Part 5 out of 6
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.
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
"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. 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?"
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
"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
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
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,
"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
"Well," said Maggie smiling and smiling, "since that's where I
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
"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
"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
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
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
"So do I!" her visitor after a moment breathed. "You've had to
vacate the house--that was inevitable. But at least here he
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
"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
"It's your nature to think too much," Fanny Assingham a trifle
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
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
"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
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
Maggie had waited, but only with a question. "Do you think he
"Know at least something? Oh, about him I can't think. He's
beyond me," said Fanny Assingham.
"Then do you yourself know?"
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."
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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."
"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
"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
"Oh yes, you may say that you value it. I myself make the most of
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
"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
"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
"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
"Oh, I know better than any one else what she won't let me take
"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
"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 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.
The completeness, clearly, after an instant, had struck him as
divine. "Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear--!" It was all he could
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.
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
"I shall make it my own," he answered. "I shall tell her I lied
"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--?"