Part 9 out of 12
"Something very strange has happened, and I think you ought to
Maggie spoke this indeed without extravagance, yet with the
effect of making her guest measure anew the force of her appeal.
It was their definite understanding: whatever Fanny knew Fanny's
faith would provide for. And she knew, accordingly, at the end of
five minutes, what the extraordinary, in the late occurrence, had
consisted of, and how it had all come of Maggie's achieved hour,
under Mr. Crichton's protection, at the Museum. He had desired,
Mr. Crichton, with characteristic kindness, after the wonderful
show, after offered luncheon at his incorporated lodge hard by,
to see her safely home; especially on his noting, in attending
her to the great steps, that she had dismissed her carriage;
which she had done, really, just for the harmless amusement of
taking her way alone. She had known she should find herself, as
the consequence of such an hour, in a sort of exalted state,
under the influence of which a walk through the London streets
would be exactly what would suit her best; an independent ramble,
impressed, excited, contented, with nothing to mind and nobody to
talk to, and shop-windows in plenty to look at if she liked: a
low taste, of the essence, it was to be supposed, of her nature,
that she had of late, for so many reasons, been unable to
gratify. She had taken her leave, with her thanks--she knew her
way quite enough; it being also sufficiently the case that she
had even a shy hope of not going too straight. To wander a little
wild was what would truly amuse her; so that, keeping clear of
Oxford Street and cultivating an impression as of parts she
didn't know, she had ended with what she had more or less had
been fancying, an encounter with three or four shops--an old
bookseller's, an old printmonger's, a couple of places with dim
antiquities in the window--that were not as so many of the other
shops, those in Sloane Street, say; a hollow parade which had
long since ceased to beguile. There had remained with her
moreover an allusion of Charlotte's, of some months before--seed
dropped into her imagination in the form of a casual speech about
there being in Bloomsbury such "funny little fascinating" places
and even sometimes such unexpected finds. There could perhaps
have been no stronger mark than this sense of well-nigh romantic
opportunity--no livelier sign of the impression made on her, and
always so long retained, so watchfully nursed, by any observation
of Charlotte's, however lightly thrown off. And then she had
felt, somehow, more at her ease than for months and months
before; she didn't know why, but her time at the Museum, oddly,
had done it; it was as if she hadn't come into so many noble and
beautiful associations, nor secured them also for her boy,
secured them even for her father, only to see them turn to vanity
and doubt, turn possibly to something still worse. "I believed in
him again as much as ever, and I felt how I believed in him," she
said with bright, fixed eyes; "I felt it in the streets as I
walked along, and it was as if that helped me and lifted me up,
my being off by myself there, not having, for the moment, to
wonder and watch; having, on the contrary, almost nothing on my
It was so much as if everything would come out right that she had
fallen to thinking of her father's birthday, had given herself
this as a reason for trying what she could pick up for it. They
would keep it at Fawns, where they had kept it before--since it
would be the twenty-first of the month; and she mightn't have
another chance of making sure of something to offer him. There
was always the impossibility, of course, of finding him anything,
the least bit "good," that he wouldn't already, long ago, in his
rummagings, have seen himself--and only not to think a quarter
good enough; this, however, was an old story, and one could not
have had any fun with him but for his sweet theory that the
individual gift, the friendship's offering, was, by a rigorous
law of nature, a foredoomed aberration, and that the more it was
so the more it showed, and the more one cherished it for showing,
how friendly it had been. The infirmity of art was the candour of
affection, the grossness of pedigree the refinement of sympathy;
the ugliest objects, in fact, as a general thing, were the
bravest, the tenderest mementos, and, as such, figured in glass
cases apart, worthy doubtless of the home, but not worthy of the
temple--dedicated to the grimacing, not to the clear-faced, gods.
She herself, naturally, through the past years, had come to be
much represented in those receptacles; against the thick, locked
panes of which she still liked to flatten her nose, finding in
its place, each time, everything she had on successive
anniversaries tried to believe he might pretend, at her
suggestion, to be put off with, or at least think curious. She
was now ready to try it again: they had always, with his pleasure
in her pretence and her pleasure in his, with the funny betrayal
of the sacrifice to domestic manners on either side, played the
game so happily. To this end, on her way home, she had loitered
everywhere; quite too deludedly among the old books and the old
prints, which had yielded nothing to her purpose, but with a
strange inconsequence in one of the other shops, that of a small
antiquarian, a queer little foreign man, who had shown her a
number of things, shown her finally something that, struck with
it as rather a rarity and thinking it would, compared to some of
her ventures, quite superlatively do, she had bought--bought
really, when it came to that, for a price. "It appears now it
won't do at all," said Maggie, "something has happened since that
puts it quite out of the question. I had only my day of
satisfaction in it, but I feel, at the same time, as I keep it
here before me, that I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
She had talked, from the first of her friend's entrances
coherently enough, even with a small quaver that overstated her
calm; but she held her breath every few seconds, as if for
deliberation and to prove she didn't pant--all of which marked
for Fanny the depth of her commotion: her reference to her
thought about her father, about her chance to pick up something
that might divert him, her mention, in fine, of his fortitude
under presents, having meanwhile, naturally, it should be said,
much less an amplitude of insistence on the speaker's lips than a
power to produce on the part of the listener herself the prompt
response and full comprehension of memory and sympathy, of old
amused observation. The picture was filled out by the latter's
fond fancy. But Maggie was at any rate under arms; she knew what
she was doing and had already her plan--a plan for making, for
allowing, as yet, "no difference"; in accordance with which she
would still dine out, and not with red eyes, nor convulsed
features, nor neglected items of appearance, nor anything that
would raise a question. Yet there was some knowledge that,
exactly to this support of her not breaking down, she desired,
she required, possession of; and, with the sinister rise and fall
of lightning unaccompanied by thunder, it played before Mrs.
Assingham's eyes that she herself should have, at whatever risk
or whatever cost, to supply her with the stuff of her need. All
our friend's instinct was to hold off from this till she should
see what the ground would bear; she would take no step nearer
unless INTELLIGIBLY to meet her, and, awkward though it might be
to hover there only pale and distorted, with mere imbecilities of
vagueness, there was a quality of bald help in the fact of not as
yet guessing what such an ominous start could lead to. She
caught, however, after a second's thought, at the Princess's
allusion to her lost reassurance.
"You mean you were so at your ease on Monday--the night you dined
"I was very happy then," said Maggie.
"Yes--we thought you so gay and so brilliant." Fanny felt it
feeble, but she went on. "We were so glad you were happy."
Maggie stood a moment, at first only looking at her. "You thought
me all right, eh?"
"Surely, dearest; we thought you all right."
"Well, I daresay it was natural; but in point of fact I never was
more wrong in my life. For, all the while, if you please, this
Mrs. Assingham indulged, as nearly as possible to luxury, her
"THAT!" replied the Princess, whose eyes, her companion now saw,
had turned to an object on the chimney-piece of the room, of
which, among so many precious objects--the Ververs, wherever they
might be, always revelled peculiarly in matchless old mantel
ornaments--her visitor had not taken heed.
"Do you mean the gilt cup?"
"I mean the gilt cup."
The piece now recognised by Fanny as new to her own vision was a
capacious bowl, of old-looking, rather strikingly yellow gold,
mounted, by a short stem, on an ample foot, which held a central
position above the fire-place, where, to allow it the better to
show, a clearance had been made of other objects, notably of the
Louis-Seize clock that accompanied the candelabra. This latter
trophy ticked at present on the marble slab of a commode that
exactly matched it in splendour and style. Mrs. Assingham took
it, the bowl, as a fine thing; but the question was obviously not
of its intrinsic value, and she kept off from it, admiring it at
a distance. "But what has that to do--?"
"It has everything. You'll see." With which again, however, for
the moment, Maggie attached to her strange wide eyes. "He knew
her before--before I had ever seen him."
"'He' knew--?" But Fanny, while she cast about her for the links
she missed, could only echo it.
"Amerigo knew Charlotte--more than I ever dreamed."
Fanny felt then it was stare for stare. "But surely you always
knew they had met."
"I didn't understand. I knew too little. Don't you see what I
mean?" the Princess asked.
Mrs. Assingham wondered, during these instants, how much she even
now knew; it had taken a minute to perceive how gently she was
speaking. With that perception of its being no challenge of
wrath, no heat of the deceived soul, but only a free exposure of
the completeness of past ignorance, inviting derision even if it
must, the elder woman felt, first, a strange, barely credible
relief: she drew in, as if it had been the warm summer scent of a
flower, the sweet certainty of not meeting, any way she should
turn, any consequence of judgment. She shouldn't be judged--save
by herself; which was her own wretched business. The next moment,
however, at all events, she blushed, within, for her immediate
cowardice: she had thought of herself, thought of "getting off,"
before so much as thinking--that is of pitifully seeing--that she
was in presence of an appeal that was ALL an appeal, that utterly
accepted its necessity. "In a general way, dear child, yes. But
not--a--in connexion with what you've been telling me."
"They were intimate, you see. Intimate," said the Princess.
Fanny continued to face her, taking from her excited eyes this
history, so dim and faint for all her anxious emphasis, of the
far-away other time. "There's always the question of what one
"What one considers intimate? Well, I know what I consider
intimate now. Too intimate," said Maggie, "to let me know
anything about it."
It was quiet--yes; but not too quiet for Fanny Assingham's
capacity to wince. "Only compatible with letting ME, you mean?"
She had asked it after a pause, but turning again to the new
ornament of the chimney and wondering, even while she took relief
from it, at this gap in her experience. "But here are things, my
dear, of which my ignorance is perfect."
"They went about together--they're known to have done it. And I
don't mean only before--I mean after."
"After?" said Fanny Assingham.
"Before we were married--yes; but after we were engaged."
"Ah, I've known nothing about that!" And she said it with a
braver assurance--clutching, with comfort, at something that was
apparently new to her.
"That bowl," Maggie went on, "is, so strangely--too strangely,
almost, to believe at this time of day--the proof. They were
together all the while--up to the very eve of our marriage. Don't
you remember how just before that she came back, so unexpectedly,
The question had for Mrs. Assingham--and whether all consciously
or not--the oddest pathos of simplicity. "Oh yes, dear, of course
I remember how she came back from America--and how she stayed
with US, and what view one had of it."
Maggie's eyes still, all the time, pressed and penetrated; so
that, during a moment, just here, she might have given the little
flare, have made the little pounce, of asking what then "one's"
view had been. To the small flash of this eruption Fanny stood,
for her minute, wittingly exposed; but she saw it as quickly
cease to threaten--quite saw the Princess, even though in all her
pain, refuse, in the interest of their strange and exalted
bargain, to take advantage of the opportunity for planting the
stab of reproach, the opportunity thus coming all of itself. She
saw her--or she believed she saw her--look at her chance for
straight denunciation, look at it and then pass it by; and she
felt herself, with this fact, hushed well-nigh to awe at the
lucid higher intention that no distress could confound and that
no discovery--since it was, however obscurely, a case of
"discovery"--could make less needful. These seconds were brief--
they rapidly passed; but they lasted long enough to renew our
friend's sense of her own extraordinary undertaking, the function
again imposed on her, the answerability again drilled into her,
by this intensity of intimation. She was reminded of the terms on
which she was let off--her quantity of release having made its
sufficient show in that recall of her relation to Charlotte's old
reappearance; and deep within the whole impression glowed--ah, so
inspiringly when it came to that! her steady view, clear from the
first, of the beauty of her companion's motive. It was like a
fresh sacrifice for a larger conquest "Only see me through now,
do it in the face of this and in spite of it, and I leave you a
hand of which the freedom isn't to be said!" The aggravation of
fear--or call it, apparently, of knowledge--had jumped straight
into its place as an aggravation above all for her father; the
effect of this being but to quicken to passion her reasons for
making his protectedness, or in other words the forms of his
ignorance, still the law of her attitude and the key to her
solution. She kept as tight hold of these reasons and these
forms, in her confirmed horror, as the rider of a plunging horse
grasps his seat with his knees; and she might absolutely have
been putting it to her guest that she believed she could stay on
if they should only "meet" nothing more. Though ignorant still of
what she had definitely met Fanny yearned, within, over her
spirit; and so, no word about it said, passed, through mere
pitying eyes, a vow to walk ahead and, at crossroads, with a
lantern for the darkness and wavings away for unadvised traffic,
look out for alarms. There was accordingly no wait in Maggie's
reply. "They spent together hours--spent at least a morning--the
certainty of which has come back to me now, but that I didn't
dream of it at the time. That cup there has turned witness--by
the most wonderful of chances. That's why, since it has been
here, I've stood it out for my husband to see; put it where it
would meet him, almost immediately, if he should come into the
room. I've wanted it to meet him," she went on, "and I've wanted
him to meet it, and to be myself present at the meeting. But that
hasn't taken place as yet; often as he has lately been in the way
of coming to see me here--yes, in particular lately--he hasn't
showed to-day." It was with her managed quietness, more and more,
that she talked--an achieved coherence that helped her,
evidently, to hear and to watch herself; there was support, and
thereby an awful harmony, but which meant a further guidance, in
the facts she could add together. "It's quite as if he had an
instinct--something that has warned him off or made him uneasy.
He doesn't quite know, naturally, what has happened, but guesses,
with his beautiful cleverness, that something has, and isn't in a
hurry to be confronted with it. So, in his vague fear, he keeps
"But being meanwhile in the house--?"
"I've no idea--not having seen him to-day, by exception, since
before luncheon. He spoke to me then," the Princess freely
explained, "of a ballot, of great importance, at a club--for
somebody, some personal friend, I think, who's coming up and is
supposed to be in danger. To make an effort for him he thought he
had better lunch there. You see the efforts he can make"--for
which Maggie found a smile that went to her friend's heart. "He's
in so many ways the kindest of men. But it was hours ago."
Mrs. Assingham thought. "The more danger then of his coming in
and finding me here. I don't know, you see, what you now consider
that you've ascertained; nor anything of the connexion with it of
that object that you declare so damning." Her eyes rested on this
odd acquisition and then quitted it, went back to it and again
turned from it: it was inscrutable in its rather stupid elegance,
and yet, from the moment one had thus appraised it, vivid and
definite in its domination of the scene. Fanny could no more
overlook it now than she could have overlooked a lighted
Christmas-tree; but nervously and all in vain she dipped into her
mind for some floating reminiscence of it. At the same time that
this attempt left her blank she understood a good deal, she even
not a little shared the Prince's mystic apprehension. The golden
bowl put on, under consideration, a sturdy, a conscious
perversity; as a "document," somehow, it was ugly, though it
might have a decorative grace. "His finding me here in presence
of it might be more flagrantly disagreeable--for all of us--than
you intend or than would necessarily help us. And I must take
time, truly, to understand what it means."
"You're safe, as far as that goes," Maggie returned; "you may
take it from me that he won't come in; and that I shall only find
him below, waiting for me, when I go down to the carriage."
Fanny Assingham took it from her, took it and more. "We're to sit
together at the Ambassador's then--or at least you two are--with
this new complication thrust up before you, all unexplained; and
to look at each other with faces that pretend, for the ghastly
hour, not to be seeing it?"
Maggie looked at HER with a face that might have been the one she
was preparing. "'Unexplained,' my dear? Quite the contrary--
explained: fully, intensely, admirably explained, with nothing
really to add. My own love"--she kept it up--"I don't want
anything more. I've plenty to go upon and to do with, as it is."
Fanny Assingham stood there in her comparative darkness, with her
links, verily, still missing; but the most acceptable effect of
this was, singularly, as yet, a cold fear of getting nearer the
fact. "But when you come home--? I mean he'll come up with you
again. Won't he see it then?"
On which Maggie gave her, after an instant's visible thought, the
strangest of slow headshakes. "I don't know. Perhaps he'll never
see it--if it only stands there waiting for him. He may never
again," said the Princess, "come into this room."
Fanny more deeply wondered, "Never again? Oh--!"
"Yes, it may be. How do I know? With THIS!" she quietly went on.
She had not looked again at the incriminating piece, but there
was a marvel to her friend in the way the little word
representing it seemed to express and include for her the whole
of her situation. "Then you intend not to speak to him--?"
Maggie waited. "To 'speak'--?"
"Well, about your having it and about what you consider that it
"Oh, I don't know that I shall speak--if he doesn't. But his
keeping away from me because of that--what will that be but to
speak? He can't say or do more. It won't be for me to speak,"
Maggie added in a different tone, one of the tones that had
already so penetrated her guest. "It will be for me to listen."
Mrs. Assingham turned it over. "Then it all depends on that
object that you regard, for your reasons, as evidence?"
"I think I may say that _I_ depend on it. I can't," said Maggie,
"treat it as nothing now."
Mrs. Assingham, at this, went closer to the cup on the chimney--
quite liking to feel that she did so, moreover, without going
closer to her companion's vision. She looked at the precious
thing--if precious it was--found herself in fact eyeing it as if,
by her dim solicitation, to draw its secret from it rather than
suffer the imposition of Maggie's knowledge. It was brave and
rich and firm, with its bold deep hollow; and, without this queer
torment about it, would, thanks to her love of plenty of yellow,
figure to her as an enviable ornament, a possession really
desirable. She didn't touch it, but if after a minute she turned
away from it the reason was, rather oddly and suddenly, in her
fear of doing so. "Then it all depends on the bowl? I mean your
future does? For that's what it comes to, I judge."
"What it comes to," Maggie presently returned, "is what that
thing has put me, so almost miraculously, in the way of learning:
how far they had originally gone together. If there was so much
between them before, there can't--with all the other
appearances--not be a great deal more now." And she went on and
on; she steadily made her points. "If such things were already
then between them they make all the difference for possible doubt
of what may have been between them since. If there had been
nothing before there might be explanations. But it makes to-day
too much to explain. I mean to explain away," she said.
Fanny Assingham was there to explain away--of this she was duly
conscious; for that at least had been true up to now. In the
light, however, of Maggie's demonstration the quantity, even
without her taking as yet a more exact measure, might well seem
larger than ever. Besides which, with or without exactness, the
effect of each successive minute in the place was to put her more
in presence of what Maggie herself saw. Maggie herself saw the
truth, and that was really, while they remained there together,
enough for Mrs. Assingham's relation to it. There was a force in
the Princess's mere manner about it that made the detail of what
she knew a matter of minor importance. Fanny had in fact
something like a momentary shame over her own need of asking for
this detail. "I don't pretend to repudiate," she said after a
little, "my own impressions of the different times I suppose you
speak of; any more," she added, "than I can forget what
difficulties and, as it constantly seemed to me, what dangers,
every course of action--whatever I should decide upon--made for
me. I tried, I tried hard, to act for the best. And, you know,"
she next pursued, while, at the sound of her own statement, a
slow courage and even a faint warmth of conviction came back to
her--"and, you know, I believe it's what I shall turn out to have
This produced a minute during which their interchange, though
quickened and deepened, was that of silence only, and the long,
charged look; all of which found virtual consecration when Maggie
at last spoke. "I'm sure you tried to act for the best."
It kept Fanny Assingham again a minute in silence. "I never
thought, dearest, you weren't an angel."
Not, however, that this alone was much help! "It was up to the
very eve, you see," the Princess went on--"up to within two or
three days of our marriage. That, THAT, you know--!" And she
broke down for strangely smiling.
"Yes, as I say, it was while she was with me. But I didn't know
it. That is," said Fanny Assingham, "I didn't know of anything in
particular." It sounded weak--that she felt; but she had really
her point to make. "What I mean is that I don't know, for
knowledge, now, anything I didn't then. That's how I am." She
still, however, floundered. "I mean it's how I WAS."
"But don't they, how you were and how you are," Maggie asked,
"come practically to the same thing?" The elder woman's words had
struck her own ear as in the tone, now mistimed, of their recent,
but all too factitious understanding, arrived at in hours when,
as there was nothing susceptible of proof, there was nothing
definitely to disprove. The situation had changed by--well, by
whatever there was, by the outbreak of the definite; and this
could keep Maggie at least firm. She was firm enough as she
pursued. "It was ON the whole thing that Amerigo married me."
With which her eyes had their turn again at her damnatory piece.
"And it was on that--it was on that!" But they came back to her
visitor. "And it was on it all that father married HER."
Her visitor took it as might be. "They both married--ah, that you
must believe!--with the highest intentions."
