Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Golden Bowl, Volume II by Henry James

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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

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

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

"It's all right, eh?"

"Oh, my dear--rather!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We see."

"I know her better."

"You know her best."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book of the day: