Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




The Golden Bowl (1904)
Henry James



VOLUME I



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 it 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 mar-
riage 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 morn-
ing, 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."




VOLUME II

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. 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; io--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!"



PART FIFTH

                            XXXV

After the little party was again constituted at Fawns--which had
taken, for completeness, some ten days--Maggie naturally felt
herself still more possessed, in spirit, of everything that had
last happened in London. There was a phrase that came back to her
from old American years: she was having, by that idiom, the time
of her life--she knew it by the perpetual throb of this sense of
possession, which was almost too violent either to recognise or
to hide. It was as if she had come out--that was her most general
consciousness; out of a dark tunnel, a dense wood, or even simply
a smoky room, and had thereby, at least, for going on, the
advantage of air in her lungs. It was as if she were somehow at
last gathering in the fruits of patience; she had either been
really more patient than she had known at the time, or had been
so for longer: the change brought about by itself as great a
difference of view as the shift of an inch in the position of a
telescope. It was her telescope in fact that had gained in
range--just as her danger lay in her exposing herself to the
observation by the more charmed, and therefore the more reckless,
use of this optical resource. Not under any provocation to
produce it in public was her unremitted rule; but the
difficulties of duplicity had not shrunk, while the need of it
had doubled. Humbugging, which she had so practised with her
father, had been a comparatively simple matter on the basis of
mere doubt; but the ground to be covered was now greatly larger,
and she felt not unlike some young woman of the theatre who,
engaged for a minor part in the play and having mastered her cues
with anxious effort, should find herself suddenly promoted to
leading lady and expected to appear in every act of the five. She
had made much to her husband, that last night, of her "knowing";
but it was exactly this quantity she now knew that, from the
moment she could only dissimulate it, added to her responsibility
and made of the latter all a mere question of having
something precious and precarious in charge. There was no one to
help her with it--not even Fanny Assingham now; this good
friend's presence having become, inevitably, with that climax of
their last interview in Portland Place, a severely simplified
function. She had her use, oh yes, a thousand times; but it could
only consist henceforth in her quite conspicuously touching at no
point whatever--assuredly, at least with Maggie--the matter they
had discussed. She was there, inordinately, as a value, but as a
value only for the clear negation of everything. She was their
general sign, precisely, of unimpaired beatitude--and she was to
live up to that somewhat arduous character, poor thing, as she
might. She might privately lapse from it, if she must, with
Amerigo or with Charlotte--only not, of course, ever, so much as
for the wink of an eye, with the master of the house. Such lapses
would be her own affair, which Maggie at present could take no
thought of. She treated her young friend meanwhile, it was to be
said, to no betrayal of such wavering; so that from the moment of
her alighting at the door with the Colonel everything went on
between them at concert pitch. What had she done, that last
evening in Maggie's room, but bring the husband and wife more
together than, as would seem, they had ever been? Therefore what
indiscretion should she not show by attempting to go behind the
grand appearance of her success?--which would be to court a doubt
of her beneficent work. She knew accordingly nothing but harmony
and diffused, restlessly, nothing but peace--an extravagant,
expressive, aggressive peace, not incongruous, after all, with
the solid calm of the place; a kind of helmetted, trident-shaking
pax Britannica.

The peace, it must be added, had become, as the days elapsed, a
peace quite generally animated and peopled--thanks to that fact
of the presence of "company" in which Maggie's ability to
preserve an appearance had learned, from so far back, to find its
best resource. It was not inconspicuous, it was in fact striking,
that this resource, just now, seemed to meet in the highest
degree every one's need: quite as if every one were, by the
multiplication of human objects in the scene, by the creation, by
the confusion, of fictive issues, hopeful of escaping somebody
else's notice. It had reached the point, in truth, that the
collective bosom might have been taken to heave with the
knowledge of the descent upon adjacent shores, for a short
period, of Mrs. Rance and the Lutches, still united, and still so
divided, for conquest: the sense of the party showed at least,
oddly enough, as favourable to the fancy of the quaint turn that
some near "week-end" might derive from their reappearance. This
measured for Maggie the ground they had all travelled together
since that unforgotten afternoon of the none so distant year,
that determinant September Sunday when, sitting with her father
in the park, as in commemoration of the climax both of their old
order and of their old danger, she had proposed to him that they
should "call in" Charlotte,--call her in as a specialist might be
summoned to an invalid's chair. Wasn't it a sign of something
rather portentous, their being ready to be beholden, as for a
diversion, to the once despised Kitty and Dotty? That had already
had its application, in truth, to her invocation of the
Castledeans and several other members, again, of the historic
Matcham week, made before she left town, and made, always
consistently, with an idea--since she was never henceforth to
approach these people without an idea, and since that lurid
element of their intercourse grew and grew for her with each
occasion. The flame with which it burned afresh during these
particular days, the way it held up the torch to anything, to
everything, that MIGHT have occurred as the climax of revels
springing from traditions so vivified--this by itself justified
her private motive and reconsecrated her diplomacy. She had
already produced by the aid of these people something of the
effect she sought--that of being "good" for whatever her
companions were good for, and of not asking either of them to
give up anyone or anything for her sake. There was moreover,
frankly, a sharpness of point in it that she enjoyed; it gave an
accent to the truth she wished to illustrate--the truth that the
surface of her recent life, thick-sown with the flower of earnest
endeavour, with every form of the unruffled and the undoubting,
suffered no symptom anywhere to peep out. It was as if, under her
pressure, neither party could get rid of the complicity, as it
might be figured, of the other; as if, in a word, she saw Amerigo
and Charlotte committed, for fear of betrayals on their own side,
to a kind of wan consistency on the subject of Lady Castledean's
"set," and this latter group, by the same stroke, compelled to
assist at attestations the extent and bearing of which they
rather failed to grasp and which left them indeed, in spite of
hereditary high spirits, a trifle bewildered and even a trifle
scared.

They made, none the less, at Fawns, for number, for movement, for
sound--they played their parts during a crisis that must have
hovered for them, in the long passages of the old house, after
the fashion of the established ghost, felt, through the dark
hours as a constant possibility, rather than have menaced them in
the form of a daylight bore, one of the perceived outsiders who
are liable to be met in the drawing-room or to be sat next to at
dinner. If the Princess, moreover, had failed of her occult use
for so much of the machinery of diversion, she would still have
had a sense not other than sympathetic for the advantage now
extracted from it by Fanny Assingham's bruised philosophy. This
good friend's relation to it was actually the revanche, she
sufficiently indicated, of her obscured lustre at Matcham, where
she had known her way about so much less than most of the others.
She knew it at Fawns, through the pathless wild of the right
tone, positively better than any one, Maggie could note for her;
and her revenge had the magnanimity of a brave pointing out of it
to every one else, a wonderful irresistible, conscious, almost
compassionate patronage. Here was a house, she triumphantly
caused it to be noted, in which she so bristled with values that
some of them might serve, by her amused willingness to share, for
such of the temporarily vague, among her fellow-guests, such of
the dimly disconcerted, as had lost the key to their own. It may
have been partly through the effect of this especial strain of
community with her old friend that Maggie found herself, one
evening, moved to take up again their dropped directness of
reference. They had remained downstairs together late; the other
women of the party had filed, singly or in couples, up the
"grand" staircase on which, from the equally grand hall, these
retreats and advances could always be pleasantly observed; the
men had apparently taken their way to the smoking-room; while the
Princess, in possession thus of a rare reach of view, had
lingered as if to enjoy it. Then she saw that Mrs. Assingham was
remaining a little--and as for the appreciation of her enjoyment;
upon which they stood looking at each other across the cleared
prospect until the elder woman, only vaguely expressive and
tentative now, came nearer. It was like the act of asking if
there were anything she could yet do, and that question was
answered by her immediately feeling, on this closer view, as she
had felt when presenting herself in Portland Place after Maggie's
last sharp summons. Their understanding was taken up by these new
snatched moments where that occasion had left it.

"He has never told her that I know. Of that I'm at last
satisfied." And then as Mrs. Assingham opened wide eyes: "I've
been in the dark since we came down, not understanding what he
has been doing or intending--not making out what can have passed
between them. But within a day or two I've begun to suspect, and
this evening, for reasons--oh, too many to tell you!--I've been
sure, since it explains. NOTHING has passed between them--that's
what has happened. It explains," the Princess repeated with
energy; "it explains, it explains!" She spoke in a manner that
her auditor was afterwards to describe to the Colonel, oddly
enough, as that of the quietest excitement; she had turned back
to the chimney-place, where, in honour of a damp day and a chill
night, the piled logs had turned to flame and sunk to embers; and
the evident intensity of her vision for the fact she imparted
made Fanny Assingham wait upon her words. It explained, this
striking fact, more indeed than her companion, though conscious
of fairly gaping with good-will, could swallow at once. The
Princess, however, as for indulgence and confidence, quickly
filled up the measure. "He hasn't let her know that I know--and,
clearly, doesn't mean to. He has made up his mind; he'll say
nothing about it. Therefore, as she's quite unable to arrive at
the knowledge by herself, she has no idea how much I'm really in
possession. She believes," said Maggie, "and, so far as her own
conviction goes, she knows, that I'm not in possession of
anything. And that, somehow, for my own help seems to me
immense."

"Immense, my dear!" Mrs. Assingham applausively murmured, though
not quite, even as yet, seeing all the way. "He's keeping quiet
then on purpose?"

"On purpose." Maggie's lighted eyes, at least, looked further
than they had ever looked. "He'll NEVER tell her now."

Fanny wondered; she cast about her; most of all she admired her
little friend, in whom this announcement was evidently animated
by an heroic lucidity. She stood there, in her full uniform, like
some small erect commander of a siege, an anxious captain who has
suddenly got news, replete with importance for him, of agitation,
of division within the place. This importance breathed upon her
comrade. "So you're all right?"

"Oh, ALL right's a good deal to say. But I seem at least to see,
as I haven't before, where I am with it."

Fanny bountifully brooded; there was a point left vague. "And you
have it from him?--your husband himself has told you?"

"'Told' me--?"

"Why, what you speak of. It isn't of an assurance received from
him then that you do speak?"

At which Maggie had continued to stare. "Dear me, no. Do you
suppose I've asked him for an assurance?"

"Ah, you haven't?" Her companion smiled. "That's what I supposed
you MIGHT mean. Then, darling, what HAVE you--?"

"Asked him for? I've asked him for nothing."

But this, in turn, made Fanny stare. "Then nothing, that evening
of the Embassy dinner, passed between you?"

"On the contrary, everything passed."

"Everything--?"

"Everything. I told him what I knew--and I told him how I knew
it."

Mrs. Assingham waited. "And that was all?"

"Wasn't it quite enough?"

"Oh, love," she bridled, "that's for you to have judged!"

"Then I HAVE judged," said Maggie--"I did judge. I made sure he
understood--then I let him alone."

Mrs. Assingham wondered. "But he didn't explain--?"

"Explain? Thank God, no!" Maggie threw back her head as with
horror at the thought, then the next moment added: "And I didn't,
either."

The decency of pride in it shed a cold little light--yet as from
heights at the base of which her companion rather panted. "But if
he neither denies nor confesses--?"

"He does what's a thousand times better--he lets it alone. He
does," Maggie went on, "as he would do; as I see now that I was
sure he would. He lets me alone."

Fanny Assingham turned it over. "Then how do you know so where,
as you say, you 'are'?"

"Why, just BY that. I put him in possession of the difference;
the difference made, about me, by the fact that I hadn't been,
after all--though with a wonderful chance, I admitted, helping
me--too stupid to have arrived at knowledge. He had to see that
I'm changed for him--quite changed from the idea of me that he
had so long been going on with. It became a question then of his
really taking in the change--and what I now see is that he is
doing so."

Fanny followed as she could. "Which he shows by letting you, as
you say, alone?"

Maggie looked at her a minute. "And by letting her."

