Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 32

If Maggie had not so firmly made up her mind never to say, either
to her good friend or to any one else, more than she meant about
her father, she might have found herself betrayed into some such
overflow during the week spent in London with her husband after
the others had adjourned to Fawns for the summer. This was
because of the odd element of the unnatural imparted to the so
simple fact of their brief separation by the assumptions resident
in their course of life hitherto. She was used, herself,
certainly, by this time, to dealing with odd elements; but she
dropped, instantly, even from such peace as she had patched up,
when it was a question of feeling that her unpenetrated parent
might be alone with them. She thought of him as alone with them
when she thought of him as alone with Charlotte--and this,
strangely enough, even while fixing her sense to the full on his
wife's power of preserving, quite of enhancing, every felicitous
appearance. Charlotte had done that--under immeasurably fewer
difficulties indeed--during the numerous months of their hymeneal
absence from England, the period prior to that wonderful reunion
of the couples, in the interest of the larger play of all the
virtues of each, which was now bearing, for Mrs. Verver's
stepdaughter at least, such remarkable fruit. It was the present
so much briefer interval, in a situation, possibly in a relation,
so changed--it was the new terms of her problem that would tax
Charlotte's art. The Princess could pull herself up, repeatedly,
by remembering that the real "relation" between her father and
his wife was a thing that she knew nothing about and that, in
strictness, was none of her business; but she none the less
failed to keep quiet, as she would have called it, before the
projected image of their ostensibly happy isolation. Nothing
could have had less of the quality of quietude than a certain
queer wish that fitfully flickered up in her, a wish that
usurped, perversely, the place of a much more natural one. If
Charlotte, while she was about it, could only have been WORSE!--
that idea Maggie fell to invoking instead of the idea that she
might desirably have been better. For, exceedingly odd as it was
to feel in such ways, she believed she mightn't have worried so
much if she didn't somehow make her stepmother out, under the
beautiful trees and among the dear old gardens, as lavish of
fifty kinds of confidence and twenty kinds, at least, of
gentleness. Gentleness and confidence were certainly the right
thing, as from a charming woman to her husband, but the fine
tissue of reassurance woven by this lady's hands and flung over
her companion as a light, muffling veil, formed precisely a
wrought transparency through which she felt her father's eyes
continually rest on herself. The reach of his gaze came to her
straighter from a distance; it showed him as still more
conscious, down there alone, of the suspected, the felt
elaboration of the process of their not alarming or hurting him.
She had herself now, for weeks and weeks, and all unwinkingly,
traced the extension of this pious effort; but her perfect
success in giving no sign--she did herself THAT credit--would
have been an achievement quite wasted if Mrs. Verver should make
with him those mistakes of proportion, one set of them too
abruptly, too incoherently designed to correct another set, that
she had made with his daughter. However, if she HAD been worse,
poor woman, who should say that her husband would, to a
certainty, have been better?

One groped noiselessly among such questions, and it was actually
not even definite for the Princess that her own Amerigo, left
alone with her in town, had arrived at the golden mean of
non-precautionary gallantry which would tend, by his calculation,
to brush private criticism from its last perching-place. The
truth was, in this connection, that she had different sorts of
terrors, and there were hours when it came to her that these days
were a prolonged repetition of that night-drive, of weeks before,
from the other house to their own, when he had tried to charm
her, by his sovereign personal power, into some collapse that
would commit her to a repudiation of consistency. She was never
alone with him, it was to be said, without her having sooner or
later to ask herself what had already become of her consistency;
yet, at the same time, so long as she breathed no charge, she
kept hold of a remnant of appearance that could save her from
attack. Attack, real attack, from him, as he would conduct it
was what she above all dreaded; she was so far from sure that
under that experience she mightn't drop into some depth of
weakness, mightn't show him some shortest way with her that he
would know how to use again. Therefore, since she had given him,
as yet, no moment's pretext for pretending to her that she had
either lost faith or suffered by a feather's weight in happiness,
she left him, it was easy to reason, with an immense advantage
for all waiting and all tension. She wished him, for the present,
to "make up" to her for nothing. Who could say to what making-up
might lead, into what consenting or pretending or destroying
blindness it might plunge her? She loved him too helplessly,
still, to dare to open the door, by an inch, to his treating her
as if either of them had wronged the other. Something or
somebody--and who, at this, which of them all?--would inevitably,
would in the gust of momentary selfishness, be sacrificed to
that; whereas what she intelligently needed was to know where she
was going. Knowledge, knowledge, was a fascination as well as a
fear; and a part, precisely, of the strangeness of this juncture
was the way her apprehension that he would break out to her with
some merely general profession was mixed with her dire need to
forgive him, to reassure him, to respond to him, on no ground
that she didn't fully measure. To do these things it must be
clear to her what they were FOR; but to act in that light was, by
the same effect, to learn, horribly, what the other things had
been. He might tell her only what he wanted, only what would work
upon her by the beauty of his appeal; and the result of the
direct appeal of ANY beauty in him would be her helpless
submission to his terms. All her temporary safety, her hand-to-
mouth success, accordingly, was in his neither perceiving nor
divining this, thanks to such means as she could take to prevent
him; take, literally from hour to hour, during these days of more
unbroken exposure. From hour to hour she fairly expected some
sign of his having decided on a jump. "Ah yes, it HAS been as you
think; I've strayed away, I've fancied myself free, given myself
in other quantities, with larger generosities, because I thought
you were different--different from what I now see. But it was
only, only, because I didn't know--and you must admit that you
gave me scarce reason enough. Reason enough, I mean, to keep
clear of my mistake; to which I confess, for which I'll do
exquisite penance, which you can help me now, I too beautifully
feel, to get completely over."

That was what, while she watched herself, she potentially heard
him bring out; and while she carried to an end another day,
another sequence and yet another of their hours together, without
his producing it, she felt herself occupied with him beyond even
the intensity of surrender. She was keeping her head, for a
reason, for a cause; and the labour of this detachment, with the
labour of her keeping the pitch of it down, held them together in
the steel hoop of an intimacy compared with which artless passion
would have been but a beating of the air. Her greatest danger, or
at least her greatest motive for care, was the obsession of the
thought that, if he actually did suspect, the fruit of his
attention to her couldn't help being a sense of the growth of her
importance. Taking the measure, with him, as she had taken it
with her father, of the prescribed reach of her hypocrisy, she
saw how it would have to stretch even to her seeking to prove
that she was NOT, all the same, important. A single touch from
him--oh, she should know it in case of its coming!--any brush of
his hand, of his lips, of his voice, inspired by recognition of
her probable interest as distinct from pity for her virtual
gloom, would hand her over to him bound hand and foot. Therefore
to be free, to be free to act, other than abjectly, for her
father, she must conceal from him the validity that, like a
microscopic insect pushing a grain of sand, she was taking on
even for herself. She could keep it up with a change in sight,
but she couldn't keep it up forever; so that, really, one
extraordinary effect of their week of untempered confrontation,
which bristled with new marks, was to make her reach out, in
thought, to their customary companions and calculate the kind of
relief that rejoining them would bring. She was learning, almost
from minute to minute, to be a mistress of shades since, always,
when there were possibilities enough of intimacy, there were
also, by that fact, in intercourse, possibilities of iridescence;
but she was working against an adversary who was a master of
shades too, and on whom, if she didn't look out, she should
presently have imposed a consciousness of the nature of their
struggle. To feel him in fact, to think of his feeling himself,
her adversary in things of this fineness--to see him at all, in
short, brave a name that would represent him as in opposition--
was already to be nearly reduced to a visible smothering
of her cry of alarm. Should he guess they were having, in their
so occult manner, a HIGH fight, and that it was she, all the
while, in her supposed stupidity, who had made it high and was
keeping it high--in the event of his doing this before they could
leave town she should verily be lost.

The possible respite for her at Fawns would come from the fact
that observation, in him, there, would inevitably find some of
its directness diverted. This would be the case if only because
the remarkable strain of her father's placidity might be thought
of as likely to claim some larger part of his attention. Besides
which there would be always Charlotte herself to draw him off.
Charlotte would help him again, doubtless, to study anything,
right or left, that might be symptomatic; but Maggie could see
that this very fact might perhaps contribute, in its degree, to
protect the secret of her own fermentation. It is not even
incredible that she may have discovered the gleam of a comfort
that was to broaden in the conceivable effect on the Prince's
spirit, on his nerves, on his finer irritability, of some of the
very airs and aspects, the light graces themselves, of Mrs.
Verver's too perfect competence. What it would most come to,
after all, she said to herself, was a renewal for him of the
privilege of watching that lady watch her. Very well, then: with
the elements after all so mixed in him, how long would he go on
enjoying mere spectatorship of that act? For she had by this time
made up her mind that in Charlotte's company he deferred to
Charlotte's easier art of mounting guard. Wouldn't he get tired--
to put it only at that--of seeing her always on the rampart,
erect and elegant, with her lace-flounced parasol now folded and
now shouldered, march to and fro against a gold-coloured east or
west? Maggie had gone far, truly for a view of the question of
this particular reaction, and she was not incapable of pulling
herself up with the rebuke that she counted her chickens before
they were hatched. How sure she should have to be of so many
things before she might thus find a weariness in Amerigo's
expression and a logic in his weariness!

One of her dissimulated arts for meeting their tension,
meanwhile, was to interweave Mrs. Assingham as plausibly as
possible with the undulations of their surface, to bring it about
that she should join them, of an afternoon, when they drove
together or if they went to look at things--looking at things
being almost as much a feature of their life as if they were
bazaar-opening royalties. Then there were such combinations,
later in the day, as her attendance on them, and the Colonel's as
well, for such whimsical matters as visits to the opera no matter
who was singing, and sudden outbreaks of curiosity about the
British drama. The good couple from Cadogan Place could always
unprotestingly dine with them and "go on" afterwards to such
publicities as the Princess cultivated the boldness of now
perversely preferring. It may be said of her that, during these
passages, she plucked her sensations by the way, detached,
nervously, the small wild blossoms of her dim forest, so that she
could smile over them at least with the spacious appearance, for
her companions, for her husband above all, of bravely, of
altogether frivolously, going a-maying. She had her intense, her
smothered excitements, some of which were almost inspirations;
she had in particular the extravagant, positively at moments the
amused, sense of using her friend to the topmost notch,
accompanied with the high luxury of not having to explain. Never,
no never, should she have to explain to Fanny Assingham again--
who, poor woman, on her own side, would be charged, it might be
forever, with that privilege of the higher ingenuity. She put it
all off on Fanny, and the dear thing herself might henceforth
appraise the quantity. More and more magnificent now in her
blameless egoism, Maggie asked no questions of her, and thus only
signified the greatness of the opportunity she gave her. She
didn't care for what devotions, what dinners of their own the
Assinghams might have been "booked"; that was a detail, and she
could think without wincing of the ruptures and rearrangements to
which her service condemned them. It all fell in beautifully,
moreover; so that, as hard, at this time, in spite of her fever,
as a little pointed diamond, the Princess showed something of the
glitter of consciously possessing the constructive, the creative
hand. She had but to have the fancy of presenting herself, of
presenting her husband, in a certain high and convenient manner,
to make it natural they should go about with their gentleman and
their lady. To what else but this, exactly, had Charlotte, during
so many weeks of the earlier season, worked her up?--herself
assuming and discharging, so far as might be, the character and
office of one of those revolving subordinate presences that float
in the wake of greatness.

