Part 8 out of 12
the effect of it had occupied all the rest of their walk, had
stayed out with them and come home with them, besides making it
impossible that they shouldn't presently feign to recollect how
rejoining the child had been their original purpose. Maggie's
uneffaced note was that it had, at the end of five minutes more,
driven them to that endeavour as to a refuge, and caused them
afterwards to rejoice, as well, that the boy's irrepressibly
importunate company, in due course secured and enjoyed, with the
extension imparted by his governess, a person expectant of
consideration, constituted a cover for any awkwardness. For that
was what it had all come to, that the dear man had spoken to her
to TRY her--quite as he had been spoken to himself by Charlotte,
with the same fine idea. The Princess took it in, on the spot,
firmly grasping it; she heard them together, her father and his
wife, dealing with the queer case. "The Prince tells me that
Maggie has a plan for your taking some foreign journey with him,
and, as he likes to do everything she wants, he has suggested my
speaking to you for it as the thing most likely to make you
consent. So I do speak--see?--being always so eager myself, as
you know, to meet Maggie's wishes. I speak, but without quite
understanding, this time, what she has in her head. Why SHOULD
she, of a sudden, at this particular moment, desire to ship you
off together and to remain here alone with me? The compliment's
all to me, I admit, and you must decide quite as you like. The
Prince is quite ready, evidently, to do his part--but you'll have
it out with him. That is you'll have it out with HER." Something
of that kind was what, in her mind's ear, Maggie heard--and this,
after his waiting for her to appeal to him directly, was her
father's invitation to her to have it out. Well, as she could say
to herself all the rest of the day, that was what they did while
they continued to sit there in their penny chairs, that was what
they HAD done as much as they would now ever, ever, have out
anything. The measure of this, at least, had been given, that
each would fight to the last for the protection, for the
perversion, of any real anxiety. She had confessed, instantly,
with her humbugging grin, not flinching by a hair, meeting his
eyes as mildly as he met hers, she had confessed to her fancy
that they might both, he and his son-in-law, have welcomed such
an escapade, since they had both been so long so furiously
domestic. She had almost cocked her hat under the inspiration of
this opportunity to hint how a couple of spirited young men,
reacting from confinement and sallying forth arm-in-arm, might
encounter the agreeable in forms that would strike them for the
time at least as novel. She had felt for fifty seconds, with her
eyes, all so sweetly and falsely, in her companion's, horribly
vulgar; yet without minding it either--such luck should she have
if to be nothing worse than vulgar would see her through. "And I
thought Amerigo might like it better," she had said, "than
wandering off alone."
"Do you mean that he won't go unless I take him?"
She had considered here, and never in her life had she considered
so promptly and so intently. If she really put it that way, her
husband, challenged, might belie the statement; so that what
would that do but make her father wonder, make him perhaps ask
straight out, why she was exerting pressure? She couldn't of
course afford to be suspected for an instant of exerting
pressure; which was why she was obliged only to make answer:
"Wouldn't that be just what you must have out with HIM?"
"Decidedly--if he makes me the proposal. But he hasn't made it
Oh, once more, how she was to feel she had smirked! "Perhaps he's
"Because you're so sure he so really wants my company?"
"I think he has thought you might like it."
"Well, I should--!" But with this he looked away from her, and
she held her breath to hear him either ask if she wished him to
address the question to Amerigo straight, or inquire if she
should be greatly disappointed by his letting it drop. What had
"settled" her, as she was privately to call it, was that he had
done neither of these things, and had thereby markedly stood off
from the risk involved in trying to draw out her reason. To
attenuate, on the other hand, this appearance, and quite as if to
fill out the too large receptacle made, so musingly, by his
abstention, he had himself presently given her a reason--had
positively spared her the effort of asking whether he judged
Charlotte not to have approved. He had taken everything on
himself--THAT was what had settled her. She had had to wait very
little more to feel, with this, how much he was taking. The point
he made was his lack of any eagerness to put time and space, on
any such scale, between himself and his wife. He wasn't so
unhappy with her--far from it, and Maggie was to hold that he had
grinned back, paternally, through his rather shielding glasses,
in easy emphasis of this--as to be able to hint that he required
the relief of absence. Therefore, unless it was for the Prince
"Oh, I don't think it would have been for Amerigo himself.
Amerigo and I," Maggie had said, "perfectly rub on together."
"Well then, there we are."
"I see"--and she had again, with sublime blandness, assented.
"There we are."
"Charlotte and I too," her father had gaily proceeded, "perfectly
rub on together." And then he had appeared for a little to be
making time. "To put it only so," he had mildly and happily
added--"to put it only so!" He had spoken as if he might easily
put it much better, yet as if the humour of contented
understatement fairly sufficed for the occasion. He had played
then, either all consciously or all unconsciously, into
Charlotte's hands; and the effect of this was to render trebly
oppressive Maggie's conviction of Charlotte's plan. She had done
what she wanted, his wife had--which was also what Amerigo had
made her do. She had kept her test, Maggie's test, from becoming
possible, and had applied instead a test of her own. It was
exactly as if she had known that her stepdaughter would be afraid
to be summoned to say, under the least approach to
cross-examination, why any change was desirable; and it was, for
our young woman herself, still more prodigiously, as if her
father had been capable of calculations to match, of judging it
important he shouldn't be brought to demand of her what was the
matter with her. Why otherwise, with such an opportunity, hadn't
he demanded it? Always from calculation--that was why, that was
why. He was terrified of the retort he might have invoked: "What,
my dear, if you come to that, is the matter with YOU?" When, a
minute later on, he had followed up his last note by a touch or
two designed still further to conjure away the ghost of the
anomalous, at that climax verily she would have had to be dumb to
the question. "There seems a kind of charm, doesn't there? on our
life--and quite as if, just lately, it had got itself somehow
renewed, had waked up refreshed. A kind of wicked selfish
prosperity perhaps, as if we had grabbed everything, fixed
everything, down to the last lovely object for the last glass
case of the last corner, left over, of my old show. That's the
only take-off, that it has made us perhaps lazy, a wee bit
languid--lying like gods together, all careless of mankind."
"Do you consider that we're languid?"--that form of rejoinder she
had jumped at for the sake of its pretty lightness. "Do you
consider that we are careless of mankind?--living as we do in the
biggest crowd in the world, and running about always pursued and
It had made him think indeed a little longer than she had meant;
but he came up again, as she might have said, smiling. "Well, I
don't know. We get nothing but the fun, do we?"
"No," she had hastened to declare; "we certainly get nothing but
"We do it all," he had remarked, "so beautifully."
"We do it all so beautifully." She hadn't denied this for a
moment. "I see what you mean."
"Well, I mean too," he had gone on, "that we haven't, no doubt,
enough, the sense of difficulty."
"Enough? Enough for what?"
"Enough not to be selfish."
"I don't think YOU are selfish," she had returned--and had
managed not to wail it.
"I don't say that it's me particularly--or that it's you or
Charlotte or Amerigo. But we're selfish together--we move as a
selfish mass. You see we want always the same thing," he had gone
on--"and that holds us, that binds us, together. We want each
other," he had further explained; "only wanting it, each time,
FOR each other. That's what I call the happy spell; but it's
also, a little, possibly, the immorality."
"'The immorality'?" she had pleasantly echoed.
"Well, we're tremendously moral for ourselves--that is for each
other; and I won't pretend that I know exactly at whose
particular personal expense you and I, for instance, are happy.
What it comes to, I daresay, is that there's something haunting--
as if it were a bit uncanny--in such a consciousness of our
general comfort and privilege. Unless indeed," he had rambled on,
"it's only I to whom, fantastically, it says so much. That's all
I mean, at any rate--that it's sort of soothing; as if we were
sitting about on divans, with pigtails, smoking opium and seeing
visions. 'Let us then be up and doing'--what is it Longfellow
says? That seems sometimes to ring out; like the police breaking
in--into our opium den--to give us a shake. But the beauty of it
is, at the same time, that we ARE doing; we're doing, that is,
after all, what we went in for. We're working it, our life, our
chance, whatever you may call it, as we saw it, as we felt it,
from the first. We HAVE worked it, and what more can you do than
that? It's a good deal for me," he had wound up, "to have made
Charlotte so happy--to have so perfectly contented her. YOU, from
a good way back, were a matter of course--I mean your being all
right; so that I needn't mind your knowing that my great
interest, since then, has rather inevitably been in making sure
of the same success, very much to your advantage as well, for
Charlotte. If we've worked our life, our idea really, as I say--
if at any rate I can sit here and say that I've worked my share
of it--it has not been what you may call least by our having put
Charlotte so at her ease. THAT has been soothing, all round; that
has curled up as the biggest of the blue fumes, or whatever they
are, of the opium. Don't you see what a cropper we would have
come if she hadn't settled down as she has?" And he had concluded
by turning to Maggie as for something she mightn't really have
thought of. "You, darling, in that case, I verily believe, would
have been the one to hate it most."
"To hate it--?" Maggie had wondered.
"To hate our having, with our tremendous intentions, not brought
it off. And I daresay I should have hated it for you even more
than for myself."
"That's not unlikely perhaps when it was for me, after all, that
you did it."
He had hesitated, but only a moment. "I never told you so."
"Well, Charlotte herself soon enough told me."
"But I never told HER," her father had answered.
"Are you very sure?" she had presently asked.
"Well, I like to think how thoroughly I was taken with her, and
how right I was, and how fortunate, to have that for my basis. I
told her all the good I thought of her."
"Then that," Maggie had returned, "was precisely part of the
good. I mean it was precisely part of it that she could so
"Everything--and in particular your reasons. Her telling me--that
showed me how she had understood."
They were face to face again now, and she saw she had made his
colour rise; it was as if he were still finding in her eyes the
concrete image, the enacted scene, of her passage with Charlotte,
which he was now hearing of for the first time and as to which it
would have been natural he should question her further. His
forbearance to do so would but mark, precisely, the complication
of his fears. "What she does like," he finally said, "is the way
it has succeeded."
"Yes--my whole idea. The way I've been justified. That's the joy
I give her. If for HER, either, it had failed--!" That, however,
was not worth talking about; he had broken off. "You think then
you could now risk Fawns?"
"Well, morally--from the point of view I was talking of; that of
our sinking deeper into sloth. Our selfishness, somehow, seems at
its biggest down there."
Maggie had allowed him the amusement of her not taking this up.
"Is Charlotte," she had simply asked, "really ready?"
