Part 6 out of 6
Regret as he might, too, the difference made by this obligation,
he frankly didn't mind, inasmuch as, over and above the pleasure
itself, his scruple would certainly gratify both Mr. Verver and
Maggie. They never yet had absolutely and entirely learned, he
even found deliberation to intimate, how little he really
neglected the first--as it seemed nowadays quite to have become--
of his domestic duties: therefore he still constantly felt how
little he must remit his effort to make them remark it. To which
he added with equal lucidity that they would return in time for
dinner, and if he didn't, as a last word, subjoin that it would
be "lovely" of Fanny to find, on her own return, a moment to go
to Eaton Square and report them as struggling bravely on, this
was not because the impulse, down to the very name for the
amiable act, altogether failed to rise. His inward assurance, his
general plan, had at moments, where she was concerned, its drops
of continuity, and nothing would less have pleased him than that
she should suspect in him, however tempted, any element of
conscious "cheek." But he was always--that was really the
upshot--cultivating thanklessly the considerate and the delicate:
it was a long lesson, this unlearning, with people of English
race, all the little superstitions that accompany friendship.
Mrs. Assingham herself was the first to say that she would
unfailingly "report"; she brought it out in fact, he thought,
quite wonderfully--having attained the summit of the wonderful
during the brief interval that had separated her appeal to
Charlotte from this passage with himself. She had taken the five
minutes, obviously, amid the rest of the talk and the movement,
to retire into her tent for meditation--which showed, among
several things, the impression Charlotte had made on her. It was
from the tent she emerged, as with arms refurbished; though who
indeed could say if the manner in which she now met him spoke
most, really, of the glitter of battle or of the white waver of
the flag of truce? The parley was short either way; the gallantry
of her offer was all sufficient.
"I'll go to our friends then--I'll ask for luncheon. I'll tell
them when to expect you."
"That will be charming. Say we're all right."
"All right--precisely. I can't say more," Mrs. Assingham smiled.
"No doubt." But he considered, as for the possible importance of
it. "Neither can you, by what I seem to feel, say less."
"Oh, I WON'T say less!" Fanny laughed; with which, the next
moment, she had turned away. But they had it again, not less
bravely, on the morrow, after breakfast, in the thick of the
advancing carriages and the exchange of farewells. "I think I'll
send home my maid from Euston," she was then prepared to amend,
"and go to Eaton Square straight. So you can be easy."
"Oh, I think we're easy," the Prince returned. "Be sure to say,
at any rate, that we're bearing up."
"You're bearing up--good. And Charlotte returns to dinner?"
"To dinner. We're not likely, I think, to make another night
"Well then, I wish you at least a pleasant day,"
"Oh," he laughed as they separated, "we shall do our best for
it!"--after which, in due course, with the announcement of their
conveyance, the Assinghams rolled off.
It was quite, for the Prince, after this, as if the view had
further cleared; so that the half-hour during which he strolled
on the terrace and smoked--the day being lovely--overflowed with
the plenitude of its particular quality. Its general brightness
was composed, doubtless, of many elements, but what shone out of
it as if the whole place and time had been a great picture, from
the hand of genius, presented to him as a prime ornament for his
collection and all varnished and framed to hang up--what marked
it especially for the highest appreciation was his
extraordinarily unchallenged, his absolutely appointed and
enhanced possession of it. Poor Fanny Assingham's challenge
amounted to nothing: one of the things he thought of while he
leaned on the old marble balustrade--so like others that he knew
in still more nobly-terraced Italy--was that she was squared,
all-conveniently even to herself, and that, rumbling toward
London with this contentment, she had become an image irrelevant
to the scene. It further passed across him, as his imagination
was, for reasons, during the time, unprecedentedly active,--that
he had, after all, gained more from women than he had ever lost
by them; there appeared so, more and more, on those mystic books
that are kept, in connection with such commerce, even by men of
the loosest business habits, a balance in his favour that he
could pretty well, as a rule, take for granted. What were they
doing at this very moment, wonderful creatures, but combine and
conspire for his advantage?--from Maggie herself, most wonderful,
in her way, of all, to his hostess of the present hour, into
whose head it had so inevitably come to keep Charlotte on, for
reasons of her own, and who had asked, in this benevolent spirit,
why in the world, if not obliged, without plausibility, to hurry,
her husband's son-in-law should not wait over in her company. He
would at least see, Lady Castledean had said, that nothing
dreadful should happen to her, either while still there or during
the exposure of the run to town; and, for that matter, if they
exceeded a little their license it would positively help them to
have done so together. Each of them would, in this way, at home,
have the other comfortably to blame. All of which, besides, in
Lady Castledean as in Maggie, in Fanny Assingham as in Charlotte
herself, was working; for him without provocation or pressure, by
the mere play of some vague sense on their part--definite and
conscious at the most only in Charlotte--that he was not, as a
nature, as a character, as a gentleman, in fine, below his
But there were more things before him than even these; things
that melted together, almost indistinguishably, to feed his sense
of beauty. If the outlook was in every way spacious--and the
towers of three cathedrals, in different counties, as had been
pointed out to him, gleamed discernibly, like dim silver, in the
rich sameness of tone--didn't he somehow the more feel it so
because, precisely, Lady Castledean had kept over a man of her
own, and that this offered a certain sweet intelligibility as the
note of the day? It made everything fit; above all it diverted
him to the extent of keeping up, while he lingered and waited,
his meditative smile. She had detained Charlotte because she
wished to detain Mr. Blint, and she couldn't detain Mr. Blint,
disposed though he clearly was to oblige her, without spreading
over the act some ampler drapery. Castledean had gone up to
London; the place was all her own; she had had a fancy for a
quiet morning with Mr. Blint, a sleek, civil, accomplished young
man--distinctly younger than her ladyship--who played and sang
delightfully (played even "bridge" and sang the English-comic as
well as the French-tragic), and the presence--which really meant
the absence--of a couple of other friends, if they were happily
chosen, would make everything all right. The Prince had the
sense, all good-humouredly, of being happily chosen, and it was
not spoiled for him even by another sense that followed in its
train and with which, during his life in England, he had more
than once had reflectively to deal: the state of being reminded
how, after all, as an outsider, a foreigner, and even as a mere
representative husband and son-in-law, he was so irrelevant to
the working of affairs that he could be bent on occasion to uses
comparatively trivial. No other of her guests would have been
thus convenient for their hostess; affairs, of whatever sorts,
had claimed, by early trains, every active, easy,
smoothly-working man, each in his way a lubricated item of the
great social, political, administrative engrenage--claimed most
of all Castledean himself, who was so very oddly, given the
personage and the type, rather a large item. If he, on the other
hand, had an affair, it was not of that order; it was of the
order, verily, that he had been reduced to as a not quite
It marked, however, the feeling of the hour with him that this
vision of being "reduced" interfered not at all with the measure
of his actual ease. It kept before him again, at moments, the so
familiar fact of his sacrifices--down to the idea of the very
relinquishment, for his wife's convenience, of his real situation
in the world; with the consequence, thus, that he was, in the
last analysis, among all these so often inferior people,
practically held cheap and made light of. But though all this was
sensible enough there was a spirit in him that could rise above
it, a spirit that positively played with the facts, with all of
them; from that of the droll ambiguity of English relations to
that of his having in mind something quite beautiful and
independent and harmonious, something wholly his own. He couldn't
somehow take Mr. Blint seriously--he was much more an outsider,
by the larger scale, even than a Roman prince who consented to be
in abeyance. Yet it was past finding out, either, how such a
woman as Lady Castledean could take him--since this question but
sank for him again into the fathomless depths of English
equivocation. He knew them all, as was said, "well"; he had lived
with them, stayed with them, dined, hunted, shot and done various
other things with them; but the number of questions about them he
couldn't have answered had much rather grown than shrunken, so
that experience struck him for the most part as having left in
him but one residual impression. They didn't like les situations
nettes--that was all he was very sure of. They wouldn't have them
at any price; it had been their national genius and their
national success to avoid them at every point. They called it
themselves, with complacency, their wonderful spirit of
compromise--the very influence of which actually so hung about
him here, from moment to moment, that the earth and the air, the
light and the colour, the fields and the hills and the sky, the
blue-green counties and the cold cathedrals, owed to it every
accent of their tone. Verily, as one had to feel in presence of
such a picture, it had succeeded; it had made, up to now, for
that seated solidity, in the rich sea-mist, on which the garish,
the supposedly envious, peoples have ever cooled their eyes. But
it was at the same time precisely why even much initiation left
one, at given moments, so puzzled as to the element of staleness
in all the freshness and of freshness in all the staleness, of
innocence in the guilt and of guilt in the innocence. There were
other marble terraces, sweeping more purple prospects, on which
he would have known what to think, and would have enjoyed thereby
at least the small intellectual fillip of a discerned relation
between a given appearance and a taken meaning. The inquiring
mind, in these present conditions, might, it was true, be more
sharply challenged; but the result of its attention and its
ingenuity, it had unluckily learned to know, was too often to be
confronted with a mere dead wall, a lapse of logic, a confirmed
bewilderment. And moreover, above all, nothing mattered, in the
relation of the enclosing scene to his own consciousness, but its
very most direct bearings.