Mrs. Assingham did what she might to embrace it--checked a
little, however, by a thought that was the nearest approach she
could have, in this almost too large air, to an inspiration. "Ah,
but does Charlotte let HIM?"

"Oh, that's another affair--with which I've practically nothing
to do. I dare say, however, she doesn't." And the Princess had a
more distant gaze for the image evoked by the question. "I don't
in fact well see how she CAN. But the point for me is that he
understands."

"Yes," Fanny Assingham cooed, "understands--?"

"Well, what I want. I want a happiness without a hole in it big
enough for you to poke in your finger."

"A brilliant, perfect surface--to begin with at least. I see."

"The golden bowl--as it WAS to have been." And Maggie dwelt
musingly on this obscured figure. "The bowl with all our
happiness in it. The bowl without the crack."

For Mrs. Assingham too the image had its force, and the precious
object shone before her again, reconstituted, plausible,
presentable. But wasn't there still a piece missing? "Yet if he
lets you alone and you only let him--?"

"Mayn't our doing so, you mean, be noticed?--mayn't it give us
away? Well, we hope not--we try not--we take such care. We alone
know what's between us--we and you; and haven't you precisely
been struck, since you've been here," Maggie asked, "with our
making so good a show?"

Her friend hesitated. "To your father?"

But it made her hesitate too; she wouldn't speak of her father
directly. "To everyone. To her--now that you understand."

It held poor Fanny again in wonder. "To Charlotte--yes: if
there's so much beneath it, for you, and if it's all such a plan.
That makes it hang together it makes YOU hang together." She
fairly exhaled her admiration. "You're like nobody else--you're
extraordinary."

Maggie met it with appreciation, but with a reserve. "No, I'm not
extraordinary--but I AM, for every one, quiet."

"Well, that's just what is extraordinary. 'Quiet' is more than
_I_ am, and you leave me far behind." With which, again, for an
instant, Mrs. Assingham frankly brooded. "'Now that I
understand,' you say--but there's one thing I don't understand."
And the next minute, while her companion waited, she had
mentioned it. "How can Charlotte, after all, not have pressed
him, not have attacked him about it? How can she not have asked
him--asked him on his honour, I mean--if you know?"

"How can she 'not'? Why, of course," said the Princess limpidly,
"she MUST!"

"Well then--?"

"Well then, you think, he must have told her? Why, exactly what I
mean," said Maggie, "is that he will have done nothing of the
sort; will, as I say, have maintained the contrary."

Fanny Assingham weighed it. "Under her direct appeal for the
truth?"

"Under her direct appeal for the truth."

"Her appeal to his honour?"

"Her appeal to his honour. That's my point."

Fanny Assingham braved it. "For the truth as from him to her?"

"From him to any one."

Mrs. Assingham's face lighted. "He'll simply, he'll insistently
have lied?"

Maggie brought it out roundly. "He'll simply, he'll insistently
have lied."

It held again her companion, who next, however, with a single
movement, throwing herself on her neck, overflowed. "Oh, if you
knew how you help me!"

Maggie had liked her to understand, so far as this was possible;
but had not been slow to see afterwards how the possibility was
limited, when one came to think, by mysteries she was not to
sound. This inability in her was indeed not remarkable, inasmuch
as the Princess herself, as we have seen, was only now in a
position to boast of touching bottom. Maggie lived, inwardly, in
a consciousness that she could but partly open even to so good a
friend, and her own visitation of the fuller expanse of which
was, for that matter, still going on. They had been duskier
still, however, these recesses of her imagination--that, no
doubt, was what might at present be said for them. She had looked
into them, on the eve of her leaving town, almost without
penetration: she had made out in those hours, and also, of a
truth, during the days which immediately followed, little more
than the strangeness of a relation having for its chief mark--
whether to be prolonged or not--the absence of any "intimate"
result of the crisis she had invited her husband to recognise.
They had dealt with this crisis again, face to face, very
briefly, the morning after the scene in her room--but with the
odd consequence of her having appeared merely to leave it on his
hands. He had received it from her as he might have received a
bunch of keys or a list of commissions--attentive to her
instructions about them, but only putting them, for the time,
very carefully and safely, into his pocket. The instructions had
seemed, from day to day, to make so little difference for his
behaviour--that is for his speech or his silence; to produce, as
yet, so little of the fruit of action. He had taken from her, on
the spot, in a word, before going to dress for dinner, all she
then had to give--after which, on the morrow, he had asked her
for more, a good deal as if she might have renewed her supply
during the night; but he had had at his command for this latter
purpose an air of extraordinary detachment and discretion, an air
amounting really to an appeal which, if she could have brought
herself to describe it vulgarly, she would have described as
cool, just as he himself would have described it in any one else
as "cheeky"; a suggestion that she should trust him on the
particular ground since she didn't on the general. Neither his
speech nor his silence struck her as signifying more, or less,
under this pressure, than they had seemed to signify for weeks
past; yet if her sense hadn't been absolutely closed to the
possibility in him of any thought of wounding her, she might have
taken his undisturbed manner, the perfection of his appearance of
having recovered himself, for one of those intentions of high
impertinence by the aid of which great people, les grands
seigneurs, persons of her husband's class and type, always know
how to re-establish a violated order.

It was her one purely good fortune that she could feel thus sure
impertinence--to HER at any rate--was not among the arts on which
he proposed to throw himself; for though he had, in so almost
mystifying a manner, replied to nothing, denied nothing,
explained nothing, apologised for nothing, he had somehow
conveyed to her that this was not because of any determination to
treat her case as not "worth" it. There had been consideration,
on both occasions, in the way he had listened to her--even though
at the same time there had been extreme reserve; a reserve
indeed, it was also to be remembered, qualified by the fact that,
on their second and shorter interview, in Portland Place, and
quite at the end of this passage, she had imagined him positively
proposing to her a temporary accommodation. It had been but the
matter of something in the depths of the eyes he finally fixed
upon her, and she had found in it, the more she kept it before
her, the tacitly-offered sketch of a working arrangement. "Leave
me my reserve; don't question it--it's all I have, just now,
don't you see? so that, if you'll make me the concession of
letting me alone with it for as long a time as I require, I
promise you something or other, grown under cover of it, even
though I don't yet quite make out what, as a return for your
patience." She had turned away from him with some such unspoken
words as that in her ear, and indeed she had to represent to
herself that she had spiritually heard them, had to listen to
them still again, to explain her particular patience in face of
his particular failure. He hadn't so much as pretended to meet
for an instant the question raised by her of her accepted
ignorance of the point in time, the period before their own
marriage, from which his intimacy with Charlotte dated. As an
ignorance in which he and Charlotte had been personally
interested--and to the pitch of consummately protecting, for
years, each other's interest--as a condition so imposed upon her
the fact of its having ceased might have made it, on the spot,
the first article of his defence. He had vouchsafed it, however,
nothing better than his longest stare of postponed consideration.
That tribute he had coldly paid it, and Maggie might herself have
been stupefied, truly, had she not had something to hold on by,
at her own present ability, even provisional, to make terms with
a chapter of history into which she could but a week before not
have dipped without a mortal chill. At the rate at which she was
living she was getting used hour by hour to these extensions of
view; and when she asked herself, at Fawns, to what single
observation of her own, in London, the Prince had had an
affirmation to oppose, she but just failed to focus the small
strained wife of the moments in question as some panting dancer
of a difficult step who had capered, before the footlights of an
empty theatre, to a spectator lounging in a box.

Her best comprehension of Amerigo's success in not committing
himself was in her recall, meanwhile, of the inquiries he had
made of her on their only return to the subject, and which he had
in fact explicitly provoked their return in order to make. He had
had it over with her again, the so distinctly remarkable incident
of her interview at home with the little Bloomsbury shopman. This
anecdote, for him, had, not altogether surprisingly, required
some straighter telling, and the Prince's attitude in presence of
it had represented once more his nearest approach to a
cross-examination. The difficulty in respect to the little man
had been for the question of his motive--his motive in writing,
first, in the spirit of retraction, to a lady with whom he had
made a most advantageous bargain, and in then coming to see her
so that his apology should be personal. Maggie had felt her
explanation weak; but there were the facts, and she could give no
other. Left alone, after the transaction, with the knowledge that
his visitor designed the object bought of him as a birthday-gift
to her father--for Maggie confessed freely to having chattered to
him almost as to a friend--the vendor of the golden bowl had
acted on a scruple rare enough in vendors of any class, and
almost unprecedented in the thrifty children of Israel. He hadn't
liked what he had done, and what he had above all made such a
"good thing" of having done; at the thought of his purchaser's
good faith and charming presence, opposed to that flaw in her
acquestion which would make it, verily, as an offering to a loved
parent, a thing of sinister meaning and evil effect, he had known
conscientious, he had known superstitious visitings, had given
way to a whim all the more remarkable to his own commercial mind,
no doubt, from its never having troubled him in other connexions.
She had recognised the oddity of her adventure and left it to
show for what it was. She had not been unconscious, on the other
hand, that if it hadn't touched Amerigo so nearly he would have
found in it matter for some amused reflection. He had uttered an
extraordinary sound, something between a laugh and a howl, on her
saying, as she had made a point of doing: "Oh, most certainly, he
TOLD me his reason was because he 'liked' me"--though she
remained in doubt of whether that inarticulate comment had been
provoked most by the familiarities she had offered or by those
that, so pictured, she had had to endure. That the partner of her
bargain had yearned to see her again, that he had plainly jumped
at a pretext for it, this also she had frankly expressed herself
to the Prince as having, in no snubbing, no scandalised, but
rather in a positively appreciative and indebted spirit, not
delayed to make out. He had wished, ever so seriously, to return
her a part of her money, and she had wholly declined to receive
it; and then he had uttered his hope that she had not, at all
events, already devoted the crystal cup to the beautiful purpose
she had, so kindly and so fortunately, named to him. It wasn't a
thing for a present to a person she was fond of, for she wouldn't
wish to give a present that would bring ill luck. That had come
to him--so that he couldn't rest, and he should feel better now
that he had told her. His having led her to act in ignorance was
what he should have been ashamed of; and, if she would pardon,
gracious lady as she was, all the liberties he had taken, she
might make of the bowl any use in life but that one.

It was after this that the most extraordinary incident of all, of
course, had occurred--his pointing to the two photographs with
the remark that those were persons he knew, and that, more
wonderful still, he had made acquaintance with them, years
before, precisely over the same article. The lady, on that
occasion, had taken up the fancy of presenting it to the
gentleman, and the gentleman, guessing and dodging ever so
cleverly, had declared that he wouldn't for the world receive an
object under such suspicion. He himself, the little man had
confessed, wouldn't have minded--about THEM; but he had never
forgotten either their talk or their faces, the impression
altogether made by them, and, if she really wished to know, now,
what had perhaps most moved him, it was the thought that she
should ignorantly have gone in for a thing not good enough for
other buyers. He had been immensely struck--that was another
point--with this accident of their turning out, after so long,
friends of hers too: they had disappeared, and this was the only
light he had ever had upon them. He had flushed up, quite red,
with his recognition, with all his responsibility--had declared
that the connexion must have had, mysteriously, something to do
with the impulse he had obeyed. And Maggie had made, to her
husband, while he again stood before her, no secret of the shock,
for herself, so suddenly and violently received. She had done her
best, even while taking it full in the face, not to give herself
away; but she wouldn't answer--no, she wouldn't--for what she
might, in her agitation, have made her informant think. He might
think what he would--there had been three or four minutes during
which, while she asked him question upon question, she had
doubtless too little cared. And he had spoken, for his
remembrance, as fully as she could have wished; he had spoken,
oh, delightedly, for the "terms" on which his other visitors had
appeared to be with each other, and in fact for that conviction
of the nature and degree of their intimacy under which, in spite
of precautions, they hadn't been able to help leaving him. He had
observed and judged and not forgotten; he had been sure they were
great people, but no, ah no, distinctly, hadn't "liked" them as
he liked the Signora Principessa. Certainly--she had created no
vagueness about that--he had been in possession of her name and
address, for sending her both her cup and her account. But the
others he had only, always, wondered about--he had been sure they
would never come back. And as to the time of their visit, he
could place it, positively, to a day--by reason of a transaction
of importance, recorded in his books, that had occurred but a few
hours later. He had left her, in short, definitely rejoicing that
he had been able to make up to her for not having been quite
"square" over their little business by rendering her, so
unexpectedly, the service of this information. His joy, moreover,
was--as much as Amerigo would!--a matter of the personal interest
with which her kindness, gentleness, grace, her charming
presence and easy humanity and familiarity, had inspired him. All
of which, while, in thought, Maggie went over it again and again
--oh, over any imputable rashness of her own immediate passion
and pain, as well as over the rest of the straight little story
she had, after all, to tell--might very conceivably make a long
sum for the Prince to puzzle out.