"Father did certainly!" And then, at the renewal of this
consciousness, it all rolled over her. "Ah, to thrust such things
on us, to do them here between us and with us, day after day, and
in return, in return--! To do it to HIM--to him, to him!"
Fanny hesitated. "You mean it's for him you most suffer?" And
then as the Princess, after a look, but turned away, moving about
the room--which made the question somehow seem a blunder--"I
ask," she continued, "because I think everything, everything we
now speak of, may be for him, really may be MADE for him, quite
as if it hadn't been."
But Maggie had, the next moment faced about as if without hearing
her. "Father did it for ME--did it all and only for me."
Mrs. Assingham, with a certain promptness, threw up her head; but
she faltered again before she spoke. "Well--!"
It was only an intended word, but Maggie showed after an instant
that it had reached her. "Do you mean that that's the reason,
that that's A reason--?"
Fanny at first, however, feeling the response in this, didn't say
all she meant; she said for the moment something else instead.
"He did it for you--largely at least for you. And it was for you
that I did, in my smaller, interested way--well, what I could do.
For I could do something," she continued; "I thought I saw your
interest as he himself saw it. And I thought I saw Charlotte's. I
believed in her."
"And _I_ believed in her," said Maggie.
Mrs. Assingham waited again; but she presently pushed on. "She
believed then in herself."
"Ah?" Maggie murmured.
Something exquisite, faintly eager, in the prompt simplicity of
it, supported her friend further. "And the Prince believed. His
belief was real. Just as he believed in himself."
Maggie spent a minute in taking it from her. "He believed in
"Just as I too believed in him. For I absolutely did, Maggie."
To which Fanny then added: "And I believe in him yet. I mean,"
she subjoined--"well, I mean I DO."
Maggie again took it from her; after which she was again,
restlessly, set afloat. Then when this had come to an end: "And
do you believe in Charlotte yet?"
Mrs. Assingham had a demur that she felt she could now afford.
"We'll talk of Charlotte some other day. They both, at any rate,
thought themselves safe at the time."
"Then why did they keep from me everything I might have known?"
Her friend bent upon her the mildest eyes. "Why did I myself keep
it from you?"
"Oh, you weren't, for honour, obliged."
"Dearest Maggie," the poor woman broke out on this, "you ARE
"They pretended to love me," the Princess went on. "And they
pretended to love HIM."
"And pray what was there that I didn't pretend?"
"Not, at any rate, to care for me as you cared for Amerigo and
for Charlotte. They were much more interesting--it was perfectly
natural. How couldn't you like Amerigo?" Maggie continued.
Mrs. Assingham gave it up. "How couldn't I, how couldn't I?"
Then, with a fine freedom, she went all her way. "How CAN'T I,
how can't I?"
It fixed afresh Maggie's wide eyes on her. "I see--I see. Well,
it's beautiful for you to be able to. And of course," she added,
"you wanted to help Charlotte."
"Yes"--Fanny considered it--"I wanted to help Charlotte. But I
wanted also, you see, to help you--by not digging up a past that
I believed, with so much on top of it, solidly buried. I wanted,
as I still want," she richly declared, "to help every one."
It set Maggie once more in movement--movement which, however,
spent itself again with a quick emphasis. "Then it's a good deal
my fault--if everything really began so well?"
Fanny Assingham met it as she could. "You've been only too
perfect. You've thought only too much."
But the Princess had already caught at the words. "Yes--I've
thought only too much!" Yet she appeared to continue, for the
minute, full of that fault. She had it in fact, by this prompted
thought, all before her. "Of him, dear man, of HIM--!"
Her friend, able to take in thus directly her vision of her
father, watched her with a new suspense. THAT way might safety
lie--it was like a wider chink of light. "He believed--with a
"Yes, and it was I who had made him believe. I didn't mean to, at
the time, so much; for I had no idea then of what was coming. But
I did it, I did it!" the Princess declared.
"With a beauty--ah, with a beauty, you too!" Mrs. Assingham
Maggie, however, was seeing for herself--it was another matter,
"The thing was that he made her think it would be so possible."
Fanny again hesitated. "The Prince made her think--?"
Maggie stared--she had meant her father. But her vision seemed to
spread. "They both made her think. She wouldn't have thought
"Yet Amerigo's good faith," Mrs. Assingham insisted, "was
perfect. And there was nothing, all the more," she added,
"against your father's."
The remark, however, kept Maggie for a moment still. "Nothing
perhaps but his knowing that she knew."
"That he was doing it, so much, for me. To what extent," she
suddenly asked of her friend, "do you think he was aware that she
"Ah, who can say what passes between people in such a relation?
The only thing one can be sure of is that he was generous." And
Mrs. Assingham conclusively smiled. "He doubtless knew as much as
was right for himself."
"As much, that is, as was right for her."
"Yes then--as was right for her. The point is," Fanny declared,
"that, whatever his knowledge, it made, all the way it went, for
his good faith."
Maggie continued to gaze, and her friend now fairly waited on her
successive movements. "Isn't the point, very considerably, that
his good faith must have been his faith in her taking almost as
much interest in me as he himself took?"
Fanny Assingham thought. "He recognised, he adopted, your long
friendship. But he founded on it no selfishness."
"No," said Maggie with still deeper consideration: "he counted
her selfishness out almost as he counted his own."
"So you may say."
"Very well," Maggie went on; "if he had none of his own, he
invited her, may have expected her, on her side, to have as
little. And she may only since have found that out."
Mrs. Assingham looked blank. "Since--?"
"And he may have become aware," Maggie pursued, "that she has
found it out. That she has taken the measure, since their
marriage," she explained, "of how much he had asked of her--more,
say, than she had understood at the time. He may have made out at
last how such a demand was, in the long run, to affect her."
"He may have done many things," Mrs. Assingham responded; "but
there's one thing he certainly won't have done. He'll never have
shown that he expected of her a quarter as much as she must have
understood he was to give."
"I've often wondered," Maggie mused, "what Charlotte really
understood. But it's one of the things she has never told me."
"Then as it's one of the things she has never told me either, we
shall probably never know it; and we may regard it as none of our
business. There are many things," said Mrs. Assingham, "that we
shall never know."
Maggie took it in with a long reflection. "Never."
"But there are others," her friend went on, "that stare us in the
face and that--under whatever difficulty you may feel you
labour--may now be enough for us. Your father has been
It had been as if Maggie were feeling her way; but she rallied to
this with a rush. "Extraordinary."
"Magnificent," said Fanny Assingham.
Her companion held tight to it. "Magnificent."
"Then he'll do for himself whatever there may be to do. What he
undertook for you he'll do to the end. He didn't undertake it to
break down; in what--quiet, patient, exquisite as he is--did he
ever break down? He had never in his life proposed to himself to
have failed, and he won't have done it on this occasion."
"Ah, this occasion!"--and Maggie's wail showed her, of a sudden,
thrown back on it. "Am I in the least sure that, with everything,
he even knows what it is? And yet am I in the least sure he
"If he doesn't then, so much the better. Leave him alone."
"Do you mean give him up?"
"Leave HER," Fanny Assingham went on. "Leave her TO him."
Maggie looked at her darkly. "Do you mean leave him to HER? After
"After everything. Aren't they, for that matter, intimately
"'Intimately'--? How do I know?"
But Fanny kept it up. "Aren't you and your husband--in spite of
Maggie's eyes still further, if possible, dilated. "It remains to
"If you're not then, where's your faith?"
"In my husband--?"
Mrs. Assingham but for an instant hesitated. "In your father. It
all comes back to that. Rest on it."
"On his ignorance?"
Fanny met it again. "On whatever he may offer you. TAKE that."
"Take it--?" Maggie stared.
Mrs. Assingham held up her head. "And be grateful." On which, for
a minute, she let the Princess face her. "Do you see?"
"I see," said Maggie at last.
"Then there you are." But Maggie had turned away, moving to the
window, as if still to keep something in her face from sight. She
stood there with her eyes on the street while Mrs. Assingham's
reverted to that complicating object on the chimney as to which
her condition, so oddly even to herself, was that both of
recurrent wonder and recurrent protest. She went over it, looked
at it afresh and yielded now to her impulse to feel it in her
hands. She laid them on it, lifting it up, and was surprised,
thus, with the weight of it--she had seldom handled so much
massive gold. That effect itself somehow prompted her to further
freedom and presently to saying: "I don't believe in this, you
It brought Maggie round to her. "Don't believe in it? You will
when I tell you."
"Ah, tell me nothing! I won't have it," said Mrs. Assingham. She
kept the cup in her hand, held it there in a manner that gave
Maggie's attention to her, she saw the next moment, a quality of
excited suspense. This suggested to her, oddly, that she had,
with the liberty she was taking, an air of intention, and the
impression betrayed by her companion's eyes grew more distinct in
a word of warning. "It's of value, but its value's impaired, I've
learned, by a crack."
"A crack?--in the gold--?"
"It isn't gold." With which, somewhat strangely, Maggie smiled.
"That's the point."
"What is it then?"
"It's glass--and cracked, under the gilt, as I say, at that."
"Glass?--of this weight?"
"Well," said Maggie, "it's crystal--and was once, I suppose,
precious. But what," she then asked, "do you mean to do with it?"
She had come away from her window, one of the three by which the
wide room, enjoying an advantageous "back," commanded the western
sky and caught a glimpse of the evening flush; while Mrs.
Assingham, possessed of the bowl, and possessed too of this
indication of a flaw, approached another for the benefit of the
slowly-fading light. Here, thumbing the singular piece, weighing
it, turning it over, and growing suddenly more conscious, above
all, of an irresistible impulse, she presently spoke again. "A
crack? Then your whole idea has a crack."
Maggie, by this time at some distance from her, waited a moment.
"If you mean by my idea the knowledge that has come to me THAT--"
But Fanny, with decision, had already taken her up. "There's only
one knowledge that concerns us--one fact with which we can have
anything to do."
"Which one, then?"
"The fact that your husband has never, never, never--!" But the
very gravity of this statement, while she raised her eyes to her
friend across the room, made her for an instant hang fire.
"Well, never what?"
"Never been half so interested in you as now. But don't you, my
dear, really feel it?"
Maggie considered. "Oh, I think what I've told you helps me to
feel it. His having to-day given up even his forms; his keeping
away from me; his not having come." And she shook her head as
against all easy glosses. "It is because of that, you know."
