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Title: The Golden Bowl — Volume 2
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE GOLDEN BOWL, 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 of the instant beatitude of triumph--of triumph
magnanimous and serene--with which the upshot of the night-scene
on the terrace had condemned our young woman to make terms. She
had had, as we know, her vision of the gilt bars bent, of the
door of the cage forced open from within and the creature
imprisoned roaming at large--a movement, on the creature's part,
that was to have even, for the short interval, its impressive
beauty, but of which the limit, and in yet another direction, had
loomed straight into view during her last talk under the great
trees with her father. It was when she saw his wife's face
ruefully attached to the quarter to which, in the course of their
session, he had so significantly addressed his own--it was then
that Maggie could watch for its turning pale, it was then she
seemed to know what she had meant by thinking of her, in she
shadow of his most ominous reference, as "doomed." If, as I say,
her attention now, day after day, so circled and hovered, it
found itself arrested for certain passages during which she
absolutely looked with Charlotte's grave eyes. What she
unfailingly made out through them was the figure of a little
quiet gentleman who mostly wore, as he moved, alone, across the
field of vision, a straw hat, a white waistcoat and a blue
necktie, keeping a cigar in his teeth and his hands in his
pockets, and who, oftener than not, presented a somewhat
meditative back while he slowly measured the perspectives of the
park and broodingly counted (it might have appeared) his steps.
There were hours of intensity, for a week or two, when it was for
all the world as if she had guardedly tracked her stepmother, in
the great house, from room to room and from window to window,
only to see her, here and there and everywhere, TRY her uneasy
outlook, question her issue and her fate. Something,
unmistakably, had come up for her that had never come up before;
it represented a new complication and had begotten a new
anxiety--things, these, that she carried about with her done up
in the napkin of her lover's accepted rebuke, while she vainly
hunted for some corner where she might put them safely down. The
disguised solemnity, the prolonged futility of her search might
have been grotesque to a more ironic eye; but Maggie's provision
of irony, which we have taken for naturally small, had never been
so scant as now, and there were moments while she watched with
her, thus unseen, when the mere effect of being near her was to
feel her own heart in her throat, was to be almost moved to
saying to her: "Hold on tight, my poor dear--without TOO MUCH
terror--and it will all come out somehow."

Even to that indeed, she could reflect, Charlotte might have
replied that it was easy to say; even to that no great meaning
could attach so long as the little meditative man in the straw
hat kept coming into view with his indescribable air of weaving
his spell, weaving it off there by himself. In whatever quarter
of the horizon the appearances were scanned he was to be noticed
as absorbed in this occupation; and Maggie was to become aware of
two or three extraordinary occasions of receiving from him the
hint that he measured the impression he produced. It was not
really till after their recent long talk in the park that she
knew how deeply, how quite exhaustively, they had then
communicated--so that they were to remain together, for the time,
in consequence, quite in the form of a couple of sociable
drinkers who sit back from the table over which they have been
resting their elbows, over which they have emptied to the last
drop their respective charged cups. The cups were still there on
the table, but turned upside down; and nothing was left for the
companions but to confirm by placid silences the fact that the
wine had been good. They had parted, positively, as if, on either
side, primed with it--primed for whatever was to be; and
everything between them, as the month waned, added its touch of
truth to this similitude. Nothing, truly, WAS at present between
them save that they were looking at each other in infinite trust;
it fairly wanted no more words, and when they met, during the
deep summer days, met even without witnesses, when they kissed at
morning and evening, or on any of the other occasions of contact
that they had always so freely celebrated, a pair of birds of the
upper air could scarce have appeared less to invite each other to
sit down and worry afresh. So it was that in the house itself,
where more of his waiting treasures than ever were provisionally
ranged, she sometimes only looked at him--from end to end of the
great gallery, the pride of the house, for instance--as if, in
one of the halls of a museum, she had been an earnest young woman
with a Baedeker and he a vague gentleman to whom even Baedekers
were unknown. He had ever, of course, had his way of walking
about to review his possessions and verify their condition; but
this was a pastime to which he now struck her as almost
extravagantly addicted, and when she passed near him and he
turned to give her a smile she caught--or so she fancied--the
greater depth of his small, perpetual hum of contemplation. It
was as if he were singing to himself, sotto voce, as he went--and
it was also, on occasion, quite ineffably, as if Charlotte,
hovering, watching, listening, on her side too, kept sufficiently
within earshot to make it out as song, and yet, for some reason
connected with the very manner of it, stood off and didn't dare.

One of the attentions she had from immediately after her marriage
most freely paid him was that of her interest in his rarities,
her appreciation of his taste, her native passion for beautiful
objects and her grateful desire not to miss anything he could
teach her about them. Maggie had in due course seen her begin
to "work" this fortunately natural source of sympathy for all it
was worth. She took possession of the mound throughout its
extent; she abounded, to odd excess, one might have remarked, in
the assumption of its being for her, with her husband, ALL the
ground, the finest, clearest air and most breathable medium
common to them. It had been given to Maggie to wonder if she
didn't, in these intensities of approbation, too much shut him up
to his province; but this was a complaint he had never made his
daughter, and Charlotte must at least have had for her that,
thanks to her admirable instinct, her range of perception
marching with his own and never falling behind, she had probably
not so much as once treated him to a rasping mistake or a
revealing stupidity. Maggie, wonderfully, in the summer days,
felt it forced upon her that that was one way, after all, of
being a genial wife; and it was never so much forced upon her as
at these odd moments of her encountering the sposi, as Amerigo
called them, under the coved ceilings of Fawns while, so
together, yet at the same time so separate, they were making
their daily round. Charlotte hung behind, with emphasised
attention; she stopped when her husband stopped, but at the
distance of a case or two, or of whatever other succession of
objects; and the likeness of their connection would not have been
wrongly figured if he had been thought of as holding in one of
his pocketed hands the end of a long silken halter looped round
her beautiful neck. He didn't twitch it, yet it was there; he
didn't drag her, but she came; and those indications that I have
described the Princess as finding extraordinary in him were two
or three mute facial intimations which his wife's presence didn't
prevent his addressing his daughter--nor prevent his daughter, as
she passed, it was doubtless to be added, from flushing a little
at the receipt of. They amounted perhaps only to a wordless,
wordless smile, but the smile was the soft shake of the twisted
silken rope, and Maggie's translation of it, held in her breast
till she got well away, came out only, as if it might have been
overheard, when some door was closed behind her. "Yes, you see--I
lead her now by the neck, I lead her to her doom, and she doesn't
so much as know what it is, though she has a fear in her heart
which, if you had the chances to apply your ear there that I, as
a husband, have, you would hear thump and thump and thump. She
thinks it MAY be, her doom, the awful place over there--awful for
HER; but she's afraid to ask, don't you see? just as she's afraid
of not asking; just as she's afraid of so many other things that
she sees multiplied round her now as portents and betrayals.
She'll know, however--when she does know."

Charlotte's one opportunity, meanwhile, for the air of confidence
she had formerly worn so well and that agreed so with her firm
and charming type, was the presence of visitors, never, as the
season advanced, wholly intermitted--rather, in fact, so
constant, with all the people who turned up for luncheon and for
tea and to see the house, now replete, now famous, that
Maggie grew to think again of this large element of "company" as
of a kind of renewed water-supply for the tank in which, like a
party of panting gold-fish, they kept afloat. It helped them,
unmistakably, with each other, weakening the emphasis of so many
of the silences of which their intimate intercourse would
otherwise have consisted. Beautiful and wonderful for her, even,
at times, was the effect of these interventions--their effect
above all in bringing home to each the possible heroism of
perfunctory things. They learned fairly to live in the
perfunctory; they remained in it as many hours of the day as
might be; it took on finally the likeness of some spacious
central chamber in a haunted house, a great overarched and
overglazed rotunda, where gaiety might reign, but the doors of
which opened into sinister circular passages. Here they turned up
for each other, as they said, with the blank faces that denied
any uneasiness felt in the approach; here they closed numerous
doors carefully behind them--all save the door that connected the
place, as by a straight tented corridor, with the outer world,
and, encouraging thus the irruption of society, imitated the
aperture through which the bedizened performers of the circus are
poured into the ring. The great part Mrs. Verver had socially
played came luckily, Maggie could make out, to her assistance;
she had "personal friends"--Charlotte's personal friends had ever
been, in London, at the two houses, one of the most convenient
pleasantries--who actually tempered, at this crisis, her aspect
of isolation; and it wouldn't have been hard to guess that her
best moments were those in which she suffered no fear of becoming
a bore to restrain her appeal to their curiosity. Their curiosity
might be vague, but their clever hostess was distinct, and she
marched them about, sparing them nothing, as if she counted, each
day, on a harvest of half crowns. Maggie met her again, in the
gallery, at the oddest hours, with the party she was
entertaining; heard her draw out the lesson, insist upon the
interest, snub, even, the particular presumption and smile for
the general bewilderment--inevitable features, these latter, of
almost any occasion--in a manner that made our young woman,
herself incurably dazzled, marvel afresh at the mystery by which
a creature who could be in some connexions so earnestly right
could be in others so perversely wrong. When her father, vaguely
circulating, was attended by his wife, it was always Charlotte
who seemed to bring up the rear; but he hung in the background
when she did cicerone, and it was then perhaps that, moving
mildly and modestly to and fro on the skirts of the exhibition,
his appearance of weaving his spell was, for the initiated
conscience, least to be resisted. Brilliant women turned to him
in vague emotion, but his response scarce committed him more than
if he had been the person employed to see that, after the
invading wave was spent, the cabinets were all locked and the
symmetries all restored.

There was a morning when, during the hour before luncheon and
shortly after the arrival of a neighbourly contingent--
neighbourly from ten miles off--whom Mrs. Verver had taken in
charge, Maggie paused on the threshold of the gallery through
which she had been about to pass, faltered there for the very
impression of his face as it met her from an opposite door.
Charlotte, half-way down the vista, held together, as if by
something almost austere in the grace of her authority, the
semi-scared (now that they were there!) knot of her visitors,
who, since they had announced themselves by telegram as yearning
to inquire and admire, saw themselves restricted to this
consistency. Her voice, high and clear and a little hard, reached
her husband and her step-daughter while she thus placed beyond
doubt her cheerful submission to duty. Her words, addressed to
the largest publicity, rang for some minutes through the place,
every one as quiet to listen as if it had been a church ablaze
with tapers and she were taking her part in some hymn of praise.
Fanny Assingham looked rapt in devotion--Fanny Assingham who
forsook this other friend as little as she forsook either her
host or the Princess or the Prince or the Principino; she
supported her, in slow revolutions, in murmurous attestations of
presence, at all such times, and Maggie, advancing after a first
hesitation, was not to fail of noting her solemn, inscrutable
attitude, her eyes attentively lifted, so that she might escape
being provoked to betray an impression. She betrayed one,
however, as Maggie approached, dropping her gaze to the latter's
level long enough to seem to adventure, marvellously, on a mute
appeal. "You understand, don't you, that if she didn't do this
there would be no knowing what she might do?" This light Mrs.
Assingham richly launched while her younger friend, unresistingly
moved, became uncertain again, and then, not too much to show
it--or, rather, positively to conceal it, and to conceal
something more as well--turned short round to one of the windows
and awkwardly, pointlessly waited. "The largest of the three
pieces has the rare peculiarity that the garlands, looped round
it, which, as you see, are the finest possible vieux Saxe, are
not of the same origin or period, or even, wonderful as they are,
of a taste quite so perfect. They have been put on at a later
time, by a process of which there are very few examples, and none
so important as this, which is really quite unique--so that,
though the whole thing is a little baroque, its value as a
specimen is, I believe, almost inestimable."

So the high voice quavered, aiming truly at effects far over the
heads of gaping neighbours; so the speaker, piling it up,
sticking at nothing, as less interested judges might have said,
seemed to justify the faith with which she was honoured. Maggie
meanwhile, at the window, knew the strangest thing to be
happening: she had turned suddenly to crying, or was at least on
the point of it--the lighted square before her all blurred and
dim. The high voice went on; its quaver was doubtless for
conscious ears only, but there were verily thirty seconds during
which it sounded, for our young woman, like the shriek of a soul
in pain. Kept up a minute longer it would break and collapse--so
that Maggie felt herself, the next thing, turn with a start to
her father. "Can't she be stopped? Hasn't she done it ENOUGH?"--
some such question as that she let herself ask him to suppose in
her. Then it was that, across half the gallery--for he had not
moved from where she had first seen him--he struck her as
confessing, with strange tears in his own eyes, to sharp identity
of emotion. "Poor thing, poor thing"--it reached straight--
"ISN'T she, for one's credit, on the swagger?" After which, as,
held thus together they had still another strained minute, the
shame, the pity, the better knowledge, the smothered protest, the
divined anguish even, so overcame him that, blushing to his eyes,
he turned short away. The affair but of a few muffled moments,
this snatched communion yet lifted Maggie as on air--so much, for
deep guesses on her own side too, it gave her to think of. There
was, honestly, an awful mixture in things, and it was not closed
to her aftersense of such passages--we have already indeed, in
other cases, seen it open--that the deepest depth of all, in a
perceived penalty, was that you couldn't be sure some of your
compunctions and contortions wouldn't show for ridiculous.
Amerigo, that morning, for instance, had been as absent as he at
this juncture appeared to desire he should mainly be noted as
being; he had gone to London for the day and the night--a
necessity that now frequently rose for him and that he had more
than once suffered to operate during the presence of guests,
successions of pretty women, the theory of his fond interest in
whom had been publicly cultivated. It had never occurred to his
wife to pronounce him ingenuous, but there came at last a high
dim August dawn when she couldn't sleep and when, creeping
restlessly about and breathing at her window the coolness of
wooded acres, she found the faint flush of the east march with
the perception of that other almost equal prodigy. It rosily
coloured her vision that--even such as he was, yes--her husband
could on occasion sin by excess of candour. He wouldn't otherwise
have given as his reason for going up to Portland Place in the
August days that he was arranging books there. He had bought a
great many of late, and he had had others, a large number, sent
from Rome--wonders of old print in which her father had been
interested. But when her imagination tracked him to the dusty
town, to the house where drawn blinds and pale shrouds, where a
caretaker and a kitchenmaid were alone in possession, it wasn't
to see him, in his shirtsleeves, unpacking battered boxes.