There were meanwhile, after the Castledeans and those invited to
meet them had gone, and before Mrs. Rance and the Lutches had
come, three or four days during which she was to learn the full
extent of her need not to be penetrable; and then it was indeed
that she felt all the force, and threw herself upon all the help,
of the truth she had confided, several nights earlier, to Fanny
Assingham. She had known it in advance, had warned herself of it
while the house was full: Charlotte had designs upon her of a
nature best known to herself, and was only waiting for the better
opportunity of their finding themselves less companioned. This
consciousness had been exactly at the bottom of Maggie's wish to
multiply their spectators; there were moments for her,
positively, moments of planned postponement, of evasion scarcely
less disguised than studied, during which she turned over with
anxiety the different ways--there being two or three possible
ones--in which her young stepmother might, at need, seek to work
upon her. Amerigo's not having "told" her of his passage with his
wife gave, for Maggie, altogether a new aspect to Charlotte's
consciousness and condition--an aspect with which, for
apprehension, for wonder, and even, at moments, inconsequently
enough, for something like compassion, the Princess had now to
reckon. She asked herself--for she was capable of that--what he
had MEANT by keeping the sharer of his guilt in the dark about a
matter touching her otherwise so nearly; what he had meant, that
is, for this unmistakably mystified personage herself. Maggie
could imagine what he had meant for her--all sorts of thinkable
things, whether things of mere "form" or things of sincerity,
things of pity or things of prudence: he had meant, for instance,
in all probability, primarily, to conjure away any such
appearance of a changed relation between the two women as his
father-in-law might notice and follow up. It would have been open
to him however, given the pitch of their intimacy, to avert this
danger by some more conceivable course with Charlotte; since an
earnest warning, in fact, the full freedom of alarm, that of his
insisting to her on the peril of suspicion incurred, and on the
importance accordingly of outward peace at any price, would have
been the course really most conceivable. Instead of warning and
advising he had reassured and deceived her; so that our young
woman, who had been, from far back, by the habit, if her nature,
as much on her guard against sacrificing others as if she felt
the great trap of life mainly to be set for one's doing so, now
found herself attaching her fancy to that side of the situation
of the exposed pair which involved, for themselves at least, the
sacrifice of the least fortunate.

She never, at present, thought of what Amerigo might be
intending, without the reflection, by the same stroke, that,
whatever this quantity, he was leaving still more to her own
ingenuity. He was helping her, when the thing came to the test,
only by the polished, possibly almost too polished surface his
manner to his wife wore for an admiring world; and that, surely,
was entitled to scarcely more than the praise of negative
diplomacy. He was keeping his manner right, as she had related to
Mrs. Assingham; the case would have been beyond calculation,
truly, if, on top of everything, he had allowed it to go wrong.
She had hours of exaltation indeed when the meaning of all this
pressed in upon her as a tacit vow from him to abide without
question by whatever she should be able to achieve or think fit
to prescribe. Then it was that, even while holding her breath for
the awe of it, she truly felt almost able enough for anything. It
was as if she had passed, in a time incredibly short, from being
nothing for him to being all; it was as if, rightly noted, every
turn of his head, every tone of his voice, in these days, might
mean that there was but one way in which a proud man reduced to
abjection could hold himself. During those of Maggie's vigils in
which that view loomed largest, the image of her husband that it
thus presented to her gave out a beauty for the revelation of
which she struck herself as paying, if anything, all too little.
To make sure of it--to make sure of the beauty shining out of the
humility, and of the humility lurking in all the pride of his
presence--she would have gone the length of paying more yet, of
paying with difficulties and anxieties compared to which those
actually before her might have been as superficial as headaches
or rainy days.

The point at which these exaltations dropped, however, was the
point at which it was apt to come over her that if her
complications had been greater the question of paying would have
been limited still less to the liabilities of her own pocket. The
complications were verily great enough, whether for ingenuities
or sublimities, so long as she had to come back to it so often
that Charlotte, all the while, could only be struggling with
secrets sharper than her own. It was odd how that certainty again
and again determined and coloured her wonderments of detail; the
question, for instance, of HOW Amerigo, in snatched opportunities
of conference, put the haunted creature off with false
explanations, met her particular challenges and evaded--if that
was what he did do!--her particular demands. Even the conviction
that Charlotte was but awaiting some chance really to test her
trouble upon her lover's wife left Maggie's sense meanwhile open
as to the sight of gilt wires and bruised wings, the spacious but
suspended cage, the home of eternal unrest, of pacings, beatings,
shakings, all so vain, into which the baffled consciousness
helplessly resolved itself. The cage was the deluded condition,
and Maggie, as having known delusion--rather!--understood the
nature of cages. She walked round Charlotte's--cautiously and in
a very wide circle; and when, inevitably, they had to communicate
she felt herself, comparatively, outside, on the breast of
nature, and saw her companion's face as that of a prisoner
looking through bars. So it was that through bars, bars richly
gilt, but firmly, though discreetly, planted, Charlotte finally
struck her as making a grim attempt; from which, at first, the
Princess drew back as instinctively as if the door of the cage
had suddenly been opened from within.



                           XXXVI

They had been alone that evening--alone as a party of six, and
four of them, after dinner, under suggestion not to be resisted,
sat down to "bridge" in the smoking-room. They had passed
together to that apartment, on rising from table, Charlotte and
Mrs. Assingham alike indulgent, always, to tobacco, and in fact
practising an emulation which, as Fanny said, would, for herself,
had the Colonel not issued an interdict based on the fear of her
stealing his cigars, have stopped only at the short pipe. Here
cards had with inevitable promptness asserted their rule, the
game forming itself, as had often happened before, of Mr. Verver
with Mrs. Assingham for partner and of the Prince with Mrs.
Verver. The Colonel, who had then asked of Maggie license to
relieve his mind of a couple of letters for the earliest post out
on the morrow, was addressing himself to this task at the other
end of the room, and the Princess herself had welcomed the
comparatively hushed hour--for the bridge-players were serious
and silent--much in the mood of a tired actress who has the good
fortune to be "off," while her mates are on, almost long enough
for a nap on the property sofa in the wing. Maggie's nap, had she
been able to snatch forty winks, would have been of the spirit
rather than of the sense; yet as she subsided, near a lamp, with
the last salmon-coloured French periodical, she was to fail, for
refreshment, even of that sip of independence.

There was no question for her, as she found, of closing her eyes
and getting away; they strayed back to life, in the stillness,
over the top of her Review; she could lend herself to none of
those refinements of the higher criticism with which its pages
bristled; she was there, where her companions were, there again
and more than ever there; it was as if, of a sudden, they had
been made, in their personal intensity and their rare complexity
of relation, freshly importunate to her. It was the first evening
there had been no one else. Mrs. Rance and the Lutches were due
the next day; but meanwhile the facts of the situation were
upright for her round the green cloth and the silver flambeaux;
the fact of her father's wife's lover facing his mistress; the
fact of her father sitting, all unsounded and unblinking, between
them; the fact of Charlotte keeping it up, keeping up everything,
across the table, with her husband beside her; the fact of Fanny
Assingham, wonderful creature, placed opposite to the three and
knowing more about each, probably, when one came to think, than
either of them knew of either. Erect above all for her was the
sharp-edged fact of the relation of the whole group, individually
and collectively, to herself--herself so speciously eliminated
for the hour, but presumably more present to the attention of
each than the next card to be played.

Yes, under that imputation, to her sense, they sat--the
imputation of wondering, beneath and behind all their apparently
straight play, if she weren't really watching them from her
corner and consciously, as might be said, holding them in her
hand. She was asking herself at last how they could bear it--for,
though cards were as nought to her and she could follow no move,
so that she was always, on such occasions, out of the party, they
struck her as conforming alike, in the matter of gravity and
propriety, to the stiff standard of the house. Her father, she
knew, was a high adept, one of the greatest--she had been ever,
in her stupidity, his small, his sole despair; Amerigo excelled
easily, as he understood and practised every art that could
beguile large leisure; Mrs. Assingham and Charlotte, moreover,
were accounted as "good" as members of a sex incapable of the
nobler consistency could be. Therefore, evidently, they were not,
all so up to their usual form, merely passing it off, whether for
her or for themselves; and the amount of enjoyed, or at least
achieved, security represented by so complete a conquest of
appearances was what acted on her nerves, precisely, with a kind
of provocative force. She found herself, for five minutes,
thrilling with the idea of the prodigious effect that, just as
she sat there near them, she had at her command; with the sense
that if she were but different--oh, ever so different!--all this
high decorum would hang by a hair. There reigned for her,
absolutely, during these vertiginous moments, that fascination of
the monstrous, that temptation of the horribly possible, which we
so often trace by its breaking out suddenly, lest it should go
further, in unexplained retreats and reactions.

After it had been thus vividly before her for a little that,
springing up under her wrong and making them all start, stare and
turn pale, she might sound out their doom in a single sentence, a
sentence easy to choose among several of the lurid--after she had
faced that blinding light and felt it turn to blackness, she rose
from her place, laying aside her magazine, and moved slowly round
the room, passing near the card-players and pausing an instant
behind the chairs in turn. Silent and discreet, she bent a vague
mild face upon them, as if to signify that, little as she
followed their doings, she wished them well; and she took from
each, across the table, in the common solemnity, an upward
recognition which she was to carry away with her on her moving
out to the terrace, a few minutes later. Her father and her
husband, Mrs. Assingham and Charlotte, had done nothing but meet
her eyes; yet the difference in these demonstrations made each a
separate passage--which was all the more wonderful since, with
the secret behind every face, they had alike tried to look at her
THROUGH it and in denial of it.

It all left her, as she wandered off, with the strangest of
impressions--the sense, forced upon her as never yet, of an
appeal, a positive confidence, from the four pairs of eyes, that
was deeper than any negation, and that seemed to speak, on the
part of each, of some relation to be contrived by her, a relation
with herself, which would spare the individual the danger, the
actual present strain, of the relation with the others. They
thus tacitly put it upon her to be disposed of, the whole
complexity of their peril, and she promptly saw why because she
was there, and there just as she was, to lift it off them and
take it; to charge herself with it as the scapegoat of old, of
whom she had once seen a terrible picture, had been charged with
the sins of the people and had gone forth into the desert to sink
under his burden and die. That indeed wasn't THEIR design and
their interest, that she should sink under hers; it wouldn't be
their feeling that she should do anything but live, live on
somehow for their benefit, and even as much as possible in their
company, to keep proving to them that they had truly escaped and
that she was still there to simplify. This idea of her
simplifying, and of their combined struggle, dim as yet but
steadily growing, toward the perception of her adopting it from
them, clung to her while she hovered on the terrace, where the
summer night was so soft that she scarce needed the light shawl
she had picked up. Several of the long windows of the occupied
rooms stood open to it, and the light came out in vague shafts
and fell upon the old smooth stones. The hour was moonless and
starless and the air heavy and still--which was why, in her
evening dress, she need fear no chill and could get away, in the
outer darkness, from that provocation of opportunity which had
assaulted her, within, on her sofa, as a beast might have leaped
at her throat.

