She had not again, for weeks, had Mrs. Assingham so effectually
in presence as on the afternoon of that lady's return from the
Easter party at Matcham; but the intermission was made up as soon
as the date of the migration to Fawns--that of the more or less
simultaneous adjournment of the two houses--began to be
discussed. It had struck her, promptly, that this renewal, with
an old friend, of the old terms she had talked of with her
father, was the one opening, for her spirit, that wouldn't too
much advertise or betray her. Even her father, who had always, as
he would have said, "believed in" their ancient ally, wouldn't
necessarily suspect her of invoking Fanny's aid toward any
special inquiry--and least of all if Fanny would only act as
Fanny so easily might. Maggie's measure of Fanny's ease would
have been agitating to Mrs. Assingham had it been all at once
revealed to her--as, for that matter, it was soon destined to
become even on a comparatively graduated showing. Our young
woman's idea, in particular, was that her safety, her escape from
being herself suspected of suspicion, would proceed from this
friend's power to cover, to protect and, as might be, even
showily to represent her--represent, that is, her relation to the
form of the life they were all actually leading. This would
doubtless be, as people said, a large order; but that Mrs.
Assingham existed, substantially, or could somehow be made
prevailingly to exist, for her private benefit, was the finest
flower Maggie had plucked from among the suggestions sown, like
abundant seed, on the occasion of the entertainment offered in
Portland Place to the Matcham company. Mrs. Assingham, that
night, rebounding from dejection, had bristled with bravery and
sympathy; she had then absolutely, she had perhaps recklessly,
for herself, betrayed the deeper and darker consciousness--an
impression it would now be late for her inconsistently to attempt
to undo. It was with a wonderful air of giving out all these
truths that the Princess at present approached her again; making
doubtless at first a sufficient scruple of letting her know what
in especial she asked of her, yet not a bit ashamed, as she in
fact quite expressly declared, of Fanny's discerned foreboding of
the strange uses she might perhaps have for her. Quite from the
first, really, Maggie said extraordinary things to her, such as
"You can help me, you know, my dear, when nobody else can;" such
as "I almost wish, upon my word, that you had something the
matter with you, that you had lost your health, or your money, or
your reputation (forgive me, love!) so that I might be with you
as much as I want, or keep you with ME, without exciting comment,
without exciting any other remark than that such kindnesses are
'like' me." We have each our own way of making up for our
unselfishness, and Maggie, who had no small self at all as
against her husband or her father and only a weak and uncertain
one as against her stepmother, would verily, at this crisis, have
seen Mrs. Assingham's personal life or liberty sacrificed without
The attitude that the appetite in question maintained in her was
to draw peculiar support moreover from the current aspects and
agitations of her victim. This personage struck her, in truth, as
ready for almost anything; as not perhaps effusively protesting,
yet as wanting with a restlessness of her own to know what she
wanted. And in the long run--which was none so long either--there
was to be no difficulty, as happened, about that. It was as if,
for all the world, Maggie had let her see that she held her, that
she made her, fairly responsible for something; not, to begin
with, dotting all the i's nor hooking together all the links, but
treating her, without insistence, rather with caressing
confidence, as there to see and to know, to advise and to assist.
The theory, visibly, had patched itself together for her that the
dear woman had somehow, from the early time, had a hand in ALL
their fortunes, so that there was no turn of their common
relations and affairs that couldn't be traced back in some degree
to her original affectionate interest. On this affectionate
interest the good lady's young friend now built, before her eyes
--very much as a wise, or even as a mischievous, child, playing
on the floor, might pile up blocks, skilfully and dizzily, with
an eye on the face of a covertly-watching elder.
When the blocks tumbled down they but acted after the nature of
blocks; yet the hour would come for their rising so high that the
structure would have to be noticed and admired. Mrs. Assingham's
appearance of unreservedly giving herself involved meanwhile, on
her own side, no separate recognitions: her face of almost
anxious attention was directed altogether to her young friend's
so vivid felicity; it suggested that she took for granted, at the
most, certain vague recent enhancements of that state. If the
Princess now, more than before, was going and going, she was
prompt to publish that she beheld her go, that she had always
known she WOULD, sooner or later, and that any appeal for
participation must more or less contain and invite the note of
triumph. There was a blankness in her blandness, assuredly, and
very nearly an extravagance in her generalising gaiety; a
precipitation of cheer particularly marked whenever they met
again after short separations: meetings during the first flush of
which Maggie sometimes felt reminded of other looks in other
faces; of two strangely unobliterated impressions above all, the
physiognomic light that had played out in her husband at the
shock--she had come at last to talk to herself of the "shock"--of
his first vision of her on his return from Matcham and
Gloucester, and the wonder of Charlotte's beautiful bold wavering
gaze when, the next morning in Eaton Square, this old friend had
turned from the window to begin to deal with her.
If she had dared to think of it so crudely she would have said
that Fanny was afraid of her, afraid of something she might say
or do, even as, for their few brief seconds, Amerigo and
Charlotte had been--which made, exactly, an expressive element
common to the three. The difference however was that this look
had in the dear woman its oddity of a constant renewal, whereas
it had never for the least little instant again peeped out of the
others. Other looks, other lights, radiant and steady, with the
others, had taken its place, reaching a climax so short a time
ago, that morning of the appearance of the pair on the balcony of
her house to overlook what she had been doing with her father;
when their general interested brightness and beauty, attuned to
the outbreak of summer, had seemed to shed down warmth and
welcome and the promise of protection. They were conjoined not to
do anything to startle her--and now at last so completely that,
with experience and practice, they had almost ceased to fear
their liability. Mrs. Assingham, on the other hand, deprecating
such an accident not less, had yet less assurance, as having less
control. The high pitch of her cheer, accordingly, the tentative,
adventurous expressions, of the would-be smiling order, that
preceded her approach even like a squad of skirmishers, or
whatever they were called, moving ahead of the baggage train--
these things had at the end of a fortnight brought a dozen times
to our young woman's lips a challenge that had the cunning to
await its right occasion, but of the relief of which, as a
demonstration, she meanwhile felt no little need. "You've such a
dread of my possibly complaining to you that you keep pealing all
the bells to drown my voice; but don't cry out, my dear, till
you're hurt--and above all ask yourself how I can be so wicked as
to complain. What in the name of all that's fantastic can you
dream that I have to complain OF?" Such inquiries the Princess
temporarily succeeded in repressing, and she did so, in a
measure, by the aid of her wondering if this ambiguity with which
her friend affected her wouldn't be at present a good deal like
the ambiguity with which she herself must frequently affect her
father. She wondered how she should enjoy, on HIS part, such a
take-up as she but just succeeded, from day to day, in sparing
Mrs. Assingham, and that made for her trying to be as easy with
this associate as Mr. Verver, blessed man, all indulgent but
all inscrutable, was with his daughter. She had extracted from
her, none the less, a vow in respect to the time that, if the
Colonel might be depended on, they would spend at Fawns; and
nothing came home to her more, in this connection, or inspired
her with a more intimate interest, than her sense of absolutely
seeing her interlocutress forbear to observe that Charlotte's
view of a long visit, even from such allies, was there to be
Fanny stood off from that proposition as visibly to the Princess,
and as consciously to herself, as she might have backed away from
the edge of a chasm into which she feared to slip; a truth that
contributed again to keep before our young woman her own constant
danger of advertising her subtle processes. That Charlotte should
have begun to be restrictive about the Assinghams--which she had
never, and for a hundred obviously good reasons, been before--
this in itself was a fact of the highest value for Maggie, and of
a value enhanced by the silence in which Fanny herself so much
too unmistakably dressed it. What gave it quite thrillingly its
price was exactly the circumstance that it thus opposed her to
her stepmother more actively--if she was to back up her friends
for holding out--than she had ever yet been opposed; though of
course with the involved result of the fine chance given Mrs.
Verver to ask her husband for explanations. Ah, from the moment
she should be definitely CAUGHT in opposition there would be
naturally no saying how much Charlotte's opportunities might
multiply! What would become of her father, she hauntedly asked,
if his wife, on the one side, should begin to press him to call
his daughter to order, and the force of old habit--to put it only
at that--should dispose him, not less effectively, to believe in
this young person at any price? There she was, all round,
imprisoned in the circle of the reasons it was impossible she
should give--certainly give HIM. The house in the country was his
house, and thereby was Charlotte's; it was her own and Amerigo's
only so far as its proper master and mistress should profusely
place it at their disposal. Maggie felt of course that she saw no
limit to her father's profusion, but this couldn't be even at the
best the case with Charlotte's, whom it would never be decent,
when all was said, to reduce to fighting for her preferences.
There were hours, truly, when the Princess saw herself as not
unarmed for battle if battle might only take place without
This last advantage for her, was, however, too sadly out of the
question; her sole strength lay in her being able to see that if
Charlotte wouldn't "want" the Assinghams it would be because that
sentiment too would have motives and grounds. She had all the
while command of one way of meeting any objection, any complaint,
on his wife's part, reported to her by her father; it would be
open to her to retort to his possible "What are your reasons, my
dear?" by a lucidly-produced "What are hers, love, please?--isn't
that what we had better know? Mayn't her reasons be a dislike,
beautifully founded, of the presence, and thereby of the
observation, of persons who perhaps know about her things it's
inconvenient to her they should know?" That hideous card she
might in mere logic play--being by this time, at her still
swifter private pace, intimately familiar with all the fingered
pasteboard in her pack. But she could play it only on the
forbidden issue of sacrificing him; the issue so forbidden that
it involved even a horror of finding out if he would really have
consented to be sacrificed. What she must do she must do by
keeping her hands off him; and nothing meanwhile, as we see, had
less in common with that scruple than such a merciless
manipulation of their yielding beneficiaries as her spirit so
boldly revelled in. She saw herself, in this connexion, without
detachment--saw others alone with intensity; otherwise she might
have been struck, fairly have been amused, by her free assignment
of the pachydermatous quality. If SHE could face the awkwardness
of the persistence of her friends at Fawns in spite of Charlotte,
she somehow looked to them for an inspiration of courage that
would improve upon her own. They were in short not only
themselves to find a plausibility and an audacity, but were
somehow by the way to pick up these forms for her, Maggie, as
well. And she felt indeed that she was giving them scant time
longer when, one afternoon in Portland Place, she broke out with
an irrelevance that was merely superficial.
"What awfulness, in heaven's name, is there between them? What do
you believe, what do you KNOW?"
Oh, if she went by faces her visitor's sudden whiteness, at this,
might have carried her far! Fanny Assingham turned pale for it,
but there was something in such an appearance, in the look it put
into the eyes, that renewed Maggie's conviction of what this
companion had been expecting. She had been watching it come, come
from afar, and now that it was there, after all, and the first
convulsion over, they would doubtless soon find themselves in a
more real relation. It was there because of the Sunday luncheon
they had partaken of alone together; it was there, as strangely
as one would, because of the bad weather, the cold perverse June
rain, that was making the day wrong; it was there because it
stood for the whole sum of the perplexities and duplicities among
which our young woman felt herself lately to have picked her
steps; it was there because Amerigo and Charlotte were again
paying together alone a "week end" visit which it had been
Maggie's plan infernally to promote--just to see if, this time,
they really would; it was there because she had kept Fanny, on
her side, from paying one she would manifestly have been glad to
pay, and had made her come instead, stupidly, vacantly, boringly,
to luncheon: all in the spirit of celebrating the fact that the
Prince and Mrs. Verver had thus put it into her own power to
describe them exactly as they were. It had abruptly occurred, in
truth, that Maggie required the preliminary help of determining
HOW they were; though, on the other hand, before her guest had
answered her question everything in the hour and the place,
everything in all the conditions, affected her as crying it out.
Her guest's stare of ignorance, above all--that of itself at
first cried it out. "'Between them?' What do you mean?"
"Anything there shouldn't be, there shouldn't have BEEN--all this
time. Do you believe there is--or what's your idea?"
Fanny's idea was clearly, to begin with, that her young friend
had taken her breath away; but she looked at her very straight
and very hard. "Do you speak from a suspicion of your own?"
"I speak, at last, from a torment. Forgive me if it comes out.
I've been thinking for months and months, and I've no one to turn
to, no one to help me to make things out; no impression but my
own, don't you see? to go by."
"You've been thinking for months and months?" Mrs. Assingham took
it in. "But WHAT then, dear Maggie, have you been thinking?"
"Well, horrible things--like a little beast that I perhaps am.
That there may be something--something wrong and dreadful,
something they cover up."
The elder woman's colour had begun to come back; she was able,
though with a visible effort, to face the question less amazedly.
"You imagine, poor child, that the wretches are in love? Is that
But Maggie for a minute only stared back at her. "Help me to find
out WHAT I imagine. I don't know--I've nothing but my perpetual
anxiety. Have you any?--do you see what I mean? If you'll tell me
truly, that at least, one way or the other, will do something for
Fanny's look had taken a peculiar gravity--a fulness with which
it seemed to shine. "Is what it comes to that you're jealous of
"Do you mean whether I hate her?"--and Maggie thought. "No; not
on account of father."
"Ah," Mrs. Assingham returned, "that isn't what one would
suppose. What I ask is if you're jealous on account of your
"Well," said Maggie presently, "perhaps that may be all. If I'm
unhappy I'm jealous; it must come to the same thing; and with
you, at least, I'm not afraid of the word. If I'm jealous, don't
you see? I'm tormented," she went on--"and all the more if I'm
helpless. And if I'm both helpless AND tormented I stuff my
pocket-handkerchief into my mouth, I keep it there, for the most
part, night and day, so as not to be heard too indecently
moaning. Only now, with you, at last, I can't keep it longer;
I've pulled it out, and here I am fairly screaming at you.
They're away," she wound up, "so they can't hear; and I'm, by a
miracle of arrangement, not at luncheon with father at home. I
live in the midst of miracles of arrangement, half of which I
admit, are my own; I go about on tiptoe, I watch for every sound,
I feel every breath, and yet I try all the while to seem as
smooth as old satin dyed rose-colour. Have you ever thought of
me," she asked, "as really feeling as I do?"
Her companion, conspicuously, required to be clear. "Jealous,
unhappy, tormented--? No," said Mrs. Assingham; "but at the same
time--and though you may laugh at me for it!--I'm bound to
confess that I've never been so awfully sure of what I may call
knowing you. Here you are indeed, as you say--such a deep little
person! I've never imagined your existence poisoned, and, since
you wish to know if I consider that it need be, I've not the
least difficulty in speaking on the spot. Nothing, decidedly,
strikes me as more unnecessary."
For a minute after this they remained face to face; Maggie had
sprung up while her friend sat enthroned, and, after moving to
and fro in her intensity, now paused to receive the light she had
invoked. It had accumulated, considerably, by this time, round
Mrs. Assingham's ample presence, and it made, even to our young
woman's own sense, a medium in which she could at last take a
deeper breath. "I've affected you, these months--and these last
weeks in especial--as quiet and natural and easy?"
But it was a question that took, not imperceptibly, some
answering. "You've never affected me, from the first hour I
beheld you, as anything but--in a way all your own--absolutely
good and sweet and beautiful. In a way, as I say," Mrs. Assingham
almost caressingly repeated, "just all your very own--nobody
else's at all. I've never thought of you but as OUTSIDE of ugly
things, so ignorant of any falsity or cruelty or vulgarity as
never to have to be touched by them or to touch them. I've never
mixed you up with them; there would have been time enough for
that if they had seemed to be near you. But they haven't--if
that's what you want to know."
"You've only believed me contented then because you've believed
Mrs. Assingham had a free smile, now, for the length of this
stride, dissimulated though it might be in a graceful little
frisk. "If I had believed you stupid I shouldn't have thought you
interesting, and if I hadn't thought you interesting I shouldn't
have noted whether I 'knew' you, as I've called it, or not. What
I've always been conscious of is your having concealed about you
somewhere no small amount of character; quite as much in fact,"
Fanny smiled, "as one could suppose a person of your size able to
carry. The only thing was," she explained, "that thanks to your
never calling one's attention to it, I hadn't made out much more
about it, and should have been vague, above all, as to WHERE you
carried it or kept it. Somewhere UNDER, I should simply have
said--like that little silver cross you once showed me, blest by
the Holy Father, that you always wear, out of sight, next your
skin. That relic I've had a glimpse of"--with which she continued
to invoke the privilege of humour. "But the precious little
innermost, say this time little golden, personal nature of you--
blest by a greater power, I think, even than the Pope--that
you've never consentingly shown me. I'm not sure you've ever
consentingly shown it to anyone. You've been in general too
Maggie, trying to follow, almost achieved a little fold of her
forehead. "I strike you as modest to-day--modest when I stand
here and scream at you?"
"Oh, your screaming, I've granted you, is something new. I must
fit it on somewhere. The question is, however," Mrs. Assingham
further proceeded, "of what the deuce I can fit it on TO. Do you
mean," she asked, "to the fact of our friends' being, from
yesterday to to-morrow, at a place where they may more or less
irresponsibly meet?" She spoke with the air of putting it as
badly for them as possible. "Are you thinking of their being
there alone--of their having consented to be?" And then as she
had waited without result for her companion to say: "But isn't it
true that--after you had this time again, at the eleventh hour,
said YOU wouldn't--they would really much rather not have gone?"
"Yes--they would certainly much rather not have gone. But I
wanted them to go."
"Then, my dear child, what in the world is the matter?"
"I wanted to see if they WOULD. And they've had to," Maggie
added. "It was the only thing."
Her friend appeared to wonder. "From the moment you and your
father backed out?"
"Oh, I don't mean go for those people; I mean go for us. For
father and me," Maggie went on. "Because now they know."
"They 'know'?" Fanny Assingham quavered.
"That I've been for some time past taking more notice. Notice of
the queer things in our life."
Maggie saw her companion for an instant on the point of asking
her what these queer things might be; but Mrs. Assingham had the
next minute brushed by that ambiguous opening and taken, as she
evidently felt, a better one. "And is it for that you did it? I
mean gave up the visit."
"It's for that I did it. To leave them to themselves--as they
less and less want, or at any rate less and less venture to
appear to want, to be left. As they had for so long arranged
things," the Princess went on, "you see they sometimes have to
be." And then, as if baffled by the lucidity of this, Mrs.
Assingham for a little said nothing: "Now do you think I'm
With time, however; Fanny could brilliantly think anything that
would serve. "I think you're wrong. That, my dear, is my answer
to your question. It demands assuredly the straightest I can
make. I see no "awfulness'--I suspect none. I'm deeply
distressed," she added, "that you should do anything else."
It drew again from Maggie a long look. "You've never even
"Ah, God forbid!--for it's exactly as a woman of imagination that
I speak. There's no moment of my life at which I'm not imagining
something; and it's thanks to that, darling," Mrs. Assingham
pursued, "that I figure the sincerity with which your husband,
whom you see as viciously occupied with your stepmother, is
interested, is tenderly interested, in his admirable, adorable
wife." She paused a minute as to give her friend the full benefit
of this--as to Maggie's measure of which, however, no sign came;
and then, poor woman, haplessly, she crowned her effort.--"He
wouldn't hurt a hair of your head."
It had produced in Maggie, at once, and apparently in the
intended form of a smile, the most extraordinary expression. "Ah,
there it is!"
But her guest had already gone on. "And I'm absolutely certain
that Charlotte wouldn't either."
It kept the Princess, with her strange grimace, standing there.
"No--Charlotte wouldn't either. That's how they've had again to
go off together. They've been afraid not to--lest it should
disturb me, aggravate me, somehow work upon me. As I insisted
that they must, that we couldn't all fail--though father and
Charlotte hadn't really accepted; as I did this they had to yield
to the fear that their showing as afraid to move together would
count for them as the greater danger: which would be the danger,
you see, of my feeling myself wronged. Their least danger, they
know, is in going on with all the things that I've seemed to
accept and that I've given no indication, at any moment, of not
accepting. Everything that has come up for them has come up, in
an extraordinary manner, without my having by a sound or a sign
given myself away--so that it's all as wonderful as you may
conceive. They move at any rate among the dangers I speak of--
between that of their doing too much and that of their not having
any longer the confidence, or the nerve, or whatever you may call
it, to do enough." Her tone, by this time, might have shown a
strangeness to match her smile; which was still more marked as
she wound up. "And that's how I make them do what I like!"
It had an effect on Mrs. Assingham, who rose with the
deliberation that, from point to point, marked the widening of
her grasp. "My dear child, you're amazing."
Maggie thoughtfully shook her head. "No; I'm not terrible, and
you don't think me so. I do strike you as surprising, no doubt--
but surprisingly mild. Because--don't you see?--I AM mild. I can
"Oh, 'bear'!" Mrs. Assingham fluted.
"For love," said the Princess.
Fanny hesitated. "Of your father?"
"For love," Maggie repeated.
It kept her friend watching. "Of your husband?"
"For love," Maggie said again.
It was, for the moment, as if the distinctness of this might have
determined in her companion a choice between two or three highly
different alternatives. Mrs. Assingham's rejoinder, at all
events--however much or however little it was a choice--was
presently a triumph. "Speaking with this love of your own then,
have you undertaken to convey to me that you believe your husband
and your father's wife to be in act and in fact lovers of each
other?" And then as the Princess didn't at first answer: "Do you
call such an allegation as that 'mild'?"
"Oh, I'm not pretending to be mild to you. But I've told you, and
moreover you must have seen for yourself, how much so I've been
Mrs. Assingham, more brightly again, bridled. "Is that what you
call it when you make them, for terror as you say, do as you
"Ah, there wouldn't be any terror for them if they had nothing to
Mrs. Assingham faced her--quite steady now. "Are you really
conscious, love, of what you're saying?"
"I'm saying that I'm bewildered and tormented, and that I've no
one but you to speak to. I've thought, I've in fact been sure,
that you've seen for yourself how much this is the case. It's why
I've believed you would meet me half way."
"Half way to what? To denouncing," Fanny asked, "two persons,
friends of years, whom I've always immensely admired and liked,
and against whom I haven't the shadow of a charge to make?"
Maggie looked at her with wide eyes. "I had much rather you
should denounce me than denounce them. Denounce me, denounce me,"
she said, "if you can see your way." It was exactly what she
appeared to have argued out with herself. "If, conscientiously,
you can denounce me; if, conscientiously, you can revile me; if,
conscientiously, you can put me in my place for a low-minded
"Well?" said Mrs. Assingham, consideringly, as she paused for
"I think I shall be saved."
Her friend took it, for a minute, however, by carrying thoughtful
eyes, eyes verily portentous, over her head. "You say you've no
one to speak to, and you make a point of your having so disguised
your feelings--not having, as you call it, given yourself away.
Have you then never seen it not only as your right, but as your
bounden duty, worked up to such a pitch, to speak to your
"I've spoken to him," said Maggie.
Mrs. Assingham stared. "Ah, then it isn't true that you've made
Maggie had a silence. "I've made no trouble. I've made no scene.
I've taken no stand. I've neither reproached nor accused him.
You'll say there's a way in all that of being nasty enough."
"Oh!" dropped from Fanny as if she couldn't help it.
"But I don't think--strangely enough--that he regards me as
nasty. I think that at bottom--for that IS," said the Princess,
"the strangeness--he's sorry for me. Yes, I think that, deep
within, he pities me."
Her companion wondered. "For the state you've let yourself get
"For not being happy when I've so much to make me so."
"You've everything," said Mrs. Assingham with alacrity. Yet she
remained for an instant embarrassed as to a further advance. "I
don't understand, however, how, if you've done nothing--"
An impatience from Maggie had checked her. "I've not done
"But what then--?"
"Well," she went on after a minute, "he knows what I've done."
It produced on Mrs. Assingham's part, her whole tone and manner
exquisitely aiding, a hush not less prolonged, and the very
duration of which inevitably gave it something of the character
of an equal recognition. "And what then has HE done?"
Maggie took again a minute. "He has been splendid."
"'Splendid'? Then what more do you want?"
"Ah, what you see!" said Maggie. "Not to be afraid."
It made her guest again hang fire. "Not to be afraid really to
"Not to be afraid NOT to speak."
Mrs. Assingham considered further. "You can't even to Charlotte?"
But as, at this, after a look at her, Maggie turned off with a
movement of suppressed despair, she checked herself and might
have been watching her, for all the difficulty and the pity of
it, vaguely moving to the window and the view of the hill street.
It was almost as if she had had to give up, from failure of
responsive wit in her friend--the last failure she had feared--
the hope of the particular relief she had been working for. Mrs.
Assingham resumed the next instant, however, in the very tone
that seemed most to promise her she should have to give up
nothing. "I see, I see; you would have in that case too many
things to consider." It brought the Princess round again, proving
itself thus the note of comprehension she wished most to clutch
at. "Don't be afraid."
Maggie took it where she stood--which she was soon able to
It very properly encouraged her counsellor. "What your idea
imputes is a criminal intrigue carried on, from day to day, amid
perfect trust and sympathy, not only under your eyes, but under
your father's. That's an idea it's impossible for me for a.
moment to entertain."
"Ah, there you are then! It's exactly what I wanted from you."
"You're welcome to it!" Mrs. Assingham breathed.
"You never HAVE entertained it?" Maggie pursued.
"Never for an instant," said Fanny with her head very high.
Maggie took it again, yet again as wanting more. "Pardon my being
so horrid. But by all you hold sacred?"
Mrs. Assingham faced her. "Ah, my dear, upon my positive word as
an honest woman."
"Thank-you then," said the Princess.
So they remained a little; after which, "But do you believe it,
love?" Fanny inquired.
"I believe YOU."
"Well, as I've faith in THEM, it comes to the same thing."
Maggie, at this last, appeared for a moment to think again; but
she embraced the proposition. "The same thing."
"Then you're no longer unhappy?" her guest urged, coming more
gaily toward her.
"I doubtless shan't be a great while."
But it was now Mrs. Assingham's turn to want more. "I've
convinced you it's impossible?"
She had held out her arms, and Maggie, after a moment, meeting
her, threw herself into them with a sound that had its oddity as
a sign of relief. "Impossible, impossible," she emphatically,
more than emphatically, replied; yet the next minute she had
burst into tears over the impossibility, and a few seconds later,
pressing, clinging, sobbing, had even caused them to flow,
audibly, sympathetically and perversely, from her friend.