Lady Castledean's dream of Mr. Blint for the morning was
doubtless already, with all the spacious harmonies re-
established, taking the form of "going over" something with him,
at the piano, in one of the numerous smaller rooms that were
consecrated to the less gregarious uses; what she had wished had
been effected--her convenience had been assured. This made him,
however, wonder the more where Charlotte was--since he didn't at
all suppose her to be making a tactless third, which would be to
have accepted mere spectatorship, in the duet of their
companions. The upshot of everything for him, alike of the less
and of the more, was that the exquisite day bloomed there like a
large fragrant flower that he had only to gather. But it was to
Charlotte he wished to make the offering, and as he moved along
the terrace, which rendered visible parts of two sides of the
house, he looked up at all the windows that were open to the
April morning, and wondered which of them would represent his
friend's room. It befell thus that his question, after no long
time, was answered; he saw Charlotte appear above as if she had
been called by the pausing of his feet on the flags. She had come
to the sill, on which she leaned to look down, and she remained
there a minute smiling at him. He had been immediately struck
with her wearing a hat and a jacket--which conduced to her
appearance of readiness not so much to join him, with a beautiful
uncovered head and a parasol, where he stood, as to take with him
some larger step altogether. The larger step had been, since the
evening before, intensely in his own mind, though he had not
fully thought out, even yet, the slightly difficult detail of it;
but he had had no chance, such as he needed, to speak the
definite word to her, and the face she now showed affected him,
accordingly, as a notice that she had wonderfully guessed it for
herself. They had these identities of impulse--they had had them
repeatedly before; and if such unarranged but unerring encounters
gave the measure of the degree in which people were, in the
common phrase, meant for each other, no union in the world had
ever been more sweetened with rightness. What in fact most often
happened was that her rightness went, as who should say, even
further than his own; they were conscious of the same necessity
at the same moment, only it was she, as a general thing, who most
clearly saw her way to it. Something in her long look at him now
out of the old grey window, something in the very poise of her
hat, the colour of her necktie, the prolonged stillness of her
smile, touched into sudden light for him all the wealth of the
fact that he could count on her. He had his hand there, to pluck
it, on the open bloom of the day; but what did the bright minute
mean but that her answering hand was already intelligently out?
So, therefore, while the minute lasted, it passed between them
that their cup was full; which cup their very eyes, holding it
fast, carried and steadied and began, as they tasted it, to
praise. He broke, however, after a moment, the silence.
"It only wants a moon, a mandolin, and a little danger, to be a
"Ah, then," she lightly called down, "let it at least have THIS!"
With which she detached a rich white rosebud from its company
with another in the front of her dress and flung it down to him.
He caught it in its fall, fixing her again after she had watched
him place it in his buttonhole. "Come down quickly!" he said in
an Italian not loud but deep.
"Vengo, vengo!" she as clearly, but more lightly, tossed out; and
she had left him the next minute to wait for her.
He came along the terrace again, with pauses during which his
eyes rested, as they had already often done, on the brave darker
wash of far-away watercolour that represented the most distant of
the cathedral towns. This place, with its great church and its
high accessibility, its towers that distinguishably signalled,
its English history, its appealing type, its acknowledged
interest, this place had sounded its name to him half the night
through, and its name had become but another name, the
pronounceable and convenient one, for that supreme sense of
things which now throbbed within him. He had kept saying to
himself "Gloucester, Gloucester, Gloucester," quite as if the
sharpest meaning of all the years just passed were intensely
expressed in it. That meaning was really that his situation
remained quite sublimely consistent with itself, and that they
absolutely, he and Charlotte, stood there together in the very
lustre of this truth. Every present circumstance helped to
proclaim it; it was blown into their faces as by the lips of the
morning. He knew why, from the first of his marriage, he had
tried with such patience for such conformity; he knew why he had
given up so much and bored himself so much; he knew why he, at
any rate, had gone in, on the basis of all forms, on the basis of
his having, in a manner, sold himself, for a situation nette. It
had all been just in order that his--well, what on earth should
he call it but his freedom?--should at present be as perfect and
rounded and lustrous as some huge precious pearl. He hadn't
struggled nor snatched; he was taking but what had been given
him; the pearl dropped itself, with its exquisite quality and
rarity, straight into his hand. Here, precisely, it was,
incarnate; its size and its value grew as Mrs. Verver appeared,
afar off, in one of the smaller doorways. She came toward him in
silence, while he moved to meet her; the great scale of this
particular front, at Matcham, multiplied thus, in the golden
morning, the stages of their meeting and the successions of their
consciousness. It wasn't till she had come quite close that he
produced for her his "Gloucester, Gloucester, Gloucester,"
and his "Look at it over there!"
She knew just where to look. "Yes--isn't it one of the best?
There are cloisters or towers or some thing." And her eyes,
which, though her lips smiled, were almost grave with their
depths of acceptance; came back to him. "Or the tomb of some old
"We must see the old king; we must 'do' the cathedral," he said;
"we must know all about it. If we could but take," he exhaled,
"the full opportunity!" And then while, for all they seemed to
give him, he sounded again her eyes: "I feel the day like a great
gold cup that we must somehow drain together."
"I feel it, as you always make me feel everything, just as you
do; so that I know ten miles off how you feel! But do you
remember," she asked, "apropos of great gold cups, the beautiful
one, the real one, that I offered you so long ago and that you
wouldn't have? Just before your marriage"--she brought it back to
him: "the gilded crystal bowl in the little Bloomsbury shop."
"Oh yes!"--but it took, with a slight surprise on the 'Prince's
part, some small recollecting. "The treacherous cracked thing you
wanted to palm off on me, and the little swindling Jew who
understood Italian and who backed you up! But I feel this an
occasion," he immediately added, "and I hope you don't mean," he
smiled, "that AS an occasion it's also cracked."
They spoke, naturally, more low than loud, overlooked as they
were, though at a respectful distance, by tiers of windows; but
it made each find in the other's voice a taste as of something
slowly and deeply absorbed. "Don't you think too much of
'cracks,' and aren't you too afraid of them? I risk the cracks,"
said Charlotte, "and I've often recalled the bowl and the little
swindling Jew, wondering if they've parted company. He made," she
said, "a great impression on me."
"Well, you also, no doubt, made a great impression on him, and I
dare say that if you were to go back to him you'd find he has
been keeping that treasure for you. But as to cracks," the Prince
went on--"what did you tell me the other day you prettily call
them in English?-'rifts within the lute'?--risk them as much as
you like for yourself, but don't risk them for me." He spoke it
in all the gaiety of his just barely-tremulous serenity. "I go,
as you know, by my superstitions. And that's why," he said, "I
know where we are. They're every one, to-day, on our side."
Resting on the parapet; toward the great view, she was silent a
little, and he saw the next moment that her eyes were closed. "I
go but by one thing." Her hand was on the sun-warmed stone; so
that, turned as they were away from the house, he put his
own upon it and covered it. "I go by YOU," she said. "I go by
So they remained a moment, till he spoke again with a gesture
that matched. "What is really our great necessity, you know, is
to go by my watch. It's already eleven"--he had looked at the
time; "so that if we stop here to luncheon what becomes of our
To this Charlotte's eyes opened straight. "There's not the
slightest need of our stopping here to luncheon. Don't you see,"
she asked, "how I'm ready?" He had taken it in, but there was
always more and more of her. "You mean you've arranged--?"
"It's easy to arrange. My maid goes up with my things. You've
only to speak to your man about yours, and they can go together."
"You mean we can leave at once?"
She let him have it all. "One of the carriages, about which I
spoke, will already have come back for us. If your superstitions
are on our side," she smiled, "so my arrangements are, and I'll
back my support against yours."