Nothing in fact was stranger than the way in which, when she had
remained there a little, her companions, watched by her through
one of the windows, actually struck her as almost consciously and
gratefully safer. They might have been--really charming as they
showed in the beautiful room, and Charlotte certainly, as always,
magnificently handsome and supremely distinguished--they might
have been figures rehearsing some play of which she herself was
the author; they might even, for the happy appearance they
continued to present, have been such figures as would, by the
strong note of character in each, fill any author with the
certitude of success, especially of their own histrionic. They
might in short have represented any mystery they would; the point
being predominantly that the key to the mystery, the key that
could wind and unwind it without a snap of the spring, was there
in her pocket--or rather, no doubt, clasped at this crisis in her
hand and pressed, as she walked back and forth, to her breast.
She walked to the end and far out of the light; she returned and
saw the others still where she had left them; she passed round
the house and looked into the drawing-room, lighted also, but
empty now, and seeming to speak the more, in its own voice, of
all the possibilities she controlled. Spacious and splendid, like
a stage again awaiting a drama, it was a scene she might people,
by the press of her spring, either with serenities and dignities
and decencies, or with terrors and shames and ruins, things as
ugly as those formless fragments of her golden bowl she was
trying so hard to pick up.

She continued to walk and continued to pause; she stopped afresh
for the look into the smoking-room, and by this time--it was as
if the recognition had of itself arrested her--she saw as in a
picture, with the temptation she had fled from quite extinct, why
it was she had been able to give herself so little, from the
first, to the vulgar heat of her wrong. She might fairly, as she
watched them, have missed it as a lost thing; have yearned for
it, for the straight vindictive view, the rights of resentment,
the rages of jealousy, the protests of passion, as for something
she had been cheated of not least: a range of feelings which for
many women would have meant so much, but which for HER husband's
wife, for HER father's daughter, figured nothing nearer to
experience than a wild eastern caravan, looming into view with
crude colours in the sun, fierce pipes in the air, high spears
against the sky, all a thrill, a natural joy to mingle with, but
turning off short before it reached her and plunging into other
defiles. She saw at all events why horror itself had almost
failed her; the horror that, foreshadowed in advance, would, by
her thought, have made everything that was unaccustomed in her
cry out with pain; the horror of finding evil seated, all at its
ease, where she had only dreamed of good; the horror of the thing
HIDEOUSLY behind, behind so much trusted, so much pretended,
nobleness, cleverness, tenderness. It was the first sharp falsity
she had known in her life, to touch at all, or be touched by; it
had met her like some bad-faced stranger surprised in one of the
thick-carpeted corridors of a house of quiet on a Sunday
afternoon; and yet, yes, amazingly, she had been able to look at
terror and disgust only to know that she must put away from her
the bitter-sweet of their freshness. The sight, from the window,
of the group so constituted, TOLD her why, told her how, named to
her, as with hard lips, named straight AT her, so that she must
take it full in the face, that other possible relation to the
whole fact which alone would bear upon her irresistibly. It was
extraordinary: they positively brought home to her that to feel
about them in any of the immediate, inevitable, assuaging ways,
the ways usually open to innocence outraged and generosity
betrayed, would have been to give them up, and that giving them
up was, marvellously, not to be thought of. She had never, from
the first hour of her state of acquired conviction, given them up
so little as now; though she was, no doubt, as the consequence of
a step taken a few minutes later, to invoke the conception of
doing that, if might be, even less. She had resumed her walk--
stopping here and there, while she rested on the cool smooth
stone balustrade, to draw it out; in the course of which, after a
little, she passed again the lights of the empty drawing-room and
paused again for what she saw and felt there.

It was not at once, however, that this became quite concrete;
that was the effect of her presently making out that Charlotte
was in the room, launched and erect there, in the middle, and
looking about her; that she had evidently just come round to it,
from her card-table, by one of the passages--with the
expectation, to all appearance, of joining her stepdaughter. She
had pulled up at seeing the great room empty--Maggie not having
passed out, on leaving the group, in a manner to be observed. So
definite a quest of her, with the bridge-party interrupted or
altered for it, was an impression that fairly assailed the
Princess, and to which something of attitude and aspect, of the
air of arrested pursuit and purpose, in Charlotte, together with
the suggestion of her next vague movements, quickly added its
meaning. This meaning was that she had decided, that she had been
infinitely conscious of Maggie's presence before, that she knew
that she would at last find her alone, and that she wanted her,
for some reason, enough to have presumably called on Bob
Assingham for aid. He had taken her chair and let her go, and the
arrangement was for Maggie a signal proof of her earnestness; of
the energy, in fact, that, though superficially commonplace in a
situation in which people weren't supposed to be watching each
other, was what affected our young woman, on the spot, as a
breaking of bars. The splendid shining supple creature was out of
the cage, was at large; and the question now almost grotesquely
rose of whether she mightn't by some art, just where she was and
before she could go further, be hemmed in and secured. It would
have been for a moment, in this case, a matter of quickly closing
the windows and giving the alarm--with poor Maggie's sense that,
though she couldn't know what she wanted of her, it was enough
for trepidation that, at these firm hands, anything should be to
say nothing of the sequel of a flight taken again along the
terrace, even under the shame of the confessed feebleness of such
evasions on the part of an outraged wife. It was to this
feebleness, none the less, that the outraged wife had presently
resorted; the most that could be said for her being, as she felt
while she finally stopped short, at a distance, that she could at
any rate resist her abjection sufficiently not to sneak into the
house by another way and safely reach her room. She had literally
caught herself in the act of dodging and ducking, and it told her
there, vividly, in a single word, what she had all along been
most afraid of.

She had been afraid of the particular passage with Charlotte that
would determine her father's wife to take him into her confidence
as she couldn't possibly as yet have done, to prepare for him a
statement of her wrong, to lay before him the infamy of what she
was apparently suspected of. This, should she have made up her
mind to do it, would rest on a calculation the thought of which
evoked, strangely, other possibilities and visions. It would show
her as sufficiently believing in her grasp of her husband to be
able to assure herself that, with his daughter thrown on the
defensive, with Maggie's cause and Maggie's word, in fine,
against her own, it wasn't Maggie's that would most certainly
carry the day. Such a glimpse of her conceivable idea, which
would be founded on reasons all her own, reasons of experience
and assurance, impenetrable to others, but intimately familiar to
herself--such a glimpse opened out wide as soon as it had come
into view; for if so much as this was still firm ground between
the elder pair, if the beauty of appearances had been so
consistently preserved, it was only the golden bowl as Maggie
herself knew it that had been broken. The breakage stood not for
any wrought discomposure among the triumphant three--it stood
merely for the dire deformity of her attitude toward them. She
was unable at the minute, of course, fully to measure the
difference thus involved for her, and it remained inevitably an
agitating image, the way it might be held over her that if she
didn't, of her own prudence, satisfy Charlotte as to the
reference, in her mocking spirit, of so much of the unuttered and
unutterable, of the constantly and unmistakably implied, her
father would be invited without further ceremony to recommend her
to do so. But ANY confidence, ANY latent operating insolence,
that Mrs. Verver should, thanks to her large native resources,
continue to be possessed of and to hold in reserve, glimmered
suddenly as a possible working light and seemed to offer, for
meeting her, a new basis and something like a new system.
Maggie felt, truly, a rare contraction of the heart on making
out, the next instant, what the new system would probably have to
be--and she had practically done that before perceiving that the
thing she feared had already taken place. Charlotte, extending
her search, appeared now to define herself vaguely in the
distance; of this, after an instant, the Princess was sure,
though the darkness was thick, for the projected clearness of the
smoking-room windows had presently contributed its help. Her
friend came slowly into that circle--having also, for herself, by
this time, not indistinguishably discovered that Maggie was on
the terrace. Maggie, from the end, saw her stop before one of the
windows to look at the group within, and then saw her come nearer
and pause again, still with a considerable length of the place
between them.

Yes, Charlotte had seen she was watching her from afar, and had
stopped now to put her further attention to the test. Her face
was fixed on her, through the night; she was the creature who had
escaped by force from her cage, yet there was in her whole motion
assuredly, even as so dimly discerned, a kind of portentous
intelligent stillness. She had escaped with an intention, but
with an intention the more definite that it could so accord with
quiet measures. The two women, at all events, only hovered there,
for these first minutes, face to face over their interval and
exchanging no sign; the intensity of their mutual look might have
pierced the night, and Maggie was at last to start with the
scared sense of having thus yielded to doubt, to dread, to
hesitation, for a time that, with no other proof needed, would
have completely given her away. How long had she stood staring?--
a single minute or five? Long enough, in any case, to have felt
herself absolutely take from her visitor something that the
latter threw upon her, irresistibly, by this effect of silence,
by this effect of waiting and watching, by this effect,
unmistakably, of timing her indecision and her fear. If then,
scared and hanging back, she had, as was so evident, sacrificed
all past pretences, it would have been with the instant knowledge
of an immense advantage gained that Charlotte finally saw her
come on. Maggie came on with her heart in her hands; she came on
with the definite prevision, throbbing like the tick of a watch,
of a doom impossibly sharp and hard, but to which, after looking
at it with her eyes wide open, she had none the less bowed her
head. By the time she was at her companion's side, for that
matter, by the time Charlotte had, without a motion, without a
word, simply let her approach and stand there, her head was
already on the block, so that the consciousness that everything
had now gone blurred all perception of whether or no the axe had
fallen. Oh, the "advantage," it was perfectly enough, in truth,
with Mrs. Verver; for what was Maggie's own sense but that of
having been thrown over on her back, with her neck, from the
first, half broken and her helpless face staring up? That
position only could account for the positive grimace of weakness
and pain produced there by Charlotte's dignity.

"I've come to join you--I thought you would be here."

"Oh yes, I'm here," Maggie heard herself return a little flatly.
"It's too close in-doors."

"Very--but close even here." Charlotte was still and grave--she
had even uttered her remark about the temperature with an
expressive weight that verged upon solemnity; so that Maggie,
reduced to looking vaguely about at the sky, could only feel her
not fail of her purpose. "The air's heavy as if with thunder--I
think there'll be a storm." She made the suggestion to carry off
an awkwardness--which was a part, always, of her companion's
gain; but the awkwardness didn't diminish in the silence that
followed. Charlotte had said nothing in reply; her brow was dark
as with a fixed expression, and her high elegance, her handsome
head and long, straight neck testified, through the dusk, to
their inveterate completeness and noble erectness. It was as if
what she had come out to do had already begun, and when, as a
consequence, Maggie had said helplessly, "Don't you want
something? won't you have my shawl?" everything might have
crumbled away in the comparative poverty of the tribute. Mrs.
Verver's rejection of it had the brevity of a sign that they
hadn't closed in for idle words, just as her dim, serious face,
uninterruptedly presented until they moved again, might have
represented the success with which she watched all her message
penetrate. They presently went back the way she had come, but she
stopped Maggie again within range of the smoking-room window and
made her stand where the party at cards would be before her. Side
by side, for three minutes, they fixed this picture of quiet
harmonies, the positive charm of it and, as might have been said,
the full significance--which, as was now brought home to Maggie,
could be no more, after all, than a matter of interpretation,
differing always for a different interpreter. As she herself had
hovered in sight of it a quarter-of-an-hour before, it would have
been a thing for her to show Charlotte--to show in righteous
irony, in reproach too stern for anything but silence. But now it
was she who was being shown it, and shown it by Charlotte, and
she saw quickly enough that, as Charlotte showed it, so she must
at present submissively seem to take it.