She saw him, in truth, less easily beguiled--saw him wander, in
the closed dusky rooms, from place to place, or else, for long
periods, recline on deep sofas and stare before him through the
smoke of ceaseless cigarettes. She made him out as liking better
than anything in the world just now to be alone with his
thoughts. Being herself connected with his thoughts, she
continued to believe, more than she had ever been, it was thereby
a good deal as if he were alone with HER. She made him out as
resting so from that constant strain of the perfunctory to which
he was exposed at Fawns; and she was accessible to the impression
of the almost beggared aspect of this alternative. It was like
his doing penance in sordid ways--being sent to prison or being
kept without money; it wouldn't have taken much to make her think
of him as really kept without food. He might have broken away,
might easily have started to travel; he had a right--thought
wonderful Maggie now--to so many more freedoms than he took! His
secret was of course that at Fawns he all the while winced, was
all the while in presences in respect to which he had thrown
himself back, with a hard pressure, on whatever mysteries of
pride, whatever inward springs familiar to the man of the world,
he could keep from snapping. Maggie, for some reason, had that
morning, while she watched the sunrise, taken an extraordinary
measure of the ground on which he would have HAD to snatch at
pretexts for absence. It all came to her there--he got off to
escape from a sound. The sound was in her own ears still--that of
Charlotte's high coerced quaver before the cabinets in the hushed
gallery; the voice by which she herself had been pierced the day
before as by that of a creature in anguish and by which, while
she sought refuge at the blurred window, the tears had been
forced into her eyes. Her comprehension soared so high that the
wonder for her became really his not feeling the need of wider
intervals and thicker walls. Before THAT admiration she also
meditated; consider as she might now, she kept reading not less
into what he omitted than into what he performed a beauty of
intention that touched her fairly the more by being obscure. It
was like hanging over a garden in the dark; nothing was to be
made of the confusion of growing things, but one felt they were
folded flowers, and their vague sweetness made the whole air
their medium. He had to turn away, but he wasn't at least a
coward; he would wait on the spot for the issue of what he had
done on the spot. She sank to her knees with her arm on the ledge
of her window-seat, where she blinded her eyes from the full
glare of seeing that his idea could only be to wait, whatever
might come, at her side. It was to her buried face that she thus,
for a long time, felt him draw nearest; though after a while,
when the strange wail of the gallery began to repeat its
inevitable echo, she was conscious of how that brought out his
pale hard grimace.



                           XXXIX

The resemblance had not been present to her on first coming out
into the hot, still brightness of the Sunday afternoon--only the
second Sunday, of all the summer, when the party of six, the
party of seven including the Principino, had practically been
without accessions or invasions; but within sight of Charlotte,
seated far away, very much where she had expected to find her,
the Princess fell to wondering if her friend wouldn't be affected
quite as she herself had been, that night on the terrace, under
Mrs. Verver's perceptive pursuit. The relation, to-day, had
turned itself round; Charlotte was seeing her come, through
patches of lingering noon, quite as she had watched Charlotte
menace her through the starless dark; and there was a moment,
that of her waiting a little as they thus met across the
distance, when the interval was bridged by a recognition not less
soundless, and to all appearance not less charged with strange
meanings, than that of the other occasion. The point, however,
was that they had changed places; Maggie had from her window,
seen her stepmother leave the house--at so unlikely an hour,
three o'clock of a canicular August, for a ramble in garden or
grove--and had thereupon felt her impulse determined with the
same sharpness that had made the spring of her companion's three
weeks before. It was the hottest day of the season, and the
shaded siesta, for people all at their ease, would certainly
rather have been prescribed; but our young woman had perhaps not
yet felt it so fully brought home that such refinements of
repose, among them, constituted the empty chair at the feast.
This was the more distinct as the feast, literally, in the great
bedimmed dining-room, the cool, ceremonious semblance of
luncheon, had just been taking place without Mrs. Verver. She had
been represented but by the plea of a bad headache, not reported
to the rest of the company by her husband, but offered directly
to Mr. Verver himself, on their having assembled, by her maid,
deputed for the effect and solemnly producing it.

Maggie had sat down, with the others, to viands artfully iced, to
the slow circulation of precious tinkling jugs, to marked
reserves of reference in many directions--poor Fanny Assingham
herself scarce thrusting her nose out of the padded hollow into
which she had withdrawn. A consensus of languor, which might
almost have been taken for a community of dread, ruled the
scene--relieved only by the fitful experiments of Father
Mitchell, good holy, hungry man, a trusted and overworked London
friend and adviser, who had taken, for a week or two, the light
neighbouring service, local rites flourishing under Maggie's
munificence, and was enjoying, as a convenience, all the bounties
of the house. HE conversed undiscouraged, Father Mitchell--
conversed mainly with the indefinite, wandering smile of the
entertainers, and the Princess's power to feel him on the whole a
blessing for these occasions was not impaired by what was awkward
in her consciousness of having, from the first of her trouble,
really found her way without his guidance. She asked herself at
times if he suspected how more than subtly, how perversely, she
had dispensed with him, and she balanced between visions of all
he must privately have guessed and certitudes that he had guessed
nothing whatever. He might nevertheless have been so urbanely
filling up gaps, at present, for the very reason that his
instinct, sharper than the expression of his face, had
sufficiently served him--made him aware of the thin ice,
figuratively speaking, and of prolongations of tension, round
about him, mostly foreign to the circles in which luxury was akin
to virtue. Some day in some happier season, she would confess to
him that she hadn't confessed, though taking so much on her
conscience; but just now she was carrying in her weak, stiffened
hand a glass filled to the brim, as to which she had recorded a
vow that no drop should overflow. She feared the very breath of a
better wisdom, the jostle of the higher light, of heavenly help
itself; and, in addition, however that might be, she drew breath
this afternoon, as never yet, in an element heavy to oppression.
Something grave had happened, somehow and somewhere, and she had,
God knew, her choice of suppositions: her heart stood still when
she wondered above all if the cord mightn't at last have snapped
between her husband and her father. She shut her eyes for dismay
at the possibility of such a passage--there moved before them the
procession of ugly forms it might have taken. "Find out for
yourself!" she had thrown to Amerigo, for her last word, on the
question of who else "knew," that night of the breaking of the
Bowl; and she flattered herself that she hadn't since then helped
him, in her clear consistency, by an inch. It was what she had
given him, all these weeks, to be busy with, and she had again
and again lain awake for the obsession of this sense of his
uncertainty ruthlessly and endlessly playing with his dignity.
She had handed him over to an ignorance that couldn't even try to
become indifferent and that yet wouldn't project itself, either,
into the cleared air of conviction. In proportion as he was
generous it had bitten into his spirit, and more than once she
had said to herself that to break the spell she had cast upon him
and that the polished old ivory of her father's inattackable
surface made so absolute, he would suddenly commit some mistake
or some violence, smash some windowpane for air, fail even of one
of his blest inveteracies of taste. In that way, fatally, he
would have put himself in the wrong--blighting by a single false
step the perfection of his outward show.

These shadows rose and fell for her while Father Mitchell
prattled; with other shadows as well, those that hung over
Charlotte herself, those that marked her as a prey to equal
suspicions--to the idea, in particular, of a change, such a
change as she didn't dare to face, in the relations of the two
men. Or there were yet other possibilities, as it seemed to
Maggie; there were always too many, and all of them things of
evil when one's nerves had at last done for one all that nerves
could do; had left one in a darkness of prowling dangers that was
like the predicament of the night-watcher in a beast-haunted land
who has no more means for a fire. She might, with such nerves,
have supposed almost anything of any one; anything, almost, of
poor Bob Assingham, condemned to eternal observances and solemnly
appreciating her father's wine; anything, verily, yes, of the
good priest, as he finally sat back with fat folded hands and
twiddled his thumbs on his stomach. The good priest looked hard
at the decanters, at the different dishes of dessert--he eyed
them, half-obliquely, as if THEY might have met him to-day, for
conversation, better than any one present. But the Princess had
her fancy at last about that too; she was in the midst of a
passage, before she knew it, between Father Mitchell and
Charlotte--some approach he would have attempted with her, that
very morning perhaps, to the circumstance of an apparent
detachment, recently noted in her, from any practice of devotion.
He would have drawn from this, say, his artless inference--taken
it for a sign of some smothered inward trouble and pointed,
naturally, the moral that the way out of such straits was not
through neglect of the grand remedy. He had possibly prescribed
contrition--he had at any rate quickened in her the beat of that
false repose to which our young woman's own act had devoted her
at her all so deluded instance. The falsity of it had laid traps
compared to which the imputation of treachery even accepted might
have seemed a path of roses. The acceptance, strangely, would
have left her nothing to do--she could have remained, had she
liked, all insolently passive; whereas the failure to proceed
against her, as it might have been called, left her everything,
and all the more that it was wrapped so in confidence. She had to
confirm, day after day, the rightness of her cause and the
justice and felicity of her exemption--so that wouldn't there
have been, fairly, in any explicit concern of Father Mitchell's,
depths of practical derision of her success?

The question was provisionally answered, at all events, by the
time the party at luncheon had begun to disperse--with Maggie's
version of Mrs. Verver sharp to the point of representing her
pretext for absence as a positive flight from derision. She met
the good priest's eyes before they separated, and priests were
really, at the worst, so to speak, such wonderful people that she
believed him for an instant on the verge of saying to her, in
abysmal softness: "Go to Mrs. Verver, my child--YOU go: you'll
find that you can help her." This didn't come, however; nothing
came but the renewed twiddle of thumbs over the satisfied stomach
and the full flush, the comical candour, of reference to the hand
employed at Fawns for mayonnaise of salmon. Nothing came but the
receding backs of each of the others--her father's slightly bent
shoulders, in especial, which seemed to weave his spell, by the
force of habit, not less patiently than if his wife had been
present. Her husband indeed was present to feel anything there
might be to feel--which was perhaps exactly why this personage
was moved promptly to emulate so definite an example of
"sloping." He had his occupations--books to arrange perhaps even
at Fawns; the idea of the siesta, moreover, in all the
conditions, had no need to be loudly invoked. Maggie, was, in the
event, left alone for a minute with Mrs. Assingham, who, after
waiting for safety, appeared to have at heart to make a
demonstration. The stage of "talking over" had long passed for
them; when they communicated now it was on quite ultimate facts;
but Fanny desired to testify to the existence, on her part, of an
attention that nothing escaped. She was like the kind lady who,
happening to linger at the circus while the rest of the
spectators pour grossly through the exits, falls in with the
overworked little trapezist girl--the acrobatic support
presumably of embarrassed and exacting parents--and gives her, as
an obscure and meritorious artist, assurance of benevolent
interest. What was clearest, always, in our young woman's
imaginings, was the sense of being herself left, for any
occasion, in the breach. She was essentially there to bear the
burden, in the last resort, of surrounding omissions and
evasions, and it was eminently to that office she had been to-day
abandoned--with this one alleviation, as appeared, of Mrs.
Assingham's keeping up with her. Mrs. Assingham suggested that
she too was still on the ramparts--though her gallantry proved
indeed after a moment to consist not a little of her curiosity.
She had looked about and seen their companions beyond earshot.

"Don't you really want us to go--?"

Maggie found a faint smile. "Do you really want to--?"

It made her friend colour. "Well then--no. But we WOULD, you
know, at a look from you. We'd pack up and be off--as a
sacrifice."

"Ah, make no sacrifice," said Maggie. "See me through."

"That's it--that's all I want. I should be too base--! Besides,"
Fanny went on, "you're too splendid."

"Splendid?"

"Splendid. Also, you know, you ARE all but 'through.' You've done
it," said Mrs. Assingham. But Maggie only half took it from her.

"What does it strike you that I've done?"

"What you wanted. They're going."

Maggie continued to look at her. "Is that what I wanted?"

"Oh, it wasn't for you to say. That was his business."