"Then you had thought," he wondered, "about Gloucester?"
She hesitated--but it was only her way. "I thought you would
think. We have, thank goodness, these harmonies. They are food
for superstition if you like. It's beautiful," she went on, "that
it should be Gloucester; 'Glo'ster, Glo'ster,' as you say, making
it sound like an old song. However, I'm sure Glo'ster, Glo'ster
will be charming," she still added; "we shall be able easily to
lunch there, and, with our luggage and our servants off our
hands, we shall have at least three or four hours. We can wire,"
she wound up, "from there."
Ever so quietly she had brought it, as she had thought it, all
out, and it had to be as covertly that he let his appreciation
expand. "Then Lady Castledean--?"
"Doesn't dream of our staying."
He took it, but thinking yet. "Then what does she dream--?"
"Of Mr. Blint, poor dear; of Mr. Blint only." Her smile for him--
for the Prince himself--was free. "Have I positively to tell you
that she doesn't want us? She only wanted us for the others--to
show she wasn't left alone with him. Now that that's done, and
that they've all gone, she of course knows for herself--!"
"'Knows'?" the Prince vaguely echoed.
"Why, that we like cathedrals; that we inevitably stop to see
them, or go round to take them in, whenever we've a chance; that
it's what our respective families quite expect of us and would be
disappointed for us to fail of. This, as forestieri," Mrs. Verver
pursued, "would be our pull--if our pull weren't indeed so great
He could only keep his eyes on her. "And have you made out the
"The very one. Paddington--the 6.50 'in.' That gives us oceans;
we can dine, at the usual hour, at home; and as Maggie will of
course be in Eaton Square I hereby invite you."
For a while he still but looked at her; it was a minute before he
spoke. "Thank you very much. With pleasure." To which he in a
moment added: "But the train for Gloucester?"
"A local one--11.22; with several stops, but doing it a good
deal, I forget how much, within the hour. So that we've time.
Only," she said, "we must employ our time."
He roused himself as from the mere momentary spell of her; he
looked again at his watch while they moved back to the door
through which she had advanced. But he had also again questions
and stops--all as for the mystery and the charm. "You looked it
up--without my having asked you?"
"Ah, my dear," she laughed, "I've seen you with Bradshaw! It
takes Anglo-Saxon blood."
"'Blood'?" he echoed. "You've that of every race!" It kept her
before him. "You're terrible."
Well, he could put it as he liked. "I know the name of the inn."
"What is it then?"
"There are two--you'll see. But I've chosen the right one. And I
think I remember the tomb," she smiled.
"Oh, the tomb--!" Any tomb would do for him. "But I mean I had
been keeping my idea so cleverly for you, while there you already
were with it."
"You had been keeping it 'for' me as much as you like. But how do
you make out," she asked, "that you were keeping it FROM me?"
"I don't--now. How shall I ever keep anything--some day when I
shall wish to?"
"Ah, for things I mayn't want to know, I promise you shall find
me stupid." They had reached their door, where she herself paused
to explain. "These days, yesterday, last night, this morning,
I've wanted everything."
Well, it was all right. "You shall have everything."
Fanny, on her arrival in town, carried out her second idea,
despatching the Colonel to his club for luncheon and packing her
maid into a cab, for Cadogan Place, with the variety of their
effects. The result of this for each of the pair was a state of
occupation so unbroken that the day practically passed without
fresh contact between them. They dined out together, but it was
both in going to their dinner and in coming back that they
appeared, on either side, to have least to communicate. Fanny was
wrapped in her thoughts still more closely than in the lemon-
coloured mantle that protected her bare shoulders, and her
husband, with her silence to deal with, showed himself not less
disposed than usual, when so challenged, to hold up, as he would
have said, his end of it. They had, in general, in these days,
longer pauses and more abrupt transitions; in one of which latter
they found themselves, for a climax, launched at midnight. Mrs.
Assingham, rather wearily housed again, ascended to the first
floor, there to sink, overburdened, on the landing outside the
drawing-room, into a great gilded Venetian chair--of which at
first, however, she but made, with her brooding face, a sort of
throne of meditation. She would thus have recalled a little, with
her so free orientalism of type, the immemorially speechless
Sphinx about at last to become articulate. The Colonel, not
unlike, on his side, some old pilgrim of the desert camping at
the foot of that monument, went, by way of reconnoissance, into
the drawing-room. He visited, according to his wont, the windows
and their fastenings; he cast round the place the eye, all at
once, of the master and the manager, the commandant and the
rate-payer; then he came back to his wife, before whom, for a
moment, he stood waiting. But she herself, for a time, continued
to wait, only looking up at him inscrutably. There was in these
minor manoeuvres and conscious patiences something of a
suspension of their old custom of divergent discussion, that
intercourse by misunderstanding which had grown so clumsy now.
This familiar pleasantry seemed to desire to show it could yield,
on occasion, to any clear trouble; though it was also sensibly,
and just incoherently, in the air that no trouble was at present
to be vulgarly recognised as clear.
There might, for that matter, even have been in Mr. Assingham's
face a mild perception of some finer sense--a sense for his
wife's situation, and the very situation she was, oddly enough,
about to repudiate--that she had fairly caused to grow in him.
But it was a flower to breathe upon gently, and this was very
much what she finally did. She knew he needed no telling that she
had given herself, all the afternoon, to her friends in Eaton
Square, and that her doing so would have been but the prompt
result of impressions gathered, in quantities, in brimming
baskets, like the purple grapes of the vintage, at Matcham; a
process surrounded by him, while it so unmistakably went on, with
abstentions and discretions that might almost have counted as
solemnities. The solemnities, at the same time, had committed him
to nothing--to nothing beyond this confession itself of a
consciousness of deep waters. She had been out on these waters,
for him, visibly; and his tribute to the fact had been his
keeping her, even if without a word, well in sight. He had not
quitted for an hour, during her adventure, the shore of the
mystic lake; he had on the contrary stationed himself where she
could signal to him at need. Her need would have arisen if the
planks of her bark had parted--THEN some sort of plunge would
have become his immediate duty. His present position, clearly,
was that of seeing her in the centre of her sheet of dark water,
and of wondering if her actual mute gaze at him didn't perhaps
mean that her planks WERE now parting. He held himself so ready
that it was quite as if the inward man had pulled off coat and
waistcoat. Before he had plunged, however--that is before he had
uttered a question--he perceived, not without relief, that she
was making for land. He watched her steadily paddle, always a
little nearer, and at last he felt her boat bump. The bump was
distinct, and in fact she stepped ashore. "We were all wrong.
"Nothing--?" It was like giving her his hand up the bank.
"Between Charlotte Verver and the Prince. I was uneasy--but I'm
satisfied now. I was in fact quite mistaken. There's nothing."
"But I thought," said Bob Assingham, "that that was just what you
did persistently asseverate. You've guaranteed their straightness
from the first."
"No--I've never till now guaranteed anything but my own
disposition to worry. I've never till now," Fanny went on gravely
from her chair, "had such a chance to see and to judge. I had it
at that place--if I had, in my infatuation and my folly," she
added with expression, "nothing else. So I did see--I HAVE seen.
And now I know." Her emphasis, as she repeated the word, made her
head, in her seat of infallibility, rise higher. "I know."
The Colonel took it--but took it at first in silence. "Do you
mean they've TOLD you--?"
"No--I mean nothing so absurd. For in the first place I haven't
asked them, and in the second their word in such a matter
"Oh," said the Colonel with all his oddity, "they'd tell US."
It made her face him an instant as with her old impatience of his
short cuts, always across her finest flower-beds; but she felt,
none the less, that she kept her irony down. "Then when they've
told you, you'll be perhaps so good as to let me know."
He jerked up his chin, testing the growth of his beard with the
back of his hand while he fixed her with a single eye. "Ah, I
don't say that they'd necessarily tell me that they ARE over the
"They'll necessarily, whatever happens, hold their tongues, I
hope, and I'm talking of them now as I take them for myself only.
THAT'S enough for me--it's all I have to regard." With which,
after an instant, "They're wonderful," said Fanny Assingham.
"Indeed," her husband concurred, "I really think they are."
"You'd think it still more if you knew. But you don't know--
because you don't see. Their situation"--this was what he didn't
see--"is too extraordinary."
"'Too'?" He was willing to try.
"Too extraordinary to be believed, I mean, if one didn't see. But
just that, in a way, is what saves them. They take it seriously."
He followed at his own pace. "Their situation?"
"The incredible side of it. They make it credible."
"Credible then--you do say--to YOU?"
She looked at him again for an interval. "They believe in it
themselves. They take it for what it is. And that," she said,
"But if what it 'is' is just their chance--?"
"It's their chance for what I told you when Charlotte first
turned up. It's their chance for the idea that I was then sure
The Colonel showed his effort to recall. "Oh, your idea, at
different moments, of any one of THEIR ideas!" This dim
procession, visibly, mustered before him, and, with the best will
in the world, he could but watch its immensity. "Are you speaking
now of something to which you can comfortably settle down?"
Again, for a little, she only glowered at him. "I've come back
to my belief, and that I have done so--"
"Well?" he asked as she paused.
"Well, shows that I'm right--for I assure you I had wandered far.
Now I'm at home again, and I mean," said Fanny Assingham, "to
stay here. They're beautiful," she declared.
"The Prince and Charlotte?"
"The Prince and Charlotte. THAT'S how they're so remarkable. And
the beauty," she explained, "is that they're afraid for them.
Afraid, I mean, for the others."
"For Mr. Verver and Maggie?" It did take some following. "Afraid
"Afraid of themselves."
The Colonel wondered. "Of THEMSELVES? Of Mr. Verver's and
Mrs. Assingham remained patient as well as lucid. "Yes--of SUCH
blindness too. But most of all of their own danger."
He turned it over. "That danger BEING the blindness--?"
"That danger being their position. What their position contains--
of all the elements--I needn't at this time of day attempt to
tell you. It contains, luckily--for that's the mercy--
everything BUT blindness: I mean on their part. The blindness,"
said Fanny, "is primarily her husband's."
He stood for a moment; he WOULD have it straight. "Whose
"Mr. Verver's," she went on. "The blindness is most of all his.
That they feel--that they see. But it's also his wife's."
"Whose wife's?" he asked as she continued to gloom at him in a
manner at variance with the comparative cheer of her contention.
And then as she only gloomed: "The Prince's?"
"Maggie's own--Maggie's very own," she pursued as for herself.
He had a pause. "Do you think Maggie so blind?"
"The question isn't of what I think. The question's of the
conviction that guides the Prince and Charlotte--who have better
opportunities than I for judging."
The Colonel again wondered. "Are you so very sure their
opportunities are better?"
"Well," his wife asked, "what is their whole so extraordinary
situation, their extraordinary relation, but an opportunity?"
"Ah, my dear, you have that opportunity--of their extraordinary
situation and relation--as much as they."
"With the difference, darling," she returned with some spirit,
"that neither of those matters are, if you please, mine. I see
the boat they're in, but I'm not, thank God, in it myself.
To-day, however," Mrs. Assingham added, "to-day in Eaton Square I
"Well then, what?"
But she mused over it still. "Oh, many things. More, somehow,
than ever before. It was as if, God help me, I was seeing FOR
them--I mean for the others. It was as if something had
happened--I don't know what, except some effect of these days
with them at that place--that had either made things come out or
had cleared my own eyes." These eyes indeed of the poor lady's
rested on her companion's, meanwhile, with the lustre not so much
of intenser insight as of a particular portent that he had at
various other times had occasion to recognise. She desired,
obviously, to reassure him, but it apparently took a couple of
large, candid, gathering, glittering tears to emphasise
the fact. They had immediately, for him, their usual direct
action: she must reassure him, he was made to feel, absolutely in
her own way. He would adopt it and conform to it as soon as he
should be able to make it out. The only thing was that it took
such incalculable twists and turns. The twist seemed remarkable
for instance as she developed her indication of what had come out
in the afternoon. "It was as if I knew better than ever what
"What makes them?"--he pressed her as she fitfully dropped.
"Well, makes the Prince and Charlotte take it all as they do. It
might well have been difficult to know HOW to take it; and they
may even say for themselves that they were a long time trying to
see. As I say, to-day," she went on, "it was as if I were
suddenly, with a kind of horrible push, seeing through their
eyes." On which, as to shake off her perversity, Fanny
Assingham sprang up. But she remained there, under the dim
illumination, and while the Colonel, with his high, dry, spare
look of "type," to which a certain conformity to the whiteness of
inaccessible snows in his necktie, shirt-front and waistcoat gave
a rigour of accent, waited, watching her, they might, at the late
hour and in the still house, have been a pair of specious worldly
adventurers, driven for relief, under sudden stress, to some grim
midnight reckoning in an odd corner. Her attention moved
mechanically over the objects of ornament disposed too freely on
the walls of staircase and landing, as to which recognition, for
the time, had lost both fondness and compunction. "I can imagine
the way it works," she said; "it's so easy to understand. Yet I
don't want to be wrong," she the next moment broke out "I don't,
I don't want to be wrong!"
"To make a mistake, you mean?"
Oh no, she meant nothing of the sort; she knew but too well what
she meant. "I don't make mistakes. But I perpetrate--in thought--
crimes." And she spoke with all intensity. "I'm a most dreadful
person. There are times when I seem not to mind a bit what I've
done, or what I think or imagine or fear or accept; when I feel
that I'd do it again--feel that I'd do things myself."
"Ah, my dear!" the Colonel remarked in the coolness of debate.
"Yes, if you had driven me back on my 'nature.' Luckily for you
you never have. You've done every thing else, but you've never
done that. But what I really don't a bit want," she declared, "is
to abet them or to protect them."
Her companion turned this over. "What is there to protect them
from?--if, by your now so settled faith, they've done nothing
that justly exposes them."
And it in fact half pulled her up. "Well, from a sudden scare.
From the alarm, I mean, of what Maggie MAY think."
"Yet if your whole idea is that Maggie thinks nothing--?"
She waited again. "It isn't my 'whole' idea. Nothing is my
'whole' idea--for I felt to-day, as I tell you, that there's so
much in the air."
"Oh, in the air--!" the Colonel dryly breathed.
"Well, what's in the air always HAS--hasn't it?--to come down to
the earth. And Maggie," Mrs. Assingham continued, "is a very
curious little person. Since I was 'in,' this afternoon, for
seeing more than I had ever done--well, I felt THAT too, for some
reason, as I hadn't yet felt it."
"For 'some' reason? For what reason?" And then, as his wife at
first said nothing: "Did she give any sign? Was she in any way
"She's always so different from anyone else in the world that
it's hard to say when she's different from herself. But she has
made me," said Fanny after an instant, "think of her differently.
She drove me home."
"First to Portland Place--on her leaving her father: since she
does, once in a while, leave him. That was to keep me with her a
little longer. But she kept the carriage and, after tea there,
came with me herself back here. This was also for the same
purpose. Then she went home, though I had brought her a message
from the Prince that arranged their movements otherwise. He and
Charlotte must have arrived--if they have arrived--expecting to
drive together to Eaton Square and keep Maggie on to dinner
there. She has everything there, you know--she has clothes."
The Colonel didn't in fact know, but he gave it his apprehension.
"Oh, you mean a change?"
"Twenty changes, if you like--all sorts of things. She dresses,
really, Maggie does, as much for her father--and she always did--
as for her husband or for herself. She has her room in his house
very much as she had it before she was married--and just as the
boy has quite a second nursery there, in which Mrs. Noble, when
she comes with him, makes herself, I assure you, at home. Si bien
that if Charlotte, in her own house, so to speak, should wish a
friend or two to stay with her, she really would be scarce able
to put them up."
It was a picture into which, as a thrifty entertainer himself,
Bob Assingham could more or less enter. "Maggie and the child
"Maggie and the child spread so."
Well, he considered. "It IS rather rum,"
"That's all I claim"--she seemed thankful for the word. "I don't
say it's anything more--but it IS, distinctly, rum."
Which, after an instant, the Colonel took up. "'More'? What more
COULD it be?"
"It could be that she's unhappy, and that she takes her funny
little way of consoling herself. For if she were unhappy"--Mrs.
Assingham had figured it out--"that's just the way, I'm
convinced, she would take. But how can she be unhappy, since--as
I'm also convinced--she, in the midst of everything, adores her
husband as much as ever?"
The Colonel at this brooded for a little at large. "Then if she's
so happy, please what's the matter?"
It made his wife almost spring at him. "You think then she's
But he threw up his arms in deprecation. "Ah, my dear, I give
them up to YOU. I've nothing more to suggest."
"Then it's not sweet of you." She spoke at present as if he were
frequently sweet. "You admit that it is 'rum.'"
And this indeed fixed again, for a moment, his intention. "Has
Charlotte complained of the want of rooms for her friends?"
"Never, that I know of, a word. It isn't the sort of thing she
does. And whom has she, after all," Mrs. Assingham added, "to
"Hasn't she always you?"
"Oh, 'me'! Charlotte and I, nowadays--!" She spoke as of a
chapter closed. "Yet see the justice I still do her. She strikes
me, more and more, as extraordinary."
A deeper shade, at the renewal of the word, had come into the
Colonel's face. "If they're each and all so extraordinary then,
isn't that why one must just resign one's self to wash one's
hands of them--to be lost?" Her face, however, so met the
question as if it were but a flicker of the old tone that their
trouble had now become too real for--her charged eyes so betrayed
the condition of her nerves that he stepped back, alertly enough,
to firmer ground. He had spoken before in this light of a plain
man's vision, but he must be something more than a plain man now.
"Hasn't she then, Charlotte, always her husband--?"
"To complain to? She'd rather die."
"Oh!"--and Bob Assingham's face, at the vision of such
extremities, lengthened for very docility. "Hasn't she the Prince
"For such matters? Oh, he doesn't count."
"I thought that was just what--as the basis of our agitation--he
Mrs. Assingham, however, had her distinction ready. "Not a bit as
a person to bore with complaints. The ground of MY agitation is,
exactly, that she never on any pretext bores him. Not Charlotte!"
And in the imagination of Mrs. Verver's superiority to any such
mistake she gave, characteristically, something like a toss of
her head--as marked a tribute to that lady's general grace, in
all the conditions, as the personage referred to doubtless had
"Ah, only Maggie!" With which the Colonel gave a short low
gurgle. But it found his wife again prepared.
"No--not only Maggie. A great many people in London--and small
"Maggie only worst then?" But it was a question that he had
promptly dropped at the returning brush of another, of which she
had shortly before sown the seed. "You said just now that he
would by this time be back with Charlotte 'if they HAVE arrived.'
You think it then possible that they really won't have returned?"
His companion exhibited to view, for the idea, a sense of her
responsibility; but this was insufficient, clearly, to keep her
from entertaining it. "I think there's nothing they're not now
capable of--in their so intense good faith."
"Good faith?"--he echoed the words, which had in fact something
of an odd ring, critically.
"Their false position. It comes to the same thing." And she bore
down, with her decision, the superficial lack of sequence. "They
may very possibly, for a demonstration--as I see them--not have
He wondered, visibly, at this, how she did see them. "May have
bolted somewhere together?"
"May have stayed over at Matcham itself till tomorrow. May have
wired home, each of them, since Maggie left me. May have done,"
Fanny Assingham continued, "God knows what!" She went on,
suddenly, with more emotion--which, at the pressure of some
spring of her inner vision, broke out in a wail of distress,
imperfectly smothered. "Whatever they've done I shall never know.
Never, never--because I don't want to, and because nothing will
induce me. So they may do as they like. But I've worked for them
ALL" She uttered this last with another irrepressible quaver, and
the next moment her tears had come, though she had, with the
explosion, quitted her husband as if to hide it from him. She
passed into the dusky drawing-room, where, during his own prowl,
shortly previous, he had drawn up a blind, so that the light of
the street-lamps came in a little at the window. She made for
this window, against which she leaned her head, while the
Colonel, with his lengthened face, looked after her for a minute
and hesitated. He might have been wondering what she had really
done, to what extent, beyond his knowledge or his conception, in
the affairs of these people, she COULD have committed herself.
But to hear her cry, and yet try not to, was, quickly enough, too
much for him; he had known her at other times quite not try not
to, and that had not been so bad. He went to her and put his arm
round her; he drew her head to his breast, where, while she
gasped, she let it stay a little--all with a patience that
presently stilled her. Yet the effect of this small crisis, oddly
enough, was not to close their colloquy, with the natural result
of sending them to bed: what was between them had opened out
further, had somehow, through the sharp show of her feeling,
taken a positive stride, had entered, as it were, without more
words, the region of the understood, shutting the door after it
and bringing them so still more nearly face to face. They
remained for some minutes looking at it through the dim window
which opened upon the world of human trouble in general and which
let the vague light play here and there upon gilt and crystal and
colour, the florid features, looming dimly, of Fanny's
drawing-room. And the beauty of what thus passed between them,
passed with her cry of pain, with her burst of tears, with his
wonderment and his kindness and his comfort, with the moments of
their silence, above all, which might have represented their
sinking together, hand in hand, for a time, into the mystic lake
where he had begun, as we have hinted, by seeing her paddle
alone--the beauty of it was that they now could really talk
better than before, because the basis had at last, once for all,
defined itself. What was the basis, which Fanny absolutely
exacted, but that Charlotte and the Prince must be saved--so far
as consistently speaking of them as still safe might save them?
It did save them, somehow, for Fanny's troubled mind--for that
was the nature of the mind of women. He conveyed to her now, at
all events, by refusing her no gentleness, that he had
sufficiently got the tip, and that the tip was all he had wanted.
This remained quite clear even when he presently reverted to what
she had told him of her recent passage with Maggie. "I don't
altogether see, you know, what you infer from it, or why you
infer anything." When he so expressed himself it was quite as if
in possession of what they had brought up from the depths.
"I can't say more," this made his companion reply, "than that
something in her face, her voice and her whole manner acted upon
me as nothing in her had ever acted before; and just for the
reason, above all, that I felt her trying her very best--and her
very best, poor duck, is very good--to be quiet and natural. It's
when one sees people who always ARE natural making little pale,
pathetic, blinking efforts for it--then it is that one knows
something's the matter. I can't describe my impression--you would
have had it for yourself. And the only thing that ever CAN be the
matter with Maggie is that. By 'that' I mean her beginning to
doubt. To doubt, for the first time," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"of her wonderful little judgment of her wonderful little world."
It was impressive, Fanny's vision, and the Colonel, as if himself
agitated by it, took another turn of prowling. "To doubt of
fidelity--to doubt of friendship! Poor duck indeed! It will go
hard with her. But she'll put it all," he concluded, "on
Mrs. Assingham, still darkly contemplative, denied this with a
headshake. "She won't 'put' it anywhere. She won't do with it
anything anyone else would. She'll take it all herself."
"You mean she'll make it out her own fault?"
"Yes--she'll find means, somehow, to arrive at that."
"Ah then," the Colonel dutifully declared, "she's indeed a little
"Oh," his wife returned, "you'll see, in one way or another, to
what tune!" And she spoke, of a sudden, with an approach to
elation--so that, as if immediately feeling his surprise, she
turned round to him. "She'll see me somehow through!"
"Yes, me. I'm the worst. For," said Fanny Assingham, now with a
harder exaltation, "I did it all. I recognise that--I accept it.
She won't cast it up at me--she won't cast up anything. So I
throw myself upon her--she'll bear me up." She spoke almost
volubly--she held him with her sudden sharpness. "She'll carry
the whole weight of us."
There was still, nevertheless, wonder in it. "You mean she won't
mind? I SAY, love--!" And he not unkindly stared. "Then where's
"There isn't any!" Fanny declared with the same rich emphasis.
It kept him indeed, as by the loss of the thread, looking at her
longer. "Ah, you mean there isn't any for US!"
She met his look for a minute as if it perhaps a little too much
imputed a selfishness, a concern, at any cost, for their own
surface. Then she might have been deciding that their own surface
was, after all, what they had most to consider. "Not," she said
with dignity, "if we properly keep our heads." She appeared even
to signify that they would begin by keeping them now. This was
what it was to have at last a constituted basis. "Do you remember
what you said to me that night of my first REAL anxiety--after
the Foreign Office party?"
"In the carriage--as we came home?" Yes--he could recall it.
"Leave them to pull through?"
"Precisely. 'Trust their own wit,' you practically said, 'to save
all appearances.' Well, I've trusted it. I HAVE left them to pull
He hesitated. "And your point is that they're not doing so?"
"I've left them," she went on, "but now I see how and where. I've
been leaving them all the while, without knowing it, to HER."
"To the Princess?"
"And that's what I mean," Mrs. Assingham pensively pursued.
"That's what happened to me with her to-day," she continued to
explain. "It came home to me that that's what I've really been
"Oh, I see."
"I needn't torment myself. She has taken them over."
The Colonel declared that he "saw"; yet it was as if, at this, he
a little sightlessly stared. "But what then has happened, from
one day to the other, to HER? What has opened her eyes?"