"Well then, if it's because of this--!" And Fanny Assingham, who
had been casting about her and whose inspiration decidedly had
come, raised the cup in her two hands, raised it positively above
her head, and from under it, solemnly, smiled at the Princess as
a signal of intention. So for an instant, full of her thought and
of her act, she held the precious vessel, and then, with due note
taken of the margin of the polished floor, bare, fine and hard in
the embrasure of her window, she dashed it boldly to the ground,
where she had the thrill of seeing it, with the violence of the
crash, lie shattered. She had flushed with the force of her
effort, as Maggie had flushed with wonder at the sight, and this
high reflection in their faces was all that passed between them
for a minute more. After which, "Whatever you meant by it--and I
don't want to know NOW--has ceased to exist," Mrs. Assingham
"And what in the world, my dear, did you mean by it?"--that
sound, as at the touch of a spring, rang out as the first effect
of Fanny's speech. It broke upon the two women's absorption with
a sharpness almost equal to the smash of the crystal, for the
door of the room had been opened by the Prince without their
taking heed. He had apparently had time, moreover, to catch the
conclusion of Fanny's act; his eyes attached themselves, through
the large space allowing just there, as happened, a free view, to
the shining fragments at this lady's feet. His question had been
addressed to his wife, but he moved his eyes immediately
afterwards to those of her visitor, whose own then held them in a
manner of which neither party had been capable, doubtless, for
mute penetration, since the hour spent by him in Cadogan Place on
the eve of his marriage and the afternoon of Charlotte's
reappearance. Something now again became possible for these
communicants, under the intensity of their pressure, something
that took up that tale and that might have been a redemption of
pledges then exchanged. This rapid play of suppressed appeal and
disguised response lasted indeed long enough for more results
than one--long enough for Mrs. Assingham to measure the feat of
quick self-recovery, possibly therefore of recognition still more
immediate, accompanying Amerigo's vision and estimate of the
evidence with which she had been--so admirably, she felt as she
looked at him--inspired to deal. She looked at him and looked at
him--there were so many things she wanted, on the spot, to say.
But Maggie was looking too--and was moreover looking at them
both; so that these things, for the elder woman, quickly enough
reduced themselves to one. She met his question--not too late,
since, in their silence, it had remained in the air. Gathering
herself to go, leaving the golden bowl split into three pieces on
the ground, she simply referred him to his wife. She should see
them later, they would all meet soon again; and meanwhile, as to
what Maggie had meant--she said, in her turn, from the door--why,
Maggie herself was doubtless by this time ready to tell him.
Left with her husband, Maggie, however, for the time, said
nothing; she only felt, on the spot, a strong, sharp wish not to
see his face again till he should have had a minute to arrange
it. She had seen it enough for her temporary clearness and her
next movement--seen it as it showed during the stare of surprise
that followed his entrance. Then it was that she knew how hugely
expert she had been made, for judging it quickly, by that vision
of it, indelibly registered for reference, that had flashed a
light into her troubled soul the night of his late return from
Matcham. The expression worn by it at that juncture, for however
few instants, had given her a sense of its possibilities, one of
the most relevant of which might have been playing up for her,
before the consummation of Fanny Assingham's retreat, just long
enough to be recognised. What she had recognised in it was HIS
recognition, the result of his having been forced, by the flush
of their visitor's attitude and the unextinguished report of her
words, to take account of the flagrant signs of the accident, of
the incident, on which he had unexpectedly dropped. He had, not
unnaturally, failed to see this occurrence represented by the
three fragments of an object apparently valuable which lay there
on the floor and which, even across the width of the room, his
kept interval, reminded him, unmistakably though confusedly, of
something known, some other unforgotten image. That was a mere
shock, that was a pain--as if Fanny's violence had been a
violence redoubled and acting beyond its intention, a violence
calling up the hot blood as a blow across the mouth might have
called it. Maggie knew as she turned away from him that she
didn't want his pain; what she wanted was her own simple
certainty--not the red mark of conviction flaming there in his
beauty. If she could have gone on with bandaged eyes she would
have liked that best; if it were a question of saying what she
now, apparently, should have to, and of taking from him what he
would say, any blindness that might wrap it would be the nearest
approach to a boon.
She went in silence to where her friend--never, in intention,
visibly, so much her friend as at that moment--had braced herself
to so amazing an energy, and there, under Amerigo's eyes, she
picked up the shining pieces. Bedizened and jewelled, in her
rustling finery, she paid, with humility of attitude, this prompt
tribute to order--only to find, however, that she could carry but
two of the fragments at once. She brought them over to the
chimney-piece, to the conspicuous place occupied by the cup
before Fanny's appropriation of it, and, after laying them
carefully down, went back for what remained, the solid detached
foot. With this she returned to the mantel-shelf, placing it with
deliberation in the centre and then, for a minute, occupying
herself as with the attempt to fit the other morsels. After she
had squared again her little objects on the chimney, she was
within an ace, in fact, of turning on him with that appeal;
besides its being lucid for her, all the while, that the occasion
was passing, that they were dining out, that he wasn't dressed,
and that, though she herself was, she was yet, in all
probability, so horribly red in the face and so awry, in many
ways, with agitation, that in view of the Ambassador's company,
of possible comments and constructions, she should need, before
her glass, some restoration of appearances.
Amerigo, meanwhile, after all, could clearly make the most of her
having enjoined on him to wait--suggested it by the positive pomp
of her dealings with the smashed cup; to wait, that is, till she
should pronounce as Mrs. Assingham had promised for her. This
delay, again, certainly tested her presence of mind--though that
strain was not what presently made her speak. Keep her eyes, for
the time, from her husband's as she might, she soon found herself
much more drivingly conscious of the strain on his own wit. There
was even a minute, when her back was turned to him, during which
she knew once more the strangeness of her desire to spare him, a
strangeness that had already, fifty times, brushed her, in the
depth of her trouble, as with the wild wing of some bird of the
air who might blindly have swooped for an instant into the shaft
of a well, darkening there by his momentary flutter the far-off
round of sky. It was extraordinary, this quality in the taste of
her wrong which made her completed sense of it seem rather to
soften than to harden and it was the more extraordinary the more
she had to recognise it; for what it came to was that seeing
herself finally sure, knowing everything, having the fact, in all
its abomination, so utterly before her that there was nothing
else to add--what it came to was that, merely by being WITH him
there in silence, she felt, within her, the sudden split between
conviction and action. They had begun to cease, on the spot,
surprisingly, to be connected; conviction, that is, budged no
inch, only planting its feet the more firmly in the soil--but
action began to hover like some lighter and larger, but easier
form, excited by its very power to keep above ground. It would be
free, it would be independent, it would go in--wouldn't it?--for
some prodigious and superior adventure of its own. What would
condemn it, so to speak, to the responsibility of freedom--this
glimmered on Maggie even now--was the possibility, richer with
every lapsing moment, that her husband would have, on the whole
question, a new need of her, a need which was in fact being born
between them in these very seconds. It struck her truly as so new
that he would have felt hitherto none to compare with it at all;
would indeed, absolutely, by this circumstance, be REALLY needing
her for the first one in their whole connection. No, he had used
her, had even exceedingly enjoyed her, before this; but there had
been no precedent for that character of a proved necessity to him
which she was rapidly taking on. The immense advantage of this
particular clue, moreover, was that she should have now to
arrange, alter, to falsify nothing; should have to be but
consistently simple and straight. She asked herself, with
concentration, while her back was still presented, what would be
the very ideal of that method; after which, the next instant, it
had all come to her and she had turned round upon him for the
application. "Fanny Assingham broke it--knowing it had a crack
and that it would go if she used sufficient force. She thought,
when I had told her, that that would be the best thing to do with
it--thought so from her own point of view. That hadn't been at
all my idea, but she acted before I understood. I had, on the
contrary," she explained, "put it here, in full view, exactly
that you might see."
He stood with his hands in his pockets; he had carried his eyes
to the fragments on the chimney-piece, and she could already
distinguish the element of relief, absolutely of succour, in his
acceptance from her of the opportunity to consider the fruits of
their friend's violence--every added inch of reflection and delay
having the advantage, from this point on, of counting for him
double. It had operated within her now to the last intensity, her
glimpse of the precious truth that by her helping him, helping
him to help himself, as it were, she should help him to help HER.
Hadn't she fairly got into his labyrinth with him?--wasn't she
indeed in the very act of placing herself there, for him, at its
centre and core, whence, on that definite orientation and by an
instinct all her own, she might securely guide him out of it? She
offered him thus, assuredly, a kind of support that was not to
have been imagined in advance, and that moreover required--ah
most truly!--some close looking at before it could be believed in
and pronounced void of treachery. "Yes, look, look," she seemed
to see him hear her say even while her sounded words were other--
"look, look, both at the truth that still survives in that
smashed evidence and at the even more remarkable appearance that
I'm not such a fool as you supposed me. Look at the possibility
that, since I AM different, there may still be something in it
for you--if you're capable of working with me to get that out.
Consider of course, as you must, the question of what you may
have to surrender, on your side, what price you may have to pay,
whom you may have to pay WITH, to set this advantage free; but
take in, at any rate, that there is something for you if you
don't too blindly spoil your chance for it." He went no nearer
the damnatory pieces, but he eyed them, from where he stood, with
a degree of recognition just visibly less to be dissimulated; all
of which represented for her a certain traceable process. And her
uttered words, meanwhile, were different enough from those he
might have inserted between the lines of her already-spoken.
"It's the golden bowl, you know, that you saw at the little
antiquario's in Bloomsbury, so long ago--when you went there with
Charlotte, when you spent those hours with her, unknown to me, a
day or two before our marriage. It was shown you both, but you
didn't take it; you left it for me, and I came upon it,
extraordinarily, through happening to go into the same shop on
Monday last; in walking home, in prowling about to pick up some
small old thing for father's birthday, after my visit to the
Museum, my appointment there with Mr. Crichton, of which I told
you. It was shown me, and I was struck with it and took it--
knowing nothing about it at the time. What I now know I've
learned since--I learned this afternoon, a couple of hours ago;
receiving from it naturally a great impression. So there it is--
in its three pieces. You can handle them--don't be afraid--if you
want to make sure the thing is the thing you and Charlotte saw
together. Its having come apart makes an unfortunate difference
for its beauty, its artistic value, but none for anything else.