"My father's?" Maggie asked after an hesitation.

"Your father's. He has chosen--and now she knows. She sees it all
before her--and she can't speak, or resist, or move a little
finger. That's what's the matter with HER," said Fanny Assingham.

It made a picture, somehow, for the Princess, as they stood
there--the picture that the words of others, whatever they might
be, always made for her, even when her vision was already
charged, better than any words of her own. She saw, round about
her, through the chinks of the shutters, the hard glare of
nature--saw Charlotte, somewhere in it, virtually at bay, and yet
denied the last grace of any protecting truth. She saw her off
somewhere all unaided, pale in her silence and taking in her
fate. "Has she told you?" she then asked.

Her companion smiled superior. "_I_ don't need to be told--
either! I see something, thank God, every day." And then as
Maggie might appear to be wondering what, for instance: "I see
the long miles of ocean and the dreadful great country, State
after State--which have never seemed to me so big or so terrible.
I see THEM at last, day by day and step by step, at the far end--
and I see them never come back. But NEVER--simply. I see the
extraordinary 'interesting' place--which I've never been to, you
know, and you have--and the exact degree in which she will be
expected to be interested."

"She WILL be," Maggie presently replied. "Expected?"

"Interested."

For a little, after this, their eyes met on it; at the end of
which Fanny said: "She'll be--yes--what she'll HAVE to be. And it
will be--won't it? for ever and ever." She spoke as abounding in
her friend's sense, but it made Maggie still only look at her.

These were large words and large visions--all the more that now,
really, they spread and spread. In the midst of them, however,
Mrs. Assingham had soon enough continued. "When I talk of
'knowing,' indeed, I don't mean it as you would have a right to
do. You know because you see--and I don't see HIM. I don't make
him out," she almost crudely confessed.

Maggie again hesitated. "You mean you don't make out Amerigo?"

But Fanny shook her head, and it was quite as if, as an appeal to
one's intelligence, the making out of Amerigo had, in spite of
everything, long been superseded. Then Maggie measured the reach
of her allusion, and how what she next said gave her meaning a
richness. No other name was to be spoken, and Mrs. Assingham had
taken that, without delay, from her eyes--with a discretion,
still, that fell short but by an inch. "You know how he feels."

Maggie at this then slowly matched her headshake. "I know
nothing."

"You know how YOU feel."

But again she denied it. "I know nothing. If I did--!"

"Well, if you did?" Fanny asked as she faltered.

She had had enough, however. "I should die," she said as she
turned away.

She went to her room, through the quiet house; she roamed there a
moment, picking up, pointlessly, a different fan, and then took
her way to the shaded apartments in which, at this hour, the
Principino would be enjoying his nap. She passed through the
first empty room, the day nursery, and paused at an open door.
The inner room, large, dim and cool, was equally calm; her boy's
ample, antique, historical, royal crib, consecrated, reputedly,
by the guarded rest of heirs-apparent, and a gift, early in his
career, from his grandfather, ruled the scene from the centre, in
the stillness of which she could almost hear the child's soft
breathing. The prime protector of his dreams was installed beside
him; her father sat there with as little motion--with head thrown
back and supported, with eyes apparently closed, with the fine
foot that was so apt to betray nervousness at peace upon the
other knee, with the unfathomable heart folded in the constant
flawless freshness of the white waistcoat that could always
receive in its armholes the firm prehensile thumbs. Mrs. Noble
had majestically melted, and the whole place signed her temporary
abdication; yet the actual situation was regular, and Maggie
lingered but to look. She looked over her fan, the top of which
was pressed against her face, long enough to wonder if her father
really slept or if, aware of her, he only kept consciously quiet.
Did his eyes truly fix her between lids partly open, and was she
to take this--his forebearance from any question--only as a sign
again that everything was left to her? She at all events, for a
minute, watched his immobility--then, as if once more renewing
her total submission, returned, without a sound, to her own
quarters.

A strange impulse was sharp in her, but it was not, for her part,
the desire to shift the weight. She could as little have slept as
she could have slept that morning, days before, when she had
watched the first dawn from her window. Turned to the east, this
side of her room was now in shade, with the two wings of the
casement folded back and the charm she always found in her
seemingly perched position--as if her outlook, from above the
high terraces, was that of some castle-tower mounted on a rock.
When she stood there she hung over, over the gardens and the
woods--all of which drowsed below her, at this hour, in the
immensity of light. The miles of shade looked hot, the banks of
flowers looked dim; the peacocks on the balustrades let their
tails hang limp and the smaller birds lurked among the leaves.
Nothing therefore would have appeared to stir in the brilliant
void if Maggie, at the moment she was about to turn away, had not
caught sight of a moving spot, a clear green sunshade in the act
of descending a flight of steps. It passed down from the terrace,
receding, at a distance, from sight, and carried, naturally, so
as to conceal the head and back of its bearer; but Maggie had
quickly recognised the white dress and the particular motion of
this adventurer--had taken in that Charlotte, of all people, had
chosen the glare of noon for an exploration of the gardens, and
that she could be betaking herself only to some unvisited quarter
deep in them, or beyond them, that she had already marked as a
superior refuge. The Princess kept her for a few minutes in
sight, watched her long enough to feel her, by the mere betrayal
of her pace and direction, driven in a kind of flight, and then
understood, for herself, why the act of sitting still had become
impossible to either of them. There came to her, confusedly, some
echo of an ancient fable--some vision of Io goaded by the gadfly
or of Ariadne roaming the lone sea-strand. It brought with it all
the sense of her own intention and desire; she too might have
been, for the hour, some far-off harassed heroine--only with a
part to play for which she knew, exactly, no inspiring precedent.
She knew but that, all the while--all the while of her sitting
there among the others without her--she had wanted to go straight
to this detached member of the party and make somehow, for her
support, the last demonstration. A pretext was all that was
needful, and Maggie after another instant had found one.
She had caught a glimpse, before Mrs. Verver disappeared, of her
carrying a book--made out, half lost in the folds of her white
dress, the dark cover of a volume that was to explain her purpose
in case of her being met with surprise, and the mate of which,
precisely, now lay on Maggie's table. The book was an old novel
that the Princess had a couple of days before mentioned having
brought down from Portland Place in the charming original form of
its three volumes. Charlotte had hailed, with a specious glitter
of interest, the opportunity to read it, and our young woman had,
thereupon, on the morrow, directed her maid to carry it to Mrs.
Verver's apartments. She was afterwards to observe that this
messenger, unintelligent or inadvertent, had removed but one of
the volumes, which happened not to be the first. Still possessed,
accordingly, of the first while Charlotte, going out,
fantastically, at such an hour, to cultivate romance in an
arbour, was helplessly armed with the second, Maggie prepared on
the spot to sally forth with succour. The right volume, with a
parasol, was all she required--in addition, that is, to the
bravery of her general idea. She passed again through the house,
unchallenged, and emerged upon the terrace, which she followed,
hugging the shade, with that consciousness of turning the tables
on her friend which we have already noted. But so far as she
went, after descending into the open and beginning to explore the
grounds, Mrs. Verver had gone still further--with the increase of
the oddity, moreover, of her having exchanged the protection of
her room for these exposed and shining spaces. It was not,
fortunately, however, at last, that by persisting in pursuit one
didn't arrive at regions of admirable shade: this was the asylum,
presumably, that the poor wandering woman had had in view--
several wide alleys, in particular, of great length, densely
overarched with the climbing rose and the honeysuckle and
converging, in separate green vistas, at a sort of umbrageous
temple, an ancient rotunda, pillared and statued, niched and
roofed, yet with its uncorrected antiquity, like that of
everything else at Fawns, conscious hitherto of no violence from
the present and no menace from the future. Charlotte had paused
there, in her frenzy, or what ever it was to be called; the place
was a conceivable retreat, and she was staring before her, from
the seat to which she appeared to have sunk, all unwittingly, as
Maggie stopped at the beginning of one of the perspectives.

It was a repetition more than ever then of the evening on the
terrace; the distance was too great to assure her she had been
immediately seen, but the Princess waited, with her intention, as
Charlotte on the other occasion had waited--allowing, oh
allowing, for the difference of the intention! Maggie was full of
the sense of THAT--so full that it made her impatient; whereupon
she moved forward a little, placing herself in range of the eyes
that had been looking off elsewhere, but that she had suddenly
called to recognition. Charlotte had evidently not dreamed of
being followed, and instinctively, with her pale stare, she
stiffened herself for protest. Maggie could make that out--as
well as, further, however, that her second impression of her
friend's approach had an instant effect on her attitude. The
Princess came nearer, gravely and in silence, but fairly paused
again, to give her time for whatever she would. Whatever she
would, whatever she could, was what Maggie wanted--wanting above
all to make it as easy for her as the case permitted. That was
not what Charlotte had wanted the other night, but this never
mattered--the great thing was to allow her, was fairly to produce
in her, the sense of highly choosing. At first, clearly, she had
been frightened; she had not been pursued, it had quickly struck
her, without some design on the part of her pursuer, and what
might she not be thinking of in addition but the way she had,
when herself the pursuer, made her stepdaughter take in her
spirit and her purpose? It had sunk into Maggie at the time, that
hard insistence, and Mrs. Verver had felt it and seen it and
heard it sink; which wonderful remembrance of pressure
successfully applied had naturally, till now, remained with her.
But her stare was like a projected fear that the buried treasure,
so dishonestly come by, for which her companion's still
countenance, at the hour and afterwards, had consented to serve
as the deep soil, might have worked up again to the surface, to
be thrown back upon her hands. Yes, it was positive that during
one of these minutes the Princess had the vision of her
particular alarm. "It's her lie, it's her lie that has mortally
disagreed with her; she can keep down no longer her rebellion at
it, and she has come to retract it, to disown it and denounce
it--to give me full in my face the truth instead." This, for a
concentrated instant, Maggie felt her helplessly gasp--but only
to let it bring home the indignity, the pity of her state. She
herself could but tentatively hover, place in view the book she
carried, look as little dangerous, look as abjectly mild, as
possible; remind herself really of people she had read about in
stories of the wild west, people who threw up their hands, on
certain occasions, as a sign they weren't carrying revolvers. She
could almost have smiled at last, troubled as she yet knew
herself, to show how richly she was harmless; she held up her
volume, which was so weak a weapon, and while she continued, for
consideration, to keep her distance, she explained with as
quenched a quaver as possible. "I saw you come out--saw you from
my window, and couldn't bear to think you should find yourself
here without the beginning of your book. THIS is the beginning;
you've got the wrong volume, and I've brought you out the right."

She remained after she had spoken; it was like holding a parley
with a possible adversary, and her intense, her exalted little
smile asked for formal leave. "May I come nearer now?" she seemed
to say--as to which, however, the next minute, she saw
Charlotte's reply lose itself in a strange process, a thing of
several sharp stages, which she could stand there and trace. The
dread, after a minute, had dropped from her face; though,
discernibly enough, she still couldn't believe in her having, in
so strange a fashion, been deliberately made up to. If she had
been made up to, at least, it was with an idea--the idea that had
struck her at first as necessarily dangerous. That it wasn't,
insistently wasn't, this shone from Maggie with a force finally
not to be resisted; and on that perception, on the immense relief
so constituted, everything had by the end of three minutes
extraordinarily changed. Maggie had come out to her, really,
because she knew her doomed, doomed to a separation that was like
a knife in her heart; and in the very sight of her
uncontrollable, her blinded physical quest of a peace not to be
grasped, something of Mrs. Assingham's picture of her as thrown,
for a grim future, beyond the great sea and the great continent
had at first found fulfilment. She had got away, in this
fashion--burning behind her, almost, the ships of disguise--to
let her horror of what was before her play up without witnesses;
and even after Maggie's approach had presented an innocent front
it was still not to be mistaken that she bristled with the signs
of her extremity. It was not to be said for them, either, that
they were draped at this hour in any of her usual graces;
unveiled and all but unashamed, they were tragic to the Princess
in spite of the dissimulation that, with the return of
comparative confidence, was so promptly to operate. How tragic,
in essence, the very change made vivid, the instant stiffening of
the spring of pride--this for possible defence if not for
possible aggression. Pride indeed, the next moment, had become
the mantle caught up for protection and perversity; she flung it
round her as a denial of any loss of her freedom. To be doomed
was, in her situation, to have extravagantly incurred a doom, so
that to confess to wretchedness was, by the same stroke, to
confess to falsity. She wouldn't confess, she didn't--a thousand
times no; she only cast about her, and quite frankly and
fiercely, for something else that would give colour to her having
burst her bonds. Her eyes expanded, her bosom heaved as she
invoked it, and the effect upon Maggie was verily to wish she
could only help her to it. She presently got up--which seemed to
mean "Oh, stay if you like!" and when she had moved about awhile
at random, looking away, looking at anything, at everything but
her visitor; when she had spoken of the temperature and declared
that she revelled in it; when she had uttered her thanks for the
book, which, a little incoherently, with her second volume, she
perhaps found less clever than she expected; when she had let
Maggie approach sufficiently closer to lay, untouched, the
tribute in question on a bench and take up obligingly its
superfluous mate: when she had done these things she sat down in
another place, more or less visibly in possession of her part.
Our young woman was to have passed, in all her adventure, no
stranger moments; for she not only now saw her companion fairly
agree to take her then for the poor little person she was finding
it so easy to appear, but fell, in a secret, responsive ecstasy,
to wondering if there were not some supreme abjection with which
she might be inspired. Vague, but increasingly brighter, this
possibility glimmered on her. It at last hung there adequately
plain to Charlotte that she had presented herself once more to
(as they said) grovel; and that, truly, made the stage large. It
had absolutely, within the time, taken on the dazzling merit of
being large for each of them alike.

"I'm glad to see you alone--there's something I've been wanting
to say to you. I'm tired," said Mrs. Verver, "I'm tired--!"

"Tired--?" It had dropped the next thing; it couldn't all come at
once; but Maggie had already guessed what it was, and the flush
of recognition was in her face.

"Tired of this life--the one we've been leading. You like it, I
know, but I've dreamed another dream." She held up her head now;
her lighted eyes more triumphantly rested; she was finding, she
was following her way. Maggie, by the same influence, sat in
sight of it; there was something she was SAVING, some quantity of
which she herself was judge; and it was for a long moment, even
with the sacrifice the Princess had come to make, a good deal
like watching her, from the solid shore, plunge into uncertain,
into possibly treacherous depths. "I see something else," she
went on; "I've an idea that greatly appeals to me--I've had it
for a long time. It has come over me that we're wrong. Our real
life isn't here."

Maggie held her breath. "'Ours'--?"

"My husband's and mine. I'm not speaking for you."

"Oh!" said Maggie, only praying not to be, not even to appear,
stupid.

"I'm speaking for ourselves. I'm speaking," Charlotte brought
out, "for HIM."

"I see. For my father."

"For your father. For whom else?" They looked at each other hard
now, but Maggie's face took refuge in the intensity of her
interest. She was not at all even so stupid as to treat her
companion's question as requiring an answer; a discretion that
her controlled stillness had after an instant justified. "I
must risk your thinking me selfish--for of course you know what
it involves. Let me admit it--I AM selfish. I place my husband
first."

"Well," said Maggie smiling and smiling, "since that's where I
place mine--!"

"You mean you'll have no quarrel with me? So much the better
then; for," Charlotte went on with a higher and higher flight,
"my plan is completely formed."

Maggie waited--her glimmer had deepened; her chance somehow was
at hand. The only danger was her spoiling it; she felt herself
skirting an abyss. "What then, may I ask IS your plan?"

It hung fire but ten seconds; it came out sharp. "To take him
home--to his real position. And not to wait."

"Do you mean--a--this season?"

"I mean immediately. And--I may as well tell you now--I mean for
my own time. I want," Charlotte said, "to have him at last a
little to myself; I want, strange as it may seem to you"--and she
gave it all its weight "to KEEP the man I've married. And to do
so, I see, I must act."

Maggie, with the effort still to follow the right line, felt
herself colour to the eyes. "Immediately?" she thoughtfully
echoed.

"As soon as we can get off. The removal of everything is, after
all, but a detail. That can always be done; with money, as he
spends it, everything can. What I ask for," Charlotte declared,
"is the definite break. And I wish it now." With which her head,
like her voice rose higher. "Oh," she added, "I know my
difficulty!"

Far down below the level of attention, in she could scarce have
said what sacred depths, Maggie's inspiration had come, and it
had trembled the next moment into sound. "Do you mean I'M your
difficulty?"

"You and he together--since it's always with you that I've had to
see him. But it's a difficulty that I'm facing, if you wish to
know; that I've already faced; that I propose to myself to
surmount. The struggle with it--none too pleasant--hasn't been
for me, as you may imagine, in itself charming; I've felt in it
at times, if I must tell you all, too great and too strange, an
ugliness. Yet I believe it may succeed."

She had risen, with this, Mrs. Verver, and had moved, for the
emphasis of it, a few steps away; while Maggie, motionless at
first, but sat and looked at her. "You want to take my father
FROM me?"

The sharp, successful, almost primitive wail in it made Charlotte
turn, and this movement attested for the Princess the felicity of
her deceit. Something in her throbbed as it had throbbed the
night she stood in the drawing-room and denied that she had
suffered. She was ready to lie again if her companion would but
give her the opening. Then she should know she had done all.
Charlotte looked at her hard, as if to compare her face with her
note of resentment; and Maggie, feeling this, met it with the
signs of an impression that might pass for the impression of
defeat. "I want really to possess him," said Mrs. Verver. "I
happen also to feel that he's worth it."

Maggie rose as if to receive her. "Oh--worth it!" she wonderfully
threw off.

The tone, she instantly saw, again had its effect: Charlotte
flamed aloft--might truly have been believing in her passionate
parade. "You've thought YOU'VE known what he's worth?"

"Indeed then, my dear, I believe I have--as I believe I still
do."

She had given it, Maggie, straight back, and again it had not
missed. Charlotte, for another moment, only looked at her; then
broke into the words--Maggie had known they would come--of which
she had pressed the spring. "How I see that you loathed our
marriage!"

"Do you ASK me?" Maggie after an instant demanded.

Charlotte had looked about her, picked up the parasol she had
laid on a bench, possessed herself mechanically of one of the
volumes of the relegated novel and then, more consciously, flung
it down again: she was in presence, visibly, of her last word.
She opened her sunshade with a click; she twirled it on her
shoulder in her pride. "'Ask' you? Do I need? How I see," she
broke out, "that you've worked against me!"

"Oh, oh, oh!" the Princess exclaimed.

Her companion, leaving her, had reached one of the archways, but
on this turned round with a flare. "You haven't worked against
me?"

Maggie took it and for a moment kept it; held it, with closed
eyes, as if it had been some captured fluttering bird pressed by
both hands to her breast. Then she opened her eyes to speak.
"What does it matter--if I've failed?"

"You recognise then that you've failed?" asked Charlotte from the
threshold.

Maggie waited; she looked, as her companion had done a moment
before, at the two books on the seat; she put them together and
laid them down; then she made up her mind. "I've failed!" she
sounded out before Charlotte, having given her time, walked away.
She watched her, splendid and erect, float down the long vista;
then she sank upon a seat. Yes, she had done all.



PART SIXTH.

                             XL

"I'll do anything you like," she said to her husband on one of
the last days of the month, "if our being here, this way at this
time, seems to you too absurd, or too uncomfortable, or too
impossible. We'll either take leave of them now, without
waiting--or we'll come back in time, three days before they
start. I'll go abroad with you, if you but say the word; to
Switzerland, the Tyrol, the Italian Alps, to whichever of your
old high places you would like most to see again--those beautiful
ones that used to do you good after Rome and that you so often
told me about."

Where they were, in the conditions that prompted this offer, and
where it might indeed appear ridiculous that, with the stale
London September close at hand, they should content themselves
with remaining, was where the desert of Portland Place looked
blank as it had never looked, and where a drowsy cabman, scanning
the horizon for a fare, could sink to oblivion of the risks of
immobility. But Amerigo was of the odd opinion, day after day,
that their situation couldn't be bettered; and he even went at no
moment through the form of replying that, should their ordeal
strike her as exceeding their patience, any step they might take
would be for her own relief. This was, no doubt, partly because
he stood out so wonderfully, to the end, against admitting, by a
weak word at least, that any element of their existence WAS, or
ever had been, an ordeal; no trap of circumstance, no lapse of
"form," no accident of irritation, had landed him in that
inconsequence. His wife might verily have suggested that he was
consequent--consequent with the admirable appearance he had from
the first so undertaken, and so continued, to present--rather too
rigidly at HER expense; only, as it happened, she was not the
little person to do anything of the sort, and the strange tacit
compact actually in operation between them might have been
founded on an intelligent comparison, a definite collation
positively, of the kinds of patience proper to each. She was
seeing him through--he had engaged to come out at the right end
if she WOULD see him: this understanding, tacitly renewed from
week to week, had fairly received, with the procession of the
weeks, the consecration of time; but it scarce needed to be
insisted on that she was seeing him on HIS terms, not all on
hers, or that, in other words, she must allow him his unexplained
and uncharted, his one practicably workable way. If that way, by
one of the intimate felicities the liability to which was so far
from having even yet completely fallen from him, happened
handsomely to show him as more bored than boring (with advantages
of his own freely to surrender, but none to be persuadedly
indebted to others for,) what did such a false face of the matter
represent but the fact itself that she was pledged? If she had
questioned or challenged or interfered--if she had reserved
herself that right--she wouldn't have been pledged; whereas there
were still, and evidently would be yet a while, long, tense
stretches during which their case might have been hanging, for
every eye, on her possible, her impossible defection. She must
keep it up to the last, mustn't absent herself for three minutes
from her post: only on those lines, assuredly, would she show
herself as with him and not against him.

It was extraordinary how scant a series of signs she had invited
him to make of being, of truly having been at any time, "with"
his wife: that reflection she was not exempt from as they now, in
their suspense, supremely waited--a reflection under the brush of
which she recognised her having had, in respect to him as well,
to "do all," to go the whole way over, to move, indefatigably,
while he stood as fixed in his place as some statue of one of his
forefathers. The meaning of it would seem to be, she reasoned in
sequestered hours, that he HAD a place, and that this was an
attribute somehow indefeasible, unquenchable, which laid upon
others--from the moment they definitely wanted anything of him--
the necessity of taking more of the steps that he could, of
circling round him, of remembering for his benefit the famous
relation of the mountain to Mahomet. It was strange, if one had
gone into it, but such a place as Amerigo's was like something
made for him beforehand by innumerable facts, facts largely of
the sort known as historical, made by ancestors, examples,
traditions, habits; while Maggie's own had come to show simply as
that improvised "post"--a post of the kind spoken of as
advanced--with which she was to have found herself connected in
the fashion of a settler or a trader in a new country; in the
likeness even of some Indian squaw with a papoose on her back and
barbarous bead-work to sell. Maggie's own, in short, would have
been sought in vain in the most rudimentary map of the social
relations as such. The only geography marking it would be
doubtless that of the fundamental passions. The "end" that the
Prince was at all events holding out for was represented to
expectation by his father-in-law's announced departure for
America with Mrs. Verver; just as that prospective event had
originally figured as advising, for discretion, the flight of the
younger couple, to say nothing of the withdrawal of whatever
other importunate company, before the great upheaval of Fawns.
This residence was to be peopled for a month by porters, packers
and hammerers, at whose operations it had become peculiarly
public--public that is for Portland Place--that Charlotte was to
preside in force; operations the quite awful appointed scale and
style of which had at no moment loomed so large to Maggie's mind
as one day when the dear Assinghams swam back into her ken
besprinkled with sawdust and looking as pale as if they had seen
Samson pull down the temple. They had seen at least what she was
not seeing, rich dim things under the impression of which they
had retired; she having eyes at present but for the clock by
which she timed her husband, or for the glass--the image perhaps
would be truer--in which he was reflected to her as HE timed the
pair in the country. The accession of their friends from Cadogan
Place contributed to all their intermissions, at any rate, a
certain effect of resonance; an effect especially marked by the
upshot of a prompt exchange of inquiries between Mrs. Assingham
and the Princess. It was noted, on the occasion of that anxious
lady's last approach to her young friend at Fawns, that her
sympathy had ventured, after much accepted privation, again to
become inquisitive, and it had perhaps never so yielded to that
need as on this question of the present odd "line" of the
distinguished eccentrics.

"You mean to say really that you're going to stick here?" And
then before Maggie could answer: "What on earth will you do with
your evenings?"

Maggie waited a moment--Maggie could still tentatively smile.
"When people learn we're here--and of course the papers will be
full of it!--they'll flock back in their hundreds, from wherever
they are, to catch us. You see you and the Colonel have
yourselves done it. As for our evenings, they won't, I dare say,
be particularly different from anything else that's ours. They
won't be different from our mornings or our afternoons--except
perhaps that you two dears will sometimes help us to get through
them. I've offered to go anywhere," she added; "to take a house
if he will. But THIS--just this and nothing else--is Amerigo's
idea. He gave it yesterday" she went on, "a name that, as, he
said, described and fitted it. So you see"--and the Princess
indulged again in her smile that didn't play, but that only, as
might have been said, worked--"so you see there's a method in our
madness."

It drew Mrs. Assingham's wonder. "And what then is the name?"

"'The reduction to its simplest expression of what we ARE
doing'--that's what he called it. Therefore as we're doing
nothing, we're doing it in the most aggravated way--which is the
way he desires." With which Maggie further said: "Of course I
understand."

"So do I!" her visitor after a moment breathed. "You've had to
vacate the house--that was inevitable. But at least here he
doesn't funk."

Our young woman accepted the expression. "He doesn't funk."

It only, however, half contented Fanny, who thoughtfully raised
her eyebrows. "He's prodigious; but what is there--as you've
'fixed' it--TO dodge? Unless," she pursued, "it's her getting
near him; it's--if you'll pardon my vulgarity--her getting AT
him. That," she suggested, "may count with him."

But it found the Princess prepared. "She can get near him here.
She can get 'at' him. She can come up."

"CAN she?" Fanny Assingham questioned.

"CAN'T she?" Maggie returned.

Their eyes, for a minute, intimately met on it; after which the
elder woman said: "I mean for seeing him alone."

"So do I," said the Princess.

At which Fanny, for her reasons, couldn't help smiling. "Oh, if
it's for THAT he's staying--!"

"He's staying--I've made it out--to take anything that comes or
calls upon him. To take," Maggie went on, "even that." Then she
put it as she had at last put it to herself. "He's staying for
high decency."

"Decency?" Mrs. Assingham gravely echoed.

"Decency. If she SHOULD try--!"

"Well--?" Mrs. Assingham urged.

"Well, I hope--!"

"Hope he'll see her?"

Maggie hesitated, however; she made no direct reply. "It's
useless hoping," she presently said. "She won't. But he ought
to." Her friend's expression of a moment before, which had been
apologised for as vulgar, prolonged its sharpness to her ear--
that of an electric bell under continued pressure. Stated so
simply, what was it but dreadful, truly, that the feasibility of
Charlotte's "getting at" the man who for so long had loved her
should now be in question? Strangest of all things, doubtless,
this care of Maggie's as to what might make for it or make
against it; stranger still her fairly lapsing at moments into a
vague calculation of the conceivability, on her own part, with
her husband, of some direct sounding of the subject. Would it be
too monstrous, her suddenly breaking out to him as in alarm at
the lapse of the weeks: "Wouldn't it really seem that you're
bound in honour to do something for her, privately, before they
go?" Maggie was capable of weighing the risk of this adventure
for her own spirit, capable of sinking to intense little
absences, even while conversing, as now, with the person who had
most of her confidence, during which she followed up the
possibilities. It was true that Mrs. Assingham could at such
times somewhat restore the balance--by not wholly failing to
guess her thought. Her thought, however, just at present, had
more than one face--had a series that it successively presented.
These were indeed the possibilities involved in the adventure of
her concerning herself for the quantity of compensation that Mrs.
Verver might still look to. There was always the possibility that
she WAS, after all, sufficiently to get at him--there was in fact
that of her having again and again done so. Against this stood
nothing but Fanny Assingham's apparent belief in her privation--
more mercilessly imposed, or more hopelessly felt, in the actual
relation of the parties; over and beyond everything that, from
more than three months back, of course, had fostered in the
Princess a like conviction. These assumptions might certainly be
baseless--inasmuch as there were hours and hours of Amerigo's
time that there was no habit, no pretence of his accounting for;
inasmuch too as Charlotte, inevitably, had had more than once, to
the undisguised knowledge of the pair in Portland Place, been
obliged to come up to Eaton Square, whence so many of her
personal possessions were in course of removal. She didn't come
to Portland Place--didn't even come to ask for luncheon on two
separate occasions when it reached the consciousness of the
household there that she was spending the day in London. Maggie
hated, she scorned, to compare hours and appearances, to weigh
the idea of whether there hadn't been moments, during these days,
when an assignation, in easy conditions, a snatched interview, in
an air the season had so cleared of prying eyes, mightn't
perfectly work. But the very reason of this was partly that,
haunted with the vision of the poor woman carrying off with such
bravery as she found to her hand the secret of her not being
appeased, she was conscious of scant room for any alternative
image. The alternative image would have been that the secret
covered up was the secret of appeasement somehow obtained,
somehow extorted and cherished; and the difference between the
two kinds of hiding was too great to permit of a mistake.
Charlotte was hiding neither pride nor joy--she was hiding
humiliation; and here it was that the Princess's passion, so
powerless for vindictive flights, most inveterately bruised its
tenderness against the hard glass of her question.

Behind the glass lurked the WHOLE history of the relation she had
so fairly flattened her nose against it to penetrate--the glass
Mrs. Verver might, at this stage, have been frantically tapping,
from within, by way of supreme, irrepressible entreaty. Maggie
had said to herself complacently, after that last passage with
her stepmother in the garden of Fawns, that there was nothing
left for her to do and that she could thereupon fold her hands.
But why wasn't it still left to push further and, from the point
of view of personal pride, grovel lower?--why wasn't it still
left to offer herself as the bearer of a message reporting to him
their friend's anguish and convincing him of her need?

She could thus have translated Mrs. Verver's tap against the
glass, as I have called it, into fifty forms; could perhaps have
translated it most into the form of a reminder that would pierce
deep. "You don't know what it is to have been loved and broken
with. You haven't been broken with, because in your RELATION what
can there have been, worth speaking of, to break? Ours was
everything a relation could be, filled to the brim with the wine
of consciousness; and if it was to have no meaning, no better
meaning than that such a creature as you could breathe upon it,
at your hour, for blight, why was I myself dealt with all for
deception? why condemned after a couple of short years to find
the golden flame--oh, the golden flame!--a mere handful of black
ashes?" Our young woman so yielded, at moments, to what was
insidious in these foredoomed ingenuities of her pity, that for
minutes together, sometimes, the weight of a new duty seemed to
rest upon her--the duty of speaking before separation should
constitute its chasm, of pleading for some benefit that might be
carried away into exile like the last saved object of price of
the emigre, the jewel wrapped in a piece of old silk and
negotiable some day in the market of misery.

This imagined service to the woman who could no longer help
herself was one of the traps set for Maggie's spirit at every
turn of the road; the click of which, catching and holding the
divine faculty fast, was followed inevitably by a flutter, by a
struggle of wings and even, as we may say, by a scattering of
fine feathers. For they promptly enough felt, these yearnings of
thought and excursions of sympathy, the concussion that couldn't
bring them down--the arrest produced by the so remarkably
distinct figure that, at Fawns, for the previous weeks, was
constantly crossing, in its regular revolution, the further end
of any watched perspective. Whoever knew, or whoever didn't,
whether or to what extent Charlotte, with natural business in
Eaton Square, had shuffled other opportunities under that cloak,
it was all matter for the kind of quiet ponderation the little
man who so kept his wandering way had made his own. It was part
of the very inveteracy of his straw hat and his white waistcoat,
of the trick of his hands in his pockets, of the detachment of
the attention he fixed on his slow steps from behind his secure
pince-nez. The thing that never failed now as an item in the
picture was that gleam of the silken noose, his wife's immaterial
tether, so marked to Maggie's sense during her last month in the
country. Mrs. Verver's straight neck had certainly not slipped
it; nor had the other end of the long cord--oh, quite
conveniently long!--disengaged its smaller loop from the hooked
thumb that, with his fingers closed upon it, her husband kept out
of sight. To have recognised, for all its tenuity, the play of
this gathered lasso might inevitably be to wonder with what magic
it was twisted, to what tension subjected, but could never be to
doubt either of its adequacy to its office or of its perfect
durability. These reminded states for the Princess were in fact
states of renewed gaping. So many things her father knew that she
even yet didn't!

All this, at present, with Mrs. Assingham, passed through her in
quick vibrations. She had expressed, while the revolution of her
thought was incomplete, the idea of what Amerigo "ought," on his
side, in the premises, to be capable of, and then had felt her
companion's answering stare. But she insisted on what she had
meant. "He ought to wish to see her--and I mean in some protected
and independent way, as he used to--in case of her being herself
able to manage it. That," said Maggie with the courage of her
conviction, "he ought to be ready, he ought to be happy, he ought
to feel himself sworn--little as it is for the end of such a
history!--to take from her. It's as if he wished to get off
without taking anything."

Mrs. Assingham deferentially mused. "But for what purpose is it
your idea that they should again so intimately meet?"

"For any purpose they like. That's THEIR affair."

Fanny Assingham sharply laughed, then irrepressibly fell back to
her constant position. "You're splendid--perfectly splendid." To
which, as the Princess, shaking an impatient head, wouldn't have
it again at all, she subjoined: "Or if you're not it's because
you're so sure. I mean sure of HIM."

"Ah, I'm exactly NOT sure of him. If I were sure of him I
shouldn't doubt--!" But Maggie cast about her.

"Doubt what?" Fanny pressed as she waited.

"Well, that he must feel how much less than she he pays--and how
that ought to keep her present to him."

This, in its turn, after an instant, Mrs. Assingham could meet
with a smile. "Trust him, my dear, to keep her present! But trust
him also to keep himself absent. Leave him his own way."

"I'll leave him everything," said Maggie. "Only--you know it's my
nature--I THINK."

"It's your nature to think too much," Fanny Assingham a trifle
coarsely risked.

This but quickened, however, in the Princess the act she
reprobated. "That may be. But if I hadn't thought--!"

"You wouldn't, you mean, have been where you are?"

"Yes, because they, on their side, thought of everything BUT
that. They thought of everything but that I might think."

"Or even," her friend too superficially concurred, "that your
father might!"

As to this, at all events, Maggie discriminated. "No, that
wouldn't have prevented them; for they knew that his first care
would be not to make me do so. As it is," Maggie added, "that has
had to become his last."

Fanny Assingham took it in deeper--for what it immediately made
her give out louder. "HE'S splendid then." She sounded it almost
aggressively; it was what she was reduced to--she had positively
to place it.

"Ah, that as much as you please!"

Maggie said this and left it, but the tone of it had the next
moment determined in her friend a fresh reaction. "You think,
both of you, so abysmally and yet so quietly. But it's what will
have saved you."

"Oh," Maggie returned, "it's what--from the moment they
discovered we could think at all--will have saved THEM. For
they're the ones who are saved," she went on. "We're the ones who
are lost."

"Lost--?"

"Lost to each other--father and I" And then as her friend
appeared to demur, "Oh yes," Maggie quite lucidly declared, "lost
to each other much more, really, than Amerigo and Charlotte are;
since for them it's just, it's right, it's deserved, while for us
it's only sad and strange and not caused by our fault. But I
don't know," she went on, "why I talk about myself, for it's on
father it really comes. I let him go," said Maggie.

"You let him, but you don't make him."

"I take it from him," she answered.

"But what else can you do?"

"I take it from him," the Princess repeated. "I do what I knew
from the first I SHOULD do. I get off by giving him up."

"But if he gives you?" Mrs. Assingham presumed to object.
"Doesn't it moreover then," she asked, "complete the very purpose
with which he married--that of making you and leaving you more
free?"

Maggie looked at her long. "Yes--I help him to do that."

Mrs. Assingham hesitated, but at last her bravery flared. "Why
not call it then frankly his complete success?"

"Well," said Maggie, "that's all that's left me to do."

"It's a success," her friend ingeniously developed, "with which
you've simply not interfered." And as if to show that she spoke
without levity Mrs. Assingham went further. "He has made it a
success for THEM--!"

"Ah, there you are!" Maggie responsively mused. "Yes," she said
the next moment, "that's why Amerigo stays."

"Let alone it's why Charlotte goes." that Mrs. Assingham, and
emboldened, smiled "So he knows--?"

But Maggie hung back. "Amerigo--?" After which, however, she
blushed--to her companion's recognition.

"Your father. He knows what YOU know? I mean," Fanny faltered--
"well, how much does he know?" Maggie's silence and Maggie's eyes
had in fact arrested the push of the question--which, for a
decent consistency, she couldn't yet quite abandon. "What I
should rather say is does he know how much?" She found it still
awkward. "How much, I mean, they did. How far"--she touched it
up--"they went."

Maggie had waited, but only with a question. "Do you think he
does?"

"Know at least something? Oh, about him I can't think. He's
beyond me," said Fanny Assingham.

"Then do you yourself know?"

"How much--?"

"How much."

"How far--?"

"How far."

Fanny had appeared to wish to make sure, but there was something
she remembered--remembered in time and even with a smile. "I've
told you before that I know absolutely nothing."

"Well--that's what _I_ know," said the Princess.

Her friend again hesitated. "Then nobody knows--? I mean," Mrs.
Assingham explained, "how much your father does."

Oh, Maggie showed that she understood. "Nobody."

"Not--a little--Charlotte?"

"A little?" the Princess echoed. "To know anything would be, for
her, to know enough."

"And she doesn't know anything?"

"If she did," Maggie answered, "Amerigo would."

"And that's just it--that he doesn't?"

"That's just it," said the Princess profoundly.

On which Mrs. Assingham reflected. "Then how is Charlotte so
held?"

"Just by that."

"By her ignorance?"

"By her ignorance." Fanny wondered. "A torment--?"

"A torment," said Maggie with tears in her eyes.

Her companion a moment watched them. But the Prince then--?"

"How is HE held?" Maggie asked.

"How is HE held?"

"Oh, I can't tell you that!" And the Princess again broke off.



                            XLI

A telegram, in Charlotte's name, arrived early--"We shall come
and ask you for tea at five, if convenient to you. Am wiring for
the Assinghams to lunch." This document, into which meanings were
to be read, Maggie promptly placed before her husband, adding the
remark that her father and his wife, who would have come up the
previous night or that morning, had evidently gone to an hotel.
The Prince was in his "own" room, where he often sat now alone;
half-a-dozen open newspapers, the "Figaro" notably, as well as
the "Times," were scattered about him; but, with a cigar in his
teeth and a visible cloud on his brow, he appeared actually to be
engaged in walking to and fro. Never yet, on thus approaching
him--for she had done it of late, under one necessity or another,
several times--had a particular impression so greeted her;
supremely strong, for some reason, as he turned quickly round on
her entrance. The reason was partly the look in his face--a
suffusion like the flush of fever, which brought back to her
Fanny Assingham's charge, recently uttered under that roof, of
her "thinking" too impenetrably. The word had remained with her
and made her think still more; so that, at first, as she stood
there, she felt responsible for provoking on his part an
irritation of suspense at which she had not aimed. She had been
going about him these three months, she perfectly knew, with a
maintained idea--of which she had never spoken to him; but what
had at last happened was that his way of looking at her, on
occasion, seemed a perception of the presence not of one idea,
but of fifty, variously prepared for uses with which he somehow
must reckon. She knew herself suddenly, almost strangely, glad to
be coming to him, at this hour, with nothing more abstract than a
telegram; but even after she had stepped into his prison under
her pretext, while her eyes took in his face and then embraced
the four walls that enclosed his restlessness, she recognised the
virtual identity of his condition with that aspect of Charlotte's
situation for which, early in the summer and in all the amplitude
of a great residence, she had found, with so little seeking, the
similitude of the locked cage. He struck her as caged, the man
who couldn't now without an instant effect on her sensibility
give an instinctive push to the door she had not completely
closed behind her. He had been turning twenty ways, for
impatiences all his own, and when she was once shut in with him
it was yet again as if she had come to him in his more than
monastic cell to offer him light or food. There was a difference
none the less, between his captivity and Charlotte's--the
difference, as it might be, of his lurking there by his own act
and his own choice; the admission of which had indeed virtually
been in his starting, on her entrance, as if even this were in
its degree an interference. That was what betrayed for her,
practically, his fear of her fifty ideas, and what had begun,
after a minute, to make her wish to repudiate or explain. It was
more wonderful than she could have told; it was for all the world
as if she was succeeding with him beyond her intention. She had,
for these instants, the sense that he exaggerated, that the
imputation of purpose had fairly risen too high in him. She had
begun, a year ago, by asking herself how she could make him think
more of her; but what was it, after all, he was thinking now? He
kept his eyes on her telegram; he read it more than once, easy as
it was, in spite of its conveyed deprecation, to understand;
during which she found herself almost awestruck with yearning,
almost on the point of marking somehow what she had marked in the
garden at Fawns with Charlotte--that she had truly come unarmed.
She didn't bristle with intentions--she scarce knew, as he at
this juncture affected her, what had become of the only intention
she had come with. She had nothing but her old idea, the old one
he knew; she hadn't the ghost of another. Presently in fact, when
four or five minutes had elapsed, it was as if she positively,
hadn't so much even as that one. He gave her back her paper,
asking with it if there were anything in particular she wished
him to do.

She stood there with her eyes on him, doubling the telegram
together as if it had been a precious thing and yet all the while
holding her breath. Of a sudden, somehow, and quite as by the
action of their merely having between them these few written
words, an extraordinary fact came up. He was with her as if he
were hers, hers in a degree and on a scale, with an intensity and
an intimacy, that were a new and a strange quantity, that were
like the irruption of a tide loosening them where they had stuck
and making them feel they floated. What was it that, with the
rush of this, just kept her from putting out her hands to him,
from catching at him as, in the other time, with the superficial
impetus he and Charlotte had privately conspired to impart, she
had so often, her breath failing her, known the impulse to catch
at her father? She did, however, just yet, nothing inconsequent--
though she couldn't immediately have said what saved her; and by
the time she had neatly folded her telegram she was doing
something merely needful. "I wanted you simply to know--so that
you mayn't by accident miss them. For it's the last," said
Maggie.

"The last?"

"I take it as their good-bye." And she smiled as she could always
smile. "They come in state--to take formal leave. They do
everything that's proper. Tomorrow," she said, "they go to
Southampton."

"If they do everything that's proper," the Prince presently
asked, "why don't they at least come to dine?"

She hesitated, yet she lightly enough provided her answer. "That
we must certainly ask them. It will be easy for you. But of
course they're immensely taken--!"

He wondered. "So immensely taken that they can't--that your
father can't--give you his last evening in England?"

This, for Maggie, was more difficult to meet; yet she was still
not without her stop-gap. "That may be what they'll propose--that
we shall go somewhere together, the four of us, for a
celebration--except that, to round it thoroughly off, we ought
also to have Fanny and the Colonel. They don't WANT them at tea,
she quite sufficiently expresses; they polish them off, poor
dears, they get rid of them, beforehand. They want only us
together; and if they cut us down to tea," she continued, "as
they cut Fanny and the Colonel down to luncheon, perhaps it's for
the fancy, after all, of their keeping their last night in London
for each other."

She said these things as they came to her; she was unable to keep
them back, even though, as she heard herself, she might have been
throwing everything to the winds. But wasn't that the right way--
for sharing his last day of captivity with the man one adored? It
was every moment more and more for her as if she were waiting
with him in his prison--waiting with some gleam of remembrance of
how noble captives in the French Revolution, the darkness of the
Terror, used to make a feast, or a high discourse, of their last
poor resources. If she had broken with everything now, every
observance of all the past months, she must simply then take it
so--take it that what she had worked for was too near, at last,
to let her keep her head. She might have been losing her head
verily in her husband's eyes--since he didn't know, all the
while, that the sudden freedom of her words was but the diverted
intensity of her disposition personally to seize him. He didn't
know, either, that this was her manner--now she was with him--of
beguiling audaciously the supremacy of suspense. For the people
of the French Revolution, assuredly, there wasn't suspense; the
scaffold, for those she was thinking of, was certain--whereas
what Charlotte's telegram announced was, short of some
incalculable error, clear liberation. Just the point, however,
was in its being clearer to herself than to him; her clearnesses,
clearances--those she had so all but abjectly laboured for--
threatened to crowd upon her in the form of one of the clusters
of angelic heads, the peopled shafts of light beating down
through iron bars, that regale, on occasion, precisely, the
fevered vision of those who are in chains. She was going to know,
she felt, later on--was going to know with compunction,
doubtless, on the very morrow, how thumpingly her heart had
beaten at this foretaste of their being left together: she should
judge at leisure the surrender she was making to the
consciousness of complications about to be bodily lifted. She
should judge at leisure even that avidity for an issue which was
making so little of any complication but the unextinguished
presence of the others; and indeed that she was already
simplifying so much more than her husband came out for her next
in the face with which he listened. He might certainly well be
puzzled, in respect to his father-in-law and Mrs. Verver, by her
glance at their possible preference for a concentrated evening.
"But it isn't--is it?" he asked--"as if they were leaving each
other?"

"Oh no; it isn't as if they were leaving each other. They're only
bringing to a close--without knowing when it may open again--a
time that has been, naturally, awfully interesting to them." Yes,
she could talk so of their "time"--she was somehow sustained; she
was sustained even to affirm more intensely her present
possession of her ground. "They have their reasons--many things
to think of; how can one tell? But there's always, also, the
chance of his proposing to me that we shall have our last hours
together; I mean that he and I shall. He may wish to take me off
to dine with him somewhere alone--and to do it in memory of old
days. I mean," the Princess went on, "the real old days; before
my grand husband was invented and, much more, before his grand
wife was: the wonderful times of his first great interest in what
he has since done, his first great plans and opportunities,
discoveries and bargains. The way we've sat together late, ever
so late, in foreign restaurants, which he used to like; the way
that, in every city in Europe, we've stayed on and on, with our
elbows on the table and most of the lights put out, to talk over
things he had that day seen or heard of or made his offer for,
the things he had secured or refused or lost! There were places
he took me to--you wouldn't believe!--for often he could only
have left me with servants. If he should carry me off with him
to-night, for old sake's sake, to the Earl's Court Exhibition, it
will be a little--just a very, very little--like our young
adventures." After which while Amerigo watched her, and in fact
quite because of it, she had an inspiration, to which she
presently yielded. If he was wondering what she would say next
she had found exactly the thing. "In that case he will leave you
Charlotte to take care of in our absence. You'll have to carry
her off somewhere for your last evening; unless you may prefer to
spend it with her here. I shall then see that you dine, that you
have everything, quite beautifully. You'll be able to do as you
like."

She couldn't have been sure beforehand, and had really not been;
but the most immediate result of this speech was his letting her
see that he took it for no cheap extravagance either of irony or
of oblivion. Nothing in the world, of a truth, had ever been so
sweet to her, as his look of trying to be serious enough to make
no mistake about it. She troubled him--which hadn't been at all
her purpose; she mystified him--which she couldn't help and,
comparatively, didn't mind; then it came over her that he had,
after all, a simplicity, very considerable, on which she had
never dared to presume. It was a discovery--not like the other
discovery she had once made, but giving out a freshness; and she
recognised again in the light of it the number of the ideas of
which he thought her capable. They were all, apparently, queer
for him, but she had at least, with the lapse of the months,
created the perception that there might be something in them;
whereby he stared there, beautiful and sombre, at what she was at
present providing him with. There was something of his own in his
mind, to which, she was sure, he referred everything for a
measure and a meaning; he had never let go of it, from the
evening, weeks before, when, in her room, after his encounter
with the Bloomsbury cup, she had planted it there by flinging it
at him, on the question of her father's view of him, her
determined "Find out for yourself!" She had been aware, during
the months, that he had been trying to find out, and had been
seeking, above all, to avoid the appearance of any evasions of
such a form of knowledge as might reach him, with violence or
with a penetration more insidious, from any other source.
Nothing, however, had reached him; nothing he could at all
conveniently reckon with had disengaged itself for him even from
the announcement, sufficiently sudden, of the final secession of
their companions. Charlotte was in pain, Charlotte was in
torment, but he himself had given her reason enough for that;
and, in respect to the rest of the whole matter of her obligation
to follow her husband, that personage and she, Maggie, had so
shuffled away every link between consequence and cause, that the
intention remained, like some famous poetic line in a dead
language, subject to varieties of interpretation. What renewed
the obscurity was her strange image of their common offer to him,
her father's and her own, of an opportunity to separate from Mrs.
Verver with the due amount of form--and all the more that he was,
in so pathetic a way, unable to treat himself to a quarrel with
it on the score of taste. Taste, in him, as a touchstone, was now
all at sea; for who could say but that one of her fifty ideas, or
perhaps forty-nine of them, wouldn't be, exactly, that taste by
itself, the taste he had always conformed to, had no importance
whatever? If meanwhile, at all events, he felt her as serious,
this made the greater reason for her profiting by it as she
perhaps might never be able to profit again. She was invoking
that reflection at the very moment he brought out, in reply to
her last words, a remark which, though perfectly relevant and
perfectly just, affected her at first as a high oddity. "They're
doing the wisest thing, you know. For if they were ever to
go--!" And he looked down at her over his cigar.

If they were ever to go, in short, it was high time, with her
father's age, Charlotte's need of initiation, and the general
magnitude of the job of their getting settled and seasoned, their
learning to "live into" their queer future--it was high time that
they should take up their courage. This was eminent sense, but it
didn't arrest the Princess, who, the next moment, had found a
form for her challenge. "But shan't you then so much as miss her
a little? She's wonderful and beautiful, and I feel somehow as if
she were dying. Not really, not physically," Maggie went on--
"she's so far, naturally, splendid as she is, from having done
with life. But dying for us--for you and me; and making us feel
it by the very fact of there being so much of her left."

The Prince smoked hard a minute. "As you say, she's splendid, but
there is--there always will be--much of her left. Only, as you
also say, for others."

"And yet I think," the Princess returned, "that it isn't as if we
had wholly done with her. How can we not always think of her?
It's as if her unhappiness had been necessary to us--as if we had
needed her, at her own cost, to build us up and start us."

He took it in with consideration, but he met it with a lucid
inquiry. "Why do you speak of the unhappiness of your father's
wife?"

They exchanged a long look--the time that it took her to find her
reply. "Because not to--!"

"Well, not to--?"

"Would make me have to speak of him. And I can't," said Maggie,
"speak of him."

"You 'can't'--?"

"I can't." She said it as for definite notice, not to be
repeated. "There are too many things," she nevertheless added.
"He's too great."

The Prince looked at his cigar-tip, and then as he put back the
weed: "Too great for whom?" Upon which as she hesitated, "Not, my
dear, too great for you," he declared. "For me--oh, as much as
you like."

"Too great for me is what I mean. I know why I think it," Maggie
said. "That's enough."

He looked at her yet again as if she but fanned his wonder; he
was on the very point, she judged, of asking her why she thought
it. But her own eyes maintained their warning, and at the end of
a minute he had uttered other words. "What's of importance is
that you're his daughter. That at least we've got. And I suppose
that, if I may say nothing else, I may say at least that I value
it."

"Oh yes, you may say that you value it. I myself make the most of
it."

This again he took in, letting it presently put forth for him a
striking connection. "She ought to have known you. That's what's
present to me. She ought to have understood you better."

"Better than you did?"

"Yes," he gravely maintained, "better than I did. And she didn't
really know you at all. She doesn't know you now."

"Ah, yes she does!" said Maggie.

But he shook his head--he knew what he meant. "She not only
doesn't understand you more than I, she understands you ever so
much less. Though even I--!"

"Well, even you?" Maggie pressed as he paused. "Even I, even I
even yet--!" Again he paused and the silence held them.

But Maggie at last broke it. "If Charlotte doesn't understand me,
it is that I've prevented her. I've chosen to deceive her and to
lie to her."

The Prince kept his eyes on her. "I know what you've chosen to
do. But I've chosen to do the same."

"Yes," said Maggie after an instant--"my choice was made when I
had guessed yours. But you mean," she asked, "that she
understands YOU?"

"It presents small difficulty!"

"Are you so sure?" Maggie went on.

"Sure enough. But it doesn't matter." He waited an instant; then
looking up through the fumes of his smoke, "She's stupid," he
abruptly opined.

"O--oh!" Maggie protested in a long wail.

It had made him in fact quickly change colour. "What I mean is
that she's not, as you pronounce her, unhappy." And he recovered,
with this, all his logic. "Why is she unhappy if she doesn't
know?"

"Doesn't know--?" She tried to make his logic difficult.

"Doesn't know that YOU know."

It came from him in such a way that she was conscious, instantly,
of three or four things to answer. But what she said first was:
"Do you think that's all it need take?" And before he could
reply, "She knows, she knows!" Maggie proclaimed.

"Well then, what?"

But she threw back her head, she turned impatiently away from
him. "Oh, I needn't tell you! She knows enough. Besides," she
went on, "she doesn't believe us."

It made the Prince stare a little. "Ah, she asks too much!" That
drew, however, from his wife another moan of objection, which
determined in him a judgment. "She won't let you take her for
unhappy."

"Oh, I know better than any one else what she won't let me take
her for!"

"Very well," said Amerigo, "you'll see."

"I shall see wonders, I know. I've already seen them, and I'm
prepared for them." Maggie recalled--she had memories enough.
"It's terrible"--her memories prompted her to speak. "I see it's
ALWAYS terrible for women."

The Prince looked down in his gravity. "Everything's terrible,
cara, in the heart of man. She's making her life," he said.
"She'll make it."

His wife turned back upon him; she had wandered to a table,
vaguely setting objects straight. "A little by the way then too,
while she's about it, she's making ours." At this he raised his
eyes, which met her own, and she held him while she delivered
herself of some thing that had been with her these last minutes.

"You spoke just now of Charlotte's not having learned from you
that I 'know.' Am I to take from you then that you accept and
recognise my knowledge?"

He did the inquiry all the honours--visibly weighed its
importance and weighed his response. "You think I might have been
showing you that a little more handsomely?"

"It isn't a question of any beauty," said Maggie; "it's only a
question of the quantity of truth."

"Oh, the quantity of truth!" the Prince richly, though
ambiguously, murmured.

"That's a thing by itself, yes. But there are also such things,
all the same, as questions of good faith."

"Of course there are!" the Prince hastened to reply. After which
he brought up more slowly: "If ever a man, since the beginning of
time, acted in good faith!" But he dropped it, offering it simply
for that.

For that then, when it had had time somewhat to settle, like some
handful of gold-dust thrown into the air--for that then Maggie
showed herself, as deeply and strangely taking it. "I see." And
she even wished this form to be as complete as she could make it.
"I see."

The completeness, clearly, after an instant, had struck him as
divine. "Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear--!" It was all he could
say.

She wasn't talking, however, at large. "You've kept up for so
long a silence--!"

"Yes, yes, I know what I've kept up. But will you do," he asked,
"still one thing more for me?"

It was as if, for an instant, with her new exposure, it had made
her turn pale. "Is there even one thing left?"

"Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear!"--it had pressed again in him the
fine spring of the unspeakable. There was nothing, however, that
the Princess herself couldn't say. "I'll do anything, if you'll
tell me what."

"Then wait." And his raised Italian hand, with its play of
admonitory fingers, had never made gesture more expressive. His
voice itself dropped to a tone--! "Wait," he repeated. "Wait."

She understood, but it was as if she wished to have it from him.
"Till they've been here, you mean?"

"Yes, till they've gone. Till they're away."

She kept it up. "Till they've left the country?" She had her eyes
on him for clearness; these were the conditions of a promise--so
that he put the promise, practically, into his response. "Till
we've ceased to see them--for as long as God may grant! Till
we're really alone."

"Oh, if it's only that--!" When she had drawn from him thus then,
as she could feel, the thick breath of the definite--which was
the intimate, the immediate, the familiar, as she hadn't had them
for so long--she turned away again, she put her hand on the knob
of the door. But her hand rested at first without a grasp; she
had another effort to make, the effort of leaving him, of which
everything that had just passed between them, his presence,
irresistible, overcharged with it, doubled the difficulty. There
was something--she couldn't have told what; it was as if, shut in
together, they had come too far--too far for where they were; so
that the mere act of her quitting him was like the attempt to
recover the lost and gone. She had taken in with her something
that, within the ten minutes, and especially within the last
three or four, had slipped away from her--which it was vain now,
wasn't it? to try to appear to clutch or to pick up. That
consciousness in fact had a pang, and she balanced, intensely,
for the lingering moment, almost with a terror of her endless
power of surrender. He had only to press, really, for her to
yield inch by inch, and she fairly knew at present, while she
looked at him through her cloud, that the confession of this
precious secret sat there for him to pluck. The sensation, for
the few seconds, was extraordinary; her weakness, her desire, so
long as she was yet not saving herself, flowered in her face like
a light or a darkness. She sought for some word that would cover
this up; she reverted to the question of tea, speaking as if they
shouldn't meet sooner. "Then about five. I count on you."

On him too, however, something had descended; as to which this
exactly gave him his chance. "Ah, but I shall see you--! No?" he
said, coming nearer.

She had, with her hand still on the knob, her back against the
door, so that her retreat, under his approach must be less than a
step, and yet she couldn't for her life, with the other hand,
have pushed him away. He was so near now that she could touch
him, taste him, smell him, kiss him, hold him; he almost pressed
upon her, and the warmth of his face--frowning, smiling, she
mightn't know which; only beautiful and strange--was bent upon
her with the largeness with which objects loom in dreams. She
closed her eyes to it, and so, the next instant, against her
purpose, she had put out her hand, which had met his own and
which he held. Then it was that, from behind her closed eyes, the
right word came. "Wait!" It was the word of his own distress and
entreaty, the word for both of them, all they had left, their
plank now on the great sea. Their hands were locked, and thus she
said it again. "Wait. Wait." She kept her eyes shut, but her
hand, she knew, helped her meaning--which after a minute she was
aware his own had absorbed. He let her go--he turned away with
this message, and when she saw him again his back was presented,
as he had left her, and his face staring out of the window. She
had saved herself and she got off.



                            XLII

Later on, in the afternoon, before the others arrived, the form
of their reunion was at least remarkable: they might, in their
great eastward drawing-room, have been comparing notes or nerves
in apprehension of some stiff official visit. Maggie's mind, in
its restlessness, even played a little with the prospect; the
high cool room, with its afternoon shade, with its old tapestries
uncovered, with the perfect polish of its wide floor reflecting
the bowls of gathered flowers and the silver and linen of the
prepared tea-table, drew from her a remark in which this whole
effect was mirrored, as well as something else in the Prince's
movement while he slowly paced and turned. "We're distinctly
bourgeois!" she a trifle grimly threw off, as an echo of their
old community; though to a spectator sufficiently detached they
might have been quite the privileged pair they were reputed,
granted only they were taken as awaiting the visit of Royalty.
They might have been ready, on the word passed up in advance, to
repair together to the foot of the staircase--the Prince somewhat
in front, advancing indeed to the open doors and even going down,
for all his princedom, to meet, on the stopping of the chariot,
the august emergence. The time was stale, it was to be admitted,
for incidents of magnitude; the September hush was in full
possession, at the end of the dull day, and a couple of the long
windows stood open to the balcony that overhung the desolation--
the balcony from which Maggie, in the springtime, had seen
Amerigo and Charlotte look down together at the hour of her
return from the Regent's Park, near by, with her father, the
Principino and Miss Bogle. Amerigo now again, in his punctual
impatience, went out a couple of times and stood there; after
which, as to report that nothing was in sight, he returned to the
room with frankly nothing else to do. The Princess pretended to
read; he looked at her as he passed; there hovered in her own
sense the thought of other occasions when she had cheated
appearances of agitation with a book. At last she felt him
standing before her, and then she raised her eyes.

"Do you remember how, this morning, when you told me of this
event, I asked you if there were anything particular you wished
me to do? You spoke of my being at home, but that was a matter of
course. You spoke of something else," he went on, while she sat
with her book on her knee and her raised eyes; "something that
makes me almost wish it may happen. You spoke," he said, "of the
possibility of my seeing her alone. Do you know, if that comes,"
he asked, "the use I shall make of it?" And then as she waited:
"The use is all before me."

"Ah, it's your own business now!" said his wife. But it had made
her rise.

"I shall make it my own," he answered. "I shall tell her I lied
to her."

"Ah no!" she returned.

"And I shall tell her you did."

She shook her head again. "Oh, still less!"

With which therefore they stood at difference, he with his head
erect and his happy idea perched, in its eagerness, on his crest.
"And how then is she to know?"

"She isn't to know."

"She's only still to think you don't--?"

"And therefore that I'm always a fool? She may think," said
Maggie, "what she likes."

"Think it without my protest--?"

The Princess made a movement. "What business is it of yours?"

"Isn't it my right to correct her--?"

Maggie let his question ring--ring long enough for him to hear it
himself; only then she took it up. "'Correct' her?"--and it was
her own now that really rang. "Aren't you rather forgetting who
she is?" After which, while he quite stared for it, as it was the
very first clear majesty he had known her to use, she flung down
her book and raised a warning hand. "The carriage. Come!"

The "Come!" had matched, for lucid firmness, the rest of her
speech, and, when they were below, in the hall, there was a "Go!"
for him, through the open doors and between the ranged servants,
that matched even that. He received Royalty, bareheaded,
therefore, in the persons of Mr. and Mrs. Verver, as it alighted
on the pavement, and Maggie was at the threshold to welcome it to
her house. Later on, upstairs again, she even herself felt still
more the force of the limit of which she had just reminded him;
at tea, in Charlotte's affirmed presence--as Charlotte affirmed
it--she drew a long breath of richer relief. It was the
strangest, once more, of all impressions; but what she most felt,
for the half-hour, was that Mr. and Mrs. Verver were making the
occasion easy. They were somehow conjoined in it, conjoined for a
present effect as Maggie had absolutely never yet seen them; and
there occurred, before long, a moment in which Amerigo's look met
her own in recognitions that he couldn't suppress. The question
of the amount of correction to which Charlotte had laid herself
open rose and hovered, for the instant, only to sink,
conspicuously, by its own weight; so high a pitch she seemed to
give to the unconsciousness of questions, so resplendent a show
of serenity she succeeded in making. The shade of the official,
in her beauty and security, never for a moment dropped; it was a
cool, high refuge, like the deep, arched recess of some coloured
and gilded image, in which she sat and smiled and waited, drank
her tea, referred to her husband and remembered her mission. Her
mission had quite taken form--it was but another name for the
interest of her great opportunity--that of representing the arts
and the graces to a people languishing, afar off, in ignorance.
Maggie had sufficiently intimated to the Prince, ten minutes
before, that she needed no showing as to what their friend
wouldn't consent to be taken for; but the difficulty now indeed
was to choose, for explicit tribute of admiration, between the
varieties of her nobler aspects. She carried it off, to put the
matter coarsely, with a taste and a discretion that held our
young woman's attention, for the first quarter-of-an-hour, to the
very point of diverting it from the attitude of her overshadowed,
her almost superseded companion. But Adam Verver profited indeed
at this time, even with his daughter, by his so marked
peculiarity of seeming on no occasion to have an attitude; and so
long as they were in the room together she felt him still simply
weave his web and play out his long fine cord, knew herself in
presence of this tacit process very much as she had known herself
at Fawns. He had a way, the dear man, wherever he was, of moving
about the room, noiselessly, to see what it might contain; and
his manner of now resorting to this habit, acquainted as he
already was with the objects in view, expressed with a certain
sharpness the intention of leaving his wife to her devices. It
did even more than this; it signified, to the apprehension of the
Princess, from the moment she more directly took thought of him,
almost a special view of these devices, as actually exhibited in
their rarity, together with an independent, a settled
appreciation of their general handsome adequacy, which scarcely
required the accompaniment of his faint contemplative hum.