The others were absorbed and unconscious, either silent over
their game or dropping remarks unheard on the terrace; and it was
to her father's quiet face, discernibly expressive of nothing
that was in his daughter's mind, that our young woman's attention
was most directly given. His wife and his daughter were both
closely watching him, and to which of them, could he have been
notified of this, would his raised eyes first, all impulsively,
have responded; in which of them would he have felt it most
important to destroy--for HIS clutch at the equilibrium--any germ
of uneasiness? Not yet, since his marriage, had Maggie so sharply
and so formidably known her old possession of him as a thing
divided and contested. She was looking at him by Charlotte's
leave and under Charlotte's direction; quite in fact as if the
particular way she should look at him were prescribed to her;
quite, even, as if she had been defied to look at him in any
other. It came home to her too that the challenge wasn't, as
might be said, in his interest and for his protection, but,
pressingly, insistently, in Charlotte's, for that of HER security
at any price. She might verily, by this dumb demonstration, have
been naming to Maggie the price, naming it as a question for
Maggie herself, a sum of money that she, properly, was to find.
She must remain safe and Maggie must pay--what she was to pay
with being her own affair.

Straighter than ever, thus, the Princess again felt it all put
upon her, and there was a minute, just a supreme instant, during
which there burned in her a wild wish that her father would only
look up. It throbbed for these seconds as a yearning appeal to
him--she would chance it, that is, if he would but just raise his
eyes and catch them, across the larger space, standing in the
outer dark together. Then he might be affected by the sight,
taking them as they were; he might make some sign--she scarce
knew what--that would save her; save her from being the one, this
way, to pay all. He might somehow show a preference--
distinguishing between them; might, out of pity for her, signal
to her that this extremity of her effort for him was more than he
asked. That represented Maggie's one little lapse from
consistency--the sole small deflection in the whole course of her
scheme. It had come to nothing the next minute, for the dear
man's eyes had never moved, and Charlotte's hand, promptly passed
into her arm, had already, had very firmly drawn her on--quite,
for that matter, as from some sudden, some equal perception on
her part too of the more ways than one in which their impression
could appeal. They retraced their steps along the rest of the
terrace, turning the corner of the house, and presently came
abreast of the other windows, those of the pompous drawing-room,
still lighted and still empty. Here Charlotte again paused, and
it was again as if she were pointing out what Maggie had observed
for herself, the very look the place had of being vivid in its
stillness, of having, with all its great objects as ordered and
balanced as for a formal reception, been appointed for some high
transaction, some real affair of state. In presence of this
opportunity she faced her companion once more; she traced in her
the effect of everything she had already communicated; she
signified, with the same success, that the terrace and the sullen
night would bear too meagre witness to the completion of her
idea. Soon enough then, within the room, under the old lustres of
Venice and the eyes of the several great portraits, more or less
contemporary with these, that awaited on the walls of Fawns their
final far migration--soon enough Maggie found herself staring,
and at first all too gaspingly, at the grand total to which each
separate demand Mrs. Verver had hitherto made upon her, however
she had made it, now amounted.

"I've been wanting--and longer than you'd perhaps believe--to put
a question to you for which no opportunity has seemed to me yet
quite so good as this. It would have been easier perhaps if you
had struck me as in the least disposed ever to give me one. I
have to take it now, you see, as I find it." They stood in the
centre of the immense room, and Maggie could feel that the scene
of life her imagination had made of it twenty minutes before was
by this time sufficiently peopled. These few straight words
filled it to its uttermost reaches, and nothing was now absent
from her consciousness, either, of the part she was called upon
to play in it. Charlotte had marched straight in, dragging her
rich train; she rose there beautiful and free, with her whole
aspect and action attuned to the firmness of her speech. Maggie
had kept the shawl she had taken out with her, and, clutching it
tight in her nervousness, drew it round her as if huddling in it
for shelter, covering herself with it for humility. She looked
out as from under an improvised hood--the sole headgear of some
poor woman at somebody's proud door; she waited even like the
poor woman; she met her friend's eyes with recognitions she
couldn't suppress. She might sound it as she could--"What
question then?"--everything in her, from head to foot, crowded it
upon Charlotte that she knew. She knew too well--that she was
showing; so that successful vagueness, to save some scrap of her
dignity from the imminence of her defeat, was already a lost
cause, and the one thing left was if possible, at any cost, even
that of stupid inconsequence, to try to look as if she weren't
afraid. If she could but appear at all not afraid she might
appear a little not ashamed--that is not ashamed to be afraid,
which was the kind of shame that could be fastened on her, it
being fear all the while that moved her. Her challenge, at any
rate, her wonder, her terror--the blank, blurred surface,
whatever it was that she presented became a mixture that ceased
to signify; for to the accumulated advantage by which Charlotte
was at present sustained her next words themselves had little to
add.

"Have you any ground of complaint of me? Is there any wrong you
consider I've done you? I feel at last that I've a right to ask
you."

Their eyes had to meet on it, and to meet long; Maggie's avoided
at least the disgrace of looking away. "What makes you want to
ask it?"

"My natural desire to know. You've done that, for so long, little
justice."

Maggie waited a moment. "For so long? You mean you've
thought--?"

"I mean, my dear, that I've seen. I've seen, week after week,
that YOU seemed to be thinking--of something that perplexed or
worried you. Is it anything for which I'm in any degree
responsible?"

Maggie summoned all her powers. "What in the world SHOULD it be?"

"Ah, that's not for me to imagine, and I should be very sorry to
have to try to say! I'm aware of no point whatever at which I may
have failed you," said Charlotte; "nor of any at which I may have
failed any one in whom I can suppose you sufficiently interested
to care. If I've been guilty of some fault I've committed it all
unconsciously, and am only anxious to hear from you honestly
about it. But if I've been mistaken as to what I speak of--the
difference, more and more marked, as I've thought, in all your
manner to me--why, obviously, so much the better. No form of
correction received from you could give me greater satisfaction."

She spoke, it struck her companion, with rising, with
extraordinary ease; as if hearing herself say it all, besides
seeing the way it was listened to, helped her from point to
point. She saw she was right--that this WAS the tone for her to
take and the thing for her to do, the thing as to which she was
probably feeling that she had in advance, in her delays and
uncertainties, much exaggerated the difficulty. The difficulty
was small, and it grew smaller as her adversary continued to
shrink; she was not only doing as she wanted, but had by this
time effectively done it and hung it up. All of which but
deepened Maggie's sense of the sharp and simple need, now, of
seeing her through to the end. "'If' you've been mistaken, you
say?"--and the Princess but barely faltered. "You HAVE been
mistaken."

Charlotte looked at her splendidly hard. "You're perfectly sure
it's ALL my mistake?"

"All I can say is that you've received a false impression."

"Ah then--so much the better! From the moment I HAD received it I
knew I must sooner or later speak of it--for that, you see, is,
systematically, my way. And now," Charlotte added, "you make me
glad I've spoken. I thank you very much."

It was strange how for Maggie too, with this, the difficulty
seemed to sink. Her companion's acceptance of her denial was like
a general pledge not to keep things any worse for her than they
essentially had to be; it positively helped her to build up her
falsehood--to which, accordingly, she contributed another block.
"I've affected you evidently--quite accidentally--in some way of
which I've been all unaware. I've NOT felt at any time that
you've wronged me."

"How could I come within a mile," Charlotte inquired, "of such a
possibility?"

Maggie, with her eyes on her more easily now, made no attempt to
say; she said, after a little, something more to the present
point. "I accuse you--I accuse you of nothing."

"Ah, that's lucky!"

Charlotte had brought this out with the richness, almost, of
gaiety;  and Maggie, to go on, had to think, with her own
intensity, of Amerigo--to think how he, on his side, had had to
go through with his lie to her, how it was for his wife he had
done so, and how his doing so had given her the clue and set her
the example. He must have had his own difficulty about it, and
she was not, after all, falling below him. It was in fact as if,
thanks to her hovering image of him confronted with this
admirable creature even as she was confronted, there glowed upon
her from afar, yet straight and strong, a deep explanatory light
which covered the last inch of the ground. He had given her
something to conform to, and she hadn't unintelligently turned on
him, "gone back on" him, as he would have said, by not
conforming. They were together thus, he and she, close, close
together--whereas Charlotte, though rising there radiantly before
her, was really off in some darkness of space that would steep
her in solitude and harass her with care. The heart of the
Princess swelled, accordingly, even in her abasement; she had
kept in tune with the right, and something, certainly, something
that might be like a rare flower snatched from an impossible
ledge, would, and possibly soon, come of it for her. The right,
the right--yes, it took this extraordinary form of her
humbugging, as she had called it, to the end. It was only a
question of not, by a hair's breadth, deflecting into the truth.
So, supremely, was she braced. "You must take it from me that
your anxiety rests quite on a misconception. You must take it
from me that I've never at any moment fancied I could suffer by
you." And, marvellously, she kept it up--not only kept it up, but
improved on it. "You must take it from me that I've never thought
of you but as beautiful, wonderful and good. Which is all, I
think, that you can possibly ask."

Charlotte held her a moment longer: she needed--not then to have
appeared only tactless--the last word. "It's much more, my dear,
than I dreamed of asking. I only wanted your denial."

"Well then, you have it."

"Upon your honour?"

"Upon my honour:"

And she made a point even, our young woman, of not turning away.
Her grip of her shawl had loosened--she had let it fall behind
her; but she stood there for anything more and till the weight
should be lifted. With which she saw soon enough what more was to
come. She saw it in Charlotte's face, and felt it make between
them, in the air, a chill that completed the coldness of their
conscious perjury. "Will you kiss me on it then?"

She couldn't say yes, but she didn't say no; what availed her
still, however, was to measure, in her passivity, how much too
far Charlotte had come to retreat. But there was something
different also, something for which, while her cheek received the
prodigious kiss, she had her opportunity--the sight of the
others, who, having risen from their cards to join the absent
members of their party, had reached the open door at the end of
the room and stopped short, evidently, in presence of the
demonstration that awaited them. Her husband and her father were
in front, and Charlotte's embrace of her--which wasn't to be
distinguished, for them, either, she felt, from her embrace of
Charlotte--took on with their arrival a high publicity.



                           XXXVII

Her father had asked her, three days later, in an interval of
calm, how she was affected, in the light of their reappearance
and of their now perhaps richer fruition, by Dotty and Kitty, and
by the once formidable Mrs. Rance; and the consequence of this
inquiry had been, for the pair, just such another stroll
together, away from the rest of the party and off into the park,
as had asserted its need to them on the occasion of the previous
visit of these anciently more agitating friends--that of their
long talk, on a sequestered bench beneath one of the great trees,
when the particular question had come up for them the then
purblind discussion of which, at their enjoyed leisure, Maggie
had formed the habit of regarding as the "first beginning" of
their present situation. The whirligig of time had thus brought
round for them again, on their finding themselves face to face
while the others were gathering for tea on the terrace, the same
odd impulse quietly to "slope"--so Adam Verver himself, as they
went, familiarly expressed it--that had acted, in its way, of
old; acted for the distant autumn afternoon and for the sharpness
of their since so outlived crisis. It might have been funny to
them now that the presence of Mrs. Rance and the Lutches--and
with symptoms, too, at that time less developed--had once, for
their anxiety and their prudence, constituted a crisis; it might
have been funny that these ladies could ever have figured, to
their imagination, as a symbol of dangers vivid enough to
precipitate the need of a remedy. This amount of entertainment
and assistance they were indeed disposed to extract from their
actual impressions; they had been finding it, for months past, by
Maggie's view, a resource and a relief to talk, with an approach
to intensity, when they met, of all the people they weren't
really thinking of and didn't really care about, the people with
whom their existence had begun almost to swarm; and they closed
in at present round the spectres of their past, as they permitted
themselves to describe the three ladies, with a better imitation
of enjoying their theme than they had been able to achieve,
certainly, during the stay, for instance, of the Castledeans. The
Castledeans were a new joke, comparatively, and they had had--
always to Maggie's view--to teach themselves the way of it;
whereas the Detroit, the Providence party, rebounding so from
Providence, from Detroit, was an old and ample one, of which the
most could be made and as to which a humorous insistence could be
guarded.