Its other value is just the same--I mean that of its having given
me so much of the truth about you. I don't therefore so much care
what becomes of it now--unless perhaps you may yourself, when you
come to think, have some good use for it. In that case," Maggie
wound up, "we can easily take the pieces with us to Fawns."
It was wonderful how she felt, by the time she had seen herself
through this narrow pass, that she had really achieved
something--that she was emerging a little, in fine, with the
prospect less contracted. She had done for him, that is, what her
instinct enjoined; had laid a basis not merely momentary on which
he could meet her. When, by the turn of his head, he did finally
meet her, this was the last thing that glimmered out of his look;
but it came into sight, none the less, as a perception of his
distress and almost as a question of his eyes; so that, for still
another minute, before he committed himself, there occurred
between them a kind of unprecedented moral exchange over which
her superior lucidity presided. It was not, however, that when he
did commit himself the show was promptly portentous. "But what in
the world has Fanny Assingham had to do with it?"
She could verily, out of all her smothered soreness, almost have
smiled: his question so affected her as giving the whole thing up
to her. But it left her only to go the straighter. "She has had
to do with it that I immediately sent for her and that she
immediately came. She was the first person I wanted to see--
because I knew she would know. Know more about what I had
learned, I mean, than I could make out for myself. I made out as
much as I could for myself--that I also wanted to have done; but
it didn't, in spite of everything, take me very far, and she has
really been a help. Not so much as she would like to be--not so
much as, poor dear, she just now tried to be; yet she has done
her very best for you--never forget that!--and has kept me along
immeasurably better than I should have been able to come without
her. She has gained me time; and that, these three months, don't
you see? has been everything."
She had said "Don't you see?" on purpose, and was to feel the
next moment that it had acted. "These three months'?" the Prince
"Counting from the night you came home so late from Matcham.
Counting from the hours you spent with Charlotte at Gloucester;
your visit to the cathedral--which you won't have forgotten
describing to me in so much detail. For that was the beginning of
my being sure. Before it I had been sufficiently in doubt. Sure,"
Maggie developed, "of your having, and of your having for a long
time had, TWO relations with Charlotte."
He stared, a little at sea, as he took it up. "Two--?"
Something in the tone of it gave it a sense, or an ambiguity,
almost foolish--leaving Maggie to feel, as in a flash, how such a
consequence, a foredoomed infelicity, partaking of the ridiculous
even in one of the cleverest, might be of the very essence of the
penalty of wrong-doing. "Oh, you may have had fifty--had the same
relation with her fifty times! It's of the number of KINDS of
relation with her that I speak--a number that doesn't matter,
really, so long as there wasn't only one kind, as father and I
supposed. One kind," she went on, "was there before us; we took
that fully for granted, as you saw, and accepted it. We never
thought of there being another, kept out of our sight. But after
the evening I speak of I knew there was something else. As I say,
I had, before that, my idea--which you never dreamed I had. From
the moment I speak of it had more to go upon, and you became
yourselves, you and she, vaguely, yet uneasily, conscious of the
difference. But it's within these last hours that I've most seen
where we are; and as I've been in communication with Fanny
Assingham about my doubts, so I wanted to let her know my
certainty--with the determination of which, however, you must
understand, she has had nothing to do. She defends you," Maggie
He had given her all his attention, and with this impression for
her, again, that he was, in essence, fairly reaching out to her
for time--time, only time--she could sufficiently imagine, and to
whatever strangeness, that he absolutely liked her to talk, even
at the cost of his losing almost everything else by it. It was
still, for a minute, as if he waited for something worse; wanted
everything that was in her to come out, any definite fact,
anything more precisely nameable, so that he too--as was his
right--should know where he was. What stirred in him above all,
while he followed in her face the clear train of her speech, must
have been the impulse to take up something she put before him
that he was yet afraid directly to touch. He wanted to make free
with it, but had to keep his hands off--for reasons he had
already made out; and the discomfort of his privation yearned at
her out of his eyes with an announcing gleam of the fever, the
none too tolerable chill, of specific recognition. She affected
him as speaking more or less for her father as well, and his eyes
might have been trying to hypnotise her into giving him the
answer without his asking the question. "Had HE his idea, and has
he now, with you, anything more?"--those were the words he had to
hold himself from not speaking and that she would as yet,
certainly, do nothing to make easy. She felt with her sharpest
thrill how he was straitened and tied, and with the miserable
pity of it her present conscious purpose of keeping him so could
none the less perfectly accord. To name her father, on any such
basis of anxiety, of compunction, would be to do the impossible
thing, to do neither more nor less than give Charlotte away.
Visibly, palpably, traceably, he stood off from this, moved
back from it as from an open chasm now suddenly perceived, but
which had been, between the two, with so much, so strangely much
else, quite uncalculated. Verily it towered before her, this
history of their confidence. They had built strong and piled
high--based as it was on such appearances--their conviction that,
thanks to her native complacencies of so many sorts, she would
always, quite to the end and through and through, take them as
nobly sparing her. Amerigo was at any rate having the sensation
of a particular ugliness to avoid, a particular difficulty to
count with, that practically found him as unprepared as if he had
been, like his wife, an abjectly simple person. And she
meanwhile, however abjectly simple, was further discerning, for
herself, that, whatever he might have to take from her--she
being, on her side, beautifully free--he would absolutely not be
able, for any qualifying purpose, to name Charlotte either. As
his father-in-law's wife Mrs. Verver rose between them there, for
the time, in august and prohibitive form; to protect her, defend
her, explain about her, was, at the least, to bring her into the
question--which would be by the same stroke to bring her husband.
But this was exactly the door Maggie wouldn't open to him; on all
of which she was the next moment asking herself if, thus warned
and embarrassed, he were not fairly writhing in his pain. He
writhed, on that hypothesis, some seconds more, for it was not
till then that he had chosen between what he could do and what he
"You're apparently drawing immense conclusions from very small
matters. Won't you perhaps feel, in fairness, that you're
striking out, triumphing, or whatever I may call it, rather too
easily--feel it when I perfectly admit that your smashed cup
there does come back to me? I frankly confess, now, to the
occasion, and to having wished not to speak of it to you at the
time. We took two or three hours together, by arrangement; it WAS
on the eve of my marriage--at the moment you say. But that put it
on the eve of yours too, my dear--which was directly the point.
It was desired to find for you, at the eleventh hour, some small
wedding-present--a hunt, for something worth giving you, and yet
possible from other points of view as well, in which it seemed I
could be of use. You were naturally not to be told--precisely
because it was all FOR you. We went forth together and we looked;
we rummaged about and, as I remember we called it, we prowled;
then it was that, as I freely recognise, we came across that
crystal cup--which I'm bound to say, upon my honour, I think it
rather a pity Fanny Assingham, from whatever good motive, should
have treated so." He had kept his hands in his pockets; he turned
his eyes again, but more complacently now, to the ruins of the
precious vessel; and Maggie could feel him exhale into the
achieved quietness of his explanation a long, deep breath of
comparative relief. Behind everything, beneath everything, it was
somehow a comfort to him at last to be talking with her--and he
seemed to be proving to himself that he COULD talk. "It was at a
little shop in Bloomsbury--I think I could go to the place now.
The man understood Italian, I remember; he wanted awfully to work
off his bowl. But I didn't believe in it, and we didn't take it."
Maggie had listened with an interest that wore all the expression
of candour. "Oh, you left it for me. But what did you take?"
He looked at her; first as if he were trying to remember, then as
if he might have been trying to forget. "Nothing, I think--at
"What did you take then at any other? What did you get me--since
that was your aim and end--for a wedding-gift?"
The Prince continued very nobly to bethink himself. "Didn't we
get you anything?"
Maggie waited a little; she had for some time, now, kept her eyes
on him steadily; but they wandered, at this, to the fragments on
her chimney. "Yes; it comes round, after all, to your having got
me the bowl. I myself was to come upon it, the other day, by so
wonderful a chance; was to find it in the same place and to have
it pressed upon me by the same little man, who does, as you say,
understand Italian. I did 'believe in it,' you see--must have
believed in it somehow instinctively; for I took it as soon as I
saw it. Though I didn't know at all then," she added, "what I was
taking WITH it."
The Prince paid her for an instant, visibly, the deference of
trying to imagine what this might have been. "I agree with you
that the coincidence is extraordinary--the sort of thing that
happens mainly in novels and plays. But I don't see, you must let
me say, the importance or the connexion--"
"Of my having made the purchase where you failed of it?" She had
quickly taken him up; but she had, with her eyes on him once
more, another drop into the order of her thoughts, to which,
through whatever he might say, she was still adhering. "It's not
my having gone into the place, at the end of four years, that
makes the strangeness of the coincidence; for don't such chances
as that, in London, easily occur? The strangeness," she lucidly
said, "is in what my purchase was to represent to me after I had
got it home; which value came," she explained, "from the wonder
of my having found such a friend."
"'Such a friend'?" As a wonder, assuredly, her husband could but
"As the little man in the shop. He did for me more than he knew--
I owe it to him. He took an interest in me," Maggie said; "and,
taking that interest, he recalled your visit, he remembered you
and spoke of you to me."
On which the Prince passed the comment of a sceptical smile. "Ah
but, my dear, if extraordinary things come from people's taking
an interest in you--"
"My life in that case," she asked, "must be very agitated? Well,
he liked me, I mean--very particularly. It's only so I can
account for my afterwards hearing from him--and in fact he gave
me that to-day," she pursued, "he gave me it frankly as his
"To-day?" the Prince inquiringly echoed.
But she was singularly able--it had been marvellously "given"
her, she afterwards said to herself--to abide, for her light, for
her clue, by her own order.
"I inspired him with sympathy--there you are! But the miracle is
that he should have a sympathy to offer that could be of use to
me. That was really the oddity of my chance," the Princess
proceeded--"that I should have been moved, in my ignorance, to go
precisely to him."
He saw her so keep her course that it was as if he could, at the
best, but stand aside to watch her and let her pass; he only made
a vague demonstration that was like an ineffective gesture. "I'm
sorry to say any ill of your friends, and the thing was a long
time ago; besides which there was nothing to make me recur to it.
But I remember the man's striking me as a decided little beast."
She gave a slow headshake--as if, no, after consideration, not
THAT way were an issue. "I can only think of him as kind, for he
had nothing to gain. He had in fact only to lose. It was what he
came to tell me--that he had asked me too high a price, more than
the object was really worth. There was a particular reason, which
he hadn't mentioned, and which had made him consider and repent.
He wrote for leave to see me again--wrote in such terms that I
saw him here this afternoon."
"Here?"--it made the Prince look about him.
"Downstairs--in the little red room. While he was waiting he
looked at the few photographs that stand about there and
recognised two of them. Though it was so long ago, he remembered
the visit made him by the lady and the gentleman, and that gave
him his connexion. It gave me mine, for he remembered everything
and told me everything. You see you too had produced your effect;
only, unlike you, he had thought of it again--he HAD recurred to
it. He told me of your having wished to make each other
presents--but of that's not having come off. The lady was greatly
taken with the piece I had bought of him, but you had your reason
against receiving it from her, and you had been right. He would
think that of you more than ever now," Maggie went on; "he would
see how wisely you had guessed the flaw and how easily the bowl
could be broken. I had bought it myself, you see, for a
present--he knew I was doing that. This was what had worked in
him--especially after the price I had paid."
Her story had dropped an instant; she still brought it out in
small waves of energy, each of which spent its force; so that he
had an opportunity to speak before this force was renewed. But
the quaint thing was what he now said. "And what, pray, WAS the
She paused again a little. "It was high, certainly--for those
fragments. I think I feel, as I look at them there, rather
ashamed to say."
The Prince then again looked at them; he might have been growing
used to the sight. "But shall you at least get your money back?"
"Oh, I'm far from wanting it back--I feel so that I'm getting its
worth." With which, before he could reply, she had a quick
transition. "The great fact about the day we're talking of seems
to me to have been, quite remarkably, that no present was then
made me. If your undertaking had been for that, that was not at
least what came of it."
"You received then nothing at all?" The Prince looked vague and
grave, almost retrospectively concerned.
"Nothing but an apology for empty hands and empty pockets; which
was made me--as if it mattered a mite!--ever so frankly, ever so
beautifully and touchingly."
This Amerigo heard with interest, yet not with confusion. "Ah, of
course you couldn't have minded!" Distinctly, as she went on, he
was getting the better of the mere awkwardness of his arrest;
quite as if making out that he need SUFFER arrest from her now--
before they should go forth to show themselves in the world
together--in no greater quantity than an occasion ill-chosen at
the best for a scene might decently make room for. He looked at
his watch; their engagement, all the while, remained before him.
"But I don't make out, you see, what case against me you
"On everything I'm telling you? Why, the whole case--the case of
your having for so long so successfully deceived me. The idea of
your finding something for me--charming as that would have been--
was what had least to do with your taking a morning together at
that moment. What had really to do with it," said Maggie, "was
that you had to: you couldn't not, from the moment you were again
face to face. And the reason of that was that there had been so
much between you before--before I came between you at all."
Her husband had been for these last moments moving about under
her eyes; but at this, as to check any show of impatience, he
again stood still. "You've never been more sacred to me than you
were at that hour--unless perhaps you've become so at this one."
The assurance of his speech, she could note, quite held up its
head in him; his eyes met her own so, for the declaration, that
it was as if something cold and momentarily unimaginable breathed
upon her, from afar off, out of his strange consistency. She kept
her direction still, however, under that. "Oh, the thing I've
known best of all is that you've never wanted, together, to
offend us. You've wanted quite intensely not to, and the
precautions you've had to take for it have been for a long time
one of the strongest of my impressions. That, I think," she
added, "is the way I've best known."
"Known?" he repeated after a moment.
"Known. Known that you were older friends, and so much more
intimate ones, than I had any reason to suppose when we married.
Known there were things that hadn't been told me--and that gave
their meaning, little by little, to other things that were before
"Would they have made a difference, in the matter of our
marriage," the Prince presently asked, "if you HAD known them?"
She took her time to think. "I grant you not--in the matter of
OURS." And then as he again fixed her with his hard yearning,
which he couldn't keep down: "The question is so much bigger than
that. You see how much what I know makes of it for me." That was
what acted on him, this iteration of her knowledge, into the
question of the validity, of the various bearings of which, he
couldn't on the spot trust himself to pretend, in any high way,
to go. What her claim, as she made it, represented for him--that
he couldn't help betraying, if only as a consequence of the
effect of the word itself, her repeated distinct "know, know," on
his nerves. She was capable of being sorry for his nerves at a
time when he should need them for dining out, pompously, rather
responsibly, without his heart in it; yet she was not to let that
prevent her using, with all economy, so precious a chance for
supreme clearness. "I didn't force this upon you, you must
recollect, and it probably wouldn't have happened for you if you
hadn't come in."
"Ah," said the Prince, "I was liable to come in, you know."
"I didn't think you were this evening."
"And why not?"
"Well," she answered, "you have many liabilities--of different
sorts." With which she recalled what she had said to Fanny
Assingham. "And then you're so deep."
It produced in his features, in spite of his control of them, one
of those quick plays of expression, the shade of a grimace, that
testified as nothing else did to his race. "It's you, cara, who
Which, after an instant, she had accepted from him; she could so
feel at last that it was true. "Then I shall have need of it
"But what would you have done," he was by this time asking, "if I
HADN'T come in?"
"I don't know." She had hesitated. "What would you?"
"Oh; io--that isn't the question. I depend upon you. I go on. You
would have spoken to-morrow?"
"I think I would have waited."
"And for what?" he asked.
"To see what difference it would make for myself. My possession
at last, I mean, of real knowledge."
"Oh!" said the Prince.
"My only point now, at any rate," she went on, "is the
difference, as I say, that it may make for YOU. Your knowing
was--from the moment you did come in--all I had in view." And she
sounded it again--he should have it once more. "Your knowing that
"That you've ceased--?" With her pause, in fact, she had fairly
made him press her for it.
"Why, to be as I was. NOT to know."
It was once more then, after a little, that he had had to stand
receptive; yet the singular effect of this was that there was
still something of the same sort he was made to want. He had
another hesitation, but at last this odd quantity showed. "Then
does any one else know?"
It was as near as he could come to naming her father, and she
kept him at that distance. "Any one--?"
"Any one, I mean, but Fanny Assingham."
"I should have supposed you had had by this time particular means
of learning. I don't see," she said, "why you ask me."
Then, after an instant--and only after an instant, as she saw--he
made out what she meant; and it gave her, all strangely enough,
the still further light that Charlotte, for herself, knew as
little as he had known. The vision loomed, in this light, it
fairly glared, for the few seconds--the vision of the two others
alone together at Fawns, and Charlotte, as one of them, having
gropingly to go on, always not knowing and not knowing! The
picture flushed at the same time with all its essential colour--
that of the so possible identity of her father's motive and
principle with her own. HE was "deep," as Amerigo called it, so
that no vibration of the still air should reach his daughter;
just as she had earned that description by making and by, for
that matter, intending still to make, her care for his serenity,
or at any rate for the firm outer shell of his dignity, all
marvellous enamel, her paramount law. More strangely even than
anything else, her husband seemed to speak now but to help her in
this. "I know nothing but what you tell me."
"Then I've told you all I intended. Find out the rest--!"
"Find it out--?" He waited.
She stood before him a moment--it took that time to go on. Depth
upon depth of her situation, as she met his face, surged and sank
within her; but with the effect somehow, once more, that they
rather lifted her than let her drop. She had her feet somewhere,
through it all--it was her companion, absolutely, who was at sea.
And she kept her feet; she pressed them to what was beneath her.
She went over to the bell beside the chimney and gave a ring that
he could but take as a summons for her maid. It stopped
everything for the present; it was an intimation to him to go and
dress. But she had to insist. "Find out for yourself!"
After the little party was again constituted at Fawns--which had
taken, for completeness, some ten days--Maggie naturally felt
herself still more possessed, in spirit, of everything that had
last happened in London. There was a phrase that came back to her
from old American years: she was having, by that idiom, the time
of her life--she knew it by the perpetual throb of this sense of
possession, which was almost too violent either to recognise or
to hide. It was as if she had come out--that was her most general
consciousness; out of a dark tunnel, a dense wood, or even simply
a smoky room, and had thereby, at least, for going on, the
advantage of air in her lungs. It was as if she were somehow at
last gathering in the fruits of patience; she had either been
really more patient than she had known at the time, or had been
so for longer: the change brought about by itself as great a
difference of view as the shift of an inch in the position of a
telescope. It was her telescope in fact that had gained in
range--just as her danger lay in her exposing herself to the
observation by the more charmed, and therefore the more reckless,
use of this optical resource. Not under any provocation to
produce it in public was her unremitted rule; but the
difficulties of duplicity had not shrunk, while the need of it
had doubled. Humbugging, which she had so practised with her
father, had been a comparatively simple matter on the basis of
mere doubt; but the ground to be covered was now greatly larger,
and she felt not unlike some young woman of the theatre who,
engaged for a minor part in the play and having mastered her cues
with anxious effort, should find herself suddenly promoted to
leading lady and expected to appear in every act of the five. She
had made much to her husband, that last night, of her "knowing";
but it was exactly this quantity she now knew that, from the
moment she could only dissimulate it, added to her responsibility
and made of the latter all a mere question of having
something precious and precarious in charge. There was no one to
help her with it--not even Fanny Assingham now; this good
friend's presence having become, inevitably, with that climax of
their last interview in Portland Place, a severely simplified
function. She had her use, oh yes, a thousand times; but it could
only consist henceforth in her quite conspicuously touching at no
point whatever--assuredly, at least with Maggie--the matter they
had discussed. She was there, inordinately, as a value, but as a
value only for the clear negation of everything. She was their
general sign, precisely, of unimpaired beatitude--and she was to
live up to that somewhat arduous character, poor thing, as she
might. She might privately lapse from it, if she must, with
Amerigo or with Charlotte--only not, of course, ever, so much as
for the wink of an eye, with the master of the house. Such lapses
would be her own affair, which Maggie at present could take no
thought of. She treated her young friend meanwhile, it was to be
said, to no betrayal of such wavering; so that from the moment of
her alighting at the door with the Colonel everything went on
between them at concert pitch. What had she done, that last
evening in Maggie's room, but bring the husband and wife more
together than, as would seem, they had ever been? Therefore what
indiscretion should she not show by attempting to go behind the
grand appearance of her success?--which would be to court a doubt
of her beneficent work. She knew accordingly nothing but harmony
and diffused, restlessly, nothing but peace--an extravagant,
expressive, aggressive peace, not incongruous, after all, with
the solid calm of the place; a kind of helmetted, trident-shaking
The peace, it must be added, had become, as the days elapsed, a
peace quite generally animated and peopled--thanks to that fact
of the presence of "company" in which Maggie's ability to
preserve an appearance had learned, from so far back, to find its
best resource. It was not inconspicuous, it was in fact striking,
that this resource, just now, seemed to meet in the highest
degree every one's need: quite as if every one were, by the
multiplication of human objects in the scene, by the creation, by
the confusion, of fictive issues, hopeful of escaping somebody
else's notice. It had reached the point, in truth, that the
collective bosom might have been taken to heave with the
knowledge of the descent upon adjacent shores, for a short
period, of Mrs. Rance and the Lutches, still united, and still so
divided, for conquest: the sense of the party showed at least,
oddly enough, as favourable to the fancy of the quaint turn that
some near "week-end" might derive from their reappearance. This
measured for Maggie the ground they had all travelled together
since that unforgotten afternoon of the none so distant year,
that determinant September Sunday when, sitting with her father
in the park, as in commemoration of the climax both of their old
order and of their old danger, she had proposed to him that they
should "call in" Charlotte,--call her in as a specialist might be
summoned to an invalid's chair. Wasn't it a sign of something
rather portentous, their being ready to be beholden, as for a
diversion, to the once despised Kitty and Dotty? That had already
had its application, in truth, to her invocation of the
Castledeans and several other members, again, of the historic
Matcham week, made before she left town, and made, always
consistently, with an idea--since she was never henceforth to
approach these people without an idea, and since that lurid
element of their intercourse grew and grew for her with each
occasion. The flame with which it burned afresh during these
particular days, the way it held up the torch to anything, to
everything, that MIGHT have occurred as the climax of revels
springing from traditions so vivified--this by itself justified
her private motive and reconsecrated her diplomacy. She had
already produced by the aid of these people something of the
effect she sought--that of being "good" for whatever her
companions were good for, and of not asking either of them to
give up anyone or anything for her sake. There was moreover,
frankly, a sharpness of point in it that she enjoyed; it gave an
accent to the truth she wished to illustrate--the truth that the
surface of her recent life, thick-sown with the flower of earnest
endeavour, with every form of the unruffled and the undoubting,
suffered no symptom anywhere to peep out. It was as if, under her
pressure, neither party could get rid of the complicity, as it
might be figured, of the other; as if, in a word, she saw Amerigo
and Charlotte committed, for fear of betrayals on their own side,
to a kind of wan consistency on the subject of Lady Castledean's
"set," and this latter group, by the same stroke, compelled to
assist at attestations the extent and bearing of which they
rather failed to grasp and which left them indeed, in spite of
hereditary high spirits, a trifle bewildered and even a trifle
They made, none the less, at Fawns, for number, for movement, for
sound--they played their parts during a crisis that must have
hovered for them, in the long passages of the old house, after
the fashion of the established ghost, felt, through the dark
hours as a constant possibility, rather than have menaced them in
the form of a daylight bore, one of the perceived outsiders who
are liable to be met in the drawing-room or to be sat next to at
dinner. If the Princess, moreover, had failed of her occult use
for so much of the machinery of diversion, she would still have
had a sense not other than sympathetic for the advantage now
extracted from it by Fanny Assingham's bruised philosophy. This
good friend's relation to it was actually the revanche, she
sufficiently indicated, of her obscured lustre at Matcham, where
she had known her way about so much less than most of the others.
She knew it at Fawns, through the pathless wild of the right
tone, positively better than any one, Maggie could note for her;
and her revenge had the magnanimity of a brave pointing out of it
to every one else, a wonderful irresistible, conscious, almost
compassionate patronage. Here was a house, she triumphantly
caused it to be noted, in which she so bristled with values that
some of them might serve, by her amused willingness to share, for
such of the temporarily vague, among her fellow-guests, such of
the dimly disconcerted, as had lost the key to their own. It may
have been partly through the effect of this especial strain of
community with her old friend that Maggie found herself, one
evening, moved to take up again their dropped directness of
reference. They had remained downstairs together late; the other
women of the party had filed, singly or in couples, up the
"grand" staircase on which, from the equally grand hall, these
retreats and advances could always be pleasantly observed; the
men had apparently taken their way to the smoking-room; while the
Princess, in possession thus of a rare reach of view, had
lingered as if to enjoy it. Then she saw that Mrs. Assingham was
remaining a little--and as for the appreciation of her enjoyment;
upon which they stood looking at each other across the cleared
prospect until the elder woman, only vaguely expressive and
tentative now, came nearer. It was like the act of asking if
there were anything she could yet do, and that question was
answered by her immediately feeling, on this closer view, as she
had felt when presenting herself in Portland Place after Maggie's
last sharp summons. Their understanding was taken up by these new
snatched moments where that occasion had left it.
"He has never told her that I know. Of that I'm at last
satisfied." And then as Mrs. Assingham opened wide eyes: "I've
been in the dark since we came down, not understanding what he
has been doing or intending--not making out what can have passed
between them. But within a day or two I've begun to suspect, and
this evening, for reasons--oh, too many to tell you!--I've been
sure, since it explains. NOTHING has passed between them--that's
what has happened. It explains," the Princess repeated with
energy; "it explains, it explains!" She spoke in a manner that
her auditor was afterwards to describe to the Colonel, oddly
enough, as that of the quietest excitement; she had turned back
to the chimney-place, where, in honour of a damp day and a chill
night, the piled logs had turned to flame and sunk to embers; and
the evident intensity of her vision for the fact she imparted
made Fanny Assingham wait upon her words. It explained, this
striking fact, more indeed than her companion, though conscious
of fairly gaping with good-will, could swallow at once. The
Princess, however, as for indulgence and confidence, quickly
filled up the measure. "He hasn't let her know that I know--and,
clearly, doesn't mean to. He has made up his mind; he'll say
nothing about it. Therefore, as she's quite unable to arrive at
the knowledge by herself, she has no idea how much I'm really in
possession. She believes," said Maggie, "and, so far as her own
conviction goes, she knows, that I'm not in possession of
anything. And that, somehow, for my own help seems to me
"Immense, my dear!" Mrs. Assingham applausively murmured, though
not quite, even as yet, seeing all the way. "He's keeping quiet
then on purpose?"
"On purpose." Maggie's lighted eyes, at least, looked further
than they had ever looked. "He'll NEVER tell her now."
Fanny wondered; she cast about her; most of all she admired her
little friend, in whom this announcement was evidently animated
by an heroic lucidity. She stood there, in her full uniform, like
some small erect commander of a siege, an anxious captain who has
suddenly got news, replete with importance for him, of agitation,
of division within the place. This importance breathed upon her
comrade. "So you're all right?"
"Oh, ALL right's a good deal to say. But I seem at least to see,
as I haven't before, where I am with it."
Fanny bountifully brooded; there was a point left vague. "And you
have it from him?--your husband himself has told you?"
"Why, what you speak of. It isn't of an assurance received from
him then that you do speak?"
At which Maggie had continued to stare. "Dear me, no. Do you
suppose I've asked him for an assurance?"
"Ah, you haven't?" Her companion smiled. "That's what I supposed
you MIGHT mean. Then, darling, what HAVE you--?"
"Asked him for? I've asked him for nothing."
But this, in turn, made Fanny stare. "Then nothing, that evening
of the Embassy dinner, passed between you?"
"On the contrary, everything passed."
"Everything. I told him what I knew--and I told him how I knew
Mrs. Assingham waited. "And that was all?"
"Wasn't it quite enough?"
"Oh, love," she bridled, "that's for you to have judged!"
"Then I HAVE judged," said Maggie--"I did judge. I made sure he
understood--then I let him alone."
Mrs. Assingham wondered. "But he didn't explain--?"
"Explain? Thank God, no!" Maggie threw back her head as with
horror at the thought, then the next moment added: "And I didn't,
The decency of pride in it shed a cold little light--yet as from
heights at the base of which her companion rather panted. "But if
he neither denies nor confesses--?"
"He does what's a thousand times better--he lets it alone. He
does," Maggie went on, "as he would do; as I see now that I was
sure he would. He lets me alone."
Fanny Assingham turned it over. "Then how do you know so where,
as you say, you 'are'?"
"Why, just BY that. I put him in possession of the difference;
the difference made, about me, by the fact that I hadn't been,
after all--though with a wonderful chance, I admitted, helping
me--too stupid to have arrived at knowledge. He had to see that
I'm changed for him--quite changed from the idea of me that he
had so long been going on with. It became a question then of his
really taking in the change--and what I now see is that he is
Fanny followed as she could. "Which he shows by letting you, as
you say, alone?"
Maggie looked at her a minute. "And by letting her."
Mrs. Assingham did what she might to embrace it--checked a
little, however, by a thought that was the nearest approach she
could have, in this almost too large air, to an inspiration. "Ah,
but does Charlotte let HIM?"
"Oh, that's another affair--with which I've practically nothing
to do. I dare say, however, she doesn't." And the Princess had a
more distant gaze for the image evoked by the question. "I don't
in fact well see how she CAN. But the point for me is that he
"Yes," Fanny Assingham cooed, "understands--?"
"Well, what I want. I want a happiness without a hole in it big
enough for you to poke in your finger."
"A brilliant, perfect surface--to begin with at least. I see."
"The golden bowl--as it WAS to have been." And Maggie dwelt
musingly on this obscured figure. "The bowl with all our
happiness in it. The bowl without the crack."
For Mrs. Assingham too the image had its force, and the precious
object shone before her again, reconstituted, plausible,
presentable. But wasn't there still a piece missing? "Yet if he
lets you alone and you only let him--?"
"Mayn't our doing so, you mean, be noticed?--mayn't it give us
away? Well, we hope not--we try not--we take such care. We alone
know what's between us--we and you; and haven't you precisely
been struck, since you've been here," Maggie asked, "with our
making so good a show?"
