of the propriety of being
himself certain. Yet what was he but certain? “She’ll speak to you. She’ll
speak to you FOR me.”



This at last then seemed to satisfy her. “Very good. May we wait again to
talk of it till she has done so?” He showed, with his hands down in his
pockets and his shoulders expressively up, a certain disappointment. Soon
enough, none the less, his gentleness was all back and his patience once
more exemplary. “Of course I give you time. Especially,” he smiled, “as
it’s time that I shall be spending with you. Our keeping on together will
help you perhaps to see. To see, I mean, how I need you.”



“I already see,” said Charlotte, “how you’ve persuaded yourself you do.”
But she had to repeat it. “That isn’t, unfortunately, all.”



“Well then, how you’ll make Maggie right.”



“‘Right’?” She echoed it as if the word went far. And “O—oh!” she
still critically murmured as they moved together away.


                            XIII


He had talked to her of their waiting in Paris, a week later, but on the
spot there this period of patience suffered no great strain. He had
written to his daughter, not indeed from Brighton, but directly after
their return to Fawns, where they spent only forty-eight hours before
resuming their journey; and Maggie’s reply to his news was a telegram from
Rome, delivered to him at noon of their fourth day and which he brought
out to Charlotte, who was seated at that moment in the court of the hotel,
where they had agreed that he should join her for their proceeding
together to the noontide meal. His letter, at Fawns—a letter of
several pages and intended lucidly, unreservedly, in fact all but
triumphantly, to inform—had proved, on his sitting down to it, and a
little to his surprise, not quite so simple a document to frame as even
his due consciousness of its weight of meaning had allowed him to assume:
this doubtless, however, only for reasons naturally latent in the very
wealth of that consciousness, which contributed to his message something
of their own quality of impatience. The main result of their talk, for the
time, had been a difference in his relation to his young friend, as well
as a difference, equally sensible, in her relation to himself; and this in
spite of his not having again renewed his undertaking to “speak” to her so
far even as to tell her of the communication despatched to Rome. Delicacy,
a delicacy more beautiful still, all the delicacy she should want, reigned
between them—it being rudimentary, in their actual order, that she
mustn’t be further worried until Maggie should have put her at her ease.



It was just the delicacy, however, that in Paris—which,
suggestively, was Brighton at a hundredfold higher pitch—made,
between him and his companion, the tension, made the suspense, made what
he would have consented perhaps to call the provisional peculiarity, of
present conditions. These elements acted in a manner of their own,
imposing and involving, under one head, many abstentions and precautions,
twenty anxieties and reminders—things, verily, he would scarce have
known how to express; and yet creating for them at every step an
acceptance of their reality. He was hanging back, with Charlotte, till
another person should intervene for their assistance, and yet they had, by
what had already occurred, been carried on to something it was out of the
power of other persons to make either less or greater. Common conventions—that
was what was odd—had to be on this basis more thought of; those
common conventions that, previous to the passage by the Brighton strand,
he had so enjoyed the sense of their overlooking. The explanation would
have been, he supposed—or would have figured it with less of unrest—that
Paris had, in its way, deeper voices and warnings, so that if you went at
all “far” there it laid bristling traps, as they might have been viewed,
all smothered in flowers, for your going further still. There were strange
appearances in the air, and before you knew it you might be unmistakably
matching them. Since he wished therefore to match no appearance but that
of a gentleman playing with perfect fairness any game in life he might be
called to, he found himself, on the receipt of Maggie’s missive, rejoicing
with a certain inconsistency. The announcement made her from home had, in
the act, cost some biting of his pen to sundry parts of him—his
personal modesty, his imagination of her prepared state for so quick a
jump, it didn’t much matter which—and yet he was more eager than not
for the drop of delay and for the quicker transitions promised by the
arrival of the imminent pair. There was after all a hint of offence to a
man of his age in being taken, as they said at the shops, on approval.
Maggie, certainly, would have been as far as Charlotte herself from
positively desiring this, and Charlotte, on her side, as far as Maggie
from holding him light as a real value. She made him fidget thus, poor
girl, but from generous rigour of conscience.



These allowances of his spirit were, all the same, consistent with a great
gladness at the sight of the term of his ordeal; for it was the end of his
seeming to agree that questions and doubts had a place. The more he had
inwardly turned the matter over the more it had struck him that they had
in truth only an ugliness. What he could have best borne, as he now
believed, would have been Charlotte’s simply saying to him that she didn’t
like him enough. This he wouldn’t have enjoyed, but he would quite have
understood it and been able ruefully to submit. She did like him enough—nothing
to contradict that had come out for him; so that he was restless for her
as well as for himself. She looked at him hard a moment when he handed her
his telegram, and the look, for what he fancied a dim, shy fear in it,
gave him perhaps his best moment of conviction that—as a man, so to
speak—he properly pleased her. He said nothing—the words
sufficiently did it for him, doing it again better still as Charlotte, who
had left her chair at his approach, murmured them out. “We start to-night
to bring you all our love and joy and sympathy.” There they were, the
words, and what did she want more? She didn’t, however, as she gave him
back the little unfolded leaf, say they were enough—though he saw,
the next moment, that her silence was probably not disconnected from her
having just visibly turned pale. Her extraordinarily fine eyes, as it was
his present theory that he had always thought them, shone at him the more
darkly out of this change of colour; and she had again, with it, her
apparent way of subjecting herself, for explicit honesty and through her
willingness to face him, to any view he might take, all at his ease, and
even to wantonness, of the condition he produced in her. As soon as he
perceived that emotion kept her soundless he knew himself deeply touched,
since it proved that, little as she professed, she had been beautifully
hoping. They stood there a minute while he took in from this sign that,
yes then, certainly she liked him enough—liked him enough to make
him, old as he was ready to brand himself, flush for the pleasure of it.
The pleasure of it accordingly made him speak first. “Do you begin, a
little, to be satisfied?”



Still, however, she had to think. “We’ve hurried them, you see. Why so
breathless a start?”



“Because they want to congratulate us. They want,” said Adam Verver, “to
SEE our happiness.”



She wondered again—and this time also, for him, as publicly as
possible. “So much as that?”



“Do you think it’s too much?”



She continued to think plainly. “They weren’t to have started for another
week.”



“Well, what then? Isn’t our situation worth the little sacrifice? We’ll go
back to Rome as soon as you like WITH them.”



This seemed to hold her—as he had previously seen her held, just a
trifle inscrutably, by his allusions to what they would do together on a
certain contingency. “Worth it, the little sacrifice, for whom? For us,
naturally—yes,” she said. “We want to see them—for our
reasons. That is,” she rather dimly smiled, “YOU do.”



“And you do, my dear, too!” he bravely declared. “Yes then—I do
too,” she after an instant ungrudging enough acknowledged. “For us,
however, something depends on it.”



“Rather! But does nothing depend on it for them?”



“What CAN—from the moment that, as appears, they don’t want to nip
us in the bud? I can imagine their rushing up to prevent us. But an
enthusiasm for us that can wait so very little—such intense
eagerness, I confess,” she went on, “more than a little puzzles me. You
may think me,” she also added, “ungracious and suspicious, but the Prince
can’t at all want to come back so soon. He wanted quite too intensely to
get away.”



Mr. Verver considered. “Well, hasn’t he been away?”



“Yes, just long enough to see how he likes it. Besides,” said Charlotte,
“he may not be able to join in the rosy view of our case that you impute
to her. It can’t in the least have appeared to him hitherto a matter of
course that you should give his wife a bouncing stepmother.”



Adam Verver, at this, looked grave. “I’m afraid then he’ll just have to
accept from us whatever his wife accepts; and accept it—if he can
imagine no better reason—just because she does. That,” he declared,
“will have to do for him.”



His tone made her for a moment meet his face; after which, “Let me,” she
abruptly said, “see it again”—taking from him the folded leaf that
she had given back and he had kept in his hand. “Isn’t the whole thing,”
she asked when she had read it over, “perhaps but a way like another for
their gaining time?”



He again stood staring; but the next minute, with that upward spring of
his shoulders and that downward pressure of his pockets which she had
already, more than once, at disconcerted moments, determined in him, he
turned sharply away and wandered from her in silence. He looked about in
his small despair; he crossed the hotel court, which, overarched and
glazed, muffled against loud sounds and guarded against crude sights,
heated, gilded, draped, almost carpeted, with exotic trees in tubs, exotic
ladies in chairs, the general exotic accent and presence suspended, as
with wings folded or feebly fluttering, in the superior, the supreme, the
inexorably enveloping Parisian medium, resembled some critical apartment
of large capacity, some “dental,” medical, surgical waiting-room, a scene
of mixed anxiety and desire, preparatory, for gathered barbarians, to the
due amputation or extraction of excrescences and redundancies of
barbarism. He went as far as the porte-cochere, took counsel afresh of his
usual optimism, sharpened even, somehow, just here, by the very air he
tasted, and then came back smiling to Charlotte. “It is incredible to you
that when a man is still as much in love as Amerigo his most natural
impulse should be to feel what his wife feels, to believe what she
believes, to want what she wants?—in the absence, that is, of
special impediments to his so doing.” The manner of it operated—she
acknowledged with no great delay this natural possibility. “No—nothing
is incredible to me of people immensely in love.”



“Well, isn’t Amerigo immensely in love?”



She hesitated but as for the right expression of her sense of the degree—but
she after all adopted Mr. Verver’s. “Immensely.”



“Then there you are!”



She had another smile, however—she wasn’t there quite yet. “That
isn’t all that’s wanted.”



“But what more?”



“Why that his wife shall have made him really believe that SHE really
believes.” With which Charlotte became still more lucidly logical. “The
reality of his belief will depend in such a case on the reality of hers.
The Prince may for instance now,” she went on, “have made out to his
satisfaction that Maggie may mainly desire to abound in your sense,
whatever it is you do. He may remember that he has never seen her do
anything else.”



“Well,” said Adam Verver, “what kind of a warning will he have found in
that? To what catastrophe will he have observed such a disposition in her
to lead?”



“Just to THIS one!” With which she struck him as rising straighter and
clearer before him than she had done even yet.



“Our little question itself?” Her appearance had in fact, at the moment,
such an effect on him that he could answer but in marvelling mildness.
“Hadn’t we better wait a while till we call it a catastrophe?”



Her rejoinder to this was to wait—though by no means as long as he
meant. When at the end of her minute she spoke, however, it was mildly
too. “What would you like, dear friend, to wait for?” It lingered between
them in the air, this demand, and they exchanged for the time a look which
might have made each of them seem to have been watching in the other the
signs of its overt irony. These were indeed immediately so visible in Mr.
Verver’s face that, as if a little ashamed of having so markedly produced
them—and as if also to bring out at last, under pressure, something
she had all the while been keeping back—she took a jump to pure
plain reason. “You haven’t noticed for yourself, but I can’t quite help
noticing, that in spite of what you assume—WE assume, if you like—Maggie
wires her joy only to you. She makes no sign of its overflow to me.”



It was a point—and, staring a moment, he took account of it. But he
had, as before, his presence of mind—to say nothing of his kindly
humour. “Why, you complain of the very thing that’s most charmingly
conclusive! She treats us already as ONE.”



Clearly now, for the girl, in spite of lucidity and logic, there was
something in the way he said things—! She faced him in all her
desire to please him, and then her word quite simply and definitely showed
it. “I do like you, you know.”



Well, what could this do but stimulate his humour? “I see what’s the
matter with you. You won’t be quiet till you’ve heard from the Prince
himself. I think,” the happy man added, “that I’ll go and secretly wire to
him that you’d like, reply paid, a few words for yourself.”



It could apparently but encourage her further to smile. “Reply paid for
him, you mean—or for me?”



“Oh, I’ll pay, with pleasure, anything back for you—as many words as
you like.” And he went on, to keep it up. “Not requiring either to see
your message.”



She could take it, visibly, as he meant it. “Should you require to see the
Prince’s?”



“Not a bit. You can keep that also to yourself.”



On his speaking, however, as if his transmitting the hint were a real
question, she appeared to consider—and almost as if for good taste—that
the joke had gone far enough. “It doesn’t matter. Unless he speaks of his
own movement—! And why should it be,” she asked, “a thing that WOULD
occur to him?”



“I really think,” Mr. Verver concurred, “that it naturally wouldn’t. HE
doesn’t know you’re morbid.”



She just wondered—but she agreed. “No—he hasn’t yet found it
out. Perhaps he will, but he hasn’t yet; and I’m willing to give him
meanwhile the benefit of the doubt.” So with this the situation, to her
view, would appear to have cleared had she not too quickly had one of her
restless relapses. “Maggie, however, does know I’m morbid. SHE hasn’t the
benefit.”



“Well,” said Adam Verver a little wearily at last, “I think I feel that
you’ll hear from her yet.” It had even fairly come over him, under
recurrent suggestion, that his daughter’s omission WAS surprising. And
Maggie had never in her life been wrong for more than three minutes.



“Oh, it isn’t that I hold that I’ve a RIGHT to it,” Charlotte the next
instant rather oddly qualified—and the observation itself gave him a
further push.



“Very well—I shall like it myself.”



At this then, as if moved by his way of constantly—and more or less
against his own contention—coming round to her, she showed how she
could also always, and not less gently, come half way. “I speak of it only
as the missing GRACE—the grace that’s in everything that Maggie
does. It isn’t my due”—she kept it up—“but, taking from you
that we may still expect it, it will have the touch. It will be
beautiful.”



“Then come out to breakfast.” Mr. Verver had looked at his watch. “It will
be here when we get back.”



“If it isn’t”—and Charlotte smiled as she looked about for a feather
boa that she had laid down on descending from her room—“if it isn’t
it will have had but THAT slight fault.”



He saw her boa on the arm of the chair from which she had moved to meet
him, and, after he had fetched it, raising it to make its charming
softness brush his face—for it was a wondrous product of Paris,
purchased under his direct auspices the day before—he held it there
a minute before giving it up. “Will you promise me then to be at peace?”



She looked, while she debated, at his admirable present. “I promise you.”



“Quite for ever?”



“Quite for ever.”



“Remember,” he went on, to justify his demand, “remember that in wiring
you she’ll naturally speak even more for her husband than she has done in
wiring me.”



It was only at a word that Charlotte had a demur. “‘Naturally’—?”



“Why, our marriage puts him for you, you see—or puts you for him—into
a new relation, whereas it leaves his relation to me unchanged. It
therefore gives him more to say to you about it.”



“About its making me his stepmother-in-law—or whatever I SHOULD
become?” Over which, for a little, she not undivertedly mused. “Yes, there
may easily be enough for a gentleman to say to a young woman about that.”



“Well, Amerigo can always be, according to the case, either as funny or as
serious as you like; and whichever he may be for you, in sending you a
message, he’ll be it ALL.” And then as the girl, with one of her so deeply
and oddly, yet so tenderly, critical looks at him, failed to take up the
remark, he found himself moved, as by a vague anxiety, to add a question.
“Don’t you think he’s charming?”



“Oh, charming,” said Charlotte Stant. “If he weren’t I shouldn’t mind.”



“No more should I!” her friend harmoniously returned.



“Ah, but you DON’T mind. You don’t have to. You don’t have to, I mean, as
I have. It’s the last folly ever to care, in an anxious way, the least
particle more than one is absolutely forced. If I were you,” she went on—“if
I had in my life, for happiness and power and peace, even a small fraction
of what you have, it would take a great deal to make me waste my worry. I
don’t know,” she said, “what in the world—that didn’t touch my luck—I
should trouble my head about.”



“I quite understand you—yet doesn’t it just depend,” Mr. Verver
asked, “on what you call one’s luck? It’s exactly my luck that I’m talking
about. I shall be as sublime as you like when you’ve made me all right.
It’s only when one is right that one really has the things you speak of.
It isn’t they,” he explained, “that make one so: it’s the something else I
want that makes THEM right. If you’ll give me what I ask, you’ll see.”



She had taken her boa and thrown it over her shoulders, and her eyes,
while she still delayed, had turned from him, engaged by another interest,
though the court was by this time, the hour of dispersal for luncheon, so
forsaken that they would have had it, for free talk, should they have been
moved to loudness, quite to themselves. She was ready for their
adjournment, but she was also aware of a pedestrian youth, in uniform, a
visible emissary of the Postes et Telegraphes, who had approached, from
the street, the small stronghold of the concierge and who presented there
a missive taken from the little cartridge-box slung over his shoulder. The
portress, meeting him on the threshold, met equally, across the court,
Charlotte’s marked attention to his visit, so that, within the minute, she
had advanced to our friends with her cap-streamers flying and her smile of
announcement as ample as her broad white apron. She raised aloft a
telegraphic message and, as she delivered it, sociably discriminated.
“Cette fois-ci pour madame!”—with which she as genially retreated,
leaving Charlotte in possession. Charlotte, taking it, held it at first
unopened. Her eyes had come back to her companion, who had immediately and
triumphantly greeted it. “Ah, there you are!”



She broke the envelope then in silence, and for a minute, as with the
message he himself had put before her, studied its contents without a
sign. He watched her without a question, and at last she looked up. “I’ll
give you,” she simply said, “what you ask.”



The expression of her face was strange—but since when had a woman’s
at moments of supreme surrender not a right to be? He took it in with his
own long look and his grateful silence—so that nothing more, for
some instants, passed between them. Their understanding sealed itself—he
already felt that she had made him right. But he was in presence too of
the fact that Maggie had made HER so; and always, therefore, without
Maggie, where, in fine, would he be? She united them, brought them
together as with the click of a silver spring, and, on the spot, with the
vision of it, his eyes filled, Charlotte facing him meanwhile with her
expression made still stranger by the blur of his gratitude. Through it
all, however, he smiled. “What my child does for me—!”



Through it all as well, that is still through the blur, he saw Charlotte,
rather than heard her, reply. She held her paper wide open, but her eyes
were all for his. “It isn’t Maggie. It’s the Prince.”



“I SAY!”—he gaily rang out. “Then it’s best of all.”



“It’s enough.”



“Thank you for thinking so!” To which he added “It’s enough for our
question, but it isn’t—is it? quite enough for our breakfast?
Dejeunons.”



She stood there, however, in spite of this appeal, her document always
before them. “Don’t you want to read it?”



He thought. “Not if it satisfies you. I don’t require it.”



But she gave him, as for her conscience, another chance. “You can if you
like.”



He hesitated afresh, but as for amiability, not for curiosity. “Is it
funny?”



Thus, finally, she again dropped her eyes on it, drawing in her lips a
little. “No—I call it grave.”



“Ah, then, I don’t want it.”



“Very grave,” said Charlotte Stant.



“Well, what did I tell you of him?” he asked, rejoicing, as they started:
a question for all answer to which, before she took his arm, the girl
thrust her paper, crumpled, into the pocket of her coat.














PART THIRD


                            XIV


Charlotte, half way up the “monumental” staircase, had begun by waiting
alone—waiting to be rejoined by her companion, who had gone down all
the way, as in common kindness bound, and who, his duty performed, would
know where to find her. She was meanwhile, though extremely apparent, not
perhaps absolutely advertised; but she would not have cared if she had
been—so little was it, by this time, her first occasion of facing
society with a consciousness materially, with a confidence quite
splendidly, enriched. For a couple of years now she had known as never
before what it was to look “well”—to look, that is, as well as she
had always felt, from far back, that, in certain conditions, she might. On
such an evening as this, that of a great official party in the full flush
of the London spring-time, the conditions affected her, her nerves, her
senses, her imagination, as all profusely present; so that perhaps at no
moment yet had she been so justified of her faith as at the particular
instant of our being again concerned with her, that of her chancing to
glance higher up from where she stood and meeting in consequence the quiet
eyes of Colonel Assingham, who had his elbows on the broad balustrade of
the great gallery overhanging the staircase and who immediately exchanged
with her one of his most artlessly familiar signals. This simplicity of
his visual attention struck her, even with the other things she had to
think about, as the quietest note in the whole high pitch—much, in
fact, as if she had pressed a finger on a chord or a key and created, for
the number of seconds, an arrest of vibration, a more muffled thump. The
sight of him suggested indeed that Fanny would be there, though so far as
opportunity went she had not seen her. This was about the limit of what it
could suggest.



The air, however, had suggestions enough—it abounded in them, many
of them precisely helping to constitute those conditions with which, for
our young woman, the hour was brilliantly crowned. She was herself in
truth crowned, and it all hung together, melted together, in light and
colour and sound: the unsurpassed diamonds that her head so happily
carried, the other jewels, the other perfections of aspect and arrangement
that made her personal scheme a success, the PROVED private theory that
materials to work with had been all she required and that there were none
too precious for her to understand and use—to which might be added
lastly, as the strong-scented flower of the total sweetness, an easy
command, a high enjoyment, of her crisis. For a crisis she was ready to
take it, and this ease it was, doubtless, that helped her, while she
waited, to the right assurance, to the right indifference, to the right
expression, and above all, as she felt, to the right view of her
opportunity for happiness—unless indeed the opportunity itself,
rather, were, in its mere strange amplitude, the producing, the
precipitating cause. The ordered revellers, rustling and shining, with
sweep of train and glitter of star and clink of sword, and yet, for all
this, but so imperfectly articulate, so vaguely vocal—the double
stream of the coming and the going, flowing together where she stood,
passed her, brushed her, treated her to much crude contemplation and now
and then to a spasm of speech, an offered hand, even in some cases to an
unencouraged pause; but she missed no countenance and invited no
protection: she fairly liked to be, so long as she might, just as she was—exposed
a little to the public, no doubt, in her unaccompanied state, but, even if
it were a bit brazen, careless of queer reflections on the dull polish of
London faces, and exposed, since it was a question of exposure, to much
more competent recognitions of her own. She hoped no one would stop—she
was positively keeping herself; it was her idea to mark in a particular
manner the importance of something that had just happened. She knew how
she should mark it, and what she was doing there made already a beginning.



When presently, therefore, from her standpoint, she saw the Prince come
back she had an impression of all the place as higher and wider and more
appointed for great moments; with its dome of lustres lifted, its ascents
and descents more majestic, its marble tiers more vividly overhung, its
numerosity of royalties, foreign and domestic, more unprecedented, its
symbolism of “State” hospitality both emphasised and refined. This was
doubtless a large consequence of a fairly familiar cause, a considerable
inward stir to spring from the mere vision, striking as that might be, of
Amerigo in a crowd; but she had her reasons, she held them there, she
carried them in fact, responsibly and overtly, as she carried her head,
her high tiara, her folded fan, her indifferent, unattended eminence; and
it was when he reached her and she could, taking his arm, show herself as
placed in her relation, that she felt supremely justified. It was her
notion of course that she gave a glimpse of but few of her grounds for
this discrimination—indeed of the most evident alone; yet she would
have been half willing it should be guessed how she drew inspiration, drew
support, in quantity sufficient for almost anything, from the individual
value that, through all the picture, her husband’s son-in-law kept for the
eye, deriving it from his fine unconscious way, in the swarming social
sum, of outshining, overlooking and overtopping. It was as if in
separation, even the shortest, she half forgot or disbelieved how he
affected her sight, so that reappearance had, in him, each time, a virtue
of its own—a kind of disproportionate intensity suggesting his
connection with occult sources of renewal. What did he do when he was away
from her that made him always come back only looking, as she would have
called it, “more so?” Superior to any shade of cabotinage, he yet almost
resembled an actor who, between his moments on the stage, revisits his
dressing-room and, before the glass, pressed by his need of effect,
retouches his make-up. The Prince was at present, for instance, though he
had quitted her but ten minutes before, still more than then the person it
pleased her to be left with—a truth that had all its force for her
while he made her his care for their conspicuous return together to the
upper rooms. Conspicuous beyond any wish they could entertain was what,
poor wonderful man, he couldn’t help making it; and when she raised her
eyes again, on the ascent, to Bob Assingham, still aloft in his gallery
and still looking down at her, she was aware that, in spite of hovering
and warning inward voices, she even enjoyed the testimony rendered by his
lonely vigil to the lustre she reflected.



He was always lonely at great parties, the dear Colonel—it wasn’t in
such places that the seed he sowed at home was ever reaped by him; but
nobody could have seemed to mind it less, to brave it with more bronzed
indifference; so markedly that he moved about less like one of the guests
than like some quite presentable person in charge of the police
arrangements or the electric light. To Mrs. Verver, as will be seen, he
represented, with the perfect good faith of his apparent blankness,
something definite enough; though her bravery was not thereby too blighted
for her to feel herself calling him to witness that the only witchcraft
her companion had used, within the few minutes, was that of attending
Maggie, who had withdrawn from the scene, to her carriage. Notified, at
all events, of Fanny’s probable presence, Charlotte was, for a while after
this, divided between the sense of it as a fact somehow to reckon with and
deal with, which was a perception that made, in its degree, for the
prudence, the pusillanimity of postponement, of avoidance—and a
quite other feeling, an impatience that presently ended by prevailing, an
eagerness, really, to BE suspected, sounded, veritably arraigned, if only
that she might have the bad moment over, if only that she might prove to
herself, let alone to Mrs. Assingham also, that she could convert it to
good; if only, in short, to be “square,” as they said, with her question.
For herself indeed, particularly, it wasn’t a question; but something in
her bones told her that Fanny would treat it as one, and there was truly
nothing that, from this friend, she was not bound in decency to take. She
might hand things back with every tender precaution, with acknowledgments
and assurances, but she owed it to them, in any case, and it to all Mrs.
Assingham had done for her, not to get rid of them without having well
unwrapped and turned them over.



To-night, as happened—and she recognised it more and more, with the
ebbing minutes, as an influence of everything about her—to-night
exactly, she would, no doubt, since she knew why, be as firm as she might
at any near moment again hope to be for going through that process with
the right temper and tone. She said, after a little, to the Prince, “Stay
with me; let no one take you; for I want her, yes, I do want her to see us
together, and the sooner the better”—said it to keep her hand on him
through constant diversions, and made him, in fact, by saying it, profess
a momentary vagueness. She had to explain to him that it was Fanny
Assingham, she wanted to see—who clearly would be there, since the
Colonel never either stirred without her or, once arrived, concerned
himself for her fate; and she had, further, after Amerigo had met her with
“See us together? why in the world? hasn’t she often seen us together?” to
inform him that what had elsewhere and otherwise happened didn’t now
matter and that she at any rate well knew, for the occasion, what she was
about. “You’re strange, cara mia,” he consentingly enough dropped; but,
for whatever strangeness, he kept her, as they circulated, from being
waylaid, even remarking to her afresh as he had often done before, on the
help rendered, in such situations, by the intrinsic oddity of the London
“squash,” a thing of vague, slow, senseless eddies, revolving as in fear
of some menace of conversation suspended over it, the drop of which, with
some consequent refreshing splash or spatter, yet never took place. Of
course she was strange; this, as they went, Charlotte knew for herself:
how could she be anything else when the situation holding her, and holding
him, for that matter, just as much, had so the stamp of it? She had
already accepted her consciousness, as we have already noted, that a
crisis, for them all, was in the air; and when such hours were not
depressing, which was the form indeed in which she had mainly known them,
they were apparently in a high degree exhilarating.



Later on, in a corner to which, at sight of an empty sofa, Mrs. Assingham
had, after a single attentive arrest, led her with a certain earnestness,
this vision of the critical was much more sharpened than blurred. Fanny
had taken it from her: yes, she was there with Amerigo alone, Maggie
having come with them and then, within ten minutes, changed her mind,
repented and departed. “So you’re staying on together without her?” the
elder woman had asked; and it was Charlotte’s answer to this that had
determined for them, quite indeed according to the latter’s expectation,
the need of some seclusion and her companion’s pounce at the sofa. They
were staying on together alone, and—oh distinctly!—it was
alone that Maggie had driven away, her father, as usual, not having
managed to come. “‘As usual’—?” Mrs. Assingham had seemed to wonder;
Mr. Verver’s reluctances not having, she in fact quite intimated, hitherto
struck her. Charlotte responded, at any rate, that his indisposition to go
out had lately much increased—even though to-night, as she admitted,
he had pleaded his not feeling well. Maggie had wished to stay with him—for
the Prince and she, dining out, had afterwards called in Portland Place,
whence, in the event, they had brought her, Charlotte, on. Maggie had come
but to oblige her father—she had urged the two others to go without
her; then she had yielded, for the time, to Mr. Verver’s persuasion. But
here, when they had, after the long wait in the carriage, fairly got in;
here, once up the stairs, with the rooms before them, remorse had ended by
seizing her: she had listened to no other remonstrance, and at present
therefore, as Charlotte put it, the two were doubtless making together a
little party at home. But it was all right—so Charlotte also put it:
there was nothing in the world they liked better than these snatched
felicities, little parties, long talks, with “I’ll come to you to-morrow,”
and “No, I’ll come to you,” make-believe renewals of their old life. They
were fairly, at times, the dear things, like children playing at paying
visits, playing at “Mr. Thompson” and “Mrs. Fane,” each hoping that the
other would really stay to tea. Charlotte was sure she should find Maggie
there on getting home—a remark in which Mrs. Verver’s immediate
response to her friend’s inquiry had culminated. She had thus, on the
spot, the sense of having given her plenty to think about, and that
moreover of liking to see it even better than she had expected. She had
plenty to think about herself, and there was already something in Fanny
that made it seem still more.



“You say your husband’s ill? He felt too ill to come?”



“No, my dear—I think not. If he had been too ill I wouldn’t have
left him.”



“And yet Maggie was worried?” Mrs. Assingham asked.



“She worries, you know, easily. She’s afraid of influenza—of which
he has had, at different times, though never with the least gravity,
several attacks.”



“But you’re not afraid of it?”



Charlotte had for a moment a pause; it had continued to come to her that
really to have her case “out,” as they said, with the person in the world
to whom her most intimate difficulties had oftenest referred themselves,
would help her, on the whole, more than hinder; and under that feeling all
her opportunity, with nothing kept back; with a thing or two perhaps even
thrust forward, seemed temptingly to open. Besides, didn’t Fanny at bottom
half expect, absolutely at the bottom half WANT, things?—so that she
would be disappointed if, after what must just have occurred for her, she
didn’t get something to put between the teeth of her so restless
rumination, that cultivation of the fear, of which our young woman had
already had glimpses, that she might have “gone too far” in her
irrepressible interest in other lives. What had just happened—it
pieced itself together for Charlotte—was that the Assingham pair,
drifting like everyone else, had had somewhere in the gallery, in the
rooms, an accidental concussion; had it after the Colonel, over his
balustrade, had observed, in the favouring high light, her public junction
with the Prince. His very dryness, in this encounter, had, as always,
struck a spark from his wife’s curiosity, and, familiar, on his side, with
all that she saw in things, he had thrown her, as a fine little bone to
pick, some report of the way one of her young friends was “going on” with
another. He knew perfectly—such at least was Charlotte’s liberal
assumption—that she wasn’t going on with anyone, but she also knew
that, given the circumstances, she was inevitably to be sacrificed, in
some form or another, to the humorous intercourse of the inimitable
couple. The Prince meanwhile had also, under coercion, sacrificed her; the
Ambassador had come up to him with a message from Royalty, to whom he was
led away; after which she had talked for five minutes with Sir John
Brinder, who had been of the Ambassador’s company and who had rather
artlessly remained with her. Fanny had then arrived in sight of them at
the same moment as someone else she didn’t know, someone who knew Mrs.
Assingham and also knew Sir John. Charlotte had left it to her friend’s
competence to throw the two others immediately together and to find a way
for entertaining her in closer quarters. This was the little history of
the vision, in her, that was now rapidly helping her to recognise a
precious chance, the chance that mightn’t again soon be so good for the
vivid making of a point. Her point was before her; it was sharp, bright,
true; above all it was her own. She had reached it quite by herself; no
one, not even Amerigo—Amerigo least of all, who would have nothing
to do with it—had given her aid. To make it now with force for Fanny
Assingham’s benefit would see her further, in the direction in which the
light had dawned, than any other spring she should, yet awhile, doubtless,
be able to press. The direction was that of her greater freedom—which
was all in the world she had in mind. Her opportunity had accordingly,
after a few minutes of Mrs. Assingham’s almost imprudently interested
expression of face, positively acquired such a price for her that she may,
for ourselves, while the intensity lasted, rather resemble a person
holding out a small mirror at arm’s length and consulting it with a
special turn of the head. It was, in a word, with this value of her chance
that she was intelligently playing when she said in answer to Fanny’s last
question: “Don’t you remember what you told me, on the occasion of
something or other, the other day? That you believe there’s nothing I’m
afraid of? So, my dear, don’t ask me!”



“Mayn’t I ask you,” Mrs. Assingham returned, “how the case stands with
your poor husband?”



“Certainly, dear. Only, when you ask me as if I mightn’t perhaps know what
to think, it seems to me best to let you see that I know perfectly what to
think.”



Mrs. Assingham hesitated; then, blinking a little, she took her risk. “You
didn’t think that if it was a question of anyone’s returning to him, in
his trouble, it would be better you yourself should have gone?”



Well, Charlotte’s answer to this inquiry visibly shaped itself in the
interest of the highest considerations. The highest considerations were
good humour, candour, clearness and, obviously, the REAL truth. “If we
couldn’t be perfectly frank and dear with each other, it would be ever so
much better, wouldn’t it? that we shouldn’t talk about anything at all;
which, however, would be dreadful—and we certainly, at any rate,
haven’t yet come to it. You can ask me anything under the sun you like,
because, don’t you see? you can’t upset me.”



“I’m sure, my dear Charlotte,” Fanny Assingham laughed, “I don’t want to
upset you.”



“Indeed, love, you simply COULDN’T even if you thought it necessary—that’s
all I mean. Nobody could, for it belongs to my situation that I’m, by no
merit of my own, just fixed—fixed as fast as a pin stuck, up to its
head, in a cushion. I’m placed—I can’t imagine anyone MORE placed.
There I AM!”



Fanny had indeed never listened to emphasis more firmly applied, and it
brought into her own eyes, though she had reasons for striving to keep
them from betrayals, a sort of anxiety of intelligence. “I dare say—but
your statement of your position, however you see it, isn’t an answer to my
inquiry. It seems to me, at the same time, I confess,” Mrs. Assingham
added, “to give but the more reason for it. You speak of our being
‘frank.’ How can we possibly be anything else? If Maggie has gone off
through finding herself too distressed to stay, and if she’s willing to
leave you and her husband to show here without her, aren’t the grounds of
her preoccupation more or less discussable?”



“If they’re not,” Charlotte replied, “it’s only from their being, in a
way, too evident. They’re not grounds for me—they weren’t when I
accepted Adam’s preference that I should come to-night without him: just
as I accept, absolutely, as a fixed rule, ALL his preferences. But that
doesn’t alter the fact, of course, that my husband’s daughter, rather than
his wife, should have felt SHE could, after all, be the one to stay with
him, the one to make the sacrifice of this hour—seeing, especially,
that the daughter has a husband of her own in the field.” With which she
produced, as it were, her explanation. “I’ve simply to see the truth of
the matter—see that Maggie thinks more, on the whole, of fathers
than of husbands. And my situation is such,” she went on, “that this
becomes immediately, don’t you understand? a thing I have to count with.”



Mrs. Assingham, vaguely heaving, panting a little but trying not to show
it, turned about, from some inward spring, in her seat. “If you mean such
a thing as that she doesn’t adore the Prince—!”



“I don’t say she doesn’t adore him. What I say is that she doesn’t think
of him. One of those conditions doesn’t always, at all stages, involve the
other. This is just HOW she adores him,” Charlotte said. “And what reason
is there, in the world, after all, why he and I shouldn’t, as you say,
show together? We’ve shown together, my dear,” she smiled, “before.”



Her friend, for a little, only looked at her—speaking then with
abruptness. “You ought to be absolutely happy. You live with such GOOD
people.”



The effect of it, as well, was an arrest for Charlotte; whose face,
however, all of whose fine and slightly hard radiance, it had caused, the
next instant, further to brighten. “Does one ever put into words anything
so fatuously rash? It’s a thing that must be said, in prudence, FOR one—by
somebody who’s so good as to take the responsibility: the more that it
gives one always a chance to show one’s best manners by not contradicting
it. Certainly, you’ll never have the distress, or whatever, of hearing me
complain.”



“Truly, my dear, I hope in all conscience not!” and the elder woman’s
spirit found relief in a laugh more resonant than was quite advised by
their pursuit of privacy.



To this demonstration her friend gave no heed. “With all our absence after
marriage, and with the separation from her produced in particular by our
so many months in America, Maggie has still arrears, still losses to make
up—still the need of showing how, for so long, she simply kept
missing him. She missed his company—a large allowance of which is,
in spite of everything else, of the first necessity to her. So she puts it
in when she can—a little here, a little there, and it ends by making
up a considerable amount. The fact of our distinct establishments—which
has, all the same, everything in its favour,” Charlotte hastened to
declare, “makes her really see more of him than when they had the same
house. To make sure she doesn’t fail of it she’s always arranging for it—which
she didn’t have to do while they lived together. But she likes to
arrange,” Charlotte steadily proceeded; “it peculiarly suits her; and the
result of our separate households is really, for them, more contact and
more intimacy. To-night, for instance, has been practically an
arrangement. She likes him best alone. And it’s the way,” said our young
woman, “in which he best likes HER. It’s what I mean therefore by being
‘placed.’ And the great thing is, as they say, to ‘know’ one’s place.
Doesn’t it all strike you,” she wound up, “as rather placing the Prince
too?”



Fanny Assingham had at this moment the sense as of a large heaped dish
presented to her intelligence and inviting it to a feast—so thick
were the notes of intention in this remarkable speech. But she also felt
that to plunge at random, to help herself too freely, would—apart
from there not being at such a moment time for it—tend to jostle the
ministering hand, confound the array and, more vulgarly speaking, make a
mess. So she picked out, after consideration, a solitary plum. “So placed
that YOU have to arrange?”



“Certainly I have to arrange.”



“And the Prince also—if the effect for him is the same?”



“Really, I think, not less.”



“And does he arrange,” Mrs. Assingham asked, “to make up HIS arrears?” The
question had risen to her lips—it was as if another morsel, on the
dish, had tempted her. The sound of it struck her own ear, immediately, as
giving out more of her thought than she had as yet intended; but she
quickly saw that she must follow it up, at any risk, with simplicity, and
that what was simplest was the ease of boldness. “Make them up, I mean, by
coming to see YOU?”



Charlotte replied, however, without, as her friend would have phrased it,
turning a hair. She shook her head, but it was beautifully gentle. “He
never comes.”



“Oh!” said Fanny Assingham: with which she felt a little stupid. “There it
is. He might so well, you know, otherwise.”



“‘Otherwise’?”—and Fanny was still vague.



It passed, this time, over her companion, whose eyes, wandering, to a
distance, found themselves held. The Prince was at hand again; the
Ambassador was still at his side; they were stopped a moment by a
uniformed personage, a little old man, of apparently the highest military
character, bristling with medals and orders. This gave Charlotte time to
go on. “He has not been for three months.” And then as with her friend’s
last word in her ear: “‘Otherwise’—yes. He arranges otherwise. And
in my position,” she added, “I might too. It’s too absurd we shouldn’t
meet.”



“You’ve met, I gather,” said Fanny Assingham, “to-night.”



“Yes—as far as that goes. But what I mean is that I might—placed
for it as we both are—go to see HIM.”



“And do you?” Fanny asked with almost mistaken solemnity.



The perception of this excess made Charlotte, whether for gravity or for
irony, hang fire a minute. “I HAVE been. But that’s nothing,” she said,
“in itself, and I tell you of it only to show you how our situation works.
It essentially becomes one, a situation, for both of us. The Prince’s,
however, is his own affair—I meant but to speak of mine.”



“Your situation’s perfect,” Mrs. Assingham presently declared.



“I don’t say it isn’t. Taken, in fact, all round, I think it is. And I
don’t, as I tell you, complain of it. The only thing is that I have to act
as it demands of me.”



“To ‘act’?” said Mrs. Assingham with an irrepressible quaver.



“Isn’t it acting, my dear, to accept it? I do accept it. What do you want
me to do less?”



“I want you to believe that you’re a very fortunate person.”



“Do you call that LESS?” Charlotte asked with a smile. “From the point of
view of my freedom I call it more. Let it take, my position, any name you
like.”



“Don’t let it, at any rate”—and Mrs. Assingham’s impatience
prevailed at last over her presence of mind—“don’t let it make you
think too much of your freedom.”



“I don’t know what you call too much—for how can I not see it as it
is? You’d see your own quickly enough if the Colonel gave you the same
liberty—and I haven’t to tell you, with your so much greater
knowledge of everything, what it is that gives such liberty most. For
yourself personally of course,” Charlotte went on, “you only know the
state of neither needing it nor missing it. Your husband doesn’t treat you
as of less importance to him than some other woman.”



“Ah, don’t talk to me of other women!” Fanny now overtly panted. “Do you
call Mr. Verver’s perfectly natural interest in his daughter—?”



“The greatest affection of which he is capable?” Charlotte took it up in
all readiness. “I do distinctly—and in spite of my having done all I
could think of—to make him capable of a greater. I’ve done,
earnestly, everything I could—I’ve made it, month after month, my
study. But I haven’t succeeded—it has been vividly brought home to
me to-night. However,” she pursued, “I’ve hoped against hope, for I
recognise that, as I told you at the time, I was duly warned.” And then as
she met in her friend’s face the absence of any such remembrance: “He did
tell me that he wanted me just BECAUSE I could be useful about her.” With
which Charlotte broke into a wonderful smile. “So you see I AM!”



It was on Fanny Assingham’s lips for the moment to reply that this was, on
the contrary, exactly what she didn’t see; she came in fact within an ace
of saying: “You strike me as having quite failed to help his idea to work—since,
by your account, Maggie has him not less, but so much more, on her mind.
How in the world, with so much of a remedy, comes there to remain so much
of what was to be obviated?” But she saved herself in time, conscious
above all that she was in presence of still deeper things than she had yet
dared to fear, that there was “more in it” than any admission she had made
represented—and she had held herself familiar with admissions: so
that, not to seem to understand where she couldn’t accept, and not to seem
to accept where she couldn’t approve, and could still less, with
precipitation, advise, she invoked the mere appearance of casting no
weight whatever into the scales of her young friend’s consistency. The
only thing was that, as she was quickly enough to feel, she invoked it
rather to excess. It brought her, her invocation, too abruptly to her
feet. She brushed away everything. “I can’t conceive, my dear, what you’re
talking about!”



Charlotte promptly rose then, as might be, to meet it, and her colour, for
the first time, perceptibly heightened. She looked, for the minute, as her
companion had looked—as if twenty protests, blocking each other’s
way, had surged up within her. But when Charlotte had to make a selection,
her selection was always the most effective possible. It was happy now,
above all, for being made not in anger but in sorrow. “You give me up
then?”



“Give you up—?”



“You forsake me at the hour of my life when it seems to me I most deserve
a friend’s loyalty? If you do you’re not just, Fanny; you’re even, I
think,” she went on, “rather cruel; and it’s least of all worthy of you to
seem to wish to quarrel with me in order to cover your desertion.” She
spoke, at the same time, with the noblest moderation of tone, and the
image of high, pale, lighted disappointment she meanwhile presented, as of
a creature patient and lonely in her splendour, was an impression so
firmly imposed that she could fill her measure to the brim and yet enjoy
the last word, as it is called in such cases, with a perfection void of
any vulgarity of triumph. She merely completed, for truth’s sake, her
demonstration. “What is a quarrel with me but a quarrel with my right to
recognise the conditions of my bargain? But I can carry them out alone,”
she said as she turned away. She turned to meet the Ambassador and the
Prince, who, their colloquy with their Field-Marshal ended, were now at
hand and had already, between them, she was aware, addressed her a remark
that failed to penetrate the golden glow in which her intelligence was
temporarily bathed. She had made her point, the point she had foreseen she
must make; she had made it thoroughly and once for all, so that no more
making was required; and her success was reflected in the faces of the two
men of distinction before her, unmistakably moved to admiration by her
exceptional radiance. She at first but watched this reflection, taking no
note of any less adequate form of it possibly presented by poor Fanny—poor
Fanny left to stare at her incurred “score,” chalked up in so few strokes
on the wall; then she took in what the Ambassador was saying, in French,
what he was apparently repeating to her.



“A desire for your presence, Madame, has been expressed en tres-haut lieu,
and I’ve let myself in for the responsibility, to say nothing of the
honour, of seeing, as the most respectful of your friends, that so august
an impatience is not kept waiting.” The greatest possible Personage had,
in short, according to the odd formula of societies subject to the
greatest personages possible, “sent for” her, and she asked, in her
surprise, “What in the world does he want to do to me?” only to know,
without looking, that Fanny’s bewilderment was called to a still larger
application, and to hear the Prince say with authority, indeed with a
certain prompt dryness: “You must go immediately—it’s a summons.”
The Ambassador, using authority as well, had already somehow possessed
himself of her hand, which he drew into his arm, and she was further
conscious as she went off with him that, though still speaking for her
benefit, Amerigo had turned to Fanny Assingham. He would explain
afterwards—besides which she would understand for herself. To Fanny,
however, he had laughed—as a mark, apparently, that for this
infallible friend no explanation at all would be necessary.


                              XV


It may be recorded none the less that the Prince was the next moment to
see how little any such assumption was founded. Alone with him now Mrs.
Assingham was incorruptible. “They send for Charlotte through YOU?”



“No, my dear; as you see, through the Ambassador.”



“Ah, but the Ambassador and you, for the last quarter-of-an-hour, have
been for them as one. He’s YOUR ambassador.” It may indeed be further
mentioned that the more Fanny looked at it the more she saw in it.
“They’ve connected her with you—she’s treated as your appendage.”



“Oh, my ‘appendage,’” the Prince amusedly exclaimed—“cara mia, what
a name! She’s treated, rather, say, as my ornament and my glory. And it’s
so remarkable a case for a mother-in-law that you surely can’t find fault
with it.”



“You’ve ornaments enough, it seems to me—as you’ve certainly glories
enough—without her. And she’s not the least little bit,” Mrs.
Assingham observed, “your mother-in-law. In such a matter a shade of
difference is enormous. She’s no relation to you whatever, and if she’s
known in high quarters but as going about with you, then—then—!”
She failed, however, as from positive intensity of vision. “Then, then
what?” he asked with perfect good-nature.



“She had better in such a case not be known at all.”



“But I assure you I never, just now, so much as mentioned her. Do you
suppose I asked them,” said the young man, still amused, “if they didn’t
want to see her? You surely don’t need to be shown that Charlotte speaks
for herself—that she does so above all on such an occasion as this
and looking as she does to-night. How, so looking, can she pass unnoticed?
How can she not have ‘success’? Besides,” he added as she but watched his
face, letting him say what he would, as if she wanted to see how he would
say it, “besides, there IS always the fact that we’re of the same
connection, of—what is your word?—the same ‘concern.’ We’re
certainly not, with the relation of our respective sposi, simply formal
acquaintances. We’re in the same boat”—and the Prince smiled with a
candour that added an accent to his emphasis.



Fanny Assingham was full of the special sense of his manner: it caused her
to turn for a moment’s refuge to a corner of her general consciousness in
which she could say to herself that she was glad SHE wasn’t in love with
such a man. As with Charlotte just before, she was embarrassed by the
difference between what she took in and what she could say, what she felt
and what she could show. “It only appears to me of great importance that—now
that you all seem more settled here—Charlotte should be known, for
any presentation, any further circulation or introduction, as, in
particular, her husband’s wife; known in the least possible degree as
anything else. I don’t know what you mean by the ‘same’ boat. Charlotte is
naturally in Mr. Verver’s boat.”



“And, pray, am I not in Mr. Verver’s boat too? Why, but for Mr.
Verver’s boat, I should have been by this time”—and his quick
Italian gesture, an expressive direction and motion of his forefinger,
pointed to deepest depths—“away down, down, down.” She knew of
course what he meant—how it had taken his father-in-law’s great
fortune, and taken no small slice, to surround him with an element in
which, all too fatally weighted as he had originally been, he could
pecuniarily float; and with this reminder other things came to her—how
strange it was that, with all allowance for their merit, it should befall
some people to be so inordinately valued, quoted, as they said in the
stock-market, so high, and how still stranger, perhaps, that there should
be cases in which, for some reason, one didn’t mind the so frequently
marked absence in them of the purpose really to represent their price. She
was thinking, feeling, at any rate, for herself; she was thinking that the
pleasure SHE could take in this specimen of the class didn’t suffer from
his consent to be merely made buoyant: partly because it was one of those
pleasures (he inspired them) that, by their nature, COULDN’T suffer, to
whatever proof they were put; and partly because, besides, he after all
visibly had on his conscience some sort of return for services rendered.
He was a huge expense assuredly—but it had been up to now her
conviction that his idea was to behave beautifully enough to make the
beauty well nigh an equivalent. And that he had carried out his idea,
carried it out by continuing to lead the life, to breathe the air, very
nearly to think the thoughts, that best suited his wife and her father—
this she had till lately enjoyed the comfort of so distinctly perceiving
as to have even been moved more than once, to express to him the happiness
it gave her. He had that in his favour as against other matters; yet it
discouraged her too, and rather oddly, that he should so keep moving, and
be able to show her that he moved, on the firm ground of the truth. His
acknowledgment of obligation was far from unimportant, but she could find
in his grasp of the real itself a kind of ominous intimation. The
intimation appeared to peep at her even out of his next word, lightly as
he produced it.



“Isn’t it rather as if we had, Charlotte and I, for bringing us together,
a benefactor in common?” And the effect, for his interlocutress, was still
further to be deepened. “I somehow feel, half the time, as if he were her
father-in-law too. It’s as if he had saved us both—which is a fact
in our lives, or at any rate in our hearts, to make of itself a link.
Don’t you remember”—he kept it up—“how, the day she suddenly
turned up for you, just before my wedding, we so frankly and funnily
talked, in her presence, of the advisability, for her, of some good
marriage?” And then as his friend’s face, in her extremity, quite again as
with Charlotte, but continued to fly the black flag of general
repudiation: “Well, we really began then, as it seems to me, the work of
placing her where she is. We were wholly right—and so was she. That
it was exactly the thing is shown by its success. We recommended a good
marriage at almost any price, so to speak, and, taking us at our word, she
has made the very best. That was really what we meant, wasn’t it? Only—what
she has got—something thoroughly good. It would be difficult, it
seems to me, for her to have anything better—once you allow her the
way it’s to be taken. Of course if you don’t allow her that the case is
different. Her offset is a certain decent freedom— which, I judge,
she’ll be quite contented with. You may say that will be very good of her,
but she strikes me as perfectly humble about it. She proposes neither to
claim it nor to use it with any sort of retentissement. She would enjoy
it, I think, quite as quietly as it might be given. The ‘boat,’ you see”—the
Prince explained it no less considerately and lucidly—“is a good
deal tied up at the dock, or anchored, if you like, out in the stream. I
have to jump out from time to time to stretch my legs, and you’ll probably
perceive, if you give it your attention, that Charlotte really can’t help
occasionally doing the same. It isn’t even a question, sometimes, of one’s
getting to the dock—one has to take a header and splash about in the
water. Call our having remained here together to-night, call the accident
of my having put them, put our illustrious friends there, on my
companion’s track—for I grant you this as a practical result of our
combination—call the whole thing one of the harmless little plunges
off the deck, inevitable for each of us. Why not take them, when they
occur, as inevitable—and, above all, as not endangering life or
limb? We shan’t drown, we shan’t sink—at least I can answer for
myself. Mrs. Verver too, moreover—do her the justice—visibly
knows how to swim.”



He could easily go on, for she didn’t interrupt him; Fanny felt now that
she wouldn’t have interrupted him for the world. She found his eloquence
precious; there was not a drop of it that she didn’t, in a manner, catch,
as it came, for immediate bottling, for future preservation. The crystal
flask of her innermost attention really received it on the spot, and she
had even already the vision of how, in the snug laboratory of her
afterthought, she should be able chemically to analyse it. There were
moments, positively, still beyond this, when, with the meeting of their
eyes, something as yet unnamable came out for her in his look, when
something strange and subtle and at variance with his words, something
that GAVE THEM AWAY, glimmered deep down, as an appeal, almost an
incredible one, to her finer comprehension. What, inconceivably, was it
like? Wasn’t it, however gross, such a rendering of anything so occult,
fairly like a quintessential wink, a hint of the possibility of their
REALLY treating their subject—of course on some better occasion—and
thereby, as well, finding it much more interesting? If this far red spark,
which might have been figured by her mind as the head-light of an
approaching train seen through the length of a tunnel, was not, on her
side, an ignis fatuus, a mere subjective phenomenon, it twinkled there at
the direct expense of what the Prince was inviting her to understand.
Meanwhile too, however, and unmistakably, the real treatment of their
subject did, at a given moment, sound. This was when he proceeded, with
just the same perfect possession of his thought—on the manner of
which he couldn’t have improved—to complete his successful simile by
another, in fact by just the supreme touch, the touch for which it had
till now been waiting. “For Mrs. Verver to be known to people so intensely
and exclusively as her husband’s wife, something is wanted that, you know,
they haven’t exactly got. He should manage to be known—or at least
to be seen—a little more as his wife’s husband. You surely must by
this time have seen for yourself that he has his own habits and his own
ways, and that he makes, more and more—as of course he has a perfect
right to do—his own discriminations. He’s so perfect, so ideal a
father, and, doubtless largely by that very fact, a generous, a
comfortable, an admirable father-in-law, that I should really feel it base
to avail myself of any standpoint whatever to criticise him. To YOU,
nevertheless, I may make just one remark; for you’re not stupid—you
always understand so blessedly what one means.”



He paused an instant, as if even this one remark might be difficult for
him should she give no sign of encouraging him to produce it. Nothing
would have induced her, however, to encourage him; she was now conscious
of having never in her life stood so still or sat, inwardly, as it were,
so tight; she felt like the horse of the adage, brought—and brought
by her own fault—to the water, but strong, for the occasion, in the
one fact that she couldn’t be forced to drink. Invited, in other words, to
understand, she held her breath for fear of showing she did, and this for
the excellent reason that she was at last fairly afraid to. It was sharp
for her, at the same time, that she was certain, in advance, of his
remark; that she heard it before it had sounded, that she already tasted,
in fine, the bitterness it would have for her special sensibility. But her
companion, from an inward and different need of his own, was presently not
deterred by her silence. “What I really don’t see is why, from his own
point of view—given, that is, his conditions, so fortunate as they
stood—he should have wished to marry at all.” There it was then—exactly
what she knew would come, and exactly, for reasons that seemed now to
thump at her heart, as distressing to her. Yet she was resolved,
meanwhile, not to suffer, as they used to say of the martyrs, then and
there; not to suffer, odiously, helplessly, in public—which could be
prevented but by her breaking off, with whatever inconsequence; by her
treating their discussion as ended and getting away. She suddenly wanted
to go home much as she had wanted, an hour or two before, to come. She
wanted to leave well behind her both her question and the couple in whom
it had, abruptly, taken such vivid form—but it was dreadful to have
the appearance of disconcerted flight. Discussion had of itself, to her
sense, become danger—such light, as from open crevices, it let in;
and the overt recognition of danger was worse than anything else. The
worst in fact came while she was thinking how she could retreat and still
not overtly recognise. Her face had betrayed her trouble, and with that
she was lost. “I’m afraid, however,” the Prince said, “that I, for some
reason, distress you—for which I beg your pardon. We’ve always
talked so well together—it has been, from the beginning, the
greatest pull for me.” Nothing so much as such a tone could have quickened
her collapse; she felt he had her now at his mercy, and he showed, as he
went on, that he knew it. “We shall talk again, all the same, better than
ever—I depend on it too much. Don’t you remember what I told you, so
definitely, one day before my marriage?—that, moving as I did in so
many ways among new things, mysteries, conditions, expectations,
assumptions different from any I had known, I looked to you, as my
original sponsor, my fairy godmother, to see me through. I beg you to
believe,” he added, “that I look to you yet.”



His very insistence had, fortunately, the next moment, affected her as
bringing her help; with which, at least, she could hold up her head to
speak. “Ah, you ARE through—you were through long ago. Or if you
aren’t you ought to be.”



“Well then, if I ought to be it’s all the more reason why you should
continue to help me. Because, very distinctly, I assure you, I’m not. The
new things or ever so many of them—are still for me new things; the
mysteries and expectations and assumptions still contain an immense
element that I’ve failed to puzzle out. As we’ve happened, so luckily, to
find ourselves again really taking hold together, you must let me, as soon
as possible, come to see you; you must give me a good, kind hour. If you
refuse it me”—and he addressed himself to her continued reserve—“I
shall feel that you deny, with a stony stare, your responsibility.”



At this, as from a sudden shake, her reserve proved an inadequate vessel.
She could bear her own, her private reference to the weight on her mind,
but the touch of another hand made it too horribly press. “Oh, I deny
responsibility—to YOU. So far as I ever had it I’ve done with it.”



He had been, all the while, beautifully smiling; but she made his look,
now, penetrate her again more. “As to whom then do you confess it?”



“Ah, mio caro, that’s—if to anyone—my own business!”



He continued to look at her hard. “You give me up then?”



It was what Charlotte had asked her ten minutes before, and its coming
from him so much in the same way shook her in her place. She was on the
point of replying “Do you and she agree together for what you’ll say to
me?”—but she was glad afterwards to have checked herself in time,
little as her actual answer had perhaps bettered it. “I think I don’t know
what to make of you.”



“You must receive me at least,” he said.



“Oh, please, not till I’m ready for you!”—and, though she found a
laugh for it, she had to turn away. She had never turned away from him
before, and it was quite positively for her as if she were altogether
afraid of him.


                              XVI


Later on, when their hired brougham had, with the long vociferation that
tormented her impatience, been extricated from the endless rank, she
rolled into the London night, beside her husband, as into a sheltering
darkness where she could muffle herself and draw breath. She had stood for
the previous half-hour in a merciless glare, beaten upon, stared out of
countenance, it fairly seemed to her, by intimations of her mistake. For
what she was most immediately feeling was that she had, in the past, been
active, for these people, to ends that were now bearing fruit and that
might yet bear a larger crop. She but brooded, at first, in her corner of
the carriage: it was like burying her exposed face, a face too helplessly
exposed, in the cool lap of the common indifference, of the dispeopled
streets, of the closed shops and darkened houses seen through the window
of the brougham, a world mercifully unconscious and unreproachful. It
wouldn’t, like the world she had just left, know sooner or later what she
had done, or would know it, at least, only if the final consequence should
be some quite overwhelming publicity. She fixed this possibility itself so
hard, however, for a few moments, that the misery of her fear produced the
next minute a reaction; and when the carriage happened, while it grazed a
turn, to catch the straight shaft from the lamp of a policeman in the act
of playing his inquisitive flash over an opposite house-front, she let
herself wince at being thus incriminated only that she might protest, not
less quickly, against mere blind terror. It had become, for the occasion,
preposterously, terror—of which she must shake herself free before
she could properly measure her ground. The perception of this necessity
had in truth soon aided her; since she found, on trying, that, lurid as
her prospect might hover there, she could none the less give it no name.
The sense of seeing was strong in her, but she clutched at the comfort of
not being sure of what she saw. Not to know what it would represent on a
longer view was a help, in turn, to not making out that her hands were
embrued; since if she had stood in the position of a producing cause she
should surely be less vague about what she had produced. This, further, in
its way, was a step toward reflecting that when one’s connection with any
matter was too indirect to be traced it might be described also as too
slight to be deplored. By the time they were nearing Cadogan Place she had
in fact recognised that she couldn’t be as curious as she desired without
arriving at some conviction of her being as innocent. But there had been a
moment, in the dim desert of Eaton Square, when she broke into speech.



“It’s only their defending themselves so much more than they need—it’s
only THAT that makes me wonder. It’s their having so remarkably much to
say for themselves.”



Her husband had, as usual, lighted his cigar, remaining apparently as busy
with it as she with her agitation. “You mean it makes you feel that you
have nothing?” To which, as she made no answer, the Colonel added: “What
in the world did you ever suppose was going to happen? The man’s in a
position in which he has nothing in life to do.”



Her silence seemed to characterise this statement as superficial, and her
thoughts, as always in her husband’s company, pursued an independent
course. He made her, when they were together, talk, but as if for some
other person; who was in fact for the most part herself. Yet she addressed
herself with him as she could never have done without him. “He has behaved
beautifully—he did from the first. I’ve thought it, all along,
wonderful of him; and I’ve more than once, when I’ve had a chance, told
him so. Therefore, therefore—!” But it died away as she mused.



“Therefore he has a right, for a change, to kick up his heels?”



“It isn’t a question, of course, however,” she undivertedly went on, “of
their behaving beautifully apart. It’s a question of their doing as they
should when together—which is another matter.”



“And how do you think then,” the Colonel asked with interest, “that, when
together, they SHOULD do? The less they do, one would say, the better—if
you see so much in it.”



His wife, at this, appeared to hear him. “I don’t see in it what YOU’D
see. And don’t, my dear,” she further answered, “think it necessary to be
horrid or low about them. They’re the last people, really, to make
anything of that sort come in right.”



“I’m surely never horrid or low,” he returned, “about anyone but my
extravagant wife. I can do with all our friends—as I see them
myself: what I can’t do with is the figures you make of them. And when you
take to adding your figures up—!” But he exhaled it again in smoke.



“My additions don’t matter when you’ve not to pay the bill.” With which
her meditation again bore her through the air. “The great thing was that
when it so suddenly came up for her he wasn’t afraid. If he had been
afraid he could perfectly have prevented it. And if I had seen he was—if
I hadn’t seen he wasn’t—so,” said Mrs. Assingham, “could I. So,” she
declared, “WOULD I. It’s perfectly true,” she went on—“it was too
good a thing for her, such a chance in life, not to be accepted. And I
LIKED his not keeping her out of it merely from a fear of his own nature.
It was so wonderful it should come to her. The only thing would have been
if Charlotte herself couldn’t have faced it. Then, if SHE had not had
confidence, we might have talked. But she had it to any amount.”



“Did you ask her how much?” Bob Assingham patiently inquired.



He had put the question with no more than his usual modest hope of reward,
but he had pressed, this time, the sharpest spring of response. “Never,
never—it wasn’t a time to ‘ask.’ Asking is suggesting—and it
wasn’t a time to suggest. One had to make up one’s mind, as quietly as
possible, by what one could judge. And I judge, as I say, that Charlotte
felt she could face it. For which she struck me at the time as—for
so proud a creature—almost touchingly grateful. The thing I should
never forgive her for would be her forgetting to whom it is her thanks
have remained most due.”



“That is to Mrs. Assingham?”



She said nothing for a little—there were, after all, alternatives.
“Maggie herself of course—astonishing little Maggie.”



“Is Maggie then astonishing too?”—and he gloomed out of his window.



His wife, on her side now, as they rolled, projected the same look. “I’m
not sure that I don’t begin to see more in her than—dear little
person as I’ve always thought—I ever supposed there was. I’m not
sure that, putting a good many things together, I’m not beginning to make
her out rather extraordinary.”



“You certainly will if you can,” the Colonel resignedly remarked.



Again his companion said nothing; then again she broke out. “In fact—I
do begin to feel it—Maggie’s the great comfort. I’m getting hold of
it. It will be SHE who’ll see us through. In fact she’ll have to. And
she’ll be able.”



Touch by touch her meditation had completed it, but with a cumulative
effect for her husband’s general sense of her method that caused him to
overflow, whimsically enough, in his corner, into an ejaculation now
frequent on his lips for the relief that, especially in communion like the
present, it gave him, and that Fanny had critically traced to the quaint
example, the aboriginal homeliness, still so delightful, of Mr. Verver.
“Oh, Lordy, Lordy!”



“If she is, however,” Mrs. Assingham continued, “she’ll be extraordinary
enough—and that’s what I’m thinking of. But I’m not indeed so very
sure,” she added, “of the person to whom Charlotte ought in decency to be
most grateful. I mean I’m not sure if that person is even almost the
incredible little idealist who has made her his wife.”



“I shouldn’t think you would be, love,” the Colonel with some promptness
responded. “Charlotte as the wife of an incredible little idealist—!”
His cigar, in short, once more, could alone express it.



“Yet what is that, when one thinks, but just what she struck one as more
or less persuaded that she herself was really going to be?”—this
memory, for the full view, Fanny found herself also invoking.



It made her companion, in truth, slightly gape. “An incredible little
idealist—Charlotte herself?”



“And she was sincere,” his wife simply proceeded “she was unmistakably
sincere. The question is only how much is left of it.”



“And that—I see—happens to be another of the questions you
can’t ask her. You have to do it all,” said Bob Assingham, “as if you were
playing some game with its rules drawn up—though who’s to come down
on you if you break them I don’t quite see. Or must you do it in three
guesses—like forfeits on Christmas eve?” To which, as his ribaldry
but dropped from her, he further added: “How much of anything will have to
be left for you to be able to go on with it?”



“I shall go on,” Fanny Assingham a trifle grimly declared, “while there’s
a scrap as big as your nail. But we’re not yet, luckily, reduced only to
that.” She had another pause, holding the while the thread of that larger
perception into which her view of Mrs. Verver’s obligation to Maggie had
suddenly expanded. “Even if her debt was not to the others—even then
it ought to be quite sufficiently to the Prince himself to keep her
straight. For what, really, did the Prince do,” she asked herself, “but
generously trust her? What did he do but take it from her that if she felt
herself willing it was because she felt herself strong? That creates for
her, upon my word,” Mrs. Assingham pursued, “a duty of considering him, of
honourably repaying his trust, which—well, which she’ll be really a
fiend if she doesn’t make the law of her conduct. I mean of course his
trust that she wouldn’t interfere with him—expressed by his holding
himself quiet at the critical time.”



The brougham was nearing home, and it was perhaps this sense of ebbing
opportunity that caused the Colonel’s next meditation to flower in a
fashion almost surprising to his wife. They were united, for the most
part, but by his exhausted patience; so that indulgent despair was
generally, at the best, his note. He at present, however, actually
compromised with his despair to the extent of practically admitting that
he had followed her steps. He literally asked, in short, an intelligent,
well nigh a sympathising, question. “Gratitude to the Prince for not
having put a spoke in her wheel—that, you mean, should, taking it in
the right way, be precisely the ballast of her boat?”



“Taking it in the right way.” Fanny, catching at this gleam, emphasised
the proviso.



“But doesn’t it rather depend on what she may most feel to BE the right
way?”



“No—it depends on nothing. Because there’s only one way—for
duty or delicacy.”



“Oh—delicacy!” Bob Assingham rather crudely murmured.



“I mean the highest kind—moral. Charlotte’s perfectly capable of
appreciating that. By every dictate of moral delicacy she must let him
alone.”



“Then you’ve made up your mind it’s all poor Charlotte?” he asked with an
effect of abruptness.



The effect, whether intended or not, reached her—brought her face
short round. It was a touch at which she again lost her balance, at which,
somehow, the bottom dropped out of her recovered comfort. “Then you’ve
made up yours differently? It really struck you that there IS something?”



The movement itself, apparently, made him once more stand off. He had felt
on his nearer approach the high temperature of the question. “Perhaps
that’s just what she’s doing: showing him how much she’s letting him alone—pointing
it out to him from day to day.”



“Did she point it out by waiting for him to-night on the stair-case in the
manner you described to me?”



“I really, my dear, described to you a manner?” the Colonel, clearly, from
want of habit, scarce recognised himself in the imputation.



“Yes—for once in a way; in those few words we had after you had
watched them come up you told me something of what you had seen. You
didn’t tell me very much—THAT you couldn’t for your life; but I saw
for myself that, strange to say, you had received your impression, and I
felt therefore that there must indeed have been something out of the way
for you so to betray it.” She was fully upon him now, and she confronted
him with his proved sensibility to the occasion—confronted him
because of her own uneasy need to profit by it. It came over her still
more than at the time, it came over her that he had been struck with
something, even HE, poor dear man; and that for this to have occurred
there must have been much to be struck with. She tried in fact to corner
him, to pack him insistently down, in the truth of his plain vision, the
very plainness of which was its value; for so recorded, she felt, none of
it would escape—she should have it at hand for reference. “Come, my
dear—you thought what you thought: in the presence of what you saw
you couldn’t resist thinking. I don’t ask more of it than that. And your
idea is worth, this time, quite as much as any of mine—so that you
can’t pretend, as usual, that mine has run away with me. I haven’t caught
up with you. I stay where I am. But I see,” she concluded, “where you are,
and I’m much obliged to you for letting me. You give me a point de repere
outside myself—which is where I like it. Now I can work round you.”



Their conveyance, as she spoke, stopped at their door, and it was, on the
spot, another fact of value for her that her husband, though seated on the
side by which they must alight, made no movement. They were in a high
degree votaries of the latch-key, so that their household had gone to bed;
and as they were unaccompanied by a footman the coachman waited in peace.
It was so indeed that for a minute Bob Assingham waited—conscious of
a reason for replying to this address otherwise than by the so obvious
method of turning his back. He didn’t turn his face, but he stared
straight before him, and his wife had already perceived in the fact of his
not moving all the proof she could desire— proof, that is, of her
own contention. She knew he never cared what she said, and his neglect of
his chance to show it was thereby the more eloquent. “Leave it,” he at
last remarked, “to THEM.”



“‘Leave’ it—?” She wondered.



“Let them alone. They’ll manage.”



“They’ll manage, you mean, to do everything they want? Ah, there then you
are!”



“They’ll manage in their own way,” the Colonel almost cryptically
repeated.



It had its effect for her: quite apart from its light on the familiar
phenomenon of her husband’s indurated conscience, it gave her, full in her
face, the particular evocation of which she had made him guilty. It was
wonderful truly, then, the evocation. “So cleverly—THAT’S your idea?—that
no one will be the wiser? It’s your idea that we shall have done all
that’s required of us if we simply protect them?”



The Colonel, still in his place, declined, however, to be drawn into a
statement of his idea. Statements were too much like theories, in which
one lost one’s way; he only knew what he said, and what he said
represented the limited vibration of which his confirmed old toughness had
been capable. Still, none the less, he had his point to make—for
which he took another instant. But he made it, for the third time, in the
same fashion. “They’ll manage in their own way.” With which he got out.



Oh yes, at this, for his companion, it had indeed its effect, and while he
mounted their steps she but stared, without following him, at his opening
of their door. Their hall was lighted, and as he stood in the aperture
looking back at her, his tall lean figure outlined in darkness and with
his crush-hat, according to his wont, worn cavalierly, rather
diabolically, askew, he seemed to prolong the sinister emphasis of his
meaning. In general, on these returns, he came back for her when he had
prepared their entrance; so that it was now as if he were ashamed to face
her in closer quarters. He looked at her across the interval, and, still
in her seat, weighing his charge, she felt her whole view of everything
flare up. Wasn’t it simply what had been written in the Prince’s own face
BENEATH what he was saying?—didn’t it correspond with the mocking
presence there that she had had her troubled glimpse of? Wasn’t, in fine,
the pledge that they would “manage in their own way” the thing he had been
feeling for his chance to invite her to take from him? Her husband’s tone
somehow fitted Amerigo’s look—the one that had, for her, so
strangely, peeped, from behind, over the shoulder of the one in front. She
had not then read it—but wasn’t she reading it when she now saw in
it his surmise that she was perhaps to be squared? She wasn’t to be
squared, and while she heard her companion call across to her “Well,
what’s the matter?” she also took time to remind herself that she had
decided she couldn’t be frightened. The “matter”?—why, it was
sufficiently the matter, with all this, that she felt a little sick. For
it was not the Prince that she had been prepared to regard as primarily
the shaky one. Shakiness in Charlotte she had, at the most, perhaps
postulated—it would be, she somehow felt, more easy to deal with.
Therefore if HE had come so far it was a different pair of sleeves. There
was nothing to choose between them. It made her so helpless that, as the
time passed without her alighting, the Colonel came back and fairly drew
her forth; after which, on the pavement, under the street-lamp, their very
silence might have been the mark of something grave—their silence
eked out for her by his giving her his arm and their then crawling up
their steps quite mildly and unitedly together, like some old Darby and
Joan who have had a disappointment. It almost resembled a return from a
funeral—unless indeed it resembled more the hushed approach to a
house of mourning. What indeed had she come home for but to bury, as
decently as possible, her mistake?


                             XVII


It appeared thus that they might enjoy together extraordinary freedom, the
two friends, from the moment they should understand their position aright.
With the Prince himself, from an early stage, not unnaturally, Charlotte
had made a great point of their so understanding it; she had found
frequent occasion to describe to him this necessity, and, her resignation
tempered, or her intelligence at least quickened, by irrepressible irony,
she applied at different times different names to the propriety of their
case. The wonderful thing was that her sense of propriety had been, from
the first, especially alive about it. There were hours when she spoke of
their taking refuge in what she called the commonest tact—as if this
principle alone would suffice to light their way; there were others when
it might have seemed, to listen to her, that their course would demand of
them the most anxious study and the most independent, not to say original,
interpretation of signs. She talked now as if it were indicated, at every
turn, by finger-posts of almost ridiculous prominence; she talked again as
if it lurked in devious ways and were to be tracked through bush and
briar; and she even, on occasion, delivered herself in the sense that, as
their situation was unprecedented, so their heaven was without stars.
“‘Do’?” she once had echoed to him as the upshot of passages covertly,
though briefly, occurring between them on her return from the visit to
America that had immediately succeeded her marriage, determined for her by
this event as promptly as an excursion of the like strange order had been
prescribed in his own case. “Isn’t the immense, the really quite matchless
beauty of our position that we have to ‘do’ nothing in life at all?—nothing
except the usual, necessary, everyday thing which consists in one’s not
being more of a fool than one can help. That’s all—but that’s as
true for one time as for another. There has been plenty of ‘doing,’ and
there will doubtless be plenty still; but it’s all theirs, every inch of
it; it’s all a matter of what they’ve done TO us.” And she showed how the
question had therefore been only of their taking everything as everything
came, and all as quietly as might be. Nothing stranger surely had ever
happened to a conscientious, a well-meaning, a perfectly passive pair: no
more extraordinary decree had ever been launched against such victims than
this of forcing them against their will into a relation of mutual close
contact that they had done everything to avoid.



She was to remember not a little, meanwhile, the particular prolonged
silent look with which the Prince had met her allusion to these primary
efforts at escape. She was inwardly to dwell on the element of the
unuttered that her tone had caused to play up into his irresistible eyes;
and this because she considered with pride and joy that she had, on the
spot, disposed of the doubt, the question, the challenge, or whatever else
might have been, that such a look could convey. He had been sufficiently
off his guard to show some little wonder as to their having plotted so
very hard against their destiny, and she knew well enough, of course,
what, in this connection, was at the bottom of his thought, and what would
have sounded out more or less if he had not happily saved himself from
words. All men were brutes enough to catch when they might at such chances
for dissent—for all the good it really did them; but the Prince’s
distinction was in being one of the few who could check himself before
acting on the impulse. This, obviously, was what counted in a man as
delicacy. If her friend had blurted or bungled he would have said, in his
simplicity, “Did we do ‘everything to avoid’ it when we faced your
remarkable marriage?”—quite handsomely of course using the plural,
taking his share of the case, by way of a tribute of memory to the
telegram she had received from him in Paris after Mr. Verver had
despatched to Rome the news of their engagement. That telegram, that
acceptance of the prospect proposed to them—an acceptance quite
other than perfunctory—she had never destroyed; though reserved for
no eyes but her own it was still carefully reserved. She kept it in a safe
place—from which, very privately, she sometimes took it out to read
it over. “A la guerre comme a la guerre then”—it had been couched in
the French tongue. “We must lead our lives as we see them; but I am
charmed with your courage and almost surprised at my own.” The message had
remained ambiguous; she had read it in more lights than one; it might mean
that even without her his career was up-hill work for him, a daily
fighting-matter on behalf of a good appearance, and that thus, if they
were to become neighbours again, the event would compel him to live still
more under arms. It might mean on the other hand that he found he was
happy enough, and that accordingly, so far as she might imagine herself a
danger, she was to think of him as prepared in advance, as really seasoned
and secure. On his arrival in Paris with his wife, none the less, she had
asked for no explanation, just as he himself had not asked if the document
were still in her possession. Such an inquiry, everything implied, was
beneath him—just as it was beneath herself to mention to him,
uninvited, that she had instantly offered, and in perfect honesty, to show
the telegram to Mr. Verver, and that if this companion had but said the
word she would immediately have put it before him. She had thereby
forborne to call his attention to her consciousness that such an exposure
would, in all probability, straightway have dished her marriage; that all
her future had in fact, for the moment, hung by the single hair of Mr.
Verver’s delicacy (as she supposed they must call it); and that her
position, in the matter of responsibility, was therefore inattackably
straight.



For the Prince himself, meanwhile, time, in its measured allowance, had
originally much helped him—helped him in the sense of there not
being enough of it to trip him up; in spite of which it was just this
accessory element that seemed, at present, with wonders of patience, to
lie in wait. Time had begotten at first, more than anything else,
separations, delays and intervals; but it was troublesomely less of an aid
from the moment it began so to abound that he had to meet the question of
what to do with it. Less of it was required for the state of being married
than he had, on the whole, expected; less, strangely, for the state of
being married even as he was married. And there was a logic in the matter,
he knew; a logic that but gave this truth a sort of solidity of evidence.
Mr. Verver, decidedly, helped him with it—with his wedded condition;
helped him really so much that it made all the difference. In the degree
in which he rendered it the service on Mr. Verver’s part was remarkable—as
indeed what service, from the first of their meeting, had not been? He was
living, he had been living these four or five years, on Mr. Verver’s
services: a truth scarcely less plain if he dealt with them, for
appreciation, one by one, than if he poured them all together into the
general pot of his gratitude and let the thing simmer to a nourishing
broth. To the latter way with them he was undoubtedly most disposed; yet
he would even thus, on occasion, pick out a piece to taste on its own
merits. Wondrous at such hours could seem the savour of the particular
“treat,” at his father-in-law’s expense, that he more and more struck
himself as enjoying. He had needed months and months to arrive at a full
appreciation—he couldn’t originally have given offhand a name to his
deepest obligation; but by the time the name had flowered in his mind he
was practically living at the ease guaranteed him. Mr. Verver then, in a
word, took care of his relation to Maggie, as he took care, and apparently
always would, of everything else. He relieved him of all anxiety about his
married life in the same manner in which he relieved him on the score of
his bank-account. And as he performed the latter office by communicating
with the bankers, so the former sprang as directly from his good
understanding with his daughter. This understanding had, wonderfully—THAT
was in high evidence—the same deep intimacy as the commercial, the
financial association founded, far down, on a community of interest. And
the correspondence, for the Prince, carried itself out in identities of
character the vision of which, fortunately, rather tended to amuse than to—as
might have happened—irritate him. Those people—and his free
synthesis lumped together capitalists and bankers, retired men of
business, illustrious collectors, American fathers-in-law, American
fathers, little American daughters, little American wives—those
people were of the same large lucky group, as one might say; they were
all, at least, of the same general species and had the same general
instincts; they hung together, they passed each other the word, they spoke
each other’s language, they did each other “turns.” In this last
connection it of course came up for our young man at a given moment that
Maggie’s relation with HIM was also, on the perceived basis, taken care
of. Which was in fact the real upshot of the matter. It was a “funny”
situation—that is it was funny just as it stood. Their married life
was in question, but the solution was, not less strikingly, before them.
It was all right for himself, because Mr. Verver worked it so for Maggie’s
comfort; and it was all right for Maggie, because he worked it so for her
husband’s.



The fact that time, however, was not, as we have said, wholly on the
Prince’s side might have shown for particularly true one dark day on
which, by an odd but not unprecedented chance, the reflections just noted
offered themselves as his main recreation. They alone, it appeared, had
been appointed to fill the hours for him, and even to fill the great
square house in Portland Place, where the scale of one of the smaller
saloons fitted them but loosely. He had looked into this room on the
chance that he might find the Princess at tea; but though the fireside
service of the repast was shiningly present the mistress of the table was
not, and he had waited for her, if waiting it could be called, while he
measured again and again the stretch of polished floor. He could have
named to himself no pressing reason for seeing her at this moment, and her
not coming in, as the half-hour elapsed, became in fact quite positively,
however perversely, the circumstance that kept him on the spot. Just
there, he might have been feeling, just there he could best take his note.
This observation was certainly by itself meagre amusement for a dreary
little crisis; but his walk to and fro, and in particular his repeated
pause at one of the high front windows, gave each of the ebbing minutes,
none the less, after a time, a little more of the quality of a quickened
throb of the spirit. These throbs scarce expressed, however, the
impatience of desire, any more than they stood for sharp disappointment:
the series together resembled perhaps more than anything else those fine
waves of clearness through which, for a watcher of the east, dawn at last
trembles into rosy day. The illumination indeed was all for the mind, the
prospect revealed by it a mere immensity of the world of thought; the
material outlook was all the while a different matter. The March
afternoon, judged at the window, had blundered back into autumn; it had
been raining for hours, and the colour of the rain, the colour of the air,
of the mud, of the opposite houses, of life altogether, in so grim a joke,
so idiotic a masquerade, was an unutterable dirty brown. There was at
first even, for the young man, no faint flush in the fact of the direction
taken, while he happened to look out, by a slow-jogging four-wheeled cab
which, awkwardly deflecting from the middle course, at the apparent
instance of a person within, began to make for the left-hand pavement and
so at last, under further instructions, floundered to a full stop before
the Prince’s windows. The person within, alighting with an easier motion,
proved to be a lady who left the vehicle to wait and, putting up no
umbrella, quickly crossed the wet interval that separated her from the
house. She but flitted and disappeared; yet the Prince, from his
standpoint, had had time to recognise her, and the recognition kept him
for some minutes motionless.



Charlotte Stant, at such an hour, in a shabby four-wheeler and a
waterproof, Charlotte Stant turning up for him at the very climax of his
special inner vision, was an apparition charged with a congruity at which
he stared almost as if it had been a violence. The effect of her coming to
see him, him only, had, while he stood waiting, a singular intensity—though
after some minutes had passed the certainty of this began to drop. Perhaps
she had NOT come, or had come only for Maggie; perhaps, on learning below
that the Princess had not returned, she was merely leaving a message,
writing a word on a card. He should see, at any rate; and meanwhile,
controlling himself, would do nothing. This thought of not interfering
took on a sudden force for him; she would doubtless hear he was at home,
but he would let her visit to him be all of her own choosing. And his view
of a reason for leaving her free was the more remarkable that, though
taking no step, he yet intensely hoped. The harmony of her breaking into
sight while the superficial conditions were so against her was a harmony
with conditions that were far from superficial and that gave, for his
imagination, an extraordinary value to her presence. The value deepened
strangely, moreover, with the rigour of his own attitude—with the
fact too that, listening hard, he neither heard the house-door close again
nor saw her go back to her cab; and it had risen to a climax by the time
he had become aware, with his quickened sense, that she had followed the
butler up to the landing from which his room opened. If anything could
further then have added to it, the renewed pause outside, as if she had
said to the man “Wait a moment!” would have constituted this touch. Yet
when the man had shown her in, had advanced to the tea-table to light the
lamp under the kettle and had then busied himself, all deliberately, with
the fire, she made it easy for her host to drop straight from any height
of tension and to meet her, provisionally, on the question of Maggie.
While the butler remained it was Maggie that she had come to see and
Maggie that—in spite of this attendant’s high blankness on the
subject of all possibilities on that lady’s part—she would
cheerfully, by the fire, wait for. As soon as they were alone together,
however, she mounted, as with the whizz and the red light of a rocket,
from the form to the fact, saying straight out, as she stood and looked at
him: “What else, my dear, what in the world else can we do?”



It was as if he then knew, on the spot, why he had been feeling, for
hours, as he had felt—as if he in fact knew, within the minute,
things he had not known even while she was panting, as from the effect of
the staircase, at the door of the room. He knew at the same time, none the
less, that she knew still more than he—in the sense, that is, of all
the signs and portents that might count for them; and his vision of
alternative—she could scarce say what to call them, solutions,
satisfactions—opened out, altogether, with this tangible truth of
her attitude by the chimney-place, the way she looked at him as through
the gained advantage of it; her right hand resting on the marble and her
left keeping her skirt from the fire while she held out a foot to dry. He
couldn’t have told what particular links and gaps had at the end of a few
minutes found themselves renewed and bridged; for he remembered no
occasion, in Rome, from which the picture could have been so exactly
copied. He remembered, that is, none of her coming to see him in the rain
while a muddy four-wheeler waited, and while, though having left her
waterproof downstairs, she was yet invested with the odd eloquence—the
positive picturesqueness, yes, given all the rest of the matter—of a
dull dress and a black Bowdlerised hat that seemed to make a point of
insisting on their time of life and their moral intention, the hat’s and
the frock’s own, as well as on the irony of indifference to them
practically playing in her so handsome rain-freshened face. The sense of
the past revived for him nevertheless as it had not yet done: it made that
other time somehow meet the future close, interlocking with it, before his
watching eyes, as in a long embrace of arms and lips, and so handling and
hustling the present that this poor quantity scarce retained substance
enough, scarce remained sufficiently THERE, to be wounded or shocked.



What had happened, in short, was that Charlotte and he had, by a single
turn of the wrist of fate—“led up” to indeed, no doubt, by steps and
stages that conscious computation had missed—been placed face to
face in a freedom that partook, extraordinarily, of ideal perfection,
since the magic web had spun itself without their toil, almost without
their touch. Above all, on this occasion, once more, there sounded through
their safety, as an undertone, the very voice he had listened to on the
eve of his marriage with such another sort of unrest. Dimly, again and
again, from that period on, he had seemed to hear it tell him why it kept
recurring; but it phrased the large music now in a way that filled the
room. The reason was—into which he had lived, quite intimately, by
the end of a quarter-of-an-hour—that just this truth of their safety
offered it now a kind of unexampled receptacle, letting it spread and
spread, but at the same time elastically enclosing it, banking it in, for
softness, as with billows of eiderdown. On that morning; in the Park there
had been, however dissimulated, doubt and danger, whereas the tale this
afternoon was taken up with a highly emphasised confidence. The emphasis,
for their general comfort, was what Charlotte had come to apply; inasmuch
as, though it was not what she definitely began with, it had soon
irrepressibly shaped itself. It was the meaning of the question she had
put to him as soon as they were alone—even though indeed, as from
not quite understanding, he had not then directly replied; it was the
meaning of everything else, down to the conscious quaintness of her
ricketty “growler” and the conscious humility of her dress. It had helped
him a little, the question of these eccentricities, to let her immediate
appeal pass without an answer. He could ask her instead what had become of
her carriage and why, above all, she was not using it in such weather.



“It’s just because of the weather,” she explained. “It’s my little idea.
It makes me feel as I used to—when I could do as I liked.”


                            XVIII


This came out so straight that he saw at once how much truth it expressed;
yet it was truth that still a little puzzled him. “But did you ever like
knocking about in such discomfort?”



“It seems to me now that I then liked everything. It’s the charm, at any
rate,” she said from her place at the fire, “of trying again the old
feelings. They come back—they come back. Everything,” she went on,
“comes back. Besides,” she wound up, “you know for yourself.”



He stood near her, his hands in his pockets; but not looking at her,
looking hard at the tea-table. “Ah, I haven’t your courage. Moreover,” he
laughed, “it seems to me that, so far as that goes, I do live in hansoms.
But you must awfully want your tea,” he quickly added; “so let me give you
a good stiff cup.”



He busied himself with this care, and she sat down, on his pushing up a
low seat, where she had been standing; so that, while she talked, he could
bring her what she further desired. He moved to and fro before her, he
helped himself; and her visit, as the moments passed, had more and more
the effect of a signal communication that she had come, all responsibly
and deliberately, as on the clear show of the clock-face of their
situation, to make. The whole demonstration, none the less, presented
itself as taking place at a very high level of debate—in the cool
upper air of the finer discrimination, the deeper sincerity, the larger
philosophy. No matter what were the facts invoked and arrayed, it was only
a question, as yet, of their seeing their way together: to which indeed,
exactly, the present occasion appeared to have so much to contribute.
“It’s not that you haven’t my courage,” Charlotte said, “but that you
haven’t, I rather think, my imagination. Unless indeed it should turn out
after all,” she added, “that you haven’t even my intelligence. However, I
shall not be afraid of that till you’ve given me more proof.” And she made
again, but more clearly, her point of a moment before. “You knew, besides,
you knew to-day, I would come. And if you knew that you know everything.”
So she pursued, and if he didn’t meanwhile, if he didn’t even at this,
take her up, it might be that she was so positively fitting him again with
the fair face of temporising kindness that he had given her, to keep her
eyes on, at the other important juncture, and the sense of which she might
ever since have been carrying about with her like a precious medal—not
exactly blessed by the Pope suspended round her neck. She had come back,
however this might be, to her immediate account of herself, and no mention
of their great previous passage was to rise to the lips of either. “Above
all,” she said, “there has been the personal romance of it.”



“Of tea with me over the fire? Ah, so far as that goes I don’t think even
my intelligence fails me.”



“Oh, it’s further than that goes; and if I’ve had a better day than you
it’s perhaps, when I come to think of it, that I AM braver. You bore
yourself, you see. But I don’t. I don’t, I don’t,” she repeated.



“It’s precisely boring one’s self without relief,” he protested, “that
takes courage.”



“Passive then—not active. My romance is that, if you want to know,
I’ve been all day on the town. Literally on the town—isn’t that what
they call it? I know how it feels.” After which, as if breaking off, “And
you, have you never been out?” she asked.



He still stood there with his hands in his pockets. “What should I have
gone out for?”



“Oh, what should people in our case do anything for? But you’re wonderful,
all of YOU—you know how to live. We’re clumsy brutes, we other’s,
beside you—we must always be ‘doing’ something. However,” Charlotte
pursued, “if you had gone out you might have missed the chance of me—which
I’m sure, though you won’t confess it, was what you didn’t want; and might
have missed, above all, the satisfaction that, look blank about it as you
will, I’ve come to congratulate you on. That’s really what I can at last
do. You can’t not know at least, on such a day as this—you can’t not
know,” she said, “where you are.” She waited as for him either to grant
that he knew or to pretend that he didn’t; but he only drew a long deep
breath which came out like a moan of impatience. It brushed aside the
question of where he was or what he knew; it seemed to keep the ground
clear for the question of his visitor herself, that of Charlotte Verver
exactly as she sat there. So, for some moments, with their long look, they
but treated the matter in silence; with the effect indeed, by the end of
the time, of having considerably brought it on. This was sufficiently
marked in what Charlotte next said. “There it all is—extraordinary
beyond words. It makes such a relation for us as, I verily believe, was
never before in the world thrust upon two well-meaning creatures. Haven’t
we therefore to take things as we find them?” She put the question still
more directly than that of a moment before, but to this one, as well, he
returned no immediate answer. Noticing only that she had finished her tea,
he relieved her of her cup, carried it back to the table, asked her what
more she would have; and then, on her “Nothing, thanks,” returned to the
fire and restored a displaced log to position by a small but almost too
effectual kick. She had meanwhile got up again, and it was on her feet
that she repeated the words she had first frankly spoken. “What else can
we do, what in all the world else?”



He took them up, however, no more than at first. “Where then have you
been?” he asked as from mere interest in her adventure.



“Everywhere I could think of—except to see people. I didn’t want
people—I wanted too much to think. But I’ve been back at intervals—three
times; and then come away again. My cabman must think me crazy—it’s
very amusing; I shall owe him, when we come to settle, more money than he
has ever seen. I’ve been, my dear,” she went on, “to the British Museum—which,
you know, I always adore. And I’ve been to the National Gallery, and to a
dozen old booksellers’, coming across treasures, and I’ve lunched, on some
strange nastiness, at a cookshop in Holborn. I wanted to go to the Tower,
but it was too far—my old man urged that; and I would have gone to
the Zoo if it hadn’t been too wet—which he also begged me to
observe. But you wouldn’t believe—I did put in St. Paul’s. Such
days,” she wound up, “are expensive; for, besides the cab, I’ve bought
quantities of books.” She immediately passed, at any rate, to another
point: “I can’t help wondering when you must last have laid eyes on them.”
And then as it had apparently for her companion an effect of abruptness:
“Maggie, I mean, and the child. For I suppose you know he’s with her.”



“Oh yes, I know he’s with her. I saw them this morning.”



“And did they then announce their programme?”



“She told me she was taking him, as usual, da nonno.”



“And for the whole day?”



He hesitated, but it was as if his attitude had slowly shifted.



“She didn’t say. And I didn’t ask.”



“Well,” she went on, “it can’t have been later than half-past ten—I
mean when you saw them. They had got to Eaton Square before eleven. You
know we don’t formally breakfast, Adam and I; we have tea in our rooms—at
least I have; but luncheon is early, and I saw my husband, this morning,
by twelve; he was showing the child a picture-book. Maggie had been there
with them, had left them settled together. Then she had gone out—taking
the carriage for something he had been intending but that she offered to
do instead.”



The Prince appeared to confess, at this, to his interest.



“Taking, you mean, YOUR carriage?”



“I don’t know which, and it doesn’t matter. It’s not a question,” she
smiled, “of a carriage the more or the less. It’s not a question even, if
you come to that, of a cab. It’s so beautiful,” she said, “that it’s not a
question of anything vulgar or horrid.” Which she gave him time to agree
about; and though he was silent it was, rather remarkably, as if he fell
in. “I went out—I wanted to. I had my idea. It seemed to me
important. It has BEEN—it IS important. I know as I haven’t known
before the way they feel. I couldn’t in any other way have made so sure of
it.”



“They feel a confidence,” the Prince observed.



He had indeed said it for her. “They feel a confidence.” And she
proceeded, with lucidity, to the fuller illustration of it; speaking again
of the three different moments that, in the course of her wild ramble, had
witnessed her return—for curiosity, and even really a little from
anxiety—to Eaton Square. She was possessed of a latch-key, rarely
used: it had always irritated Adam—one of the few things that did—to
find servants standing up so inhumanly straight when they came home, in
the small hours, after parties. “So I had but to slip in, each time, with
my cab at the door, and make out for myself, without their knowing it,
that Maggie was still there. I came, I went—without their so much as
dreaming. What do they really suppose,” she asked, “becomes of one?—not
so much sentimentally or morally, so to call it, and since that doesn’t
matter; but even just physically, materially, as a mere wandering woman:
as a decent harmless wife, after all; as the best stepmother, after all,
that really ever was; or at the least simply as a maitresse de maison not
quite without a conscience. They must even in their odd way,” she
declared, “have SOME idea.”



“Oh, they’ve a great deal of idea,” said the Prince. And nothing was
easier than to mention the quantity. “They think so much of us. They think
in particular so much of you.”



“Ah, don’t put it all on ‘me’!” she smiled.



But he was putting it now where she had admirably prepared the place.
“It’s a matter of your known character.”



“Ah, thank you for ‘known’!” she still smiled.



“It’s a matter of your wonderful cleverness and wonderful charm. It’s a
matter of what those things have done for you in the world—I mean in
THIS world and this place. You’re a Personage for them—and
Personages do go and come.”



“Oh no, my dear; there you’re quite wrong.” And she laughed now in the
happier light they had diffused. “That’s exactly what Personages don’t do:
they live in state and under constant consideration; they haven’t
latch-keys, but drums and trumpets announce them; and when they go out in
growlers it makes a greater noise still. It’s you, caro mio,” she said,
“who, so far as that goes, are the Personage.”



“Ah,” he in turn protested, “don’t put it all on me! What, at any rate,
when you get home,” he added, “shall you say that you’ve been doing?”



“I shall say, beautifully, that I’ve been here.”



“All day?”



“Yes—all day. Keeping you company in your solitude. How can we
understand anything,” she went on, “without really seeing that this is
what they must like to think I do for you?—just as, quite as
comfortably, you do it for me. The thing is for us to learn to take them
as they are.”



He considered this a while, in his restless way, but with his eyes not
turning from her; after which, rather disconnectedly, though very
vehemently, he brought out: “How can I not feel more than anything else
how they adore together my boy?” And then, further, as if, slightly
disconcerted, she had nothing to meet this and he quickly perceived the
effect: “They would have done the same for one of yours.”



“Ah, if I could have had one—! I hoped and I believed,” said
Charlotte, “that that would happen. It would have been better. It would
have made perhaps some difference. He thought so too, poor duck—that
it might have been. I’m sure he hoped and intended so. It’s not, at any
rate,” she went on, “my fault. There it is.” She had uttered these
statements, one by one, gravely, sadly and responsibly, owing it to her
friend to be clear. She paused briefly, but, as if once for all, she made
her clearness complete. “And now I’m too sure. It will never be.”



He waited for a moment. “Never?”



“Never.” They treated the matter not exactly with solemnity, but with a
certain decency, even perhaps urgency, of distinctness. “It would probably
have been better,” Charlotte added. “But things turn out—! And it
leaves us”—she made the point—“more alone.”



He seemed to wonder. “It leaves you more alone.”



“Oh,” she again returned, “don’t put it all on me! Maggie would have given
herself to his child, I’m sure, scarcely less than he gives himself to
yours. It would have taken more than any child of mine,” she explained—“it
would have taken more than ten children of mine, could I have had them—to
keep our sposi apart.” She smiled as for the breadth of the image, but, as
he seemed to take it, in spite of this, for important, she then spoke
gravely enough. “It’s as strange as you like, but we’re immensely alone.”
He kept vaguely moving, but there were moments when, again, with an
awkward ease and his hands in his pockets, he was more directly before
her. He stood there at these last words, which had the effect of making
him for a little throw back his head and, as thinking something out, stare
up at the ceiling. “What will you say,” she meanwhile asked, “that you’ve
been doing?” This brought his consciousness and his eyes back to her, and
she pointed her question. “I mean when she comes in—for I suppose
she WILL, some time, come in. It seems to me we must say the same thing.”



Well, he thought again. “Yet I can scarce pretend to have had what I
haven’t.”



“Ah, WHAT haven’t you had?—what aren’t you having?”



Her question rang out as they lingered face to face, and he still took it,
before he answered, from her eyes. “We must at least then, not to be
absurd together, do the same thing. We must act, it would really seem, in
concert.”



“It would really seem!” Her eyebrows, her shoulders went up, quite in
gaiety, as for the relief this brought her. “It’s all in the world I
pretend. We must act in concert. Heaven knows,” she said, “THEY do!”



So it was that he evidently saw and that, by his admission, the case,
could fairly be put. But what he evidently saw appeared to come over him,
at the same time, as too much for him, so that he fell back suddenly to
ground where she was not awaiting him. “The difficulty is, and will always
be, that I don’t understand them. I didn’t at first, but I thought I
should learn to. That was what I hoped, and it appeared then that Fanny
Assingham might help me.”



“Oh, Fanny Assingham!” said Charlotte Verver.



He stared a moment at her tone. “She would do anything for us.”



To which Charlotte at first said nothing—as if from the sense of too
much. Then, indulgently enough, she shook her head. “We’re beyond her.”



He thought a moment—as of where this placed them. “She’d do anything
then for THEM.”



“Well, so would we—so that doesn’t help us. She has broken down. She
doesn’t understand us. And really, my dear,” Charlotte added, “Fanny
Assingham doesn’t matter.”



He wondered again. “Unless as taking care of THEM.”



“Ah,” Charlotte instantly said, “isn’t it for us, only, to do that?” She
spoke as with a flare of pride for their privilege and their duty. “I
think we want no one’s aid.”



She spoke indeed with a nobleness not the less effective for coming in so
oddly; with a sincerity visible even through the complicated twist by
which any effort to protect the father and the daughter seemed necessarily
conditioned for them. It moved him, in any case, as if some spring of his
own, a weaker one, had suddenly been broken by it. These things, all the
while, the privilege, the duty, the opportunity, had been the substance of
his own vision; they formed the note he had been keeping back to show her
that he was not, in their so special situation, without a responsible
view. A conception that he could name, and could act on, was something
that now, at last, not to be too eminent a fool, he was required by all
the graces to produce, and the luminous idea she had herself uttered would
have been his expression of it. She had anticipated him, but, as her
expression left, for positive beauty, nothing to be desired, he felt
rather righted than wronged. A large response, as he looked at her, came
into his face, a light of excited perception all his own, in the glory of
which—as it almost might be called—what he gave her back had
the value of what she had, given him. “They’re extraordinarily happy.”



Oh, Charlotte’s measure of it was only too full. “Beatifically.”



“That’s the great thing,” he went on; “so that it doesn’t matter, really,
that one doesn’t understand. Besides, you do—enough.”



“I understand my husband perhaps,” she after an instant conceded. “I don’t
understand your wife.”



“You’re of the same race, at any rate—more or less; of the same
general tradition and education, of the same moral paste. There are things
you have in common with them. But I, on my side, as I’ve gone on trying to
see if I haven’t some of these things too—I, on my side, have more
and more failed. There seem at last to be none worth mentioning. I can’t
help seeing it—I’m decidedly too different.”



“Yet you’re not”—Charlotte made the important point—“too
different from ME.”



“I don’t know—as we’re not married. That brings things out. Perhaps
if we were,” he said, “you WOULD find some abyss of divergence.”



“Since it depends on that then,” she smiled, “I’m safe—as you are
anyhow. Moreover, as one has so often had occasion to feel, and even to
remark, they’re very, very simple. That makes,” she added, “a difficulty
for belief; but when once one has taken it in it makes less difficulty for
action. I HAVE at last, for myself, I think, taken it in. I’m not afraid.”



He wondered a moment. “Not afraid of what?”



“Well, generally, of some beastly mistake. Especially of any mistake
founded on one’s idea of their difference. For that idea,” Charlotte
developed, “positively makes one so tender.”



“Ah, but rather!”



“Well then, there it is. I can’t put myself into Maggie’s skin—I
can’t, as I say. It’s not my fit—I shouldn’t be able, as I see it,
to breathe in it. But I can feel that I’d do anything—to shield it
from a bruise. Tender as I am for her too,” she went on, “I think I’m
still more so for my husband. HE’S in truth of a sweet simplicity—!”



The Prince turned over a while the sweet simplicity of Mr. Verver. “Well,
I don’t know that I can choose. At night all cats are grey. I only see
how, for so many reasons, we ought to stand toward them—and how, to
do ourselves justice, we do. It represents for us a conscious care—”



“Of every hour, literally,” said Charlotte. She could rise to the highest
measure of the facts. “And for which we must trust each other—!”



“Oh, as we trust the saints in glory. Fortunately,” the Prince hastened to
add, “we can.” With which, as for the full assurance and the pledge it
involved, their hands instinctively found their hands. “It’s all too
wonderful.”



Firmly and gravely she kept his hand. “It’s too beautiful.”



And so for a minute they stood together, as strongly held and as closely
confronted as any hour of their easier past even had seen them. They were
silent at first, only facing and faced, only grasping and grasped, only
meeting and met. “It’s sacred,” he said at last.



“It’s sacred,” she breathed back to him. They vowed it, gave it out and
took it in, drawn, by their intensity, more closely together. Then of a
sudden, through this tightened circle, as at the issue of a narrow strait
into the sea beyond, everything broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and
mingled. Their lips sought their lips, their pressure their response and
their response their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself the
next moment to the longest and deepest of stillnesses they passionately
sealed their pledge.


                            XIX


He had taken it from her, as we have seen, moreover, that Fanny Assingham
didn’t now matter—the “now” he had even himself supplied, as no more
than fair to his sense of various earlier stages; and, though his assent
remained scarce more than tacit, his behaviour, for the hour, so fell into
line that, for many days, he kept postponing the visit he had promised his
old friend on the occasion of their talk at the Foreign Office. With
regret, none the less, would he have seen it quite extinguished, that
theory of their relation as attached pupil and kind instructress in which
they had from the first almost equally found a convenience. It had been
he, no doubt, who had most put it forward, since his need of knowledge
fairly exceeded her mild pretension; but he had again and again repeated
to her that he should never, without her, have been where he was, and she
had not successfully concealed the pleasure it might give her to believe
it, even after the question of where he was had begun to show itself as
rather more closed than open to interpretation. It had never indeed,
before that evening, come up as during the passage at the official party,
and he had for the first time at those moments, a little disappointedly,
got the impression of a certain failure, on the dear woman’s part, of
something he was aware of having always rather freely taken for granted in
her. Of what exactly the failure consisted he would still perhaps have
felt it a little harsh to try to say; and if she had in fact, as by
Charlotte’s observation, “broken down,” the details of the collapse would
be comparatively unimportant. They came to the same thing, all such
collapses—the failure of courage, the failure of friendship, or the
failure just simply of tact; for didn’t any one of them by itself amount
really to the failure of wit?—which was the last thing he had
expected of her and which would be but another name for the triumph of
stupidity. It had been Charlotte’s remark that they were at last “beyond”
her; whereas he had ever enjoyed believing that a certain easy imagination
in her would keep up with him to the end. He shrank from affixing a label
to Mrs. Assingham’s want of faith; but when he thought, at his ease, of
the way persons who were capable really entertained—or at least with
any refinement—the passion of personal loyalty, he figured for them
a play of fancy neither timorous nor scrupulous. So would his personal
loyalty, if need be, have accepted the adventure for the good creature
herself; to that definite degree that he had positively almost missed the
luxury of some such call from her. That was what it all came back to again
with these people among whom he was married—that one found one used
one’s imagination mainly for wondering how they contrived so little to
appeal to it. He felt at moments as if there were never anything to do for
them that was worthy—to call worthy—of the personal relation;
never any charming charge to take of any confidence deeply reposed. He
might vulgarly have put it that one had never to plot or to lie for them;
he might humourously have put it that one had never, as by the higher
conformity, to lie in wait with the dagger or to prepare, insidiously, the
cup. These were the services that, by all romantic tradition, were
consecrated to affection quite as much as to hate. But he could amuse
himself with saying—so far as the amusement went—that they
were what he had once for all turned his back on.



Fanny was meanwhile frequent, it appeared, in Eaton Square; so much he
gathered from the visitor who was not infrequent, least of all at
tea-time, during the same period, in Portland Place; though they had
little need to talk of her after practically agreeing that they had
outlived her. To the scene of these conversations and suppressions Mrs.
Assingham herself made, actually, no approach; her latest view of her
utility seeming to be that it had found in Eaton Square its most urgent
field. It was finding there in fact everything and everyone but the
Prince, who mostly, just now, kept away, or who, at all events, on the
interspaced occasions of his calling, happened not to encounter the only
person from whom he was a little estranged. It would have been all
prodigious if he had not already, with Charlotte’s aid, so very
considerably lived into it—it would have been all indescribably
remarkable, this fact that, with wonderful causes for it so operating on
the surface, nobody else, as yet, in the combination, seemed estranged
from anybody. If Mrs. Assingham delighted in Maggie she knew by this time
how most easily to reach her, and if she was unhappy about Charlotte she
knew, by the same reasoning, how most probably to miss that vision of her
on which affliction would feed. It might feed of course on finding her so
absent from her home—just as this particular phenomenon of her
domestic detachment could be, by the anxious mind, best studied there.
Fanny was, however, for her reasons, “shy” of Portland Place itself—this
was appreciable; so that she might well, after all, have no great light on
the question of whether Charlotte’s appearances there were frequent or
not, any more than on that of the account they might be keeping of the
usual solitude (since it came to this) of the head of that house. There
was always, to cover all ambiguities, to constitute a fund of explanation
for the divisions of Mrs. Verver’s day, the circumstance that, at the
point they had all reached together, Mrs. Verver was definitely and by
general acclamation in charge of the “social relations” of the family,
literally of those of the two households; as to her genius for
representing which in the great world and in the grand style vivid
evidence had more and more accumulated. It had been established in the two
households at an early stage, and with the highest good-humour, that
Charlotte was a, was THE, “social success,” whereas the Princess, though
kind, though punctilious, though charming, though in fact the dearest
little creature in the world and the Princess into the bargain, was
distinctly not, would distinctly never be, and might as well, practically,
give it up: whether through being above it or below it, too much outside
of it or too much lost in it, too unequipped or too indisposed, didn’t
especially matter. What sufficed was that the whole thing, call it
appetite or call it patience, the act of representation at large and the
daily business of intercourse, fell in with Charlotte’s tested facility
and, not much less visibly, with her accommodating, her generous, view of
her domestic use. She had come, frankly, into the connection, to do and to
be what she could, “no questions asked,” and she had taken over,
accordingly, as it stood, and in the finest practical spirit, the burden
of a visiting-list that Maggie, originally, left to herself, and left even
more to the Principino, had suffered to get inordinately out of hand.



She had in a word not only mounted, cheerfully, the London treadmill—she
had handsomely professed herself, for the further comfort of the three
others, sustained in the effort by a “frivolous side,” if that were not
too harsh a name for a pleasant constitutional curiosity. There were
possibilities of dulness, ponderosities of practice, arid social sands,
the bad quarters-of-an-hour that turned up like false pieces in a debased
currency, of which she made, on principle, very nearly as light as if she
had not been clever enough to distinguish. The Prince had, on this score,
paid her his compliment soon after her return from her wedding-tour in
America, where, by all accounts, she had wondrously borne the brunt;
facing brightly, at her husband’s side, everything that came up—and
what had come, often, was beyond words: just as, precisely, with her own
interest only at stake, she had thrown up the game during the visit paid
before her marriage. The discussion of the American world, the comparison
of notes, impressions and adventures, had been all at hand, as a ground of
meeting for Mrs. Verver and her husband’s son-in-law, from the hour of the
reunion of the two couples. Thus it had been, in short, that Charlotte
could, for her friend’s appreciation, so promptly make her point; even
using expressions from which he let her see, at the hour, that he drew
amusement of his own. “What could be more simple than one’s going through
with everything,” she had asked, “when it’s so plain a part of one’s
contract? I’ve got so much, by my marriage”—for she had never for a
moment concealed from him how “much” she had felt it and was finding it
“that I should deserve no charity if I stinted my return. Not to do that,
to give back on the contrary all one can, are just one’s decency and one’s
honour and one’s virtue. These things, henceforth, if you’re interested to
know, are my rule of life, the absolute little gods of my worship, the
holy images set up on the wall. Oh yes, since I’m not a brute,” she had
wound up, “you shall see me as I AM!” Which was therefore as he had seen
her—dealing always, from month to month, from day to day and from
one occasion to the other, with the duties of a remunerated office. Her
perfect, her brilliant efficiency had doubtless, all the while,
contributed immensely to the pleasant ease in which her husband and her
husband’s daughter were lapped. It had in fact probably done something
more than this—it had given them a finer and sweeter view of the
possible scope of that ease. They had brought her in—on the crudest
expression of it—to do the “worldly” for them, and she had done it
with such genius that they had themselves in consequence renounced it even
more than they had originally intended. In proportion as she did it,
moreover, was she to be relieved of other and humbler doings; which minor
matters, by the properest logic, devolved therefore upon Maggie, in whose
chords and whose province they more naturally lay. Not less naturally, by
the same token, they included the repair, at the hands of the latter young
woman, of every stitch conceivably dropped by Charlotte in Eaton Square.
This was homely work, but that was just what made it Maggie’s. Bearing in
mind dear Amerigo, who was so much of her own great mundane feather, and
whom the homeliness in question didn’t, no doubt, quite equally provide
for—that would be, to balance, just in a manner Charlotte’s very
most charming function, from the moment Charlotte could be got adequately
to recognise it.



Well, that Charlotte might be appraised as at last not ineffectually
recognising it, was a reflection that, during the days with which we are
actually engaged, completed in the Prince’s breast these others, these
images and ruminations of his leisure, these gropings and fittings of his
conscience and his experience, that we have attempted to set in order
there. They bore him company, not insufficiently—considering, in
especial, his fuller resources in that line—while he worked out—to
the last lucidity the principle on which he forbore either to seek Fanny
out in Cadogan Place or to perpetrate the error of too marked an assiduity
in Eaton Square. This error would be his not availing himself to the
utmost of the convenience of any artless theory of his constitution, or of
Charlotte’s, that might prevail there. That artless theories could and did
prevail was a fact he had ended by accepting, under copious evidence, as
definite and ultimate; and it consorted with common prudence, with the
simplest economy of life, not to be wasteful of any odd gleaning. To haunt
Eaton Square, in fine, would be to show that he had not, like his
brilliant associate, a sufficiency of work in the world. It was just his
having that sufficiency, it was just their having it together, that, so
strangely and so blessedly, made, as they put it to each other, everything
possible. What further propped up the case, moreover, was that the
“world,” by still another beautiful perversity of their chance, included
Portland Place without including to anything like the same extent Eaton
Square. The latter residence, at the same time, it must promptly be added,
did, on occasion, wake up to opportunity and, as giving itself a frolic
shake, send out a score of invitations—one of which fitful flights,
precisely, had, before Easter, the effect of disturbing a little our young
man’s measure of his margin. Maggie, with a proper spirit, held that her
father ought from time to time to give a really considered dinner, and Mr.
Verver, who had as little idea as ever of not meeting expectation, was of
the harmonious opinion that his wife ought. Charlotte’s own judgment was,
always, that they were ideally free—the proof of which would always
be, she maintained, that everyone they feared they might most have
alienated by neglect would arrive, wreathed with smiles, on the merest
hint of a belated signal. Wreathed in smiles, all round, truly enough,
these apologetic banquets struck Amerigo as being; they were, frankly,
touching occasions to him, marked, in the great London bousculade, with a
small, still grace of their own, an investing amenity and humanity.
Everybody came, everybody rushed; but all succumbed to the soft influence,
and the brutality of mere multitude, of curiosity without tenderness, was
put off, at the foot of the fine staircase, with the overcoats and shawls.
The entertainment offered a few evenings before Easter, and at which
Maggie and he were inevitably present as guests, was a discharge of
obligations not insistently incurred, and had thereby, possibly, all the
more, the note of this almost Arcadian optimism: a large, bright, dull,
murmurous, mild-eyed, middle-aged dinner, involving for the most part very
bland, though very exalted, immensely announceable and hierarchically
placeable couples, and followed, without the oppression of a later
contingent, by a brief instrumental concert, over the preparation of
which, the Prince knew, Maggie’s anxiety had conferred with Charlotte’s
ingenuity and both had supremely revelled, as it were, in Mr. Verver’s
solvency.



The Assinghams were there, by prescription, though quite at the foot of
the social ladder, and with the Colonel’s wife, in spite of her humility
of position, the Prince was more inwardly occupied than with any other
person except Charlotte. He was occupied with Charlotte because, in the
first place, she looked so inordinately handsome and held so high, where
so much else was mature and sedate, the torch of responsive youth and the
standard of passive grace; and because of the fact that, in the second,
the occasion, so far as it referred itself with any confidence of emphasis
to a hostess, seemed to refer itself preferentially, well-meaningly and
perversely, to Maggie. It was not indistinguishable to him, when once they
were all stationed, that his wife too had in perfection her own little
character; but he wondered how it managed so visibly to simplify itself—and
this, he knew, in spite of any desire she entertained—to the
essential air of having overmuch on her mind the felicity, and indeed the
very conduct and credit, of the feast. He knew, as well, the other things
of which her appearance was at any time—and in Eaton Square
especially—made up: her resemblance to her father, at times so
vivid, and coming out, in the delicate warmth of occasions, like the
quickened fragrance of a flower; her resemblance, as he had hit it off for
her once in Rome, in the first flushed days, after their engagement, to a
little dancing-girl at rest, ever so light of movement but most often
panting gently, even a shade compunctiously, on a bench; her
approximation, finally—for it was analogy, somehow, more than
identity—to the transmitted images of rather neutral and negative
propriety that made up, in his long line, the average of wifehood and
motherhood. If the Roman matron had been, in sufficiency, first and last,
the honour of that line, Maggie would no doubt, at fifty, have expanded,
have solidified to some such dignity, even should she suggest a little but
a Cornelia in miniature. A light, however, broke for him in season, and
when once it had done so it made him more than ever aware of Mrs. Verver’s
vaguely, yet quite exquisitely, contingent participation—a mere
hinted or tendered discretion; in short of Mrs. Verver’s indescribable,
unfathomable relation to the scene. Her placed condition, her natural seat
and neighbourhood, her intenser presence, her quieter smile, her fewer
jewels, were inevitably all as nothing compared with the preoccupation
that burned in Maggie like a small flame and that had in fact kindled in
each of her cheeks a little attesting, but fortunately by no means
unbecoming, spot. The party was her father’s party, and its greater or
smaller success was a question having for her all the importance of his
importance; so that sympathy created for her a sort of visible suspense,
under pressure of which she bristled with filial reference, with little
filial recalls of expression, movement, tone. It was all unmistakable, and
as pretty as possible, if one would, and even as funny; but it put the
pair so together, as undivided by the marriage of each, that the Princess
il n’y avait pas a dire—might sit where she liked: she would still,
always, in that house, be irremediably Maggie Verver. The Prince found
himself on this occasion so beset with that perception that its natural
complement for him would really have been to wonder if Mr. Verver had
produced on people something of the same impression in the recorded cases
of his having dined with his daughter.