Sharp and sudden, moreover, this afternoon, had been their
well-nigh confessed desire just to rest together, a little, as
from some strain long felt but never named; to rest, as who
should say, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, each pair of
eyes so yearningly--and indeed what could it be but so wearily?--
closed as to render the collapse safe from detection by the other
pair. It was positively as if, in short, the inward felicity of
their being once more, perhaps only for half-an-hour, simply
daughter and father had glimmered out for them, and they had
picked up the pretext that would make it easiest. They were
husband and wife--oh, so immensely!--as regards other persons;
but after they had dropped again on their old bench, conscious
that the party on the terrace, augmented, as in the past, by
neighbours, would do beautifully without them, it was wonderfully
like their having got together into some boat and paddled off
from the shore where husbands and wives, luxuriant complications,
made the air too tropical. In the boat they were father and
daughter, and poor Dotty and Kitty supplied abundantly, for their
situation, the oars or the sail. Why, into the bargain, for that
matter--this came to Maggie--couldn't they always live, so far as
they lived together, in a boat? She felt in her face, with the
question, the breath of a possibility that soothed her; they
needed only KNOW each other, henceforth, in the unmarried
relation. That other sweet evening, in the same place, he had
been as unmarried as possible--which had kept down, so to speak,
the quantity of change in their state. Well then, that other
sweet evening was what the present sweet evening would resemble;
with the quite calculable effect of an exquisite inward
refreshment. They HAD, after all, whatever happened, always and
ever each other; each other--that was the hidden treasure and the
saving truth--to do exactly what they would with: a provision
full of possibilities. Who could tell, as yet, what, thanks to
it, they wouldn't have done before the end?

They had meanwhile been tracing together, in the golden air that,
toward six o'clock of a July afternoon, hung about the massed
Kentish woods, several features of the social evolution of her
old playmates, still beckoned on, it would seem, by unattainable
ideals, still falling back, beyond the sea, to their native
seats, for renewals of the moral, financial, conversational--one
scarce knew what to call it--outfit, and again and for ever
reappearing like a tribe of Wandering Jewesses. Our couple had
finally exhausted, however, the study of these annals, and Maggie
was to take up, after a drop, a different matter, or one at least
with which the immediate connection was not at first apparent.
"Were you amused at me just now--when I wondered what other
people could wish to struggle for? Did you think me," she asked
with some earnestness--"well, fatuous?"

"'Fatuous'?"--he seemed at a loss.

"I mean sublime in OUR happiness--as if looking down from a
height. Or, rather, sublime in our general position--that's what
I mean." She spoke as from the habit of her anxious conscience
something that disposed her frequently to assure herself, for her
human commerce, of the state of the "books" of the spirit.
"Because I don't at all want," she explained, "to be blinded, or
made 'sniffy,' by any sense of a social situation." Her father
listened to this declaration as if the precautions of her general
mercy could still, as they betrayed themselves, have surprises
for him--to say nothing of a charm of delicacy and beauty; he
might have been wishing to see how far she could go and where she
would, all touchingly to him, arrive. But she waited a little--as
if made nervous, precisely, by feeling him depend too much on
what she said. They were avoiding the serious, standing off,
anxiously, from the real, and they fell, again and again, as if
to disguise their precaution itself, into the tone of the time
that came back to them from their other talk, when they had
shared together this same refuge. "Don't you remember," she went
on, "how, when they were here before, I broke it to you that I
wasn't so very sure we, ourselves had the thing itself?"

He did his best to do so. "Had, you mean a social situation?"

"Yes--after Fanny Assingham had first broken it to me that, at
the rate we were going, we should never have one."

"Which was what put us on Charlotte?" Oh yes, they had had it
over quite often enough for him easily to remember.

Maggie had another pause--taking it from him that he now could
both affirm and admit without wincing that they had been, at
their critical moment, "put on" Charlotte. It was as if this
recognition had been threshed out between them as fundamental to
the honest view of their success. "Well," she continued, "I
recall how I felt, about Kitty and Dotty, that even if we had
already then been more 'placed,' or whatever you may call what we
are now, it still wouldn't have been an excuse for wondering why
others couldn't obligingly leave me more exalted by having,
themselves, smaller ideas. For those," she said, "were the
feelings we used to have."

"Oh yes," he responded philosophically--"I remember the feelings
we used to have."

Maggie appeared to wish to plead for them a little, in tender
retrospect--as if they had been also respectable. "It was bad
enough, I thought, to have no sympathy in your heart when you HAD
a position. But it was worse to be sublime about it--as I was so
afraid, as I'm in fact still afraid of being--when it wasn't even
there to support one." And she put forth again the earnestness
she might have been taking herself as having outlived; became for
it--which was doubtless too often even now her danger--almost
sententious. "One must always, whether or no, have some
imagination of the states of others--of what they may feel
deprived of. However," she added, "Kitty and Dotty couldn't
imagine we were deprived of anything. And now, and now--!" But
she stopped as for indulgence to their wonder and envy.

"And now they see, still more, that we can have got everything,
and kept everything, and yet not be proud."

"No, we're not proud," she answered after a moment. "I'm not sure
that we're quite proud enough." Yet she changed the next instant
that subject too. She could only do so, however, by harking
back--as if it had been a fascination. She might have been
wishing, under this renewed, this still more suggestive
visitation, to keep him with her for remounting the stream of
time and dipping again, for the softness of the water, into the
contracted basin of the past. "We talked about it--we talked
about it; you don't remember so well as I. You too didn't know--
and it was beautiful of you; like Kitty and Dotty you too thought
we had a position, and were surprised when _I_ thought we ought
to have told them we weren't doing for them what they supposed.
In fact," Maggie pursued, "we're not doing it now. We're not, you
see, really introducing them. I mean not to the people they
want."

"Then what do you call the people with whom they're now having
tea?"

It made her quite spring round. "That's just what you asked me
the other time--one of the days there was somebody. And I told
you I didn't call anybody anything."

"I remember--that such people, the people we made so welcome,
didn't 'count'; that Fanny Assingham knew they didn't." She had
awakened, his daughter, the echo; and on the bench there, as
before, he nodded his head amusedly, he kept nervously shaking
his foot. "Yes, they were only good enough--the people who came--
for US. I remember," he said again: "that was the way it all
happened."

"That was the way--that was the way. And you asked me," Maggie
added, "if I didn't think we ought to tell them. Tell Mrs. Rance,
in particular, I mean, that we had been entertaining her up to
then under false pretences."

"Precisely--but you said she wouldn't have understood."

"To which you replied that in that case you were like her. YOU
didn't understand."

"No, no--but I remember how, about our having, in our benighted
innocence, no position, you quite crushed me with your
explanation."

"Well then," said Maggie with every appearance of delight, "I'll
crush you again. I told you that you by yourself had one--there
was no doubt of that. You were different from me--you had the
same one you always had."

"And THEN I asked you," her father concurred, "why in that case
you hadn't the same."

"Then indeed you did." He had brought her face round to him
before, and this held it, covering him with its kindled
brightness, the result of the attested truth of their being able
thus, in talk, to live again together. "What I replied was that I
had lost my position by my marriage. THAT one--I know how I
saw it--would never come back. I had done something TO it--I
didn't quite know what; given it away, somehow, and yet not, as
then appeared, really got my return. I had been assured--always
by dear Fanny--that I COULD get it, only I must wake up. So I was
trying, you see, to wake up--trying very hard."

"Yes--and to a certain extent you succeeded; as also in waking
me. But you made much," he said, "of your difficulty." To which
he added: "It's the only case I remember, Mag, of you ever making
ANYTHING of a difficulty."

She kept her eyes on him a moment. "That I was so happy as I
was?"

"That you were so happy as you were."

"Well, you admitted"--Maggie kept it up--"that that was a good
difficulty. You confessed that our life did seem to be
beautiful."

He thought a moment. "Yes--I may very well have confessed it, for
so it did seem to me." But he guarded himself with his dim, his
easier smile. "What do you want to put on me now?"

"Only that we used to wonder--that we were wondering then--if our
life wasn't perhaps a little selfish." This also for a time, much
at his leisure, Adam Verver retrospectively fixed. "Because Fanny
Assingham thought so?"

"Oh no; she never thought, she couldn't think, if she would,
anything of that sort. She only thinks people are sometimes
fools," Maggie developed; "she doesn't seem to think so much
about their being wrong--wrong, that is, in the sense of being
wicked. She doesn't," the Princess further adventured, "quite so
much mind their being wicked."

"I see--I see." And yet it might have been for his daughter that
he didn't so very vividly see. "Then she only thought US fools?"

"Oh no--I don't say that. I'm speaking of our being selfish."

"And that comes under the head of the wickedness Fanny condones?"

"Oh, I don't say she CONDONES--!" A scruple in Maggie raised its
crest. "Besides, I'm speaking of what was."

Her father showed, however, after a little, that he had not been
reached by this discrimination; his thoughts were resting for the
moment where they had settled. "Look here, Mag," he said
reflectively--"I ain't selfish. I'll be blowed if I'm selfish."

Well, Maggie, if he WOULD talk of that, could also pronounce.
"Then, father, _I_ am."

"Oh shucks!" said Adam Verver, to whom the vernacular, in moments
of deepest sincerity, could thus come back. "I'll believe it," he
presently added, "when Amerigo complains of you."

"Ah, it's just he who's my selfishness. I'm selfish, so to speak,
FOR him. I mean," she continued, "that he's my motive--in
everything."

Well, her father could, from experience, fancy what she meant.
"But hasn't a girl a right to be selfish about her husband?"

"What I DON'T mean," she observed without answering, "is that I'm
jealous of him. But that's his merit--it's not mine."

Her father again seemed amused at her. "You COULD be--otherwise?"

"Oh, how can I talk," she asked, "of otherwise? It ISN'T, luckily
for me, otherwise. If everything were different"--she further
presented her thought--"of course everything WOULD be." And then
again, as if that were but half: "My idea is this, that when you
only love a little you're naturally not jealous--or are only
jealous also a little, so that it doesn't matter. But when you
love in a deeper and intenser way, then you are, in the same
proportion, jealous; your jealousy has intensity and, no doubt,
ferocity. When, however, you love in the most abysmal and
unutterable way of all--why then you're beyond everything, and
nothing can pull you down."

Mr. Verver listened as if he had nothing, on these high lines, to
oppose. "And that's the way YOU love?"

For a minute she failed to speak, but at last she answered: "It
wasn't to talk about that. I do FEEL, however, beyond everything
--and as a consequence of that, I dare say," she added with a
turn to gaiety, "seem often not to know quite WHERE I am."

The mere fine pulse of passion in it, the suggestion as of a
creature consciously floating and shining in a warm summer sea,
some element of dazzling sapphire and silver, a creature cradled
upon depths, buoyant among dangers, in which fear or folly, or
sinking otherwise than in play, was impossible--something of all
this might have been making once more present to him, with his
discreet, his half shy assent to it, her probable enjoyment of a
rapture that he, in his day, had presumably convinced no great
number of persons either of his giving or of his receiving. He
sat awhile as if he knew himself hushed, almost admonished, and
not for the first time; yet it was an effect that might have
brought before him rather what she had gained than what he had
missed.

Besides, who but himself really knew what he, after all, hadn't,
or even had, gained? The beauty of her condition was keeping him,
at any rate, as he might feel, in sight of the sea, where, though
his personal dips were over, the whole thing could shine at him,
and the air and the plash and the play become for him too a
sensation. That couldn't be fixed upon him as missing; since if
it wasn't personally floating, if it wasn't even sitting in the
sand, it could yet pass very well for breathing the bliss, in a
communicated irresistible way--for tasting the balm. It could
pass, further, for knowing--for knowing that without him nothing
might have been: which would have been missing least of all.