Her friend hesitated. "To your father?"
But it made her hesitate too; she wouldn't speak of her father
directly. "To everyone. To her--now that you understand."
It held poor Fanny again in wonder. "To Charlotte--yes: if
there's so much beneath it, for you, and if it's all such a plan.
That makes it hang together it makes YOU hang together." She
fairly exhaled her admiration. "You're like nobody else--you're
Maggie met it with appreciation, but with a reserve. "No, I'm not
extraordinary--but I AM, for every one, quiet."
"Well, that's just what is extraordinary. 'Quiet' is more than
_I_ am, and you leave me far behind." With which, again, for an
instant, Mrs. Assingham frankly brooded. "'Now that I
understand,' you say--but there's one thing I don't understand."
And the next minute, while her companion waited, she had
mentioned it. "How can Charlotte, after all, not have pressed
him, not have attacked him about it? How can she not have asked
him--asked him on his honour, I mean--if you know?"
"How can she 'not'? Why, of course," said the Princess limpidly,
"Well then, you think, he must have told her? Why, exactly what I
mean," said Maggie, "is that he will have done nothing of the
sort; will, as I say, have maintained the contrary."
Fanny Assingham weighed it. "Under her direct appeal for the
"Under her direct appeal for the truth."
"Her appeal to his honour?"
"Her appeal to his honour. That's my point."
Fanny Assingham braved it. "For the truth as from him to her?"
"From him to any one."
Mrs. Assingham's face lighted. "He'll simply, he'll insistently
Maggie brought it out roundly. "He'll simply, he'll insistently
It held again her companion, who next, however, with a single
movement, throwing herself on her neck, overflowed. "Oh, if you
knew how you help me!"
Maggie had liked her to understand, so far as this was possible;
but had not been slow to see afterwards how the possibility was
limited, when one came to think, by mysteries she was not to
sound. This inability in her was indeed not remarkable, inasmuch
as the Princess herself, as we have seen, was only now in a
position to boast of touching bottom. Maggie lived, inwardly, in
a consciousness that she could but partly open even to so good a
friend, and her own visitation of the fuller expanse of which
was, for that matter, still going on. They had been duskier
still, however, these recesses of her imagination--that, no
doubt, was what might at present be said for them. She had looked
into them, on the eve of her leaving town, almost without
penetration: she had made out in those hours, and also, of a
truth, during the days which immediately followed, little more
than the strangeness of a relation having for its chief mark--
whether to be prolonged or not--the absence of any "intimate"
result of the crisis she had invited her husband to recognise.
They had dealt with this crisis again, face to face, very
briefly, the morning after the scene in her room--but with the
odd consequence of her having appeared merely to leave it on his
hands. He had received it from her as he might have received a
bunch of keys or a list of commissions--attentive to her
instructions about them, but only putting them, for the time,
very carefully and safely, into his pocket. The instructions had
seemed, from day to day, to make so little difference for his
behaviour--that is for his speech or his silence; to produce, as
yet, so little of the fruit of action. He had taken from her, on
the spot, in a word, before going to dress for dinner, all she
then had to give--after which, on the morrow, he had asked her
for more, a good deal as if she might have renewed her supply
during the night; but he had had at his command for this latter
purpose an air of extraordinary detachment and discretion, an air
amounting really to an appeal which, if she could have brought
herself to describe it vulgarly, she would have described as
cool, just as he himself would have described it in any one else
as "cheeky"; a suggestion that she should trust him on the
particular ground since she didn't on the general. Neither his
speech nor his silence struck her as signifying more, or less,
under this pressure, than they had seemed to signify for weeks
past; yet if her sense hadn't been absolutely closed to the
possibility in him of any thought of wounding her, she might have
taken his undisturbed manner, the perfection of his appearance of
having recovered himself, for one of those intentions of high
impertinence by the aid of which great people, les grands
seigneurs, persons of her husband's class and type, always know
how to re-establish a violated order.
It was her one purely good fortune that she could feel thus sure
impertinence--to HER at any rate--was not among the arts on which
he proposed to throw himself; for though he had, in so almost
mystifying a manner, replied to nothing, denied nothing,
explained nothing, apologised for nothing, he had somehow
conveyed to her that this was not because of any determination to
treat her case as not "worth" it. There had been consideration,
on both occasions, in the way he had listened to her--even though
at the same time there had been extreme reserve; a reserve
indeed, it was also to be remembered, qualified by the fact that,
on their second and shorter interview, in Portland Place, and
quite at the end of this passage, she had imagined him positively
proposing to her a temporary accommodation. It had been but the
matter of something in the depths of the eyes he finally fixed
upon her, and she had found in it, the more she kept it before
her, the tacitly-offered sketch of a working arrangement. "Leave
me my reserve; don't question it--it's all I have, just now,
don't you see? so that, if you'll make me the concession of
letting me alone with it for as long a time as I require, I
promise you something or other, grown under cover of it, even
though I don't yet quite make out what, as a return for your
patience." She had turned away from him with some such unspoken
words as that in her ear, and indeed she had to represent to
herself that she had spiritually heard them, had to listen to
them still again, to explain her particular patience in face of
his particular failure. He hadn't so much as pretended to meet
for an instant the question raised by her of her accepted
ignorance of the point in time, the period before their own
marriage, from which his intimacy with Charlotte dated. As an
ignorance in which he and Charlotte had been personally
interested--and to the pitch of consummately protecting, for
years, each other's interest--as a condition so imposed upon her
the fact of its having ceased might have made it, on the spot,
the first article of his defence. He had vouchsafed it, however,
nothing better than his longest stare of postponed consideration.
That tribute he had coldly paid it, and Maggie might herself have
been stupefied, truly, had she not had something to hold on by,
at her own present ability, even provisional, to make terms with
a chapter of history into which she could but a week before not
have dipped without a mortal chill. At the rate at which she was
living she was getting used hour by hour to these extensions of
view; and when she asked herself, at Fawns, to what single
observation of her own, in London, the Prince had had an
affirmation to oppose, she but just failed to focus the small
strained wife of the moments in question as some panting dancer
of a difficult step who had capered, before the footlights of an
empty theatre, to a spectator lounging in a box.
Her best comprehension of Amerigo's success in not committing
himself was in her recall, meanwhile, of the inquiries he had
made of her on their only return to the subject, and which he had
in fact explicitly provoked their return in order to make. He had
had it over with her again, the so distinctly remarkable incident
of her interview at home with the little Bloomsbury shopman. This
anecdote, for him, had, not altogether surprisingly, required
some straighter telling, and the Prince's attitude in presence of
it had represented once more his nearest approach to a
cross-examination. The difficulty in respect to the little man
had been for the question of his motive--his motive in writing,
first, in the spirit of retraction, to a lady with whom he had
made a most advantageous bargain, and in then coming to see her
so that his apology should be personal. Maggie had felt her
explanation weak; but there were the facts, and she could give no
other. Left alone, after the transaction, with the knowledge that
his visitor designed the object bought of him as a birthday-gift
to her father--for Maggie confessed freely to having chattered to
him almost as to a friend--the vendor of the golden bowl had
acted on a scruple rare enough in vendors of any class, and
almost unprecedented in the thrifty children of Israel. He hadn't
liked what he had done, and what he had above all made such a
"good thing" of having done; at the thought of his purchaser's
good faith and charming presence, opposed to that flaw in her
acquestion which would make it, verily, as an offering to a loved
parent, a thing of sinister meaning and evil effect, he had known
conscientious, he had known superstitious visitings, had given
way to a whim all the more remarkable to his own commercial mind,
no doubt, from its never having troubled him in other connexions.
She had recognised the oddity of her adventure and left it to
show for what it was. She had not been unconscious, on the other
hand, that if it hadn't touched Amerigo so nearly he would have
found in it matter for some amused reflection. He had uttered an
extraordinary sound, something between a laugh and a howl, on her
saying, as she had made a point of doing: "Oh, most certainly, he
TOLD me his reason was because he 'liked' me"--though she
remained in doubt of whether that inarticulate comment had been
provoked most by the familiarities she had offered or by those
that, so pictured, she had had to endure. That the partner of her
bargain had yearned to see her again, that he had plainly jumped
at a pretext for it, this also she had frankly expressed herself
to the Prince as having, in no snubbing, no scandalised, but
rather in a positively appreciative and indebted spirit, not
delayed to make out. He had wished, ever so seriously, to return
her a part of her money, and she had wholly declined to receive
it; and then he had uttered his hope that she had not, at all
events, already devoted the crystal cup to the beautiful purpose
she had, so kindly and so fortunately, named to him. It wasn't a
thing for a present to a person she was fond of, for she wouldn't
wish to give a present that would bring ill luck. That had come
to him--so that he couldn't rest, and he should feel better now
that he had told her. His having led her to act in ignorance was
what he should have been ashamed of; and, if she would pardon,
gracious lady as she was, all the liberties he had taken, she
might make of the bowl any use in life but that one.
It was after this that the most extraordinary incident of all, of
course, had occurred--his pointing to the two photographs with
the remark that those were persons he knew, and that, more
wonderful still, he had made acquaintance with them, years
before, precisely over the same article. The lady, on that
occasion, had taken up the fancy of presenting it to the
gentleman, and the gentleman, guessing and dodging ever so
cleverly, had declared that he wouldn't for the world receive an
object under such suspicion. He himself, the little man had
confessed, wouldn't have minded--about THEM; but he had never
forgotten either their talk or their faces, the impression
altogether made by them, and, if she really wished to know, now,
what had perhaps most moved him, it was the thought that she
should ignorantly have gone in for a thing not good enough for
other buyers. He had been immensely struck--that was another
point--with this accident of their turning out, after so long,
friends of hers too: they had disappeared, and this was the only
light he had ever had upon them. He had flushed up, quite red,
with his recognition, with all his responsibility--had declared
that the connexion must have had, mysteriously, something to do
with the impulse he had obeyed. And Maggie had made, to her
husband, while he again stood before her, no secret of the shock,
for herself, so suddenly and violently received. She had done her
best, even while taking it full in the face, not to give herself
away; but she wouldn't answer--no, she wouldn't--for what she
might, in her agitation, have made her informant think. He might