This backward speculation, had it begun to play, however, would have been
easily arrested; for it was at present to come over Amerigo as never
before that his remarkable father-in-law was the man in the world least
equipped with different appearances for different hours. He was simple, he
was a revelation of simplicity, and that was the end of him so far as he
consisted of an appearance at all—a question that might verily, for
a weakness in it, have been argued. It amused our young man, who was
taking his pleasure to-night, it will be seen, in sundry occult ways, it
amused him to feel how everything else the master of the house consisted
of, resources, possessions, facilities and amiabilities amplified by the
social legend, depended, for conveying the effect of quantity, on no
personal “equation,” no mere measurable medium. Quantity was in the air
for these good people, and Mr. Verver’s estimable quality was almost
wholly in that pervasion. He was meagre and modest and clearbrowed, and
his eyes, if they wandered without fear, yet stayed without defiance; his
shoulders were not broad, his chest was not high, his complexion was not
fresh, and the crown of his head was not covered; in spite of all of which
he looked, at the top of his table, so nearly like a little boy shyly
entertaining in virtue of some imposed rank, that he COULD only be one of
the powers, the representative of a force—quite as an infant king is
the representative of a dynasty. In this generalised view of his
father-in-law, intensified to-night but always operative, Amerigo had now
for some time taken refuge. The refuge, after the reunion of the two
households in England, had more and more offered itself as the substitute
for communities, from man to man, that, by his original calculation, might
have become possible, but that had not really ripened and flowered. He met
the decent family eyes across the table, met them afterwards in the
music-room, but only to read in them still what he had learned to read
during his first months, the time of over-anxious initiation, a kind of
apprehension in which the terms and conditions were finally fixed and
absolute. This directed regard rested at its ease, but it neither lingered
nor penetrated, and was, to the Prince’s fancy, much of the same order as
any glance directed, for due attention, from the same quarter, to the
figure of a cheque received in the course of business and about to be
enclosed to a banker. It made sure of the amount—and just so, from
time to time, the amount of the Prince was made sure. He was being thus,
in renewed instalments, perpetually paid in; he already reposed in the
bank as a value, but subject, in this comfortable way, to repeated, to
infinite endorsement. The net result of all of which, moreover, was that
the young man had no wish to see his value diminish. He himself, after
all, had not fixed it—the “figure” was a conception all of Mr.
Verver’s own. Certainly, however, everything must be kept up to it; never
so much as to-night had the Prince felt this. He would have been
uncomfortable, as these quiet expressions passed, had the case not been
guaranteed for him by the intensity of his accord with Charlotte. It was
impossible that he should not now and again meet Charlotte’s eyes, as it
was also visible that she too now and again met her husband’s. For her as
well, in all his pulses, he felt the conveyed impression. It put them, it
kept them together, through the vain show of their separation, made the
two other faces, made the whole lapse of the evening, the people, the
lights, the flowers, the pretended talk, the exquisite music, a mystic
golden bridge between them, strongly swaying and sometimes almost
vertiginous, for that intimacy of which the sovereign law would be the
vigilance of “care,” would be never rashly to forget and never consciously
to wound.


                             XX


The main interest of these hours for us, however, will have been in the
way the Prince continued to know, during a particular succession of
others, separated from the evening in Eaton Square by a short interval, a
certain persistent aftertaste. This was the lingering savour of a cup
presented to him by Fanny Assingham’s hand after dinner, while the
clustered quartette kept their ranged companions, in the music-room, moved
if one would, but conveniently motionless. Mrs. Assingham contrived, after
a couple of pieces, to convey to her friend that, for her part, she was
moved—by the genius of Brahms—beyond what she could bear; so
that, without apparent deliberation, she had presently floated away, at
the young man’s side, to such a distance as permitted them to converse
without the effect of disdain. It was the twenty minutes enjoyed with her,
during the rest of the concert, in the less associated electric glare of
one of the empty rooms—it was their achieved and, as he would have
said, successful, most pleasantly successful, talk on one of the
sequestered sofas, it was this that was substantially to underlie his
consciousness of the later occasion. The later occasion, then mere matter
of discussion, had formed her ground for desiring—in a light
undertone into which his quick ear read indeed some nervousness—these
independent words with him: she had sounded, covertly but distinctly, by
the time they were seated together, the great question of what it might
involve. It had come out for him before anything else, and so abruptly
that this almost needed an explanation. Then the abruptness itself had
appeared to explain—which had introduced, in turn, a slight
awkwardness. “Do you know that they’re not, after all, going to Matcham;
so that, if they don’t—if, at least, Maggie doesn’t—you won’t,
I suppose, go by yourself?” It was, as I say, at Matcham, where the event
had placed him, it was at Matcham during the Easter days, that it most
befell him, oddly enough, to live over, inwardly, for its wealth of
special significance, this passage by which the event had been really a
good deal determined. He had paid, first and last, many an English country
visit; he had learned, even from of old, to do the English things, and to
do them, all sufficiently, in the English way; if he didn’t always enjoy
them madly he enjoyed them at any rate as much, to an appearance, as the
good people who had, in the night of time, unanimously invented them, and
who still, in the prolonged afternoon of their good faith, unanimously,
even if a trifle automatically, practised them; yet, with it all, he had
never so much as during such sojourns the trick of a certain detached, the
amusement of a certain inward critical, life; the determined need, which
apparently all participant, of returning upon itself, of backing
noiselessly in, far in again, and rejoining there, as it were, that part
of his mind that was not engaged at the front. His body, very constantly,
was engaged at the front—in shooting, in riding, in golfing, in
walking, over the fine diagonals of meadow-paths or round the pocketed
corners of billiard-tables; it sufficiently, on the whole, in fact, bore
the brunt of bridge-playing, of breakfasting, lunching, tea-drinking,
dining, and of the nightly climax over the bottigliera, as he called it,
of the bristling tray; it met, finally, to the extent of the limited tax
on lip, on gesture, on wit, most of the current demands of conversation
and expression. Therefore something of him, he often felt at these times,
was left out; it was much more when he was alone, or when he was with his
own people—or when he was, say, with Mrs. Verver and nobody else—that
he moved, that he talked, that he listened, that he felt, as a congruous
whole.



“English society,” as he would have said, cut him, accordingly, in two,
and he reminded himself often, in his relations with it, of a man
possessed of a shining star, a decoration, an order of some sort,
something so ornamental as to make his identity not complete, ideally,
without it, yet who, finding no other such object generally worn, should
be perpetually, and the least bit ruefully, unpinning it from his breast
to transfer it to his pocket. The Prince’s shining star may, no doubt,
having been nothing more precious than his private subtlety; but whatever
the object was he just now fingered it a good deal, out of sight—amounting
as it mainly did for him to a restless play of memory and a fine
embroidery of thought. Something had rather momentously occurred, in Eaton
Square, during his enjoyed minutes with his old friend: his present
perspective made definitely clear to him that she had plumped out for him
her first little lie. That took on—and he could scarce have said why—a
sharpness of importance: she had never lied to him before—if only
because it had never come up for her, properly, intelligibly, morally,
that she must. As soon as she had put to him the question of what he would
do—by which she meant of what Charlotte would also do—in that
event of Maggie’s and Mr. Verver’s not embracing the proposal they had
appeared for a day or two resignedly to entertain; as soon as she had
betrayed her curiosity as to the line the other pair, so left to
themselves, might take, a desire to avoid the appearance of at all too
directly prying had become marked in her. Betrayed by the solicitude of
which she had, already, three weeks before, given him a view, she had been
obliged, on a second thought, to name, intelligibly, a reason for her
appeal; while the Prince, on his side, had had, not without mercy, his
glimpse of her momentarily groping for one and yet remaining unprovided.
Not without mercy because, absolutely, he had on the spot, in his
friendliness, invented one for her use, presenting it to her with a look
no more significant than if he had picked up, to hand back to her, a
dropped flower. “You ask if I’m likely also to back out then, because it
may make a difference in what you and the Colonel decide?”—he had
gone as far as that for her, fairly inviting her to assent, though not
having had his impression, from any indication offered him by Charlotte,
that the Assinghams were really in question for the large Matcham party.
The wonderful thing, after this, was that the active couple had, in the
interval, managed to inscribe themselves on the golden roll; an exertion
of a sort that, to do her justice, he had never before observed Fanny to
make. This last passage of the chapter but proved, after all, with what
success she could work when she would.



Once launched, himself, at any rate, as he had been directed by all the
terms of the intercourse between Portland Place and Eaton Square, once
steeped, at Matcham, in the enjoyment of a splendid hospitality, he found
everything, for his interpretation, for his convenience, fall easily
enough into place; and all the more that Mrs. Verver was at hand to
exchange ideas and impressions with. The great house was full of people,
of possible new combinations, of the quickened play of possible
propinquity, and no appearance, of course, was less to be cultivated than
that of his having sought an opportunity to foregather with his friend at
a safe distance from their respective sposi. There was a happy boldness,
at the best, in their mingling thus, each unaccompanied, in the same
sustained sociability—just exactly a touch of that eccentricity of
associated freedom which sat so lightly on the imagination of the
relatives left behind. They were exposed as much as one would to its being
pronounced funny that they should, at such a rate, go about together—though,
on the other hand, this consideration drew relief from the fact that, in
their high conditions and with the easy tradition, the almost inspiring
allowances, of the house in question, no individual line, however freely
marked, was pronounced anything more than funny. Both our friends felt
afresh, as they had felt before, the convenience of a society so placed
that it had only its own sensibility to consider—looking as it did
well over the heads of all lower growths; and that moreover treated its
own sensibility quite as the easiest, friendliest, most informal and
domesticated party to the general alliance. What anyone “thought” of
anyone else—above all of anyone else with anyone else—was a
matter incurring in these lulls so little awkward formulation that
hovering judgment, the spirit with the scales, might perfectly have been
imaged there as some rather snubbed and subdued, but quite trained and
tactful poor relation, of equal, of the properest, lineage, only of aspect
a little dingy, doubtless from too limited a change of dress, for whose
tacit and abstemious presence, never betrayed by a rattle of her rusty
machine, a room in the attic and a plate at the side-table were decently
usual. It was amusing, in such lightness of air, that the Prince should
again present himself only to speak for the Princess, so unfortunately
unable, again, to leave home; and that Mrs. Verver should as regularly
figure as an embodied, a beautifully deprecating apology for her husband,
who was all geniality and humility among his own treasures, but as to whom
the legend had grown up that he couldn’t bear, with the height of his
standards and the tone of the company, in the way of sofas and cabinets,
habitually kept by him, the irritation and depression to which promiscuous
visiting, even at pompous houses, had been found to expose him. That was
all right, the noted working harmony of the clever son-in-law and the
charming stepmother, so long as the relation was, for the effect in
question, maintained at the proper point between sufficiency and excess.



What with the noble fairness of the place, meanwhile, the generous mood of
the sunny, gusty, lusty English April, all panting and heaving with
impatience, or kicking and crying, even, at moments, like some infant
Hercules who wouldn’t be dressed; what with these things and the bravery
of youth and beauty, the insolence of fortune and appetite so diffused
among his fellow-guests that the poor Assinghams, in their comparatively
marked maturity and their comparatively small splendour, were the only
approach to a false note in the concert, the stir of the air was such, for
going, in a degree, to one’s head, that, as a mere matter of exposure,
almost grotesque in its flagrancy, his situation resembled some elaborate
practical joke carried out at his expense. Every voice in the great bright
house was a call to the ingenuities and impunities of pleasure; every echo
was a defiance of difficulty, doubt or danger; every aspect of the
picture, a glowing plea for the immediate, and as with plenty more to
come, was another phase of the spell. For a world so constituted was
governed by a spell, that of the smile of the gods and the favour of the
powers; the only handsome, the only gallant, in fact the only intelligent
acceptance of which was a faith in its guarantees and a high spirit for
its chances. Its demand—to that the thing came back—was above
all for courage and good-humour; and the value of this as a general
assurance—that is for seeing one through at the worst—had not
even in the easiest hours of his old Roman life struck the Prince so
convincingly. His old Roman life had had more poetry, no doubt, but as he
looked back upon it now it seemed to hang in the air of mere iridescent
horizons, to have been loose and vague and thin, with large languorous
unaccountable blanks. The present order, as it spread about him, had
somehow the ground under its feet, and a trumpet in its ears, and a
bottomless bag of solid shining British sovereigns—which was much to
the point—in its hand. Courage and good-humour therefore were the
breath of the day; though for ourselves at least it would have been also
much to the point that, with Amerigo, really, the innermost effect of all
this perceptive ease was perhaps a strange final irritation. He compared
the lucid result with the extraordinary substitute for perception that
presided, in the bosom of his wife, at so contented a view of his conduct
and course—a state of mind that was positively like a vicarious good
conscience, cultivated ingeniously on his behalf, a perversity of pressure
innocently persisted in; and this wonder of irony became on occasion too
intense to be kept wholly to himself. It wasn’t that, at Matcham, anything
particular, anything monstrous, anything that had to be noticed permitted
itself, as they said, to “happen”; there were only odd moments when the
breath of the day, as it has been called, struck him so full in the face
that he broke out with all the hilarity of “What indeed would THEY have
made of it?” “They” were of course Maggie and her father, moping—so
far as they ever consented to mope in monotonous Eaton Square, but placid
too in the belief that they knew beautifully what their expert companions
were in for. They knew, it might have appeared in these lights, absolutely
nothing on earth worth speaking of—whether beautifully or cynically;
and they would perhaps sometimes be a little less trying if they would
only once for all peacefully admit that knowledge wasn’t one of their
needs and that they were in fact constitutionally inaccessible to it. They
were good children, bless their hearts, and the children of good children;
so that, verily, the Principino himself, as less consistently of that
descent, might figure to the fancy as the ripest genius of the trio.



The difficulty was, for the nerves of daily intercourse with Maggie in
particular, that her imagination was clearly never ruffled by the sense of
any anomaly. The great anomaly would have been that her husband, or even
that her father’s wife, should prove to have been made, for the long run,
after the pattern set from so far back to the Ververs. If one was so made
one had certainly no business, on any terms, at Matcham; whereas if one
wasn’t one had no business there on the particular terms—terms of
conformity with the principles of Eaton Square—under which one had
been so absurdly dedicated. Deep at the heart of that resurgent unrest in
our young man which we have had to content ourselves with calling his
irritation—deep in the bosom of this falsity of position glowed the
red spark of his inextinguishable sense of a higher and braver propriety.
There were situations that were ridiculous, but that one couldn’t yet
help, as for instance when one’s wife chose, in the most usual way, to
make one so. Precisely here, however, was the difference; it had taken
poor Maggie to invent a way so extremely unusual—yet to which, none
the less, it would be too absurd that he should merely lend himself. Being
thrust, systematically, with another woman, and a woman one happened, by
the same token, exceedingly to like, and being so thrust that the theory
of it seemed to publish one as idiotic or incapable—this WAS a
predicament of which the dignity depended all on one’s own handling. What
was supremely grotesque, in fact, was the essential opposition of theories—as
if a galantuomo, as HE at least constitutionally conceived galantuomini,
could do anything BUT blush to “go about” at such a rate with such a
person as Mrs. Verver in a state of childlike innocence, the state of our
primitive parents before the Fall. The grotesque theory, as he would have
called it, was perhaps an odd one to resent with violence, and he did it—also
as a man of the world—all merciful justice; but, assuredly, none the
less, there was but one way REALLY to mark, and for his companion as much
as for himself, the commiseration in which they held it. Adequate comment
on it could only be private, but it could also at least be active, and of
rich and effectual comment Charlotte and he were fortunately alike
capable. Wasn’t this consensus literally their only way not to be
ungracious? It was positively as if the measure of their escape from that
danger were given by the growth between them, during their auspicious
visit, of an exquisite sense of complicity.


                              XXI


He found himself therefore saying, with gaiety, even to Fanny Assingham,
for their common, concerned glance at Eaton Square, the glance that was so
markedly never, as it might have been, a glance at Portland Place: “What
WOULD our cari sposi have made of it here? what would they, you know,
really?”—which overflow would have been reckless if, already, and
surprisingly perhaps even to himself, he had not got used to thinking of
this friend as a person in whom the element of protest had of late been
unmistakably allayed. He exposed himself of course to her replying: “Ah,
if it would have been so bad for them, how can it be so good for you?”—but,
quite apart from the small sense the question would have had at the best,
she appeared already to unite with him in confidence and cheer. He had his
view, as well—or at least a partial one—of the inner spring of
this present comparative humility, which was all consistent with the
retraction he had practically seen her make after Mr. Verver’s last
dinner. Without diplomatising to do so, with no effort to square her, none
to bribe her to an attitude for which he would have had no use in her if
it were not sincere, he yet felt how he both held her and moved her by the
felicity of his taking pity, all instinctively, on her just discernible
depression. By just so much as he guessed that she felt herself, as the
slang was, out of it, out of the crystal current and the expensive
picture, by just so much had his friendship charmingly made up to her,
from hour to hour, for the penalties, as they might have been grossly
called, of her mistake. Her mistake had only been, after all, in her
wanting to seem to him straight; she had let herself in for being—as
she had made haste, for that matter, during the very first half-hour, at
tea, to proclaim herself—the sole and single frump of the party. The
scale of everything was so different that all her minor values, her
quainter graces, her little local authority, her humour and her wardrobe
alike, for which it was enough elsewhere, among her bons amis, that they
were hers, dear Fanny Assingham’s—these matters and others would be
all, now, as nought: five minutes had sufficed to give her the fatal
pitch. In Cadogan Place she could always, at the worst, be picturesque—for
she habitually spoke of herself as “local” to Sloane Street whereas at
Matcham she should never be anything but horrible. And it all would have
come, the disaster, from the real refinement, in her, of the spirit of
friendship. To prove to him that she wasn’t really watching him—ground
for which would have been too terribly grave—she had followed him in
his pursuit of pleasure: SO she might, precisely, mark her detachment.
This was handsome trouble for her to take—the Prince could see it
all: it wasn’t a shade of interference that a good-natured man would visit
on her. So he didn’t even say, when she told him how frumpy she knew
herself, how frumpy her very maid, odiously going back on her, rubbed it
into her, night and morning, with unsealed eyes and lips, that she now
knew her—he didn’t then say “Ah, see what you’ve done: isn’t it
rather your own fault?” He behaved differently altogether: eminently
distinguished himself—for she told him she had never seen him so
universally distinguished—he yet distinguished her in her obscurity,
or in what was worse, her objective absurdity, and frankly invested her
with her absolute value, surrounded her with all the importance of her
wit. That wit, as discriminated from stature and complexion, a sense for
“bridge” and a credit for pearls, could have importance was meanwhile but
dimly perceived at Matcham; so that his “niceness” to her—she called
it only niceness, but it brought tears into her eyes—had the
greatness of a general as well as of a special demonstration.



“She understands,” he said, as a comment on all this, to Mrs. Verver—“she
understands all she needs to understand. She has taken her time, but she
has at last made it out for herself: she sees how all we can desire is to
give them the life they prefer, to surround them with the peace and quiet,
and above all with the sense of security, most favourable to it. She can’t
of course very well put it to us that we have, so far as she is concerned,
but to make the best of our circumstances; she can’t say in so many words
‘Don’t think of me, for I too must make the best of mine: arrange as you
can, only, and live as you must.’ I don’t get quite THAT from her, any
more than I ask for it. But her tone and her whole manner mean nothing at
all unless they mean that she trusts us to take as watchful, to take as
artful, to take as tender care, in our way, as she so anxiously takes in
hers. So that she’s—well,” the Prince wound up, “what you may call
practically all right.” Charlotte in fact, however, to help out his
confidence, didn’t call it anything; return as he might to the lucidity,
the importance, or whatever it was, of this lesson, she gave him no aid
toward reading it aloud. She let him, two or three times over, spell it
out for himself; only on the eve of their visit’s end was she, for once,
clear or direct in response. They had found a minute together in the great
hall of the house during the half-hour before dinner; this easiest of
chances they had already, a couple of times, arrived at by waiting
persistently till the last other loiterers had gone to dress, and by being
prepared themselves to dress so expeditiously that they might, a little
later on, be among the first to appear in festal array. The hall then was
empty, before the army of rearranging, cushion-patting housemaids were
marshalled in, and there was a place by the forsaken fire, at one end,
where they might imitate, with art, the unpremeditated. Above all, here,
for the snatched instants, they could breathe so near to each other that
the interval was almost engulfed in it, and the intensity both of the
union and the caution became a workable substitute for contact. They had
prolongations of instants that counted as visions of bliss; they had slow
approximations that counted as long caresses. The quality of these
passages, in truth, made the spoken word, and especially the spoken word
about other people, fall below them; so that our young woman’s tone had
even now a certain dryness. “It’s very good of her, my dear, to trust us.
But what else can she do?”



“Why, whatever people do when they don’t trust. Let one see they don’t.”



“But let whom see?”



“Well, let ME, say, to begin with.”



“And should you mind that?”



He had a slight show of surprise. “Shouldn’t you?”



“Her letting you see? No,” said Charlotte; “the only thing I can imagine
myself minding is what you yourself, if you don’t look out, may let HER
see.” To which she added: “You may let her see, you know, that you’re
afraid.”



“I’m only afraid of you, a little, at moments,” he presently returned.
“But I shan’t let Fanny see that.”



It was clear, however, that neither the limits nor the extent of Mrs.
Assingham’s vision were now a real concern to her, and she gave expression
to this as she had not even yet done. “What in the world can she do
against us? There’s not a word that she can breathe. She’s helpless; she
can’t speak; she would be herself the first to be dished by it.” And then
as he seemed slow to follow: “It all comes back to her. It all began with
her. Everything, from the first. She introduced you to Maggie. She made
your marriage.”



The Prince might have had his moment of demur, but at this, after a
little, as with a smile dim but deep, he came on. “Mayn’t she also be
said, a good deal, to have made yours? That was intended, I think, wasn’t
it? for a kind of rectification.”



Charlotte, on her side, for an instant, hesitated; then she was prompter
still. “I don’t mean there was anything to rectify; everything was as it
had to be, and I’m not speaking of how she may have been concerned for you
and me. I’m speaking of how she took, in her way, each time, THEIR lives
in hand, and how, therefore, that ties her up to-day. She can’t go to them
and say ‘It’s very awkward of course, you poor dear things, but I was
frivolously mistaken.’”



He took it in still, with his long look at her. “All the more that she
wasn’t. She was right. Everything’s right,” he went on, “and everything
will stay so.”



“Then that’s all I say.”



But he worked it out, for the deeper satisfaction, even to superfluous
lucidity. “We’re happy, and they’re happy. What more does the position
admit of? What more need Fanny Assingham want?”



“Ah, my dear,” said Charlotte, “it’s not I who say that she need want
anything. I only say that she’s FIXED, that she must stand exactly where
everything has, by her own act, placed her. It’s you who have seemed
haunted with the possibility, for her, of some injurious alternative,
something or other we must be prepared for.” And she had, with her high
reasoning, a strange cold smile. “We ARE prepared—for anything, for
everything; and AS we are, practically, so she must take us. She’s
condemned to consistency; she’s doomed, poor thing, to a genial optimism.
That, luckily for her, however, is very much the law of her nature. She
was born to soothe and to smooth. Now then, therefore,” Mrs. Verver gently
laughed, “she has the chance of her life!”



“So that her present professions may, even at the best, not be sincere?—may
be but a mask for doubts and fears, and for gaining time?”



The Prince had looked, with the question, as if this, again, could trouble
him, and it determined in his companion a slight impatience. “You keep
talking about such things as if they were our affair at all. I feel, at
any rate, that I’ve nothing to do with her doubts and fears, or with
anything she may feel. She must arrange all that for herself. It’s enough
for me that she’ll always be, of necessity, much more afraid for herself,
REALLY, either to see or to speak, than we should be to have her do it
even if we were the idiots and cowards we aren’t.” And Charlotte’s face,
with these words—to the mitigation of the slightly hard ring there
might otherwise have been in them—fairly lightened, softened, shone
out. It reflected as really never yet the rare felicity of their luck. It
made her look for the moment as if she had actually pronounced that word
of unpermitted presumption—so apt is the countenance, as with a
finer consciousness than the tongue, to betray a sense of this particular
lapse. She might indeed, the next instant, have seen her friend wince, in
advance, at her use of a word that was already on her lips; for it was
still unmistakable with him that there were things he could prize, forms
of fortune he could cherish, without at all proportionately liking their
names. Had all this, however, been even completely present to his
companion, what other term could she have applied to the strongest and
simplest of her ideas but the one that exactly fitted it? She applied it
then, though her own instinct moved her, at the same time, to pay her
tribute to the good taste from which they hadn’t heretofore by a hair’s
breadth deviated. “If it didn’t sound so vulgar I should say that we’re—fatally,
as it were—SAFE. Pardon the low expression—since it’s what we
happen to be. We’re so because they are. And they’re so because they can’t
be anything else, from the moment that, having originally intervened for
them, she wouldn’t now be able to bear herself if she didn’t keep them so.
That’s the way she’s inevitably WITH us,” said Charlotte over her smile.
“We hang, essentially, together.”



Well, the Prince candidly allowed she did bring it home to him. Every way
it worked out. “Yes, I see. We hang, essentially, together.”



His friend had a shrug—a shrug that had a grace. “Cosa volete?” The
effect, beautifully, nobly, was more than Roman. “Ah, beyond doubt, it’s a
case.”



He stood looking at her. “It’s a case. There can’t,” he said, “have been
many.”



“Perhaps never, never, never any other. That,” she smiled, “I confess I
should like to think. Only ours.”



“Only ours—most probably. Speriamo.” To which, as after hushed
connections, he presently added: “Poor Fanny!” But Charlotte had already,
with a start and a warning hand, turned from a glance at the clock. She
sailed away to dress, while he watched her reach the staircase. His eyes
followed her till, with a simple swift look round at him, she vanished.
Something in the sight, however, appeared to have renewed the spring of
his last exclamation, which he breathed again upon the air. “Poor, poor
Fanny!”



It was to prove, however, on the morrow, quite consistent with the spirit
of these words that, the party at Matcham breaking up and multitudinously
dispersing, he should be able to meet the question of the social side of
the process of repatriation with due presence of mind. It was impossible,
for reasons, that he should travel to town with the Assinghams; it was
impossible, for the same reasons, that he should travel to town save in
the conditions that he had for the last twenty-four hours been privately,
and it might have been said profoundly, thinking out. The result of his
thought was already precious to him, and this put at his service, he
sufficiently believed, the right tone for disposing of his elder friend’s
suggestion, an assumption in fact equally full and mild, that he and
Charlotte would conveniently take the same train and occupy the same
compartment as the Colonel and herself. The extension of the idea to Mrs.
Verver had been, precisely, a part of Mrs. Assingham’s mildness, and
nothing could better have characterised her sense for social shades than
her easy perception that the gentleman from Portland Place and the lady
from Eaton Square might now confess, quite without indiscretion, to
simultaneity of movement. She had made, for the four days, no direct
appeal to the latter personage, but the Prince was accidental witness of
her taking a fresh start at the moment the company were about to scatter
for the last night of their stay. There had been, at this climax, the
usual preparatory talk about hours and combinations, in the midst of which
poor Fanny gently approached Mrs. Verver. She said “You and the Prince,
love,”—quite, apparently, without blinking; she took for granted
their public withdrawal together; she remarked that she and Bob were alike
ready, in the interest of sociability, to take any train that would make
them all one party. “I feel really as if, all this time, I had seen
nothing of you”—that gave an added grace to the candour of the dear
thing’s approach. But just then it was, on the other hand, that the young
man found himself borrow most effectively the secret of the right tone for
doing as he preferred. His preference had, during the evening, not failed
of occasion to press him with mute insistences; practically without words,
without any sort of straight telegraphy, it had arrived at a felt identity
with Charlotte’s own. She spoke all for their friend while she answered
their friend’s question, but she none the less signalled to him as
definitely as if she had fluttered a white handkerchief from a window.
“It’s awfully sweet of you, darling—our going together would be
charming. But you mustn’t mind us—you must suit yourselves we’ve
settled, Amerigo and I, to stay over till after luncheon.”



Amerigo, with the chink of this gold in his ear, turned straight away, so
as not to be instantly appealed to; and for the very emotion of the
wonder, furthermore, of what divination may achieve when winged by a
community of passion. Charlotte had uttered the exact plea that he had
been keeping ready for the same foreseen necessity, and had uttered it
simply as a consequence of their deepening unexpressed need of each other
and without the passing between them of a word. He hadn’t, God knew, to
take it from her—he was too conscious of what he wanted; but the
lesson for him was in the straight clear tone that Charlotte could thus
distil, in the perfect felicity of her adding no explanation, no touch for
plausibility, that she wasn’t strictly obliged to add, and in the truly
superior way in which women, so situated, express and distinguish
themselves. She had answered Mrs. Assingham quite adequately; she had not
spoiled it by a reason a scrap larger than the smallest that would serve,
and she had, above all, thrown off, for his stretched but covered
attention, an image that flashed like a mirror played at the face of the
sun. The measure of EVERYTHING, to all his sense, at these moments, was in
it—the measure especially of the thought that had been growing with
him a positive obsession and that began to throb as never yet under this
brush of her having, by perfect parity of imagination, the match for it.
His whole consciousness had by this time begun almost to ache with a truth
of an exquisite order, at the glow of which she too had, so unmistakably
then, been warming herself—the truth that the occasion constituted
by the last few days couldn’t possibly, save by some poverty of their own,
refuse them some still other and still greater beauty. It had already told
them, with an hourly voice, that it had a meaning—a meaning that
their associated sense was to drain even as thirsty lips, after the plough
through the sands and the sight, afar, of the palm-cluster, might drink in
at last the promised well in the desert. There had been beauty, day after
day, and there had been, for the spiritual lips, something of the
pervasive taste of it; yet it was all, none the less, as if their response
had remained below their fortune. How to bring it, by some brave, free
lift, up to the same height was the idea with which, behind and beneath
everything, he was restlessly occupied, and in the exploration of which,
as in that of the sun-chequered greenwood of romance, his spirit thus, at
the opening of a vista, met hers. They were already, from that moment, so
hand-in-hand in the place that he found himself making use, five minutes
later, of exactly the same tone as Charlotte’s for telling Mrs. Assingham
that he was likewise, in the matter of the return to London, sorry for
what mightn’t be.



This had become, of a sudden, the simplest thing in the world—the
sense of which moreover seemed really to amount to a portent that he
should feel, forevermore, on the general head, conveniently at his ease
with her. He went in fact a step further than Charlotte—put the
latter forward as creating his necessity. She was staying over luncheon to
oblige their hostess—as a consequence of which he must also stay to
see her decently home. He must deliver her safe and sound, he felt, in
Eaton Square. Regret as he might, too, the difference made by this
obligation, he frankly didn’t mind, inasmuch as, over and above the
pleasure itself, his scruple would certainly gratify both Mr. Verver and
Maggie. They never yet had absolutely and entirely learned, he even found
deliberation to intimate, how little he really neglected the first—as
it seemed nowadays quite to have become—of his domestic duties:
therefore he still constantly felt how little he must remit his effort to
make them remark it. To which he added with equal lucidity that they would
return in time for dinner, and if he didn’t, as a last word, subjoin that
it would be “lovely” of Fanny to find, on her own return, a moment to go
to Eaton Square and report them as struggling bravely on, this was not
because the impulse, down to the very name for the amiable act, altogether
failed to rise. His inward assurance, his general plan, had at moments,
where she was concerned, its drops of continuity, and nothing would less
have pleased him than that she should suspect in him, however tempted, any
element of conscious “cheek.” But he was always—that was really the
upshot—cultivating thanklessly the considerate and the delicate: it
was a long lesson, this unlearning, with people of English race, all the
little superstitions that accompany friendship. Mrs. Assingham herself was
the first to say that she would unfailingly “report”; she brought it out
in fact, he thought, quite wonderfully—having attained the summit of
the wonderful during the brief interval that had separated her appeal to
Charlotte from this passage with himself. She had taken the five minutes,
obviously, amid the rest of the talk and the movement, to retire into her
tent for meditation—which showed, among several things, the
impression Charlotte had made on her. It was from the tent she emerged, as
with arms refurbished; though who indeed could say if the manner in which
she now met him spoke most, really, of the glitter of battle or of the
white waver of the flag of truce? The parley was short either way; the
gallantry of her offer was all sufficient.



“I’ll go to our friends then—I’ll ask for luncheon. I’ll tell them
when to expect you.”



“That will be charming. Say we’re all right.”



“All right—precisely. I can’t say more,” Mrs. Assingham smiled.



“No doubt.” But he considered, as for the possible importance of it.
“Neither can you, by what I seem to feel, say less.”



“Oh, I WON’T say less!” Fanny laughed; with which, the next moment, she
had turned away. But they had it again, not less bravely, on the morrow,
after breakfast, in the thick of the advancing carriages and the exchange
of farewells. “I think I’ll send home my maid from Euston,” she was then
prepared to amend, “and go to Eaton Square straight. So you can be easy.”



“Oh, I think we’re easy,” the Prince returned. “Be sure to say, at any
rate, that we’re bearing up.”



“You’re bearing up—good. And Charlotte returns to dinner?”



“To dinner. We’re not likely, I think, to make another night away.”



“Well then, I wish you at least a pleasant day,”



“Oh,” he laughed as they separated, “we shall do our best for it!”—after
which, in due course, with the announcement of their conveyance, the
Assinghams rolled off.


                           XXII


It was quite, for the Prince, after this, as if the view had further
cleared; so that the half-hour during which he strolled on the terrace and
smoked—the day being lovely—overflowed with the plenitude of
its particular quality. Its general brightness was composed, doubtless, of
many elements, but what shone out of it as if the whole place and time had
been a great picture, from the hand of genius, presented to him as a prime
ornament for his collection and all varnished and framed to hang up—what
marked it especially for the highest appreciation was his extraordinarily
unchallenged, his absolutely appointed and enhanced possession of it. Poor
Fanny Assingham’s challenge amounted to nothing: one of the things he
thought of while he leaned on the old marble balustrade—so like
others that he knew in still more nobly-terraced Italy—was that she
was squared, all-conveniently even to herself, and that, rumbling toward
London with this contentment, she had become an image irrelevant to the
scene. It further passed across him, as his imagination was, for reasons,
during the time, unprecedentedly active,—that he had, after all,
gained more from women than he had ever lost by them; there appeared so,
more and more, on those mystic books that are kept, in connection with
such commerce, even by men of the loosest business habits, a balance in
his favour that he could pretty well, as a rule, take for granted. What
were they doing at this very moment, wonderful creatures, but combine and
conspire for his advantage?—from Maggie herself, most wonderful, in
her way, of all, to his hostess of the present hour, into whose head it
had so inevitably come to keep Charlotte on, for reasons of her own, and
who had asked, in this benevolent spirit, why in the world, if not
obliged, without plausibility, to hurry, her husband’s son-in-law should
not wait over in her company. He would at least see, Lady Castledean had
said, that nothing dreadful should happen to her, either while still there
or during the exposure of the run to town; and, for that matter, if they
exceeded a little their license it would positively help them to have done
so together. Each of them would, in this way, at home, have the other
comfortably to blame. All of which, besides, in Lady Castledean as in
Maggie, in Fanny Assingham as in Charlotte herself, was working; for him
without provocation or pressure, by the mere play of some vague sense on
their part—definite and conscious at the most only in Charlotte—that
he was not, as a nature, as a character, as a gentleman, in fine, below
his remarkable fortune.



But there were more things before him than even these; things that melted
together, almost indistinguishably, to feed his sense of beauty. If the
outlook was in every way spacious—and the towers of three
cathedrals, in different counties, as had been pointed out to him, gleamed
discernibly, like dim silver, in the rich sameness of tone—didn’t he
somehow the more feel it so because, precisely, Lady Castledean had kept
over a man of her own, and that this offered a certain sweet
intelligibility as the note of the day? It made everything fit; above all
it diverted him to the extent of keeping up, while he lingered and waited,
his meditative smile. She had detained Charlotte because she wished to
detain Mr. Blint, and she couldn’t detain Mr. Blint, disposed though he
clearly was to oblige her, without spreading over the act some ampler
drapery. Castledean had gone up to London; the place was all her own; she
had had a fancy for a quiet morning with Mr. Blint, a sleek, civil,
accomplished young man—distinctly younger than her ladyship—who
played and sang delightfully (played even “bridge” and sang the
English-comic as well as the French-tragic), and the presence—which
really meant the absence—of a couple of other friends, if they were
happily chosen, would make everything all right. The Prince had the sense,
all good-humouredly, of being happily chosen, and it was not spoiled for
him even by another sense that followed in its train and with which,
during his life in England, he had more than once had reflectively to
deal: the state of being reminded how, after all, as an outsider, a
foreigner, and even as a mere representative husband and son-in-law, he
was so irrelevant to the working of affairs that he could be bent on
occasion to uses comparatively trivial. No other of her guests would have
been thus convenient for their hostess; affairs, of whatever sorts, had
claimed, by early trains, every active, easy, smoothly-working man, each
in his way a lubricated item of the great social, political,
administrative engrenage—claimed most of all Castledean himself, who
was so very oddly, given the personage and the type, rather a large item.
If he, on the other hand, had an affair, it was not of that order; it was
of the order, verily, that he had been reduced to as a not quite glorious
substitute.



It marked, however, the feeling of the hour with him that this vision of
being “reduced” interfered not at all with the measure of his actual ease.
It kept before him again, at moments, the so familiar fact of his
sacrifices—down to the idea of the very relinquishment, for his
wife’s convenience, of his real situation in the world; with the
consequence, thus, that he was, in the last analysis, among all these so
often inferior people, practically held cheap and made light of. But
though all this was sensible enough there was a spirit in him that could
rise above it, a spirit that positively played with the facts, with all of
them; from that of the droll ambiguity of English relations to that of his
having in mind something quite beautiful and independent and harmonious,
something wholly his own. He couldn’t somehow take Mr. Blint seriously—he
was much more an outsider, by the larger scale, even than a Roman prince
who consented to be in abeyance. Yet it was past finding out, either, how
such a woman as Lady Castledean could take him—since this question
but sank for him again into the fathomless depths of English equivocation.
He knew them all, as was said, “well”; he had lived with them, stayed with
them, dined, hunted, shot and done various other things with them; but the
number of questions about them he couldn’t have answered had much rather
grown than shrunken, so that experience struck him for the most part as
having left in him but one residual impression. They didn’t like les
situations nettes—that was all he was very sure of. They wouldn’t
have them at any price; it had been their national genius and their
national success to avoid them at every point. They called it themselves,
with complacency, their wonderful spirit of compromise—the very
influence of which actually so hung about him here, from moment to moment,
that the earth and the air, the light and the colour, the fields and the
hills and the sky, the blue-green counties and the cold cathedrals, owed
to it every accent of their tone. Verily, as one had to feel in presence
of such a picture, it had succeeded; it had made, up to now, for that
seated solidity, in the rich sea-mist, on which the garish, the supposedly
envious, peoples have ever cooled their eyes. But it was at the same time
precisely why even much initiation left one, at given moments, so puzzled
as to the element of staleness in all the freshness and of freshness in
all the staleness, of innocence in the guilt and of guilt in the
innocence. There were other marble terraces, sweeping more purple
prospects, on which he would have known what to think, and would have
enjoyed thereby at least the small intellectual fillip of a discerned
relation between a given appearance and a taken meaning. The inquiring
mind, in these present conditions, might, it was true, be more sharply
challenged; but the result of its attention and its ingenuity, it had
unluckily learned to know, was too often to be confronted with a mere dead
wall, a lapse of logic, a confirmed bewilderment. And moreover, above all,
nothing mattered, in the relation of the enclosing scene to his own
consciousness, but its very most direct bearings.



Lady Castledean’s dream of Mr. Blint for the morning was doubtless
already, with all the spacious harmonies re-established, taking the form
of “going over” something with him, at the piano, in one of the numerous
smaller rooms that were consecrated to the less gregarious uses; what she
had wished had been effected—her convenience had been assured. This
made him, however, wonder the more where Charlotte was—since he
didn’t at all suppose her to be making a tactless third, which would be to
have accepted mere spectatorship, in the duet of their companions. The
upshot of everything for him, alike of the less and of the more, was that
the exquisite day bloomed there like a large fragrant flower that he had
only to gather. But it was to Charlotte he wished to make the offering,
and as he moved along the terrace, which rendered visible parts of two
sides of the house, he looked up at all the windows that were open to the
April morning, and wondered which of them would represent his friend’s
room. It befell thus that his question, after no long time, was answered;
he saw Charlotte appear above as if she had been called by the pausing of
his feet on the flags. She had come to the sill, on which she leaned to
look down, and she remained there a minute smiling at him. He had been
immediately struck with her wearing a hat and a jacket—which
conduced to her appearance of readiness not so much to join him, with a
beautiful uncovered head and a parasol, where he stood, as to take with
him some larger step altogether. The larger step had been, since the
evening before, intensely in his own mind, though he had not fully thought
out, even yet, the slightly difficult detail of it; but he had had no
chance, such as he needed, to speak the definite word to her, and the face
she now showed affected him, accordingly, as a notice that she had
wonderfully guessed it for herself. They had these identities of impulse—they
had had them repeatedly before; and if such unarranged but unerring
encounters gave the measure of the degree in which people were, in the
common phrase, meant for each other, no union in the world had ever been
more sweetened with rightness. What in fact most often happened was that
her rightness went, as who should say, even further than his own; they
were conscious of the same necessity at the same moment, only it was she,
as a general thing, who most clearly saw her way to it. Something in her
long look at him now out of the old grey window, something in the very
poise of her hat, the colour of her necktie, the prolonged stillness of
her smile, touched into sudden light for him all the wealth of the fact
that he could count on her. He had his hand there, to pluck it, on the
open bloom of the day; but what did the bright minute mean but that her
answering hand was already intelligently out? So, therefore, while the
minute lasted, it passed between them that their cup was full; which cup
their very eyes, holding it fast, carried and steadied and began, as they
tasted it, to praise. He broke, however, after a moment, the silence.



“It only wants a moon, a mandolin, and a little danger, to be a serenade.”



“Ah, then,” she lightly called down, “let it at least have THIS!” With
which she detached a rich white rosebud from its company with another in
the front of her dress and flung it down to him. He caught it in its fall,
fixing her again after she had watched him place it in his buttonhole.
“Come down quickly!” he said in an Italian not loud but deep.



“Vengo, vengo!” she as clearly, but more lightly, tossed out; and she had
left him the next minute to wait for her.



He came along the terrace again, with pauses during which his eyes rested,
as they had already often done, on the brave darker wash of far-away
watercolour that represented the most distant of the cathedral towns. This
place, with its great church and its high accessibility, its towers that
distinguishably signalled, its English history, its appealing type, its
acknowledged interest, this place had sounded its name to him half the
night through, and its name had become but another name, the pronounceable
and convenient one, for that supreme sense of things which now throbbed
within him. He had kept saying to himself “Gloucester, Gloucester,
Gloucester,” quite as if the sharpest meaning of all the years just passed
were intensely expressed in it. That meaning was really that his situation
remained quite sublimely consistent with itself, and that they absolutely,
he and Charlotte, stood there together in the very lustre of this truth.
Every present circumstance helped to proclaim it; it was blown into their
faces as by the lips of the morning. He knew why, from the first of his
marriage, he had tried with such patience for such conformity; he knew why
he had given up so much and bored himself so much; he knew why he, at any
rate, had gone in, on the basis of all forms, on the basis of his having,
in a manner, sold himself, for a situation nette. It had all been just in
order that his—well, what on earth should he call it but his
freedom?—should at present be as perfect and rounded and lustrous as
some huge precious pearl. He hadn’t struggled nor snatched; he was taking
but what had been given him; the pearl dropped itself, with its exquisite
quality and rarity, straight into his hand. Here, precisely, it was,
incarnate; its size and its value grew as Mrs. Verver appeared, afar off,
in one of the smaller doorways. She came toward him in silence, while he
moved to meet her; the great scale of this particular front, at Matcham,
multiplied thus, in the golden morning, the stages of their meeting and
the successions of their consciousness. It wasn’t till she had come quite
close that he produced for her his “Gloucester, Gloucester, Gloucester,”
and his “Look at it over there!”



She knew just where to look. “Yes—isn’t it one of the best? There
are cloisters or towers or some thing.” And her eyes, which, though her
lips smiled, were almost grave with their depths of acceptance; came back
to him. “Or the tomb of some old king.”



“We must see the old king; we must ‘do’ the cathedral,” he said; “we must
know all about it. If we could but take,” he exhaled, “the full
opportunity!” And then while, for all they seemed to give him, he sounded
again her eyes: “I feel the day like a great gold cup that we must somehow
drain together.”



“I feel it, as you always make me feel everything, just as you do; so that
I know ten miles off how you feel! But do you remember,” she asked,
“apropos of great gold cups, the beautiful one, the real one, that I
offered you so long ago and that you wouldn’t have? Just before your
marriage”—she brought it back to him: “the gilded crystal bowl in
the little Bloomsbury shop.”



“Oh yes!”—but it took, with a slight surprise on the ‘Prince’s part,
some small recollecting. “The treacherous cracked thing you wanted to palm
off on me, and the little swindling Jew who understood Italian and who
backed you up! But I feel this an occasion,” he immediately added, “and I
hope you don’t mean,” he smiled, “that AS an occasion it’s also cracked.”



They spoke, naturally, more low than loud, overlooked as they were, though
at a respectful distance, by tiers of windows; but it made each find in
the other’s voice a taste as of something slowly and deeply absorbed.
“Don’t you think too much of ‘cracks,’ and aren’t you too afraid of them?
I risk the cracks,” said Charlotte, “and I’ve often recalled the bowl and
the little swindling Jew, wondering if they’ve parted company. He made,”
she said, “a great impression on me.”



“Well, you also, no doubt, made a great impression on him, and I dare say
that if you were to go back to him you’d find he has been keeping that
treasure for you. But as to cracks,” the Prince went on—“what did
you tell me the other day you prettily call them in English?-’rifts within
the lute’?—risk them as much as you like for yourself, but don’t
risk them for me.” He spoke it in all the gaiety of his just
barely-tremulous serenity. “I go, as you know, by my superstitions. And
that’s why,” he said, “I know where we are. They’re every one, to-day, on
our side.”



Resting on the parapet; toward the great view, she was silent a little,
and he saw the next moment that her eyes were closed. “I go but by one
thing.” Her hand was on the sun-warmed stone; so that, turned as they were
away from the house, he put his own upon it and covered it. “I go by YOU,”
she said. “I go by you.”



So they remained a moment, till he spoke again with a gesture that
matched. “What is really our great necessity, you know, is to go by my
watch. It’s already eleven”—he had looked at the time; “so that if
we stop here to luncheon what becomes of our afternoon?”



To this Charlotte’s eyes opened straight. “There’s not the slightest need
of our stopping here to luncheon. Don’t you see,” she asked, “how I’m
ready?” He had taken it in, but there was always more and more of her.
“You mean you’ve arranged—?”



“It’s easy to arrange. My maid goes up with my things. You’ve only to
speak to your man about yours, and they can go together.”



“You mean we can leave at once?”



She let him have it all. “One of the carriages, about which I spoke, will
already have come back for us. If your superstitions are on our side,” she
smiled, “so my arrangements are, and I’ll back my support against yours.”



“Then you had thought,” he wondered, “about Gloucester?”



She hesitated—but it was only her way. “I thought you would think.
We have, thank goodness, these harmonies. They are food for superstition
if you like. It’s beautiful,” she went on, “that it should be Gloucester;
‘Glo’ster, Glo’ster,’ as you say, making it sound like an old song.
However, I’m sure Glo’ster, Glo’ster will be charming,” she still added;
“we shall be able easily to lunch there, and, with our luggage and our
servants off our hands, we shall have at least three or four hours. We can
wire,” she wound up, “from there.”



Ever so quietly she had brought it, as she had thought it, all out, and it
had to be as covertly that he let his appreciation expand. “Then Lady
Castledean—?”



“Doesn’t dream of our staying.”



He took it, but thinking yet. “Then what does she dream—?”



“Of Mr. Blint, poor dear; of Mr. Blint only.” Her smile for him—for
the Prince himself—was free. “Have I positively to tell you that she
doesn’t want us? She only wanted us for the others—to show she
wasn’t left alone with him. Now that that’s done, and that they’ve all
gone, she of course knows for herself—!”



“‘Knows’?” the Prince vaguely echoed.



“Why, that we like cathedrals; that we inevitably stop to see them, or go
round to take them in, whenever we’ve a chance; that it’s what our
respective families quite expect of us and would be disappointed for us to
fail of. This, as forestieri,” Mrs. Verver pursued, “would be our pull—if
our pull weren’t indeed so great all round.”



He could only keep his eyes on her. “And have you made out the very train—?”



“The very one. Paddington—the 6.50 ‘in.’ That gives us oceans; we
can dine, at the usual hour, at home; and as Maggie will of course be in
Eaton Square I hereby invite you.”



For a while he still but looked at her; it was a minute before he spoke.
“Thank you very much. With pleasure.” To which he in a moment added: “But
the train for Gloucester?”



“A local one—11.22; with several stops, but doing it a good deal, I
forget how much, within the hour. So that we’ve time. Only,” she said, “we
must employ our time.”



He roused himself as from the mere momentary spell of her; he looked again
at his watch while they moved back to the door through which she had
advanced. But he had also again questions and stops—all as for the
mystery and the charm. “You looked it up—without my having asked
you?”



“Ah, my dear,” she laughed, “I’ve seen you with Bradshaw! It takes
Anglo-Saxon blood.”



“‘Blood’?” he echoed. “You’ve that of every race!” It kept her before him.
“You’re terrible.”



Well, he could put it as he liked. “I know the name of the inn.”



“What is it then?”



“There are two—you’ll see. But I’ve chosen the right one. And I
think I remember the tomb,” she smiled.



“Oh, the tomb—!” Any tomb would do for him. “But I mean I had been
keeping my idea so cleverly for you, while there you already were with
it.”



“You had been keeping it ‘for’ me as much as you like. But how do you make
out,” she asked, “that you were keeping it FROM me?”



“I don’t—now. How shall I ever keep anything—some day when I
shall wish to?”



“Ah, for things I mayn’t want to know, I promise you shall find me
stupid.” They had reached their door, where she herself paused to explain.
“These days, yesterday, last night, this morning, I’ve wanted everything.”



Well, it was all right. “You shall have everything.”


                             XXIII


Fanny, on her arrival in town, carried out her second idea, despatching
the Colonel to his club for luncheon and packing her maid into a cab, for
Cadogan Place, with the variety of their effects. The result of this for
each of the pair was a state of occupation so unbroken that the day
practically passed without fresh contact between them. They dined out
together, but it was both in going to their dinner and in coming back that
they appeared, on either side, to have least to communicate. Fanny was
wrapped in her thoughts still more closely than in the lemon-coloured
mantle that protected her bare shoulders, and her husband, with her
silence to deal with, showed himself not less disposed than usual, when so
challenged, to hold up, as he would have said, his end of it. They had, in
general, in these days, longer pauses and more abrupt transitions; in one
of which latter they found themselves, for a climax, launched at midnight.
Mrs. Assingham, rather wearily housed again, ascended to the first floor,
there to sink, overburdened, on the landing outside the drawing-room, into
a great gilded Venetian chair—of which at first, however, she but
made, with her brooding face, a sort of throne of meditation. She would
thus have recalled a little, with her so free orientalism of type, the
immemorially speechless Sphinx about at last to become articulate. The
Colonel, not unlike, on his side, some old pilgrim of the desert camping
at the foot of that monument, went, by way of reconnoissance, into the
drawing-room. He visited, according to his wont, the windows and their
fastenings; he cast round the place the eye, all at once, of the master
and the manager, the commandant and the rate-payer; then he came back to
his wife, before whom, for a moment, he stood waiting. But she herself,
for a time, continued to wait, only looking up at him inscrutably. There
was in these minor manoeuvres and conscious patiences something of a
suspension of their old custom of divergent discussion, that intercourse
by misunderstanding which had grown so clumsy now. This familiar
pleasantry seemed to desire to show it could yield, on occasion, to any
clear trouble; though it was also sensibly, and just incoherently, in the
air that no trouble was at present to be vulgarly recognised as clear.



There might, for that matter, even have been in Mr. Assingham’s face a
mild perception of some finer sense—a sense for his wife’s
situation, and the very situation she was, oddly enough, about to
repudiate—that she had fairly caused to grow in him. But it was a
flower to breathe upon gently, and this was very much what she finally
did. She knew he needed no telling that she had given herself, all the
afternoon, to her friends in Eaton Square, and that her doing so would
have been but the prompt result of impressions gathered, in quantities, in
brimming baskets, like the purple grapes of the vintage, at Matcham; a
process surrounded by him, while it so unmistakably went on, with
abstentions and discretions that might almost have counted as solemnities.
The solemnities, at the same time, had committed him to nothing—to
nothing beyond this confession itself of a consciousness of deep waters.
She had been out on these waters, for him, visibly; and his tribute to the
fact had been his keeping her, even if without a word, well in sight. He
had not quitted for an hour, during her adventure, the shore of the mystic
lake; he had on the contrary stationed himself where she could signal to
him at need. Her need would have arisen if the planks of her bark had
parted—THEN some sort of plunge would have become his immediate
duty. His present position, clearly, was that of seeing her in the centre
of her sheet of dark water, and of wondering if her actual mute gaze at
him didn’t perhaps mean that her planks WERE now parting. He held himself
so ready that it was quite as if the inward man had pulled off coat and
waistcoat. Before he had plunged, however—that is before he had
uttered a question—he perceived, not without relief, that she was
making for land. He watched her steadily paddle, always a little nearer,
and at last he felt her boat bump. The bump was distinct, and in fact she
stepped ashore. “We were all wrong. There’s nothing.”



“Nothing—?” It was like giving her his hand up the bank.



“Between Charlotte Verver and the Prince. I was uneasy—but I’m
satisfied now. I was in fact quite mistaken. There’s nothing.”



“But I thought,” said Bob Assingham, “that that was just what you did
persistently asseverate. You’ve guaranteed their straightness from the
first.”



“No—I’ve never till now guaranteed anything but my own disposition
to worry. I’ve never till now,” Fanny went on gravely from her chair, “had
such a chance to see and to judge. I had it at that place—if I had,
in my infatuation and my folly,” she added with expression, “nothing else.
So I did see—I HAVE seen. And now I know.” Her emphasis, as she
repeated the word, made her head, in her seat of infallibility, rise
higher. “I know.”



The Colonel took it—but took it at first in silence. “Do you mean
they’ve TOLD you—?”



“No—I mean nothing so absurd. For in the first place I haven’t asked
them, and in the second their word in such a matter wouldn’t count.”



“Oh,” said the Colonel with all his oddity, “they’d tell US.”



It made her face him an instant as with her old impatience of his short
cuts, always across her finest flower-beds; but she felt, none the less,
that she kept her irony down. “Then when they’ve told you, you’ll be
perhaps so good as to let me know.”



He jerked up his chin, testing the growth of his beard with the back of
his hand while he fixed her with a single eye. “Ah, I don’t say that
they’d necessarily tell me that they ARE over the traces.”



“They’ll necessarily, whatever happens, hold their tongues, I hope, and
I’m talking of them now as I take them for myself only. THAT’S enough for
me—it’s all I have to regard.” With which, after an instant,
“They’re wonderful,” said Fanny Assingham.



“Indeed,” her husband concurred, “I really think they are.”



“You’d think it still more if you knew. But you don’t know—because
you don’t see. Their situation”—this was what he didn’t see—“is
too extraordinary.”



“‘Too’?” He was willing to try.



“Too extraordinary to be believed, I mean, if one didn’t see. But just
that, in a way, is what saves them. They take it seriously.”



He followed at his own pace. “Their situation?”



“The incredible side of it. They make it credible.”



“Credible then—you do say—to YOU?”



She looked at him again for an interval. “They believe in it themselves.
They take it for what it is. And that,” she said, “saves them.”



“But if what it ‘is’ is just their chance—?”



“It’s their chance for what I told you when Charlotte first turned up.
It’s their chance for the idea that I was then sure she had.”



The Colonel showed his effort to recall. “Oh, your idea, at different
moments, of any one of THEIR ideas!” This dim procession, visibly,
mustered before him, and, with the best will in the world, he could but
watch its immensity. “Are you speaking now of something to which you can
comfortably settle down?”



Again, for a little, she only glowered at him. “I’ve come back to my
belief, and that I have done so—”



“Well?” he asked as she paused.



“Well, shows that I’m right—for I assure you I had wandered far. Now
I’m at home again, and I mean,” said Fanny Assingham, “to stay here.
They’re beautiful,” she declared.



“The Prince and Charlotte?”



“The Prince and Charlotte. THAT’S how they’re so remarkable. And the
beauty,” she explained, “is that they’re afraid for them. Afraid, I mean,
for the others.”



“For Mr. Verver and Maggie?” It did take some following. “Afraid of what?”



“Afraid of themselves.”



The Colonel wondered. “Of THEMSELVES? Of Mr. Verver’s and Maggie’s
selves?”



Mrs. Assingham remained patient as well as lucid. “Yes—of SUCH
blindness too. But most of all of their own danger.”



He turned it over. “That danger BEING the blindness—?”



“That danger being their position. What their position contains—of
all the elements—I needn’t at this time of day attempt to tell you.
It contains, luckily—for that’s the mercy—everything BUT
blindness: I mean on their part. The blindness,” said Fanny, “is primarily
her husband’s.”



He stood for a moment; he WOULD have it straight. “Whose husband’s?”



“Mr. Verver’s,” she went on. “The blindness is most of all his. That they
feel—that they see. But it’s also his wife’s.”



“Whose wife’s?” he asked as she continued to gloom at him in a manner at
variance with the comparative cheer of her contention. And then as she
only gloomed: “The Prince’s?”



“Maggie’s own—Maggie’s very own,” she pursued as for herself.



He had a pause. “Do you think Maggie so blind?”



“The question isn’t of what I think. The question’s of the conviction that
guides the Prince and Charlotte—who have better opportunities than I
for judging.”



The Colonel again wondered. “Are you so very sure their opportunities are
better?”



“Well,” his wife asked, “what is their whole so extraordinary situation,
their extraordinary relation, but an opportunity?”



“Ah, my dear, you have that opportunity—of their extraordinary
situation and relation—as much as they.”



“With the difference, darling,” she returned with some spirit, “that
neither of those matters are, if you please, mine. I see the boat they’re
in, but I’m not, thank God, in it myself. To-day, however,” Mrs. Assingham
added, “to-day in Eaton Square I did see.”



“Well then, what?”



But she mused over it still. “Oh, many things. More, somehow, than ever
before. It was as if, God help me, I was seeing FOR them—I mean for
the others. It was as if something had happened—I don’t know what,
except some effect of these days with them at that place—that had
either made things come out or had cleared my own eyes.” These eyes indeed
of the poor lady’s rested on her companion’s, meanwhile, with the lustre
not so much of intenser insight as of a particular portent that he had at
various other times had occasion to recognise. She desired, obviously, to
reassure him, but it apparently took a couple of large, candid, gathering,
glittering tears to emphasise the fact. They had immediately, for him,
their usual direct action: she must reassure him, he was made to feel,
absolutely in her own way. He would adopt it and conform to it as soon as
he should be able to make it out. The only thing was that it took such
incalculable twists and turns. The twist seemed remarkable for instance as
she developed her indication of what had come out in the afternoon. “It
was as if I knew better than ever what makes them—”



“What makes them?”—he pressed her as she fitfully dropped.



“Well, makes the Prince and Charlotte take it all as they do. It might
well have been difficult to know HOW to take it; and they may even say for
themselves that they were a long time trying to see. As I say, to-day,”
she went on, “it was as if I were suddenly, with a kind of horrible push,
seeing through their eyes.” On which, as to shake off her perversity,
Fanny Assingham sprang up. But she remained there, under the dim
illumination, and while the Colonel, with his high, dry, spare look of
“type,” to which a certain conformity to the whiteness of inaccessible
snows in his necktie, shirt-front and waistcoat gave a rigour of accent,
waited, watching her, they might, at the late hour and in the still house,
have been a pair of specious worldly adventurers, driven for relief, under
sudden stress, to some grim midnight reckoning in an odd corner. Her
attention moved mechanically over the objects of ornament disposed too
freely on the walls of staircase and landing, as to which recognition, for
the time, had lost both fondness and compunction. “I can imagine the way
it works,” she said; “it’s so easy to understand. Yet I don’t want to be
wrong,” she the next moment broke out “I don’t, I don’t want to be wrong!”



“To make a mistake, you mean?”



Oh no, she meant nothing of the sort; she knew but too well what she
meant. “I don’t make mistakes. But I perpetrate—in thought—crimes.”
And she spoke with all intensity. “I’m a most dreadful person. There are
times when I seem not to mind a bit what I’ve done, or what I think or
imagine or fear or accept; when I feel that I’d do it again—feel
that I’d do things myself.”



“Ah, my dear!” the Colonel remarked in the coolness of debate.



“Yes, if you had driven me back on my ‘nature.’ Luckily for you you never
have. You’ve done every thing else, but you’ve never done that. But what I
really don’t a bit want,” she declared, “is to abet them or to protect
them.”



Her companion turned this over. “What is there to protect them from?—if,
by your now so settled faith, they’ve done nothing that justly exposes
them.”



And it in fact half pulled her up. “Well, from a sudden scare. From the
alarm, I mean, of what Maggie MAY think.”



“Yet if your whole idea is that Maggie thinks nothing—?”



She waited again. “It isn’t my ‘whole’ idea. Nothing is my ‘whole’ idea—for
I felt to-day, as I tell you, that there’s so much in the air.”



“Oh, in the air—!” the Colonel dryly breathed.



“Well, what’s in the air always HAS—hasn’t it?—to come down to
the earth. And Maggie,” Mrs. Assingham continued, “is a very curious
little person. Since I was ‘in,’ this afternoon, for seeing more than I
had ever done—well, I felt THAT too, for some reason, as I hadn’t
yet felt it.”



“For ‘some’ reason? For what reason?” And then, as his wife at first said
nothing: “Did she give any sign? Was she in any way different?”



“She’s always so different from anyone else in the world that it’s hard to
say when she’s different from herself. But she has made me,” said Fanny
after an instant, “think of her differently. She drove me home.”



“Home here?”



“First to Portland Place—on her leaving her father: since she does,
once in a while, leave him. That was to keep me with her a little longer.
But she kept the carriage and, after tea there, came with me herself back
here. This was also for the same purpose. Then she went home, though I had
brought her a message from the Prince that arranged their movements
otherwise. He and Charlotte must have arrived—if they have arrived—expecting
to drive together to Eaton Square and keep Maggie on to dinner there. She
has everything there, you know—she has clothes.”



The Colonel didn’t in fact know, but he gave it his apprehension. “Oh, you
mean a change?”



“Twenty changes, if you like—all sorts of things. She dresses,
really, Maggie does, as much for her father—and she always did—as
for her husband or for herself. She has her room in his house very much as
she had it before she was married—and just as the boy has quite a
second nursery there, in which Mrs. Noble, when she comes with him, makes
herself, I assure you, at home. Si bien that if Charlotte, in her own
house, so to speak, should wish a friend or two to stay with her, she
really would be scarce able to put them up.”



It was a picture into which, as a thrifty entertainer himself, Bob
Assingham could more or less enter. “Maggie and the child spread so?”



“Maggie and the child spread so.”



Well, he considered. “It IS rather rum,”



“That’s all I claim”—she seemed thankful for the word. “I don’t say
it’s anything more—but it IS, distinctly, rum.”



Which, after an instant, the Colonel took up. “‘More’? What more COULD it
be?”



“It could be that she’s unhappy, and that she takes her funny little way
of consoling herself. For if she were unhappy”—Mrs. Assingham had
figured it out—“that’s just the way, I’m convinced, she would take.
But how can she be unhappy, since—as I’m also convinced—she,
in the midst of everything, adores her husband as much as ever?”



The Colonel at this brooded for a little at large. “Then if she’s so
happy, please what’s the matter?”



It made his wife almost spring at him. “You think then she’s secretly
wretched?”



But he threw up his arms in deprecation. “Ah, my dear, I give them up to
YOU. I’ve nothing more to suggest.”



“Then it’s not sweet of you.” She spoke at present as if he were
frequently sweet. “You admit that it is ‘rum.’”



And this indeed fixed again, for a moment, his intention. “Has Charlotte
complained of the want of rooms for her friends?”



“Never, that I know of, a word. It isn’t the sort of thing she does. And
whom has she, after all,” Mrs. Assingham added, “to complain to?”



“Hasn’t she always you?”



“Oh, ‘me’! Charlotte and I, nowadays—!” She spoke as of a chapter
closed. “Yet see the justice I still do her. She strikes me, more and
more, as extraordinary.”



A deeper shade, at the renewal of the word, had come into the Colonel’s
face. “If they’re each and all so extraordinary then, isn’t that why one
must just resign one’s self to wash one’s hands of them—to be lost?”
Her face, however, so met the question as if it were but a flicker of the
old tone that their trouble had now become too real for—her charged
eyes so betrayed the condition of her nerves that he stepped back, alertly
enough, to firmer ground. He had spoken before in this light of a plain
man’s vision, but he must be something more than a plain man now. “Hasn’t
she then, Charlotte, always her husband—?”



“To complain to? She’d rather die.”



“Oh!”—and Bob Assingham’s face, at the vision of such extremities,
lengthened for very docility. “Hasn’t she the Prince then?”



“For such matters? Oh, he doesn’t count.”



“I thought that was just what—as the basis of our agitation—he
does do!”



Mrs. Assingham, however, had her distinction ready. “Not a bit as a person
to bore with complaints. The ground of MY agitation is, exactly, that she
never on any pretext bores him. Not Charlotte!” And in the imagination of
Mrs. Verver’s superiority to any such mistake she gave,
characteristically, something like a toss of her head—as marked a
tribute to that lady’s general grace, in all the conditions, as the
personage referred to doubtless had ever received.



“Ah, only Maggie!” With which the Colonel gave a short low gurgle. But it
found his wife again prepared.



“No—not only Maggie. A great many people in London—and small
wonder!—bore him.”



“Maggie only worst then?” But it was a question that he had promptly
dropped at the returning brush of another, of which she had shortly before
sown the seed. “You said just now that he would by this time be back with
Charlotte ‘if they HAVE arrived.’ You think it then possible that they
really won’t have returned?”



His companion exhibited to view, for the idea, a sense of her
responsibility; but this was insufficient, clearly, to keep her from
entertaining it. “I think there’s nothing they’re not now capable of—in
their so intense good faith.”



“Good faith?”—he echoed the words, which had in fact something of an
odd ring, critically.



“Their false position. It comes to the same thing.” And she bore down,
with her decision, the superficial lack of sequence. “They may very
possibly, for a demonstration—as I see them—not have come
back.”



He wondered, visibly, at this, how she did see them. “May have bolted
somewhere together?”



“May have stayed over at Matcham itself till tomorrow. May have wired
home, each of them, since Maggie left me. May have done,” Fanny Assingham
continued, “God knows what!” She went on, suddenly, with more emotion—which,
at the pressure of some spring of her inner vision, broke out in a wail of
distress, imperfectly smothered. “Whatever they’ve done I shall never
know. Never, never—because I don’t want to, and because nothing will
induce me. So they may do as they like. But I’ve worked for them ALL” She
uttered this last with another irrepressible quaver, and the next moment
her tears had come, though she had, with the explosion, quitted her
husband as if to hide it from him. She passed into the dusky drawing-room,
where, during his own prowl, shortly previous, he had drawn up a blind, so
that the light of the street-lamps came in a little at the window. She
made for this window, against which she leaned her head, while the
Colonel, with his lengthened face, looked after her for a minute and
hesitated. He might have been wondering what she had really done, to what
extent, beyond his knowledge or his conception, in the affairs of these
people, she COULD have committed herself. But to hear her cry, and yet try
not to, was, quickly enough, too much for him; he had known her at other
times quite not try not to, and that had not been so bad. He went to her
and put his arm round her; he drew her head to his breast, where, while
she gasped, she let it stay a little—all with a patience that
presently stilled her. Yet the effect of this small crisis, oddly enough,
was not to close their colloquy, with the natural result of sending them
to bed: what was between them had opened out further, had somehow, through
the sharp show of her feeling, taken a positive stride, had entered, as it
were, without more words, the region of the understood, shutting the door
after it and bringing them so still more nearly face to face. They
remained for some minutes looking at it through the dim window which
opened upon the world of human trouble in general and which let the vague
light play here and there upon gilt and crystal and colour, the florid
features, looming dimly, of Fanny’s drawing-room. And the beauty of what
thus passed between them, passed with her cry of pain, with her burst of
tears, with his wonderment and his kindness and his comfort, with the
moments of their silence, above all, which might have represented their
sinking together, hand in hand, for a time, into the mystic lake where he
had begun, as we have hinted, by seeing her paddle alone—the beauty
of it was that they now could really talk better than before, because the
basis had at last, once for all, defined itself. What was the basis, which
Fanny absolutely exacted, but that Charlotte and the Prince must be saved—so
far as consistently speaking of them as still safe might save them? It did
save them, somehow, for Fanny’s troubled mind—for that was the
nature of the mind of women. He conveyed to her now, at all events, by
refusing her no gentleness, that he had sufficiently got the tip, and that
the tip was all he had wanted. This remained quite clear even when he
presently reverted to what she had told him of her recent passage with
Maggie. “I don’t altogether see, you know, what you infer from it, or why
you infer anything.” When he so expressed himself it was quite as if in
possession of what they had brought up from the depths.


                             XXIV


“I can’t say more,” this made his companion reply, “than that something in
her face, her voice and her whole manner acted upon me as nothing in her
had ever acted before; and just for the reason, above all, that I felt her
trying her very best—and her very best, poor duck, is very good—to
be quiet and natural. It’s when one sees people who always ARE natural
making little pale, pathetic, blinking efforts for it—then it is
that one knows something’s the matter. I can’t describe my impression—you
would have had it for yourself. And the only thing that ever CAN be the
matter with Maggie is that. By ‘that’ I mean her beginning to doubt. To
doubt, for the first time,” Mrs. Assingham wound up, “of her wonderful
little judgment of her wonderful little world.”



It was impressive, Fanny’s vision, and the Colonel, as if himself agitated
by it, took another turn of prowling. “To doubt of fidelity—to doubt
of friendship! Poor duck indeed! It will go hard with her. But she’ll put
it all,” he concluded, “on Charlotte.”



Mrs. Assingham, still darkly contemplative, denied this with a headshake.
“She won’t ‘put’ it anywhere. She won’t do with it anything anyone else
would. She’ll take it all herself.”



“You mean she’ll make it out her own fault?”



“Yes—she’ll find means, somehow, to arrive at that.”



“Ah then,” the Colonel dutifully declared, “she’s indeed a little brick!”



“Oh,” his wife returned, “you’ll see, in one way or another, to what
tune!” And she spoke, of a sudden, with an approach to elation—so
that, as if immediately feeling his surprise, she turned round to him.
“She’ll see me somehow through!”



“See YOU—?”



“Yes, me. I’m the worst. For,” said Fanny Assingham, now with a harder
exaltation, “I did it all. I recognise that—I accept it. She won’t
cast it up at me—she won’t cast up anything. So I throw myself upon
her—she’ll bear me up.” She spoke almost volubly—she held him
with her sudden sharpness. “She’ll carry the whole weight of us.”



There was still, nevertheless, wonder in it. “You mean she won’t mind? I
SAY, love—!” And he not unkindly stared. “Then where’s the
difficulty?”



“There isn’t any!” Fanny declared with the same rich emphasis. It kept him
indeed, as by the loss of the thread, looking at her longer. “Ah, you mean
there isn’t any for US!”



She met his look for a minute as if it perhaps a little too much imputed a
selfishness, a concern, at any cost, for their own surface. Then she might
have been deciding that their own surface was, after all, what they had
most to consider. “Not,” she said with dignity, “if we properly keep our
heads.” She appeared even to signify that they would begin by keeping them
now. This was what it was to have at last a constituted basis. “Do you
remember what you said to me that night of my first REAL anxiety—after
the Foreign Office party?”



“In the carriage—as we came home?” Yes—he could recall it.
“Leave them to pull through?”



“Precisely. ‘Trust their own wit,’ you practically said, ‘to save all
appearances.’ Well, I’ve trusted it. I HAVE left them to pull through.”



He hesitated. “And your point is that they’re not doing so?”



“I’ve left them,” she went on, “but now I see how and where. I’ve been
leaving them all the while, without knowing it, to HER.”



“To the Princess?”



“And that’s what I mean,” Mrs. Assingham pensively pursued. “That’s what
happened to me with her to-day,” she continued to explain. “It came home
to me that that’s what I’ve really been doing.”



“Oh, I see.”



“I needn’t torment myself. She has taken them over.”



The Colonel declared that he “saw”; yet it was as if, at this, he a little
sightlessly stared. “But what then has happened, from one day to the
other, to HER? What has opened her eyes?”



“They were never really shut. She misses him.”



“Then why hasn’t she missed him before?”



Well, facing him there, among their domestic glooms and glints, Fanny
worked it out. “She did—but she wouldn’t let herself know it. She
had her reason—she wore her blind. Now, at last, her situation has
come to a head. To-day she does know it. And that’s illuminating. It has
been,” Mrs. Assingham wound up, “illuminating to ME.”



Her husband attended, but the momentary effect of his attention was
vagueness again, and the refuge of his vagueness was a gasp. “Poor dear
little girl!”



“Ah no—don’t pity her!”



This did, however, pull him up. “We mayn’t even be sorry for her?”



“Not now—or at least not yet. It’s too soon—that is if it
isn’t very much too late. This will depend,” Mrs. Assingham went on; “at
any rate we shall see. We might have pitied her before—for all the
good it would then have done her; we might have begun some time ago. Now,
however, she has begun to live. And the way it comes to me, the way it
comes to me—” But again she projected her vision.



“The way it comes to you can scarcely be that she’ll like it!”



“The way it comes to me is that she will live. The way it comes to me is
that she’ll triumph.”



She said this with so sudden a prophetic flare that it fairly cheered her
husband. “Ah then, we must back her!”



“No—we mustn’t touch her. We mayn’t touch any of them. We must keep
our hands off; we must go on tiptoe. We must simply watch and wait. And
meanwhile,” said Mrs. Assingham, “we must bear it as we can. That’s where
we are—and serves us right. We’re in presence.”



And so, moving about the room as in communion with shadowy portents, she
left it till he questioned again. “In presence of what?”



“Well, of something possibly beautiful. Beautiful as it MAY come off.”



She had paused there before him while he wondered. “You mean she’ll get
the Prince back?”



She raised her hand in quick impatience: the suggestion might have been
almost abject. “It isn’t a question of recovery. It won’t be a question of
any vulgar struggle. To ‘get him back’ she must have lost him, and to have
lost him she must have had him.” With which Fanny shook her head. “What I
take her to be waking up to is the truth that, all the while, she really
HASN’T had him. Never.”



“Ah, my dear—!” the poor Colonel panted.



“Never!” his wife repeated. And she went on without pity. “Do you remember
what I said to you long ago—that evening, just before their
marriage, when Charlotte had so suddenly turned up?”



The smile with which he met this appeal was not, it was to be feared,
robust. “What haven’t you, love, said in your time?”



“So many things, no doubt, that they make a chance for my having once or
twice spoken the truth. I never spoke it more, at all events, than when I
put it to you, that evening, that Maggie was the person in the world to
whom a wrong thing could least be communicated. It was as if her
imagination had been closed to it, her sense altogether sealed, That
therefore,” Fanny continued, “is what will now HAVE to happen. Her sense
will have to open.”



“I see.” He nodded. “To the wrong.” He nodded again, almost cheerfully—as
if he had been keeping the peace with a baby or a lunatic. “To the very,
very wrong.”



But his wife’s spirit, after its effort of wing, was able to remain
higher. “To what’s called Evil—with a very big E: for the first time
in her life. To the discovery of it, to the knowledge of it, to the crude
experience of it.” And she gave, for the possibility, the largest measure.
“To the harsh, bewildering brush, the daily chilling breath of it. Unless
indeed”—and here Mrs. Assingham noted a limit “unless indeed, as yet
(so far as she has come, and if she comes no further), simply to the
suspicion and the dread. What we shall see is whether that mere dose of
alarm will prove enough.”



He considered. “But enough for what then, dear—if not enough to
break her heart?”



“Enough to give her a shaking!” Mrs. Assingham rather oddly replied. “To
give her, I mean, the right one. The right one won’t break her heart. It
will make her,” she explained—“well, it will make her, by way of a
change, understand one or two things in the world.”



“But isn’t it a pity,” the Colonel asked, “that they should happen to be
the one or two that will be the most disagreeable to her?”



“Oh, ‘disagreeable’—? They’ll have had to be disagreeable—to
show her a little where she is. They’ll have HAD to be disagreeable to
make her sit up. They’ll have had to be disagreeable to make her decide to
live.”



Bob Assingham was now at the window, while his companion slowly revolved;
he had lighted a cigarette, for final patience, and he seemed vaguely to
“time” her as she moved to and fro. He had at the same time to do justice
to the lucidity she had at last attained, and it was doubtless by way of
expression of this teachability that he let his eyes, for a minute, roll,
as from the force of feeling, over the upper dusk of the room. He had
thought of the response his wife’s words ideally implied.



“Decide to live—ah yes!—for her child.”



“Oh, bother her child!”—and he had never felt so snubbed, for an
exemplary view, as when Fanny now stopped short. “To live, you poor dear,
for her father—which is another pair of sleeves!”



And Mrs. Assingham’s whole ample, ornamented person irradiated, with this,
the truth that had begun, under so much handling, to glow. “Any idiot can
do things for her child. She’ll have a motive more original, and we shall
see how it will work her. She’ll have to save HIM.”



“To ‘save’ him—?”



“To keep her father from her own knowledge. THAT”—and she seemed to
see it, before her, in her husband’s very eyes—“will be work cut
out!” With which, as at the highest conceivable climax, she wound up their
colloquy. “Good night!”



There was something in her manner, however—or in the effect, at
least, of this supreme demonstration that had fairly, and by a single
touch, lifted him to her side; so that, after she had turned her back to
regain the landing and the staircase, he overtook her, before she had
begun to mount, with the ring of excited perception. “Ah, but, you know,
that’s rather jolly!”



“Jolly’—?” she turned upon it, again, at the foot of the staircase.



“I mean it’s rather charming.”



“‘Charming’—?” It had still to be their law, a little, that she was
tragic when he was comic.



“I mean it’s rather beautiful. You just said, yourself, it would be.
Only,” he pursued promptly, with the impetus of this idea, and as if it
had suddenly touched with light for him connections hitherto dim—“only
I don’t quite see why that very care for him which has carried her to such
other lengths, precisely, as affect one as so ‘rum,’ hasn’t also, by the
same stroke, made her notice a little more what has been going on.”



“Ah, there you are! It’s the question that I’ve all along been asking
myself.” She had rested her eyes on the carpet, but she raised them as she
pursued—she let him have it straight. “And it’s the question of an
idiot.”



“An idiot—?”



“Well, the idiot that I’VE been, in all sorts of ways—so often, of
late, have I asked it. You’re excusable, since you ask it but now. The
answer, I saw to-day, has all the while been staring me in the face.”



“Then what in the world is it?”



“Why, the very intensity of her conscience about him—the very
passion of her brave little piety. That’s the way it has worked,” Mrs.
Assingham explained “and I admit it to have been as ‘rum’ a way as
possible. But it has been working from a rum start. From the moment the
dear man married to ease his daughter off, and it then happened, by an
extraordinary perversity, that the very opposite effect was produced—!”
With the renewed vision of this fatality, however, she could give but a
desperate shrug.



“I see,” the Colonel sympathetically mused. “That WAS a rum start.”



But his very response, as she again flung up her arms, seemed to make her
sense, for a moment, intolerable. “Yes—there I am! I was really at
the bottom of it,” she declared; “I don’t know what possessed me—but
I planned for him, I goaded him on.” With which, however, the next moment,
she took herself up. “Or, rather, I DO know what possessed me—for
wasn’t he beset with ravening women, right and left, and didn’t he, quite
pathetically, appeal for protection, didn’t he, quite charmingly, show one
how he needed and desired it? Maggie,” she thus lucidly continued,
“couldn’t, with a new life of her own, give herself up to doing for him in
the future all she had done in the past—to fencing him in, to
keeping him safe and keeping THEM off. One perceived this,” she went on—“out
of the abundance of one’s affection and one’s sympathy.” It all blessedly
came back to her—when it wasn’t all, for the fiftieth time,
obscured, in face of the present facts, by anxiety and compunction. “One
was no doubt a meddlesome fool; one always IS, to think one sees people’s
lives for them better than they see them for themselves. But one’s excuse
here,” she insisted, “was that these people clearly DIDN’T see them for
themselves—didn’t see them at all. It struck one for very pity—that
they were making a mess of such charming material; that they were but
wasting it and letting it go. They didn’t know HOW to live—and
somehow one couldn’t, if one took an interest in them at all, simply stand
and see it. That’s what I pay for”—and the poor woman, in straighter
communion with her companion’s intelligence at this moment, she appeared
to feel, than she had ever been before, let him have the whole of the
burden of her consciousness. “I always pay for it, sooner or later, my
sociable, my damnable, my unnecessary interest. Nothing of course would
suit me but that it should fix itself also on Charlotte—Charlotte
who was hovering there on the edge of our lives, when not beautifully, and
a trifle mysteriously, flitting across them, and who was a piece of waste
and a piece of threatened failure, just as, for any possible good to the
WORLD, Mr. Verver and Maggie were. It began to come over me, in the
watches of the night, that Charlotte was a person who COULD keep off
ravening women—without being one herself, either, in the vulgar way
of the others; and that this service to Mr. Verver would be a sweet
employment for her future. There was something, of course, that might have
stopped me: you know, you know what I mean—it looks at me,” she
veritably moaned, “out of your face! But all I can say is that it didn’t;
the reason largely being—once I had fallen in love with the
beautiful symmetry of my plan—that I seemed to feel sure Maggie
would accept Charlotte, whereas I didn’t quite make out either what other
woman, or what other KIND of woman, one could think of her accepting.”



“I see—I see.” She had paused, meeting all the while his listening
look, and the fever of her retrospect had so risen with her talk that the
desire was visibly strong in him to meet her, on his side, but with
cooling breath. “One quite understands, my dear.”



It only, however, kept her there sombre. “I naturally see, love, what you
understand; which sits again, perfectly, in your eyes. You see that I saw
that Maggie would accept her in helpless ignorance. Yes, dearest”—and
the grimness of her dreariness suddenly once more possessed her: “you’ve
only to tell me that that knowledge was my reason for what I did. How,
when you do, can I stand up to you? You see,” she said with an ineffable
headshake, “that I don’t stand up! I’m down, down, down,” she declared;
“yet” she as quickly added—“there’s just one little thing that helps
to save my life.” And she kept him waiting but an instant. “They might
easily—they would perhaps even certainly—have done something
worse.”



He thought. “Worse than that Charlotte—?”



“Ah, don’t tell me,” she cried, “that there COULD have been nothing worse.
There might, as they were, have been many things. Charlotte, in her way,
is extraordinary.”



He was almost simultaneous. “Extraordinary!”



“She observes the forms,” said Fanny Assingham.



He hesitated. “With the Prince—?”



“FOR the Prince. And with the others,” she went on. “With Mr. Verver—wonderfully.
But above all with Maggie. And the forms”—she had to do even THEM
justice—“are two-thirds of conduct. Say he had married a woman who
would have made a hash of them.”



But he jerked back. “Ah, my dear, I wouldn’t say it for the world!”



“Say,” she none the less pursued, “he had married a woman the Prince would
really have cared for.”



“You mean then he doesn’t care for Charlotte—?” This was still a new
view to jump to, and the Colonel, perceptibly, wished to make sure of the
necessity of the effort. For that, while he stared, his wife allowed him
time; at the end of which she simply said: “No!”



“Then what on earth are they up to?” Still, however, she only looked at
him; so that, standing there before her with his hands in his pockets, he
had time, further, to risk, soothingly, another question. “Are the ‘forms’
you speak of—that are two-thirds of conduct—what will be
keeping her now, by your hypothesis, from coming home with him till
morning?”



“Yes—absolutely. THEIR forms.”



“‘Theirs’—?”



“Maggie’s and Mr. Verver’s—those they IMPOSE on Charlotte and the
Prince. Those,” she developed, “that, so perversely, as I say, have
succeeded in setting themselves up as the right ones.”



He considered—but only now, at last, really to relapse into woe.
“Your ‘perversity,’ my dear, is exactly what I don’t understand. The state
of things existing hasn’t grown, like a field of mushrooms, in a night.
Whatever they, all round, may be in for now is at least the consequence of
what they’ve DONE. Are they mere helpless victims of fate?”



Well, Fanny at last had the courage of it, “Yes—they are. To be so
abjectly innocent—that IS to be victims of fate.”



“And Charlotte and the Prince are abjectly innocent—?”



It took her another minute, but she rose to the full height. “Yes. That is
they WERE—as much so in their way as the others. There were
beautiful intentions all round. The Prince’s and Charlotte’s were
beautiful—of THAT I had my faith. They WERE—I’d go to the
stake. Otherwise,” she added, “I should have been a wretch. And I’ve not
been a wretch. I’ve only been a double-dyed donkey.”



“Ah then,” he asked, “what does our muddle make THEM to have been?”



“Well, too much taken up with considering each other. You may call such a
mistake as that by what ever name you please; it at any rate means, all
round, their case. It illustrates the misfortune,” said Mrs. Assingham
gravely, “of being too, too charming.”



This was another matter that took some following, but the Colonel again
did his best. “Yes, but to whom?—doesn’t it rather depend on that?
To whom have the Prince and Charlotte then been too charming?”



“To each other, in the first place—obviously. And then both of them
together to Maggie.”



“To Maggie?” he wonderingly echoed.



“To Maggie.” She was now crystalline. “By having accepted, from the first,
so guilelessly—yes, so guilelessly, themselves—her guileless
idea of still having her father, of keeping him fast, in her life.”



“Then isn’t one supposed, in common humanity, and if one hasn’t quarrelled
with him, and one has the means, and he, on his side, doesn’t drink or
kick up rows—isn’t one supposed to keep one’s aged parent in one’s
life?”



“Certainly—when there aren’t particular reasons against it. That
there may be others than his getting drunk is exactly the moral of what is
before us. In the first place Mr. Verver isn’t aged.”



The Colonel just hung fire—but it came. “Then why the deuce does he—oh,
poor dear man!—behave as if he were?”



She took a moment to meet it. “How do you know how he behaves?”



“Well, my own love, we see how Charlotte does!” Again, at this, she
faltered; but again she rose. “Ah, isn’t my whole point that he’s charming
to her?”



“Doesn’t it depend a bit on what she regards as charming?”



She faced the question as if it were flippant, then with a headshake of
dignity she brushed it away. “It’s Mr. Verver who’s really young—it’s
Charlotte who’s really old. And what I was saying,” she added, “isn’t
affected!”



“You were saying”—he did her the justice—“that they’re all
guileless.”



“That they were. Guileless, all, at first—quite extraordinarily.
It’s what I mean by their failure to see that the more they took for
granted they could work together the more they were really working apart.
For I repeat,” Fanny went on, “that I really believe Charlotte and the
Prince honestly to have made up their minds, originally, that their very
esteem for Mr. Verver—which was serious, as well it might be!—would
save them.”



“I see.” The Colonel inclined himself. “And save HIM.”



“It comes to the same thing!”



“Then save Maggie.”



“That comes,” said Mrs. Assingham, “to something a little different. For
Maggie has done the most.”



He wondered. “What do you call the most?”



“Well, she did it originally—she began the vicious circle. For that—though
you make round eyes at my associating her with ‘vice’—is simply what
it has been. It’s their mutual consideration, all round, that has made it
the bottomless gulf; and they’re really so embroiled but because, in their
way, they’ve been so improbably GOOD.”



“In their way—yes!” the Colonel grinned.



“Which was, above all, Maggie’s way.” No flicker of his ribaldry was
anything to her now. “Maggie had in the first place to make up to her
father for her having suffered herself to become—poor little dear,
as she believed—so intensely married. Then she had to make up to her
husband for taking so much of the time they might otherwise have spent
together to make this reparation to Mr. Verver perfect. And her way to do
this, precisely, was by allowing the Prince the use, the enjoyment,
whatever you may call it, of Charlotte to cheer his path—by
instalments, as it were—in proportion as she herself, making sure
her father was all right, might be missed from his side. By so much, at
the same time, however,” Mrs. Assingham further explained, “by so much as
she took her young stepmother, for this purpose, away from Mr. Verver, by
just so much did this too strike her as something again to be made up for.
It has saddled her, you will easily see, with a positively new obligation
to her father, an obligation created and aggravated by her unfortunate,
even if quite heroic, little sense of justice. She began with wanting to
show him that his marriage could never, under whatever temptation of her
own bliss with the Prince, become for her a pretext for deserting or
neglecting HIM. Then that, in its order, entailed her wanting to show the
Prince that she recognised how the other desire—this wish to remain,
intensely, the same passionate little daughter she had always been—involved
in some degree, and just for the present, so to speak, her neglecting and
deserting him. I quite hold,” Fanny with characteristic amplitude
parenthesised, “that a person can mostly feel but one passion—one
TENDER passion, that is—at a time. Only, that doesn’t hold good for
our primary and instinctive attachments, the ‘voice of blood,’ such as
one’s feeling for a parent or a brother. Those may be intense and yet not
prevent other intensities—as you will recognise, my dear, when you
remember how I continued, tout betement, to adore my mother, whom you
didn’t adore, for years after I had begun to adore you. Well, Maggie”—she
kept it up—“is in the same situation as I was, PLUS complications
from which I was, thank heaven, exempt: PLUS the complication, above all,
of not having in the least begun with the sense for complications that I
should have had. Before she knew it, at any rate, her little scruples and
her little lucidities, which were really so divinely blind—her
feverish little sense of justice, as I say—had brought the two
others together as her grossest misconduct couldn’t have done. And now she
knows something or other has happened—yet hasn’t heretofore known
what. She has only piled up her remedy, poor child—something that
she has earnestly but confusedly seen as her necessary policy; piled it on
top of the policy, on top of the remedy, that she at first thought out for
herself, and that would really have needed, since then, so much
modification. Her only modification has been the growth of her necessity
to prevent her father’s wondering if all, in their life in common, MAY be
so certainly for the best. She has now as never before to keep him
unconscious that, peculiar, if he makes a point of it, as their situation
is, there’s anything in it all uncomfortable or disagreeable, anything
morally the least out of the way. She has to keep touching it up to make
it, each day, each month, look natural and normal to him; so that—God
forgive me the comparison!—she’s like an old woman who has taken to
‘painting’ and who has to lay it on thicker, to carry it off with a
greater audacity, with a greater impudence even, the older she grows.” And
Fanny stood a moment captivated with the image she had thrown off. “I like
the idea of Maggie audacious and impudent—learning to be so to gloss
things over. She could—she even will, yet, I believe—learn it,
for that sacred purpose, consummately, diabolically. For from the moment
the dear man should see it’s all rouge—!” She paused, staring at the
vision.



It imparted itself even to Bob. “Then the fun would begin?” As it but made
her look at him hard, however, he amended the form of his inquiry. “You
mean that in that case she WILL, charming creature, be lost?”



She was silent a moment more. “As I’ve told you before, she won’t be lost
if her father’s saved. She’ll see that as salvation enough.”



The Colonel took it in. “Then she’s a little heroine.”



“Rather—she’s a little heroine. But it’s his innocence, above all,”
Mrs. Assingham added, “that will pull them through.”



Her companion, at this, focussed again Mr. Verver’s innocence. “It’s
awfully quaint.”



“Of course it’s awfully quaint! That it’s awfully quaint, that the pair
are awfully quaint, quaint with all our dear old quaintness—by which
I don’t mean yours and mine, but that of my own sweet countrypeople, from
whom I’ve so deplorably degenerated—that,” Mrs. Assingham declared,
“was originally the head and front of their appeal to me and of my
interest in them. And of course I shall feel them quainter still,” she
rather ruefully subjoined, “before they’ve done with me!”



This might be, but it wasn’t what most stood in the Colonel’s way. “You
believe so in Mr. Verver’s innocence after two years of Charlotte?”



She stared. “But the whole point is just that two years of Charlotte are
what he hasn’t really—or what you may call undividedly—had.”



“Any more than Maggie, by your theory, eh, has ‘really or undividedly,’
had four of the Prince? It takes all she hasn’t had,” the Colonel
conceded, “to account for the innocence that in her, too, so leaves us in
admiration.”



So far as it might be ribald again she let this pass. “It takes a great
many things to account for Maggie. What is definite, at all events, is
that—strange though this be—her effort for her father has, up
to now, sufficiently succeeded. She has made him, she makes him, accept
the tolerably obvious oddity of their relation, all round, for part of the
game. Behind her there, protected and amused and, as it were, exquisitely
humbugged—the Principino, in whom he delights, always aiding—he
has safely and serenely enough suffered the conditions of his life to pass
for those he had sublimely projected. He hadn’t worked them out in detail—any
more than I had, heaven pity me!—and the queerness has been,
exactly, in the detail. This, for him, is what it was to have married
Charlotte. And they both,” she neatly wound up, “‘help.’”



“‘Both’—?”



“I mean that if Maggie, always in the breach, makes it seem to him all so
flourishingly to fit, Charlotte does her part not less. And her part is
very large. Charlotte,” Fanny declared, “works like a horse.”



So there it all was, and her husband looked at her a minute across it.
“And what does the Prince work like?”



She fixed him in return. “Like a Prince!” Whereupon, breaking short off,
to ascend to her room, she presented her highly—decorated back—in
which, in odd places, controlling the complications of its aspect, the
ruby or the garnet, the turquoise and the topaz, gleamed like faint
symbols of the wit that pinned together the satin patches of her argument.



He watched her as if she left him positively under the impression of her
mastery of her subject; yes, as if the real upshot of the drama before
them was but that he had, when it came to the tight places of life—as
life had shrunk for him now—the most luminous of wives. He turned
off, in this view of her majestic retreat, the comparatively faint little
electric lamp which had presided over their talk; then he went up as
immediately behind her as the billows of her amber train allowed, making
out how all the clearness they had conquered was even for herself a relief—how
at last the sense of the amplitude of her exposition sustained and floated
her. Joining her, however, on the landing above, where she had already
touched a metallic point into light, he found she had done perhaps even
more to create than to extinguish in him the germ of a curiosity. He held
her a minute longer—there was another plum in the pie. “What did you
mean some minutes ago by his not caring for Charlotte?”



“The Prince’s? By his not ‘really’ caring?” She recalled, after a little,
benevolently enough. “I mean that men don’t, when it has all been too
easy. That’s how, in nine cases out of ten, a woman is treated who has
risked her life. You asked me just now how he works,” she added; “but you
might better perhaps have asked me how he plays.”



Well, he made it up. “Like a Prince?”



“Like a Prince. He is, profoundly, a Prince. For that,” she said with
expression, “he’s—beautifully—a case. They’re far rarer, even
in the ‘highest circles,’ than they pretend to be—and that’s what
makes so much of his value. He’s perhaps one of the very last—the
last of the real ones. So it is we must take him. We must take him all
round.”



The Colonel considered. “And how must Charlotte—if anything happens—take
him?”



The question held her a minute, and while she waited, with her eyes on
him, she put out a grasping hand to his arm, in the flesh of which he felt
her answer distinctly enough registered. Thus she gave him, standing off a
little, the firmest, longest, deepest injunction he had ever received from
her. “Nothing—in spite of everything—WILL happen. Nothing HAS
happened. Nothing IS happening.”



He looked a trifle disappointed. “I see. For US.”



“For us. For whom else?” And he was to feel indeed how she wished him to
understand it. “We know nothing on earth—!” It was an undertaking he
must sign.



So he wrote, as it were, his name. “We know nothing on earth.” It was like
the soldiers’ watchword at night.



“We’re as innocent,” she went on in the same way, “as babes.”



“Why not rather say,” he asked, “as innocent as they themselves are?”



“Oh, for the best of reasons! Because we’re much more so.”



He wondered. “But how can we be more—?”



“For them? Oh, easily! We can be anything.”



“Absolute idiots then?”



“Absolute idiots. And oh,” Fanny breathed, “the way it will rest us!”



Well, he looked as if there were something in that. “But won’t they know
we’re not?”



She barely hesitated. “Charlotte and the Prince think we are—which
is so much gained. Mr. Verver believes in our intelligence—but he
doesn’t matter.”



“And Maggie? Doesn’t SHE know—?”



“That we see before our noses?” Yes, this indeed took longer. “Oh, so far
as she may guess it she’ll give no sign. So it comes to the same thing.”



He raised his eyebrows. “Comes to our not being able to help her?”



“That’s the way we SHALL help her.”



“By looking like fools?”



She threw up her hands. “She only wants, herself, to look like a bigger!
So there we are!” With which she brushed it away—his conformity was
promised. Something, however, still held her; it broke, to her own vision,
as a last wave of clearness. “Moreover NOW,” she said, “I see! I mean,”
she added,—“what you were asking me: how I knew to-day, in Eaton
Square, that Maggie’s awake.” And she had indeed visibly got it. “It was
by seeing them together.”



“Seeing her with her father?” He fell behind again. “But you’ve seen her
often enough before.”



“Never with my present eyes. For nothing like such a test—that of
this length of the others’ absence together—has hitherto occurred.”



“Possibly! But if she and Mr. Verver insisted upon it—?”



“Why is it such a test? Because it has become one without their intending
it. It has spoiled, so to speak, on their hands.”



“It has soured, eh?” the Colonel said.



“The word’s horrible—say rather it has ‘changed.’ Perhaps,” Fanny
went on, “she did wish to see how much she can bear. In that case she HAS
seen. Only it was she alone who—about the visit—insisted. Her
father insists on nothing. And she watches him do it.”



Her husband looked impressed. “Watches him?”



“For the first faint sign. I mean of his noticing. It doesn’t, as I tell
you, come. But she’s there for it to see. And I felt,” she continued, “HOW
she’s there; I caught her, as it were, in the fact. She couldn’t keep it
from me—though she left her post on purpose—came home with me
to throw dust in my eyes. I took it all—her dust; but it was what
showed me.” With which supreme lucidity she reached the door of her room.
“Luckily it showed me also how she has succeeded. Nothing—from him—HAS
come.”



“You’re so awfully sure?”



“Sure. Nothing WILL. Good-night,” she said. “She’ll die first.”














BOOK SECOND: THE PRINCESS














PART FOURTH


                             XXV


It was not till many days had passed that the Princess began to accept the
idea of having done, a little, something she was not always doing, or
indeed that of having listened to any inward voice that spoke in a new
tone. Yet these instinctive postponements of reflection were the fruit,
positively, of recognitions and perceptions already active; of the sense,
above all, that she had made, at a particular hour, made by the mere touch
of her hand, a difference in the situation so long present to her as
practically unattackable. This situation had been occupying, for months
and months, the very centre of the garden of her life, but it had reared
itself there like some strange, tall tower of ivory, or perhaps rather
some wonderful, beautiful, but outlandish pagoda, a structure plated with
hard, bright porcelain, coloured and figured and adorned, at the
overhanging eaves, with silver bells that tinkled, ever so charmingly,
when stirred by chance airs. She had walked round and round it—that
was what she felt; she had carried on her existence in the space left her
for circulation, a space that sometimes seemed ample and sometimes narrow:
looking up, all the while, at the fair structure that spread itself so
amply and rose so high, but never quite making out, as yet, where she
might have entered had she wished. She had not wished till now—such
was the odd case; and what was doubtless equally odd, besides, was that,
though her raised eyes seemed to distinguish places that must serve, from
within, and especially far aloft, as apertures and outlooks, no door
appeared to give access from her convenient garden level. The great
decorated surface had remained consistently impenetrable and inscrutable.
At present, however, to her considering mind, it was as if she had ceased
merely to circle and to scan the elevation, ceased so vaguely, so quite
helplessly to stare and wonder: she had caught herself distinctly in the
act of pausing, then in that of lingering, and finally in that of stepping
unprecedentedly near. The thing might have been, by the distance at which
it kept her, a Mahometan mosque, with which no base heretic could take a
liberty; there so hung about it the vision of one’s putting off one’s
shoes to enter, and even, verily, of one’s paying with one’s life if found
there as an interloper. She had not, certainly, arrived at the conception
of paying with her life for anything she might do; but it was nevertheless
quite as if she had sounded with a tap or two one of the rare porcelain
plates. She had knocked, in short—though she could scarce have said
whether for admission or for what; she had applied her hand to a cool
smooth spot and had waited to see what would happen. Something had
happened; it was as if a sound, at her touch, after a little, had come
back to her from within; a sound sufficiently suggesting that her approach
had been noted.



If this image, however, may represent our young woman’s consciousness of a
recent change in her life—a change now but a few days old—it
must at the same time be observed that she both sought and found in
renewed circulation, as I have called it, a measure of relief from the
idea of having perhaps to answer for what she had done. The pagoda in her
blooming garden figured the arrangement—how otherwise was it to be
named?—by which, so strikingly, she had been able to marry without
breaking, as she liked to put it, with the past. She had surrendered
herself to her husband without the shadow of a reserve or a condition, and
yet she had not, all the while, given up her father—the least little
inch. She had compassed the high city of seeing the two men beautifully
take to each other, and nothing in her marriage had marked it as more
happy than this fact of its having practically given the elder, the
lonelier, a new friend. What had moreover all the while enriched the whole
aspect of success was that the latter’s marriage had been no more
meassurably paid for than her own. His having taken the same great step in
the same free way had not in the least involved the relegation of his
daughter. That it was remarkable they should have been able at once so to
separate and so to keep together had never for a moment, from however far
back, been equivocal to her; that it was remarkable had in fact quite
counted, at first and always, and for each of them equally, as part of
their inspiration and their support. There were plenty of singular things
they were NOT enamoured of—flights of brilliancy, of audacity, of
originality, that, speaking at least for the dear man and herself, were
not at all in their line; but they liked to think they had given their
life this unusual extension and this liberal form, which many families,
many couples, and still more many pairs of couples, would not have found
workable. That last truth had been distinctly brought home to them by the
bright testimony, the quite explicit envy, of most of their friends, who
had remarked to them again and again that they must, on all the showing,
to keep on such terms, be people of the highest amiability—equally
including in the praise, of course, Amerigo and Charlotte. It had given
them pleasure—as how should it not?—to find themselves shed
such a glamour; it had certainly, that is, given pleasure to her father
and herself, both of them distinguishably of a nature so slow to presume
that they would scarce have been sure of their triumph without this pretty
reflection of it. So it was that their felicity had fructified; so it was
that the ivory tower, visible and admirable doubtless, from any point of
the social field, had risen stage by stage. Maggie’s actual reluctance to
ask herself with proportionate sharpness why she had ceased to take
comfort in the sight of it represented accordingly a lapse from that ideal
consistency on which her moral comfort almost at any time depended. To
remain consistent she had always been capable of cutting down more or less
her prior term.



Moving for the first time in her life as in the darkening shadow of a
false position, she reflected that she should either not have ceased to be
right—that is, to be confident—or have recognised that she was
wrong; though she tried to deal with herself, for a space, only as a
silken-coated spaniel who has scrambled out of a pond and who rattles the
water from his ears. Her shake of her head, again and again, as she went,
was much of that order, and she had the resource, to which, save for the
rude equivalent of his generalising bark, the spaniel would have been a
stranger, of humming to herself hard as a sign that nothing had happened
to her. She had not, so to speak, fallen in; she had had no accident and
had not got wet; this at any rate was her pretension until after she began
a little to wonder if she mightn’t, with or without exposure, have taken
cold. She could at all events remember no time at which she had felt so
excited, and certainly none—which was another special point—that
so brought with it as well the necessity for concealing excitement. This
birth of a new eagerness became a high pastime, in her view, precisely by
reason of the ingenuity required for keeping the thing born out of sight.
The ingenuity was thus a private and absorbing exercise, in the light of
which, might I so far multiply my metaphors, I should compare her to the
frightened but clinging young mother of an unlawful child. The idea that
had possession of her would be, by our new analogy, the proof of her
misadventure, but likewise, all the while, only another sign of a relation
that was more to her than anything on earth. She had lived long enough to
make out for herself that any deep-seated passion has its pangs as well as
its joys, and that we are made by its aches and its anxieties most richly
conscious of it. She had never doubted of the force of the feeling that
bound her to her husband; but to become aware, almost suddenly, that it
had begun to vibrate with a violence that had some of the effect of a
strain would, rightly looked at, after all but show that she was, like
thousands of women, every day, acting up to the full privilege of passion.
Why in the world shouldn’t she, with every right—if, on
consideration, she saw no good reason against it? The best reason against
it would have been the possibility of some consequence disagreeable or
inconvenient to others— especially to such others as had never
incommoded her by the egotism of THEIR passions; but if once that danger
were duly guarded against the fulness of one’s measure amounted to no more
than the equal use of one’s faculties or the proper playing of one’s part.
It had come to the Princess, obscurely at first, but little by little more
conceivably, that her faculties had not for a good while been
concomitantly used; the case resembled in a manner that of her once-loved
dancing, a matter of remembered steps that had grown vague from her
ceasing to go to balls. She would go to balls again—that seemed,
freely, even crudely, stated, the remedy; she would take out of the deep
receptacles in which she had laid them away the various ornaments
congruous with the greater occasions, and of which her store, she liked to
think, was none of the smallest. She would have been easily to be figured
for us at this occupation; dipping, at off moments and quiet hours, in
snatched visits and by draughty candle-light, into her rich collections
and seeing her jewels again a little shyly, but all unmistakably, glow.
That in fact may pass as the very picture of her semi-smothered agitation,
of the diversion she to some extent successfully found in referring her
crisis, so far as was possible, to the mere working of her own needs.



It must be added, however, that she would have been at a loss to determine—and
certainly at first—to which order, that of self-control or that of
large expression, the step she had taken the afternoon of her husband’s
return from Matcham with his companion properly belonged. For it had been
a step, distinctly, on Maggie’s part, her deciding to do something, just
then and there, which would strike Amerigo as unusual, and this even
though her departure from custom had merely consisted in her so arranging
that he wouldn’t find her, as he would definitely expect to do, in Eaton
Square. He would have, strangely enough, as might seem to him, to come
back home for it, and there get the impression of her rather pointedly, or
at least all impatiently and independently, awaiting him. These were small
variations and mild manoeuvres, but they went accompanied on Maggie’s
part, as we have mentioned, with an infinite sense of intention. Her
watching by his fireside for her husband’s return from an absence might
superficially have presented itself as the most natural act in the world,
and the only one, into the bargain, on which he would positively have
reckoned. It fell by this circumstance into the order of plain matters,
and yet the very aspect by which it was, in the event, handed over to her
brooding fancy was the fact that she had done with it all she had
designed. She had put her thought to the proof, and the proof had shown
its edge; this was what was before her, that she was no longer playing
with blunt and idle tools, with weapons that didn’t cut. There passed
across her vision ten times a day the gleam of a bare blade, and at this
it was that she most shut her eyes, most knew the impulse to cheat herself
with motion and sound. She had merely driven, on a certain Wednesday, to
Portland Place, instead of remaining in Eaton Square, and she privately
repeated it again and again—there had appeared beforehand no reason
why she should have seen the mantle of history flung, by a single sharp
sweep, over so commonplace a deed. That, all the same, was what had
happened; it had been bitten into her mind, all in an hour, that nothing
she had ever done would hereafter, in some way yet to be determined, so
count for her—perhaps not even what she had done in accepting, in
their old golden Rome, Amerigo’s proposal of marriage. And yet, by her
little crouching posture there, that of a timid tigress, she had meant
nothing recklessly ultimate, nothing clumsily fundamental; so that she
called it names, the invidious, the grotesque attitude, holding it up to
her own ridicule, reducing so far as she could the portee of what had
followed it. She had but wanted to get nearer—nearer to something
indeed that she couldn’t, that she wouldn’t, even to herself, describe;
and the degree of this achieved nearness was what had been in advance
incalculable. Her actual multiplication of distractions and suppressions,
whatever it did for her, failed to prevent her living over again any
chosen minute—for she could choose them, she could fix them—of
the freshness of relation produced by her having administered to her
husband the first surprise to which she had ever treated him. It had been
a poor thing, but it had been all her own, and the whole passage was
backwardly there, a great picture hung on the wall of her daily life, for
her to make what she would of.



It fell, for retrospect, into a succession of moments that were WATCHABLE
still; almost in the manner of the different things done during a scene on
the stage, some scene so acted as to have left a great impression on the
tenant of one of the stalls. Several of these moments stood out beyond the
others, and those she could feel again most, count again like the firm
pearls on a string, had belonged more particularly to the lapse of time
before dinner—dinner which had been so late, quite at nine o’clock,
that evening, thanks to the final lateness of Amerigo’s own advent. These
were parts of the experience—though in fact there had been a good
many of them—between which her impression could continue sharply to
discriminate. Before the subsequent passages, much later on, it was to be
said, the flame of memory turned to an equalising glow, that of a lamp in
some side-chapel in which incense was thick. The great moment, at any
rate, for conscious repossession, was doubtless the first: the strange
little timed silence which she had fully gauged, on the spot, as
altogether beyond her own intention, but which—for just how long?
should she ever really know for just how long?—she could do nothing
to break. She was in the smaller drawing-room, in which she always “sat,”
and she had, by calculation, dressed for dinner on finally coming in. It
was a wonder how many things she had calculated in respect to this small
incident—a matter for the importance of which she had so quite
indefinite a measure. He would be late—he would be very late; that
was the one certainty that seemed to look her in the face. There was still
also the possibility that if he drove with Charlotte straight to Eaton
Square he might think it best to remain there even on learning she had
come away. She had left no message for him on any such chance; this was
another of her small shades of decision, though the effect of it might be
to keep him still longer absent. He might suppose she would already have
dined; he might stay, with all he would have to tell, just on purpose to
be nice to her father. She had known him to stretch the point, to these
beautiful ends, far beyond that; he had more than once stretched it to the
sacrifice of the opportunity of dressing.



If she herself had now avoided any such sacrifice, and had made herself,
during the time at her disposal, quite inordinately fresh and quite
positively smart, this had probably added, while she waited and waited, to
that very tension of spirit in which she was afterwards to find the image
of her having crouched. She did her best, quite intensely, by herself, to
banish any such appearance; she couldn’t help it if she couldn’t read her
pale novel—ah, that, par exemple, was beyond her! but she could at
least sit by the lamp with the book, sit there with her newest frock, worn
for the first time, sticking out, all round her, quite stiff and grand;
even perhaps a little too stiff and too grand for a familiar and domestic
frock, yet marked none the less, this time, she ventured to hope, by
incontestable intrinsic merit. She had glanced repeatedly at the clock,
but she had refused herself the weak indulgence of walking up and down,
though the act of doing so, she knew, would make her feel, on the polished
floor, with the rustle and the “hang,” still more beautifully bedecked.
The difficulty was that it would also make her feel herself still more
sharply in a state; which was exactly what she proposed not to do. The
only drops of her anxiety had been when her thought strayed complacently,
with her eyes, to the front of her gown, which was in a manner a refuge, a
beguilement, especially when she was able to fix it long enough to wonder
if it would at last really satisfy Charlotte. She had ever been, in
respect to her clothes, rather timorous and uncertain; for the last year,
above all, she had lived in the light of Charlotte’s possible and rather
inscrutable judgment of them. Charlotte’s own were simply the most
charming and interesting that any woman had ever put on; there was a kind
of poetic justice in her being at last able, in this particular, thanks to
means, thanks quite to omnipotence, freely to exercise her genius. But
Maggie would have described herself as, in these connections, constantly
and intimately “torn”; conscious on one side of the impossibility of
copying her companion and conscious on the other of the impossibility of
sounding her, independently, to the bottom. Yes, it was one of the things
she should go down to her grave without having known—how Charlotte,
after all had been said, really thought her stepdaughter looked under any
supposedly ingenious personal experiment. She had always been lovely about
the stepdaughter’s material braveries—had done, for her, the very
best with them; but there had ever fitfully danced at the back of Maggie’s
head the suspicion that these expressions were mercies, not judgments,
embodying no absolute, but only a relative, frankness. Hadn’t Charlotte,
with so perfect a critical vision, if the truth were known, given her up
as hopeless—hopeless by a serious standard, and thereby invented for
her a different and inferior one, in which, as the only thing to be done,
she patiently and soothingly abetted her? Hadn’t she, in other words,
assented in secret despair, perhaps even in secret irritation, to her
being ridiculous?—so that the best now possible was to wonder, once
in a great while, whether one mightn’t give her the surprise of something
a little less out of the true note than usual. Something of this kind was
the question that Maggie, while the absentees still delayed, asked of the
appearance she was endeavouring to present; but with the result,
repeatedly again, that it only went and lost itself in the thick air that
had begun more and more to hang, for our young woman, over her
accumulations of the unanswered. They were THERE, these accumulations;
they were like a roomful of confused objects, never as yet “sorted,” which
for some time now she had been passing and re-passing, along the corridor
of her life. She passed it when she could without opening the door; then,
on occasion, she turned the key to throw in a fresh contribution. So it
was that she had been getting things out of the way. They rejoined the
rest of the confusion; it was as if they found their place, by some
instinct of affinity, in the heap. They knew, in short, where to go; and
when she, at present, by a mental act, once more pushed the door open, she
had practically a sense of method and experience. What she should never
know about Charlotte’s thought—she tossed THAT in. It would find
itself in company, and she might at last have been standing there long
enough to see it fall into its corner. The sight moreover would doubtless
have made her stare, had her attention been more free—the sight of
the mass of vain things, congruous, incongruous, that awaited every
addition. It made her in fact, with a vague gasp, turn away, and what had
further determined this was the final sharp extinction of the inward scene
by the outward. The quite different door had opened and her husband was
there.



It had been as strange as she could consent, afterwards, to think it; it
had been, essentially, what had made the abrupt bend in her life: he had
come back, had followed her from the other house, VISIBLY uncertain—this
was written in the face he for the first minute showed her. It had been
written only for those seconds, and it had appeared to go, quickly, after
they began to talk; but while it lasted it had been written large, and,
though she didn’t quite know what she had expected of him, she felt she
hadn’t expected the least shade of embarrassment. What had made the
embarrassment—she called it embarrassment so as to be able to assure
herself she put it at the very worst—what had made the particular
look was his thus distinguishably wishing to see how he should find her.
Why FIRST—that had, later on, kept coming to her; the question
dangled there as if it were the key to everything. With the sense of it on
the spot, she had felt, overwhelmingly, that she was significant, that so
she must instantly strike him, and that this had a kind of violence beyond
what she had intended. It was in fact even at the moment not absent from
her view that he might easily have made an abject fool of her—at
least for the time. She had indeed, for just ten seconds, been afraid of
some such turn: the uncertainty in his face had become so, the next thing,
an uncertainty in the very air. Three words of impatience the least bit
loud, some outbreak of “What in the world are you ‘up to’, and what do you
mean?” any note of that sort would instantly have brought her low—and
this all the more that heaven knew she hadn’t in any manner designed to be
high. It was such a trifle, her small breach with custom, or at any rate
with his natural presumption, that all magnitude of wonder had already
had, before one could deprecate the shadow of it, the effect of a
complication. It had made for him some difference that she couldn’t
measure, this meeting him at home and alone instead of elsewhere and with
others, and back and back it kept coming to her that the blankness he
showed her before he was able to SEE might, should she choose to insist on
it, have a meaning—have, as who should say, an historic value—beyond
the importance of momentary expressions in general. She had naturally had
on the spot no ready notion of what he might want to see; it was enough
for a ready notion, not to speak of a beating heart, that he DID see, that
he saw his wife in her own drawing-room at the hour when she would most
properly be there. He hadn’t in any way challenged her, it was true, and,
after those instants during which she now believed him to have been
harbouring the impression of something unusually prepared and pointed in
her attitude and array, he had advanced upon her smiling and smiling, and
thus, without hesitation at the last, had taken her into his arms. The
hesitation had been at the first, and she at present saw that he had
surmounted it without her help. She had given him no help; for if, on the
one hand, she couldn’t speak for hesitation, so on the other—and
especially as he didn’t ask her—she couldn’t explain why she was
agitated. She had known it all the while down to her toes, known it in his
presence with fresh intensity, and if he had uttered but a question it
would have pressed in her the spring of recklessness. It had been strange
that the most natural thing of all to say to him should have had that
appearance; but she was more than ever conscious that any appearance she
had would come round, more or less straight, to her father, whose life was
now so quiet, on the basis accepted for it, that any alteration of his
consciousness even in the possible sense of enlivenment, would make their
precious equilibrium waver. THAT was at the bottom of her mind, that their
equilibrium was everything, and that it was practically precarious, a
matter of a hair’s breadth for the loss of the balance. It was the
equilibrium, or at all events her conscious fear about it, that had
brought her heart into her mouth; and the same fear was, on either side,
in the silent look she and Amerigo had exchanged. The happy balance that
demanded this amount of consideration was truly thus, as by its own
confession, a delicate matter; but that her husband had also HIS habit of
anxiety and his general caution only brought them, after all, more closely
together. It would have been most beautifully, therefore, in the name of
the equilibrium, and in that of her joy at their feeling so exactly the
same about it, that she might have spoken if she had permitted the truth
on the subject of her behaviour to ring out—on the subject of that
poor little behaviour which was for the moment so very limited a case of
eccentricity.



“‘Why, why’ have I made this evening such a point of our not all dining
together? Well, because I’ve all day been so wanting you alone that I
finally couldn’t bear it, and that there didn’t seem any great reason why
I should try to. THAT came to me—funny as it may at first sound,
with all the things we’ve so wonderfully got into the way of bearing for
each other. You’ve seemed these last days—I don’t know what: more
absent than ever before, too absent for us merely to go on so. It’s all
very well, and I perfectly see how beautiful it is, all round; but there
comes a day when something snaps, when the full cup, filled to the very
brim, begins to flow over. That’s what has happened to my need of you—the
cup, all day, has been too full to carry. So here I am with it, spilling
it over you—and just for the reason that is the reason of my life.
After all, I’ve scarcely to explain that I’m as much in love with you now
as the first hour; except that there are some hours—which I know
when they come, because they almost frighten me—that show me I’m
even more so. They come of themselves—and, ah, they’ve been coming!
After all, after all—!” Some such words as those were what DIDN’T
ring out, yet it was as if even the unuttered sound had been quenched here
in its own quaver. It was where utterance would have broken down by its
very weight if he had let it get so far. Without that extremity, at the
end of a moment, he had taken in what he needed to take—that his
wife was TESTIFYING, that she adored and missed and desired him. “After
all, after all,” since she put it so, she was right. That was what he had
to respond to; that was what, from the moment that, as has been said, he
“saw,” he had to treat as the most pertinent thing possible. He held her
close and long, in expression of their personal reunion—this,
obviously, was one way of doing so. He rubbed his cheek, tenderly, and
with a deep vague murmur, against her face, that side of her face she was
not pressing to his breast. That was, not less obviously, another way, and
there were ways enough, in short, for his extemporised ease, for the good
humour she was afterwards to find herself thinking of as his infinite
tact. This last was partly, no doubt, because the question of tact might
be felt as having come up at the end of a quarter of an hour during which
he had liberally talked and she had genially questioned. He had told her
of his day, the happy thought of his roundabout journey with Charlotte,
all their cathedral-hunting adventure, and how it had turned out rather
more of an affair than they expected. The moral of it was, at any rate,
that he was tired, verily, and must have a bath and dress—to which
end she would kindly excuse him for the shortest time possible. She was to
remember afterwards something that had passed between them on this—how
he had looked, for her, during an instant, at the door, before going out,
how he had met her asking him, in hesitation first, then quickly in
decision, whether she couldn’t help him by going up with him. He had
perhaps also for a moment hesitated, but he had declined her offer, and
she was to preserve, as I say, the memory of the smile with which he had
opined that at that rate they wouldn’t dine till ten o’clock and that he
should go straighter and faster alone. Such things, as I say, were to come
back to her—they played, through her full after-sense, like lights
on the whole impression; the subsequent parts of the experience were not
to have blurred their distinctness. One of these subsequent parts, the
first, had been the not inconsiderable length, to her later and more
analytic consciousness, of this second wait for her husband’s
reappearance. She might certainly, with the best will in the world, had
she gone up with him, have been more in his way than not, since people
could really, almost always, hurry better without help than with it.
Still, she could actually hardly have made him take more time than he
struck her taking, though it must indeed be added that there was now in
this much-thinking little person’s state of mind no mere crudity of
impatience. Something had happened, rapidly, with the beautiful sight of
him and with the drop of her fear of having annoyed him by making him go
to and fro. Subsidence of the fearsome, for Maggie’s spirit, was always,
at first, positive emergence of the sweet, and it was long since anything
had been so sweet to her as the particular quality suddenly given by her
present emotion to the sense of possession.


                            XXVI


Amerigo was away from her again, as she sat there, as she walked there
without him—for she had, with the difference of his presence in the
house, ceased to keep herself from moving about; but the hour was filled
nevertheless with the effect of his nearness, and above all with the
effect, strange in an intimacy so established, of an almost renewed vision
of the facts of his aspect. She had seen him last but five days since, yet
he had stood there before her as if restored from some far country, some
long voyage, some combination of dangers or fatigues. This unquenchable
variety in his appeal to her interest, what did it mean but that—reduced
to the flatness of mere statement—she was married, by good fortune,
to an altogether dazzling person? That was an old, old story, but the
truth of it shone out to her like the beauty of some family picture, some
mellow portrait of an ancestor, that she might have been looking at,
almost in surprise, after a long intermission. The dazzling person was
upstairs and she was down, and there were moreover the other facts of the
selection and decision that this demonstration of her own had required,
and of the constant care that the equilibrium involved; but she had, all
the same, never felt so absorbingly married, so abjectly conscious of a
master of her fate. He could do what he would with her; in fact what was
actually happening was that he was actually doing it. “What he would,”
what he REALLY would—only that quantity itself escaped perhaps, in
the brightness of the high harmony, familiar naming and discussing. It was
enough of a recognition for her that, whatever the thing he might desire,
he would always absolutely bring it off. She knew at this moment, without
a question, with the fullest surrender, how he had brought off, in her, by
scarce more than a single allusion, a perfect flutter of tenderness. If he
had come back tired, tired from his long day, the exertion had been,
literally, in her service and her father’s. They two had sat at home at
peace, the Principino between them, the complications of life kept down,
the bores sifted out, the large ease of the home preserved, because of the
way the others held the field and braved the weather. Amerigo never
complained—any more than, for that matter, Charlotte did; but she
seemed to see to-night as she had never yet quite done that their business
of social representation, conceived as they conceived it, beyond any
conception of her own, and conscientiously carried out, was an affair of
living always in harness. She remembered Fanny Assingham’s old judgment,
that friend’s description of her father and herself as not living at all,
as not knowing what to do or what might be done for them; and there came
back to her with it an echo of the long talk they had had together, one
September day at Fawns, under the trees, when she put before him this
dictum of Fanny’s.



That occasion might have counted for them—she had already often made
the reflection—as the first step in an existence more intelligently
arranged. It had been an hour from which the chain of causes and
consequences was definitely traceable—so many things, and at the
head of the list her father’s marriage, having appeared to her to flow
from Charlotte’s visit to Fawns, and that event itself having flowed from
the memorable talk. But what perhaps most came out in the light of these
concatenations was that it had been, for all the world, as if Charlotte
had been “had in,” as the servants always said of extra help, because they
had thus suffered it to be pointed out to them that if their family coach
lumbered and stuck the fault was in its lacking its complement of wheels.
Having but three, as they might say, it had wanted another, and what had
Charlotte done from the first but begin to act, on the spot, and ever so
smoothly and beautifully, as a fourth? Nothing had been, immediately, more
manifest than the greater grace of the movement of the vehicle—as to
which, for the completeness of her image, Maggie was now supremely to feel
how every strain had been lightened for herself. So far as SHE was one of
the wheels she had but to keep in her place; since the work was done for
her she felt no weight, and it wasn’t too much to acknowledge that she had
scarce to turn round. She had a long pause before the fire during which
she might have been fixing with intensity her projected vision, have been
conscious even of its taking an absurd, fantastic shape. She might have
been watching the family coach pass and noting that, somehow, Amerigo and
Charlotte were pulling it while she and her father were not so much as
pushing. They were seated inside together, dandling the Principino and
holding him up to the windows, to see and be seen, like an infant
positively royal; so that the exertion was ALL with the others. Maggie
found in this image a repeated challenge; again and yet again she paused
before the fire: after which, each time, in the manner of one for whom a
strong light has suddenly broken, she gave herself to livelier movement.
She had seen herself at last, in the picture she was studying, suddenly
jump from the coach; whereupon, frankly, with the wonder of the sight, her
eyes opened wider and her heart stood still for a moment. She looked at
the person so acting as if this person were somebody else, waiting with
intensity to see what would follow. The person had taken a decision—which
was evidently because an impulse long gathering had at last felt a
sharpest pressure. Only how was the decision to be applied?—what, in
particular, would the figure in the picture do? She looked about her, from
the middle of the room, under the force of this question, as if THERE,
exactly, were the field of action involved. Then, as the door opened
again, she recognised, whatever the action, the form, at any rate, of a
first opportunity. Her husband had reappeared—he stood before her
refreshed, almost radiant, quite reassuring. Dressed, anointed, fragrant,
ready, above all, for his dinner, he smiled at her over the end of their
delay. It was as if her opportunity had depended on his look—and now
she saw that it was good. There was still, for the instant, something in
suspense, but it passed more quickly than on his previous entrance. He was
already holding out his arms. It was, for hours and hours, later on, as if
she had somehow been lifted aloft, were floated and carried on some warm
high tide beneath which stumbling blocks had sunk out of sight. This came
from her being again, for the time, in the enjoyment of confidence, from
her knowing, as she believed, what to do. All the next day, and all the
next, she appeared to herself to know it. She had a plan, and she rejoiced
in her plan: this consisted of the light that, suddenly breaking into her
restless reverie, had marked the climax of that vigil. It had come to her
as a question—“What if I’ve abandoned THEM, you know? What if I’ve
accepted too passively the funny form of our life?” There would be a
process of her own by which she might do differently in respect to Amerigo
and Charlotte—a process quite independent of any process of theirs.
Such a solution had but to rise before her to affect her, to charm her,
with its simplicity, an advantageous simplicity she had been stupid, for
so long, not to have been struck by; and the simplicity meanwhile seemed
proved by the success that had already begun to attend her. She had only
had herself to do something to see how immediately it answered. This
consciousness of its having answered with her husband was the uplifting,
sustaining wave. He had “met” her—she so put it to herself; met her
with an effect of generosity and of gaiety, in especial, on his coming
back to her ready for dinner, which she wore in her breast as the token of
an escape for them both from something not quite definite, but clearly,
much less good. Even at that moment, in fact, her plan had begun to work;
she had been, when he brightly reappeared, in the act of plucking it out
of the heart of her earnestness—plucking it, in the garden of
thought, as if it had been some full-blown flower that she could present
to him on the spot. Well, it was the flower of participation, and as that,
then and there, she held it out to him, putting straightway into execution
the idea, so needlessly, so absurdly obscured, of her SHARING with him,
whatever the enjoyment, the interest, the experience might be—and
sharing also, for that matter, with Charlotte.



She had thrown herself, at dinner, into every feature of the recent
adventure of the companions, letting him see, without reserve, that she
wished to hear everything about it, and making Charlotte in particular,
Charlotte’s judgment of Matcham, Charlotte’s aspect, her success there,
her effect traceably produced, her clothes inimitably worn, her cleverness
gracefully displayed, her social utility, in fine, brilliantly
exemplified, the subject of endless inquiry. Maggie’s inquiry was most
empathetic, moreover, for the whole happy thought of the cathedral-hunt,
which she was so glad they had entertained, and as to the pleasant results
of which, down to the cold beef and bread-and-cheese, the queer old smell
and the dirty table-cloth at the inn, Amerigo was good-humouredly
responsive. He had looked at her across the table, more than once, as if
touched by the humility of this welcome offered to impressions at
second-hand, the amusements, the large freedoms only of others—as if
recognising in it something fairly exquisite; and at the end, while they
were alone, before she had rung for a servant, he had renewed again his
condonation of the little irregularity, such as it was, on which she had
ventured. They had risen together to come upstairs; he had been talking at
the last about some of the people, at the very last of all about Lady
Castledean and Mr. Blint; after which she had once more broken ground on
the matter of the “type” of Gloucester. It brought her, as he came round
the table to join her, yet another of his kind conscious stares, one of
the looks, visibly beguiled, but at the same time not invisibly puzzled,
with which he had already shown his sense of this charming grace of her
curiosity. It was as if he might for a moment be going to say:—“You
needn’t PRETEND, dearest, quite so hard, needn’t think it necessary to
care quite so much!”—it was as if he stood there before her with
some such easy intelligence, some such intimate reassurance, on his lips.
Her answer would have been all ready—that she wasn’t in the least
pretending; and she looked up at him, while he took her hand, with the
maintenance, the real persistence, of her lucid little plan in her eyes.
She wanted him to understand from that very moment that she was going to
be WITH him again, quite with them, together, as she doubtless hadn’t been
since the “funny” changes—that was really all one could call them—into
which they had each, as for the sake of the others, too easily and too
obligingly slipped. They had taken too much for granted that their life
together required, as people in London said, a special “form”—which
was very well so long as the form was kept only for the outside world and
was made no more of among themselves than the pretty mould of an iced
pudding, or something of that sort, into which, to help yourself, you
didn’t hesitate to break with the spoon. So much as that she would, with
an opening, have allowed herself furthermore to observe; she wanted him to
understand how her scheme embraced Charlotte too; so that if he had but
uttered the acknowledgment she judged him on the point of making—the
acknowledgment of his catching at her brave little idea for their case—she
would have found herself, as distinctly, voluble almost to eloquence.



What befell, however, was that even while she thus waited she felt herself
present at a process taking place rather deeper within him than the
occasion, on the whole, appeared to require—a process of weighing
something in the balance, of considering, deciding, dismissing. He had
guessed that she was there with an idea, there in fact by reason of her
idea; only this, oddly enough, was what at the last stayed his words. She
was helped to these perceptions by his now looking at her still harder
than he had yet done—which really brought it to the turn of a hair,
for her, that she didn’t make sure his notion of her idea was the right
one. It was the turn of a hair, because he had possession of her hands and
was bending toward her, ever so kindly, as if to see, to understand, more,
or possibly give more—she didn’t know which; and that had the effect
of simply putting her, as she would have said, in his power. She gave up,
let her idea go, let everything go; her one consciousness was that he was
taking her again into his arms. It was not till afterwards that she
discriminated as to this; felt how the act operated with him instead of
the words he hadn’t uttered—operated, in his view, as probably
better than any words, as always better, in fact, at any time, than
anything. Her acceptance of it, her response to it, inevitable,
foredoomed, came back to her, later on, as a virtual assent to the
assumption he had thus made that there was really nothing such a
demonstration didn’t anticipate and didn’t dispose of, and that the spring
acting within herself moreover might well have been, beyond any other, the
impulse legitimately to provoke it. It made, for any issue, the third time
since his return that he had drawn her to his breast; and at present,
holding her to his side as they left the room, he kept her close for their
moving into the hall and across it, kept her for their slow return
together to the apartments above. He had been right, overwhelmingly right,
as to the felicity of his tenderness and the degree of her sensibility,
but even while she felt these things sweep all others away she tasted of a
sort of terror of the weakness they produced in her. It was still, for
her, that she had positively something to do, and that she mustn’t be weak
for this, must much rather be strong. For many hours after, none the less,
she remained weak—if weak it was; though holding fast indeed to the
theory of her success, since her agitated overture had been, after all, so
unmistakably met.



She recovered soon enough on the whole, the sense that this left her
Charlotte always to deal with—Charlotte who, at any rate, however
SHE might meet overtures, must meet them, at the worst, more or less
differently. Of that inevitability, of such other ranges of response as
were open to Charlotte, Maggie took the measure in approaching her, on the
morrow of her return from Matcham, with the same show of desire to hear
all her story. She wanted the whole picture from her, as she had wanted it
from her companion, and, promptly, in Eaton Square, whither, without the
Prince, she repaired, almost ostentatiously, for the purpose, this purpose
only, she brought her repeatedly back to the subject, both in her
husband’s presence and during several scraps of independent colloquy.
Before her father, instinctively, Maggie took the ground that his wish for
interesting echoes would be not less than her own—allowing, that is,
for everything his wife would already have had to tell him, for such
passages, between them, as might have occurred since the evening before.
Joining them after luncheon, reaching them, in her desire to proceed with
the application of her idea, before they had quitted the breakfast-room,
the scene of their mid-day meal, she referred, in her parent’s presence,
to what she might have lost by delay, and expressed the hope that there
would be an anecdote or two left for her to pick up. Charlotte was dressed
to go out, and her husband, it appeared, rather positively prepared not
to; he had left the table, but was seated near the fire with two or three
of the morning papers and the residuum of the second and third posts on a
stand beside him—more even than the usual extravagance, as Maggie’s
glance made out, of circulars, catalogues, advertisements, announcements
of sales, foreign envelopes and foreign handwritings that were as
unmistakable as foreign clothes. Charlotte, at the window, looking into
the side-street that abutted on the Square, might have been watching for
their visitor’s advent before withdrawing; and in the light, strange and
coloured, like that of a painted picture, which fixed the impression for
her, objects took on values not hitherto so fully shown. It was the effect
of her quickened sensibility; she knew herself again in presence of a
problem, in need of a solution for which she must intensely work: that
consciousness, lately born in her, had been taught the evening before to
accept a temporary lapse, but had quickly enough again, with her getting
out of her own house and her walking across half the town—for she
had come from Portland Place on foot—found breath still in its
lungs.



It exhaled this breath in a sigh, faint and unheard; her tribute, while
she stood there before speaking, to realities looming through the golden
mist that had already begun to be scattered. The conditions facing her had
yielded, for the time, to the golden mist—had considerably melted
away; but there they were again, definite, and it was for the next quarter
of an hour as if she could have counted them one by one on her fingers.
Sharp to her above all was the renewed attestation of her father’s
comprehensive acceptances, which she had so long regarded as of the same
quality with her own, but which, so distinctly now, she should have the
complication of being obliged to deal with separately. They had not yet
struck her as absolutely extraordinary—which had made for her
lumping them with her own, since her view of her own had but so lately
begun to change; though it instantly stood out for her that there was
really no new judgment of them she should be able to show without
attracting in some degree his attention, without perhaps exciting his
surprise and making thereby, for the situation she shared with him, some
difference. She was reminded and warned by the concrete image; and for a
minute Charlotte’s face, immediately presented to her, affected her as
searching her own to see the reminder tell. She had not less promptly
kissed her stepmother, and then had bent over her father, from behind, and
laid her cheek upon him; little amenities tantamount heretofore to an easy
change of guard—Charlotte’s own frequent, though always cheerful,
term of comparison for this process of transfer. Maggie figured thus as
the relieving sentry, and so smoothly did use and custom work for them
that her mate might even, on this occasion, after acceptance of the
pass-word, have departed without irrelevant and, in strictness,
unsoldierly gossip. This was not, none the less, what happened; inasmuch
as if our young woman had been floated over her first impulse to break the
existing charm at a stroke, it yet took her but an instant to sound, at
any risk, the note she had been privately practising. If she had practised
it the day before, at dinner, on Amerigo, she knew but the better how to
begin for it with Mrs. Verver, and it immensely helped her, for that
matter, to be able at once to speak of the Prince as having done more to
quicken than to soothe her curiosity. Frankly and gaily she had come to
ask—to ask what, in their unusually prolonged campaign, the two had
achieved. She had got out of her husband, she admitted, what she could,
but husbands were never the persons who answered such questions ideally.
He had only made her more curious, and she had arrived early, this way, in
order to miss as little as possible of Charlotte’s story.



“Wives, papa,” she said; “are always much better reporters—though I
grant,” she added for Charlotte, “that fathers are not much better than
husbands. He never,” she smiled, “tells me more than a tenth of what you
tell him; so I hope you haven’t told him everything yet, since in that
case I shall probably have lost the best part of it.” Maggie went, she
went—she felt herself going; she reminded herself of an actress who
had been studying a part and rehearsing it, but who suddenly, on the
stage, before the footlights, had begun to improvise, to speak lines not
in the text. It was this very sense of the stage and the footlights that
kept her up, made her rise higher: just as it was the sense of action that
logically involved some platform—action quite positively for the
first time in her life, or, counting in the previous afternoon, for the
second. The platform remained for three or four days thus sensibly under
her feet, and she had all the while, with it, the inspiration of quite
remarkably, of quite heroically improvising. Preparation and practice had
come but a short way; her part opened out, and she invented from moment to
moment what to say and to do. She had but one rule of art—to keep
within bounds and not lose her head; certainly she might see for a week
how far that would take her. She said to herself, in her excitement, that
it was perfectly simple: to bring about a difference, touch by touch,
without letting either of the three, and least of all her father, so much
as suspect her hand. If they should suspect they would want a reason, and
the humiliating truth was that she wasn’t ready with a reason—not,
that is, with what she would have called a reasonable one. She thought of
herself, instinctively, beautifully, as having dealt, all her life, at her
father’s side and by his example, only in reasonable reasons; and what she
would really have been most ashamed of would be to produce for HIM, in
this line, some inferior substitute. Unless she were in a position to
plead, definitely, that she was jealous she should be in no position to
plead, decently, that she was dissatisfied. This latter condition would be
a necessary implication of the former; without the former behind it it
would HAVE to fall to the ground. So had the case, wonderfully, been
arranged for her; there was a card she could play, but there was only one,
and to play it would be to end the game. She felt herself—as at the
small square green table, between the tall old silver candlesticks and the
neatly arranged counters—her father’s playmate and partner; and what
it constantly came back to, in her mind, was that for her to ask a
question, to raise a doubt, to reflect in any degree on the play of the
others, would be to break the charm. The charm she had to call it, since
it kept her companion so constantly engaged, so perpetually seated and so
contentedly occupied. To say anything at all would be, in fine, to have to
say WHY she was jealous; and she could, in her private hours, but stare
long, with suffused eyes, at that impossibility.



By the end of a week, the week that had begun, especially, with her
morning hour, in Eaton Square, between her father and his wife, her
consciousness of being beautifully treated had become again verily greater
than her consciousness of anything else; and I must add, moreover, that
she at last found herself rather oddly wondering what else, as a
consciousness, could have been quite so overwhelming. Charlotte’s response
to the experiment of being more with her OUGHT, as she very well knew, to
have stamped the experiment with the feeling of success; so that if the
success itself seemed a boon less substantial than the original image of
it, it enjoyed thereby a certain analogy with our young woman’s aftertaste
of Amerigo’s own determined demonstrations. Maggie was to have retained,
for that matter, more than one aftertaste, and if I have spoken of the
impressions fixed in her as soon as she had, so insidiously, taken the
field, a definite note must be made of her perception, during those
moments, of Charlotte’s prompt uncertainty. She had shown, no doubt—she
couldn’t not have shown—that she had arrived with an idea; quite
exactly as she had shown her husband, the night before, that she was
awaiting him with a sentiment. This analogy in the two situations was to
keep up for her the remembrance of a kinship of expression in the two
faces in respect to which all she as yet professed to herself was that she
had affected them, or at any rate the sensibility each of them so
admirably covered, in the same way. To make the comparison at all was, for
Maggie, to return to it often, to brood upon it, to extract from it the
last dregs of its interest—to play with it, in short, nervously,
vaguely, incessantly, as she might have played with a medallion containing
on either side a cherished little portrait and suspended round her neck by
a gold chain of a firm fineness that no effort would ever snap. The
miniatures were back to back, but she saw them forever face to face, and
when she looked from one to the other she found in Charlotte’s eyes the
gleam of the momentary “What does she really want?” that had come and gone
for her in the Prince’s. So again, she saw the other light, the light
touched into a glow both in Portland Place and in Eaton Square, as soon as
she had betrayed that she wanted no harm—wanted no greater harm of
Charlotte, that is, than to take in that she meant to go out with her. She
had been present at that process as personally as she might have been
present at some other domestic incident—the hanging of a new
picture, say, or the fitting of the Principino with his first little
trousers.



She remained present, accordingly, all the week, so charmingly and
systematically did Mrs. Verver now welcome her company. Charlotte had but
wanted the hint, and what was it but the hint, after all, that, during the
so subdued but so ineffaceable passage in the breakfast-room, she had seen
her take? It had been taken moreover not with resignation, not with
qualifications or reserves, however bland; it had been taken with avidity,
with gratitude, with a grace of gentleness that supplanted explanations.
The very liberality of this accommodation might indeed have appeared in
the event to give its own account of the matter—as if it had fairly
written the Princess down as a person of variations and had accordingly
conformed but to a rule of tact in accepting these caprices for law. The
caprice actually prevailing happened to be that the advent of one of the
ladies anywhere should, till the fit had changed, become the sign,
unfailingly, of the advent of the other; and it was emblazoned, in rich
colour, on the bright face of this period, that Mrs. Verver only wished to
know, on any occasion, what was expected of her, only held herself there
for instructions, in order even to better them if possible. The two young
women, while the passage lasted, became again very much the companions of
other days, the days of Charlotte’s prolonged visits to the admiring and
bountiful Maggie, the days when equality of condition for them had been
all the result of the latter’s native vagueness about her own advantages.
The earlier elements flushed into life again, the frequency, the intimacy,
the high pitch of accompanying expression—appreciation, endearment,
confidence; the rarer charm produced in each by this active contribution
to the felicity of the other: all enhanced, furthermore—enhanced or
qualified, who should say which?—by a new note of diplomacy, almost
of anxiety, just sensible on Charlotte’s part in particular; of intensity
of observance, in the matter of appeal and response, in the matter of
making sure the Princess might be disposed or gratified, that resembled an
attempt to play again, with more refinement, at disparity of relation.
Charlotte’s attitude had, in short, its moments of flowering into pretty
excesses of civility, self-effacements in the presence of others, sudden
little formalisms of suggestion and recognition, that might have
represented her sense of the duty of not “losing sight” of a social
distinction. This impression came out most for Maggie when, in their
easier intervals, they had only themselves to regard, and when her
companion’s inveteracy of never passing first, of not sitting till she was
seated, of not interrupting till she appeared to give leave, of not
forgetting, too, familiarly, that in addition to being important she was
also sensitive, had the effect of throwing over their intercourse a kind
of silver tissue of decorum. It hung there above them like a canopy of
state, a reminder that though the lady-in-waiting was an established
favourite, safe in her position, a little queen, however, good-natured,
was always a little queen and might, with small warning, remember it.



And yet another of these concomitants of feverish success, all the while,
was the perception that in another quarter too things were being made
easy. Charlotte’s alacrity in meeting her had, in one sense, operated
slightly overmuch as an intervention: it had begun to reabsorb her at the
very hour of her husband’s showing her that, to be all there, as the
phrase was, he likewise only required—as one of the other phrases
was too—the straight tip. She had heard him talk about the straight
tip, in his moods of amusement at English slang, in his remarkable
displays of assimilative power, power worthy of better causes and higher
inspirations; and he had taken it from her, at need, in a way that,
certainly in the first glow of relief, had made her brief interval seem
large. Then, however, immediately, and even though superficially, there
had declared itself a readjustment of relations to which she was, once
more, practically a little sacrificed. “I must do everything,” she had
said, “without letting papa see what I do—at least till it’s done!”
but she scarce knew how she proposed, even for the next few days, to blind
or beguile this participant in her life. What had in fact promptly enough
happened, she presently recognised, was that if her stepmother had
beautifully taken possession of her, and if she had virtually been rather
snatched again thereby from her husband’s side, so, on the other hand,
this had, with as little delay, entailed some very charming assistance for
her in Eaton Square. When she went home with Charlotte, from whatever
happy demonstration, for the benefit of the world in which they supposed
themselves to live, that there was no smallest reason why their closer
association shouldn’t be public and acclaimed—at these times she
regularly found that Amerigo had come either to sit with his father-in-law
in the absence of the ladies, or to make, on his side, precisely some such
display of the easy working of the family life as would represent the
equivalent of her excursions with Charlotte. Under this particular
impression it was that everything in Maggie most melted and went to pieces—every
thing, that is, that belonged to her disposition to challenge the
perfection of their common state. It divided them again, that was true,
this particular turn of the tide—cut them up afresh into pairs and
parties; quite as if a sense for the equilibrium was what, between them
all, had most power of insistence; quite as if Amerigo himself were all
the while, at bottom, equally thinking of it and watching it. But, as
against that, he was making her father not miss her, and he could have
rendered neither of them a more excellent service. He was acting in short
on a cue, the cue given him by observation; it had been enough for him to
see the shade of change in her behaviour; his instinct for relations, the
most exquisite conceivable, prompted him immediately to meet and match the
difference, to play somehow into its hands. That was what it was, she
renewedly felt, to have married a man who was, sublimely, a gentleman; so
that, in spite of her not wanting to translate ALL their delicacies into
the grossness of discussion, she yet found again and again, in Portland
Place, moments for saying: “If I didn’t love you, you know, for yourself,
I should still love you for HIM.” He looked at her, after such speeches,
as Charlotte looked, in Eaton Square, when she called HER attention to his
benevolence: through the dimness of the almost musing smile that took
account of her extravagance, harmless though it might be, as a tendency to
reckon with. “But my poor child,” Charlotte might under this pressure have
been on the point of replying, “that’s the way nice people ARE, all round—so
that why should one be surprised about it? We’re all nice together—as
why shouldn’t we be? If we hadn’t been we wouldn’t have gone far—and
I consider that we’ve gone very far indeed. Why should you ‘take on’ as if
you weren’t a perfect dear yourself, capable of all the sweetest things?—as
if you hadn’t in fact grown up in an atmosphere, the atmosphere of all the
good things that I recognised, even of old, as soon as I came near you,
and that you’ve allowed me now, between you, to make so blessedly my own.”
Mrs. Verver might in fact have but just failed to make another point, a
point charmingly natural to her as a grateful and irreproachable wife. “It
isn’t a bit wonderful, I may also remind you, that your husband should
find, when opportunity permits, worse things to do than to go about with
mine. I happen, love, to appreciate my husband—I happen perfectly to
understand that his acquaintance should be cultivated and his company
enjoyed.”



Some such happily-provoked remarks as these, from Charlotte, at the other
house, had been in the air, but we have seen how there was also in the
air, for our young woman, as an emanation from the same source, a
distilled difference of which the very principle was to keep down
objections and retorts. That impression came back—it had its hours
of doing so; and it may interest us on the ground of its having prompted
in Maggie a final reflection, a reflection out of the heart of which a
light flashed for her like a great flower grown in a night. As soon as
this light had spread a little it produced in some quarters a surprising
distinctness, made her of a sudden ask herself why there should have been
even for three days the least obscurity. The perfection of her success,
decidedly, was like some strange shore to which she had been noiselessly
ferried and where, with a start, she found herself quaking at the thought
that the boat might have put off again and left her. The word for it, the
word that flashed the light, was that they were TREATING her, that they
were proceeding with her—and, for that matter, with her father—by
a plan that was the exact counterpart of her own. It was not from her that
they took their cue, but—and this was what in particular made her
sit up—from each other; and with a depth of unanimity, an exact
coincidence of inspiration that, when once her attention had begun to fix
it, struck her as staring out at her in recovered identities of behaviour,
expression and tone. They had a view of her situation, and of the possible
forms her own consciousness of it might take—a view determined by
the change of attitude they had had, ever so subtly, to recognise in her
on their return from Matcham. They had had to read into this small and
all-but-suppressed variation a mute comment—on they didn’t quite
know what; and it now arched over the Princess’s head like a vault of bold
span that important communication between them on the subject couldn’t
have failed of being immediate. This new perception bristled for her, as
we have said, with odd intimations, but questions unanswered played in and
out of it as well—the question, for instance, of why such
promptitude of harmony SHOULD have been important. Ah, when she began to
recover, piece by piece, the process became lively; she might have been
picking small shining diamonds out of the sweepings of her ordered house.
She bent, in this pursuit, over her dust-bin; she challenged to the last
grain the refuse of her innocent economy. Then it was that the dismissed
vision of Amerigo, that evening, in arrest at the door of her salottino
while her eyes, from her placed chair, took him in—then it was that
this immense little memory gave out its full power. Since the question was
of doors, she had afterwards, she now saw, shut it out; she had
responsibly shut in, as we have understood, shut in there with her
sentient self, only the fact of his reappearance and the plenitude of his
presence. These things had been testimony, after all, to supersede any
other, for on the spot, even while she looked, the warmly-washing wave had
travelled far up the strand. She had subsequently lived, for hours she
couldn’t count, under the dizzying, smothering welter positively in
submarine depths where everything came to her through walls of emerald and
mother-of-pearl; though indeed she had got her head above them, for
breath, when face to face with Charlotte again, on the morrow, in Eaton
Square. Meanwhile, none the less, as was so apparent, the prior, the prime
impression had remained, in the manner of a spying servant, on the other
side of the barred threshold; a witness availing himself, in time, of the
lightest pretext to re-enter. It was as if he had found this pretext in
her observed necessity of comparing—comparing the obvious common
elements in her husband’s and her stepmother’s ways of now “taking” her.
With or without her witness, at any rate, she was led by comparison to a
sense of the quantity of earnest intention operating, and operating so
harmoniously, between her companions; and it was in the mitigated midnight
of these approximations that she had made out the promise of her dawn.



It was a worked-out scheme for their not wounding her, for their behaving
to her quite nobly; to which each had, in some winning way, induced the
other to contribute, and which therefore, so far as that went, proved that
she had become with them a subject of intimate study. Quickly, quickly, on
a certain alarm taken, eagerly and anxiously, before they SHOULD, without
knowing it, wound her, they had signalled from house to house their clever
idea, the idea by which, for all these days, her own idea had been
profiting. They had built her in with their purpose—which was why,
above her, a vault seemed more heavily to arch; so that she sat there, in
the solid chamber of her helplessness, as in a bath of benevolence
artfully prepared for her, over the brim of which she could but just
manage to see by stretching her neck. Baths of benevolence were very well,
but, at least, unless one were a patient of some sort, a nervous eccentric
or a lost child, one was usually not so immersed save by one’s request. It
wasn’t in the least what she had requested. She had flapped her little
wings as a symbol of desired flight, not merely as a plea for a more
gilded cage and an extra allowance of lumps of sugar. Above all she hadn’t
complained, not by the quaver of a syllable—so what wound in
particular had she shown her fear of receiving? What wound HAD she
received—as to which she had exchanged the least word with them? If
she had ever whined or moped they might have had some reason; but she
would be hanged—she conversed with herself in strong language—if
she had been, from beginning to end, anything but pliable and mild. It all
came back, in consequence, to some required process of their own, a
process operating, quite positively, as a precaution and a policy. They
had got her into the bath and, for consistency with themselves—which
was with each other—must keep her there. In that condition she
wouldn’t interfere with the policy, which was established, which was
arranged. Her thought, over this, arrived at a great intensity—had
indeed its pauses and timidities, but always to take afterwards a further
and lighter spring. The ground was well-nigh covered by the time she had
made out her husband and his colleague as directly interested in
preventing her freedom of movement. Policy or no policy, it was they
themselves who were arranged. She must be kept in position so as not to
DISarrange them. It fitted immensely together, the whole thing, as soon as
she could give them a motive; for, strangely as it had by this time begun
to appear to herself, she had hitherto not imagined them sustained by an
ideal distinguishably different from her own. Of course they were arranged—all
four arranged; but what had the basis of their life been, precisely, but
that they were arranged together? Amerigo and Charlotte were arranged
together, but she—to confine the matter only to herself—was
arranged apart. It rushed over her, the full sense of all this, with quite
another rush from that of the breaking wave of ten days before; and as her
father himself seemed not to meet the vaguely-clutching hand with which,
during the first shock of complete perception, she tried to steady
herself, she felt very much alone.


                             XXVII


There had been, from far back—that is from the Christmas time on—a
plan that the parent and the child should “do something lovely” together,
and they had recurred to it on occasion, nursed it and brought it up
theoretically, though without as yet quite allowing it to put its feet to
the ground. The most it had done was to try a few steps on the
drawing-room carpet, with much attendance, on either side, much holding up
and guarding, much anticipation, in fine, of awkwardness or accident.
Their companions, by the same token, had constantly assisted at the
performance, following the experiment with sympathy and gaiety, and never
so full of applause, Maggie now made out for herself, as when the infant
project had kicked its little legs most wildly—kicked them, for all
the world, across the Channel and half the Continent, kicked them over the
Pyrenees and innocently crowed out some rich Spanish name. She asked
herself at present if it had been a “real” belief that they were but
wanting, for some such adventure, to snatch their moment; whether either
had at any instant seen it as workable, save in the form of a toy to
dangle before the other, that they should take flight, without wife or
husband, for one more look, “before they died,” at the Madrid pictures as
well as for a drop of further weak delay in respect to three or four
possible prizes, privately offered, rarities of the first water,
responsibly reported on and profusely photographed, still patiently
awaiting their noiseless arrival in retreats to which the clue had not
otherwise been given away. The vision dallied with during the duskier days
in Eaton Square had stretched to the span of three or four weeks of
springtime for the total adventure, three or four weeks in the very
spirit, after all, of their regular life, as their regular life had been
persisting; full of shared mornings, afternoons, evenings, walks, drives,
“looks-in,” at old places, on vague chances; full also, in especial, of
that purchased social ease, the sense of the comfort and credit of their
house, which had essentially the perfection of something paid for, but
which “came,” on the whole, so cheap that it might have been felt as
costing—as costing the parent and child—nothing. It was for
Maggie to wonder, at present, if she had been sincere about their going,
to ask herself whether she would have stuck to their plan even if nothing
had happened.



Her view of the impossibility of sticking to it now may give us the
measure of her sense that everything had happened. A difference had been
made in her relation to each of her companions, and what it compelled her
to say to herself was that to behave as she might have behaved before
would be to act, for Amerigo and Charlotte, with the highest hypocrisy.
She saw in these days that a journey abroad with her father would, more
than anything else, have amounted, on his part and her own, to a last
expression of an ecstasy of confidence, and that the charm of the idea, in
fact, had been in some such sublimity. Day after day she put off the
moment of “speaking,” as she inwardly and very comprehensively, called it—speaking,
that is, to her father; and all the more that she was ridden by a strange
suspense as to his himself breaking silence. She gave him time, gave him,
during several days, that morning, that noon, that night, and the next and
the next and the next; even made up her mind that if he stood off longer
it would be proof conclusive that he too wasn’t at peace. They would then
have been, all successfully, throwing dust in each other’s eyes; and it
would be at last as if they must turn away their faces, since the silver
mist that protected them had begun to grow sensibly thin. Finally, at the
end of April, she decided that if he should say nothing for another period
of twenty-four hours she must take it as showing that they were, in her
private phraseology, lost; so little possible sincerity could there be in
pretending to care for a journey to Spain at the approach of a summer that
already promised to be hot. Such a proposal, on his lips, such an
extravagance of optimism, would be HIS way of being consistent—for
that he didn’t really want to move, or to move further, at the worst, than
back to Fawns again, could only signify that he wasn’t, at heart,
contented. What he wanted, at any rate, and what he didn’t want were, in
the event, put to the proof for Maggie just in time to give her a fresh
wind. She had been dining, with her husband, in Eaton Square, on the
occasion of hospitality offered by Mr. and Mrs. Verver to Lord and Lady
Castledean. The propriety of some demonstration of this sort had been for
many days before our group, the question reduced to the mere issue of
which of the two houses should first take the field. The issue had been
easily settled—in the manner of every issue referred in any degree
to Amerigo and Charlotte: the initiative obviously belonged to Mrs.
Verver, who had gone to Matcham while Maggie had stayed away, and the
evening in Eaton Square might have passed for a demonstration all the more
personal that the dinner had been planned on “intimate” lines. Six other
guests only, in addition to the host and the hostess of Matcham, made up
the company, and each of these persons had for Maggie the interest of an
attested connection with the Easter revels at that visionary house. Their
common memory of an occasion that had clearly left behind it an
ineffaceable charm—this air of beatific reference, less subdued in
the others than in Amerigo and Charlotte, lent them, together, an
inscrutable comradeship against which the young woman’s imagination broke
in a small vain wave.



It wasn’t that she wished she had been of the remembered party and
possessed herself of its secrets; for she didn’t care about its secrets—she
could concern herself at present, absolutely, with no secret but her own.
What occurred was simply that she became aware, at a stroke, of the
quantity of further nourishment required by her own, and of the amount of
it she might somehow extract from these people; whereby she rose, of a
sudden, to the desire to possess and use them, even to the extent of
braving, of fairly defying, of directly exploiting, of possibly quite
enjoying, under cover of an evil duplicity, the felt element of curiosity
with which they regarded her. Once she was conscious of the flitting wing
of this last impression—the perception, irresistible, that she was
something for their queer experience, just as they were something for hers—there
was no limit to her conceived design of not letting them escape. She went
and went, again, to-night, after her start was taken; went, positively, as
she had felt herself going, three weeks before, on the morning when the
vision of her father and his wife awaiting her together in the
breakfast-room had been so determinant. In this other scene it was Lady
Castledean who was determinant, who kindled the light, or at all events
the heat, and who acted on the nerves; Lady Castledean whom she knew she,
so oddly, didn’t like, in spite of reasons upon reasons, the biggest
diamonds on the yellowest hair, the longest lashes on the prettiest,
falsest eyes, the oldest lace on the most violet velvet, the rightest
manner on the wrongest assumption. Her ladyship’s assumption was that she
kept, at every moment of her life, every advantage—it made her
beautifully soft, very nearly generous; so she didn’t distinguish the
little protuberant eyes of smaller social insects, often endowed with such
a range, from the other decorative spots on their bodies and wings. Maggie
had liked, in London, and in the world at large, so many more people than
she had thought it right to fear, right even to so much as judge, that it
positively quickened her fever to have to recognise, in this case, such a
lapse of all the sequences. It was only that a charming clever woman
wondered about her—that is wondered about her as Amerigo’s wife, and
wondered, moreover, with the intention of kindness and the spontaneity,
almost, of surprise.



The point of view—that one—was what she read in their free
contemplation, in that of the whole eight; there was something in Amerigo
to be explained, and she was passed about, all tenderly and expertly, like
a dressed doll held, in the right manner, by its firmly-stuffed middle,
for the account she could give. She might have been made to give it by
pressure of her stomach; she might have been expected to articulate, with
a rare imitation of nature, “Oh yes, I’m HERE all the while; I’m also in
my way a solid little fact and I cost originally a great deal of money:
cost, that is, my father, for my outfit, and let in my husband for an
amount of pains—toward my training—that money would scarce
represent.” Well, she WOULD meet them in some such way, and she translated
her idea into action, after dinner, before they dispersed, by engaging
them all, unconventionally, almost violently, to dine with her in Portland
Place, just as they were, if they didn’t mind the same party, which was
the party she wanted. Oh she was going, she was going—she could feel
it afresh; it was a good deal as if she had sneezed ten times or had
suddenly burst into a comic song. There were breaks in the connection, as
there would be hitches in the process; she didn’t wholly see, yet, what
they would do for her, nor quite how, herself, she should handle them; but
she was dancing up and down, beneath her propriety, with the thought that
she had at least begun something—she so fairly liked to feel that
she was a point for convergence of wonder. It wasn’t after all, either,
that THEIR wonder so much signified—that of the cornered six, whom
it glimmered before her that she might still live to drive about like a
flock of sheep: the intensity of her consciousness, its sharpest savour,
was in the theory of her having diverted, having, as they said, captured
the attention of Amerigo and Charlotte, at neither of whom, all the while,
did she so much as once look. She had pitched them in with the six, for
that matter, so far as they themselves were concerned; they had dropped,
for the succession of minutes, out of contact with their function—had,
in short, startled and impressed, abandoned their post. “They’re
paralysed, they’re paralysed!” she commented, deep within; so much it
helped her own apprehension to hang together that they should suddenly
lose their bearings.



Her grasp of appearances was thus out of proportion to her view of causes;
but it came to her then and there that if she could only get the facts of
appearance straight, only jam them down into their place, the reasons
lurking behind them, kept uncertain, for the eyes, by their wavering and
shifting, wouldn’t perhaps be able to help showing. It wasn’t of course
that the Prince and Mrs. Verver marvelled to see her civil to their
friends; it was rather, precisely, that civil was just what she wasn’t:
she had so departed from any such custom of delicate approach—approach
by the permitted note, the suggested “if,” the accepted vagueness—as
would enable the people in question to put her off if they wished. And the
profit of her plan, the effect of the violence she was willing to let it
go for, was exactly in their BEING the people in question, people she had
seemed to be rather shy of before and for whom she suddenly opened her
mouth so wide. Later on, we may add, with the ground soon covered by her
agitated but resolute step, it was to cease to matter what people they
were or weren’t; but meanwhile the particular sense of them that she had
taken home to-night had done her the service of seeming to break the ice
where that formation was thickest. Still more unexpectedly, the service
might have been the same for her father; inasmuch as, immediately, when
everyone had gone, he did exactly what she had been waiting for and
despairing of—and did it, as he did everything, with a simplicity
that left any purpose of sounding him deeper, of drawing him out further,
of going, in his own frequent phrase, “behind” what he said, nothing
whatever to do. He brought it out straight, made it bravely and
beautifully irrelevant, save for the plea of what they should lose by
breaking the charm: “I guess we won’t go down there after all, will we,
Mag?—just when it’s getting so pleasant here.” That was all, with
nothing to lead up to it; but it was done for her at a stroke, and done,
not less, more rather, for Amerigo and Charlotte, on whom the immediate
effect, as she secretly, as she almost breathlessly measured it, was
prodigious. Everything now so fitted for her to everything else that she
could feel the effect as prodigious even while sticking to her policy of
giving the pair no look. There were thus some five wonderful minutes
during which they loomed, to her sightless eyes, on either side of her,
larger than they had ever loomed before, larger than life, larger than
thought, larger than any danger or any safety. There was thus a space of
time, in fine, fairly vertiginous for her, during which she took no more
account of them than if they were not in the room.



She had never, never treated them in any such way—not even just now,
when she had plied her art upon the Matcham band; her present manner was
an intenser exclusion, and the air was charged with their silence while
she talked with her other companion as if she had nothing but him to
consider. He had given her the note amazingly, by his allusion to the
pleasantness—that of such an occasion as his successful dinner—which
might figure as their bribe for renouncing; so that it was all as if they
were speaking selfishly, counting on a repetition of just such extensions
of experience. Maggie achieved accordingly an act of unprecedented energy,
threw herself into her father’s presence as by the absolute consistency
with which she held his eyes; saying to herself, at the same time that she
smiled and talked and inaugurated her system, “What does he mean by it?
That’s the question—what does he mean?” but studying again all the
signs in him that recent anxiety had made familiar and counting the
stricken minutes on the part of the others. It was in their silence that
the others loomed, as she felt; she had had no measure, she afterwards
knew, of this duration, but it drew out and out—really to what would
have been called in simpler conditions awkwardness—as if she herself
were stretching the cord. Ten minutes later, however, in the homeward
carriage, to which her husband, cutting delay short, had proceeded at the
first announcement, ten minutes later she was to stretch it almost to
breaking. The Prince had permitted her to linger much less, before his
move to the door, than they usually lingered at the gossiping close of
such evenings; which she, all responsive, took for a sign of his
impatience to modify for her the odd effect of his not having, and of
Charlotte’s not having, instantly acclaimed the issue of the question
debated, or more exactly, settled, before them. He had had time to become
aware of this possible impression in her, and his virtually urging her
into the carriage was connected with his feeling that he must take action
on the new ground. A certain ambiguity in her would absolutely have
tormented him; but he had already found something to soothe and correct—as
to which she had, on her side, a shrewd notion of what it would be. She
was herself, for that matter, prepared, and she was, of a truth, as she
took her seat in the brougham, amazed at her preparation. It allowed her
scarce an interval; she brought it straight out.



“I was certain that was what father would say if I should leave him alone.
I HAVE been leaving him alone, and you see the effect. He hates now to
move—he likes too much to be with us. But if you see the effect”—she
felt herself magnificently keeping it up—“perhaps you don’t see the
cause. The cause, my dear, is too lovely.”



Her husband, on taking his place beside her, had, during a minute or two,
for her watching sense, neither said nor done anything; he had been, for
that sense, as if thinking, waiting, deciding: yet it was still before he
spoke that he, as she felt it to be, definitely acted. He put his arm
round her and drew her close—indulged in the demonstration, the
long, firm embrace by his single arm, the infinite pressure of her whole
person to his own, that such opportunities had so often suggested and
prescribed. Held, accordingly, and, as she could but too intimately feel,
exquisitely solicited, she had said the thing she was intending and
desiring to say, and as to which she felt, even more than she felt
anything else, that whatever he might do she mustn’t be irresponsible.
Yes, she was in his exerted grasp, and she knew what that was; but she was
at the same time in the grasp of her conceived responsibility, and the
extraordinary thing was that, of the two intensities, the second was
presently to become the sharper. He took his time for it meanwhile, but he
met her speech after a fashion.



“The cause of your father’s deciding not to go?”



“Yes, and of my having wanted to let it act for him quietly—I mean
without my insistence.” She had, in her compressed state, another pause,
and it made her feel as if she were immensely resisting. Strange enough
was this sense for her, and altogether new, the sense of possessing, by
miraculous help, some advantage that, absolutely then and there, in the
carriage, as they rolled, she might either give up or keep. Strange,
inexpressibly strange—so distinctly she saw that if she did give it
up she should somehow give up everything for ever. And what her husband’s
grasp really meant, as her very bones registered, was that she SHOULD give
it up: it was exactly for this that he had resorted to unfailing magic. He
KNEW HOW to resort to it—he could be, on occasion, as she had lately
more than ever learned, so munificent a lover: all of which was,
precisely, a part of the character she had never ceased to regard in him
as princely, a part of his large and beautiful ease, his genius for charm,
for intercourse, for expression, for life. She should have but to lay her
head back on his shoulder with a certain movement to make it definite for
him that she didn’t resist. To this, as they went, every throb of her
consciousness prompted her—every throb, that is, but one, the throb
of her deeper need to know where she “really” was. By the time she had
uttered the rest of her idea, therefore, she was still keeping her head
and intending to keep it; though she was also staring out of the
carriage-window with eyes into which the tears of suffered pain had risen,
indistinguishable, perhaps, happily, in the dusk. She was making an effort
that horribly hurt her, and, as she couldn’t cry out, her eyes swam in her
silence. With them, all the same, through the square opening beside her,
through the grey panorama of the London night, she achieved the feat of
not losing sight of what she wanted; and her lips helped and protected her
by being able to be gay. “It’s not to leave YOU, my dear—for that
he’ll give up anything; just as he would go off anywhere, I think, you
know, if you would go with him. I mean you and he alone,” Maggie pursued
with her gaze out of her window.



For which Amerigo’s answer again took him a moment. “Ah, the dear old boy!
You would like me to propose him something—?”



“Well, if you think you could bear it.”



“And leave,” the Prince asked, “you and Charlotte alone?”



“Why not?” Maggie had also to wait a minute, but when she spoke it came
clear. “Why shouldn’t Charlotte be just one of MY reasons—my not
liking to leave her? She has always been so good, so perfect, to me—but
never so wonderfully as just now. We have somehow been more together—thinking,
for the time, almost only of each other; it has been quite as in old
days.” And she proceeded consummately, for she felt it as consummate:
“It’s as if we had been missing each other, had got a little apart—though
going on so side by side. But the good moments, if one only waits for
them,” she hastened to add, “come round of themselves. Moreover you’ve
seen for yourself, since you’ve made it up so to father; feeling, for
yourself, in your beautiful way, every difference, every air that blows;
not having to be told or pushed, only being perfect to live with, through
your habit of kindness and your exquisite instincts. But of course you’ve
seen, all the while, that both he and I have deeply felt how you’ve
managed; managed that he hasn’t been too much alone and that I, on my
side, haven’t appeared, to—what you might call—neglect him.
This is always,” she continued, “what I can never bless you enough for; of
all the good things you’ve done for me you’ve never done anything better.”
She went on explaining as for the pleasure of explaining—even though
knowing he must recognise, as a part of his easy way too, her description
of his large liberality. “Your taking the child down yourself, those days,
and your coming, each time, to bring him away—nothing in the world,
nothing you could have invented, would have kept father more under the
charm. Besides, you know how you’ve always suited him, and how you’ve
always so beautifully let it seem to him that he suits you. Only it has
been, these last weeks, as if you wished—just in order to please him—to
remind him of it afresh. So there it is,” she wound up; “it’s your doing.
You’ve produced your effect—that of his wanting not to be, even for
a month or two, where you’re not. He doesn’t want to bother or bore you—THAT,
I think, you know, he never has done; and if you’ll only give me time I’ll
come round again to making it my care, as always, that he shan’t. But he
can’t bear you out of his sight.”



She had kept it up and up, filling it out, crowding it in; and all,
really, without difficulty, for it was, every word of it, thanks to a long
evolution of feeling, what she had been primed to the brim with. She made
the picture, forced it upon him, hung it before him; remembering, happily,
how he had gone so far, one day, supported by the Principino, as to
propose the Zoo in Eaton Square, to carry with him there, on the spot,
under this pleasant inspiration, both his elder and his younger companion,
with the latter of whom he had taken the tone that they were introducing
Granddaddy, Granddaddy nervous and rather funking it, to lions and tigers
more or less at large. Touch by touch she thus dropped into her husband’s
silence the truth about his good nature and his good manners; and it was
this demonstration of his virtue, precisely, that added to the
strangeness, even for herself, of her failing as yet to yield to him. It
would be a question but of the most trivial act of surrender, the
vibration of a nerve, the mere movement of a muscle; but the act grew
important between them just through her doing perceptibly nothing, nothing
but talk in the very tone that would naturally have swept her into
tenderness. She knew more and more—every lapsing minute taught her—how
he might by a single rightness make her cease to watch him; that
rightness, a million miles removed from the queer actual, falling so
short, which would consist of his breaking out to her diviningly,
indulgently, with the last happy inconsequence. “Come away with me,
somewhere, YOU—and then we needn’t think, we needn’t even talk, of
anything, of anyone else:” five words like that would answer her, would
break her utterly down. But they were the only ones that would so serve.
She waited for them, and there was a supreme instant when, by the
testimony of all the rest of him, she seemed to feel them in his heart and
on his lips; only they didn’t sound, and as that made her wait again so it
made her more intensely watch. This in turn showed her that he too watched
and waited, and how much he had expected something that he now felt
wouldn’t come. Yes, it wouldn’t come if he didn’t answer her, if he but
said the wrong things instead of the right. If he could say the right
everything would come—it hung by a hair that everything might
crystallise for their recovered happiness at his touch. This possibility
glowed at her, however, for fifty seconds, only then to turn cold, and as
it fell away from her she felt the chill of reality and knew again, all
but pressed to his heart and with his breath upon her cheek, the slim
rigour of her attitude, a rigour beyond that of her natural being. They
had silences, at last, that were almost crudities of mutual resistance—silences
that persisted through his felt effort to treat her recurrence to the part
he had lately played, to interpret all the sweetness of her so talking to
him, as a manner of making love to him. Ah, it was no such manner, heaven
knew, for Maggie; she could make love, if this had been in question,
better than that! On top of which it came to her presently to say, keeping
in with what she had already spoken: “Except of course that, for the
question of going off somewhere, he’d go readily, quite delightedly, with
you. I verily believe he’d like to have you for a while to himself.”



“Do you mean he thinks of proposing it?” the Prince after a moment
sounded.



“Oh no—he doesn’t ask, as you must so often have seen. But I believe
he’d go ‘like a shot,’ as you say, if you were to suggest it.”



It had the air, she knew, of a kind of condition made, and she had asked
herself while she spoke if it wouldn’t cause his arm to let her go. The
fact that it didn’t suggested to her that she had made him, of a sudden,
still more intensely think, think with such concentration that he could do
but one thing at once. And it was precisely as if the concentration had
the next moment been proved in him. He took a turn inconsistent with the
superficial impression—a jump that made light of their approach to
gravity and represented for her the need in him to gain time. That she
made out, was his drawback—that the warning from her had come to
him, and had come to Charlotte, after all, too suddenly. That they were in
face of it rearranging, that they had to rearrange, was all before her
again; yet to do as they would like they must enjoy a snatch, longer or
shorter, of recovered independence. Amerigo, for the instant, was but
doing as he didn’t like, and it was as if she were watching his effort
without disguise. “What’s your father’s idea, this year, then, about
Fawns? Will he go at Whitsuntide, and will he then stay on?”



Maggie went through the form of thought. “He will really do, I imagine, as
he has, in so many ways, so often done before; do whatever may seem most
agreeable to yourself. And there’s of course always Charlotte to be
considered. Only their going early to Fawns, if they do go,” she said,
“needn’t in the least entail your and my going.”



“Ah,” Amerigo echoed, “it needn’t in the least entail your and my going?”



“We can do as we like. What they may do needn’t trouble us, since they’re
by good fortune perfectly happy together.”



“Oh,” the Prince returned, “your father’s never so happy as with you near
him to enjoy his being so.”



“Well, I may enjoy it,” said Maggie, “but I’m not the cause of it.”



“You’re the cause,” her husband declared, “of the greater part of
everything that’s good among us.” But she received this tribute in
silence, and the next moment he pursued: “If Mrs. Verver has arrears of
time with you to make up, as you say, she’ll scarcely do it—or you
scarcely will—by our cutting, your and my cutting, too loose.”



“I see what you mean,” Maggie mused.



He let her for a little to give her attention to it; after which, “Shall I
just quite, of a sudden,” he asked, “propose him a journey?”



Maggie hesitated, but she brought forth the fruit of reflection. “It would
have the merit that Charlotte then would be with me—with me, I mean,
so much more. Also that I shouldn’t, by choosing such a time for going
away, seem unconscious and ungrateful, seem not to respond, seem in fact
rather to wish to shake her off. I should respond, on the contrary, very
markedly—by being here alone with her for a month.”



“And would you like to be here alone with her for a month?”



“I could do with it beautifully. Or we might even,” she said quite gaily,
“go together down to Fawns.”



“You could be so very content without me?” the Prince presently inquired.



“Yes, my own dear—if you could be content for a while with father.
That would keep me up. I might, for the time,” she went on, “go to stay
there with Charlotte; or, better still, she might come to Portland Place.”



“Oho!” said the Prince with cheerful vagueness.



“I should feel, you see,” she continued, “that the two of us were showing
the same sort of kindness.”



Amerigo thought. “The two of us? Charlotte and I?”



Maggie again hesitated. “You and I, darling.”



“I see, I see”—he promptly took it in. “And what reason shall I give—give,
I mean, your father?”



“For asking him to go off? Why, the very simplest—if you
conscientiously can. The desire,” said Maggie, “to be agreeable to him.
Just that only.”



Something in this reply made her husband again reflect.
“‘Conscientiously?’ Why shouldn’t I conscientiously? It wouldn’t, by your
own contention,” he developed, “represent any surprise for him. I must
strike him sufficiently as, at the worst, the last person in the world to
wish to do anything to hurt him.”



Ah, there it was again, for Maggie—the note already sounded, the
note of the felt need of not working harm! Why this precautionary view,
she asked herself afresh, when her father had complained, at the very
least, as little as herself? With their stillness together so perfect,
what had suggested so, around them, the attitude of sparing them? Her
inner vision fixed it once more, this attitude, saw it, in the others, as
vivid and concrete, extended it straight from her companion to Charlotte.
Before she was well aware, accordingly, she had echoed in this intensity
of thought Amerigo’s last words. “You’re the last person in the world to
wish to do anything to hurt him.”



She heard herself, heard her tone, after she had spoken, and heard it the
more that, for a minute after, she felt her husband’s eyes on her face,
very close, too close for her to see him. He was looking at her because he
was struck, and looking hard—though his answer, when it came, was
straight enough. “Why, isn’t that just what we have been talking about—that
I’ve affected you as fairly studying his comfort and his pleasure? He
might show his sense of it,” the Prince went on, “by proposing to ME an
excursion.”



“And you would go with him?” Maggie immediately asked.



He hung fire but an instant. “Per Dio!”



She also had her pause, but she broke it—since gaiety was in the air—with
an intense smile. “You can say that safely, because the proposal’s one
that, of his own motion, he won’t make.”



She couldn’t have narrated afterwards—and in fact was at a loss to
tell herself—by what transition, what rather marked abruptness of
change in their personal relation, their drive came to its end with a kind
of interval established, almost confessed to, between them. She felt it in
the tone with which he repeated, after her, “‘Safely’—?”



“Safely as regards being thrown with him perhaps after all, in such a
case, too long. He’s a person to think you might easily feel yourself to
be. So it won’t,” Maggie said, “come from father. He’s too modest.”



Their eyes continued to meet on it, from corner to corner of the brougham.
“Oh your modesty, between you—!” But he still smiled for it. “So
that unless I insist—?”



“We shall simply go on as we are.”



“Well, we’re going on beautifully,” he answered—though by no means
with the effect it would have had if their mute transaction, that of
attempted capture and achieved escape, had not taken place. As Maggie said
nothing, none the less, to gainsay his remark, it was open to him to find
himself the next moment conscious of still another idea. “I wonder if it
would do. I mean for me to break in.”



“‘To break in’—?”



“Between your father and his wife. But there would be a way,” he said—“we
can make Charlotte ask him.” And then as Maggie herself now wondered,
echoing it again: “We can suggest to her to suggest to him that he shall
let me take him off.”



“Oh!” said Maggie.



“Then if he asks her why I so suddenly break out she’ll be able to tell
him the reason.”



They were stopping, and the footman, who had alighted, had rung at the
house-door. “That you think it would be so charming?”



“That I think it would be so charming. That we’ve persuaded HER will be
convincing.”



“I see,” Maggie went on while the footman came back to let them out. “I
see,” she said again; though she felt a little disconcerted. What she
really saw, of a sudden, was that her stepmother might report her as above
all concerned for the proposal, and this brought her back her need that
her father shouldn’t think her concerned in any degree for anything. She
alighted the next instant with a slight sense of defeat; her husband, to
let her out, had passed before her, and, a little in advance, he awaited
her on the edge of the low terrace, a step high, that preceded their open
entrance, on either side of which one of their servants stood. The sense
of a life tremendously ordered and fixed rose before her, and there was
something in Amerigo’s very face, while his eyes again met her own through
the dusky lamplight, that was like a conscious reminder of it. He had
answered her, just before, distinctly, and it appeared to leave her
nothing to say. It was almost as if, having planned for the last word, she
saw him himself enjoying it. It was almost as if—in the strangest
way in the world—he were paying her back, by the production of a
small pang, that of a new uneasiness, for the way she had slipped from him
during their drive.


                            XXVIII


Maggie’s new uneasiness might have had time to drop, inasmuch as she not
only was conscious, during several days that followed, of no fresh
indication for it to feed on, but was even struck, in quite another way,
with an augmentation of the symptoms of that difference she had taken it
into her head to work for. She recognised by the end of a week that if she
had been in a manner caught up her father had been not less so—with
the effect of her husband’s and his wife’s closing in, together, round
them, and of their all having suddenly begun, as a party of four, to lead
a life gregarious, and from that reason almost hilarious, so far as the
easy sound of it went, as never before. It might have been an accident and
a mere coincidence—so at least she said to herself at first; but a
dozen chances that furthered the whole appearance had risen to the
surface, pleasant pretexts, oh certainly pleasant, as pleasant as Amerigo
in particular could make them, for associated undertakings, quite for
shared adventures, for its always turning out, amusingly, that they wanted
to do very much the same thing at the same time and in the same way. Funny
all this was, to some extent, in the light of the fact that the father and
daughter, for so long, had expressed so few positive desires; yet it would
be sufficiently natural that if Amerigo and Charlotte HAD at last got a
little tired of each other’s company they should find their relief not so
much in sinking to the rather low level of their companions as in wishing
to pull the latter into the train in which they so constantly moved.
“We’re in the train,” Maggie mutely reflected after the dinner in Eaton
Square with Lady Castledean; “we’ve suddenly waked up in it and found
ourselves rushing along, very much as if we had been put in during sleep—shoved,
like a pair of labelled boxes, into the van. And since I wanted to ‘go’
I’m certainly going,” she might have added; “I’m moving without trouble—they’re
doing it all for us: it’s wonderful how they understand and how perfectly
it succeeds.” For that was the thing she had most immediately to
acknowledge: it seemed as easy for them to make a quartette as it had
formerly so long appeared for them to make a pair of couples—this
latter being thus a discovery too absurdly belated. The only point at
which, day after day, the success appeared at all qualified was
represented, as might have been said, by her irresistible impulse to give
her father a clutch when the train indulged in one of its occasional
lurches. Then—there was no denying it—his eyes and her own
met; so that they were themselves doing active violence, as against the
others, to that very spirit of union, or at least to that very achievement
of change, which she had taken the field to invoke.



The maximum of change was reached, no doubt, the day the Matcham party
dined in Portland Place; the day, really perhaps, of Maggie’s maximum of
social glory, in the sense of its showing for her own occasion, her very
own, with every one else extravagantly rallying and falling in, absolutely
conspiring to make her its heroine. It was as if her father himself,
always with more initiative as a guest than as a host, had dabbled too in
the conspiracy; and the impression was not diminished by the presence of
the Assinghams, likewise very much caught-up, now, after something of a
lull, by the side-wind of all the rest of the motion, and giving our young
woman, so far at least as Fanny was concerned, the sense of some special
intention of encouragement and applause. Fanny, who had not been present
at the other dinner, thanks to a preference entertained and expressed by
Charlotte, made a splendid show at this one, in new orange-coloured velvet
with multiplied turquoises, and with a confidence, furthermore, as
different as possible, her hostess inferred, from her too-marked betrayal
of a belittled state at Matcham. Maggie was not indifferent to her own
opportunity to redress this balance—which seemed, for the hour, part
of a general rectification; she liked making out for herself that on the
high level of Portland Place, a spot exempt, on all sorts of grounds, from
jealous jurisdictions, her friend could feel as “good” as any one, and
could in fact at moments almost appear to take the lead in recognition and
celebration, so far as the evening might conduce to intensify the lustre
of the little Princess. Mrs. Assingham produced on her the impression of
giving her constantly her cue for this; and it was in truth partly by her
help, intelligently, quite gratefully accepted, that the little Princess,
in Maggie, was drawn out and emphasised. She couldn’t definitely have said
how it happened, but she felt herself, for the first time in her career,
living up to the public and popular notion of such a personage, as it
pressed upon her from all round; rather wondering, inwardly too, while she
did so, at that strange mixture in things through which the popular notion
could be evidenced for her by such supposedly great ones of the earth as
the Castledeans and their kind. Fanny Assingham might really have been
there, at all events, like one of the assistants in the ring at the
circus, to keep up the pace of the sleek revolving animal on whose back
the lady in short spangled skirts should brilliantly caper and posture.
That was all, doubtless Maggie had forgotten, had neglected, had declined,
to be the little Princess on anything like the scale open to her; but now
that the collective hand had been held out to her with such alacrity, so
that she might skip up into the light, even, as seemed to her modest mind,
with such a show of pink stocking and such an abbreviation of white
petticoat, she could strike herself as perceiving, under arched eyebrows,
where her mistake had been. She had invited for the later hours, after her
dinner, a fresh contingent, the whole list of her apparent London
acquaintance—which was again a thing in the manner of little
princesses for whom the princely art was a matter of course. That was what
she was learning to do, to fill out as a matter of course her appointed,
her expected, her imposed character; and, though there were latent
considerations that somewhat interfered with the lesson, she was having
to-night an inordinate quantity of practice, none of it so successful as
when, quite wittingly, she directed it at Lady Castledean, who was reduced
by it at last to an unprecedented state of passivity. The perception of
this high result caused Mrs. Assingham fairly to flush with responsive
joy; she glittered at her young friend, from moment to moment, quite
feverishly; it was positively as if her young friend had, in some
marvellous, sudden, supersubtle way, become a source of succour to
herself, become beautifully, divinely retributive. The intensity of the
taste of these registered phenomena was in fact that somehow, by a process
and through a connexion not again to be traced, she so practised, at the
same time, on Amerigo and Charlotte—with only the drawback, her
constant check and second-thought, that she concomitantly practised
perhaps still more on her father.



This last was a danger indeed that, for much of the ensuing time, had its
hours of strange beguilement—those at which her sense for
precautions so suffered itself to lapse that she felt her communion with
him more intimate than any other. It COULDN’T but pass between them that
something singular was happening—so much as this she again and again
said to herself; whereby the comfort of it was there, after all, to be
noted, just as much as the possible peril, and she could think of the
couple they formed together as groping, with sealed lips, but with mutual
looks that had never been so tender, for some freedom, some fiction, some
figured bravery, under which they might safely talk of it. The moment was
to come—and it finally came with an effect as penetrating as the
sound that follows the pressure of an electric button—when she read
the least helpful of meanings into the agitation she had created. The
merely specious description of their case would have been that, after
being for a long time, as a family, delightfully, uninterruptedly happy,
they had still had a new felicity to discover; a felicity for which,
blessedly, her father’s appetite and her own, in particular, had been kept
fresh and grateful. This livelier march of their intercourse as a whole
was the thing that occasionally determined in him the clutching instinct
we have glanced at; very much as if he had said to her, in default of her
breaking silence first: “Everything is remarkably pleasant, isn’t it?—but
WHERE, for it, after all, are we? up in a balloon and whirling through
space, or down in the depths of the earth, in the glimmering passages of a
gold-mine?” The equilibrium, the precious condition, lasted in spite of
rearrangement; there had been a fresh distribution of the different
weights, but the balance persisted and triumphed: all of which was just
the reason why she was forbidden, face to face with the companion of her
adventure, the experiment of a test. If they balanced they balanced—she
had to take that; it deprived her of every pretext for arriving, by
however covert a process, at what he thought.



But she had her hours, thus, of feeling supremely linked to him by the
rigour of their law, and when it came over her that, all the while, the
wish, on his side, to spare her might be what most worked with him, this
very fact of their seeming to have nothing “inward” really to talk about
wrapped him up for her in a kind of sweetness that was wanting, as a
consecration, even in her yearning for her husband. She was powerless,
however, was only more utterly hushed, when the interrupting flash came,
when she would have been all ready to say to him, “Yes, this is by every
appearance the best time we’ve had yet; but don’t you see, all the same,
how they must be working together for it, and how my very success, my
success in shifting our beautiful harmony to a new basis, comes round to
being their success, above all; their cleverness, their amiability, their
power to hold out, their complete possession, in short, of our life?” For
how could she say as much as that without saying a great deal more?
without saying “They’ll do everything in the world that suits us, save
only one thing—prescribe a line for us that will make them
separate.” How could she so much as imagine herself even faintly murmuring
that without putting into his mouth the very words that would have made
her quail? “Separate, my dear? Do you want them to separate? Then you want
US to—you and me? For how can the one separation take place without
the other?” That was the question that, in spirit, she had heard him ask—with
its dread train, moreover, of involved and connected inquiries. Their own
separation, his and hers, was of course perfectly thinkable, but only on
the basis of the sharpest of reasons. Well, the sharpest, the very
sharpest, would be that they could no longer afford, as it were, he to let
his wife, she to let her husband, “run” them in such compact formation.
And say they accepted this account of their situation as a practical
finality, acting upon it and proceeding to a division, would no sombre
ghosts of the smothered past, on either side, show, across the widening
strait, pale unappeased faces, or raise, in the very passage, deprecating,
denouncing hands?



Meanwhile, however such things might be, she was to have occasion to say
to herself that there might be but a deeper treachery in recoveries and
reassurances. She was to feel alone again, as she had felt at the issue of
her high tension with her husband during their return from meeting the
Castledeans in Eaton Square. The evening in question had left her with a
larger alarm, but then a lull had come—the alarm, after all, was yet
to be confirmed. There came an hour, inevitably, when she knew, with a
chill, what she had feared and why; it had taken, this hour, a month to
arrive, but to find it before her was thoroughly to recognise it, for it
showed her sharply what Amerigo had meant in alluding to a particular use
that they might make, for their reaffirmed harmony and prosperity, of
Charlotte. The more she thought, at present, of the tone he had employed
to express their enjoyment of this resource, the more it came back to her
as the product of a conscious art of dealing with her. He had been
conscious, at the moment, of many things—conscious even, not a
little, of desiring; and thereby of needing, to see what she would do in a
given case. The given case would be that of her being to a certain extent,
as she might fairly make it out, MENACED—horrible as it was to
impute to him any intention represented by such a word. Why it was that to
speak of making her stepmother intervene, as they might call it, in a
question that seemed, just then and there, quite peculiarly their own
business—why it was that a turn so familiar and so easy should, at
the worst, strike her as charged with the spirit of a threat, was an
oddity disconnected, for her, temporarily, from its grounds, the adventure
of an imagination within her that possibly had lost its way. That,
precisely, was doubtless why she had learned to wait, as the weeks passed
by, with a fair, or rather indeed with an excessive, imitation of resumed
serenity. There had been no prompt sequel to the Prince’s equivocal light,
and that made for patience; yet she was none the less to have to admit,
after delay, that the bread he had cast on the waters had come home, and
that she should thus be justified of her old apprehension. The consequence
of this, in turn, was a renewed pang in presence of his remembered
ingenuity. To be ingenious with HER—what DIDN’T, what mightn’t that
mean, when she had so absolutely never, at any point of contact with him,
put him, by as much as the value of a penny, to the expense of sparing,
doubting, fearing her, of having in any way whatever to reckon with her?
The ingenuity had been in his simply speaking of their use of Charlotte as
if it were common to them in an equal degree, and his triumph, on the
occasion, had been just in the simplicity. She couldn’t—and he knew
it—say what was true: “Oh, you ‘use’ her, and I use her, if you
will, yes; but we use her ever so differently and separately—not at
all in the same way or degree. There’s nobody we really use together but
ourselves, don’t you see?—by which I mean that where our interests
are the same I can so beautifully, so exquisitely serve you for
everything, and you can so beautifully, so exquisitely serve me. The only
person either of us needs is the other of us; so why, as a matter of
course, in such a case as this, drag in Charlotte?”



She couldn’t so challenge him, because it would have been—and there
she was paralysed—the NOTE. It would have translated itself on the
spot, for his ear, into jealousy; and, from reverberation to repercussion,
would have reached her father’s exactly in the form of a cry piercing the
stillness of peaceful sleep. It had been for many days almost as difficult
for her to catch a quiet twenty minutes with her father as it had formerly
been easy; there had been in fact, of old—the time, so strangely,
seemed already far away—an inevitability in her longer passages with
him, a sort of domesticated beauty in the calculability, round about them,
of everything. But at present Charlotte was almost always there when
Amerigo brought her to Eaton Square, where Amerigo was constantly bringing
her; and Amerigo was almost always there when Charlotte brought her
husband to Portland Place, where Charlotte was constantly bringing HIM.
The fractions of occasions, the chance minutes that put them face to face
had, as yet, of late, contrived to count but little, between them, either
for the sense of opportunity or for that of exposure; inasmuch as the
lifelong rhythm of their intercourse made against all cursory handling of
deep things. They had never availed themselves of any given
quarter-of-an-hour to gossip about fundamentals; they moved slowly through
large still spaces; they could be silent together, at any time,
beautifully, with much more comfort than hurriedly expressive. It appeared
indeed to have become true that their common appeal measured itself, for
vividness, just by this economy of sound; they might have been talking
“at” each other when they talked with their companions, but these latter,
assuredly, were not in any directer way to gain light on the current phase
of their relation. Such were some of the reasons for which Maggie
suspected fundamentals, as I have called them, to be rising, by a new
movement, to the surface—suspected it one morning late in May, when
her father presented himself in Portland Place alone. He had his pretext—of
that she was fully aware: the Principino, two days before, had shown
signs, happily not persistent, of a feverish cold and had notoriously been
obliged to spend the interval at home. This was ground, ample ground, for
punctual inquiry; but what it wasn’t ground for, she quickly found herself
reflecting, was his having managed, in the interest of his visit, to
dispense so unwontedly—as their life had recently come to be
arranged—with his wife’s attendance. It had so happened that she
herself was, for the hour, exempt from her husband’s, and it will at once
be seen that the hour had a quality all its own when I note that,
remembering how the Prince had looked in to say he was going out, the
Princess whimsically wondered if their respective sposi mightn’t frankly
be meeting, whimsically hoped indeed they were temporarily so disposed of.
Strange was her need, at moments, to think of them as not attaching an
excessive importance to their repudiation of the general practice that had
rested only a few weeks before on such a consecrated rightness.
Repudiations, surely, were not in the air—they had none of them come
to that; for wasn’t she at this minute testifying directly against them by
her own behaviour? When she should confess to fear of being alone with her
father, to fear of what he might then—ah, with such a slow, painful
motion as she had a horror of!—say to her, THEN would be time enough
for Amerigo and Charlotte to confess to not liking to appear to
foregather.



She had this morning a wonderful consciousness both of dreading a
particular question from him and of being able to check, yes even to
disconcert, magnificently, by her apparent manner of receiving it, any
restless imagination he might have about its importance. The day, bright
and soft, had the breath of summer; it made them talk, to begin with, of
Fawns, of the way Fawns invited—Maggie aware, the while, that in
thus regarding, with him, the sweetness of its invitation to one couple
just as much as to another, her humbugging smile grew very nearly
convulsive. That was it, and there was relief truly, of a sort, in taking
it in: she was humbugging him already, by absolute necessity, as she had
never, never done in her life—doing it up to the full height of what
she had allowed for. The necessity, in the great dimly-shining room where,
declining, for his reasons, to sit down, he moved about in Amerigo’s very
footsteps, the necessity affected her as pressing upon her with the very
force of the charm itself; of the old pleasantness, between them, so
candidly playing up there again; of the positive flatness of their
tenderness, a surface all for familiar use, quite as if generalised from
the long succession of tapestried sofas, sweetly faded, on which his
theory of contentment had sat, through unmeasured pauses, beside her own.
She KNEW, from this instant, knew in advance and as well as anything would
ever teach her, that she must never intermit for a solitary second her so
highly undertaking to prove that there was nothing the matter with her.
She saw, of a sudden, everything she might say or do in the light of that
undertaking, established connections from it with any number of remote
matters, struck herself, for instance, as acting all in its interest when
she proposed their going out, in the exercise of their freedom and in
homage to the season, for a turn in the Regent’s Park. This resort was
close at hand, at the top of Portland Place, and the Principino,
beautifully better, had already proceeded there under high attendance: all
of which considerations were defensive for Maggie, all of which became, to
her mind, part of the business of cultivating continuity.



Upstairs, while she left him to put on something to go out in, the thought
of his waiting below for her, in possession of the empty house, brought
with it, sharply if briefly, one of her abrupt arrests of consistency, the
brush of a vain imagination almost paralysing her, often, for the minute,
before her glass—the vivid look, in other words, of the particular
difference his marriage had made. The particular difference seemed at such
instants the loss, more than anything else, of their old freedom, their
never having had to think, where they were together concerned, of any one,
of anything but each other. It hadn’t been HER marriage that did it; that
had never, for three seconds, suggested to either of them that they must
act diplomatically, must reckon with another presence—no, not even
with her husband’s. She groaned to herself, while the vain imagination
lasted, “WHY did he marry? ah, why DID he?” and then it came up to her
more than ever that nothing could have been more beautiful than the way in
which, till Charlotte came so much more closely into their life, Amerigo
hadn’t interfered. What she had gone on owing him for this mounted up
again, to her eyes, like a column of figures—-or call it even, if
one would, a house of cards; it was her father’s wonderful act that had
tipped the house down and made the sum wrong. With all of which,
immediately after her question, her “Why did he, why did he?” rushed back,
inevitably, the confounding, the overwhelming wave of the knowledge of his
reason. “He did it for ME, he did it for me,” she moaned, “he did it,
exactly, that our freedom—meaning, beloved man, simply and solely
mine—should be greater instead of less; he did it, divinely, to
liberate me so far as possible from caring what became of him.” She found
time upstairs, even in her haste, as she had repeatedly found time before,
to let the wonderments involved in these recognitions flash at her with
their customary effect of making her blink: the question in especial of
whether she might find her solution in acting, herself, in the spirit of
what he had done, in forcing her “care” really to grow as much less as he
had tried to make it. Thus she felt the whole weight of their case drop
afresh upon her shoulders, was confronted, unmistakably, with the prime
source of her haunted state. It all came from her not having been able not
to mind—not to mind what became of him; not having been able,
without anxiety, to let him go his way and take his risk and lead his
life. She had made anxiety her stupid little idol; and absolutely now,
while she stuck a long pin, a trifle fallaciously, into her hat—she
had, with an approach to irritation, told her maid, a new woman, whom she
had lately found herself thinking of as abysmal, that she didn’t want her—she
tried to focus the possibility of some understanding between them in
consequence of which he should cut loose.



Very near indeed it looked, any such possibility! that consciousness, too,
had taken its turn by the time she was ready; all the vibration, all the
emotion of this present passage being, precisely, in the very sweetness of
their lapse back into the conditions of the simpler time, into a queer
resemblance between the aspect and the feeling of the moment and those of
numberless other moments that were sufficiently far away. She had been
quick in her preparation, in spite of the flow of the tide that sometimes
took away her breath; but a pause, once more, was still left for her to
make, a pause, at the top of the stairs, before she came down to him, in
the span of which she asked herself if it weren’t thinkable, from the
perfectly practical point of view, that she should simply sacrifice him.
She didn’t go into the detail of what sacrificing him would mean—she
didn’t need to; so distinct was it, in one of her restless lights, that
there he was awaiting her, that she should find him walking up and down
the drawing-room in the warm, fragrant air to which the open windows and
the abundant flowers contributed; slowly and vaguely moving there and
looking very slight and young and, superficially, manageable, almost as
much like her child, putting it a little freely, as like her parent; with
the appearance about him, above all, of having perhaps arrived just on
purpose to SAY it to her, himself, in so many words: “Sacrifice me, my own
love; do sacrifice me, do sacrifice me!” Should she want to, should she
insist on it, she might verily hear him bleating it at her, all conscious
and all accommodating, like some precious, spotless, exceptionally
intelligent lamb. The positive effect of the intensity of this figure,
however, was to make her shake it away in her resumed descent; and after
she had rejoined him, after she had picked him up, she was to know the
full pang of the thought that her impossibility was MADE, absolutely, by
his consciousness, by the lucidity of his intention: this she felt while
she smiled there for him, again, all hypocritically; while she drew on
fair, fresh gloves; while she interrupted the process first to give his
necktie a slightly smarter twist and then to make up to him for her hidden
madness by rubbing her nose into his cheek according to the tradition of
their frankest levity.



From the instant she should be able to convict him of intending, every
issue would be closed and her hypocrisy would have to redouble. The only
way to sacrifice him would be to do so without his dreaming what it might
be for. She kissed him, she arranged his cravat, she dropped remarks, she
guided him out, she held his arm, not to be led, but to lead him, and
taking it to her by much the same intimate pressure she had always used,
when a little girl, to mark the inseparability of her doll—she did
all these things so that he should sufficiently fail to dream of what they
might be for.


                           XXIX


There was nothing to show that her effort in any degree fell short till
they got well into the Park and he struck her as giving, unexpectedly, the
go-by to any serious search for the Principino. The way they sat down
awhile in the sun was a sign of that; his dropping with her into the first
pair of sequestered chairs they came across and waiting a little, after
they were placed, as if now at last she might bring out, as between them,
something more specific. It made her but feel the more sharply how the
specific, in almost any direction, was utterly forbidden her—how the
use of it would be, for all the world, like undoing the leash of a dog
eager to follow up a scent. It would come out, the specific, where the dog
would come out; would run to earth, somehow, the truth—for she was
believing herself in relation to the truth!—at which she mustn’t so
much as indirectly point. Such, at any rate, was the fashion in which her
passionate prudence played over possibilities of danger, reading symptoms
and betrayals into everything she looked at, and yet having to make it
evident, while she recognised them, that she didn’t wince. There were
moments between them, in their chairs, when he might have been watching
her guard herself and trying to think of something new that would trip her
up. There were pauses during which, with her affection as sweet and still
as the sunshine, she might yet, as at some hard game, over a table, for
money, have been defying him to fasten upon her the least little
complication of consciousness. She was positively proud, afterwards, of
the great style in which she had kept this up; later on, at the hour’s
end, when they had retraced their steps to find Amerigo and Charlotte
awaiting them at the house, she was able to say to herself that, truly,
she had put her plan through; even though once more setting herself the
difficult task of making their relation, every minute of the time, not
fall below the standard of that other hour, in the treasured past, which
hung there behind them like a framed picture in a museum, a high watermark
for the history of their old fortune; the summer evening, in the park at
Fawns, when, side by side under the trees just as now, they had let their
happy confidence lull them with its most golden tone. There had been the
possibility of a trap for her, at present, in the very question of their
taking up anew that residence; wherefore she had not been the first to
sound it, in spite of the impression from him of his holding off to see
what she would do. She was saying to herself in secret: “CAN we again, in
this form, migrate there? Can I, for myself, undertake it? face all the
intenser keeping-up and stretching-out, indefinitely, impossibly, that our
conditions in the country, as we’ve established and accepted them, would
stand for?” She had positively lost herself in this inward doubt—so
much she was subsequently to remember; but remembering then too that her
companion, though perceptibly perhaps as if not to be eager, had broken
the ice very much as he had broken it in Eaton Square after the banquet to
the Castledeans.



Her mind had taken a long excursion, wandered far into the vision of what
a summer at Fawns, with Amerigo and Charlotte still more eminently in
presence against that higher sky, would bring forth. Wasn’t her father
meanwhile only pretending to talk of it? just as she was, in a manner,
pretending to listen? He got off it, finally, at all events, for the
transition it couldn’t well help thrusting out at him; it had amounted
exactly to an arrest of her private excursion by the sense that he had
begun to IMITATE—oh, as never yet!—the ancient tone of gold.
It had verily come from him at last, the question of whether she thought
it would be very good—but very good indeed—that he should
leave England for a series of weeks, on some pretext, with the Prince.
Then it had been that she was to know her husband’s “menace” hadn’t really
dropped, since she was face to face with the effect of it. Ah, the effect
of it had occupied all the rest of their walk, had stayed out with them
and come home with them, besides making it impossible that they shouldn’t
presently feign to recollect how rejoining the child had been their
original purpose. Maggie’s uneffaced note was that it had, at the end of
five minutes more, driven them to that endeavour as to a refuge, and
caused them afterwards to rejoice, as well, that the boy’s irrepressibly
importunate company, in due course secured and enjoyed, with the extension
imparted by his governess, a person expectant of consideration,
constituted a cover for any awkwardness. For that was what it had all come
to, that the dear man had spoken to her to TRY her—quite as he had
been spoken to himself by Charlotte, with the same fine idea. The Princess
took it in, on the spot, firmly grasping it; she heard them together, her
father and his wife, dealing with the queer case. “The Prince tells me
that Maggie has a plan for your taking some foreign journey with him, and,
as he likes to do everything she wants, he has suggested my speaking to
you for it as the thing most likely to make you consent. So I do speak—see?—being
always so eager myself, as you know, to meet Maggie’s wishes. I speak, but
without quite understanding, this time, what she has in her head. Why
SHOULD she, of a sudden, at this particular moment, desire to ship you off
together and to remain here alone with me? The compliment’s all to me, I
admit, and you must decide quite as you like. The Prince is quite ready,
evidently, to do his part—but you’ll have it out with him. That is
you’ll have it out with HER.” Something of that kind was what, in her
mind’s ear, Maggie heard—and this, after his waiting for her to
appeal to him directly, was her father’s invitation to her to have it out.
Well, as she could say to herself all the rest of the day, that was what
they did while they continued to sit there in their penny chairs, that was
what they HAD done as much as they would now ever, ever, have out
anything. The measure of this, at least, had been given, that each would
fight to the last for the protection, for the perversion, of any real
anxiety. She had confessed, instantly, with her humbugging grin, not
flinching by a hair, meeting his eyes as mildly as he met hers, she had
confessed to her fancy that they might both, he and his son-in-law, have
welcomed such an escapade, since they had both been so long so furiously
domestic. She had almost cocked her hat under the inspiration of this
opportunity to hint how a couple of spirited young men, reacting from
confinement and sallying forth arm-in-arm, might encounter the agreeable
in forms that would strike them for the time at least as novel. She had
felt for fifty seconds, with her eyes, all so sweetly and falsely, in her
companion’s, horribly vulgar; yet without minding it either—such
luck should she have if to be nothing worse than vulgar would see her
through. “And I thought Amerigo might like it better,” she had said, “than
wandering off alone.”



“Do you mean that he won’t go unless I take him?”



She had considered here, and never in her life had she considered so
promptly and so intently. If she really put it that way, her husband,
challenged, might belie the statement; so that what would that do but make
her father wonder, make him perhaps ask straight out, why she was exerting
pressure? She couldn’t of course afford to be suspected for an instant of
exerting pressure; which was why she was obliged only to make answer:
“Wouldn’t that be just what you must have out with HIM?”



“Decidedly—if he makes me the proposal. But he hasn’t made it yet.”



Oh, once more, how she was to feel she had smirked! “Perhaps he’s too
shy!”



“Because you’re so sure he so really wants my company?”



“I think he has thought you might like it.”



“Well, I should—!” But with this he looked away from her, and she
held her breath to hear him either ask if she wished him to address the
question to Amerigo straight, or inquire if she should be greatly
disappointed by his letting it drop. What had “settled” her, as she was
privately to call it, was that he had done neither of these things, and
had thereby markedly stood off from the risk involved in trying to draw
out her reason. To attenuate, on the other hand, this appearance, and
quite as if to fill out the too large receptacle made, so musingly, by his
abstention, he had himself presently given her a reason—had
positively spared her the effort of asking whether he judged Charlotte not
to have approved. He had taken everything on himself—THAT was what
had settled her. She had had to wait very little more to feel, with this,
how much he was taking. The point he made was his lack of any eagerness to
put time and space, on any such scale, between himself and his wife. He
wasn’t so unhappy with her—far from it, and Maggie was to hold that
he had grinned back, paternally, through his rather shielding glasses, in
easy emphasis of this—as to be able to hint that he required the
relief of absence. Therefore, unless it was for the Prince himself—!



“Oh, I don’t think it would have been for Amerigo himself. Amerigo and I,”
Maggie had said, “perfectly rub on together.”



“Well then, there we are.”



“I see”—and she had again, with sublime blandness, assented. “There
we are.”



“Charlotte and I too,” her father had gaily proceeded, “perfectly rub on
together.” And then he had appeared for a little to be making time. “To
put it only so,” he had mildly and happily added—“to put it only
so!” He had spoken as if he might easily put it much better, yet as if the
humour of contented understatement fairly sufficed for the occasion. He
had played then, either all consciously or all unconsciously, into
Charlotte’s hands; and the effect of this was to render trebly oppressive
Maggie’s conviction of Charlotte’s plan. She had done what she wanted, his
wife had—which was also what Amerigo had made her do. She had kept
her test, Maggie’s test, from becoming possible, and had applied instead a
test of her own. It was exactly as if she had known that her stepdaughter
would be afraid to be summoned to say, under the least approach to
cross-examination, why any change was desirable; and it was, for our young
woman herself, still more prodigiously, as if her father had been capable
of calculations to match, of judging it important he shouldn’t be brought
to demand of her what was the matter with her. Why otherwise, with such an
opportunity, hadn’t he demanded it? Always from calculation—that was
why, that was why. He was terrified of the retort he might have invoked:
“What, my dear, if you come to that, is the matter with YOU?” When, a
minute later on, he had followed up his last note by a touch or two
designed still further to conjure away the ghost of the anomalous, at that
climax verily she would have had to be dumb to the question. “There seems
a kind of charm, doesn’t there? on our life—and quite as if, just
lately, it had got itself somehow renewed, had waked up refreshed. A kind
of wicked selfish prosperity perhaps, as if we had grabbed everything,
fixed everything, down to the last lovely object for the last glass case
of the last corner, left over, of my old show. That’s the only take-off,
that it has made us perhaps lazy, a wee bit languid—lying like gods
together, all careless of mankind.”



“Do you consider that we’re languid?”—that form of rejoinder she had
jumped at for the sake of its pretty lightness. “Do you consider that we
are careless of mankind?—living as we do in the biggest crowd in the
world, and running about always pursued and pursuing.”



It had made him think indeed a little longer than she had meant; but he
came up again, as she might have said, smiling. “Well, I don’t know. We
get nothing but the fun, do we?”



“No,” she had hastened to declare; “we certainly get nothing but the fun.”



“We do it all,” he had remarked, “so beautifully.”



“We do it all so beautifully.” She hadn’t denied this for a moment. “I see
what you mean.”



“Well, I mean too,” he had gone on, “that we haven’t, no doubt, enough,
the sense of difficulty.”



“Enough? Enough for what?”



“Enough not to be selfish.”



“I don’t think YOU are selfish,” she had returned—and had managed
not to wail it.



“I don’t say that it’s me particularly—or that it’s you or Charlotte
or Amerigo. But we’re selfish together—we move as a selfish mass.
You see we want always the same thing,” he had gone on—“and that
holds us, that binds us, together. We want each other,” he had further
explained; “only wanting it, each time, FOR each other. That’s what I call
the happy spell; but it’s also, a little, possibly, the immorality.”



“‘The immorality’?” she had pleasantly echoed.



“Well, we’re tremendously moral for ourselves—that is for each
other; and I won’t pretend that I know exactly at whose particular
personal expense you and I, for instance, are happy. What it comes to, I
daresay, is that there’s something haunting—as if it were a bit
uncanny—in such a consciousness of our general comfort and
privilege. Unless indeed,” he had rambled on, “it’s only I to whom,
fantastically, it says so much. That’s all I mean, at any rate—that
it’s sort of soothing; as if we were sitting about on divans, with
pigtails, smoking opium and seeing visions. ‘Let us then be up and doing’—what
is it Longfellow says? That seems sometimes to ring out; like the police
breaking in—into our opium den—to give us a shake. But the
beauty of it is, at the same time, that we ARE doing; we’re doing, that
is, after all, what we went in for. We’re working it, our life, our
chance, whatever you may call it, as we saw it, as we felt it, from the
first. We HAVE worked it, and what more can you do than that? It’s a good
deal for me,” he had wound up, “to have made Charlotte so happy—to
have so perfectly contented her. YOU, from a good way back, were a matter
of course—I mean your being all right; so that I needn’t mind your
knowing that my great interest, since then, has rather inevitably been in
making sure of the same success, very much to your advantage as well, for
Charlotte. If we’ve worked our life, our idea really, as I say—if at
any rate I can sit here and say that I’ve worked my share of it—it
has not been what you may call least by our having put Charlotte so at her
ease. THAT has been soothing, all round; that has curled up as the biggest
of the blue fumes, or whatever they are, of the opium. Don’t you see what
a cropper we would have come if she hadn’t settled down as she has?” And
he had concluded by turning to Maggie as for something she mightn’t really
have thought of. “You, darling, in that case, I verily believe, would have
been the one to hate it most.”



“To hate it—?” Maggie had wondered.



“To hate our having, with our tremendous intentions, not brought it off.
And I daresay I should have hated it for you even more than for myself.”



“That’s not unlikely perhaps when it was for me, after all, that you did
it.”



He had hesitated, but only a moment. “I never told you so.”



“Well, Charlotte herself soon enough told me.”



“But I never told HER,” her father had answered.



“Are you very sure?” she had presently asked.



“Well, I like to think how thoroughly I was taken with her, and how right
I was, and how fortunate, to have that for my basis. I told her all the
good I thought of her.”



“Then that,” Maggie had returned, “was precisely part of the good. I mean
it was precisely part of it that she could so beautifully understand.”



“Yes—understand everything.”



“Everything—and in particular your reasons. Her telling me—that
showed me how she had understood.”



They were face to face again now, and she saw she had made his colour
rise; it was as if he were still finding in her eyes the concrete image,
the enacted scene, of her passage with Charlotte, which he was now hearing
of for the first time and as to which it would have been natural he should
question her further. His forbearance to do so would but mark, precisely,
the complication of his fears. “What she does like,” he finally said, “is
the way it has succeeded.”



“Your marriage?”



“Yes—my whole idea. The way I’ve been justified. That’s the joy I
give her. If for HER, either, it had failed—!” That, however, was
not worth talking about; he had broken off. “You think then you could now
risk Fawns?”



“‘Risk’ it?”



“Well, morally—from the point of view I was talking of; that of our
sinking deeper into sloth. Our selfishness, somehow, seems at its biggest
down there.”



Maggie had allowed him the amusement of her not taking this up. “Is
Charlotte,” she had simply asked, “really ready?”



“Oh, if you and I and Amerigo are. Whenever one corners Charlotte,” he had
developed more at his ease, “one finds that she only wants to know what we
want. Which is what we got her for!”



“What we got her for—exactly!” And so, for a little, even though
with a certain effect of oddity in their more or less successful ease,
they left it; left it till Maggie made the remark that it was all the same
wonderful her stepmother should be willing, before the season was out, to
exchange so much company for so much comparative solitude.



“Ah,” he had then made answer, “that’s because her idea, I think, this
time, is that we shall have more people, more than we’ve hitherto had, in
the country. Don’t you remember that THAT, originally, was what we were to
get her for?”



“Oh yes—to give us a life.” Maggie had gone through the form of
recalling this, and the light of their ancient candour, shining from so
far back, had seemed to bring out some things so strangely that, with the
sharpness of the vision, she had risen to her feet. “Well, with a ‘life’
Fawns will certainly do.” He had remained in his place while she looked
over his head; the picture, in her vision, had suddenly swarmed. The
vibration was that of one of the lurches of the mystic train in which,
with her companion, she was travelling; but she was having to steady
herself, this time, before meeting his eyes. She had measured indeed the
full difference between the move to Fawns because each of them now knew
the others wanted it and the pairing-off, for a journey, of her husband
and her father, which nobody knew that either wanted. “More company” at
Fawns would be effectually enough the key in which her husband and her
stepmother were at work; there was truly no question but that she and her
father must accept any array of visitors. No one could try to marry him
now. What he had just said was a direct plea for that, and what was the
plea itself but an act of submission to Charlotte? He had, from his chair,
been noting her look, but he had, the next minute, also risen, and then it
was they had reminded each other of their having come out for the boy.
Their junction with him and with his companion successfully effected, the
four had moved home more slowly, and still more vaguely; yet with a
vagueness that permitted of Maggie’s reverting an instant to the larger
issue.



“If we have people in the country then, as you were saying, do you know
for whom my first fancy would be? You may be amused, but it would be for
the Castledeans.”



“I see. But why should I be amused?”



“Well, I mean I am myself. I don’t think I like her—and yet I like
to see her: which, as Amerigo says, is ‘rum.’”



“But don’t you feel she’s very handsome?” her father inquired.



“Yes, but it isn’t for that.”



“Then what is it for?”



“Simply that she may be THERE—just there before us. It’s as if she
may have a value—as if something may come of her. I don’t in the
least know what, and she rather irritates me meanwhile. I don’t even know,
I admit, why—but if we see her often enough I may find out.”



“Does it matter so very much?” her companion had asked while they moved
together.



She had hesitated. “You mean because you do rather like her?”



He on his side too had waited a little, but then he had taken it from her.
“Yes, I guess I do rather like her.”



Which she accepted for the first case she could recall of their not being
affected by a person in the same way. It came back therefore to his
pretending; but she had gone far enough, and to add to her appearance of
levity she further observed that, though they were so far from a novelty,
she should also immediately desire, at Fawns, the presence of the
Assinghams. That put everything on a basis independent of explanations;
yet it was extraordinary, at the same time, how much, once in the country
again with the others, she was going, as they used to say at home, to need
the presence of the good Fanny. It was the strangest thing in the world,
but it was as if Mrs. Assingham might in a manner mitigate the intensity
of her consciousness of Charlotte. It was as if the two would balance, one
against the other; as if it came round again in that fashion to her idea
of the equilibrium. It would be like putting this friend into her scale to
make weight—into the scale with her father and herself. Amerigo and
Charlotte would be in the other; therefore it would take the three of them
to keep that one straight. And as this played, all duskily, in her mind it
had received from her father, with a sound of suddenness, a luminous
contribution. “Ah, rather! DO let’s have the Assinghams.”



“It would be to have them,” she had said, “as we used so much to have
them. For a good long stay, in the old way and on the old terms: ‘as
regular boarders’ Fanny used to call it. That is if they’ll come.”



“As regular boarders, on the old terms—that’s what I should like
too. But I guess they’ll come,” her companion had added in a tone into
which she had read meanings. The main meaning was that he felt he was
going to require them quite as much as she was. His recognition of the new
terms as different from the old, what was that, practically, but a
confession that something had happened, and a perception that, interested
in the situation she had helped to create, Mrs. Assingham would be, by so
much as this, concerned in its inevitable development? It amounted to an
intimation, off his guard, that he should be thankful for some one to turn
to. If she had wished covertly to sound him he had now, in short, quite
given himself away, and if she had, even at the start, needed anything
MORE to settle her, here assuredly was enough. He had hold of his small
grandchild as they retraced their steps, swinging the boy’s hand and not
bored, as he never was, by his always bristling, like a fat little
porcupine, with shrill interrogation-points—so that, secretly, while
they went, she had wondered again if the equilibrium mightn’t have been
more real, mightn’t above all have demanded less strange a study, had it
only been on the books that Charlotte should give him a Principino of his
own. She had repossessed herself now of his other arm, only this time she
was drawing him back, gently, helplessly back, to what they had tried, for
the hour, to get away from—just as he was consciously drawing the
child, and as high Miss Bogle on her left, representing the duties of
home, was complacently drawing HER. The duties of home, when the house in
Portland Place reappeared, showed, even from a distance, as vividly there
before them. Amerigo and Charlotte had come in—that is Amerigo had,
Charlotte, rather, having come out—and the pair were perched
together in the balcony, he bare-headed, she divested of her jacket, her
mantle, or whatever, but crowned with a brilliant brave hat, responsive to
the balmy day, which Maggie immediately “spotted” as new, as insuperably
original, as worn, in characteristic generous harmony, for the first time;
all, evidently, to watch for the return of the absent, to be there to take
them over again as punctually as possible. They were gay, they were
amused, in the pleasant morning; they leaned across the rail and called
down their greeting, lighting up the front of the great black house with
an expression that quite broke the monotony, that might almost have
shocked the decency, of Portland Place. The group on the pavement stared
up as at the peopled battlements of a castle; even Miss Bogle, who carried
her head most aloft, gaped a little, through the interval of space, as
toward truly superior beings. There could scarce have been so much of the
open mouth since the dingy waits, on Christmas Eve, had so lamentably
chanted for pennies—the time when Amerigo, insatiable for English
customs, had come out, with a gasped “Santissima Vergine!” to marvel at
the depositaries of this tradition and purchase a reprieve. Maggie’s
individual gape was inevitably again for the thought of how the pair would
be at work.


                             XXX


She had not again, for weeks, had Mrs. Assingham so effectually in
presence as on the afternoon of that lady’s return from the Easter party
at Matcham; but the intermission was made up as soon as the date of the
migration to Fawns—that of the more or less simultaneous adjournment
of the two houses—began to be discussed. It had struck her,
promptly, that this renewal, with an old friend, of the old terms she had
talked of with her father, was the one opening, for her spirit, that
wouldn’t too much advertise or betray her. Even her father, who had
always, as he would have said, “believed in” their ancient ally, wouldn’t
necessarily suspect her of invoking Fanny’s aid toward any special inquiry—and
least of all if Fanny would only act as Fanny so easily might. Maggie’s
measure of Fanny’s ease would have been agitating to Mrs. Assingham had it
been all at once revealed to her—as, for that matter, it was soon
destined to become even on a comparatively graduated showing. Our young
woman’s idea, in particular, was that her safety, her escape from being
herself suspected of suspicion, would proceed from this friend’s power to
cover, to protect and, as might be, even showily to represent her—represent,
that is, her relation to the form of the life they were all actually
leading. This would doubtless be, as people said, a large order; but that
Mrs. Assingham existed, substantially, or could somehow be made
prevailingly to exist, for her private benefit, was the finest flower
Maggie had plucked from among the suggestions sown, like abundant seed, on
the occasion of the entertainment offered in Portland Place to the Matcham
company. Mrs. Assingham, that night, rebounding from dejection, had
bristled with bravery and sympathy; she had then absolutely, she had
perhaps recklessly, for herself, betrayed the deeper and darker
consciousness—an impression it would now be late for her
inconsistently to attempt to undo. It was with a wonderful air of giving
out all these truths that the Princess at present approached her again;
making doubtless at first a sufficient scruple of letting her know what in
especial she asked of her, yet not a bit ashamed, as she in fact quite
expressly declared, of Fanny’s discerned foreboding of the strange uses
she might perhaps have for her. Quite from the first, really, Maggie said
extraordinary things to her, such as “You can help me, you know, my dear,
when nobody else can;” such as “I almost wish, upon my word, that you had
something the matter with you, that you had lost your health, or your
money, or your reputation (forgive me, love!) so that I might be with you
as much as I want, or keep you with ME, without exciting comment, without
exciting any other remark than that such kindnesses are ‘like’ me.” We
have each our own way of making up for our unselfishness, and Maggie, who
had no small self at all as against her husband or her father and only a
weak and uncertain one as against her stepmother, would verily, at this
crisis, have seen Mrs. Assingham’s personal life or liberty sacrificed
without a pang.



The attitude that the appetite in question maintained in her was to draw
peculiar support moreover from the current aspects and agitations of her
victim. This personage struck her, in truth, as ready for almost anything;
as not perhaps effusively protesting, yet as wanting with a restlessness
of her own to know what she wanted. And in the long run—which was
none so long either—there was to be no difficulty, as happened,
about that. It was as if, for all the world, Maggie had let her see that
she held her, that she made her, fairly responsible for something; not, to
begin with, dotting all the i’s nor hooking together all the links, but
treating her, without insistence, rather with caressing confidence, as
there to see and to know, to advise and to assist. The theory, visibly,
had patched itself together for her that the dear woman had somehow, from
the early time, had a hand in ALL their fortunes, so that there was no
turn of their common relations and affairs that couldn’t be traced back in
some degree to her original affectionate interest. On this affectionate
interest the good lady’s young friend now built, before her eyes—very
much as a wise, or even as a mischievous, child, playing on the floor,
might pile up blocks, skilfully and dizzily, with an eye on the face of a
covertly-watching elder.



When the blocks tumbled down they but acted after the nature of blocks;
yet the hour would come for their rising so high that the structure would
have to be noticed and admired. Mrs. Assingham’s appearance of
unreservedly giving herself involved meanwhile, on her own side, no
separate recognitions: her face of almost anxious attention was directed
altogether to her young friend’s so vivid felicity; it suggested that she
took for granted, at the most, certain vague recent enhancements of that
state. If the Princess now, more than before, was going and going, she was
prompt to publish that she beheld her go, that she had always known she
WOULD, sooner or later, and that any appeal for participation must more or
less contain and invite the note of triumph. There was a blankness in her
blandness, assuredly, and very nearly an extravagance in her generalising
gaiety; a precipitation of cheer particularly marked whenever they met
again after short separations: meetings during the first flush of which
Maggie sometimes felt reminded of other looks in other faces; of two
strangely unobliterated impressions above all, the physiognomic light that
had played out in her husband at the shock—she had come at last to
talk to herself of the “shock”—of his first vision of her on his
return from Matcham and Gloucester, and the wonder of Charlotte’s
beautiful bold wavering gaze when, the next morning in Eaton Square, this
old friend had turned from the window to begin to deal with her.



If she had dared to think of it so crudely she would have said that Fanny
was afraid of her, afraid of something she might say or do, even as, for
their few brief seconds, Amerigo and Charlotte had been—which made,
exactly, an expressive element common to the three. The difference however
was that this look had in the dear woman its oddity of a constant renewal,
whereas it had never for the least little instant again peeped out of the
others. Other looks, other lights, radiant and steady, with the others,
had taken its place, reaching a climax so short a time ago, that morning
of the appearance of the pair on the balcony of her house to overlook what
she had been doing with her father; when their general interested
brightness and beauty, attuned to the outbreak of summer, had seemed to
shed down warmth and welcome and the promise of protection. They were
conjoined not to do anything to startle her—and now at last so
completely that, with experience and practice, they had almost ceased to
fear their liability. Mrs. Assingham, on the other hand, deprecating such
an accident not less, had yet less assurance, as having less control. The
high pitch of her cheer, accordingly, the tentative, adventurous
expressions, of the would-be smiling order, that preceded her approach
even like a squad of skirmishers, or whatever they were called, moving
ahead of the baggage train—these things had at the end of a
fortnight brought a dozen times to our young woman’s lips a challenge that
had the cunning to await its right occasion, but of the relief of which,
as a demonstration, she meanwhile felt no little need. “You’ve such a
dread of my possibly complaining to you that you keep pealing all the
bells to drown my voice; but don’t cry out, my dear, till you’re hurt—and
above all ask yourself how I can be so wicked as to complain. What in the
name of all that’s fantastic can you dream that I have to complain OF?”
Such inquiries the Princess temporarily succeeded in repressing, and she
did so, in a measure, by the aid of her wondering if this ambiguity with
which her friend affected her wouldn’t be at present a good deal like the
ambiguity with which she herself must frequently affect her father. She
wondered how she should enjoy, on HIS part, such a take-up as she but just
succeeded, from day to day, in sparing Mrs. Assingham, and that made for
her trying to be as easy with this associate as Mr. Verver, blessed man,
all indulgent but all inscrutable, was with his daughter. She had
extracted from her, none the less, a vow in respect to the time that, if
the Colonel might be depended on, they would spend at Fawns; and nothing
came home to her more, in this connection, or inspired her with a more
intimate interest, than her sense of absolutely seeing her interlocutress
forbear to observe that Charlotte’s view of a long visit, even from such
allies, was there to be reckoned with.



Fanny stood off from that proposition as visibly to the Princess, and as
consciously to herself, as she might have backed away from the edge of a
chasm into which she feared to slip; a truth that contributed again to
keep before our young woman her own constant danger of advertising her
subtle processes. That Charlotte should have begun to be restrictive about
the Assinghams—which she had never, and for a hundred obviously good
reasons, been before—this in itself was a fact of the highest value
for Maggie, and of a value enhanced by the silence in which Fanny herself
so much too unmistakably dressed it. What gave it quite thrillingly its
price was exactly the circumstance that it thus opposed her to her
stepmother more actively—if she was to back up her friends for
holding out—than she had ever yet been opposed; though of course
with the involved result of the fine chance given Mrs. Verver to ask her
husband for explanations. Ah, from the moment she should be definitely
CAUGHT in opposition there would be naturally no saying how much
Charlotte’s opportunities might multiply! What would become of her father,
she hauntedly asked, if his wife, on the one side, should begin to press
him to call his daughter to order, and the force of old habit—to put
it only at that—should dispose him, not less effectively, to believe
in this young person at any price? There she was, all round, imprisoned in
the circle of the reasons it was impossible she should give—certainly
give HIM. The house in the country was his house, and thereby was
Charlotte’s; it was her own and Amerigo’s only so far as its proper master
and mistress should profusely place it at their disposal. Maggie felt of
course that she saw no limit to her father’s profusion, but this couldn’t
be even at the best the case with Charlotte’s, whom it would never be
decent, when all was said, to reduce to fighting for her preferences.
There were hours, truly, when the Princess saw herself as not unarmed for
battle if battle might only take place without spectators.



This last advantage for her, was, however, too sadly out of the question;
her sole strength lay in her being able to see that if Charlotte wouldn’t
“want” the Assinghams it would be because that sentiment too would have
motives and grounds. She had all the while command of one way of meeting
any objection, any complaint, on his wife’s part, reported to her by her
father; it would be open to her to retort to his possible “What are your
reasons, my dear?” by a lucidly-produced “What are hers, love, please?—isn’t
that what we had better know? Mayn’t her reasons be a dislike, beautifully
founded, of the presence, and thereby of the observation, of persons who
perhaps know about her things it’s inconvenient to her they should know?”
That hideous card she might in mere logic play—being by this time,
at her still swifter private pace, intimately familiar with all the
fingered pasteboard in her pack. But she could play it only on the
forbidden issue of sacrificing him; the issue so forbidden that it
involved even a horror of finding out if he would really have consented to
be sacrificed. What she must do she must do by keeping her hands off him;
and nothing meanwhile, as we see, had less in common with that scruple
than such a merciless manipulation of their yielding beneficiaries as her
spirit so boldly revelled in. She saw herself, in this connexion, without
detachment—saw others alone with intensity; otherwise she might have
been struck, fairly have been amused, by her free assignment of the
pachydermatous quality. If SHE could face the awkwardness of the
persistence of her friends at Fawns in spite of Charlotte, she somehow
looked to them for an inspiration of courage that would improve upon her
own. They were in short not only themselves to find a plausibility and an
audacity, but were somehow by the way to pick up these forms for her,
Maggie, as well. And she felt indeed that she was giving them scant time
longer when, one afternoon in Portland Place, she broke out with an
irrelevance that was merely superficial.



“What awfulness, in heaven’s name, is there between them? What do you
believe, what do you KNOW?”



Oh, if she went by faces her visitor’s sudden whiteness, at this, might
have carried her far! Fanny Assingham turned pale for it, but there was
something in such an appearance, in the look it put into the eyes, that
renewed Maggie’s conviction of what this companion had been expecting. She
had been watching it come, come from afar, and now that it was there,
after all, and the first convulsion over, they would doubtless soon find
themselves in a more real relation. It was there because of the Sunday
luncheon they had partaken of alone together; it was there, as strangely
as one would, because of the bad weather, the cold perverse June rain,
that was making the day wrong; it was there because it stood for the whole
sum of the perplexities and duplicities among which our young woman felt
herself lately to have picked her steps; it was there because Amerigo and
Charlotte were again paying together alone a “week end” visit which it had
been Maggie’s plan infernally to promote—just to see if, this time,
they really would; it was there because she had kept Fanny, on her side,
from paying one she would manifestly have been glad to pay, and had made
her come instead, stupidly, vacantly, boringly, to luncheon: all in the
spirit of celebrating the fact that the Prince and Mrs. Verver had thus
put it into her own power to describe them exactly as they were. It had
abruptly occurred, in truth, that Maggie required the preliminary help of
determining HOW they were; though, on the other hand, before her guest had
answered her question everything in the hour and the place, everything in
all the conditions, affected her as crying it out. Her guest’s stare of
ignorance, above all—that of itself at first cried it out. “‘Between
them?’ What do you mean?”



“Anything there shouldn’t be, there shouldn’t have BEEN—all this
time. Do you believe there is—or what’s your idea?”



Fanny’s idea was clearly, to begin with, that her young friend had taken
her breath away; but she looked at her very straight and very hard. “Do
you speak from a suspicion of your own?”



“I speak, at last, from a torment. Forgive me if it comes out. I’ve been
thinking for months and months, and I’ve no one to turn to, no one to help
me to make things out; no impression but my own, don’t you see? to go by.”



“You’ve been thinking for months and months?” Mrs. Assingham took it in.
“But WHAT then, dear Maggie, have you been thinking?”



“Well, horrible things—like a little beast that I perhaps am. That
there may be something—something wrong and dreadful, something they
cover up.”



The elder woman’s colour had begun to come back; she was able, though with
a visible effort, to face the question less amazedly. “You imagine, poor
child, that the wretches are in love? Is that it?”



But Maggie for a minute only stared back at her. “Help me to find out WHAT
I imagine. I don’t know—I’ve nothing but my perpetual anxiety. Have
you any?—do you see what I mean? If you’ll tell me truly, that at
least, one way or the other, will do something for me.”



Fanny’s look had taken a peculiar gravity—a fulness with which it
seemed to shine. “Is what it comes to that you’re jealous of Charlotte?”



“Do you mean whether I hate her?”—and Maggie thought. “No; not on
account of father.”