"I guess I've never been jealous," he finally remarked. And it
said more to her, he had occasion next to perceive, than he was
intending; for it made her, as by the pressure of a spring, give
him a look that seemed to tell of things she couldn't speak.

But she at last tried for one of them. "Oh, it's you, father, who
are what I call beyond everything. Nothing can pull YOU down."

He returned the look as with the sociability of their easy
communion, though inevitably throwing in this time a shade of
solemnity. He might have been seeing things to say, and others,
whether of a type presumptuous or not, doubtless better kept
back. So he settled on the merely obvious. "Well then, we make a
pair. We're all right."

"Oh, we're all right!" A declaration launched not only with all
her discriminating emphasis, but confirmed by her rising with
decision and standing there as if the object of their small
excursion required accordingly no further pursuit. At this
juncture, however--with the act of their crossing the bar, to
get, as might be, into port--there occurred the only approach to
a betrayal of their having had to beat against the wind. Her
father kept his place, and it was as if she had got over first
and were pausing for her consort to follow. If they were all
right; they were all right; yet he seemed to hesitate and wait
for some word beyond. His eyes met her own, suggestively, and it
was only after she had contented herself with simply smiling at
him, smiling ever so fixedly, that he spoke, for the remaining
importance of it, from the bench; where he leaned back, raising
his face to her, his legs thrust out a trifle wearily and his
hands grasping either side of the seat. They had beaten against
the wind, and she was still fresh; they had beaten against the
wind, and he, as at the best the more battered vessel, perhaps
just vaguely drooped. But the effect of their silence was that
she appeared to beckon him on, and he might have been fairly
alongside of her when, at the end of another minute, he found
their word. "The only thing is that, as for ever putting up again
with your pretending that you're selfish--!"

At this she helped him out with it. "You won't take it from me?"

"I won't take it from you."

"Well, of course you won't, for that's your way. It doesn't
matter, and it only proves--! But it doesn't matter, either, what
it proves. I'm at this very moment," she declared, "frozen stiff
with selfishness."

He faced her awhile longer in the same way; it was, strangely, as
if, by this sudden arrest, by their having, in their acceptance
of the unsaid, or at least their reference to it, practically
given up pretending--it was as if they were "in" for it, for
something they had been ineffably avoiding, but the dread of
which was itself, in a manner, a seduction, just as any
confession of the dread was by so much an allusion. Then she
seemed to see him let himself go. "When a person's of the nature
you speak of there are always other persons to suffer. But you've
just been describing to me what you'd take, if you had once a
good chance, from your husband."

"Oh, I'm not talking about my husband!"

"Then whom, ARE you talking about?"

Both the retort and the rejoinder had come quicker than anything
previously exchanged, and they were followed, on Maggie's part,
by a momentary drop. But she was not to fall away, and while her
companion kept his eyes on her, while she wondered if he weren't
expecting her to name his wife then, with high hypocrisy, as
paying for his daughter's bliss, she produced something that she
felt to be much better. "I'm talking about YOU."

"Do you mean I've been your victim?"

"Of course you've been my victim. What have you done, ever done,
that hasn't been FOR me?"

"Many things; more than I can tell you--things you've only to
think of for yourself. What do you make of all that I've done for
myself?"

"'Yourself'?--" She brightened out with derision.

"What do you make of what I've done for American City?"

It took her but a moment to say. "I'm not talking of you as a
public character--I'm talking of you on your personal side."

"Well, American City--if 'personalities' can do it--has given me
a pretty personal side. What do you make," he went on, "of what
I've done for my reputation?"

"Your reputation THERE? You've given it up to them, the awful
people, for less than nothing; you've given it up to them to tear
to pieces, to make their horrible vulgar jokes against you with."

"Ah, my dear, I don't care for their horrible vulgar jokes," Adam
Verver almost artlessly urged.

"Then there, exactly, you are!" she triumphed. "Everything that
touches you, everything that surrounds you, goes on--by your
splendid indifference and your incredible permission--at your
expense."

Just as he had been sitting he looked at her an instant longer;
then he slowly rose, while his hands stole into his pockets, and
stood there before her. "Of course, my dear, YOU go on at my
expense: it has never been my idea," he smiled, "that you should
work for your living. I wouldn't have liked to see it." With
which, for a little again, they remained face to face. "Say
therefore I HAVE had the feelings of a father. How have they made
me a victim?"

"Because I sacrifice you."

"But to what in the world?"

At this it hung before her that she should have had as never yet
her opportunity to say, and it held her for a minute as in a
vise, her impression of his now, with his strained smile, which
touched her to deepest depths, sounding her in his secret unrest.
This was the moment, in the whole process of their mutual
vigilance, in which it decidedly most hung by a hair that their
thin wall might be pierced by the lightest wrong touch. It shook
between them, this transparency, with their very breath; it was
an exquisite tissue, but stretched on a frame, and would give way
the next instant if either so much as breathed too hard. She held
her breath, for she knew by his eyes, the light at the heart of
which he couldn't blind, that he was, by his intention, making
sure--sure whether or no her certainty was like his. The
intensity of his dependence on it at that moment--this itself was
what absolutely convinced her so that, as if perched up before
him on her vertiginous point and in the very glare of his
observation, she balanced for thirty seconds, she almost rocked:
she might have been for the time, in all her conscious person,
the very form of the equilibrium they were, in their different
ways, equally trying to save. And they were saving it--yes, they
were, or at least she was: that was still the workable issue, she
could say, as she felt her dizziness drop. She held herself hard;
the thing was to be done, once for all, by her acting, now, where
she stood. So much was crowded into so short a space that she
knew already she was keeping her head. She had kept it by the
warning of his eyes; she shouldn't lose it again; she knew how
and why, and if she had turned cold this was precisely what
helped her. He had said to himself "She'll break down and name
Amerigo; she'll say it's to him she's sacrificing me; and its by
what that will give me--with so many other things too--that my
suspicion will be clinched." He was watching her lips, spying for
the symptoms of the sound; whereby these symptoms had only to
fail and he would have got nothing that she didn't measure out to
him as she gave it. She had presently in fact so recovered
herself that she seemed to know she could more easily have made
him name his wife than he have made her name her husband. It was
there before her that if she should so much as force him just NOT
consciously to avoid saying "Charlotte, Charlotte" he would have
given himself away. But to be sure of this was enough for her,
and she saw more clearly with each lapsing instant what they were
both doing. He was doing what he had steadily been coming to; he
was practically OFFERING himself, pressing himself upon her, as a
sacrifice--he had read his way so into her best possibility; and
where had she already, for weeks and days past, planted her feet
if not on her acceptance of the offer? Cold indeed, colder and
colder she turned, as she felt herself suffer this close personal
vision of his attitude still not to make her weaken. That was her
very certitude, the intensity of his pressure; for if something
dreadful hadn't happened there wouldn't, for either of them, be
these dreadful things to do. She had meanwhile, as well, the
immense advantage that she could have named Charlotte without
exposing herself--as, for that matter, she was the next minute
showing him.

"Why, I sacrifice you, simply, to everything and to every one. I
take the consequences of your marriage as perfectly natural."

He threw back his head a little, settling with one hand his
eyeglass. "What do you call, my dear, the consequences?"

"Your life as your marriage has made it."

"Well, hasn't it made it exactly what we wanted?" She just
hesitated, then felt herself steady--oh, beyond what she had
dreamed. "Exactly what _I_ wanted--yes."

His eyes, through his straightened glasses, were still on hers,
and he might, with his intenser fixed smile, have been knowing
she was, for herself, rightly inspired. "What do you make then of
what I wanted?"

"I don't make anything, any more than of what you've got. That's
exactly the point. I don't put myself out to do so--I never have;
I take from you all I can get, all you've provided for me, and I
leave you to make of your own side of the matter what you can.
There you are--the rest is your own affair. I don't even pretend
to concern myself--!"

"To concern yourself--?" He watched her as she faintly faltered,
looking about her now so as not to keep always meeting his face.

"With what may have REALLY become of you. It's as if we had
agreed from the first not to go into that--such an arrangement
being of course charming for ME. You can't say, you know, that I
haven't stuck to it."

He didn't say so then--even with the opportunity given him of her
stopping once more to catch her breath. He said instead: "Oh, my
dear--oh, oh!"

But it made no difference, know as she might what a past--still
so recent and yet so distant--it alluded to; she repeated her
denial, warning him off, on her side, from spoiling the truth of
her contention. "I never went into anything, and you see I don't;
I've continued to adore you--but what's that, from a decent
daughter to such a father? what but a question of convenient
arrangement, our having two houses, three houses, instead of one
(you would have arranged for fifty if I had wished!) and my
making it easy for you to see the child? You don't claim, I
suppose, that my natural course, once you had set up for
yourself, would have been to ship you back to American City?"

These were direct inquiries, they quite rang out, in the soft,
wooded air; so that Adam Verver, for a minute, appeared to meet
them with reflection. She saw reflection, however, quickly enough
show him what to do with them. "Do you know, Mag, what you make
me wish when you talk that way?" And he waited again, while she
further got from him the sense of something that had been behind,
deeply in the shade, coming cautiously to the front and just
feeling its way before presenting itself. "You regularly make me
wish that I had shipped back to American City. When you go on as
you do--" But he really had to hold himself to say it.

"Well, when I go on--?"

"Why, you make me quite want to ship back myself. You make me
quite feel as if American City would be the best place for us."

It made her all too finely vibrate. "For 'us'--?"

"For me and Charlotte. Do you know that if we should ship, it
would serve you quite right?" With which he smiled--oh he smiled!
"And if you say much more we WILL ship."

Ah, then it was that the cup of her conviction, full to the brim,
overflowed at a touch! THERE was his idea, the clearness of which
for an instant almost dazzled her. It was a blur of light, in the
midst of which she saw Charlotte like some object marked, by
contrast, in blackness, saw her waver in the field of vision, saw
her removed, transported, doomed. And he had named Charlotte,
named her again, and she had MADE him--which was all she had
needed more: it was as if she had held a blank letter to the fire
and the writing had come out still larger than she hoped. The
recognition of it took her some seconds, but she might when she
spoke have been folding up these precious lines and restoring
them to her pocket. "Well, I shall be as much as ever then the
cause of what you do. I haven't the least doubt of your being up
to that if you should think I might get anything out of it; even
the little pleasure," she laughed, "of having said, as you call
it, 'more.' Let my enjoyment of this therefore, at any price,
continue to represent for you what _I_ call sacrificing you."

She had drawn a long breath; she had made him do it ALL for her,
and had lighted the way to it without his naming her husband.
That silence had been as distinct as the sharp, the inevitable
sound, and something now, in him, followed it up, a sudden air as
of confessing at last fully to where she was and of begging the
particular question. "Don't you think then I can take care of
myself?"

"Ah, it's exactly what I've gone upon. If it wasn't for that--!"

But she broke off, and they remained only another moment face to
face. "I'll let you know, my dear, the day _I_ feel you've begun
to sacrifice me."

"'Begun'?" she extravagantly echoed.

"Well, it will be, for me, the day you've ceased to believe in
me."