"They were never really shut. She misses him."
"Then why hasn't she missed him before?"
Well, facing him there, among their domestic glooms and glints,
Fanny worked it out. "She did--but she wouldn't let herself know
it. She had her reason--she wore her blind. Now, at last, her
situation has come to a head. To-day she does know it. And that's
illuminating. It has been," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"illuminating to ME."
Her husband attended, but the momentary effect of his attention
was vagueness again, and the refuge of his vagueness was a gasp.
"Poor dear little girl!"
"Ah no--don't pity her!"
This did, however, pull him up. "We mayn't even be sorry for
"Not now--or at least not yet. It's too soon--that is if it isn't
very much too late. This will depend," Mrs. Assingham went on;
"at any rate we shall see. We might have pitied her before--for
all the good it would then have done her; we might have begun
some time ago. Now, however, she has begun to live. And the way
it comes to me, the way it comes to me--" But again she projected
"The way it comes to you can scarcely be that she'll like it!"
"The way it comes to me is that she will live. The way it comes
to me is that she'll triumph."
She said this with so sudden a prophetic flare that it fairly
cheered her husband. "Ah then, we must back her!"
"No--we mustn't touch her. We mayn't touch any of them. We must
keep our hands off; we must go on tiptoe. We must simply watch
and wait. And meanwhile," said Mrs. Assingham, "we must bear it
as we can. That's where we are--and serves us right. We're in
And so, moving about the room as in communion with shadowy
portents, she left it till he questioned again. "In presence of
"Well, of something possibly beautiful. Beautiful as it MAY come
She had paused there before him while he wondered. "You mean
she'll get the Prince back?"
She raised her hand in quick impatience: the suggestion might
have been almost abject. "It isn't a question of recovery. It
won't be a question of any vulgar struggle. To 'get him back' she
must have lost him, and to have lost him she must have had him.
"With which Fanny shook her head. "What I take her to be waking
up to is the truth that, all the while, she really HASN'T had
"Ah, my dear--!" the poor Colonel panted.
"Never!" his wife repeated. And she went on without pity. "Do you
remember what I said to you long ago--that evening, just before
their marriage, when Charlotte had so suddenly turned up?"
The smile with which he met this appeal was not, it was to be
feared, robust. "What haven't you, love, said in your time?"
"So many things, no doubt, that they make a chance for my having
once or twice spoken the truth. I never spoke it more, at all
events, than when I put it to you, that evening, that Maggie was
the person in the world to whom a wrong thing could least be
communicated. It was as if her imagination had been closed to it,
her sense altogether sealed, That therefore," Fanny continued,
"is what will now HAVE to happen. Her sense will have to open."
"I see." He nodded. "To the wrong." He nodded again, almost
cheerfully--as if he had been keeping the peace with a baby or a
lunatic. "To the very, very wrong."
But his wife's spirit, after its effort of wing, was able to
remain higher. "To what's called Evil--with a very big E: for the
first time in her life. To the discovery of it, to the knowledge
of it, to the crude experience of it." And she gave, for the
possibility, the largest measure. "To the harsh, bewildering
brush, the daily chilling breath of it. Unless indeed"--and here
Mrs. Assingham noted a limit "unless indeed, as yet (so far as
she has come, and if she comes no further), simply to the
suspicion and the dread. What we shall see is whether that mere
dose of alarm will prove enough."
He considered. "But enough for what then, dear--if not enough to
break her heart?"
"Enough to give her a shaking!" Mrs. Assingham rather oddly
replied. "To give her, I mean, the right one. The right one won't
break her heart. It will make her," she explained--"well, it will
make her, by way of a change, understand one or two things in the
"But isn't it a pity," the Colonel asked, "that they should
happen to be the one or two that will be the most disagreeable to
"Oh, 'disagreeable'--? They'll have had to be disagreeable--to
show her a little where she is. They'll have HAD to be
disagreeable to make her sit up. They'll have had to be
disagreeable to make her decide to live."
Bob Assingham was now at the window, while his companion slowly
revolved; he had lighted a cigarette, for final patience, and he
seemed vaguely to "time" her as she moved to and fro. He had at
the same time to do justice to the lucidity she had at last
attained, and it was doubtless by way of expression of this
teachability that he let his eyes, for a minute, roll, as from
the force of feeling, over the upper dusk of the room. He had
thought of the response his wife's words ideally implied.
"Decide to live--ah yes!--for her child."
"Oh, bother her child!"--and he had never felt so snubbed, for an
exemplary view, as when Fanny now stopped short. "To live, you
poor dear, for her father--which is another pair of sleeves!"
And Mrs. Assingham's whole ample, ornamented person irradiated,
with this, the truth that had begun, under so much handling, to
glow. "Any idiot can do things for her child. She'll have a
motive more original, and we shall see how it will work her.
She'll have to save HIM."
"To 'save' him--?"
"To keep her father from her own knowledge. THAT"--and she seemed
to see it, before her, in her husband's very eyes--"will be work
cut out!" With which, as at the highest conceivable climax, she
wound up their colloquy. "Good night!"
There was something in her manner, however--or in the effect, at
least, of this supreme demonstration that had fairly, and by a
single touch, lifted him to her side; so that, after she had
turned her back to regain the landing and the staircase, he
overtook her, before she had begun to mount, with the ring of
excited perception. "Ah, but, you know, that's rather jolly!"
"Jolly'--?" she turned upon it, again, at the foot of the
"I mean it's rather charming."
"'Charming'--?" It had still to be their law, a little, that she
was tragic when he was comic.
"I mean it's rather beautiful. You just said, yourself, it would
be. Only," he pursued promptly, with the impetus of this idea,
and as if it had suddenly touched with light for him connections
hitherto dim--"only I don't quite see why that very care for him
which has carried her to such other lengths, precisely, as affect
one as so 'rum,' hasn't also, by the same stroke, made her notice
a little more what has been going on."
"Ah, there you are! It's the question that I've all along been
asking myself." She had rested her eyes on the carpet, but she
raised them as she pursued--she let him have it straight. "And
it's the question of an idiot."
"Well, the idiot that I'VE been, in all sorts of ways--so often,
of late, have I asked it. You're excusable, since you ask it but
now. The answer, I saw to-day, has all the while been staring me
in the face."
"Then what in the world is it?"
"Why, the very intensity of her conscience about him--the very
passion of her brave little piety. That's the way it has worked,"
Mrs. Assingham explained "and I admit it to have been as 'rum' a
way as possible. But it has been working from a rum start. From
the moment the dear man married to ease his daughter off, and it
then happened, by an extraordinary perversity, that the very
opposite effect was produced--!" With the renewed vision of this
fatality, however, she could give but a desperate shrug.
"I see," the Colonel sympathetically mused. "That WAS a rum
But his very response, as she again flung up her arms, seemed to
make her sense, for a moment, intolerable. "Yes--there I am! I
was really at the bottom of it," she declared; "I don't know what
possessed me--but I planned for him, I goaded him on." With
which, however, the next moment, she took herself up. "Or,
rather, I DO know what possessed me--for wasn't he beset with
ravening women, right and left, and didn't he, quite
pathetically, appeal for protection, didn't he, quite charmingly,
show one how he needed and desired it? Maggie," she thus lucidly
continued, "couldn't, with a new life of her own, give herself up
to doing for him in the future all she had done in the past--to
fencing him in, to keeping him safe and keeping THEM off. One
perceived this," she went on--"out of the abundance of one's
affection and one's sympathy." It all blessedly came back to
her--when it wasn't all, for the fiftieth time, obscured, in face
of the present facts, by anxiety and compunction. "One was no
doubt a meddlesome fool; one always IS, to think one sees
people's lives for them better than they see them for themselves.
But one's excuse here," she insisted, "was that these people
clearly DIDN'T see them for themselves--didn't see them at all.
It struck one for very pity--that they were making a mess of such
charming material; that they were but wasting it and letting it
go. They didn't know HOW to live--and "somehow one couldn't, if
one took an interest in them at all, simply stand and see it.
That's what I pay for"--and the poor woman, in straighter
communion with her companion's intelligence at this moment, she
appeared to feel, than she had ever been before, let him have the
whole of the burden of her consciousness. "I always pay for it,
sooner or later, my sociable, my damnable, my unnecessary
interest. Nothing of course would suit me but that it should fix
itself also on Charlotte--Charlotte who was hovering there on the
edge of our lives, when not beautifully, and a trifle
mysteriously, flitting across them, and who was a piece of waste
and a piece of threatened failure, just as, for any possible good
to the WORLD, Mr. Verver and Maggie were. It began to come over
me, in the watches of the night, that Charlotte was a person who
COULD keep off ravening women--without being one herself, either,
in the vulgar way of the others; and that this service to Mr.