“Ah,” Mrs. Assingham returned, “that isn’t what one would suppose. What I
ask is if you’re jealous on account of your husband.”



“Well,” said Maggie presently, “perhaps that may be all. If I’m unhappy
I’m jealous; it must come to the same thing; and with you, at least, I’m
not afraid of the word. If I’m jealous, don’t you see? I’m tormented,” she
went on—“and all the more if I’m helpless. And if I’m both helpless
AND tormented I stuff my pocket-handkerchief into my mouth, I keep it
there, for the most part, night and day, so as not to be heard too
indecently moaning. Only now, with you, at last, I can’t keep it longer;
I’ve pulled it out, and here I am fairly screaming at you. They’re away,”
she wound up, “so they can’t hear; and I’m, by a miracle of arrangement,
not at luncheon with father at home. I live in the midst of miracles of
arrangement, half of which I admit, are my own; I go about on tiptoe, I
watch for every sound, I feel every breath, and yet I try all the while to
seem as smooth as old satin dyed rose-colour. Have you ever thought of
me,” she asked, “as really feeling as I do?”



Her companion, conspicuously, required to be clear. “Jealous, unhappy,
tormented—? No,” said Mrs. Assingham; “but at the same time—and
though you may laugh at me for it!—I’m bound to confess that I’ve
never been so awfully sure of what I may call knowing you. Here you are
indeed, as you say—such a deep little person! I’ve never imagined
your existence poisoned, and, since you wish to know if I consider that it
need be, I’ve not the least difficulty in speaking on the spot. Nothing,
decidedly, strikes me as more unnecessary.”



For a minute after this they remained face to face; Maggie had sprung up
while her friend sat enthroned, and, after moving to and fro in her
intensity, now paused to receive the light she had invoked. It had
accumulated, considerably, by this time, round Mrs. Assingham’s ample
presence, and it made, even to our young woman’s own sense, a medium in
which she could at last take a deeper breath. “I’ve affected you, these
months—and these last weeks in especial—as quiet and natural
and easy?”



But it was a question that took, not imperceptibly, some answering.
“You’ve never affected me, from the first hour I beheld you, as anything
but—in a way all your own—absolutely good and sweet and
beautiful. In a way, as I say,” Mrs. Assingham almost caressingly
repeated, “just all your very own—nobody else’s at all. I’ve never
thought of you but as OUTSIDE of ugly things, so ignorant of any falsity
or cruelty or vulgarity as never to have to be touched by them or to touch
them. I’ve never mixed you up with them; there would have been time enough
for that if they had seemed to be near you. But they haven’t—if
that’s what you want to know.”



“You’ve only believed me contented then because you’ve believed me
stupid?”



Mrs. Assingham had a free smile, now, for the length of this stride,
dissimulated though it might be in a graceful little frisk. “If I had
believed you stupid I shouldn’t have thought you interesting, and if I
hadn’t thought you interesting I shouldn’t have noted whether I ‘knew’
you, as I’ve called it, or not. What I’ve always been conscious of is your
having concealed about you somewhere no small amount of character; quite
as much in fact,” Fanny smiled, “as one could suppose a person of your
size able to carry. The only thing was,” she explained, “that thanks to
your never calling one’s attention to it, I hadn’t made out much more
about it, and should have been vague, above all, as to WHERE you carried
it or kept it. Somewhere UNDER, I should simply have said—like that
little silver cross you once showed me, blest by the Holy Father, that you
always wear, out of sight, next your skin. That relic I’ve had a glimpse
of”—with which she continued to invoke the privilege of humour. “But
the precious little innermost, say this time little golden, personal
nature of you—blest by a greater power, I think, even than the Pope—that
you’ve never consentingly shown me. I’m not sure you’ve ever consentingly
shown it to anyone. You’ve been in general too modest.”



Maggie, trying to follow, almost achieved a little fold of her forehead.
“I strike you as modest to-day—modest when I stand here and scream
at you?”



“Oh, your screaming, I’ve granted you, is something new. I must fit it on
somewhere. The question is, however,” Mrs. Assingham further proceeded,
“of what the deuce I can fit it on TO. Do you mean,” she asked, “to the
fact of our friends’ being, from yesterday to to-morrow, at a place where
they may more or less irresponsibly meet?” She spoke with the air of
putting it as badly for them as possible. “Are you thinking of their being
there alone—of their having consented to be?” And then as she had
waited without result for her companion to say: “But isn’t it true that—after
you had this time again, at the eleventh hour, said YOU wouldn’t—they
would really much rather not have gone?”



“Yes—they would certainly much rather not have gone. But I wanted
them to go.”



“Then, my dear child, what in the world is the matter?”



“I wanted to see if they WOULD. And they’ve had to,” Maggie added. “It was
the only thing.”



Her friend appeared to wonder. “From the moment you and your father backed
out?”



“Oh, I don’t mean go for those people; I mean go for us. For father and
me,” Maggie went on. “Because now they know.”



“They ‘know’?” Fanny Assingham quavered.



“That I’ve been for some time past taking more notice. Notice of the queer
things in our life.”



Maggie saw her companion for an instant on the point of asking her what
these queer things might be; but Mrs. Assingham had the next minute
brushed by that ambiguous opening and taken, as she evidently felt, a
better one. “And is it for that you did it? I mean gave up the visit.”



“It’s for that I did it. To leave them to themselves—as they less
and less want, or at any rate less and less venture to appear to want, to
be left. As they had for so long arranged things,” the Princess went on,
“you see they sometimes have to be.” And then, as if baffled by the
lucidity of this, Mrs. Assingham for a little said nothing: “Now do you
think I’m modest?”



With time, however; Fanny could brilliantly think anything that would
serve. “I think you’re wrong. That, my dear, is my answer to your
question. It demands assuredly the straightest I can make. I see no
‘awfulness’—I suspect none. I’m deeply distressed,” she added, “that
you should do anything else.” It drew again from Maggie a long look.
“You’ve never even imagined anything?”



“Ah, God forbid!—for it’s exactly as a woman of imagination that I
speak. There’s no moment of my life at which I’m not imagining something;
and it’s thanks to that, darling,” Mrs. Assingham pursued, “that I figure
the sincerity with which your husband, whom you see as viciously occupied
with your stepmother, is interested, is tenderly interested, in his
admirable, adorable wife.” She paused a minute as to give her friend the
full benefit of this—as to Maggie’s measure of which, however, no
sign came; and then, poor woman, haplessly, she crowned her effort.—“He
wouldn’t hurt a hair of your head.”



It had produced in Maggie, at once, and apparently in the intended form of
a smile, the most extraordinary expression. “Ah, there it is!”



But her guest had already gone on. “And I’m absolutely certain that
Charlotte wouldn’t either.”



It kept the Princess, with her strange grimace, standing there. “No—Charlotte
wouldn’t either. That’s how they’ve had again to go off together. They’ve
been afraid not to—lest it should disturb me, aggravate me, somehow
work upon me. As I insisted that they must, that we couldn’t all fail—though
father and Charlotte hadn’t really accepted; as I did this they had to
yield to the fear that their showing as afraid to move together would
count for them as the greater danger: which would be the danger, you see,
of my feeling myself wronged. Their least danger, they know, is in going
on with all the things that I’ve seemed to accept and that I’ve given no
indication, at any moment, of not accepting. Everything that has come up
for them has come up, in an extraordinary manner, without my having by a
sound or a sign given myself away—so that it’s all as wonderful as
you may conceive. They move at any rate among the dangers I speak of—between
that of their doing too much and that of their not having any longer the
confidence, or the nerve, or whatever you may call it, to do enough.” Her
tone, by this time, might have shown a strangeness to match her smile;
which was still more marked as she wound up. “And that’s how I make them
do what I like!”



It had an effect on Mrs. Assingham, who rose with the deliberation that,
from point to point, marked the widening of her grasp. “My dear child,
you’re amazing.”



“Amazing—?”



“You’re terrible.”



Maggie thoughtfully shook her head. “No; I’m not terrible, and you don’t
think me so. I do strike you as surprising, no doubt—but
surprisingly mild. Because—don’t you see?—I AM mild. I can
bear anything.”



“Oh, ‘bear’!” Mrs. Assingham fluted.



“For love,” said the Princess.



Fanny hesitated. “Of your father?”



“For love,” Maggie repeated.



It kept her friend watching. “Of your husband?”



“For love,” Maggie said again.



It was, for the moment, as if the distinctness of this might have
determined in her companion a choice between two or three highly different
alternatives. Mrs. Assingham’s rejoinder, at all events—however much
or however little it was a choice—was presently a triumph. “Speaking
with this love of your own then, have you undertaken to convey to me that
you believe your husband and your father’s wife to be in act and in fact
lovers of each other?” And then as the Princess didn’t at first answer:
“Do you call such an allegation as that ‘mild’?”



“Oh, I’m not pretending to be mild to you. But I’ve told you, and moreover
you must have seen for yourself, how much so I’ve been to them.”



Mrs. Assingham, more brightly again, bridled. “Is that what you call it
when you make them, for terror as you say, do as you like?”



“Ah, there wouldn’t be any terror for them if they had nothing to hide.”



Mrs. Assingham faced her—quite steady now. “Are you really
conscious, love, of what you’re saying?”



“I’m saying that I’m bewildered and tormented, and that I’ve no one but
you to speak to. I’ve thought, I’ve in fact been sure, that you’ve seen
for yourself how much this is the case. It’s why I’ve believed you would
meet me half way.”



“Half way to what? To denouncing,” Fanny asked, “two persons, friends of
years, whom I’ve always immensely admired and liked, and against whom I
haven’t the shadow of a charge to make?”



Maggie looked at her with wide eyes. “I had much rather you should
denounce me than denounce them. Denounce me, denounce me,” she said, “if
you can see your way.” It was exactly what she appeared to have argued out
with herself. “If, conscientiously, you can denounce me; if,
conscientiously, you can revile me; if, conscientiously, you can put me in
my place for a low-minded little pig—!”



“Well?” said Mrs. Assingham, consideringly, as she paused for emphasis.



“I think I shall be saved.”



Her friend took it, for a minute, however, by carrying thoughtful eyes,
eyes verily portentous, over her head. “You say you’ve no one to speak to,
and you make a point of your having so disguised your feelings—not
having, as you call it, given yourself away. Have you then never seen it
not only as your right, but as your bounden duty, worked up to such a
pitch, to speak to your husband?”



“I’ve spoken to him,” said Maggie.



Mrs. Assingham stared. “Ah, then it isn’t true that you’ve made no sign.”



Maggie had a silence. “I’ve made no trouble. I’ve made no scene. I’ve
taken no stand. I’ve neither reproached nor accused him. You’ll say
there’s a way in all that of being nasty enough.”



“Oh!” dropped from Fanny as if she couldn’t help it.



“But I don’t think—strangely enough—that he regards me as
nasty. I think that at bottom—for that IS,” said the Princess, “the
strangeness—he’s sorry for me. Yes, I think that, deep within, he
pities me.”



Her companion wondered. “For the state you’ve let yourself get into?”



“For not being happy when I’ve so much to make me so.”



“You’ve everything,” said Mrs. Assingham with alacrity. Yet she remained
for an instant embarrassed as to a further advance. “I don’t understand,
however, how, if you’ve done nothing—”



An impatience from Maggie had checked her. “I’ve not done absolutely
‘nothing.’”



“But what then—?”



“Well,” she went on after a minute, “he knows what I’ve done.”



It produced on Mrs. Assingham’s part, her whole tone and manner
exquisitely aiding, a hush not less prolonged, and the very duration of
which inevitably gave it something of the character of an equal
recognition. “And what then has HE done?”



Maggie took again a minute. “He has been splendid.”



“‘Splendid’? Then what more do you want?”



“Ah, what you see!” said Maggie. “Not to be afraid.”



It made her guest again hang fire. “Not to be afraid really to speak?”



“Not to be afraid NOT to speak.”



Mrs. Assingham considered further. “You can’t even to Charlotte?” But as,
at this, after a look at her, Maggie turned off with a movement of
suppressed despair, she checked herself and might have been watching her,
for all the difficulty and the pity of it, vaguely moving to the window
and the view of the hill street. It was almost as if she had had to give
up, from failure of responsive wit in her friend—the last failure
she had feared—the hope of the particular relief she had been
working for. Mrs. Assingham resumed the next instant, however, in the very
tone that seemed most to promise her she should have to give up nothing.
“I see, I see; you would have in that case too many things to consider.”
It brought the Princess round again, proving itself thus the note of
comprehension she wished most to clutch at. “Don’t be afraid.”



Maggie took it where she stood—which she was soon able to signify.
“Thank-you.”



It very properly encouraged her counsellor. “What your idea imputes is a
criminal intrigue carried on, from day to day, amid perfect trust and
sympathy, not only under your eyes, but under your father’s. That’s an
idea it’s impossible for me for a. moment to entertain.”



“Ah, there you are then! It’s exactly what I wanted from you.”



“You’re welcome to it!” Mrs. Assingham breathed.



“You never HAVE entertained it?” Maggie pursued.



“Never for an instant,” said Fanny with her head very high.



Maggie took it again, yet again as wanting more. “Pardon my being so
horrid. But by all you hold sacred?”



Mrs. Assingham faced her. “Ah, my dear, upon my positive word as an honest
woman.”



“Thank-you then,” said the Princess.



So they remained a little; after which, “But do you believe it, love?”
Fanny inquired.



“I believe YOU.”



“Well, as I’ve faith in THEM, it comes to the same thing.”



Maggie, at this last, appeared for a moment to think again; but she
embraced the proposition. “The same thing.”



“Then you’re no longer unhappy?” her guest urged, coming more gaily toward
her.



“I doubtless shan’t be a great while.”



But it was now Mrs. Assingham’s turn to want more. “I’ve convinced you
it’s impossible?”



She had held out her arms, and Maggie, after a moment, meeting her, threw
herself into them with a sound that had its oddity as a sign of relief.
“Impossible, impossible,” she emphatically, more than emphatically,
replied; yet the next minute she had burst into tears over the
impossibility, and a few seconds later, pressing, clinging, sobbing, had
even caused them to flow, audibly, sympathetically and perversely, from
her friend.


                           XXXI


The understanding appeared to have come to be that the Colonel and his
wife were to present themselves toward the middle of July for the “good
long visit” at Fawns on which Maggie had obtained from her father that he
should genially insist; as well as that the couple from Eaton Square
should welcome there earlier in the month, and less than a week after
their own arrival, the advent of the couple from Portland Place. “Oh, we
shall give you time to breathe!” Fanny remarked, in reference to the
general prospect, with a gaiety that announced itself as heedless of
criticism, to each member of the party in turn; sustaining and bracing
herself by her emphasis, pushed even to an amiable cynicism, of the
confident view of these punctualities of the Assinghams. The ground she
could best occupy, to her sense, was that of her being moved, as in this
connexion she had always been moved, by the admitted grossness of her
avidity, the way the hospitality of the Ververs met her convenience and
ministered to her ease, destitute as the Colonel had kept her, from the
first, of any rustic retreat, any leafy bower of her own, any fixed base
for the stale season now at hand. She had explained at home, she had
repeatedly reexplained, the terms of her dilemma, the real difficulty of
her, or—as she now put it—of their position. When the pair
could do nothing else, in Cadogan Place, they could still talk of
marvellous little Maggie, and of the charm, the sinister charm, of their
having to hold their breath to watch her; a topic the momentous midnight
discussion at which we have been present was so far from having exhausted.
It came up, irrepressibly, at all private hours; they had planted it there
between them, and it grew, from day to day, in a manner to make their
sense of responsibility almost yield to their sense of fascination. Mrs.
Assingham declared at such moments that in the interest of this admirable
young thing—to whom, she also declared, she had quite “come over”—she
was ready to pass with all the world else, even with the Prince himself,
the object, inconsequently, as well, of her continued, her explicitly
shameless appreciation, for a vulgar, indelicate, pestilential woman,
showing her true character in an abandoned old age. The Colonel’s
confessed attention had been enlisted, we have seen, as never yet, under
pressure from his wife, by any guaranteed imbroglio; but this, she could
assure him she perfectly knew, was not a bit because he was sorry for her,
or touched by what she had let herself in for, but because, when once they
had been opened, he couldn’t keep his eyes from resting complacently,
resting almost intelligently, on the Princess. If he was in love with HER
now, however, so much the better; it would help them both not to wince at
what they would have to do for her. Mrs. Assingham had come back to that,
whenever he groaned or grunted; she had at no beguiled moment—since
Maggie’s little march WAS positively beguiling—let him lose sight of
the grim necessity awaiting them. “We shall have, as I’ve again and again
told you, to lie for her—to lie till we’re black in the face.”



“To lie ‘for’ her?” The Colonel often, at these hours, as from a vague
vision of old chivalry in a new form, wandered into apparent lapses from
lucidity.



“To lie TO her, up and down, and in and out—it comes to the same
thing. It will consist just as much of lying to the others too: to the
Prince about one’s belief in HIM; to Charlotte about one’s belief in HER;
to Mr. Verver, dear sweet man, about one’s belief in everyone. So we’ve
work cut out—with the biggest lie, on top of all, being that we LIKE
to be there for such a purpose. We hate it unspeakably—I’m more
ready to be a coward before it, to let the whole thing, to let everyone,
selfishly and pusillanimously slide, than before any social duty, any felt
human call, that has ever forced me to be decent. I speak at least for
myself. For you,” she had added, “as I’ve given you so perfect an
opportunity to fall in love with Maggie, you’ll doubtless find your
account in being so much nearer to her.”



“And what do you make,” the Colonel could, at this, always imperturbably
enough ask, “of the account you yourself will find in being so much nearer
to the Prince; of your confirmed, if not exasperated, infatuation with
whom—to say nothing of my weak good-nature about it—you give
such a pretty picture?”



To the picture in question she had been always, in fact, able
contemplatively to return. “The difficulty of my enjoyment of that is,
don’t you see? that I’m making, in my loyalty to Maggie, a sad hash of his
affection for me.”



“You find means to call it then, this whitewashing of his crime, being
‘loyal’ to Maggie?”



“Oh, about that particular crime there is always much to say. It is always
more interesting to us than any other crime; it has at least that for it.
But of course I call everything I have in mind at all being loyal to
Maggie. Being loyal to her is, more than anything else, helping her with
her father—which is what she most wants and needs.”



The Colonel had had it before, but he could apparently never have too much
of it. “Helping her ‘with’ him—?”



“Helping her against him then. Against what we’ve already so fully talked
of—its having to be recognised between them that he doubts. That’s
where my part is so plain—to see her through, to see her through to
the end.” Exaltation, for the moment, always lighted Mrs. Assingham’s
reference to this plainness; yet she at the same time seldom failed, the
next instant, to qualify her view of it. “When I talk of my obligation as
clear I mean that it’s absolute; for just HOW, from day to day and through
thick and thin, to keep the thing up is, I grant you, another matter.
There’s one way, luckily, nevertheless, in which I’m strong. I can
perfectly count on her.”



The Colonel seldom failed here, as from the insidious growth of an
excitement, to wonder, to encourage. “Not to see you’re lying?”



“To stick to me fast, whatever she sees. If I stick to her—that is
to my own poor struggling way, under providence, of watching over them ALL—she’ll
stand by me to the death. She won’t give me away. For, you know, she
easily can.”



This, regularly, was the most lurid turn of their road; but Bob Assingham,
with each journey, met it as for the first time. “Easily?”



“She can utterly dishonour me with her father. She can let him know that I
was aware, at the time of his marriage—as I had been aware at the
time of her own—of the relations that had pre-existed between his
wife and her husband.”



“And how can she do so if, up to this minute, by your own statement, she
is herself in ignorance of your knowledge?”



It was a question that Mrs. Assingham had ever, for dealing with, a manner
to which repeated practice had given almost a grand effect; very much as
if she was invited by it to say that about this, exactly, she proposed to
do her best lying. But she said, and with full lucidity, something quite
other: it could give itself a little the air, still, of a triumph over his
coarseness. “By acting, immediately with the blind resentment with which,
in her place, ninety-nine women out of a hundred would act; and by so
making Mr. Verver, in turn, act with the same natural passion, the passion
of ninety-nine men out of a hundred. They’ve only to agree about me,” the
poor lady said; “they’ve only to feel at one over it, feel bitterly
practised upon, cheated and injured; they’ve only to denounce me to each
other as false and infamous, for me to be quite irretrievably dished. Of
course it’s I who have been, and who continue to be, cheated—cheated
by the Prince and Charlotte; but they’re not obliged to give me the
benefit of that, or to give either of us the benefit of anything. They’ll
be within their rights to lump us all together as a false, cruel,
conspiring crew, and, if they can find the right facts to support them,
get rid of us root and branch.”



This, on each occasion, put the matter so at the worst that repetition
even scarce controlled the hot flush with which she was compelled to see
the parts of the whole history, all its ugly consistency and its temporary
gloss, hang together. She enjoyed, invariably, the sense of making her
danger present, of making it real, to her husband, and of his almost
turning pale, when their eyes met, at this possibility of their
compromised state and their shared discredit. The beauty was that, as
under a touch of one of the ivory notes at the left of the keyboard, he
sounded out with the short sharpness of the dear fond stupid uneasy man.
“Conspiring—so far as YOU were concerned—to what end?”



“Why, to the obvious end of getting the Prince a wife—at Maggie’s
expense. And then to that of getting Charlotte a husband at Mr. Verver’s.”



“Of rendering friendly services, yes—which have produced, as it
turns out, complications. But from the moment you didn’t do it FOR the
complications, why shouldn’t you have rendered them?”



It was extraordinary for her, always, in this connexion, how, with time
given him, he fell to speaking better for her than she could, in the
presence of her clear-cut image of the “worst,” speak for herself.
Troubled as she was she thus never wholly failed of her amusement by the
way. “Oh, isn’t what I may have meddled ‘for’—so far as it can be
proved I did meddle—open to interpretation; by which I mean to Mr.
Verver’s and Maggie’s? Mayn’t they see my motive, in the light of that
appreciation, as the wish to be decidedly more friendly to the others than
to the victimised father and daughter?” She positively liked to keep it
up. “Mayn’t they see my motive as the determination to serve the Prince,
in any case, and at any price, first; to ‘place’ him comfortably; in other
words to find him his fill of money? Mayn’t it have all the air for them
of a really equivocal, sinister bargain between us—something quite
unholy and louche?”



It produced in the poor Colonel, infallibly, the echo. “‘Louche,’ love—?”



“Why, haven’t you said as much yourself?—haven’t you put your finger
on that awful possibility?”



She had a way now, with his felicities, that made him enjoy being reminded
of them. “In speaking of your having always had such a ‘mash’—?”



“Such a mash, precisely, for the man I was to help to put so splendidly at
his ease. A motherly mash an impartial look at it would show it only as
likely to have been—but we’re not talking, of course, about
impartial looks. We’re talking of good innocent people deeply worked upon
by a horrid discovery, and going much further, in their view of the lurid,
as such people almost always do, than those who have been wider awake, all
round, from the first. What I was to have got from my friend, in such a
view, in exchange for what I had been able to do for him—well, that
would have been an equivalent, of a kind best known to myself, for me
shrewdly to consider.” And she easily lost herself, each time, in the
anxious satisfaction of filling out the picture. “It would have been seen,
it would have been heard of, before, the case of the woman a man doesn’t
want, or of whom he’s tired, or for whom he has no use but SUCH uses, and
who is capable, in her infatuation, in her passion, of promoting his
interests with other women rather than lose sight of him, lose touch of
him, cease to have to do with him at all. Cela s’est vu, my dear; and
stranger things still—as I needn’t tell YOU! Very good then,” she
wound up; “there is a perfectly possible conception of the behaviour of
your sweet wife; since, as I say, there’s no imagination so lively, once
it’s started, as that of really agitated lambs. Lions are nothing to them,
for lions are sophisticated, are blases, are brought up, from the first,
to prowling and mauling. It does give us, you’ll admit, something to think
about. My relief is luckily, however, in what I finally do think.”



He was well enough aware, by this time, of what she finally did think; but
he was not without a sense, again, also for his amusement by the way. It
would have made him, for a spectator of these passages between the pair,
resemble not a little the artless child who hears his favourite story told
for the twentieth time and enjoys it exactly because he knows what is next
to happen. “What of course will pull them up, if they turn out to have
less imagination than you assume, is the profit you can have found in
furthering Mrs. Verver’s marriage. You weren’t at least in love with
Charlotte.”



“Oh,” Mrs. Assingham, at this, always brought out, “my hand in that is
easily accounted for by my desire to be agreeable to HIM.”



“To Mr. Verver?”



“To the Prince—by preventing her in that way from taking, as he was
in danger of seeing her do, some husband with whom he wouldn’t be able to
open, to keep open, so large an account as with his father-in-law. I’ve
brought her near him, kept her within his reach, as she could never have
remained either as a single woman or as the wife of a different man.”



“Kept her, on that sweet construction, to be his mistress?”



“Kept her, on that sweet construction, to be his mistress.” She brought it
out grandly—it had always so, for her own ear as well as, visibly,
for her husband’s, its effect. “The facilities in the case, thanks to the
particular conditions, being so quite ideal.”



“Down even to the facility of your minding everything so little—from
your own point of view—as to have supplied him with the enjoyment of
TWO beautiful women.”



“Down even to THAT—to the monstrosity of my folly. But not,” Mrs.
Assingham added, “‘two’ of anything. One beautiful woman—and one
beautiful fortune. That’s what a creature of pure virtue exposes herself
to when she suffers her pure virtue, suffers her sympathy, her
disinterestedness, her exquisite sense for the lives of others, to carry
her too far. Voila.”



“I see. It’s the way the Ververs have you.”



“It’s the way the Ververs ‘have’ me. It’s in other words the way they
would be able to make such a show to each other of having me—if
Maggie weren’t so divine.”



“She lets you off?” He never failed to insist on all this to the very end;
which was how he had become so versed in what she finally thought.



“She lets me off. So that now, horrified and contrite at what I’ve done, I
may work to help her out. And Mr. Verver,” she was fond of adding, “lets
me off too.”



“Then you do believe he knows?”



It determined in her always, there, with a significant pause, a deep
immersion in her thought. “I believe he would let me off if he did know—so
that I might work to help HIM out. Or rather, really,” she went on, “that
I might work to help Maggie. That would be his motive, that would be his
condition, in forgiving me; just as hers, for me, in fact, her motive and
her condition, are my acting to spare her father. But it’s with Maggie
only that I’m directly concerned; nothing, ever—not a breath, not a
look, I’ll guarantee—shall I have, whatever happens, from Mr. Verver
himself. So it is, therefore, that I shall probably, by the closest
possible shave, escape the penalty of my crimes.”



“You mean being held responsible.”



“I mean being held responsible. My advantage will be that Maggie’s such a
trump.”



“Such a trump that, as you say, she’ll stick to you.”



“Stick to me, on our understanding—stick to me. For our
understanding’s signed and sealed.” And to brood over it again was ever,
for Mrs. Assingham, to break out again with exaltation. “It’s a grand,
high compact. She has solemnly promised.”



“But in words—?”



“Oh yes, in words enough—since it’s a matter of words. To keep up
HER lie so long as I keep up mine.”



“And what do you call ‘her’ lie?”



“Why, the pretence that she believes me. Believes they’re innocent.”



“She positively believes then they’re guilty? She has arrived at that,
she’s really content with it, in the absence of proof?” It was here, each
time, that Fanny Assingham most faltered; but always at last to get the
matter, for her own sense, and with a long sigh, sufficiently straight.
“It isn’t a question of belief or of proof, absent or present; it’s
inevitably, with her, a question of natural perception, of insurmountable
feeling. She irresistibly knows that there’s something between them. But
she hasn’t ‘arrived’ at it, as you say, at all; that’s exactly what she
hasn’t done, what she so steadily and intensely refuses to do. She stands
off and off, so as not to arrive; she keeps out to sea and away from the
rocks, and what she most wants of me is to keep at a safe distance with
her—as I, for my own skin, only ask not to come nearer.” After
which, invariably, she let him have it all. “So far from wanting proof—which
she must get, in a manner, by my siding with her—she wants DISproof,
as against herself, and has appealed to me, so extraordinarily, to side
against her. It’s really magnificent, when you come to think of it, the
spirit of her appeal. If I’ll but cover them up brazenly enough, the
others, so as to show, round and about them, as happy as a bird, she on
her side will do what she can. If I’ll keep them quiet, in a word, it will
enable her to gain time—time as against any idea of her father’s—and
so, somehow, come out. If I’ll take care of Charlotte, in particular,
she’ll take care of the Prince; and it’s beautiful and wonderful, really
pathetic and exquisite, to see what she feels that time may do for her.”



“Ah, but what does she call, poor little thing, ‘time’?”



“Well, this summer at Fawns, to begin with. She can live as yet, of
course, but from hand to mouth; but she has worked it out for herself, I
think, that the very danger of Fawns, superficially looked at, may
practically amount to a greater protection. THERE the lovers—if they
ARE lovers!—will have to mind. They’ll feel it for themselves,
unless things are too utterly far gone with them.”



“And things are NOT too utterly far gone with them?”



She had inevitably, poor woman, her hesitation for this, but she put down
her answer as, for the purchase of some absolutely indispensable article,
she would have put down her last shilling. “No.”



It made him always grin at her. “Is THAT a lie?”



“Do you think you’re worth lying to? If it weren’t the truth, for me,” she
added, “I wouldn’t have accepted for Fawns. I CAN, I believe, keep the
wretches quiet.”



“But how—at the worst?”



“Oh, ‘the worst’—don’t talk about the worst! I can keep them quiet
at the best, I seem to feel, simply by our being there. It will work, from
week to week, of itself. You’ll see.”



He was willing enough to see, but he desired to provide—! “Yet if it
doesn’t work?”



“Ah, that’s talking about the worst!”



Well, it might be; but what were they doing, from morning to night, at
this crisis, but talk? “Who’ll keep the others?”



“The others—?”



“Who’ll keep THEM quiet? If your couple have had a life together, they
can’t have had it completely without witnesses, without the help of
persons, however few, who must have some knowledge, some idea about them.
They’ve had to meet, secretly, protectedly, they’ve had to arrange; for if
they haven’t met, and haven’t arranged, and haven’t thereby, in some
quarter or other, had to give themselves away, why are we piling it up so?
Therefore if there’s evidence, up and down London—”



“There must be people in possession of it? Ah, it isn’t all,” she always
remembered, “up and down London. Some of it must connect them—I
mean,” she musingly added, “it naturally WOULD—with other places;
with who knows what strange adventures, opportunities, dissimulations? But
whatever there may have been, it will also all have been buried on the
spot. Oh, they’ve known HOW—too beautifully! But nothing, all the
same, is likely to find its way to Maggie of itself.”



“Because every one who may have anything to tell, you hold, will have been
so squared?” And then inveterately, before she could say—he enjoyed
so much coming to this: “What will have squared Lady Castledean?”



“The consciousness”—she had never lost her promptness—“of
having no stones to throw at any one else’s windows. She has enough to do
to guard her own glass. That was what she was doing,” Fanny said, “that
last morning at Matcham when all of us went off and she kept the Prince
and Charlotte over. She helped them simply that she might herself be
helped—if it wasn’t perhaps, rather, with her ridiculous Mr. Blint,
that HE might be. They put in together, therefore, of course, that day;
they got it clear—and quite under her eyes; inasmuch as they didn’t
become traceable again, as we know, till late in the evening.” On this
historic circumstance Mrs. Assingham was always ready afresh to brood; but
she was no less ready, after her brooding, devoutly to add “Only we know
nothing whatever else—for which all our stars be thanked!”



The Colonel’s gratitude was apt to be less marked. “What did they do for
themselves, all the same, from the moment they got that free hand to the
moment (long after dinner-time, haven’t you told me?) of their turning up
at their respective homes?”



“Well, it’s none of your business!”



“I don’t speak of it as mine, but it’s only too much theirs. People are
always traceable, in England, when tracings are required. Something,
sooner or later, happens; somebody, sooner or later, breaks the holy calm.
Murder will out.”



“Murder will—but this isn’t murder. Quite the contrary perhaps! I
verily believe,” she had her moments of adding, “that, for the amusement
of the row, you would prefer an explosion.”



This, however, was a remark he seldom noticed; he wound up, for the most
part, after a long, contemplative smoke, with a transition from which no
exposed futility in it had succeeded in weaning him. “What I can’t for my
life make out is your idea of the old boy.”



“Charlotte’s too inconceivably funny husband? I HAVE no idea.”



“I beg your pardon—you’ve just shown it. You never speak of him but
as too inconceivably funny.”



“Well, he is,” she always confessed. “That is he may be, for all I know,
too inconceivably great. But that’s not an idea. It represents only my
weak necessity of feeling that he’s beyond me—which isn’t an idea
either. You see he MAY be stupid too.”



“Precisely—there you are.”



“Yet on the other hand,” she always went on, “he MAY be sublime: sublimer
even than Maggie herself. He may in fact have already been. But we shall
never know.” With which her tone betrayed perhaps a shade of soreness for
the single exemption she didn’t yearningly welcome. “THAT I can see.”



“Oh, I say—!” It came to affect the Colonel himself with a sense of
privation.



“I’m not sure, even, that Charlotte will.”



“Oh, my dear, what Charlotte doesn’t know—!”



But she brooded and brooded. “I’m not sure even that the Prince will.” It
seemed privation, in short, for them all. “They’ll be mystified,
confounded, tormented. But they won’t know—and all their possible
putting their heads together won’t make them. That,” said Fanny Assingham,
“will be their punishment.” And she ended, ever, when she had come so far,
at the same pitch. “It will probably also—if I get off with so
little—be mine.”



“And what,” her husband liked to ask, “will be mine?”



“Nothing—you’re not worthy of any. One’s punishment is in what one
feels, and what will make ours effective is that we SHALL feel.” She was
splendid with her “ours”; she flared up with this prophecy. “It will be
Maggie herself who will mete it out.”



“Maggie—?”



“SHE’LL know—about her father; everything. Everything,” she
repeated. On the vision of which, each time, Mrs. Assingham, as with the
presentiment of an odd despair, turned away from it. “But she’ll never
tell us.”


                             XXXII


If Maggie had not so firmly made up her mind never to say, either to her
good friend or to any one else, more than she meant about her father, she
might have found herself betrayed into some such overflow during the week
spent in London with her husband after the others had adjourned to Fawns
for the summer. This was because of the odd element of the unnatural
imparted to the so simple fact of their brief separation by the
assumptions resident in their course of life hitherto. She was used,
herself, certainly, by this time, to dealing with odd elements; but she
dropped, instantly, even from such peace as she had patched up, when it
was a question of feeling that her unpenetrated parent might be alone with
them. She thought of him as alone with them when she thought of him as
alone with Charlotte—and this, strangely enough, even while fixing
her sense to the full on his wife’s power of preserving, quite of
enhancing, every felicitous appearance. Charlotte had done that—under
immeasurably fewer difficulties indeed—during the numerous months of
their hymeneal absence from England, the period prior to that wonderful
reunion of the couples, in the interest of the larger play of all the
virtues of each, which was now bearing, for Mrs. Verver’s stepdaughter at
least, such remarkable fruit. It was the present so much briefer interval,
in a situation, possibly in a relation, so changed—it was the new
terms of her problem that would tax Charlotte’s art. The Princess could
pull herself up, repeatedly, by remembering that the real “relation”
between her father and his wife was a thing that she knew nothing about
and that, in strictness, was none of her business; but she none the less
failed to keep quiet, as she would have called it, before the projected
image of their ostensibly happy isolation. Nothing could have had less of
the quality of quietude than a certain queer wish that fitfully flickered
up in her, a wish that usurped, perversely, the place of a much more
natural one. If Charlotte, while she was about it, could only have been
WORSE!—that idea Maggie fell to invoking instead of the idea that
she might desirably have been better. For, exceedingly odd as it was to
feel in such ways, she believed she mightn’t have worried so much if she
didn’t somehow make her stepmother out, under the beautiful trees and
among the dear old gardens, as lavish of fifty kinds of confidence and
twenty kinds, at least, of gentleness. Gentleness and confidence were
certainly the right thing, as from a charming woman to her husband, but
the fine tissue of reassurance woven by this lady’s hands and flung over
her companion as a light, muffling veil, formed precisely a wrought
transparency through which she felt her father’s eyes continually rest on
herself. The reach of his gaze came to her straighter from a distance; it
showed him as still more conscious, down there alone, of the suspected,
the felt elaboration of the process of their not alarming or hurting him.
She had herself now, for weeks and weeks, and all unwinkingly, traced the
extension of this pious effort; but her perfect success in giving no sign—she
did herself THAT credit—would have been an achievement quite wasted
if Mrs. Verver should make with him those mistakes of proportion, one set
of them too abruptly, too incoherently designed to correct another set,
that she had made with his daughter. However, if she HAD been worse, poor
woman, who should say that her husband would, to a certainty, have been
better?



One groped noiselessly among such questions, and it was actually not even
definite for the Princess that her own Amerigo, left alone with her in
town, had arrived at the golden mean of non-precautionary gallantry which
would tend, by his calculation, to brush private criticism from its last
perching-place. The truth was, in this connection, that she had different
sorts of terrors, and there were hours when it came to her that these days
were a prolonged repetition of that night-drive, of weeks before, from the
other house to their own, when he had tried to charm her, by his sovereign
personal power, into some collapse that would commit her to a repudiation
of consistency. She was never alone with him, it was to be said, without
her having sooner or later to ask herself what had already become of her
consistency; yet, at the same time, so long as she breathed no charge, she
kept hold of a remnant of appearance that could save her from attack.
Attack, real attack, from him, as he would conduct it was what she above
all dreaded; she was so far from sure that under that experience she
mightn’t drop into some depth of weakness, mightn’t show him some shortest
way with her that he would know how to use again. Therefore, since she had
given him, as yet, no moment’s pretext for pretending to her that she had
either lost faith or suffered by a feather’s weight in happiness, she left
him, it was easy to reason, with an immense advantage for all waiting and
all tension. She wished him, for the present, to “make up” to her for
nothing. Who could say to what making-up might lead, into what consenting
or pretending or destroying blindness it might plunge her? She loved him
too helplessly, still, to dare to open the door, by an inch, to his
treating her as if either of them had wronged the other. Something or
somebody—and who, at this, which of them all?—would
inevitably, would in the gust of momentary selfishness, be sacrificed to
that; whereas what she intelligently needed was to know where she was
going. Knowledge, knowledge, was a fascination as well as a fear; and a
part, precisely, of the strangeness of this juncture was the way her
apprehension that he would break out to her with some merely general
profession was mixed with her dire need to forgive him, to reassure him,
to respond to him, on no ground that she didn’t fully measure. To do these
things it must be clear to her what they were FOR; but to act in that
light was, by the same effect, to learn, horribly, what the other things
had been. He might tell her only what he wanted, only what would work upon
her by the beauty of his appeal; and the result of the direct appeal of
ANY beauty in him would be her helpless submission to his terms. All her
temporary safety, her hand-to-mouth success, accordingly, was in his
neither perceiving nor divining this, thanks to such means as she could
take to prevent him; take, literally from hour to hour, during these days
of more unbroken exposure. From hour to hour she fairly expected some sign
of his having decided on a jump. “Ah yes, it HAS been as you think; I’ve
strayed away, I’ve fancied myself free, given myself in other quantities,
with larger generosities, because I thought you were different—different
from what I now see. But it was only, only, because I didn’t know—and
you must admit that you gave me scarce reason enough. Reason enough, I
mean, to keep clear of my mistake; to which I confess, for which I’ll do
exquisite penance, which you can help me now, I too beautifully feel, to
get completely over.”



That was what, while she watched herself, she potentially heard him bring
out; and while she carried to an end another day, another sequence and yet
another of their hours together, without his producing it, she felt
herself occupied with him beyond even the intensity of surrender. She was
keeping her head, for a reason, for a cause; and the labour of this
detachment, with the labour of her keeping the pitch of it down, held them
together in the steel hoop of an intimacy compared with which artless
passion would have been but a beating of the air. Her greatest danger, or
at least her greatest motive for care, was the obsession of the thought
that, if he actually did suspect, the fruit of his attention to her
couldn’t help being a sense of the growth of her importance. Taking the
measure, with him, as she had taken it with her father, of the prescribed
reach of her hypocrisy, she saw how it would have to stretch even to her
seeking to prove that she was NOT, all the same, important. A single touch
from him—oh, she should know it in case of its coming!—any
brush of his hand, of his lips, of his voice, inspired by recognition of
her probable interest as distinct from pity for her virtual gloom, would
hand her over to him bound hand and foot. Therefore to be free, to be free
to act, other than abjectly, for her father, she must conceal from him the
validity that, like a microscopic insect pushing a grain of sand, she was
taking on even for herself. She could keep it up with a change in sight,
but she couldn’t keep it up forever; so that, really, one extraordinary
effect of their week of untempered confrontation, which bristled with new
marks, was to make her reach out, in thought, to their customary
companions and calculate the kind of relief that rejoining them would
bring. She was learning, almost from minute to minute, to be a mistress of
shades since, always, when there were possibilities enough of intimacy,
there were also, by that fact, in intercourse, possibilities of
iridescence; but she was working against an adversary who was a master of
shades too, and on whom, if she didn’t look out, she should presently have
imposed a consciousness of the nature of their struggle. To feel him in
fact, to think of his feeling himself, her adversary in things of this
fineness—to see him at all, in short, brave a name that would
represent him as in opposition— was already to be nearly reduced to
a visible smothering of her cry of alarm. Should he guess they were
having, in their so occult manner, a HIGH fight, and that it was she, all
the while, in her supposed stupidity, who had made it high and was keeping
it high—in the event of his doing this before they could leave town
she should verily be lost.



The possible respite for her at Fawns would come from the fact that
observation, in him, there, would inevitably find some of its directness
diverted. This would be the case if only because the remarkable strain of
her father’s placidity might be thought of as likely to claim some larger
part of his attention. Besides which there would be always Charlotte
herself to draw him off. Charlotte would help him again, doubtless, to
study anything, right or left, that might be symptomatic; but Maggie could
see that this very fact might perhaps contribute, in its degree, to
protect the secret of her own fermentation. It is not even incredible that
she may have discovered the gleam of a comfort that was to broaden in the
conceivable effect on the Prince’s spirit, on his nerves, on his finer
irritability, of some of the very airs and aspects, the light graces
themselves, of Mrs. Verver’s too perfect competence. What it would most
come to, after all, she said to herself, was a renewal for him of the
privilege of watching that lady watch her. Very well, then: with the
elements after all so mixed in him, how long would he go on enjoying mere
spectatorship of that act? For she had by this time made up her mind that
in Charlotte’s company he deferred to Charlotte’s easier art of mounting
guard. Wouldn’t he get tired—to put it only at that—of seeing
her always on the rampart, erect and elegant, with her lace-flounced
parasol now folded and now shouldered, march to and fro against a
gold-coloured east or west? Maggie had gone far, truly for a view of the
question of this particular reaction, and she was not incapable of pulling
herself up with the rebuke that she counted her chickens before they were
hatched. How sure she should have to be of so many things before she might
thus find a weariness in Amerigo’s expression and a logic in his
weariness!



One of her dissimulated arts for meeting their tension, meanwhile, was to
interweave Mrs. Assingham as plausibly as possible with the undulations of
their surface, to bring it about that she should join them, of an
afternoon, when they drove together or if they went to look at things—looking
at things being almost as much a feature of their life as if they were
bazaar-opening royalties. Then there were such combinations, later in the
day, as her attendance on them, and the Colonel’s as well, for such
whimsical matters as visits to the opera no matter who was singing, and
sudden outbreaks of curiosity about the British drama. The good couple
from Cadogan Place could always unprotestingly dine with them and “go on”
afterwards to such publicities as the Princess cultivated the boldness of
now perversely preferring. It may be said of her that, during these
passages, she plucked her sensations by the way, detached, nervously, the
small wild blossoms of her dim forest, so that she could smile over them
at least with the spacious appearance, for her companions, for her husband
above all, of bravely, of altogether frivolously, going a-maying. She had
her intense, her smothered excitements, some of which were almost
inspirations; she had in particular the extravagant, positively at moments
the amused, sense of using her friend to the topmost notch, accompanied
with the high luxury of not having to explain. Never, no never, should she
have to explain to Fanny Assingham again—who, poor woman, on her own
side, would be charged, it might be forever, with that privilege of the
higher ingenuity. She put it all off on Fanny, and the dear thing herself
might henceforth appraise the quantity. More and more magnificent now in
her blameless egoism, Maggie asked no questions of her, and thus only
signified the greatness of the opportunity she gave her. She didn’t care
for what devotions, what dinners of their own the Assinghams might have
been “booked”; that was a detail, and she could think without wincing of
the ruptures and rearrangements to which her service condemned them. It
all fell in beautifully, moreover; so that, as hard, at this time, in
spite of her fever, as a little pointed diamond, the Princess showed
something of the glitter of consciously possessing the constructive, the
creative hand. She had but to have the fancy of presenting herself, of
presenting her husband, in a certain high and convenient manner, to make
it natural they should go about with their gentleman and their lady. To
what else but this, exactly, had Charlotte, during so many weeks of the
earlier season, worked her up?—herself assuming and discharging, so
far as might be, the character and office of one of those revolving
subordinate presences that float in the wake of greatness.



The precedent was therefore established and the group normally
constituted. Mrs. Assingham, meanwhile, at table, on the stairs, in the
carriage or the opera-box, might—with her constant overflow of
expression, for that matter, and its singularly resident character where
men in especial were concerned—look across at Amerigo in whatever
sense she liked: it was not of that Maggie proposed to be afraid. She
might warn him, she might rebuke him, she might reassure him, she might—if
it were impossible not to—absolutely make love to him; even this was
open to her, as a matter simply between them, if it would help her to
answer for the impeccability he had guaranteed. And Maggie desired in fact
only to strike her as acknowledging the efficacy of her aid when she
mentioned to her one evening a small project for the morrow, privately
entertained—the idea, irresistible, intense, of going to pay, at the
Museum, a visit to Mr. Crichton. Mr. Crichton, as Mrs. Assingham could
easily remember, was the most accomplished and obliging of public
functionaries, whom every one knew and who knew every one—who had
from the first, in particular, lent himself freely, and for the love of
art and history, to becoming one of the steadier lights of Mr. Verver’s
adventurous path. The custodian of one of the richest departments of the
great national collection of precious things, he could feel for the
sincere private collector and urge him on his way even when condemned to
be present at his capture of trophies sacrificed by the country to
parliamentary thrift. He carried his amiability to the point of saying
that, since London, under pettifogging views, had to miss, from time to
time, its rarest opportunities, he was almost consoled to see such lost
causes invariably wander at last, one by one, with the tormenting tinkle
of their silver bells, into the wondrous, the already famous fold beyond
the Mississippi. There was a charm in his “almosts” that was not to be
resisted, especially after Mr. Verver and Maggie had grown sure—or
almost, again—of enjoying the monopoly of them; and on this basis of
envy changed to sympathy by the more familiar view of the father and the
daughter, Mr. Crichton had at both houses, though especially in Eaton
Square, learned to fill out the responsive and suggestive character. It
was at his invitation, Fanny well recalled, that Maggie, one day, long
before, and under her own attendance precisely, had, for the glory of the
name she bore, paid a visit to one of the ampler shrines of the supreme
exhibitory temple, an alcove of shelves charged with the gold-and-brown,
gold-and-ivory, of old Italian bindings and consecrated to the records of
the Prince’s race. It had been an impression that penetrated, that
remained; yet Maggie had sighed, ever so prettily, at its having to be so
superficial. She was to go back some day, to dive deeper, to linger and
taste; in spite of which, however, Mrs. Assingham could not recollect
perceiving that the visit had been repeated. This second occasion had
given way, for a long time, in her happy life, to other occasions—all
testifying, in their degree, to the quality of her husband’s blood, its
rich mixture and its many remarkable references; after which, no doubt,
the charming piety involved had grown, on still further grounds,
bewildered and faint.



It now appeared, none the less, that some renewed conversation with Mr.
Crichton had breathed on the faintness revivingly, and Maggie mentioned
her purpose as a conception of her very own, to the success of which she
designed to devote her morning. Visits of gracious ladies, under his
protection, lighted up rosily, for this perhaps most flower-loving and
honey-sipping member of the great Bloomsbury hive, its packed passages and
cells; and though not sworn of the province toward which his friend had
found herself, according to her appeal to him, yearning again, nothing was
easier for him than to put her in relation with the presiding urbanities.
So it had been settled, Maggie said to Mrs. Assingham, and she was to
dispense with Amerigo’s company. Fanny was to remember later on that she
had at first taken this last fact for one of the finer notes of her young
woman’s detachment, imagined she must be going alone because of the shade
of irony that, in these ambiguous days, her husband’s personal presence
might be felt to confer, practically, on any tribute to his transmitted
significance. Then as, the next moment, she felt it clear that so much
plotted freedom was virtually a refinement of reflection, an impulse to
commemorate afresh whatever might still survive of pride and hope, her
sense of ambiguity happily fell and she congratulated her companion on
having anything so exquisite to do and on being so exquisitely in the
humour to do it. After the occasion had come and gone she was confirmed in
her optimism; she made out, in the evening, that the hour spent among the
projected lights, the annals and illustrations, the parchments and
portraits, the emblazoned volumes and the murmured commentary, had been
for the Princess enlarging and inspiring. Maggie had said to her some days
before, very sweetly but very firmly, “Invite us to dine, please, for
Friday, and have any one you like or you can—it doesn’t in the least
matter whom;” and the pair in Cadogan Place had bent to this mandate with
a docility not in the least ruffled by all that it took for granted.



It provided for an evening—this had been Maggie’s view; and she
lived up to her view, in her friend’s eyes, by treating the occasion, more
or less explicitly, as new and strange. The good Assinghams had feasted in
fact at the two other boards on a scale so disproportionate to the scant
solicitations of their own that it was easy to make a joke of seeing how
they fed at home, how they met, themselves, the question of giving to eat.
Maggie dined with them, in short, and arrived at making her husband appear
to dine, much in the manner of a pair of young sovereigns who have, in the
frolic humour of the golden years of reigns, proposed themselves to a pair
of faithfully-serving subjects. She showed an interest in their
arrangements, an inquiring tenderness almost for their economies; so that
her hostess not unnaturally, as they might have said, put it all down—the
tone and the freedom of which she set the example—to the effect
wrought in her afresh by one of the lessons learned, in the morning, at
the altar of the past. Hadn’t she picked it up, from an anecdote or two
offered again to her attention, that there were, for princesses of such a
line, more ways than one of being a heroine? Maggie’s way to-night was to
surprise them all, truly, by the extravagance of her affability. She was
doubtless not positively boisterous; yet, though Mrs. Assingham, as a
bland critic, had never doubted her being graceful, she had never seen her
put so much of it into being what might have been called assertive. It was
all a tune to which Fanny’s heart could privately palpitate: her guest was
happy, happy as a consequence of something that had occurred, but she was
making the Prince not lose a ripple of her laugh, though not perhaps
always enabling him to find it absolutely not foolish. Foolish, in public,
beyond a certain point, he was scarce the man to brook his wife’s being
thought to be; so that there hovered before their friend the possibility
of some subsequent scene between them, in the carriage or at home, of
slightly sarcastic inquiry, of promptly invited explanation; a scene that,
according as Maggie should play her part in it, might or might not
precipitate developments. What made these appearances practically
thrilling, meanwhile, was this mystery—a mystery, it was clear, to
Amerigo himself—of the incident or the influence that had so
peculiarly determined them.



The lady of Cadogan Place was to read deeper, however, within three days,
and the page was turned for her on the eve of her young confidant’s
leaving London. The awaited migration to Fawns was to take place on the
morrow, and it was known meanwhile to Mrs. Assingham that their party of
four were to dine that night, at the American Embassy, with another and a
larger party; so that the elder woman had a sense of surprise on receiving
from the younger, under date of six o’clock, a telegram requesting her
immediate attendance. “Please come to me at once; dress early, if
necessary, so that we shall have time: the carriage, ordered for us, will
take you back first.” Mrs. Assingham, on quick deliberation, dressed,
though not perhaps with full lucidity, and by seven o’clock was in
Portland Place, where her friend, “upstairs” and described to her on her
arrival as herself engaged in dressing, instantly received her. She knew
on the spot, poor Fanny, as she was afterwards to declare to the Colonel,
that her feared crisis had popped up as at the touch of a spring, that her
impossible hour was before her. Her impossible hour was the hour of its
coming out that she had known of old so much more than she had ever said;
and she had often put it to herself, in apprehension, she tried to think
even in preparation, that she should recognise the approach of her doom by
a consciousness akin to that of the blowing open of a window on some night
of the highest wind and the lowest thermometer. It would be all in vain to
have crouched so long by the fire; the glass would have been smashed, the
icy air would fill the place. If the air in Maggie’s room then, on her
going up, was not, as yet, quite the polar blast she had expected, it was
distinctly, none the less, such an atmosphere as they had not hitherto
breathed together. The Princess, she perceived, was completely dressed—that
business was over; it added indeed to the effect of her importantly
awaiting the assistance she had summoned, of her showing a deck cleared,
so to speak, for action. Her maid had already left her, and she presented
herself, in the large, clear room, where everything was admirable, but
where nothing was out of place, as, for the first time in her life rather
“bedizened.” Was it that she had put on too many things, overcharged
herself with jewels, wore in particular more of them than usual, and
bigger ones, in her hair?—a question her visitor presently answered
by attributing this appearance largely to the bright red spot, red as some
monstrous ruby, that burned in either of her cheeks. These two items of
her aspect had, promptly enough, their own light for Mrs. Assingham, who
made out by it that nothing more pathetic could be imagined than the
refuge and disguise her agitation had instinctively asked of the arts of
dress, multiplied to extravagance, almost to incoherence. She had had,
visibly, her idea—that of not betraying herself by inattentions into
which she had never yet fallen, and she stood there circled about and
furnished forth, as always, in a manner that testified to her perfect
little personal processes. It had ever been her sign that she was, for all
occasions, FOUND ready, without loose ends or exposed accessories or
unremoved superfluities; a suggestion of the swept and garnished, in her
whole splendid, yet thereby more or less encumbered and embroidered
setting, that reflected her small still passion for order and symmetry,
for objects with their backs to the walls, and spoke even of some probable
reference, in her American blood, to dusting and polishing New England
grandmothers. If her apartment was “princely,” in the clearness of the
lingering day, she looked as if she had been carried there prepared, all
attired and decorated, like some holy image in a procession, and left,
precisely, to show what wonder she could work under pressure. Her friend
felt—how could she not?—as the truly pious priest might feel
when confronted, behind the altar, before the festa, with his miraculous
Madonna. Such an occasion would be grave, in general, with all the gravity
of what he might look for. But the gravity to-night would be of the
rarest; what he might look for would depend so on what he could give.


                            XXXIII


“Something very strange has happened, and I think you ought to know it.”



Maggie spoke this indeed without extravagance, yet with the effect of
making her guest measure anew the force of her appeal. It was their
definite understanding: whatever Fanny knew Fanny’s faith would provide
for. And she knew, accordingly, at the end of five minutes, what the
extraordinary, in the late occurrence, had consisted of, and how it had
all come of Maggie’s achieved hour, under Mr. Crichton’s protection, at
the Museum. He had desired, Mr. Crichton, with characteristic kindness,
after the wonderful show, after offered luncheon at his incorporated lodge
hard by, to see her safely home; especially on his noting, in attending
her to the great steps, that she had dismissed her carriage; which she had
done, really, just for the harmless amusement of taking her way alone. She
had known she should find herself, as the consequence of such an hour, in
a sort of exalted state, under the influence of which a walk through the
London streets would be exactly what would suit her best; an independent
ramble, impressed, excited, contented, with nothing to mind and nobody to
talk to, and shop-windows in plenty to look at if she liked: a low taste,
of the essence, it was to be supposed, of her nature, that she had of
late, for so many reasons, been unable to gratify. She had taken her
leave, with her thanks—she knew her way quite enough; it being also
sufficiently the case that she had even a shy hope of not going too
straight. To wander a little wild was what would truly amuse her; so that,
keeping clear of Oxford Street and cultivating an impression as of parts
she didn’t know, she had ended with what she had more or less had been
fancying, an encounter with three or four shops—an old bookseller’s,
an old printmonger’s, a couple of places with dim antiquities in the
window—that were not as so many of the other shops, those in Sloane
Street, say; a hollow parade which had long since ceased to beguile. There
had remained with her moreover an allusion of Charlotte’s, of some months
before—seed dropped into her imagination in the form of a casual
speech about there being in Bloomsbury such “funny little fascinating”
places and even sometimes such unexpected finds. There could perhaps have
been no stronger mark than this sense of well-nigh romantic opportunity—no
livelier sign of the impression made on her, and always so long retained,
so watchfully nursed, by any observation of Charlotte’s, however lightly
thrown off. And then she had felt, somehow, more at her ease than for
months and months before; she didn’t know why, but her time at the Museum,
oddly, had done it; it was as if she hadn’t come into so many noble and
beautiful associations, nor secured them also for her boy, secured them
even for her father, only to see them turn to vanity and doubt, turn
possibly to something still worse. “I believed in him again as much as
ever, and I felt how I believed in him,” she said with bright, fixed eyes;
“I felt it in the streets as I walked along, and it was as if that helped
me and lifted me up, my being off by myself there, not having, for the
moment, to wonder and watch; having, on the contrary, almost nothing on my
mind.”



It was so much as if everything would come out right that she had fallen
to thinking of her father’s birthday, had given herself this as a reason
for trying what she could pick up for it. They would keep it at Fawns,
where they had kept it before—since it would be the twenty-first of
the month; and she mightn’t have another chance of making sure of
something to offer him. There was always the impossibility, of course, of
finding him anything, the least bit “good,” that he wouldn’t already, long
ago, in his rummagings, have seen himself—and only not to think a
quarter good enough; this, however, was an old story, and one could not
have had any fun with him but for his sweet theory that the individual
gift, the friendship’s offering, was, by a rigorous law of nature, a
foredoomed aberration, and that the more it was so the more it showed, and
the more one cherished it for showing, how friendly it had been. The
infirmity of art was the candour of affection, the grossness of pedigree
the refinement of sympathy; the ugliest objects, in fact, as a general
thing, were the bravest, the tenderest mementos, and, as such, figured in
glass cases apart, worthy doubtless of the home, but not worthy of the
temple—dedicated to the grimacing, not to the clear-faced, gods. She
herself, naturally, through the past years, had come to be much
represented in those receptacles; against the thick, locked panes of which
she still liked to flatten her nose, finding in its place, each time,
everything she had on successive anniversaries tried to believe he might
pretend, at her suggestion, to be put off with, or at least think curious.
She was now ready to try it again: they had always, with his pleasure in
her pretence and her pleasure in his, with the funny betrayal of the
sacrifice to domestic manners on either side, played the game so happily.
To this end, on her way home, she had loitered everywhere; quite too
deludedly among the old books and the old prints, which had yielded
nothing to her purpose, but with a strange inconsequence in one of the
other shops, that of a small antiquarian, a queer little foreign man, who
had shown her a number of things, shown her finally something that, struck
with it as rather a rarity and thinking it would, compared to some of her
ventures, quite superlatively do, she had bought—bought really, when
it came to that, for a price. “It appears now it won’t do at all,” said
Maggie, “something has happened since that puts it quite out of the
question. I had only my day of satisfaction in it, but I feel, at the same
time, as I keep it here before me, that I wouldn’t have missed it for the
world.”



She had talked, from the first of her friend’s entrances coherently
enough, even with a small quaver that overstated her calm; but she held
her breath every few seconds, as if for deliberation and to prove she
didn’t pant—all of which marked for Fanny the depth of her
commotion: her reference to her thought about her father, about her chance
to pick up something that might divert him, her mention, in fine, of his
fortitude under presents, having meanwhile, naturally, it should be said,
much less an amplitude of insistence on the speaker’s lips than a power to
produce on the part of the listener herself the prompt response and full
comprehension of memory and sympathy, of old amused observation. The
picture was filled out by the latter’s fond fancy. But Maggie was at any
rate under arms; she knew what she was doing and had already her plan—a
plan for making, for allowing, as yet, “no difference”; in accordance with
which she would still dine out, and not with red eyes, nor convulsed
features, nor neglected items of appearance, nor anything that would raise
a question. Yet there was some knowledge that, exactly to this support of
her not breaking down, she desired, she required, possession of; and, with
the sinister rise and fall of lightning unaccompanied by thunder, it
played before Mrs. Assingham’s eyes that she herself should have, at
whatever risk or whatever cost, to supply her with the stuff of her need.
All our friend’s instinct was to hold off from this till she should see
what the ground would bear; she would take no step nearer unless
INTELLIGIBLY to meet her, and, awkward though it might be to hover there
only pale and distorted, with mere imbecilities of vagueness, there was a
quality of bald help in the fact of not as yet guessing what such an
ominous start could lead to. She caught, however, after a second’s
thought, at the Princess’s allusion to her lost reassurance.



“You mean you were so at your ease on Monday—the night you dined
with us?”



“I was very happy then,” said Maggie.



“Yes—we thought you so gay and so brilliant.” Fanny felt it feeble,
but she went on. “We were so glad you were happy.”



Maggie stood a moment, at first only looking at her. “You thought me all
right, eh?”



“Surely, dearest; we thought you all right.”



“Well, I daresay it was natural; but in point of fact I never was more
wrong in my life. For, all the while, if you please, this was brewing.”



Mrs. Assingham indulged, as nearly as possible to luxury, her vagueness.
“‘This’—?”



“THAT!” replied the Princess, whose eyes, her companion now saw, had
turned to an object on the chimney-piece of the room, of which, among so
many precious objects—the Ververs, wherever they might be, always
revelled peculiarly in matchless old mantel ornaments—her visitor
had not taken heed.



“Do you mean the gilt cup?”



“I mean the gilt cup.”



The piece now recognised by Fanny as new to her own vision was a capacious
bowl, of old-looking, rather strikingly yellow gold, mounted, by a short
stem, on an ample foot, which held a central position above the
fire-place, where, to allow it the better to show, a clearance had been
made of other objects, notably of the Louis-Seize clock that accompanied
the candelabra. This latter trophy ticked at present on the marble slab of
a commode that exactly matched it in splendour and style. Mrs. Assingham
took it, the bowl, as a fine thing; but the question was obviously not of
its intrinsic value, and she kept off from it, admiring it at a distance.
“But what has that to do—?”



“It has everything. You’ll see.” With which again, however, for the
moment, Maggie attached to her strange wide eyes. “He knew her before—before
I had ever seen him.”



“‘He’ knew—?” But Fanny, while she cast about her for the links she
missed, could only echo it.



“Amerigo knew Charlotte—more than I ever dreamed.”



Fanny felt then it was stare for stare. “But surely you always knew they
had met.”



“I didn’t understand. I knew too little. Don’t you see what I mean?” the
Princess asked.



Mrs. Assingham wondered, during these instants, how much she even now
knew; it had taken a minute to perceive how gently she was speaking. With
that perception of its being no challenge of wrath, no heat of the
deceived soul, but only a free exposure of the completeness of past
ignorance, inviting derision even if it must, the elder woman felt, first,
a strange, barely credible relief: she drew in, as if it had been the warm
summer scent of a flower, the sweet certainty of not meeting, any way she
should turn, any consequence of judgment. She shouldn’t be judged—save
by herself; which was her own wretched business. The next moment, however,
at all events, she blushed, within, for her immediate cowardice: she had
thought of herself, thought of “getting off,” before so much as thinking—that
is of pitifully seeing—that she was in presence of an appeal that
was ALL an appeal, that utterly accepted its necessity. “In a general way,
dear child, yes. But not—a—in connexion with what you’ve been
telling me.”



“They were intimate, you see. Intimate,” said the Princess.



Fanny continued to face her, taking from her excited eyes this history, so
dim and faint for all her anxious emphasis, of the far-away other time.
“There’s always the question of what one considers—!”



“What one considers intimate? Well, I know what I consider intimate now.
Too intimate,” said Maggie, “to let me know anything about it.”



It was quiet—yes; but not too quiet for Fanny Assingham’s capacity
to wince. “Only compatible with letting ME, you mean?” She had asked it
after a pause, but turning again to the new ornament of the chimney and
wondering, even while she took relief from it, at this gap in her
experience. “But here are things, my dear, of which my ignorance is
perfect.”



“They went about together—they’re known to have done it. And I don’t
mean only before—I mean after.”



“After?” said Fanny Assingham.



“Before we were married—yes; but after we were engaged.”



“Ah, I’ve known nothing about that!” And she said it with a braver
assurance—clutching, with comfort, at something that was apparently
new to her.



“That bowl,” Maggie went on, “is, so strangely—too strangely,
almost, to believe at this time of day—the proof. They were together
all the while—up to the very eve of our marriage. Don’t you remember
how just before that she came back, so unexpectedly, from America?”



The question had for Mrs. Assingham—and whether all consciously or
not—the oddest pathos of simplicity. “Oh yes, dear, of course I
remember how she came back from America—and how she stayed with US,
and what view one had of it.”



Maggie’s eyes still, all the time, pressed and penetrated; so that, during
a moment, just here, she might have given the little flare, have made the
little pounce, of asking what then “one’s” view had been. To the small
flash of this eruption Fanny stood, for her minute, wittingly exposed; but
she saw it as quickly cease to threaten—quite saw the Princess, even
though in all her pain, refuse, in the interest of their strange and
exalted bargain, to take advantage of the opportunity for planting the
stab of reproach, the opportunity thus coming all of itself. She saw her—or
she believed she saw her—look at her chance for straight
denunciation, look at it and then pass it by; and she felt herself, with
this fact, hushed well-nigh to awe at the lucid higher intention that no
distress could confound and that no discovery—since it was, however
obscurely, a case of “discovery”—could make less needful. These
seconds were brief—they rapidly passed; but they lasted long enough
to renew our friend’s sense of her own extraordinary undertaking, the
function again imposed on her, the answerability again drilled into her,
by this intensity of intimation. She was reminded of the terms on which
she was let off—her quantity of release having made its sufficient
show in that recall of her relation to Charlotte’s old reappearance; and
deep within the whole impression glowed—ah, so inspiringly when it
came to that! her steady view, clear from the first, of the beauty of her
companion’s motive. It was like a fresh sacrifice for a larger conquest
“Only see me through now, do it in the face of this and in spite of it,
and I leave you a hand of which the freedom isn’t to be said!” The
aggravation of fear—or call it, apparently, of knowledge—had
jumped straight into its place as an aggravation above all for her father;
the effect of this being but to quicken to passion her reasons for making
his protectedness, or in other words the forms of his ignorance, still the
law of her attitude and the key to her solution. She kept as tight hold of
these reasons and these forms, in her confirmed horror, as the rider of a
plunging horse grasps his seat with his knees; and she might absolutely
have been putting it to her guest that she believed she could stay on if
they should only “meet” nothing more. Though ignorant still of what she
had definitely met Fanny yearned, within, over her spirit; and so, no word
about it said, passed, through mere pitying eyes, a vow to walk ahead and,
at crossroads, with a lantern for the darkness and wavings away for
unadvised traffic, look out for alarms. There was accordingly no wait in
Maggie’s reply. “They spent together hours—spent at least a morning—the
certainty of which has come back to me now, but that I didn’t dream of it
at the time. That cup there has turned witness—by the most wonderful
of chances. That’s why, since it has been here, I’ve stood it out for my
husband to see; put it where it would meet him, almost immediately, if he
should come into the room. I’ve wanted it to meet him,” she went on, “and
I’ve wanted him to meet it, and to be myself present at the meeting. But
that hasn’t taken place as yet; often as he has lately been in the way of
coming to see me here—yes, in particular lately—he hasn’t
showed to-day.” It was with her managed quietness, more and more, that she
talked—an achieved coherence that helped her, evidently, to hear and
to watch herself; there was support, and thereby an awful harmony, but
which meant a further guidance, in the facts she could add together. “It’s
quite as if he had an instinct—something that has warned him off or
made him uneasy. He doesn’t quite know, naturally, what has happened, but
guesses, with his beautiful cleverness, that something has, and isn’t in a
hurry to be confronted with it. So, in his vague fear, he keeps off.”



“But being meanwhile in the house—?”



“I’ve no idea—not having seen him to-day, by exception, since before
luncheon. He spoke to me then,” the Princess freely explained, “of a
ballot, of great importance, at a club—for somebody, some personal
friend, I think, who’s coming up and is supposed to be in danger. To make
an effort for him he thought he had better lunch there. You see the
efforts he can make”—for which Maggie found a smile that went to her
friend’s heart. “He’s in so many ways the kindest of men. But it was hours
ago.”



Mrs. Assingham thought. “The more danger then of his coming in and finding
me here. I don’t know, you see, what you now consider that you’ve
ascertained; nor anything of the connexion with it of that object that you
declare so damning.” Her eyes rested on this odd acquisition and then
quitted it, went back to it and again turned from it: it was inscrutable
in its rather stupid elegance, and yet, from the moment one had thus
appraised it, vivid and definite in its domination of the scene. Fanny
could no more overlook it now than she could have overlooked a lighted
Christmas-tree; but nervously and all in vain she dipped into her mind for
some floating reminiscence of it. At the same time that this attempt left
her blank she understood a good deal, she even not a little shared the
Prince’s mystic apprehension. The golden bowl put on, under consideration,
a sturdy, a conscious perversity; as a “document,” somehow, it was ugly,
though it might have a decorative grace. “His finding me here in presence
of it might be more flagrantly disagreeable—for all of us—than
you intend or than would necessarily help us. And I must take time, truly,
to understand what it means.”



“You’re safe, as far as that goes,” Maggie returned; “you may take it from
me that he won’t come in; and that I shall only find him below, waiting
for me, when I go down to the carriage.”



Fanny Assingham took it from her, took it and more. “We’re to sit together
at the Ambassador’s then—or at least you two are—with this new
complication thrust up before you, all unexplained; and to look at each
other with faces that pretend, for the ghastly hour, not to be seeing it?”



Maggie looked at HER with a face that might have been the one she was
preparing. “‘Unexplained,’ my dear? Quite the contrary—explained:
fully, intensely, admirably explained, with nothing really to add. My own
love”—she kept it up—“I don’t want anything more. I’ve plenty
to go upon and to do with, as it is.”



Fanny Assingham stood there in her comparative darkness, with her links,
verily, still missing; but the most acceptable effect of this was,
singularly, as yet, a cold fear of getting nearer the fact. “But when you
come home—? I mean he’ll come up with you again. Won’t he see it
then?”



On which Maggie gave her, after an instant’s visible thought, the
strangest of slow headshakes. “I don’t know. Perhaps he’ll never see it—if
it only stands there waiting for him. He may never again,” said the
Princess, “come into this room.”



Fanny more deeply wondered, “Never again? Oh—!”



“Yes, it may be. How do I know? With THIS!” she quietly went on. She had
not looked again at the incriminating piece, but there was a marvel to her
friend in the way the little word representing it seemed to express and
include for her the whole of her situation. “Then you intend not to speak
to him—?”



Maggie waited. “To ‘speak’—?”



“Well, about your having it and about what you consider that it
represents.”



“Oh, I don’t know that I shall speak—if he doesn’t. But his keeping
away from me because of that—what will that be but to speak? He
can’t say or do more. It won’t be for me to speak,” Maggie added in a
different tone, one of the tones that had already so penetrated her guest.
“It will be for me to listen.”



Mrs. Assingham turned it over. “Then it all depends on that object that
you regard, for your reasons, as evidence?”



“I think I may say that I depend on it. I can’t,” said Maggie,
“treat it as nothing now.”



Mrs. Assingham, at this, went closer to the cup on the chimney—quite
liking to feel that she did so, moreover, without going closer to her
companion’s vision. She looked at the precious thing—if precious it
was—found herself in fact eyeing it as if, by her dim solicitation,
to draw its secret from it rather than suffer the imposition of Maggie’s
knowledge. It was brave and rich and firm, with its bold deep hollow; and,
without this queer torment about it, would, thanks to her love of plenty
of yellow, figure to her as an enviable ornament, a possession really
desirable. She didn’t touch it, but if after a minute she turned away from
it the reason was, rather oddly and suddenly, in her fear of doing so.
“Then it all depends on the bowl? I mean your future does? For that’s what
it comes to, I judge.”



“What it comes to,” Maggie presently returned, “is what that thing has put
me, so almost miraculously, in the way of learning: how far they had
originally gone together. If there was so much between them before, there
can’t—with all the other appearances—not be a great deal more
now.” And she went on and on; she steadily made her points. “If such
things were already then between them they make all the difference for
possible doubt of what may have been between them since. If there had been
nothing before there might be explanations. But it makes to-day too much
to explain. I mean to explain away,” she said.



Fanny Assingham was there to explain away—of this she was duly
conscious; for that at least had been true up to now. In the light,
however, of Maggie’s demonstration the quantity, even without her taking
as yet a more exact measure, might well seem larger than ever. Besides
which, with or without exactness, the effect of each successive minute in
the place was to put her more in presence of what Maggie herself saw.
Maggie herself saw the truth, and that was really, while they remained
there together, enough for Mrs. Assingham’s relation to it. There was a
force in the Princess’s mere manner about it that made the detail of what
she knew a matter of minor importance. Fanny had in fact something like a
momentary shame over her own need of asking for this detail. “I don’t
pretend to repudiate,” she said after a little, “my own impressions of the
different times I suppose you speak of; any more,” she added, “than I can
forget what difficulties and, as it constantly seemed to me, what dangers,
every course of action—whatever I should decide upon—made for
me. I tried, I tried hard, to act for the best. And, you know,” she next
pursued, while, at the sound of her own statement, a slow courage and even
a faint warmth of conviction came back to her—“and, you know, I
believe it’s what I shall turn out to have done.”



This produced a minute during which their interchange, though quickened
and deepened, was that of silence only, and the long, charged look; all of
which found virtual consecration when Maggie at last spoke. “I’m sure you
tried to act for the best.”



It kept Fanny Assingham again a minute in silence. “I never thought,
dearest, you weren’t an angel.”



Not, however, that this alone was much help! “It was up to the very eve,
you see,” the Princess went on—“up to within two or three days of
our marriage. That, THAT, you know—!” And she broke down for
strangely smiling.



“Yes, as I say, it was while she was with me. But I didn’t know it. That
is,” said Fanny Assingham, “I didn’t know of anything in particular.” It
sounded weak—that she felt; but she had really her point to make.
“What I mean is that I don’t know, for knowledge, now, anything I didn’t
then. That’s how I am.” She still, however, floundered. “I mean it’s how I
WAS.”



“But don’t they, how you were and how you are,” Maggie asked, “come
practically to the same thing?” The elder woman’s words had struck her own
ear as in the tone, now mistimed, of their recent, but all too factitious
understanding, arrived at in hours when, as there was nothing susceptible
of proof, there was nothing definitely to disprove. The situation had
changed by—well, by whatever there was, by the outbreak of the
definite; and this could keep Maggie at least firm. She was firm enough as
she pursued. “It was ON the whole thing that Amerigo married me.” With
which her eyes had their turn again at her damnatory piece. “And it was on
that—it was on that!” But they came back to her visitor. “And it was
on it all that father married HER.”



Her visitor took it as might be. “They both married—ah, that you
must believe!—with the highest intentions.”



“Father did certainly!” And then, at the renewal of this consciousness, it
all rolled over her. “Ah, to thrust such things on us, to do them here
between us and with us, day after day, and in return, in return—! To
do it to HIM—to him, to him!”



Fanny hesitated. “You mean it’s for him you most suffer?” And then as the
Princess, after a look, but turned away, moving about the room—which
made the question somehow seem a blunder—“I ask,” she continued,
“because I think everything, everything we now speak of, may be for him,
really may be MADE for him, quite as if it hadn’t been.”



But Maggie had, the next moment faced about as if without hearing her.
“Father did it for ME—did it all and only for me.”



Mrs. Assingham, with a certain promptness, threw up her head; but she
faltered again before she spoke. “Well—!”



It was only an intended word, but Maggie showed after an instant that it
had reached her. “Do you mean that that’s the reason, that that’s A reason—?”



Fanny at first, however, feeling the response in this, didn’t say all she
meant; she said for the moment something else instead. “He did it for you—largely
at least for you. And it was for you that I did, in my smaller, interested
way—well, what I could do. For I could do something,” she continued;
“I thought I saw your interest as he himself saw it. And I thought I saw
Charlotte’s. I believed in her.”



“And I believed in her,” said Maggie.



Mrs. Assingham waited again; but she presently pushed on. “She believed
then in herself.”



“Ah?” Maggie murmured.



Something exquisite, faintly eager, in the prompt simplicity of it,
supported her friend further. “And the Prince believed. His belief was
real. Just as he believed in himself.”



Maggie spent a minute in taking it from her. “He believed in himself?”



“Just as I too believed in him. For I absolutely did, Maggie.” To which
Fanny then added: “And I believe in him yet. I mean,” she subjoined—“well,
I mean I DO.”



Maggie again took it from her; after which she was again, restlessly, set
afloat. Then when this had come to an end: “And do you believe in
Charlotte yet?”



Mrs. Assingham had a demur that she felt she could now afford. “We’ll talk
of Charlotte some other day. They both, at any rate, thought themselves
safe at the time.”



“Then why did they keep from me everything I might have known?”



Her friend bent upon her the mildest eyes. “Why did I myself keep it from
you?”



“Oh, you weren’t, for honour, obliged.”



“Dearest Maggie,” the poor woman broke out on this, “you ARE divine!”



“They pretended to love me,” the Princess went on. “And they pretended to
love HIM.”



“And pray what was there that I didn’t pretend?”



“Not, at any rate, to care for me as you cared for Amerigo and for
Charlotte. They were much more interesting—it was perfectly natural.
How couldn’t you like Amerigo?” Maggie continued.



Mrs. Assingham gave it up. “How couldn’t I, how couldn’t I?” Then, with a
fine freedom, she went all her way. “How CAN’T I, how can’t I?”



It fixed afresh Maggie’s wide eyes on her. “I see—I see. Well, it’s
beautiful for you to be able to. And of course,” she added, “you wanted to
help Charlotte.”



“Yes”—Fanny considered it—“I wanted to help Charlotte. But I
wanted also, you see, to help you—by not digging up a past that I
believed, with so much on top of it, solidly buried. I wanted, as I still
want,” she richly declared, “to help every one.”



It set Maggie once more in movement—movement which, however, spent
itself again with a quick emphasis. “Then it’s a good deal my fault—if
everything really began so well?”



Fanny Assingham met it as she could. “You’ve been only too perfect. You’ve
thought only too much.”



But the Princess had already caught at the words. “Yes—I’ve thought
only too much!” Yet she appeared to continue, for the minute, full of that
fault. She had it in fact, by this prompted thought, all before her. “Of
him, dear man, of HIM—!”



Her friend, able to take in thus directly her vision of her father,
watched her with a new suspense. THAT way might safety lie—it was
like a wider chink of light. “He believed—with a beauty!—in
Charlotte.”



“Yes, and it was I who had made him believe. I didn’t mean to, at the
time, so much; for I had no idea then of what was coming. But I did it, I
did it!” the Princess declared.



“With a beauty—ah, with a beauty, you too!” Mrs. Assingham insisted.



Maggie, however, was seeing for herself—it was another matter, “The
thing was that he made her think it would be so possible.”



Fanny again hesitated. “The Prince made her think—?”



Maggie stared—she had meant her father. But her vision seemed to
spread. “They both made her think. She wouldn’t have thought without
them.”



“Yet Amerigo’s good faith,” Mrs. Assingham insisted, “was perfect. And
there was nothing, all the more,” she added, “against your father’s.”



The remark, however, kept Maggie for a moment still. “Nothing perhaps but
his knowing that she knew.”



“‘Knew’?”



“That he was doing it, so much, for me. To what extent,” she suddenly
asked of her friend, “do you think he was aware that she knew?”



“Ah, who can say what passes between people in such a relation? The only
thing one can be sure of is that he was generous.” And Mrs. Assingham
conclusively smiled. “He doubtless knew as much as was right for himself.”



“As much, that is, as was right for her.”



“Yes then—as was right for her. The point is,” Fanny declared,
“that, whatever his knowledge, it made, all the way it went, for his good
faith.”



Maggie continued to gaze, and her friend now fairly waited on her
successive movements. “Isn’t the point, very considerably, that his good
faith must have been his faith in her taking almost as much interest in me
as he himself took?”



Fanny Assingham thought. “He recognised, he adopted, your long friendship.
But he founded on it no selfishness.”



“No,” said Maggie with still deeper consideration: “he counted her
selfishness out almost as he counted his own.”



“So you may say.”



“Very well,” Maggie went on; “if he had none of his own, he invited her,
may have expected her, on her side, to have as little. And she may only
since have found that out.”



Mrs. Assingham looked blank. “Since—?”



“And he may have become aware,” Maggie pursued, “that she has found it
out. That she has taken the measure, since their marriage,” she explained,
“of how much he had asked of her—more, say, than she had understood
at the time. He may have made out at last how such a demand was, in the
long run, to affect her.”



“He may have done many things,” Mrs. Assingham responded; “but there’s one
thing he certainly won’t have done. He’ll never have shown that he
expected of her a quarter as much as she must have understood he was to
give.”



“I’ve often wondered,” Maggie mused, “what Charlotte really understood.
But it’s one of the things she has never told me.”



“Then as it’s one of the things she has never told me either, we shall
probably never know it; and we may regard it as none of our business.
There are many things,” said Mrs. Assingham, “that we shall never know.”



Maggie took it in with a long reflection. “Never.”



“But there are others,” her friend went on, “that stare us in the face and
that—under whatever difficulty you may feel you labour—may now
be enough for us. Your father has been extraordinary.”



It had been as if Maggie were feeling her way; but she rallied to this
with a rush. “Extraordinary.”



“Magnificent,” said Fanny Assingham.



Her companion held tight to it. “Magnificent.”



“Then he’ll do for himself whatever there may be to do. What he undertook
for you he’ll do to the end. He didn’t undertake it to break down; in what—quiet,
patient, exquisite as he is—did he ever break down? He had never in
his life proposed to himself to have failed, and he won’t have done it on
this occasion.”



“Ah, this occasion!”—and Maggie’s wail showed her, of a sudden,
thrown back on it. “Am I in the least sure that, with everything, he even
knows what it is? And yet am I in the least sure he doesn’t?”



“If he doesn’t then, so much the better. Leave him alone.”



“Do you mean give him up?”



“Leave HER,” Fanny Assingham went on. “Leave her TO him.”



Maggie looked at her darkly. “Do you mean leave him to HER? After this?”



“After everything. Aren’t they, for that matter, intimately together now?”



“‘Intimately’—? How do I know?”



But Fanny kept it up. “Aren’t you and your husband—in spite of
everything?”



Maggie’s eyes still further, if possible, dilated. “It remains to be
seen!”



“If you’re not then, where’s your faith?”



“In my husband—?”



Mrs. Assingham but for an instant hesitated. “In your father. It all comes
back to that. Rest on it.”



“On his ignorance?”



Fanny met it again. “On whatever he may offer you. TAKE that.”



“Take it—?” Maggie stared.



Mrs. Assingham held up her head. “And be grateful.” On which, for a
minute, she let the Princess face her. “Do you see?”



“I see,” said Maggie at last.



“Then there you are.” But Maggie had turned away, moving to the window, as
if still to keep something in her face from sight. She stood there with
her eyes on the street while Mrs. Assingham’s reverted to that
complicating object on the chimney as to which her condition, so oddly
even to herself, was that both of recurrent wonder and recurrent protest.
She went over it, looked at it afresh and yielded now to her impulse to
feel it in her hands. She laid them on it, lifting it up, and was
surprised, thus, with the weight of it—she had seldom handled so
much massive gold. That effect itself somehow prompted her to further
freedom and presently to saying: “I don’t believe in this, you know.”



It brought Maggie round to her. “Don’t believe in it? You will when I tell
you.”



“Ah, tell me nothing! I won’t have it,” said Mrs. Assingham. She kept the
cup in her hand, held it there in a manner that gave Maggie’s attention to
her, she saw the next moment, a quality of excited suspense. This
suggested to her, oddly, that she had, with the liberty she was taking, an
air of intention, and the impression betrayed by her companion’s eyes grew
more distinct in a word of warning. “It’s of value, but its value’s
impaired, I’ve learned, by a crack.”



“A crack?—in the gold—?”



“It isn’t gold.” With which, somewhat strangely, Maggie smiled.



“That’s the point.”



“What is it then?”



“It’s glass—and cracked, under the gilt, as I say, at that.”



“Glass?—of this weight?”



“Well,” said Maggie, “it’s crystal—and was once, I suppose,
precious. But what,” she then asked, “do you mean to do with it?”



She had come away from her window, one of the three by which the wide
room, enjoying an advantageous “back,” commanded the western sky and
caught a glimpse of the evening flush; while Mrs. Assingham, possessed of
the bowl, and possessed too of this indication of a flaw, approached
another for the benefit of the slowly-fading light. Here, thumbing the
singular piece, weighing it, turning it over, and growing suddenly more
conscious, above all, of an irresistible impulse, she presently spoke
again. “A crack? Then your whole idea has a crack.”



Maggie, by this time at some distance from her, waited a moment. “If you
mean by my idea the knowledge that has come to me THAT—”



But Fanny, with decision, had already taken her up. “There’s only one
knowledge that concerns us—one fact with which we can have anything
to do.”



“Which one, then?”



“The fact that your husband has never, never, never—!” But the very
gravity of this statement, while she raised her eyes to her friend across
the room, made her for an instant hang fire.



“Well, never what?”



“Never been half so interested in you as now. But don’t you, my dear,
really feel it?”



Maggie considered. “Oh, I think what I’ve told you helps me to feel it.
His having to-day given up even his forms; his keeping away from me; his
not having come.” And she shook her head as against all easy glosses. “It
is because of that, you know.”



“Well then, if it’s because of this—!” And Fanny Assingham, who had
been casting about her and whose inspiration decidedly had come, raised
the cup in her two hands, raised it positively above her head, and from
under it, solemnly, smiled at the Princess as a signal of intention. So
for an instant, full of her thought and of her act, she held the precious
vessel, and then, with due note taken of the margin of the polished floor,
bare, fine and hard in the embrasure of her window, she dashed it boldly
to the ground, where she had the thrill of seeing it, with the violence of
the crash, lie shattered. She had flushed with the force of her effort, as
Maggie had flushed with wonder at the sight, and this high reflection in
their faces was all that passed between them for a minute more. After
which, “Whatever you meant by it—and I don’t want to know NOW—has
ceased to exist,” Mrs. Assingham said.



“And what in the world, my dear, did you mean by it?”—that sound, as
at the touch of a spring, rang out as the first effect of Fanny’s speech.
It broke upon the two women’s absorption with a sharpness almost equal to
the smash of the crystal, for the door of the room had been opened by the
Prince without their taking heed. He had apparently had time, moreover, to
catch the conclusion of Fanny’s act; his eyes attached themselves, through
the large space allowing just there, as happened, a free view, to the
shining fragments at this lady’s feet. His question had been addressed to
his wife, but he moved his eyes immediately afterwards to those of her
visitor, whose own then held them in a manner of which neither party had
been capable, doubtless, for mute penetration, since the hour spent by him
in Cadogan Place on the eve of his marriage and the afternoon of
Charlotte’s reappearance. Something now again became possible for these
communicants, under the intensity of their pressure, something that took
up that tale and that might have been a redemption of pledges then
exchanged. This rapid play of suppressed appeal and disguised response
lasted indeed long enough for more results than one—long enough for
Mrs. Assingham to measure the feat of quick self-recovery, possibly
therefore of recognition still more immediate, accompanying Amerigo’s
vision and estimate of the evidence with which she had been—so
admirably, she felt as she looked at him—inspired to deal. She
looked at him and looked at him—there were so many things she
wanted, on the spot, to say. But Maggie was looking too—and was
moreover looking at them both; so that these things, for the elder woman,
quickly enough reduced themselves to one. She met his question—not
too late, since, in their silence, it had remained in the air. Gathering
herself to go, leaving the golden bowl split into three pieces on the
ground, she simply referred him to his wife. She should see them later,
they would all meet soon again; and meanwhile, as to what Maggie had meant—she
said, in her turn, from the door—why, Maggie herself was doubtless
by this time ready to tell him.


                            XXXIV


Left with her husband, Maggie, however, for the time, said nothing; she
only felt, on the spot, a strong, sharp wish not to see his face again
till he should have had a minute to arrange it. She had seen it enough for
her temporary clearness and her next movement—seen it as it showed
during the stare of surprise that followed his entrance. Then it was that
she knew how hugely expert she had been made, for judging it quickly, by
that vision of it, indelibly registered for reference, that had flashed a
light into her troubled soul the night of his late return from Matcham.
The expression worn by it at that juncture, for however few instants, had
given her a sense of its possibilities, one of the most relevant of which
might have been playing up for her, before the consummation of Fanny
Assingham’s retreat, just long enough to be recognised. What she had
recognised in it was HIS recognition, the result of his having been
forced, by the flush of their visitor’s attitude and the unextinguished
report of her words, to take account of the flagrant signs of the
accident, of the incident, on which he had unexpectedly dropped. He had,
not unnaturally, failed to see this occurrence represented by the three
fragments of an object apparently valuable which lay there on the floor
and which, even across the width of the room, his kept interval, reminded
him, unmistakably though confusedly, of something known, some other
unforgotten image. That was a mere shock, that was a pain—as if
Fanny’s violence had been a violence redoubled and acting beyond its
intention, a violence calling up the hot blood as a blow across the mouth
might have called it. Maggie knew as she turned away from him that she
didn’t want his pain; what she wanted was her own simple certainty—not
the red mark of conviction flaming there in his beauty. If she could have
gone on with bandaged eyes she would have liked that best; if it were a
question of saying what she now, apparently, should have to, and of taking
from him what he would say, any blindness that might wrap it would be the
nearest approach to a boon.



She went in silence to where her friend—never, in intention,
visibly, so much her friend as at that moment—had braced herself to
so amazing an energy, and there, under Amerigo’s eyes, she picked up the
shining pieces. Bedizened and jewelled, in her rustling finery, she paid,
with humility of attitude, this prompt tribute to order—only to
find, however, that she could carry but two of the fragments at once. She
brought them over to the chimney-piece, to the conspicuous place occupied
by the cup before Fanny’s appropriation of it, and, after laying them
carefully down, went back for what remained, the solid detached foot. With
this she returned to the mantel-shelf, placing it with deliberation in the
centre and then, for a minute, occupying herself as with the attempt to
fit the other morsels together. The split, determined by the latent crack, was so sharp and so neat that if there had been anything to hold them the bowl might still,
quite beautifully, a few steps away, have passed for uninjured. But, as
there was, naturally, nothing to hold them but Maggie’s hands, during the
few moments the latter were so employed, she could only lay the almost equal
parts of the vessel carefully beside their pedestal and leave them thus
before her husband’s eyes. She had proceeded without words, but quite as if
with a sought effect-in spite of which it had all seemed to her to take a
far longer time than anything she had ever so quickly accomplished. Amerigo
said nothing either-though it was true that his silence had the gloss of the
warning she doubtless appeared to admonish him to take: it was as if her
manner hushed him to the proper observation of what she was doing. He should
have no doubt of it whatever: she knew and her broken bowl was
proof that she knew-yet the least part of her desire was to make him waste
words. He would have to think-this she knew even better still; and all she
was for the present concerned with was that he should be aware. She had
taken him for aware all day, or at least for obscurely and instinctively
anxious-as to that she had just committed herself to Fanny Assingham; but
what she had been wrong about was the effect of his anxiety. His fear of
staying away, as a marked symptom, had at least proved greater than his fear
of coming in ; he had come in even at the risk of bringing it with him-and,
ah, what more did she require now than her sense, established within the
first minute or two, that he had brought it, however he might be steadying
himself against dangers of betrayal by some wrong word, and that it was shut
in there between them, the successive moments throbbing under it the while
as the pulse of fever throbs under the doctor’s thumb?

Maggie’s sense, in fine, in his presence, was that though the bowl had been
broken, her reason hadn’t; the reason for which she had made up her mind,
the reason for which she had summoned her friend, the reason for which she
had prepared the place for her husband’s eyes; it was all one reason, and,
as her intense little clutch held the matter, what had happened by Fanny’s
act and by his apprehension of it had not in the least happened to
her but absolutely and directly to himself, as he must proceed to
take in. There it was that her wish for time interposed-time for Amerigo’s
use, not for hers, since she, for ever so long now, for hours and hours as
they seemed, had been living with eternity; with which she would continue to
live. She wanted to say to him, “ Take it, take it, take all you need of it
; arrange yourself so as to suffer least, or to be, at any rate, least
distorted and disfigured Only see see that I see, and make
up your mind, on this new basis, at your convenience. Wait-it won’t be
long-till you can confer again with Charlotte, for you’ll do it much better
then-more easily to both of us. Above all don’t show me, till you’ve got it
well under, the dreadful blur, the ravage of suspense and embarrassment,
produced, and produced by my doing, in your personal serenity, your
incomparable superiority.”

After she had squared again her little objects on
the chimney, she was within an ace, in fact, of turning on him with that
appeal; besides its being lucid for her, all the while, that the occasion
was passing, that they were dining out, that he wasn’t dressed, and that,
though she herself was, she was yet, in all probability, so horribly red
in the face and so awry, in many ways, with agitation, that in view of the
Ambassador’s company, of possible comments and constructions, she should
need, before her glass, some restoration of appearances.



Amerigo, meanwhile, after all, could clearly make the most of her having
enjoined on him to wait—suggested it by the positive pomp of her
dealings with the smashed cup; to wait, that is, till she should pronounce
as Mrs. Assingham had promised for her. This delay, again, certainly
tested her presence of mind—though that strain was not what
presently made her speak. Keep her eyes, for the time, from her husband’s
as she might, she soon found herself much more drivingly conscious of the
strain on his own wit. There was even a minute, when her back was turned
to him, during which she knew once more the strangeness of her desire to
spare him, a strangeness that had already, fifty times, brushed her, in
the depth of her trouble, as with the wild wing of some bird of the air
who might blindly have swooped for an instant into the shaft of a well,
darkening there by his momentary flutter the far-off round of sky. It was
extraordinary, this quality in the taste of her wrong which made her
completed sense of it seem rather to soften than to harden and it was the
more extraordinary the more she had to recognise it; for what it came to
was that seeing herself finally sure, knowing everything, having the fact,
in all its abomination, so utterly before her that there was nothing else
to add—what it came to was that, merely by being WITH him there in
silence, she felt, within her, the sudden split between conviction and
action. They had begun to cease, on the spot, surprisingly, to be
connected; conviction, that is, budged no inch, only planting its feet the
more firmly in the soil—but action began to hover like some lighter
and larger, but easier form, excited by its very power to keep above
ground. It would be free, it would be independent, it would go in—wouldn’t
it?—for some prodigious and superior adventure of its own. What
would condemn it, so to speak, to the responsibility of freedom—this
glimmered on Maggie even now—was the possibility, richer with every
lapsing moment, that her husband would have, on the whole question, a new
need of her, a need which was in fact being born between them in these
very seconds. It struck her truly as so new that he would have felt
hitherto none to compare with it at all; would indeed, absolutely, by this
circumstance, be REALLY needing her for the first one in their whole
connection. No, he had used her, had even exceedingly enjoyed her, before
this; but there had been no precedent for that character of a proved
necessity to him which she was rapidly taking on. The immense advantage of
this particular clue, moreover, was that she should have now to arrange,
alter, to falsify nothing; should have to be but consistently simple and
straight. She asked herself, with concentration, while her back was still
presented, what would be the very ideal of that method; after which, the
next instant, it had all come to her and she had turned round upon him for
the application. “Fanny Assingham broke it—knowing it had a crack
and that it would go if she used sufficient force. She thought, when I had
told her, that that would be the best thing to do with it—thought so
from her own point of view. That hadn’t been at all my idea, but she acted
before I understood. I had, on the contrary,” she explained, “put it here,
in full view, exactly that you might see.”



He stood with his hands in his pockets; he had carried his eyes to the
fragments on the chimney-piece, and she could already distinguish the
element of relief, absolutely of succour, in his acceptance from her of
the opportunity to consider the fruits of their friend’s violence—every
added inch of reflection and delay having the advantage, from this point
on, of counting for him double. It had operated within her now to the last
intensity, her glimpse of the precious truth that by her helping him,
helping him to help himself, as it were, she should help him to help HER.
Hadn’t she fairly got into his labyrinth with him?—wasn’t she indeed
in the very act of placing herself there, for him, at its centre and core,
whence, on that definite orientation and by an instinct all her own, she
might securely guide him out of it? She offered him thus, assuredly, a
kind of support that was not to have been imagined in advance, and that
moreover required—ah most truly!—some close looking at before
it could be believed in and pronounced void of treachery. “Yes, look,
look,” she seemed to see him hear her say even while her sounded words
were other—“look, look, both at the truth that still survives in
that smashed evidence and at the even more remarkable appearance that I’m
not such a fool as you supposed me. Look at the possibility that, since I
AM different, there may still be something in it for you—if you’re
capable of working with me to get that out. Consider of course, as you
must, the question of what you may have to surrender, on your side, what
price you may have to pay, whom you may have to pay WITH, to set this
advantage free; but take in, at any rate, that there is something for you
if you don’t too blindly spoil your chance for it.” He went no nearer the
damnatory pieces, but he eyed them, from where he stood, with a degree of
recognition just visibly less to be dissimulated; all of which represented
for her a certain traceable process. And her uttered words, meanwhile,
were different enough from those he might have inserted between the lines
of her already-spoken. “It’s the golden bowl, you know, that you saw at
the little antiquario’s in Bloomsbury, so long ago—when you went
there with Charlotte, when you spent those hours with her, unknown to me,
a day or two before our marriage. It was shown you both, but you didn’t
take it; you left it for me, and I came upon it, extraordinarily, through
happening to go into the same shop on Monday last; in walking home, in
prowling about to pick up some small old thing for father’s birthday,
after my visit to the Museum, my appointment there with Mr. Crichton, of
which I told you. It was shown me, and I was struck with it and took it—knowing
nothing about it at the time. What I now know I’ve learned since—I
learned this afternoon, a couple of hours ago; receiving from it naturally
a great impression. So there it is—in its three pieces. You can
handle them—don’t be afraid—if you want to make sure the thing
is the thing you and Charlotte saw together. Its having come apart makes
an unfortunate difference for its beauty, its artistic value, but none for
anything else. Its other value is just the same—I mean that of its
having given me so much of the truth about you. I don’t therefore so much
care what becomes of it now—unless perhaps you may yourself, when
you come to think, have some good use for it. In that case,” Maggie wound
up, “we can easily take the pieces with us to Fawns.”



It was wonderful how she felt, by the time she had seen herself through
this narrow pass, that she had really achieved something—that she
was emerging a little, in fine, with the prospect less contracted. She had
done for him, that is, what her instinct enjoined; had laid a basis not
merely momentary on which he could meet her. When, by the turn of his
head, he did finally meet her, this was the last thing that glimmered out
of his look; but it came into sight, none the less, as a perception of his
distress and almost as a question of his eyes; so that, for still another
minute, before he committed himself, there occurred between them a kind of
unprecedented moral exchange over which her superior lucidity presided. It
was not, however, that when he did commit himself the show was promptly
portentous. “But what in the world has Fanny Assingham had to do with it?”



She could verily, out of all her smothered soreness, almost have smiled:
his question so affected her as giving the whole thing up to her. But it
left her only to go the straighter. “She has had to do with it that I
immediately sent for her and that she immediately came. She was the first
person I wanted to see—because I knew she would know. Know more
about what I had learned, I mean, than I could make out for myself. I made
out as much as I could for myself—that I also wanted to have done;
but it didn’t, in spite of everything, take me very far, and she has
really been a help. Not so much as she would like to be—not so much
as, poor dear, she just now tried to be; yet she has done her very best
for you—never forget that!—and has kept me along immeasurably
better than I should have been able to come without her. She has gained me
time; and that, these three months, don’t you see? has been everything.”



She had said “Don’t you see?” on purpose, and was to feel the next moment
that it had acted. “These three months’?” the Prince asked.



“Counting from the night you came home so late from Matcham. Counting from
the hours you spent with Charlotte at Gloucester; your visit to the
cathedral—which you won’t have forgotten describing to me in so much
detail. For that was the beginning of my being sure. Before it I had been
sufficiently in doubt. Sure,” Maggie developed, “of your having, and of
your having for a long time had, TWO relations with Charlotte.”



He stared, a little at sea, as he took it up. “Two—?”



Something in the tone of it gave it a sense, or an ambiguity, almost
foolish—leaving Maggie to feel, as in a flash, how such a
consequence, a foredoomed infelicity, partaking of the ridiculous even in
one of the cleverest, might be of the very essence of the penalty of
wrong-doing. “Oh, you may have had fifty—had the same relation with
her fifty times! It’s of the number of KINDS of relation with her that I
speak—a number that doesn’t matter, really, so long as there wasn’t
only one kind, as father and I supposed. One kind,” she went on, “was
there before us; we took that fully for granted, as you saw, and accepted
it. We never thought of there being another, kept out of our sight. But
after the evening I speak of I knew there was something else. As I say, I
had, before that, my idea—which you never dreamed I had. From the
moment I speak of it had more to go upon, and you became yourselves, you
and she, vaguely, yet uneasily, conscious of the difference. But it’s
within these last hours that I’ve most seen where we are; and as I’ve been
in communication with Fanny Assingham about my doubts, so I wanted to let
her know my certainty—with the determination of which, however, you
must understand, she has had nothing to do. She defends you,” Maggie
remarked.



He had given her all his attention, and with this impression for her,
again, that he was, in essence, fairly reaching out to her for time—time,
only time—she could sufficiently imagine, and to whatever
strangeness, that he absolutely liked her to talk, even at the cost of his
losing almost everything else by it. It was still, for a minute, as if he
waited for something worse; wanted everything that was in her to come out,
any definite fact, anything more precisely nameable, so that he too—as
was his right—should know where he was. What stirred in him above
all, while he followed in her face the clear train of her speech, must
have been the impulse to take up something she put before him that he was
yet afraid directly to touch. He wanted to make free with it, but had to
keep his hands off—for reasons he had already made out; and the
discomfort of his privation yearned at her out of his eyes with an
announcing gleam of the fever, the none too tolerable chill, of specific
recognition. She affected him as speaking more or less for her father as
well, and his eyes might have been trying to hypnotise her into giving him
the answer without his asking the question. “Had HE his idea, and has he
now, with you, anything more?”—those were the words he had to hold
himself from not speaking and that she would as yet, certainly, do nothing
to make easy. She felt with her sharpest thrill how he was straitened and
tied, and with the miserable pity of it her present conscious purpose of
keeping him so could none the less perfectly accord. To name her father,
on any such basis of anxiety, of compunction, would be to do the
impossible thing, to do neither more nor less than give Charlotte away.
Visibly, palpably, traceably, he stood off from this, moved back from it
as from an open chasm now suddenly perceived, but which had been, between
the two, with so much, so strangely much else, quite uncalculated. Verily
it towered before her, this history of their confidence. They had built
strong and piled high—based as it was on such appearances—their
conviction that, thanks to her native complacencies of so many sorts, she
would always, quite to the end and through and through, take them as nobly
sparing her. Amerigo was at any rate having the sensation of a particular
ugliness to avoid, a particular difficulty to count with, that practically
found him as unprepared as if he had been, like his wife, an abjectly
simple person. And she meanwhile, however abjectly simple, was further
discerning, for herself, that, whatever he might have to take from her—she
being, on her side, beautifully free—he would absolutely not be
able, for any qualifying purpose, to name Charlotte either. As his
father-in-law’s wife Mrs. Verver rose between them there, for the time, in
august and prohibitive form; to protect her, defend her, explain about
her, was, at the least, to bring her into the question—which would
be by the same stroke to bring her husband. But this was exactly the door
Maggie wouldn’t open to him; on all of which she was the next moment
asking herself if, thus warned and embarrassed, he were not fairly
writhing in his pain. He writhed, on that hypothesis, some seconds more,
for it was not till then that he had chosen between what he could do and
what he couldn’t.



“You’re apparently drawing immense conclusions from very small matters.
Won’t you perhaps feel, in fairness, that you’re striking out, triumphing,
or whatever I may call it, rather too easily—feel it when I
perfectly admit that your smashed cup there does come back to me? I
frankly confess, now, to the occasion, and to having wished not to speak
of it to you at the time. We took two or three hours together, by
arrangement; it WAS on the eve of my marriage—at the moment you say.
But that put it on the eve of yours too, my dear—which was directly
the point. It was desired to find for you, at the eleventh hour, some
small wedding-present—a hunt, for something worth giving you, and
yet possible from other points of view as well, in which it seemed I could
be of use. You were naturally not to be told—precisely because it
was all FOR you. We went forth together and we looked; we rummaged about
and, as I remember we called it, we prowled; then it was that, as I freely
recognise, we came across that crystal cup—which I’m bound to say,
upon my honour, I think it rather a pity Fanny Assingham, from whatever
good motive, should have treated so.” He had kept his hands in his
pockets; he turned his eyes again, but more complacently now, to the ruins
of the precious vessel; and Maggie could feel him exhale into the achieved
quietness of his explanation a long, deep breath of comparative relief.
Behind everything, beneath everything, it was somehow a comfort to him at
last to be talking with her—and he seemed to be proving to himself
that he COULD talk. “It was at a little shop in Bloomsbury—I think I
could go to the place now. The man understood Italian, I remember; he
wanted awfully to work off his bowl. But I didn’t believe in it, and we
didn’t take it.”



Maggie had listened with an interest that wore all the expression of
candour. “Oh, you left it for me. But what did you take?”



He looked at her; first as if he were trying to remember, then as if he
might have been trying to forget. “Nothing, I think—at that place.”



“What did you take then at any other? What did you get me—since that
was your aim and end—for a wedding-gift?”



The Prince continued very nobly to bethink himself. “Didn’t we get you
anything?”



Maggie waited a little; she had for some time, now, kept her eyes on him
steadily; but they wandered, at this, to the fragments on her chimney.
“Yes; it comes round, after all, to your having got me the bowl. I myself
was to come upon it, the other day, by so wonderful a chance; was to find
it in the same place and to have it pressed upon me by the same little
man, who does, as you say, understand Italian. I did ‘believe in it,’ you
see—must have believed in it somehow instinctively; for I took it as
soon as I saw it. Though I didn’t know at all then,” she added, “what I
was taking WITH it.”



The Prince paid her for an instant, visibly, the deference of trying to
imagine what this might have been. “I agree with you that the coincidence
is extraordinary—the sort of thing that happens mainly in novels and
plays. But I don’t see, you must let me say, the importance or the
connexion—”



“Of my having made the purchase where you failed of it?” She had quickly
taken him up; but she had, with her eyes on him once more, another drop
into the order of her thoughts, to which, through whatever he might say,
she was still adhering. “It’s not my having gone into the place, at the
end of four years, that makes the strangeness of the coincidence; for
don’t such chances as that, in London, easily occur? The strangeness,” she
lucidly said, “is in what my purchase was to represent to me after I had
got it home; which value came,” she explained, “from the wonder of my
having found such a friend.”



“‘Such a friend’?” As a wonder, assuredly, her husband could but take it.



“As the little man in the shop. He did for me more than he knew—I
owe it to him. He took an interest in me,” Maggie said; “and, taking that
interest, he recalled your visit, he remembered you and spoke of you to
me.”



On which the Prince passed the comment of a sceptical smile. “Ah but, my
dear, if extraordinary things come from people’s taking an interest in you—”



“My life in that case,” she asked, “must be very agitated? Well, he liked
me, I mean—very particularly. It’s only so I can account for my
afterwards hearing from him—and in fact he gave me that to-day,” she
pursued, “he gave me it frankly as his reason.”



“To-day?” the Prince inquiringly echoed.



But she was singularly able—it had been marvellously “given” her,
she afterwards said to herself—to abide, for her light, for her
clue, by her own order.



“I inspired him with sympathy—there you are! But the miracle is that
he should have a sympathy to offer that could be of use to me. That was
really the oddity of my chance,” the Princess proceeded—“that I
should have been moved, in my ignorance, to go precisely to him.”



He saw her so keep her course that it was as if he could, at the best, but
stand aside to watch her and let her pass; he only made a vague
demonstration that was like an ineffective gesture. “I’m sorry to say any
ill of your friends, and the thing was a long time ago; besides which
there was nothing to make me recur to it. But I remember the man’s
striking me as a decided little beast.”



She gave a slow headshake—as if, no, after consideration, not THAT
way were an issue. “I can only think of him as kind, for he had nothing to
gain. He had in fact only to lose. It was what he came to tell me—that
he had asked me too high a price, more than the object was really worth.
There was a particular reason, which he hadn’t mentioned, and which had
made him consider and repent. He wrote for leave to see me again—wrote
in such terms that I saw him here this afternoon.”



“Here?”—it made the Prince look about him.



“Downstairs—in the little red room. While he was waiting he looked
at the few photographs that stand about there and recognised two of them.
Though it was so long ago, he remembered the visit made him by the lady
and the gentleman, and that gave him his connexion. It gave me mine, for
he remembered everything and told me everything. You see you too had
produced your effect; only, unlike you, he had thought of it again—he
HAD recurred to it. He told me of your having wished to make each other
presents—but of that’s not having come off. The lady was greatly
taken with the piece I had bought of him, but you had your reason against
receiving it from her, and you had been right. He would think that of you
more than ever now,” Maggie went on; “he would see how wisely you had
guessed the flaw and how easily the bowl could be broken. I had bought it
myself, you see, for a present—he knew I was doing that. This was
what had worked in him—especially after the price I had paid.”



Her story had dropped an instant; she still brought it out in small waves
of energy, each of which spent its force; so that he had an opportunity to
speak before this force was renewed. But the quaint thing was what he now
said. “And what, pray, WAS the price?”



She paused again a little. “It was high, certainly—for those
fragments. I think I feel, as I look at them there, rather ashamed to
say.”



The Prince then again looked at them; he might have been growing used to
the sight. “But shall you at least get your money back?”



“Oh, I’m far from wanting it back—I feel so that I’m getting its
worth.” With which, before he could reply, she had a quick transition.
“The great fact about the day we’re talking of seems to me to have been,
quite remarkably, that no present was then made me. If your undertaking
had been for that, that was not at least what came of it.”



“You received then nothing at all?” The Prince looked vague and grave,
almost retrospectively concerned.



“Nothing but an apology for empty hands and empty pockets; which was made
me—as if it mattered a mite!—ever so frankly, ever so
beautifully and touchingly.”



This Amerigo heard with interest, yet not with confusion. “Ah, of course
you couldn’t have minded!” Distinctly, as she went on, he was getting the
better of the mere awkwardness of his arrest; quite as if making out that
he need SUFFER arrest from her now—before they should go forth to
show themselves in the world together—in no greater quantity than an
occasion ill-chosen at the best for a scene might decently make room for.
He looked at his watch; their engagement, all the while, remained before
him. “But I don’t make out, you see, what case against me you rest—”



“On everything I’m telling you? Why, the whole case—the case of your
having for so long so successfully deceived me. The idea of your finding
something for me—charming as that would have been—was what had
least to do with your taking a morning together at that moment. What had
really to do with it,” said Maggie, “was that you had to: you couldn’t
not, from the moment you were again face to face. And the reason of that
was that there had been so much between you before—before I came
between you at all.”



Her husband had been for these last moments moving about under her eyes;
but at this, as to check any show of impatience, he again stood still.
“You’ve never been more sacred to me than you were at that hour—unless
perhaps you’ve become so at this one.”



The assurance of his speech, she could note, quite held up its head in
him; his eyes met her own so, for the declaration, that it was as if
something cold and momentarily unimaginable breathed upon her, from afar
off, out of his strange consistency. She kept her direction still,
however, under that. “Oh, the thing I’ve known best of all is that you’ve
never wanted, together, to offend us. You’ve wanted quite intensely not
to, and the precautions you’ve had to take for it have been for a long
time one of the strongest of my impressions. That, I think,” she added,
“is the way I’ve best known.”



“Known?” he repeated after a moment.



“Known. Known that you were older friends, and so much more intimate ones,
than I had any reason to suppose when we married. Known there were things
that hadn’t been told me—and that gave their meaning, little by
little, to other things that were before me.”



“Would they have made a difference, in the matter of our marriage,” the
Prince presently asked, “if you HAD known them?”



She took her time to think. “I grant you not—in the matter of OURS.”
And then as he again fixed her with his hard yearning, which he couldn’t
keep down: “The question is so much bigger than that. You see how much
what I know makes of it for me.” That was what acted on him, this
iteration of her knowledge, into the question of the validity, of the
various bearings of which, he couldn’t on the spot trust himself to
pretend, in any high way, to go. What her claim, as she made it,
represented for him—that he couldn’t help betraying, if only as a
consequence of the effect of the word itself, her repeated distinct “know,
know,” on his nerves. She was capable of being sorry for his nerves at a
time when he should need them for dining out, pompously, rather
responsibly, without his heart in it; yet she was not to let that prevent
her using, with all economy, so precious a chance for supreme clearness.
“I didn’t force this upon you, you must recollect, and it probably
wouldn’t have happened for you if you hadn’t come in.”



“Ah,” said the Prince, “I was liable to come in, you know.”



“I didn’t think you were this evening.”



“And why not?”



“Well,” she answered, “you have many liabilities—of different
sorts.” With which she recalled what she had said to Fanny Assingham. “And
then you’re so deep.”



It produced in his features, in spite of his control of them, one of those
quick plays of expression, the shade of a grimace, that testified as
nothing else did to his race. “It’s you, cara, who are deep.”



Which, after an instant, she had accepted from him; she could so feel at
last that it was true. “Then I shall have need of it all.”



“But what would you have done,” he was by this time asking, “if I HADN’T
come in?”



“I don’t know.” She had hesitated. “What would you?”



“Oh; I oh—that isn’t the question. I depend upon you. I go on. You
would have spoken to-morrow?”



“I think I would have waited.”



“And for what?” he asked.



“To see what difference it would make for myself. My possession at last, I
mean, of real knowledge.”



“Oh!” said the Prince.



“My only point now, at any rate,” she went on, “is the difference, as I
say, that it may make for YOU. Your knowing was—from the moment you
did come in—all I had in view.” And she sounded it again—he
should have it once more. “Your knowing that I’ve ceased—”



“That you’ve ceased—?” With her pause, in fact, she had fairly made
him press her for it.



“Why, to be as I was. NOT to know.”



It was once more then, after a little, that he had had to stand receptive;
yet the singular effect of this was that there was still something of the
same sort he was made to want. He had another hesitation, but at last this
odd quantity showed. “Then does any one else know?”



It was as near as he could come to naming her father, and she kept him at
that distance. “Any one—?”



“Any one, I mean, but Fanny Assingham.”



“I should have supposed you had had by this time particular means of
learning. I don’t see,” she said, “why you ask me.”



Then, after an instant—and only after an instant, as she saw—he
made out what she meant; and it gave her, all strangely enough, the still
further light that Charlotte, for herself, knew as little as he had known.
The vision loomed, in this light, it fairly glared, for the few seconds—the
vision of the two others alone together at Fawns, and Charlotte, as one of
them, having gropingly to go on, always not knowing and not knowing! The
picture flushed at the same time with all its essential colour—that
of the so possible identity of her father’s motive and principle with her
own. HE was “deep,” as Amerigo called it, so that no vibration of the
still air should reach his daughter; just as she had earned that
description by making and by, for that matter, intending still to make,
her care for his serenity, or at any rate for the firm outer shell of his
dignity, all marvellous enamel, her paramount law. More strangely even
than anything else, her husband seemed to speak now but to help her in
this. “I know nothing but what you tell me.”



“Then I’ve told you all I intended. Find out the rest—!”



“Find it out—?” He waited.



She stood before him a moment—it took that time to go on. Depth upon
depth of her situation, as she met his face, surged and sank within her;
but with the effect somehow, once more, that they rather lifted her than
let her drop. She had her feet somewhere, through it all—it was her
companion, absolutely, who was at sea. And she kept her feet; she pressed
them to what was beneath her. She went over to the bell beside the chimney
and gave a ring that he could but take as a summons for her maid. It
stopped everything for the present; it was an intimation to him to go and
dress. But she had to insist. “Find out for yourself!”