With which, his glasses still fixed on her, his hands in his
pockets, his hat pushed back, his legs a little apart, he seemed
to plant or to square himself for a kind of assurance it had
occurred to him he might as well treat her to, in default of
other things, before they changed their subject. It had the
effect, for her, of a reminder--a reminder of all he was, of all
he had done, of all, above and beyond his being her perfect
little father, she might take him as representing, take him as
having, quite eminently, in the eyes of two hemispheres, been
capable of, and as therefore wishing, not--was it?--
illegitimately, to call her attention to. The "successful,"
beneficent person, the beautiful, bountiful, original,
dauntlessly wilful great citizen, the consummate collector and
infallible high authority he had been and still was--these things
struck her, on the spot, as making up for him, in a wonderful
way, a character she must take into account in dealing with him
either for pity or for envy. He positively, under the impression,
seemed to loom larger than life for her, so that she saw him
during these moments in a light of recognition which had had its
brightness for her at many an hour of the past, but which had
never been so intense and so almost admonitory. His very
quietness was part of it now, as always part of everything, of
his success, his originality, his modesty, his exquisite public
perversity, his inscrutable, incalculable energy; and this
quality perhaps it might be--all the more too as the result, for
the present occasion, of an admirable, traceable effort--that
placed him in her eyes as no precious a work of art probably had
ever been placed in his own. There was a long moment, absolutely,
during which her impression rose and rose, even as that of the
typical charmed gazer, in the still museum, before the named and
dated object, the pride of the catalogue, that time has polished
and consecrated. Extraordinary, in particular, was the number of
the different ways in which he thus affected her as showing. He
was strong--that was the great thing. He was sure--sure for
himself, always, whatever his idea: the expression of that in him
had somehow never appeared more identical with his proved taste
for the rare and the true. But what stood out beyond everything
was that he was always, marvellously, young--which couldn't but
crown, at this juncture, his whole appeal to her imagination.
Before she knew it she was lifted aloft by the consciousness that
he was simply a great and deep and high little man, and that to
love him with tenderness was not to be distinguished, a whit,
from loving him with pride. It came to her, all strangely, as a
sudden, an immense relief. The sense that he wasn't a failure,
and could never be, purged their predicament of every meanness--
made it as if they had really emerged, in their transmuted union,
to smile almost without pain. It was like a new confidence, and
after another instant she knew even still better why. Wasn't it
because now, also, on his side, he was thinking of her as his
daughter, was TRYING her, during these mute seconds, as the child
of his blood? Oh then, if she wasn't with her little conscious
passion, the child of any weakness, what was she but strong
enough too? It swelled in her, fairly; it raised her higher,
higher: she wasn't in that case a failure either--hadn't been,
but the contrary; his strength was her strength, her pride was
his, and they were decent and competent together. This was all in
the answer she finally made him.

"I believe in you more than any one."

"Than any one at all?"

She hesitated, for all it might mean; but there was--oh a
thousand times!--no doubt of it. "Than any one at all." She kept
nothing of it back now, met his eyes over it, let him have the
whole of it; after which she went on: "And that's the way, I
think, you believe in me."

He looked at her a minute longer, but his tone at last was right.
"About the way--yes."

"Well then--?" She spoke as for the end and for other matters--
for anything, everything, else there might be. They would never
return to it.

"Well then--!" His hands came out, and while her own took them he
drew her to his breast and held her. He held her hard and kept
her long, and she let herself go; but it was an embrace that,
august and almost stern, produced, for all its intimacy, no
revulsion and broke into no inconsequence of tears.



                           XXXVIII

Maggie was to feel, after this passage, how they had both been
helped through it by the influence of that accident of her having
been caught, a few nights before, in the familiar embrace of her
father's wife. His return to the saloon had chanced to coincide
exactly with this demonstration, missed moreover neither by her
husband nor by the Assinghams, who, their card-party suspended,
had quitted the billiard-room with him. She had been conscious
enough at the time of what such an impression, received by the
others, might, in that extended state, do for her case; and none
the less that, as no one had appeared to wish to be the first to
make a remark about it, it had taken on perceptibly the special
shade of consecration conferred by unanimities of silence. The
effect, she might have considered, had been almost awkward--the
promptitude of her separation from Charlotte, as if they had been
discovered in some absurdity, on her becoming aware of
spectators. The spectators, on the other hand--that was the
appearance--mightn't have supposed them, in the existing
relation, addicted to mutual endearments; and yet, hesitating
with a fine scruple between sympathy and hilarity, must have felt
that almost any spoken or laughed comment could be kept from
sounding vulgar only by sounding, beyond any permitted measure,
intelligent. They had evidently looked, the two young wives, like
a pair of women "making up" effusively, as women were supposed to
do, especially when approved fools, after a broil; but taking
note of the reconciliation would imply, on her father's part, on
Amerigo's, and on Fanny Assingham's, some proportionate vision of
the grounds of their difference. There had been something, there
had been but too much, in the incident, for each observer; yet
there was nothing any one could have said without seeming
essentially to say: "See, see, the dear things--their quarrel's
blissfully over!" "Our quarrel? What quarrel?" the dear things
themselves would necessarily, in that case, have demanded; and
the wits of the others would thus have been called upon for some
agility of exercise. No one had been equal to the flight of
producing, off-hand, a fictive reason for any estrangement--to
take, that is, the place of the true, which had so long, for the
finer sensibility, pervaded the air; and every one, accordingly,
not to be inconveniently challenged, was pretending, immediately
after, to have remarked nothing that any one else hadn't.

Maggie's own measure had remained, all the same, full of the
reflection caught from the total inference; which had acted,
virtually, by enabling every one present--and oh Charlotte not
least!--to draw a long breath. The message of the little scene
had been different for each, but it had been this, markedly, all
round, that it reinforced--reinforced even immensely--the general
effort, carried on from week to week and of late distinctly more
successful, to look and talk and move as if nothing in life were
the matter. Supremely, however, while this glass was held up to
her, had Maggie's sense turned to the quality of the success
constituted, on the spot, for Charlotte. Most of all, if she was
guessing how her father must have secretly started, how her
husband must have secretly wondered, how Fanny Assingham must
have secretly, in a flash, seen daylight for herself--most of all
had she tasted, by communication, of the high profit involved for
her companion. She FELT, in all her pulses, Charlotte feel it,
and how publicity had been required, absolutely, to crown her own
abasement. It was the added touch, and now nothing was wanting--
which, to do her stepmother justice, Mrs. Verver had appeared but
to desire, from that evening, to show, with the last vividness,
that she recognised. Maggie lived over again the minutes in
question--had found herself repeatedly doing so; to the degree
that the whole evening hung together, to her aftersense, as a
thing appointed by some occult power that had dealt with her,
that had for instance--animated the four with just the right
restlessness too, had decreed and directed and exactly timed it
in them, making their game of bridge--however abysmal a face it
had worn for her--give way, precisely, to their common unavowed
impulse to find out, to emulate Charlotte's impatience; a
preoccupation, this latter, attached detectedly to the member of
the party who was roaming in her queerness and was, for all their
simulated blindness, not roaming unnoted.

If Mrs. Verver meanwhile, then, had struck her as determined in a
certain direction by the last felicity into which that night had
flowered, our young woman was yet not to fail of appreciating the
truth that she had not been put at ease, after all, with absolute
permanence. Maggie had seen her, unmistakably, desire to rise to
the occasion and be magnificent--seen her decide that the right
way for this would be to prove that the reassurance she had
extorted there, under the high, cool lustre of the saloon, a
twinkle of crystal and silver, had not only poured oil upon the
troubled waters of their question, but had fairly drenched their
whole intercourse with that lubricant. She had exceeded the limit
of discretion in this insistence on her capacity to repay in
proportion a service she acknowledged as handsome. "Why
handsome?" Maggie would have been free to ask; since if she had
been veracious the service assuredly would not have been huge. It
would in that case have come up vividly, and for each of them
alike, that the truth, on the Princess's lips, presented no
difficulty. If the latter's mood, in fact, could have turned
itself at all to private gaiety it might have failed to resist
the diversion of seeing so clever a creature so beguiled.
Charlotte's theory of a generous manner was manifestly to express
that her stepdaughter's word, wiping out, as she might have said,
everything, had restored them to the serenity of a relation
without a cloud. It had been, in short, in this light, ideally
conclusive, so that no ghost of anything it referred to could
ever walk again. What was the ecstasy of that, however, but in
itself a trifle compromising?--as truly, within the week, Maggie
had occasion to suspect her friend of beginning, and rather
abruptly, to remember. Convinced as she was of the example
already given her by her husband, and in relation to which her
profession of trust in his mistress had been an act of conformity
exquisitely calculated, her imagination yet sought in the hidden
play of his influence the explanation of any change of surface,
any difference of expression or intention. There had been,
through life, as we know, few quarters in which the Princess's
fancy could let itself loose; but it shook off restraint when it
plunged into the figured void of the detail of that relation.
This was a realm it could people with images--again and again
with fresh ones; they swarmed there like the strange combinations
that lurked in the woods at twilight; they loomed into the
definite and faded into the vague, their main present sign for
her being, however, that they were always, that they were
duskily, agitated. Her earlier vision of a state of bliss made
insecure by the very intensity of the bliss--this had dropped
from her; she had ceased to see, as she lost herself, the pair of
operatic, of high Wagnerian lovers (she found, deep within her,
these comparisons) interlocked in their wood of enchantment, a
green glade as romantic as one's dream of an old German forest.
The picture was veiled, on the contrary, with the dimness of
trouble; behind which she felt, indistinguishable, the procession
of forms that had lost, all so pitifully, their precious
confidence. Therefore, though there was in these days, for her,
with Amerigo, little enough even of the imitation, from day to
day, of unembarrassed references--as she had foreseen, for that
matter, from the first, that there would be--her active
conception of his accessibility to their companion's own private
and unextinguished right to break ground was not much less active
than before. So it was that her inner sense, in spite of
everything, represented him as still pulling wires and
controlling currents, or rather indeed as muffling the whole
possibility, keeping it down and down, leading his accomplice
continually on to some new turn of the road. As regards herself
Maggie had become more conscious from week to week of his
ingenuities of intention to make up to her for their forfeiture,
in so dire a degree, of any reality of frankness--a privation
that had left on his lips perhaps a little of the same thirst
with which she fairly felt her own distorted, the torment of the
lost pilgrim who listens in desert sands for the possible, the
impossible, plash of water. It was just this hampered state in
him, none the less, that she kept before her when she wished most
to find grounds of dignity for the hard little passion which
nothing he had done could smother. There were hours enough,
lonely hours, in which she let dignity go; then there were others
when, clinging with her winged concentration to some deep cell of
her heart, she stored away her hived tenderness as if she had
gathered it all from flowers. He was walking ostensibly beside
her, but in fact given over, without a break, to the grey medium
in which he helplessly groped; a perception on her part which was
a perpetual pang and which might last what it would--for ever if
need be--but which, if relieved at all, must be relieved by his
act alone. She herself could do nothing more for it; she had done
the utmost possible. It was meantime not the easier to bear for
this aspect under which Charlotte was presented as depending on
him for guidance, taking it from him even in doses of bitterness,
and yet lost with him in devious depths. Nothing was thus more
sharply to be inferred than that he had promptly enough warned
her, on hearing from her of the precious assurance received from
his wife, that she must take care her satisfaction didn't betray
something of her danger. Maggie had a day of still waiting, after
allowing him time to learn how unreservedly she had lied for
him--of waiting as for the light of she scarce knew what slow-
shining reflection of this knowledge in his personal attitude.
What retarded evolution, she asked herself in these hours,
mightn't poor Charlotte all unwittingly have precipitated? She
was thus poor Charlotte again for Maggie even while Maggie's own
head was bowed, and the reason for this kept coming back to our
young woman in the conception of what would secretly have passed.
She saw her, face to face with the Prince, take from him the
chill of his stiffest admonition, with the possibilities of
deeper difficulty that it represented for each. She heard her
ask, irritated and sombre, what tone, in God's name--since her
bravery didn't suit him--she was then to adopt; and, by way of a
fantastic flight of divination, she heard Amerigo reply, in a
voice of which every fine note, familiar and admirable, came home
to her, that one must really manage such prudences a little for
one's self. It was positive in the Princess that, for this, she
breathed Charlotte's cold air--turned away from him in it with
her, turned with her, in growing compassion, this way and that,
hovered behind her while she felt her ask herself where then she
should rest. Marvellous the manner in which, under such
imaginations, Maggie thus circled and lingered--quite as if she
were, materially, following her unseen, counting every step she
helplessly wasted, noting every hindrance that brought her to a
pause.

A few days of this, accordingly, had wrought a change in that
apprehension