"Oh, if you and I and Amerigo are. Whenever one corners
Charlotte," he had developed more at his ease, "one finds that
she only wants to know what we want. Which is what we got her
"What we got her for--exactly!" And so, for a little, even though
with a certain effect of oddity in their more or less successful
ease, they left it; left it till Maggie made the remark that it
was all the same wonderful her stepmother should be willing,
before the season was out, to exchange so much company for so
much comparative solitude.
"Ah," he had then made answer, "that's because her idea, I think,
this time, is that we shall have more people, more than we've
hitherto had, in the country. Don't you remember that THAT,
originally, was what we were to get her for?"
"Oh yes--to give us a life." Maggie had gone through the form of
recalling this, and the light of their ancient candour, shining
from so far back, had seemed to bring out some things so
strangely that, with the sharpness of the vision, she had risen
to her feet. "Well, with a 'life' Fawns will certainly do." He
had remained in his place while she looked over his head; the
picture, in her vision, had suddenly swarmed. The vibration was
that of one of the lurches of the mystic train in which, with her
companion, she was travelling; but she was having to steady
herself, this time, before meeting his eyes. She had measured
indeed the full difference between the move to Fawns because each
of them now knew the others wanted it and the pairing-off, for a
journey, of her husband and her father, which nobody knew that
either wanted. "More company" at Fawns would be effectually
enough the key in which her husband and her stepmother were at
work; there was truly no question but that she and her father
must accept any array of visitors. No one could try to marry him
now. What he had just said was a direct plea for that, and what
was the plea itself but an act of submission to Charlotte? He
had, from his chair, been noting her look, but he had, the next
minute, also risen, and then it was they had reminded each other
of their having come out for the boy. Their junction with him and
with his companion successfully effected, the four had moved home
more slowly, and still more vaguely; yet with a vagueness that
permitted of Maggie's reverting an instant to the larger issue.
"If we have people in the country then, as you were saying, do
you know for whom my first fancy would be? You may be amused, but
it would be for the Castledeans."
"I see. But why should I be amused?"
"Well, I mean I am myself. I don't think I like her--and yet I
like to see her: which, as Amerigo says, is 'rum.'"
"But don't you feel she's very handsome?" her father inquired.
"Yes, but it isn't for that."
"Then what is it for?"
"Simply that she may be THERE--just there before us. It's as if
she may have a value--as if something may come of her. I don't in
the least know what, and she rather irritates me meanwhile. I
don't even know, I admit, why--but if we see her often enough I
may find out."
"Does it matter so very much?" her companion had asked while they
She had hesitated. "You mean because you do rather like her?"
He on his side too had waited a little, but then he had taken it
from her. "Yes, I guess I do rather like her."
Which she accepted for the first case she could recall of their
not being affected by a person in the same way. It came back
therefore to his pretending; but she had gone far enough, and to
add to her appearance of levity she further observed that, though
they were so far from a novelty, she should also immediately
desire, at Fawns, the presence of the Assinghams. That put
everything on a basis independent of explanations; yet it was
extraordinary, at the same time, how much, once in the country
again with the others, she was going, as they used to say at
home, to need the presence of the good Fanny. It was the
strangest thing in the world, but it was as if Mrs. Assingham
might in a manner mitigate the intensity of her consciousness of
Charlotte. It was as if the two would balance, one against the
other; as if it came round again in that fashion to her idea of
the equilibrium. It would be like putting this friend into her
scale to make weight--into the scale with her father and herself.
Amerigo and Charlotte would be in the other; therefore it would
take the three of them to keep that one straight. And as this
played, all duskily, in her mind it had received from her father,
with a sound of suddenness, a luminous contribution. "Ah,
rather! DO let's have the Assinghams."
"It would be to have them," she had said, "as we used so much to
have them. For a good long stay, in the old way and on the old
terms: 'as regular boarders' Fanny used to call it. That is if
"As regular boarders, on the old terms--that's what I should like
too. But I guess they'll come," her companion had added in a tone
into which she had read meanings. The main meaning was that he
felt he was going to require them quite as much as she was. His
recognition of the new terms as different from the old, what was
that, practically, but a confession that something had happened,
and a perception that, interested in the situation she had helped
to create, Mrs. Assingham would be, by so much as this,
concerned in its inevitable development? It amounted to an
intimation, off his guard, that he should be thankful for some
one to turn to. If she had wished covertly to sound him he had
now, in short, quite given himself away, and if she had, even at
the start, needed anything MORE to settle her, here assuredly was
enough. He had hold of his small grandchild as they retraced
their steps, swinging the boy's hand and not bored, as he never
was, by his always bristling, like a fat little porcupine, with
shrill interrogation-points--so that, secretly, while they went,
she had wondered again if the equilibrium mightn't have been more
real, mightn't above all have demanded less strange a study, had
it only been on the books that Charlotte should give him a
Principino of his own. She had repossessed herself now of his
other arm, only this time she was drawing him back, gently,
helplessly back, to what they had tried, for the hour, to get
away from--just as he was consciously drawing the child, and as
high Miss Bogle on her left, representing the duties of home, was
complacently drawing HER. The duties of home, when the house in
Portland Place reappeared, showed, even from a distance, as
vividly there before them. Amerigo and Charlotte had come in--
that is Amerigo had, Charlotte, rather, having come out--and the
pair were perched together in the balcony, he bare-headed, she
divested of her jacket, her mantle, or whatever, but crowned with
a brilliant brave hat, responsive to the balmy day, which Maggie
immediately "spotted" as new, as insuperably original, as worn,
in characteristic generous harmony, for the first time; all,
evidently, to watch for the return of the absent, to be there to
take them over again as punctually as possible. They were gay,
they were amused, in the pleasant morning; they leaned across the
rail and called down their greeting, lighting up the front of the
great black house with an expression that quite broke the
monotony, that might almost have shocked the decency, of Portland
Place. The group on the pavement stared up as at the peopled
battlements of a castle; even Miss Bogle, who carried her head
most aloft, gaped a little, through the interval of space, as
toward truly superior beings. There could scarce have been so
much of the open mouth since the dingy waits, on Christmas Eve,
had so lamentably chanted for pennies--the time when Amerigo,
insatiable for English customs, had come out, with a gasped
"Santissima Vergine!" to marvel at the depositaries of this
tradition and purchase a reprieve. Maggie's individual gape was
inevitably again for the thought of how the pair would be at
She had not again, for weeks, had Mrs. Assingham so effectually
in presence as on the afternoon of that lady's return from the
Easter party at Matcham; but the intermission was made up as soon
as the date of the migration to Fawns--that of the more or less
simultaneous adjournment of the two houses--began to be
discussed. It had struck her, promptly, that this renewal, with
an old friend, of the old terms she had talked of with her
father, was the one opening, for her spirit, that wouldn't too
much advertise or betray her. Even her father, who had always, as
he would have said, "believed in" their ancient ally, wouldn't
necessarily suspect her of invoking Fanny's aid toward any
special inquiry--and least of all if Fanny would only act as
Fanny so easily might. Maggie's measure of Fanny's ease would
have been agitating to Mrs. Assingham had it been all at once
revealed to her--as, for that matter, it was soon destined to
become even on a comparatively graduated showing. Our young
woman's idea, in particular, was that her safety, her escape from
being herself suspected of suspicion, would proceed from this
friend's power to cover, to protect and, as might be, even
showily to represent her--represent, that is, her relation to the
form of the life they were all actually leading. This would
doubtless be, as people said, a large order; but that Mrs.
Assingham existed, substantially, or could somehow be made
prevailingly to exist, for her private benefit, was the finest
flower Maggie had plucked from among the suggestions sown, like
abundant seed, on the occasion of the entertainment offered in
Portland Place to the Matcham company. Mrs. Assingham, that
night, rebounding from dejection, had bristled with bravery and
sympathy; she had then absolutely, she had perhaps recklessly,
for herself, betrayed the deeper and darker consciousness--an
impression it would now be late for her inconsistently to attempt
to undo. It was with a wonderful air of giving out all these
truths that the Princess at present approached her again; making
doubtless at first a sufficient scruple of letting her know what
in especial she asked of her, yet not a bit ashamed, as she in
fact quite expressly declared, of Fanny's discerned foreboding of
the strange uses she might perhaps have for her. Quite from the
first, really, Maggie said extraordinary things to her, such as
"You can help me, you know, my dear, when nobody else can;" such
as "I almost wish, upon my word, that you had something the
matter with you, that you had lost your health, or your money, or
your reputation (forgive me, love!) so that I might be with you
as much as I want, or keep you with ME, without exciting comment,
without exciting any other remark than that such kindnesses are
'like' me." We have each our own way of making up for our
unselfishness, and Maggie, who had no small self at all as
against her husband or her father and only a weak and uncertain
one as against her stepmother, would verily, at this crisis, have
seen Mrs. Assingham's personal life or liberty sacrificed without
The attitude that the appetite in question maintained in her was
to draw peculiar support moreover from the current aspects and
agitations of her victim. This personage struck her, in truth, as
ready for almost anything; as not perhaps effusively protesting,
yet as wanting with a restlessness of her own to know what she
wanted. And in the long run--which was none so long either--there
was to be no difficulty, as happened, about that. It was as if,
for all the world, Maggie had let her see that she held her, that
she made her, fairly responsible for something; not, to begin
with, dotting all the i's nor hooking together all the links, but
treating her, without insistence, rather with caressing
confidence, as there to see and to know, to advise and to assist.
The theory, visibly, had patched itself together for her that the
dear woman had somehow, from the early time, had a hand in ALL
their fortunes, so that there was no turn of their common
relations and affairs that couldn't be traced back in some degree
to her original affectionate interest. On this affectionate
interest the good lady's young friend now built, before her eyes
--very much as a wise, or even as a mischievous, child, playing
on the floor, might pile up blocks, skilfully and dizzily, with
an eye on the face of a covertly-watching elder.
When the blocks tumbled down they but acted after the nature of
blocks; yet the hour would come for their rising so high that the
structure would have to be noticed and admired. Mrs. Assingham's
appearance of unreservedly giving herself involved meanwhile, on
her own side, no separate recognitions: her face of almost
anxious attention was directed altogether to her young friend's
so vivid felicity; it suggested that she took for granted, at the
most, certain vague recent enhancements of that state. If the
Princess now, more than before, was going and going, she was
prompt to publish that she beheld her go, that she had always
known she WOULD, sooner or later, and that any appeal for
participation must more or less contain and invite the note of
triumph. There was a blankness in her blandness, assuredly, and
very nearly an extravagance in her generalising gaiety; a
precipitation of cheer particularly marked whenever they met
again after short separations: meetings during the first flush of
which Maggie sometimes felt reminded of other looks in other
faces; of two strangely unobliterated impressions above all, the
physiognomic light that had played out in her husband at the
shock--she had come at last to talk to herself of the "shock"--of
his first vision of her on his return from Matcham and
Gloucester, and the wonder of Charlotte's beautiful bold wavering
gaze when, the next morning in Eaton Square, this old friend had
turned from the window to begin to deal with her.