Charlotte throned, as who should say, between her hostess and her
host, the whole scene having crystallised, as soon as she took
her place, to the right quiet lustre; the harmony was not less
sustained for being superficial, and the only approach to a break
in it was while Amerigo remained standing long enough for his
father-in-law, vaguely wondering, to appeal to him, invite or
address him, and then, in default of any such word, selected for
presentation to the other visitor a plate of petits fours. Maggie
watched her husband--if it now could be called watching--offer
this refreshment; she noted the consummate way--for "consummate"
was the term she privately applied--in which Charlotte cleared
her acceptance, cleared her impersonal smile, of any betrayal,
any slightest value, of consciousness; and then felt the slow
surge of a vision that, at the end of another minute or two, had
floated her across the room to where her father stood looking at
a picture, an early Florentine sacred subject, that he had given
her on her marriage. He might have been, in silence, taking his
last leave of it; it was a work for which he entertained, she
knew, an unqualified esteem. The tenderness represented for her
by his sacrifice of such a treasure had become, to her sense, a
part of the whole infusion, of the immortal expression; the
beauty of his sentiment looked out at her, always, from the
beauty of the rest, as if the frame made positively a window for
his spiritual face: she might have said to herself, at this
moment, that in leaving the thing behind him, held as in her
clasping arms, he was doing the most possible toward leaving her
a part of his palpable self. She put her hand over his shoulder,
and their eyes were held again, together, by the abiding
felicity; they smiled in emulation, vaguely, as if speech failed
them through their having passed too far; she would have begun to
wonder the next minute if it were reserved to them, for the last
stage, to find their contact, like that of old friends reunited
too much on the theory of the unchanged, subject to shy lapses.

"It's all right, eh?"

"Oh, my dear--rather!"

He had applied the question to the great fact of the picture, as
she had spoken for the picture in reply, but it was as if their
words for an instant afterwards symbolised another truth, so that
they looked about at everything else to give them this extension.
She had passed her arm into his, and the other objects in the
room, the other pictures, the sofas, the chairs, the tables, the
cabinets, the "important" pieces, supreme in their way, stood
out, round them, consciously, for recognition and applause. Their
eyes moved together from piece to piece, taking in the whole
nobleness--quite as if for him to measure the wisdom of old
ideas. The two noble persons seated, in conversation, at tea,
fell thus into the splendid effect and the general harmony: Mrs.
Verver and the Prince fairly "placed" themselves, however
unwittingly, as high expressions of the kind of human furniture
required, esthetically, by such a scene. The fusion of their
presence with the decorative elements, their contribution to the
triumph of selection, was complete and admirable; though, to a
lingering view, a view more penetrating than the occasion really
demanded, they also might have figured as concrete attestations
of a rare power of purchase. There was much indeed in the tone in
which Adam Verver spoke again, and who shall say where his
thought stopped? "Le compte y est. You've got some good things."

Maggie met it afresh--"Ah, don't they look well?" Their
companions, at the sound of this, gave them, in a spacious
intermission of slow talk, an attention, all of gravity, that was
like an ampler submission to the general duty of magnificence;
sitting as still, to be thus appraised, as a pair of effigies of
the contemporary great on one of the platforms of Madame Tussaud.
"I'm so glad--for your last look."

With which, after Maggie--quite in the air--had said it, the note
was struck indeed; the note of that strange accepted finality of
relation, as from couple to couple, which almost escaped an
awkwardness only by not attempting a gloss. Yes, this was the
wonder, that the occasion defied insistence precisely because of
the vast quantities with which it dealt--so that separation was
on a scale beyond any compass of parting. To do such an hour
justice would have been in some degree to question its grounds--
which was why they remained, in fine, the four of them, in the
upper air, united in the firmest abstention from pressure. There
was no point, visibly, at which, face to face, either Amerigo or
Charlotte had pressed; and how little she herself was in danger
of doing so Maggie scarce needed to remember. That her father
wouldn't, by the tip of a toe--of that she was equally conscious:
the only thing was that, since he didn't, she could but hold her
breath for what he would do instead. When, at the end of three
minutes more, he had said, with an effect of suddenness, "Well,
Mag--and the Principino?" it was quite as if that were, by
contrast, the hard, the truer voice.

She glanced at the clock. "I 'ordered' him for half-past five--
which hasn't yet struck. Trust him, my dear, not to fail you!"

"Oh, I don't want HIM to fail me!" was Mr. Verver's reply; yet
uttered in so explicitly jocose a relation to the possibilities
of failure that even when, just afterwards, he wandered in his
impatience to one of the long windows and passed out to the
balcony, she asked herself but for a few seconds if reality,
should she follow him, would overtake or meet her there. She
followed him of necessity--it came, absolutely, so near to his
inviting her, by stepping off into temporary detachment, to give
the others something of the chance that she and her husband had
so fantastically discussed. Beside him then, while they hung over
the great dull place, clear and almost coloured now, coloured
with the odd, sad, pictured, "old-fashioned" look that empty
London streets take on in waning afternoons of the summer's end,
she felt once more how impossible such a passage would have been
to them, how it would have torn them to pieces, if they had so
much as suffered its suppressed relations to peep out of their
eyes. This danger would doubtless indeed have been more to be
reckoned with if the instinct of each--she could certainly at
least answer for her own--had not so successfully acted to trump
up other apparent connexions for it, connexions as to which they
could pretend to be frank.

"You mustn't stay on here, you know," Adam Verver said as a
result of his unobstructed outlook. "Fawns is all there for you,
of course--to the end of my tenure. But Fawns so dismantled," he
added with mild ruefulness, "Fawns with half its contents, and
half its best things, removed, won't seem to you, I'm afraid,
particularly lively."

"No," Maggie answered, "we should miss its best things. Its best
things, my dear, have certainly been removed. To be back there,"
she went on, "to be back there--!" And she paused for the force
of her idea.

"Oh, to be back there without anything good--!" But she didn't
hesitate now; she brought her idea forth. "To be back there
without Charlotte is more than I think would do." And as she
smiled at him with it, so she saw him the next instant take it--
take it in a way that helped her smile to pass all for an
allusion to what she didn't and couldn't say. This quantity was
too clear--that she couldn't at such an hour be pretending to
name to him what it was, as he would have said, "going to be," at
Fawns or anywhere else, to want for HIM. That was now--and in a
manner exaltedly, sublimely--out of their compass and their
question; so that what was she doing, while they waited for the
Principino, while they left the others together and their tension
just sensibly threatened, what was she doing but just offer a
bold but substantial substitute? Nothing was stranger moreover,
under the action of Charlotte's presence, than the fact of a felt
sincerity in her words. She felt her sincerity absolutely sound--
she gave it for all it might mean. "Because Charlotte, dear, you
know," she said, "is incomparable." It took thirty seconds, but
she was to know when these were over that she had pronounced one
of the happiest words of her life. They had turned from the view
of the street; they leaned together against the balcony rail,
with the room largely in sight from where they stood, but with
the Prince and Mrs. Verver out of range. Nothing he could try,
she immediately saw, was to keep his eyes from lighting; not even
his taking out his cigarette-case and saying before he said
anything else: "May I smoke?" She met it, for encouragement, with
her "My dear!" again, and then, while he struck his match, she
had just another minute to be nervous--a minute that she made use
of, however, not in the least to falter, but to reiterate with a
high ring, a ring that might, for all she cared, reach the pair
inside: "Father, father--Charlotte's great!"

It was not till after he had begun to smoke that he looked at
her. "Charlotte's great."

They could close upon it--such a basis as they might immediately
feel it make; and so they stood together over it, quite
gratefully, each recording to the other's eyes that it was firm
under their feet. They had even thus a renewed wait, as for proof
of it; much as if he were letting her see, while the minutes
lapsed for their concealed companions, that this was finally just
why--but just WHY! "You see," he presently added, "how right I
was. Right, I mean, to do it for you."

"Ah, rather!" she murmured with her smile. And then, as to be
herself ideally right: "I don't see what you would have done
without her."

"The point was," he returned quietly, "that I didn't see what you
were to do. Yet it was a risk."

"It was a risk," said Maggie--"but I believed in it. At least for
myself!" she smiled.

"Well NOW," he smoked, "we see."

"We see."

"I know her better."

"You know her best."

"Oh, but naturally!" On which, as the warranted truth of it hung
in the air--the truth warranted, as who should say, exactly by
the present opportunity to pronounce, this opportunity created
and accepted--she found herself lost, though with a finer thrill
than she had perhaps yet known, in the vision of all he might
mean. The sense of it in her rose higher, rose with each moment
that he invited her thus to see him linger; and when, after a
little more, he had said, smoking again and looking up, with head
thrown back and hands spread on the balcony rail, at the grey,
gaunt front of the house, "She's beautiful, beautiful!" her
sensibility reported to her the shade of a new note. It was all
she might have wished, for it was, with a kind of speaking
competence, the note of possession and control; and yet it
conveyed to her as nothing till now had done the reality of their
parting. They were parting, in the light of it, absolutely on
Charlotte's VALUE--the value that was filling the room out of
which they had stepped as if to give it play, and with which the
Prince, on his side, was perhaps making larger acquaintance. If
Maggie had desired, at so late an hour, some last conclusive
comfortable category to place him in for dismissal, she might
have found it here in its all coming back to his ability to rest
upon high values. Somehow, when all was said, and with the memory
of her gifts, her variety, her power, so much remained of
Charlotte's! What else had she herself meant three minutes before
by speaking of her as great? Great for the world that was before
her--that he proposed she should be: she was not to be wasted in
the application of his plan. Maggie held to this then--that she
wasn't to be wasted. To let his daughter know it he had sought
this brief privacy. What a blessing, accordingly, that she could
speak her joy in it! His face, meanwhile, at all events, was
turned to her, and as she met his eyes again her joy went
straight. "It's success, father."

"It's success. And even this," he added as the Principino,
appearing alone, deep within, piped across an instant greeting--
"even this isn't altogether failure!"

They went in to receive the boy, upon whose introduction to the
room by Miss Bogle Charlotte and the Prince got up--seemingly
with an impressiveness that had caused Miss Bogle not to give
further effect to her own entrance. She had retired, but the
Principino's presence, by itself, sufficiently broke the
tension--the subsidence of which, in the great room, ten minutes
later, gave to the air something of the quality produced by the
cessation of a sustained rattle. Stillness, when the Prince and
Princess returned from attending the visitors to their carriage,
might have been said to be not so much restored as created; so
that whatever next took place in it was foredoomed to remarkable
salience. That would have been the case even with so natural,
though so futile, a movement as Maggie's going out to the balcony
again to follow with her eyes her father's departure. The
carriage was out of sight--it had taken her too long solemnly to
reascend, and she looked awhile only at the great grey space, on
which, as on the room still more, the shadow of dusk had fallen.
Here, at first, her husband had not rejoined her; he had come up
with the boy, who, clutching his hand, abounded, as usual, in
remarks worthy of the family archives; but the two appeared then
to have proceeded to report to Miss Bogle. It meant something for
the Princess that her husband had thus got their son out of the
way, not bringing him back to his mother; but everything now, as
she vaguely moved about, struck her as meaning so much that the
unheard chorus swelled. Yet THIS above all--her just being there
as she was and waiting for him to come in, their freedom to be
together there always--was the meaning most disengaged: she stood
in the cool twilight and took in, all about her, where it lurked,
her reason for what she had done. She knew at last really why--
and how she had been inspired and guided, how she had been
persistently able, how, to her soul, all the while, it had been
for the sake of this end. Here it was, then, the moment, the
golden fruit that had shone from afar; only, what were these
things, in the fact, for the hand and for the lips, when tested,
when tasted--what were they as a reward? Closer than she had ever
been to the measure of her course and the full face of her act,
she had an instant of the terror that, when there has been
suspense, always precedes, on the part of the creature to be
paid, the certification of the amount. Amerigo knew it, the
amount; he still held it, and the delay in his return, making her
heart beat too fast to go on, was like a sudden blinding light on
a wild speculation. She had thrown the dice, but his hand was
over her cast.

He opened the door, however, at last--he hadn't been away ten
minutes; and then, with her sight of him renewed to intensity,
she seemed to have a view of the number. His presence alone, as
he paused to look at her, somehow made it the highest, and even
before he had spoken she had begun to be paid in full. With that
consciousness, in fact, an extraordinary thing occurred; the
assurance of her safety so making her terror drop that already,
within the minute, it had been changed to concern for his own
anxiety, for everything that was deep in his being and everything
that was fair in his face. So far as seeing that she was "paid"
went, he might have been holding out the money-bag for her to
come and take it. But what instantly rose, for her, between the
act and her acceptance was the sense that she must strike him as
waiting for a confession. This, in turn, charged her with a new
horror: if that was her proper payment she would go without
money. His acknowledgment hung there, too monstrously, at the
expense of Charlotte, before whose mastery of the greater style
she had just been standing dazzled. All she now knew,
accordingly, was that she should be ashamed to listen to the
uttered word; all, that is, but that she might dispose of it on
the spot forever.

"Isn't she too splendid?" she simply said, offering it to explain
and to finish.

"Oh, splendid!" With which he came over to her.

"That's our help, you see," she added--to point further her
moral.

It kept him before her therefore, taking in--or trying to--what
she so wonderfully gave. He tried, too clearly, to please her--to
meet her in her own way; but with the result only that, close to
her, her face kept before him, his hands holding her shoulders,
his whole act enclosing her, he presently echoed: "'See'? I see
nothing but you." And the truth of it had, with this force, after
a moment, so strangely lighted his eyes that, as for pity and
dread of them, she buried her own in his breast.





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