Verver would be a sweet employment for her future. There was
something, of course, that might have stopped me: you know, you
know what I mean--it looks at me," she veritably moaned, "out of
your face! But all I can say is that it didn't; the reason
largely being--once I had fallen in love with the beautiful
symmetry of my plan--that I seemed to feel sure Maggie would
accept Charlotte, whereas I didn't quite make out either what
other woman, or what other KIND of woman, one could think of her
"I see--I see." She had paused, meeting all the while his
listening look, and the fever of her retrospect had so risen with
her talk that the desire was visibly strong in him to meet her,
on his side, but with cooling breath. "One quite understands, my
It only, however, kept her there sombre. "I naturally see, love,
what you understand; which sits again, perfectly, in your eyes.
You see that I saw that Maggie would accept her in helpless
ignorance. Yes, dearest"--and the grimness of her dreariness
suddenly once more possessed her: "you've only to tell me that
that knowledge was my reason for what I did. How, when you do,
can I stand up to you? You see," she said with an ineffable
headshake, "that I don't stand up! I'm down, down, down," she
declared; "yet" she as quickly added--"there's just one little
thing that helps to save my life." And she kept him waiting but
an instant. "They might easily--they would perhaps even
certainly--have done something worse."
He thought. "Worse than that Charlotte--?"
"Ah, don't tell me," she cried, "that there COULD have been
nothing worse. There might, as they were, have been many things.
Charlotte, in her way, is extraordinary."
He was almost simultaneous. "Extraordinary!"
"She observes the forms," said Fanny Assingham.
He hesitated. "With the Prince--?"
"FOR the Prince. And with the others," she went on. "With Mr.
Verver--wonderfully. But above all with Maggie. And the forms"
--she had to do even THEM justice--"are two-thirds of conduct.
Say he had married a woman who would have made a hash of them."
But he jerked back. "Ah, my dear, I wouldn't say it for the
"Say," she none the less pursued, "he had married a woman the
Prince would really have cared for."
"You mean then he doesn't care for Charlotte--?" This was still a
new view to jump to, and the Colonel, perceptibly, wished to make
sure of the necessity of the effort. For that, while he stared,
his wife allowed him time; at the end of which she simply said:
"Then what on earth are they up to?" Still, however, she only
looked at him; so that, standing there before her with his hands
in his pockets, he had time, further, to risk, soothingly,
another question. "Are the 'forms' you speak of--that are
two-thirds of conduct--what will be keeping her now, by your
hypothesis, from coming home with him till morning?"
"Yes--absolutely. THEIR forms."
"Maggie's and Mr. Verver's--those they IMPOSE on Charlotte and
the Prince. Those," she developed. "that, so perversely, as I
say, have succeeded in setting themselves up as the right ones."
He considered--but only now, at last, really to relapse into woe.
"Your 'perversity,' my dear, is exactly what I don't understand.
The state of things existing hasn't grown, like a field of
mushrooms, in a night. Whatever they, all round, may be in for
now is at least the consequence of what they've DONE. Are they
mere helpless victims of fate?"
Well, Fanny at last had the courage of it, "Yes--they are. To be
so abjectly innocent--that IS to be victims of fate."
"And Charlotte and the Prince are abjectly innocent--?"
It took her another minute, but she rose to the full height.
"Yes. That is they WERE--as much so in their way as the others.
There were beautiful intentions all round. The Prince's and
Charlotte's were beautiful--of THAT I had my faith. They WERE--
I'd go to the stake. Otherwise," she added, "I should have been a
wretch. And I've not been a wretch. I've only been a double-dyed
"Ah then," he asked, "what does our muddle make THEM to have
"Well, too much taken up with considering each other. You may
call such a mistake as that by what ever name you please; it at
any rate means, all round, their case. It illustrates the
misfortune," said Mrs. Assingham gravely, "of being too, too
This was another matter that took some following, but the Colonel
again did his best. "Yes, but to whom?--doesn't it rather depend
on that? To whom have the Prince and Charlotte then been too
"To each other, in the first place--obviously. And then both of
them together to Maggie."
"To Maggie?" he wonderingly echoed.
"To Maggie." She was now crystalline. "By having accepted, from
the first, so guilelessly--yes, so guilelessly, themselves--her
guileless idea of still having her father, of keeping him fast,
in her life."
"Then isn't one supposed, in common humanity, and if one hasn't
quarrelled with him, and one has the means, and he, on his side,
doesn't drink or kick up rows--isn't one supposed to keep one's
aged parent in one's life?"
"Certainly--when there aren't particular reasons against it. That
there may be others than his getting drunk is exactly the moral
of what is before us. In the first place Mr. Verver isn't aged."
The Colonel just hung fire--but it came. "Then why the deuce does
he--oh, poor dear man!--behave as if he were?"
She took a moment to meet it. "How do you know how he behaves?"
"Well, my own love, we see how Charlotte does!" Again, at this,
she faltered; but again she rose. "Ah, isn't my whole point that
he's charming to her?"
"Doesn't it depend a bit on what she regards as charming?"
She faced the question as if it were flippant, then with a
headshake of dignity she brushed it away. "It's Mr. Verver who's
really young--it's Charlotte who's really old. And what I was
saying," she added, "isn't affected!"
"You were saying"--he did her the justice--"that they're all
"That they were. Guileless, all, at first--quite extraordinarily.
It's what I mean by their failure to see that the more they took
for granted they could work together the more they were really
working apart. For I repeat," Fanny went on, "that I really
believe Charlotte and the Prince honestly to have made up their
minds, originally, that their very esteem for Mr. Verver--which
was serious, as well it might be!--would save them."
"I see." The Colonel inclined himself. "And save HIM."
"It comes to the same thing!"
"Then save Maggie."
"That comes," said Mrs. Assingham, "to something a little
different. For Maggie has done the most."
He wondered. "What do you call the most?"
"Well, she did it originally--she began the vicious circle. For
that--though you make round eyes at my associating her with
'vice'--is simply what it has been. It's their mutual
consideration, all round, that has made it the bottomless gulf;
and they're really so embroiled but because, in their way,
they've been so improbably GOOD."
"In their way--yes!" the Colonel grinned.
"Which was, above all, Maggie's way." No flicker of his ribaldry
was anything to her now. "Maggie had in the first place to make
up to her father for her having suffered herself to become--poor
little dear, as she believed--so intensely married. Then she had
to make up to her husband for taking so much of the time they
might otherwise have spent together to make this reparation to
Mr. Verver perfect. And her way to do this, precisely, was by
allowing the Prince the use, the enjoyment, whatever you may call
it, of Charlotte to cheer his path--by instalments, as it were--
in proportion as she herself, making sure her father was all
right, might be missed from his side. By so much, at the same
time, however," Mrs. Assingham further explained, "by so much as
she took her young stepmother, for this purpose, away from Mr.
Verver, by just so much did this too strike her as something
again to be made up for. It has saddled her, you will easily see,
with a positively new obligation to her father, an obligation
created and aggravated by her unfortunate, even if quite heroic,
little sense of justice. She began with wanting to show him that
his marriage could never, under whatever temptation of her own
bliss with the Prince, become for her a pretext for deserting or
neglecting HIM. Then that, in its order, entailed her wanting to
show the Prince that she recognised how the other desire--this
wish to remain, intensely, the same passionate little daughter
she had always been--involved in some degree, and just for the
present, so to speak, her neglecting and deserting him. I quite
hold," Fanny with characteristic amplitude parenthesised, "that a
person can mostly feel but one passion--one TENDER passion, that
is--at a time. Only, that doesn't hold good for our primary and
instinctive attachments, the 'voice of blood,' such as one's
feeling for a parent or a brother. Those may be intense and
yet not prevent other intensities--as you will recognise, my
dear, when you remember how I continued, tout betement, to adore
my mother, whom you didn't adore, for years after I had begun to
adore you. Well, Maggie"--she kept it up--"is in the same
situation as I was, PLUS complications from which I was, thank
heaven, exempt: PLUS the complication, above all, of not having
in the least begun with the sense for complications that I should
have had. Before she knew it, at any rate, her little scruples
and her little lucidities, which were really so divinely blind--
her feverish little sense of justice, as I say--had brought the
two others together as her grossest misconduct couldn't have
done. And now she knows something or other has happened--yet
hasn't heretofore known what. She has only piled up her remedy,
poor child--something that she has earnestly but confusedly seen
as her necessary policy; piled it on top of the policy, on top of
the remedy, that she at first thought out for herself, and that
would really have needed, since then, so much modification. Her
only modification has been the growth of her necessity to prevent
her father's wondering if all, in their life in common, MAY be so
certainly for the best. She has now as never before to keep him
unconscious that, peculiar, if he makes a point of it, as their
situation is, there's anything in it all uncomfortable or
disagreeable, anything morally the least out of the way. She has
to keep touching it up to make it, each day, each month, look
natural and normal to him; so that--God forgive me the
comparison!--she's like an old woman who has taken to 'painting'
and who has to lay it on thicker, to carry it off with a greater
audacity, with a greater impudence even, the older she grows."