If she had dared to think of it so crudely she would have said
that Fanny was afraid of her, afraid of something she might say
or do, even as, for their few brief seconds, Amerigo and
Charlotte had been--which made, exactly, an expressive element
common to the three. The difference however was that this look
had in the dear woman its oddity of a constant renewal, whereas
it had never for the least little instant again peeped out of the
others. Other looks, other lights, radiant and steady, with the
others, had taken its place, reaching a climax so short a time
ago, that morning of the appearance of the pair on the balcony of
her house to overlook what she had been doing with her father;
when their general interested brightness and beauty, attuned to
the outbreak of summer, had seemed to shed down warmth and
welcome and the promise of protection. They were conjoined not to
do anything to startle her--and now at last so completely that,
with experience and practice, they had almost ceased to fear
their liability. Mrs. Assingham, on the other hand, deprecating
such an accident not less, had yet less assurance, as having less
control. The high pitch of her cheer, accordingly, the tentative,
adventurous expressions, of the would-be smiling order, that
preceded her approach even like a squad of skirmishers, or
whatever they were called, moving ahead of the baggage train--
these things had at the end of a fortnight brought a dozen times
to our young woman's lips a challenge that had the cunning to
await its right occasion, but of the relief of which, as a
demonstration, she meanwhile felt no little need. "You've such a
dread of my possibly complaining to you that you keep pealing all
the bells to drown my voice; but don't cry out, my dear, till
you're hurt--and above all ask yourself how I can be so wicked as
to complain. What in the name of all that's fantastic can you
dream that I have to complain OF?" Such inquiries the Princess
temporarily succeeded in repressing, and she did so, in a
measure, by the aid of her wondering if this ambiguity with which
her friend affected her wouldn't be at present a good deal like
the ambiguity with which she herself must frequently affect her
father. She wondered how she should enjoy, on HIS part, such a
take-up as she but just succeeded, from day to day, in sparing
Mrs. Assingham, and that made for her trying to be as easy with
this associate as Mr. Verver, blessed man, all indulgent but
all inscrutable, was with his daughter. She had extracted from
her, none the less, a vow in respect to the time that, if the
Colonel might be depended on, they would spend at Fawns; and
nothing came home to her more, in this connection, or inspired
her with a more intimate interest, than her sense of absolutely
seeing her interlocutress forbear to observe that Charlotte's
view of a long visit, even from such allies, was there to be
Fanny stood off from that proposition as visibly to the Princess,
and as consciously to herself, as she might have backed away from
the edge of a chasm into which she feared to slip; a truth that
contributed again to keep before our young woman her own constant
danger of advertising her subtle processes. That Charlotte should
have begun to be restrictive about the Assinghams--which she had
never, and for a hundred obviously good reasons, been before--
this in itself was a fact of the highest value for Maggie, and of
a value enhanced by the silence in which Fanny herself so much
too unmistakably dressed it. What gave it quite thrillingly its
price was exactly the circumstance that it thus opposed her to
her stepmother more actively--if she was to back up her friends
for holding out--than she had ever yet been opposed; though of
course with the involved result of the fine chance given Mrs.
Verver to ask her husband for explanations. Ah, from the moment
she should be definitely CAUGHT in opposition there would be
naturally no saying how much Charlotte's opportunities might
multiply! What would become of her father, she hauntedly asked,
if his wife, on the one side, should begin to press him to call
his daughter to order, and the force of old habit--to put it only
at that--should dispose him, not less effectively, to believe in
this young person at any price? There she was, all round,
imprisoned in the circle of the reasons it was impossible she
should give--certainly give HIM. The house in the country was his
house, and thereby was Charlotte's; it was her own and Amerigo's
only so far as its proper master and mistress should profusely
place it at their disposal. Maggie felt of course that she saw no
limit to her father's profusion, but this couldn't be even at the
best the case with Charlotte's, whom it would never be decent,
when all was said, to reduce to fighting for her preferences.
There were hours, truly, when the Princess saw herself as not
unarmed for battle if battle might only take place without
This last advantage for her, was, however, too sadly out of the
question; her sole strength lay in her being able to see that if
Charlotte wouldn't "want" the Assinghams it would be because that
sentiment too would have motives and grounds. She had all the
while command of one way of meeting any objection, any complaint,
on his wife's part, reported to her by her father; it would be
open to her to retort to his possible "What are your reasons, my
dear?" by a lucidly-produced "What are hers, love, please?--isn't
that what we had better know? Mayn't her reasons be a dislike,
beautifully founded, of the presence, and thereby of the
observation, of persons who perhaps know about her things it's
inconvenient to her they should know?" That hideous card she
might in mere logic play--being by this time, at her still
swifter private pace, intimately familiar with all the fingered
pasteboard in her pack. But she could play it only on the
forbidden issue of sacrificing him; the issue so forbidden that
it involved even a horror of finding out if he would really have
consented to be sacrificed. What she must do she must do by
keeping her hands off him; and nothing meanwhile, as we see, had
less in common with that scruple than such a merciless
manipulation of their yielding beneficiaries as her spirit so
boldly revelled in. She saw herself, in this connexion, without
detachment--saw others alone with intensity; otherwise she might
have been struck, fairly have been amused, by her free assignment
of the pachydermatous quality. If SHE could face the awkwardness
of the persistence of her friends at Fawns in spite of Charlotte,
she somehow looked to them for an inspiration of courage that
would improve upon her own. They were in short not only
themselves to find a plausibility and an audacity, but were
somehow by the way to pick up these forms for her, Maggie, as
well. And she felt indeed that she was giving them scant time
longer when, one afternoon in Portland Place, she broke out with
an irrelevance that was merely superficial.
"What awfulness, in heaven's name, is there between them? What do
you believe, what do you KNOW?"
Oh, if she went by faces her visitor's sudden whiteness, at this,
might have carried her far! Fanny Assingham turned pale for it,
but there was something in such an appearance, in the look it put
into the eyes, that renewed Maggie's conviction of what this
companion had been expecting. She had been watching it come, come
from afar, and now that it was there, after all, and the first
convulsion over, they would doubtless soon find themselves in a
more real relation. It was there because of the Sunday luncheon
they had partaken of alone together; it was there, as strangely
as one would, because of the bad weather, the cold perverse June
rain, that was making the day wrong; it was there because it
stood for the whole sum of the perplexities and duplicities among
which our young woman felt herself lately to have picked her
steps; it was there because Amerigo and Charlotte were again
paying together alone a "week end" visit which it had been
Maggie's plan infernally to promote--just to see if, this time,
they really would; it was there because she had kept Fanny, on
her side, from paying one she would manifestly have been glad to
pay, and had made her come instead, stupidly, vacantly, boringly,
to luncheon: all in the spirit of celebrating the fact that the
Prince and Mrs. Verver had thus put it into her own power to
describe them exactly as they were. It had abruptly occurred, in
truth, that Maggie required the preliminary help of determining
HOW they were; though, on the other hand, before her guest had
answered her question everything in the hour and the place,
everything in all the conditions, affected her as crying it out.
Her guest's stare of ignorance, above all--that of itself at
first cried it out. "'Between them?' What do you mean?"
"Anything there shouldn't be, there shouldn't have BEEN--all this
time. Do you believe there is--or what's your idea?"
Fanny's idea was clearly, to begin with, that her young friend
had taken her breath away; but she looked at her very straight
and very hard. "Do you speak from a suspicion of your own?"
"I speak, at last, from a torment. Forgive me if it comes out.
I've been thinking for months and months, and I've no one to turn
to, no one to help me to make things out; no impression but my
own, don't you see? to go by."
"You've been thinking for months and months?" Mrs. Assingham took
it in. "But WHAT then, dear Maggie, have you been thinking?"
"Well, horrible things--like a little beast that I perhaps am.
That there may be something--something wrong and dreadful,
something they cover up."
The elder woman's colour had begun to come back; she was able,
though with a visible effort, to face the question less amazedly.
"You imagine, poor child, that the wretches are in love? Is that
But Maggie for a minute only stared back at her. "Help me to find
out WHAT I imagine. I don't know--I've nothing but my perpetual
anxiety. Have you any?--do you see what I mean? If you'll tell me
truly, that at least, one way or the other, will do something for
Fanny's look had taken a peculiar gravity--a fulness with which
it seemed to shine. "Is what it comes to that you're jealous of
"Do you mean whether I hate her?"--and Maggie thought. "No; not
on account of father."
"Ah," Mrs. Assingham returned, "that isn't what one would
suppose. What I ask is if you're jealous on account of your
"Well," said Maggie presently, "perhaps that may be all. If I'm
unhappy I'm jealous; it must come to the same thing; and with
you, at least, I'm not afraid of the word. If I'm jealous, don't
you see? I'm tormented," she went on--"and all the more if I'm
helpless. And if I'm both helpless AND tormented I stuff my
pocket-handkerchief into my mouth, I keep it there, for the most
part, night and day, so as not to be heard too indecently
moaning. Only now, with you, at last, I can't keep it longer;
I've pulled it out, and here I am fairly screaming at you.
They're away," she wound up, "so they can't hear; and I'm, by a
miracle of arrangement, not at luncheon with father at home. I
live in the midst of miracles of arrangement, half of which I
admit, are my own; I go about on tiptoe, I watch for every sound,
I feel every breath, and yet I try all the while to seem as
smooth as old satin dyed rose-colour. Have you ever thought of
me," she asked, "as really feeling as I do?"
Her companion, conspicuously, required to be clear. "Jealous,
unhappy, tormented--? No," said Mrs. Assingham; "but at the same
time--and though you may laugh at me for it!--I'm bound to
confess that I've never been so awfully sure of what I may call
knowing you. Here you are indeed, as you say--such a deep little
person! I've never imagined your existence poisoned, and, since
you wish to know if I consider that it need be, I've not the
least difficulty in speaking on the spot. Nothing, decidedly,
strikes me as more unnecessary."
For a minute after this they remained face to face; Maggie had
sprung up while her friend sat enthroned, and, after moving to
and fro in her intensity, now paused to receive the light she had
invoked. It had accumulated, considerably, by this time, round
Mrs. Assingham's ample presence, and it made, even to our young
woman's own sense, a medium in which she could at last take a
deeper breath. "I've affected you, these months--and these last
weeks in especial--as quiet and natural and easy?"
But it was a question that took, not imperceptibly, some
answering. "You've never affected me, from the first hour I
beheld you, as anything but--in a way all your own--absolutely
good and sweet and beautiful. In a way, as I say," Mrs. Assingham
almost caressingly repeated, "just all your very own--nobody
else's at all. I've never thought of you but as OUTSIDE of ugly
things, so ignorant of any falsity or cruelty or vulgarity as
never to have to be touched by them or to touch them. I've never
mixed you up with them; there would have been time enough for
that if they had seemed to be near you. But they haven't--if
that's what you want to know."
"You've only believed me contented then because you've believed
Mrs. Assingham had a free smile, now, for the length of this
stride, dissimulated though it might be in a graceful little
frisk. "If I had believed you stupid I shouldn't have thought you
interesting, and if I hadn't thought you interesting I shouldn't
have noted whether I 'knew' you, as I've called it, or not. What
I've always been conscious of is your having concealed about you
somewhere no small amount of character; quite as much in fact,"
Fanny smiled, "as one could suppose a person of your size able to
carry. The only thing was," she explained, "that thanks to your
never calling one's attention to it, I hadn't made out much more
about it, and should have been vague, above all, as to WHERE you
carried it or kept it. Somewhere UNDER, I should simply have
said--like that little silver cross you once showed me, blest by
the Holy Father, that you always wear, out of sight, next your
skin. That relic I've had a glimpse of"--with which she continued
to invoke the privilege of humour. "But the precious little
innermost, say this time little golden, personal nature of you--
blest by a greater power, I think, even than the Pope--that
you've never consentingly shown me. I'm not sure you've ever
consentingly shown it to anyone. You've been in general too
Maggie, trying to follow, almost achieved a little fold of her
forehead. "I strike you as modest to-day--modest when I stand
here and scream at you?"
"Oh, your screaming, I've granted you, is something new. I must
fit it on somewhere. The question is, however," Mrs. Assingham
further proceeded, "of what the deuce I can fit it on TO. Do you
mean," she asked, "to the fact of our friends' being, from
yesterday to to-morrow, at a place where they may more or less
irresponsibly meet?" She spoke with the air of putting it as
badly for them as possible. "Are you thinking of their being
there alone--of their having consented to be?" And then as she
had waited without result for her companion to say: "But isn't it
true that--after you had this time again, at the eleventh hour,
said YOU wouldn't--they would really much rather not have gone?"
"Yes--they would certainly much rather not have gone. But I
wanted them to go."
"Then, my dear child, what in the world is the matter?"
"I wanted to see if they WOULD. And they've had to," Maggie
added. "It was the only thing."
Her friend appeared to wonder. "From the moment you and your
father backed out?"
"Oh, I don't mean go for those people; I mean go for us. For
father and me," Maggie went on. "Because now they know."
"They 'know'?" Fanny Assingham quavered.
"That I've been for some time past taking more notice. Notice of
the queer things in our life."
Maggie saw her companion for an instant on the point of asking
her what these queer things might be; but Mrs. Assingham had the
next minute brushed by that ambiguous opening and taken, as she
evidently felt, a better one. "And is it for that you did it? I
mean gave up the visit."
"It's for that I did it. To leave them to themselves--as they
less and less want, or at any rate less and less venture to
appear to want, to be left. As they had for so long arranged
things," the Princess went on, "you see they sometimes have to
be." And then, as if baffled by the lucidity of this, Mrs.
Assingham for a little said nothing: "Now do you think I'm
With time, however; Fanny could brilliantly think anything that
would serve. "I think you're wrong. That, my dear, is my answer
to your question. It demands assuredly the straightest I can
make. I see no "awfulness'--I suspect none. I'm deeply
distressed," she added, "that you should do anything else."
It drew again from Maggie a long look. "You've never even
"Ah, God forbid!--for it's exactly as a woman of imagination that
I speak. There's no moment of my life at which I'm not imagining
something; and it's thanks to that, darling," Mrs. Assingham
pursued, "that I figure the sincerity with which your husband,
whom you see as viciously occupied with your stepmother, is
interested, is tenderly interested, in his admirable, adorable
wife." She paused a minute as to give her friend the full benefit
of this--as to Maggie's measure of which, however, no sign came;
and then, poor woman, haplessly, she crowned her effort.--"He
wouldn't hurt a hair of your head."
It had produced in Maggie, at once, and apparently in the
intended form of a smile, the most extraordinary expression. "Ah,
there it is!"
But her guest had already gone on. "And I'm absolutely certain
that Charlotte wouldn't either."
It kept the Princess, with her strange grimace, standing there.
"No--Charlotte wouldn't either. That's how they've had again to
go off together. They've been afraid not to--lest it should
disturb me, aggravate me, somehow work upon me. As I insisted
that they must, that we couldn't all fail--though father and
Charlotte hadn't really accepted; as I did this they had to yield
to the fear that their showing as afraid to move together would
count for them as the greater danger: which would be the danger,
you see, of my feeling myself wronged. Their least danger, they
know, is in going on with all the things that I've seemed to
accept and that I've given no indication, at any moment, of not
accepting. Everything that has come up for them has come up, in
an extraordinary manner, without my having by a sound or a sign
given myself away--so that it's all as wonderful as you may
conceive. They move at any rate among the dangers I speak of--
between that of their doing too much and that of their not having
any longer the confidence, or the nerve, or whatever you may call
it, to do enough." Her tone, by this time, might have shown a
strangeness to match her smile; which was still more marked as
she wound up. "And that's how I make them do what I like!"
It had an effect on Mrs. Assingham, who rose with the
deliberation that, from point to point, marked the widening of
her grasp. "My dear child, you're amazing."
Maggie thoughtfully shook her head. "No; I'm not terrible, and
you don't think me so. I do strike you as surprising, no doubt--
but surprisingly mild. Because--don't you see?--I AM mild. I can
"Oh, 'bear'!" Mrs. Assingham fluted.
"For love," said the Princess.
Fanny hesitated. "Of your father?"
"For love," Maggie repeated.
It kept her friend watching. "Of your husband?"
"For love," Maggie said again.
It was, for the moment, as if the distinctness of this might have
determined in her companion a choice between two or three highly
different alternatives. Mrs. Assingham's rejoinder, at all
events--however much or however little it was a choice--was
presently a triumph. "Speaking with this love of your own then,
have you undertaken to convey to me that you believe your husband
and your father's wife to be in act and in fact lovers of each
other?" And then as the Princess didn't at first answer: "Do you
call such an allegation as that 'mild'?"
"Oh, I'm not pretending to be mild to you. But I've told you, and
moreover you must have seen for yourself, how much so I've been
Mrs. Assingham, more brightly again, bridled. "Is that what you
call it when you make them, for terror as you say, do as you
"Ah, there wouldn't be any terror for them if they had nothing to
Mrs. Assingham faced her--quite steady now. "Are you really
conscious, love, of what you're saying?"
"I'm saying that I'm bewildered and tormented, and that I've no
one but you to speak to. I've thought, I've in fact been sure,
that you've seen for yourself how much this is the case. It's why
I've believed you would meet me half way."
"Half way to what? To denouncing," Fanny asked, "two persons,
friends of years, whom I've always immensely admired and liked,
and against whom I haven't the shadow of a charge to make?"
Maggie looked at her with wide eyes. "I had much rather you
should denounce me than denounce them. Denounce me, denounce me,"
she said, "if you can see your way." It was exactly what she
appeared to have argued out with herself. "If, conscientiously,
you can denounce me; if, conscientiously, you can revile me; if,
conscientiously, you can put me in my place for a low-minded
"Well?" said Mrs. Assingham, consideringly, as she paused for
"I think I shall be saved."
Her friend took it, for a minute, however, by carrying thoughtful
eyes, eyes verily portentous, over her head. "You say you've no
one to speak to, and you make a point of your having so disguised
your feelings--not having, as you call it, given yourself away.
Have you then never seen it not only as your right, but as your
bounden duty, worked up to such a pitch, to speak to your
"I've spoken to him," said Maggie.
Mrs. Assingham stared. "Ah, then it isn't true that you've made
Maggie had a silence. "I've made no trouble. I've made no scene.
I've taken no stand. I've neither reproached nor accused him.
You'll say there's a way in all that of being nasty enough."
"Oh!" dropped from Fanny as if she couldn't help it.
"But I don't think--strangely enough--that he regards me as
nasty. I think that at bottom--for that IS," said the Princess,
"the strangeness--he's sorry for me. Yes, I think that, deep
within, he pities me."
Her companion wondered. "For the state you've let yourself get
"For not being happy when I've so much to make me so."
"You've everything," said Mrs. Assingham with alacrity. Yet she
remained for an instant embarrassed as to a further advance. "I
don't understand, however, how, if you've done nothing--"
An impatience from Maggie had checked her. "I've not done
"But what then--?"
"Well," she went on after a minute, "he knows what I've done."
It produced on Mrs. Assingham's part, her whole tone and manner
exquisitely aiding, a hush not less prolonged, and the very
duration of which inevitably gave it something of the character
of an equal recognition. "And what then has HE done?"
Maggie took again a minute. "He has been splendid."
"'Splendid'? Then what more do you want?"
"Ah, what you see!" said Maggie. "Not to be afraid."
It made her guest again hang fire. "Not to be afraid really to
"Not to be afraid NOT to speak."
Mrs. Assingham considered further. "You can't even to Charlotte?"
But as, at this, after a look at her, Maggie turned off with a
movement of suppressed despair, she checked herself and might
have been watching her, for all the difficulty and the pity of
it, vaguely moving to the window and the view of the hill street.
It was almost as if she had had to give up, from failure of
responsive wit in her friend--the last failure she had feared--
the hope of the particular relief she had been working for. Mrs.
Assingham resumed the next instant, however, in the very tone
that seemed most to promise her she should have to give up
nothing. "I see, I see; you would have in that case too many
things to consider." It brought the Princess round again, proving
itself thus the note of comprehension she wished most to clutch
at. "Don't be afraid."
Maggie took it where she stood--which she was soon able to
It very properly encouraged her counsellor. "What your idea
imputes is a criminal intrigue carried on, from day to day, amid
perfect trust and sympathy, not only under your eyes, but under
your father's. That's an idea it's impossible for me for a.
moment to entertain."
"Ah, there you are then! It's exactly what I wanted from you."
"You're welcome to it!" Mrs. Assingham breathed.
"You never HAVE entertained it?" Maggie pursued.
"Never for an instant," said Fanny with her head very high.
Maggie took it again, yet again as wanting more. "Pardon my being
so horrid. But by all you hold sacred?"
Mrs. Assingham faced her. "Ah, my dear, upon my positive word as
an honest woman."
"Thank-you then," said the Princess.
So they remained a little; after which, "But do you believe it,
love?" Fanny inquired.
"I believe YOU."
"Well, as I've faith in THEM, it comes to the same thing."
Maggie, at this last, appeared for a moment to think again; but
she embraced the proposition. "The same thing."
"Then you're no longer unhappy?" her guest urged, coming more
gaily toward her.
"I doubtless shan't be a great while."
But it was now Mrs. Assingham's turn to want more. "I've
convinced you it's impossible?"
She had held out her arms, and Maggie, after a moment, meeting
her, threw herself into them with a sound that had its oddity as
a sign of relief. "Impossible, impossible," she emphatically,
more than emphatically, replied; yet the next minute she had
burst into tears over the impossibility, and a few seconds later,
pressing, clinging, sobbing, had even caused them to flow,
audibly, sympathetically and perversely, from her friend.
The understanding appeared to have come to be that the Colonel
and his wife were to present themselves toward the middle of July
for the "good long visit" at Fawns on which Maggie had obtained
from her father that he should genially insist; as well as that
the couple from Eaton Square should welcome there earlier in the
month, and less than a week after their own arrival, the advent
of the couple from Portland Place. "Oh, we shall give you time to
breathe!" Fanny remarked, in reference to the general prospect,
with a gaiety that announced itself as heedless of criticism, to
each member of the party in turn; sustaining and bracing herself
by her emphasis, pushed even to an amiable cynicism, of the
confident view of these punctualities of the Assinghams. The
ground she could best occupy, to her sense, was that of her being
moved, as in this connexion she had always been moved, by the
admitted grossness of her avidity, the way the hospitality of the
Ververs met her convenience and ministered to her ease, destitute
as the Colonel had kept her, from the first, of any rustic
retreat, any leafy bower of her own, any fixed base for the stale
season now at hand. She had explained at home, she had repeatedly
reexplained, the terms of her dilemma, the real difficulty of
her, or--as she now put it--of their, position. When the pair
could do nothing else, in Cadogan Place, they could still talk of
marvellous little Maggie, and of the charm, the sinister charm,
of their having to hold their breath to watch her; a topic the
momentous midnight discussion at which we have been present was
so far from having exhausted. It came up, irrepressibly, at all
private hours; they had planted it there between them, and it
grew, from day to day, in a manner to make their sense of
responsibility almost yield to their sense of fascination. Mrs.
Assingham declared at such moments that in the interest of this
admirable young thing--to whom, she also declared, she had quite
"come over"--she was ready to pass with all the world else, even
with the Prince himself, the object, inconsequently, as well, of
her continued, her explicitly shameless appreciation, for a
vulgar, indelicate, pestilential woman, showing her true
character in an abandoned old age. The Colonel's confessed
attention had been enlisted, we have seen, as never yet, under
pressure from his wife, by any guaranteed imbroglio; but this,
she could assure him she perfectly knew, was not a bit because he
was sorry for her, or touched by what she had let herself in for,
but because, when once they had been opened, he couldn't keep his
eyes from resting complacently, resting almost intelligently, on
the Princess. If he was in love with HER now, however, so much
the better; it would help them both not to wince at what they
would have to do for her. Mrs. Assingham had come back to that,
whenever he groaned or grunted; she had at no beguiled moment--
since Maggie's little march WAS positively beguiling--let him
lose sight of the grim necessity awaiting them. "We shall have,
as I've again and again told you, to lie for her--to lie till
we're black in the face."
"To lie 'for' her?" The Colonel often, at these hours, as from a
vague vision of old chivalry in a new form, wandered into
apparent lapses from lucidity.
"To lie TO her, up and down, and in and out--it comes to the same
thing. It will consist just as much of lying to the others too:
to the Prince about one's belief in HIM; to Charlotte about one's
belief in HER; to Mr. Verver, dear sweet man, about one's belief
in everyone. So we've work cut out--with the biggest lie, on top
of all, being that we LIKE to be there for such a purpose. We
hate it unspeakably--I'm more ready to be a coward before it, to
let the whole thing, to let everyone, selfishly and
pusillanimously slide, than before any social duty, any felt
human call, that has ever forced me to be decent. I speak at
least for myself. For you," she had added, "as I've given you so
perfect an opportunity to fall in love with Maggie, you'll
doubtless find your account in being so much nearer to her."
"And what do you make," the Colonel could, at this, always
imperturbably enough ask, "of the account you yourself will find
in being so much nearer to the Prince; of your confirmed, if not
exasperated, infatuation with whom--to say nothing of my weak
good-nature about it--you give such a pretty picture?"
To the picture in question she had been always, in fact, able
contemplatively to return. "The difficulty of my enjoyment of
that is, don't you see? that I'm making, in my loyalty to Maggie,
a sad hash of his affection for me."
"You find means to call it then, this whitewashing of his crime,
being 'loyal' to Maggie?"
"Oh, about that particular crime there is always much to say. It
is always more interesting to us than any other crime; it has at
least that for it. But of course I call everything I have in mind
at all being loyal to Maggie. Being loyal to her is, more than
anything else, helping her with her father--which is what she
most wants and needs."
The Colonel had had it before, but he could apparently never have
too much of it. "Helping her 'with' him--?"
"Helping her against him then. Against what we've already so
fully talked of--its having to be recognised between them that he
doubts. That's where my part is so plain--to see her through, to
see her through to the end." Exaltation, for the moment, always
lighted Mrs. Assingham's reference to this plainness; yet she at
the same time seldom failed, the next instant, to qualify her
view of it. "When I talk of my obligation as clear I mean that
it's absolute; for just HOW, from day to day and through thick
and thin, to keep the thing up is, I grant you, another matter.
There's one way, luckily, nevertheless, in which I'm strong. I
can perfectly count on her."
The Colonel seldom failed here, as from the insidious growth of
an excitement, to wonder, to encourage. "Not to see you're
"To stick to me fast, whatever she sees. If I stick to her--that
is to my own poor struggling way, under providence, of watching
over them ALL--she'll stand by me to the death. She won't give me
away. For, you know, she easily can."
This, regularly, was the most lurid turn of their road; but Bob
Assingham, with each journey, met it as for the first time.
"She can utterly dishonour me with her father. She can let him
know that I was aware, at the time of his marriage--as I had been
aware at the time of her own--of the relations that had pre-
existed between his wife and her husband."
"And how can she do so if, up to this minute, by your own
statement, she is herself in ignorance of your knowledge?"
It was a question that Mrs. Assingham had ever, for dealing with,
a manner to which repeated practice had given almost a grand
effect; very much as if she was invited by it to say that about
this, exactly, she proposed to do her best lying. But she said,
and with full lucidity, something quite other: it could give
itself a little the air, still, of a triumph over his coarseness.
"By acting, immediately with the blind resentment with which, in
her place, ninety-nine women out of a hundred would act; and by
so making Mr. Verver, in turn, act with the same natural passion,
the passion of ninety-nine men out of a hundred. They've only to
agree about me," the poor lady said; "they've only to feel at one
over it, feel bitterly practised upon, cheated and injured;
they've only to denounce me to each other as false and infamous,
for me to be quite irretrievably dished. Of course it's I who
have been, and who continue to be, cheated--cheated by the Prince
and Charlotte; but they're not obliged to give me the benefit of
that, or to give either of us the benefit of anything. They'll be
within their rights to lump us all together as a false, cruel,
conspiring crew, and, if they can find the right facts to support
them, get rid of us root and branch."
This, on each occasion, put the matter so at the worst that
repetition even scarce controlled the hot flush with which she
was compelled to see the parts of the whole history, all its ugly
consistency and its temporary gloss, hang together. She enjoyed,
invariably, the sense of making her danger present, of making it
real, to her husband, and of his almost turning pale, when their
eyes met, at this possibility of their compromised state and
their shared discredit. The beauty was that, as under a touch of
one of the ivory notes at the left of the keyboard, he sounded
out with the short sharpness of the dear fond stupid uneasy man.
"Conspiring--so far as YOU were concerned--to what end?"
"Why, to the obvious end of getting the Prince a wife--at
Maggie's expense. And then to that of getting Charlotte a husband
at Mr. Verver's."
"Of rendering friendly services, yes--which have produced, as it
turns out, complications. But from the moment you didn't do it
FOR the complications, why shouldn't you have rendered them?"
It was extraordinary for her, always, in this connexion, how,
with time given him, he fell to speaking better for her than she
could, in the presence of her clear-cut image of the "worst,"
speak for herself. Troubled as she was she thus never wholly
failed of her amusement by the way. "Oh, isn't what I may have
meddled 'for'--so far as it can be proved I did meddle--open to
interpretation; by which I mean to Mr. Verver's and Maggie's?
Mayn't they see my motive, in the light of that appreciation, as
the wish to be decidedly more friendly to the others than to the
victimised father and daughter?" She positively liked to keep it
up. "Mayn't they see my motive as the determination to serve the
Prince, in any case, and at any price, first; to 'place' him
comfortably; in other words to find him his fill of money? Mayn't
it have all the air for them of a really equivocal, sinister
bargain between us--something quite unholy and louche?"
It produced in the poor Colonel, infallibly, the echo. "'Louche,'
"Why, haven't you said as much yourself?--haven't you put your
finger on that awful possibility?"
She had a way now, with his felicities, that made him enjoy being
reminded of them. "In speaking of your having always had such a
"Such a mash, precisely, for the man I was to help to put so
splendidly at his ease. A motherly mash an impartial look at it
would show it only as likely to have been--but we're not talking,
of course, about impartial looks. We're talking of good innocent
people deeply worked upon by a horrid discovery, and going much
further, in their view of the lurid, as such people almost always
do, than those who have been wider awake, all round, from the
first. What I was to have got from my friend, in such a view, in
exchange for what I had been able to do for him--well, that would
have been an equivalent, of a kind best known to myself, for me
shrewdly to consider." And she easily lost herself, each time, in
the anxious satisfaction of filling out the picture. "It would
have been seen, it would have been heard of, before, the case of
the woman a man doesn't want, or of whom he's tired, or for whom
he has no use but SUCH uses, and who is capable, in her
infatuation, in her passion, of promoting his interests with
other women rather than lose sight of him, lose touch of him,
cease to have to do with him at all. Cela s'est vu, my dear; and
stranger things still--as I needn't tell YOU! Very good then,"
she wound up; "there is a perfectly possible conception of the
behaviour of your sweet wife; since, as I say, there's no
imagination so lively, once it's started, as that of really
agitated lambs. Lions are nothing to them, for lions are
sophisticated, are blases, are brought up, from the first, to
prowling and mauling. It does give us, you'll admit, something to
think about. My relief is luckily, however, in what I finally do
He was well enough aware, by this time, of what she finally did
think; but he was not without a sense, again, also for his
amusement by the way. It would have made him, for a spectator of
these passages between the pair, resemble not a little the
artless child who hears his favourite story told for the
twentieth time and enjoys it exactly because he knows what is
next to happen. "What of course will pull them up, if they turn
out to have less imagination than you assume, is the profit you
can have found in furthering Mrs. Verver's marriage. You weren't
at least in love with Charlotte."
"Oh," Mrs. Assingham, at this, always brought out, "my hand in
that is easily accounted for by my desire to be agreeable to
"To Mr. Verver?"
"To the Prince--by preventing her in that way from taking, as he
was in danger of seeing her do, some husband with whom he
wouldn't be able to open, to keep open, so large an account as
with his father-in-law. I've brought her near him, kept her
within his reach, as she could never have remained either as a
single woman or as the wife of a different man."
"Kept her, on that sweet construction, to be his mistress?"
"Kept her, on that sweet construction, to be his mistress." She
brought it out grandly--it had always so, for her own ear as well
as, visibly, for her husband's, its effect. "The facilities in
the case, thanks to the particular conditions, being so quite
"Down even to the facility of your minding everything so little--
from your own point of view--as to have supplied him with the
enjoyment of TWO beautiful women."
"Down even to THAT--to the monstrosity of my folly. But not,"
Mrs. Assingham added, "'two' of anything. One beautiful woman--
and one beautiful fortune. That's what a creature of pure virtue
exposes herself to when she suffers her pure virtue, suffers her
sympathy, her disinterestedness, her exquisite sense for the
lives of others, to carry her too far. Voila."
"I see. It's the way the Ververs have you."
"It's the way the Ververs 'have' me. It's in other words the way
they would be able to make such a show to each other of having
me--if Maggie weren't so divine."
"She lets you off?" He never failed to insist on all this to the
very end; which was how he had become so versed in what she
"She lets me off. So that now, horrified and contrite at what
I've done, I may work to help her out. And Mr. Verver," she was
fond of adding, "lets me off too."
"Then you do believe he knows?"
It determined in her always, there, with a significant pause, a
deep immersion in her thought. "I believe he would let me off if
he did know--so that I might work to help HIM out. Or rather,
really," she went on, "that I might work to help Maggie. That
would be his motive, that would be his condition, in forgiving
me; just as hers, for me, in fact, her motive and her condition,
are my acting to spare her father. But it's with Maggie only that
I'm directly concerned; nothing, ever--not a breath, not a look,
I'll guarantee--shall I have, whatever happens, from Mr. Verver
himself. So it is, therefore, that I shall probably, by the
closest possible shave, escape the penalty of my crimes."
"You mean being held responsible."
"I mean being held responsible. My advantage will be that
Maggie's such a trump."
"Such a trump that, as you say, she'll stick to you."
"Stick to me, on our understanding--stick to me. For our
understanding's signed and sealed." And to brood over it again
was ever, for Mrs. Assingham, to break out again with exaltation.
"It's a grand, high compact. She has solemnly promised."
"But in words--?"
"Oh yes, in words enough--since it's a matter of words. To keep
up HER lie so long as I keep up mine."
"And what do you call 'her' lie?"
"Why, the pretence that she believes me. Believes they're
"She positively believes then they're guilty? She has arrived at
that, she's really content with it, in the absence of proof?"
It was here, each time, that Fanny Assingham most faltered; but
always at last to get the matter, for her own sense, and with a
long sigh, sufficiently straight. "It isn't a question of belief
or of proof, absent or present; it's inevitably, with her, a
question of natural perception, of insurmountable feeling. She
irresistibly knows that there's something between them. But she
hasn't 'arrived' at it, as you say, at all; that's exactly what
she hasn't done, what she so steadily and intensely refuses to
do. She stands off and off, so as not to arrive; she keeps out to
sea and away from the rocks, and what she most wants of me is to
keep at a safe distance with her--as I, for my own skin, only ask
not to come nearer." After which, invariably, she let him have it
all. "So far from wanting proof--which she must get, in a manner,
by my siding with her--she wants DISproof, as against herself,
and has appealed to me, so extraordinarily, to side against her.
It's really magnificent, when you come to think of it, the spirit
of her appeal. If I'll but cover them up brazenly enough, the
others, so as to show, round and about them, as happy as a bird,
she on her side will do what she can. If I'll keep them quiet, in
a word, it will enable her to gain time--time as against any idea
of her father's--and so, somehow, come out. If I'll take care of
Charlotte, in particular, she'll take care of the Prince; and
it's beautiful and wonderful, really pathetic and exquisite, to
see what she feels that time may do for her."
"Ah, but what does she call, poor little thing, 'time'?"
"Well, this summer at Fawns, to begin with. She can live as yet,
of course, but from hand to mouth; but she has worked it out for
herself, I think, that the very danger of Fawns, superficially
looked at, may practically amount to a greater protection. THERE
the lovers--if they ARE lovers!--will have to mind. They'll feel
it for themselves, unless things are too utterly far gone with
"And things are NOT too utterly far gone with them?"
She had inevitably, poor woman, her hesitation for this, but she
put down her answer as, for the purchase of some absolutely
indispensable article, she would have put down her last shilling.
It made him always grin at her. "Is THAT a lie?"
"Do you think you're worth lying to? If it weren't the truth, for
me," she added, "I wouldn't have accepted for Fawns. I CAN, I
believe, keep the wretches quiet."
"But how--at the worst?"
"Oh, 'the worst'--don't talk about the worst! I can keep them
quiet at the best, I seem to feel, simply by our being there. It
will work, from week to week, of itself. You'll see."
He was willing enough to see, but he desired to provide--! "Yet
if it doesn't work?"
"Ah, that's talking about the worst!"
Well, it might be; but what were they doing, from morning to
night, at this crisis, but talk? "Who'll keep the others?"
"Who'll keep THEM quiet? If your couple have had a life together,
they can't have had it completely without witnesses, without the
help of persons, however few, who must have some knowledge, some
idea about them. They've had to meet, secretly, protectedly,
they've had to arrange; for if they haven't met, and haven't
arranged, and haven't thereby, in some quarter or other, had to
give themselves away, why are we piling it up so? Therefore if
there's evidence, up and down London--"
"There must be people in possession of it? Ah, it isn't all," she
always remembered, "up and down London. Some of it must connect
them--I mean," she musingly added, "it naturally WOULD--with
other places; with who knows what strange adventures,
opportunities, dissimulations? But whatever there may have been,
it will also all have been buried on the spot. Oh, they've known
HOW--too beautifully! But nothing, all the same, is likely to
find its way to Maggie of itself."
"Because every one who may have anything to tell, you hold, will
have been so squared?" And then inveterately, before she could
say--he enjoyed so much coming to this: "What will have squared
"The consciousness"--she had never lost her promptness--"of
having no stones to throw at any one else's windows. She has
enough to do to guard her own glass. That was what she was
doing," Fanny said, "that last morning at Matcham when all of us
went off and she kept the Prince and Charlotte over. She helped
them simply that she might herself be helped--if it wasn't
perhaps, rather, with her ridiculous Mr. Blint, that HE might be.
They put in together, therefore, of course, that day; they got it
clear--and quite under her eyes; inasmuch as they didn't become
traceable again, as we know, till late in the evening." On this
historic circumstance Mrs. Assingham was always ready afresh to
brood; but she was no less ready, after her brooding, devoutly to
add "Only we know nothing whatever else--for which all our stars
The Colonel's gratitude was apt to be less marked. "What did they
do for themselves, all the same, from the moment they got that
free hand to the moment (long after dinner-time, haven't you told
me?) of their turning up at their respective homes?"
"Well, it's none of your business!"
"I don't speak of it as mine, but it's only too much theirs.
People are always traceable, in England, when tracings are
required. Something, sooner or later, happens; somebody, sooner
or later, breaks the holy calm. Murder will out."
"Murder will--but this isn't murder. Quite the contrary perhaps!
I verily believe," she had her moments of adding, "that, for the
amusement of the row, you would prefer an explosion."
This, however, was a remark he seldom noticed; he wound up, for
the most part, after a long, contemplative smoke, with a
transition from which no exposed futility in it had succeeded in
weaning him. "What I can't for my life make out is your idea of
the old boy."
"Charlotte's too inconceivably funny husband? I HAVE no idea."
"I beg your pardon--you've just shown it. You never speak of him
but as too inconceivably funny."
"Well, he is," she always confessed. "That is he may be, for all
I know, too inconceivably great. But that's not an idea. It
represents only my weak necessity of feeling that he's beyond
me--which isn't an idea either. You see he MAY be stupid too."
"Precisely--there you are."
"Yet on the other hand," she always went on, "he MAY be sublime:
sublimer even than Maggie herself. He may in fact have already
been. But we shall never know." With which her tone betrayed
perhaps a shade of soreness for the single exemption she didn't
yearningly welcome. "THAT I can see."
"Oh, I say--!" It came to affect the Colonel himself with a sense
"I'm not sure, even, that Charlotte will."
"Oh, my dear, what Charlotte doesn't know--!"
But she brooded and brooded. "I'm not sure even that the Prince
will." It seemed privation, in short, for them all. "They'll be
mystified, confounded, tormented. But they won't know--and all
their possible putting their heads together won't make them.
That," said Fanny Assingham, "will be their punishment." And she
ended, ever, when she had come so far, at the same pitch. "It
will probably also--if I get off with so little--be mine."
"And what," her husband liked to ask, "will be mine?"
"Nothing--you're not worthy of any. One's punishment is in what
one feels, and what will make ours effective is that we SHALL
feel." She was splendid with her "ours"; she flared up with this
prophecy. "It will be Maggie herself who will mete it out."
"SHE'LL know--about her father; everything. Everything," she
repeated. On the vision of which, each time, Mrs. Assingham, as
with the presentiment of an odd despair, turned away from it.
"But she'll never tell us."
If Maggie had not so firmly made up her mind never to say, either
to her good friend or to any one else, more than she meant about
her father, she might have found herself betrayed into some such
overflow during the week spent in London with her husband after
the others had adjourned to Fawns for the summer. This was
because of the odd element of the unnatural imparted to the so
simple fact of their brief separation by the assumptions resident
in their course of life hitherto. She was used, herself,
certainly, by this time, to dealing with odd elements; but she
dropped, instantly, even from such peace as she had patched up,
when it was a question of feeling that her unpenetrated parent
might be alone with them. She thought of him as alone with them
when she thought of him as alone with Charlotte--and this,
strangely enough, even while fixing her sense to the full on his
wife's power of preserving, quite of enhancing, every felicitous
appearance. Charlotte had done that--under immeasurably fewer
difficulties indeed--during the numerous months of their hymeneal
absence from England, the period prior to that wonderful reunion
of the couples, in the interest of the larger play of all the
virtues of each, which was now bearing, for Mrs. Verver's
stepdaughter at least, such remarkable fruit. It was the present
so much briefer interval, in a situation, possibly in a relation,
so changed--it was the new terms of her problem that would tax
Charlotte's art. The Princess could pull herself up, repeatedly,
by remembering that the real "relation" between her father and
his wife was a thing that she knew nothing about and that, in
strictness, was none of her business; but she none the less
failed to keep quiet, as she would have called it, before the
projected image of their ostensibly happy isolation. Nothing
could have had less of the quality of quietude than a certain
queer wish that fitfully flickered up in her, a wish that
usurped, perversely, the place of a much more natural one. If
Charlotte, while she was about it, could only have been WORSE!--
that idea Maggie fell to invoking instead of the idea that she
might desirably have been better. For, exceedingly odd as it was
to feel in such ways, she believed she mightn't have worried so
much if she didn't somehow make her stepmother out, under the
beautiful trees and among the dear old gardens, as lavish of
fifty kinds of confidence and twenty kinds, at least, of
gentleness. Gentleness and confidence were certainly the right
thing, as from a charming woman to her husband, but the fine
tissue of reassurance woven by this lady's hands and flung over
her companion as a light, muffling veil, formed precisely a
wrought transparency through which she felt her father's eyes
continually rest on herself. The reach of his gaze came to her
straighter from a distance; it showed him as still more
conscious, down there alone, of the suspected, the felt
elaboration of the process of their not alarming or hurting him.
She had herself now, for weeks and weeks, and all unwinkingly,
traced the extension of this pious effort; but her perfect
success in giving no sign--she did herself THAT credit--would
have been an achievement quite wasted if Mrs. Verver should make
with him those mistakes of proportion, one set of them too
abruptly, too incoherently designed to correct another set, that
she had made with his daughter. However, if she HAD been worse,
poor woman, who should say that her husband would, to a
certainty, have been better?
One groped noiselessly among such questions, and it was actually
not even definite for the Princess that her own Amerigo, left
alone with her in town, had arrived at the golden mean of
non-precautionary gallantry which would tend, by his calculation,
to brush private criticism from its last perching-place. The
truth was, in this connection, that she had different sorts of
terrors, and there were hours when it came to her that these days
were a prolonged repetition of that night-drive, of weeks before,
from the other house to their own, when he had tried to charm
her, by his sovereign personal power, into some collapse that
would commit her to a repudiation of consistency. She was never
alone with him, it was to be said, without her having sooner or
later to ask herself what had already become of her consistency;
yet, at the same time, so long as she breathed no charge, she
kept hold of a remnant of appearance that could save her from
attack. Attack, real attack, from him, as he would conduct it
was what she above all dreaded; she was so far from sure that
under that experience she mightn't drop into some depth of
weakness, mightn't show him some shortest way with her that he
would know how to use again. Therefore, since she had given him,
as yet, no moment's pretext for pretending to her that she had
either lost faith or suffered by a feather's weight in happiness,
she left him, it was easy to reason, with an immense advantage
for all waiting and all tension. She wished him, for the present,
to "make up" to her for nothing. Who could say to what making-up
might lead, into what consenting or pretending or destroying
blindness it might plunge her? She loved him too helplessly,
still, to dare to open the door, by an inch, to his treating her
as if either of them had wronged the other. Something or
somebody--and who, at this, which of them all?--would inevitably,
would in the gust of momentary selfishness, be sacrificed to
that; whereas what she intelligently needed was to know where she
was going. Knowledge, knowledge, was a fascination as well as a
fear; and a part, precisely, of the strangeness of this juncture
was the way her apprehension that he would break out to her with
some merely general profession was mixed with her dire need to
forgive him, to reassure him, to respond to him, on no ground
that she didn't fully measure. To do these things it must be
clear to her what they were FOR; but to act in that light was, by
the same effect, to learn, horribly, what the other things had
been. He might tell her only what he wanted, only what would work
upon her by the beauty of his appeal; and the result of the
direct appeal of ANY beauty in him would be her helpless
submission to his terms. All her temporary safety, her hand-to-
mouth success, accordingly, was in his neither perceiving nor
divining this, thanks to such means as she could take to prevent
him; take, literally from hour to hour, during these days of more
unbroken exposure. From hour to hour she fairly expected some
sign of his having decided on a jump. "Ah yes, it HAS been as you
think; I've strayed away, I've fancied myself free, given myself
in other quantities, with larger generosities, because I thought
you were different--different from what I now see. But it was
only, only, because I didn't know--and you must admit that you
gave me scarce reason enough. Reason enough, I mean, to keep
clear of my mistake; to which I confess, for which I'll do
exquisite penance, which you can help me now, I too beautifully
feel, to get completely over."
That was what, while she watched herself, she potentially heard
him bring out; and while she carried to an end another day,
another sequence and yet another of their hours together, without
his producing it, she felt herself occupied with him beyond even
the intensity of surrender. She was keeping her head, for a
reason, for a cause; and the labour of this detachment, with the
labour of her keeping the pitch of it down, held them together in
the steel hoop of an intimacy compared with which artless passion
would have been but a beating of the air. Her greatest danger, or
at least her greatest motive for care, was the obsession of the
thought that, if he actually did suspect, the fruit of his
attention to her couldn't help being a sense of the growth of her
importance. Taking the measure, with him, as she had taken it
with her father, of the prescribed reach of her hypocrisy, she
saw how it would have to stretch even to her seeking to prove
that she was NOT, all the same, important. A single touch from
him--oh, she should know it in case of its coming!--any brush of
his hand, of his lips, of his voice, inspired by recognition of
her probable interest as distinct from pity for her virtual
gloom, would hand her over to him bound hand and foot. Therefore
to be free, to be free to act, other than abjectly, for her
father, she must conceal from him the validity that, like a
microscopic insect pushing a grain of sand, she was taking on
even for herself. She could keep it up with a change in sight,
but she couldn't keep it up forever; so that, really, one
extraordinary effect of their week of untempered confrontation,
which bristled with new marks, was to make her reach out, in
thought, to their customary companions and calculate the kind of
relief that rejoining them would bring. She was learning, almost
from minute to minute, to be a mistress of shades since, always,
when there were possibilities enough of intimacy, there were
also, by that fact, in intercourse, possibilities of iridescence;
but she was working against an adversary who was a master of
shades too, and on whom, if she didn't look out, she should
presently have imposed a consciousness of the nature of their
struggle. To feel him in fact, to think of his feeling himself,
her adversary in things of this fineness--to see him at all, in
short, brave a name that would represent him as in opposition--
was already to be nearly reduced to a visible smothering
of her cry of alarm. Should he guess they were having, in their
so occult manner, a HIGH fight, and that it was she, all the
while, in her supposed stupidity, who had made it high and was
keeping it high--in the event of his doing this before they could
leave town she should verily be lost.
The possible respite for her at Fawns would come from the fact
that observation, in him, there, would inevitably find some of
its directness diverted. This would be the case if only because
the remarkable strain of her father's placidity might be thought
of as likely to claim some larger part of his attention. Besides
which there would be always Charlotte herself to draw him off.
Charlotte would help him again, doubtless, to study anything,
right or left, that might be symptomatic; but Maggie could see
that this very fact might perhaps contribute, in its degree, to
protect the secret of her own fermentation. It is not even
incredible that she may have discovered the gleam of a comfort
that was to broaden in the conceivable effect on the Prince's
spirit, on his nerves, on his finer irritability, of some of the
very airs and aspects, the light graces themselves, of Mrs.
Verver's too perfect competence. What it would most come to,
after all, she said to herself, was a renewal for him of the
privilege of watching that lady watch her. Very well, then: with
the elements after all so mixed in him, how long would he go on
enjoying mere spectatorship of that act? For she had by this time
made up her mind that in Charlotte's company he deferred to
Charlotte's easier art of mounting guard. Wouldn't he get tired--
to put it only at that--of seeing her always on the rampart,
erect and elegant, with her lace-flounced parasol now folded and
now shouldered, march to and fro against a gold-coloured east or
west? Maggie had gone far, truly for a view of the question of
this particular reaction, and she was not incapable of pulling
herself up with the rebuke that she counted her chickens before
they were hatched. How sure she should have to be of so many
things before she might thus find a weariness in Amerigo's
expression and a logic in his weariness!
One of her dissimulated arts for meeting their tension,
meanwhile, was to interweave Mrs. Assingham as plausibly as
possible with the undulations of their surface, to bring it about
that she should join them, of an afternoon, when they drove
together or if they went to look at things--looking at things
being almost as much a feature of their life as if they were
bazaar-opening royalties. Then there were such combinations,
later in the day, as her attendance on them, and the Colonel's as
well, for such whimsical matters as visits to the opera no matter
who was singing, and sudden outbreaks of curiosity about the
British drama. The good couple from Cadogan Place could always
unprotestingly dine with them and "go on" afterwards to such
publicities as the Princess cultivated the boldness of now
perversely preferring. It may be said of her that, during these
passages, she plucked her sensations by the way, detached,
nervously, the small wild blossoms of her dim forest, so that she
could smile over them at least with the spacious appearance, for
her companions, for her husband above all, of bravely, of
altogether frivolously, going a-maying. She had her intense, her
smothered excitements, some of which were almost inspirations;
she had in particular the extravagant, positively at moments the
amused, sense of using her friend to the topmost notch,
accompanied with the high luxury of not having to explain. Never,
no never, should she have to explain to Fanny Assingham again--
who, poor woman, on her own side, would be charged, it might be
forever, with that privilege of the higher ingenuity. She put it
all off on Fanny, and the dear thing herself might henceforth
appraise the quantity. More and more magnificent now in her
blameless egoism, Maggie asked no questions of her, and thus only
signified the greatness of the opportunity she gave her. She
didn't care for what devotions, what dinners of their own the
Assinghams might have been "booked"; that was a detail, and she
could think without wincing of the ruptures and rearrangements to
which her service condemned them. It all fell in beautifully,
moreover; so that, as hard, at this time, in spite of her fever,
as a little pointed diamond, the Princess showed something of the
glitter of consciously possessing the constructive, the creative
hand. She had but to have the fancy of presenting herself, of
presenting her husband, in a certain high and convenient manner,
to make it natural they should go about with their gentleman and
their lady. To what else but this, exactly, had Charlotte, during
so many weeks of the earlier season, worked her up?--herself
assuming and discharging, so far as might be, the character and
office of one of those revolving subordinate presences that float
in the wake of greatness.
The precedent was therefore established and the group normally
constituted. Mrs. Assingham, meanwhile, at table, on the stairs,
in the carriage or the opera-box, might--with her constant
overflow of expression, for that matter, and its singularly
resident character where men in especial were concerned--look
across at Amerigo in whatever sense she liked: it was not of that
Maggie proposed to be afraid. She might warn him, she might
rebuke him, she might reassure him, she might--if it were
impossible not to--absolutely make love to him; even this was
open to her, as a matter simply between them, if it would help
her to answer for the impeccability he had guaranteed. And Maggie
desired in fact only to strike her as acknowledging the efficacy
of her aid when she mentioned to her one evening a small
project for the morrow, privately entertained--the idea,
irresistible, intense, of going to pay, at the Museum, a visit to
Mr. Crichton. Mr. Crichton, as Mrs. Assingham could easily
remember, was the most accomplished and obliging of public
functionaries, whom every one knew and who knew every one--who
had from the first, in particular, lent himself freely, and for
the love of art and history, to becoming one of the steadier
lights of Mr. Verver's adventurous path. The custodian of one of
the richest departments of the great national collection of
precious things, he could feel for the sincere private collector
and urge him on his way even when condemned to be present at his
capture of trophies sacrificed by the country to parliamentary
thrift. He carried his amiability to the point of saying that,
since London, under pettifogging views, had to miss, from time to
time, its rarest opportunities, he was almost consoled to see
such lost causes invariably wander at last, one by one, with the
tormenting tinkle of their silver bells, into the wondrous, the
already famous fold beyond the Mississippi. There was a charm in
his "almosts" that was not to be resisted, especially after Mr.
Verver and Maggie had grown sure--or almost, again--of enjoying
the monopoly of them; and on this basis of envy changed to
sympathy by the more familiar view of the father and the
daughter, Mr. Crichton had at both houses, though especially in
Eaton Square, learned to fill out the responsive and suggestive
character. It was at his invitation, Fanny well recalled, that
Maggie, one day, long before, and under her own attendance
precisely, had, for the glory of the name she bore, paid a visit
to one of the ampler shrines of the supreme exhibitory temple, an
alcove of shelves charged with the gold-and-brown, gold-and-
ivory, of old Italian bindings and consecrated to the records of
the Prince's race. It had been an impression that penetrated,
that remained; yet Maggie had sighed, ever so prettily, at its
having to be so superficial. She was to go back some day, to dive
deeper, to linger and taste; in spite of which, however, Mrs.
Assingham could not recollect perceiving that the visit had been
repeated. This second occasion had given way, for a long time, in
her happy life, to other occasions--all testifying, in their
degree, to the quality of her husband's blood, its rich mixture
and its many remarkable references; after which, no doubt, the
charming piety involved had grown, on still further grounds,
bewildered and faint.
It now appeared, none the less, that some renewed conversation
with Mr. Crichton had breathed on the faintness revivingly, and
Maggie mentioned her purpose as a conception of her very own, to
the success of which she designed to devote her morning. Visits
of gracious ladies, under his protection, lighted up rosily, for
this perhaps most flower-loving and honey-sipping member of the
great Bloomsbury hive, its packed passages and cells; and though
not sworn of the province toward which his friend had found
herself, according to her appeal to him, yearning again, nothing
was easier for him than to put her in relation with the presiding
urbanities. So it had been settled, Maggie said to Mrs.
Assingham, and she was to dispense with Amerigo's company. Fanny
was to remember later on that she had at first taken this last
fact for one of the finer notes of her young woman's detachment,
imagined she must be going alone because of the shade of irony
that, in these ambiguous days, her husband's personal presence
might be felt to confer, practically, on any tribute to his
transmitted significance. Then as, the next moment, she felt it
clear that so much plotted freedom was virtually a refinement of
reflection, an impulse to commemorate afresh whatever might still
survive of pride and hope, her sense of ambiguity happily fell
and she congratulated her companion on having anything so
exquisite to do and on being so exquisitely in the humour to do
it. After the occasion had come and gone she was confirmed in her
optimism; she made out, in the evening, that the hour spent among
the projected lights, the annals and illustrations, the
parchments and portraits, the emblazoned volumes and the murmured
commentary, had been for the Princess enlarging and inspiring.
Maggie had said to her some days before, very sweetly but very
firmly, "Invite us to dine, please, for Friday, and have any one
you like or you can--it doesn't in the least matter whom;" and
the pair in Cadogan Place had bent to this mandate with a
docility not in the least ruffled by all that it took for
It provided for an evening--this had been Maggie's view; and she
lived up to her view, in her friend's eyes, by treating the
occasion, more or less explicitly, as new and strange. The good
Assinghams had feasted in fact at the two other boards on a scale
so disproportionate to the scant solicitations of their own that
it was easy to make a joke of seeing how they fed at home, how
they met, themselves, the question of giving to eat. Maggie dined
with them, in short, and arrived at making her husband appear to
dine, much in the manner of a pair of young sovereigns who have,
in the frolic humour of the golden years of reigns, proposed
themselves to a pair of faithfully-serving subjects. She showed
an interest in their arrangements, an inquiring tenderness almost
for their economies; so that her hostess not unnaturally, as they
might have said, put it all down--the tone and the freedom of
which she set the example--to the effect wrought in her afresh by
one of the lessons learned, in the morning, at the altar of the
past. Hadn't she picked it up, from an anecdote or two offered
again to her attention, that there were, for princesses of such a
line, more ways than one of being a heroine? Maggie's way
to-night was to surprise them all, truly, by the extravagance of
her affability. She was doubtless not positively boisterous; yet,
though Mrs. Assingham, as a bland critic, had never doubted her
being graceful, she had never seen her put so much of it into
being what might have been called assertive. It was all a tune to
which Fanny's heart could privately palpitate: her guest was
happy, happy as a consequence of something that had occurred, but
she was making the Prince not lose a ripple of her laugh, though
not perhaps always enabling him to find it absolutely not
foolish. Foolish, in public, beyond a certain point, he was
scarce the man to brook his wife's being thought to be; so that
there hovered before their friend the possibility of some
subsequent scene between them, in the carriage or at home, of
slightly sarcastic inquiry, of promptly invited explanation; a
scene that, according as Maggie should play her part in it, might
or might not precipitate developments. What made these
appearances practically thrilling, meanwhile, was this mystery--a
mystery, it was clear, to Amerigo himself--of the incident or the
influence that had so peculiarly determined them.
The lady of Cadogan Place was to read deeper, however, within
three days, and the page was turned for her on the eve of her
young confidant's leaving London. The awaited migration to Fawns
was to take place on the morrow, and it was known meanwhile to
Mrs. Assingham that their party of four were to dine that night,
at the American Embassy, with another and a larger party; so that
the elder woman had a sense of surprise on receiving from the
younger, under date of six o'clock, a telegram requesting her
immediate attendance. "Please come to me at once; dress early, if
necessary, so that we shall have time: the carriage, ordered for
us, will take you back first." Mrs. Assingham, on quick
deliberation, dressed, though not perhaps with full lucidity, and
by seven o'clock was in Portland Place, where her friend,
"upstairs" and described to her on her arrival as herself engaged
in dressing, instantly received her. She knew on the spot, poor
Fanny, as she was afterwards to declare to the Colonel, that her
feared crisis had popped up as at the touch of a spring, that her
impossible hour was before her. Her impossible hour was the hour
of its coming out that she had known of old so much more than she
had ever said; and she had often put it to herself, in
apprehension, she tried to think even in preparation, that she
should recognise the approach of her doom by a consciousness akin
to that of the blowing open of a window on some night of the
highest wind and the lowest thermometer. It would be all in vain
to have crouched so long by the fire; the glass would have been
smashed, the icy air would fill the place. If the air in Maggie's
room then, on her going up, was not, as yet, quite the polar
blast she had expected, it was distinctly, none the less, such an
atmosphere as they had not hitherto breathed together. The
Princess, she perceived, was completely dressed--that business
was over; it added indeed to the effect of her importantly
awaiting the assistance she had summoned, of her showing a deck
cleared, so to speak, for action. Her maid had already left her,
and she presented herself, in the large, clear room, where
everything was admirable, but where nothing was out of place, as,
for the first time in her life rather "bedizened." Was it that
she had put on too many things, overcharged herself with jewels,
wore in particular more of them than usual, and bigger ones, in
her hair?--a question her visitor presently answered by
attributing this appearance largely to the bright red spot, red
as some monstrous ruby, that burned in either of her cheeks.
These two items of her aspect had, promptly enough, their own
light for Mrs. Assingham, who made out by it that nothing more
pathetic could be imagined than the refuge and disguise her
agitation had instinctively asked of the arts of dress,
multiplied to extravagance, almost to incoherence. She had had,
visibly, her idea--that of not betraying herself by inattentions
into which she had never yet fallen, and she stood there circled
about and furnished forth, as always, in a manner that testified
to her perfect little personal processes. It had ever been her
sign that she was, for all occasions, FOUND ready, without loose
ends or exposed accessories or unremoved superfluities; a
suggestion of the swept and garnished, in her whole splendid, yet
thereby more or less encumbered and embroidered setting, that
reflected her small still passion for order and symmetry, for
objects with their backs to the walls, and spoke even of some
probable reference, in her American blood, to dusting and
polishing New England grandmothers. If her apartment was
"princely," in the clearness of the lingering day, she looked as
if she had been carried there prepared, all attired and
decorated, like some holy image in a procession, and left,
precisely, to show what wonder she could work under pressure. Her
friend felt--how could she not?--as the truly pious priest might
feel when confronted, behind the altar, before the festa, with
his miraculous Madonna. Such an occasion would be grave, in
general, with all the gravity of what he might look for. But the
gravity to-night would be of the rarest; what he might look for
would depend so on what he could give.