And Fanny stood a moment captivated with the image she had thrown
off. "I like the idea of Maggie audacious and impudent--learning
to be so to gloss things over. She could--she even will, yet, I
believe--learn it, for that sacred purpose, consummately,
diabolically. For from the moment the dear man should see it's
all rouge--!" She paused, staring at the vision.
It imparted itself even to Bob. "Then the fun would begin?" As it
but made her look at him hard, however, he amended the form of
his inquiry. "You mean that in that case she WILL, charming
creature, be lost?"
She was silent a moment more. "As I've told you before, she won't
be lost if her father's saved. She'll see that as salvation
The Colonel took it in. "Then she's a little heroine."
"Rather--she's a little heroine. But it's his innocence, above
all," Mrs. Assingham added, "that will pull them through."
Her companion, at this, focussed again Mr. Verver's innocence.
"It's awfully quaint."
"Of course it's awfully quaint! That it's awfully quaint, that
the pair are awfully quaint, quaint with all our dear old
quaintness--by which I don't mean yours and mine, but that of my
own sweet countrypeople, from whom I've so deplorably
degenerated--that," Mrs. Assingham declared, "was originally the
head and front of their appeal to me and of my interest in
them. And of course I shall feel them quainter still," she rather
ruefully subjoined, "before they've done with me!"
This might be, but it wasn't what most stood in the Colonel's
way. "You believe so in Mr. Verver's innocence after two years of
She stared. "But the whole point is just that two years of
Charlotte are what he hasn't really--or what you may call
"Any more than Maggie, by your theory, eh, has 'really or
undividedly,' had four of the Prince? It takes all she hasn't
had," the Colonel conceded, "to account for the innocence that in
her, too, so leaves us in admiration."
So far as it might be ribald again she let this pass. "It takes a
great many things to account for Maggie. What is definite, at all
events, is that--strange though this be--her effort for her
father has, up to now, sufficiently succeeded. She has made him,
she makes him, accept the tolerably obvious oddity of their
relation, all round, for part of the game. Behind her there,
protected and amused and, as it were, exquisitely humbugged--the
Principino, in whom he delights, always aiding--he has safely and
serenely enough suffered the conditions of his life to pass for
those he had sublimely projected. He hadn't worked them out in
detail--any more than I had, heaven pity me!--and the queerness
has been, exactly, in the detail. This, for him, is what it was
to have married Charlotte. And they both," she neatly wound up,
"I mean that if Maggie, always in the breach, makes it seem to
him all so flourishingly to fit, Charlotte does her part not
less. And her part is very large. Charlotte," Fanny declared,
"works like a horse."
So there it all was, and her husband looked at her a minute
across it. "And what does the Prince work like?"
She fixed him in return. "Like a Prince!" Whereupon, breaking
short off, to ascend to her room, she presented her highly--
decorated back--in which, in odd places, controlling the
complications of its aspect, the ruby or the garnet, the
turquoise and the topaz, gleamed like faint symbols of the wit
that pinned together the satin patches of her argument.
He watched her as if she left him positively under the impression
of her mastery of her subject; yes, as if the real upshot of the
drama before them was but that he had, when it came to the tight
places of life--as life had shrunk for him now--the most luminous
of wives. He turned off, in this view of her majestic retreat,
the comparatively faint little electric lamp which had presided
over their talk; then he went up as immediately behind her as the
billows of her amber train allowed, making out how all the
clearness they had conquered was even for herself a relief--how
at last the sense of the amplitude of her exposition sustained
and floated her. Joining her, however, on the landing above,
where she had already touched a metallic point into light, he
found she had done perhaps even more to create than to extinguish
in him the germ of a curiosity. He held her a minute longer
--there was another plum in the pie. "What did you mean some
minutes ago by his not caring for Charlotte?"
"The Prince's? By his not 'really' caring?" She recalled, after a
little, benevolently enough. "I mean that men don't, when it has
all been too easy. That's how, in nine cases out of ten, a woman
is treated who has risked her life. You asked me just now how he
works," she added; "but you might better perhaps have asked me
how he plays."
Well, he made it up. "Like a Prince?"
"Like a Prince. He is, profoundly, a Prince. For that," she said
with expression, "he's--beautifully--a case. They're far rarer,
even in the 'highest circles,' than they pretend to be--and
that's what makes so much of his value. He's perhaps one of the
very last--the last of the real ones. So it is we must take him.
We must take him all round."
The Colonel considered. "And how must Charlotte--if anything
The question held her a minute, and while she waited, with her
eyes on him, she put out a grasping hand to his arm, in the flesh
of which he felt her answer distinctly enough registered. Thus
she gave him, standing off a little, the firmest, longest,
deepest injunction he had ever received from her. "Nothing
--in spite of everything--WILL happen. Nothing HAS happened.
Nothing IS happening."
He looked a trifle disappointed. "I see. For US."
"For us. For whom else?" And he was to feel indeed how she wished
him to understand it. "We know nothing on earth--!" It was an
undertaking he must sign.
So he wrote, as it were, his name. "We know nothing on earth." It
was like the soldiers' watchword at night.
"We're as innocent," she went on in the same way, "as babes."
"Why not rather say," he asked, "as innocent as they themselves
"Oh, for the best of reasons! Because we're much more so."
He wondered. "But how can we be more--?"
"For them? Oh, easily! We can be anything."
"Absolute idiots then?"
"Absolute idiots. And oh," Fanny breathed, "the way it will rest
Well, he looked as if there were something in that. "But won't
they know we're not?"
She barely hesitated. "Charlotte and the Prince think we are--
which is so much gained. Mr. Verver believes in our
intelligence--but he doesn't matter."
"And Maggie? Doesn't SHE know--?"
"That we see before our noses?" Yes, this indeed took longer.
"Oh, so far as she may guess it she'll give no sign. So it comes
to the same thing."
He raised his eyebrows. "Comes to our not being able to help
"That's the way we SHALL help her."
"By looking like fools?"
She threw up her hands. "She only wants, herself, to look like a
bigger! So there we are!" With which she brushed it away--his
conformity was promised. Something, however, still held her; it
broke, to her own vision, as a last wave of clearness.
"Moreover NOW," she said, "I see! I mean," she added,--what you
were asking me: how I knew to-day, in Eaton Square, that Maggie's
awake." And she had indeed visibly got it. "It was by seeing them
"Seeing her with her father?" He fell behind again. "But you've
seen her often enough before."
"Never with my present eyes. For nothing like such a test--that
of this length of the others' absence together--has hitherto
"Possibly! But if she and Mr. Verver insisted upon it--?"
"Why is it such a test? Because it has become one without their
intending it. It has spoiled, so to speak, on their hands."
"It has soured, eh?" the Colonel said.
"The word's horrible--say rather it has 'changed.' Perhaps,"
Fanny went on, "she did wish to see how much she can bear. In
that case she HAS seen. Only it was she alone who--about the
visit--insisted. Her father insists on nothing. And she watches
him do it."
Her husband looked impressed. "Watches him?"
"For the first faint sign. I mean of his noticing. It doesn't, as
I tell you, come. But she's there for it to see. And I felt," she
continued, "HOW she's there; I caught her, as it were, in the
fact. She couldn't keep it from me--though she left her post on
purpose--came home with me to throw dust in my eyes. I took it
all--her dust; but it was what showed me." With which supreme
lucidity she reached the door of her room. "Luckily it showed me
also how she has succeeded. Nothing--from him--HAS come."
"You're so awfully sure?"
"Sure. Nothing WILL. Good-night," she said. "She'll die first."