The precedent was therefore established and the group normally
constituted. Mrs. Assingham, meanwhile, at table, on the stairs,
in the carriage or the opera-box, might--with her constant
overflow of expression, for that matter, and its singularly
resident character where men in especial were concerned--look
across at Amerigo in whatever sense she liked: it was not of that
Maggie proposed to be afraid. She might warn him, she might
rebuke him, she might reassure him, she might--if it were
impossible not to--absolutely make love to him; even this was
open to her, as a matter simply between them, if it would help
her to answer for the impeccability he had guaranteed. And Maggie
desired in fact only to strike her as acknowledging the efficacy
of her aid when she mentioned to her one evening a small
project for the morrow, privately entertained--the idea,
irresistible, intense, of going to pay, at the Museum, a visit to
Mr. Crichton. Mr. Crichton, as Mrs. Assingham could easily
remember, was the most accomplished and obliging of public
functionaries, whom every one knew and who knew every one--who
had from the first, in particular, lent himself freely, and for
the love of art and history, to becoming one of the steadier
lights of Mr. Verver's adventurous path. The custodian of one of
the richest departments of the great national collection of
precious things, he could feel for the sincere private collector
and urge him on his way even when condemned to be present at his
capture of trophies sacrificed by the country to parliamentary
thrift. He carried his amiability to the point of saying that,
since London, under pettifogging views, had to miss, from time to
time, its rarest opportunities, he was almost consoled to see
such lost causes invariably wander at last, one by one, with the
tormenting tinkle of their silver bells, into the wondrous, the
already famous fold beyond the Mississippi. There was a charm in
his "almosts" that was not to be resisted, especially after Mr.
Verver and Maggie had grown sure--or almost, again--of enjoying
the monopoly of them; and on this basis of envy changed to
sympathy by the more familiar view of the father and the
daughter, Mr. Crichton had at both houses, though especially in
Eaton Square, learned to fill out the responsive and suggestive
character. It was at his invitation, Fanny well recalled, that
Maggie, one day, long before, and under her own attendance
precisely, had, for the glory of the name she bore, paid a visit
to one of the ampler shrines of the supreme exhibitory temple, an
alcove of shelves charged with the gold-and-brown, gold-and-
ivory, of old Italian bindings and consecrated to the records of
the Prince's race. It had been an impression that penetrated,
that remained; yet Maggie had sighed, ever so prettily, at its
having to be so superficial. She was to go back some day, to dive
deeper, to linger and taste; in spite of which, however, Mrs.
Assingham could not recollect perceiving that the visit had been
repeated. This second occasion had given way, for a long time, in
her happy life, to other occasions--all testifying, in their
degree, to the quality of her husband's blood, its rich mixture
and its many remarkable references; after which, no doubt, the
charming piety involved had grown, on still further grounds,
bewildered and faint.

It now appeared, none the less, that some renewed conversation
with Mr. Crichton had breathed on the faintness revivingly, and
Maggie mentioned her purpose as a conception of her very own, to
the success of which she designed to devote her morning. Visits
of gracious ladies, under his protection, lighted up rosily, for
this perhaps most flower-loving and honey-sipping member of the
great Bloomsbury hive, its packed passages and cells; and though
not sworn of the province toward which his friend had found
herself, according to her appeal to him, yearning again, nothing
was easier for him than to put her in relation with the presiding
urbanities. So it had been settled, Maggie said to Mrs.
Assingham, and she was to dispense with Amerigo's company. Fanny
was to remember later on that she had at first taken this last
fact for one of the finer notes of her young woman's detachment,
imagined she must be going alone because of the shade of irony
that, in these ambiguous days, her husband's personal presence
might be felt to confer, practically, on any tribute to his
transmitted significance. Then as, the next moment, she felt it
clear that so much plotted freedom was virtually a refinement of
reflection, an impulse to commemorate afresh whatever might still
survive of pride and hope, her sense of ambiguity happily fell
and she congratulated her companion on having anything so
exquisite to do and on being so exquisitely in the humour to do
it. After the occasion had come and gone she was confirmed in her
optimism; she made out, in the evening, that the hour spent among
the projected lights, the annals and illustrations, the
parchments and portraits, the emblazoned volumes and the murmured
commentary, had been for the Princess enlarging and inspiring.
Maggie had said to her some days before, very sweetly but very
firmly, "Invite us to dine, please, for Friday, and have any one
you like or you can--it doesn't in the least matter whom;" and
the pair in Cadogan Place had bent to this mandate with a
docility not in the least ruffled by all that it took for
granted.

It provided for an evening--this had been Maggie's view; and she
lived up to her view, in her friend's eyes, by treating the
occasion, more or less explicitly, as new and strange. The good
Assinghams had feasted in fact at the two other boards on a scale
so disproportionate to the scant solicitations of their own that
it was easy to make a joke of seeing how they fed at home, how
they met, themselves, the question of giving to eat. Maggie dined
with them, in short, and arrived at making her husband appear to
dine, much in the manner of a pair of young sovereigns who have,
in the frolic humour of the golden years of reigns, proposed
themselves to a pair of faithfully-serving subjects. She showed
an interest in their arrangements, an inquiring tenderness almost
for their economies; so that her hostess not unnaturally, as they
might have said, put it all down--the tone and the freedom of
which she set the example--to the effect wrought in her afresh by
one of the lessons learned, in the morning, at the altar of the
past. Hadn't she picked it up, from an anecdote or two offered
again to her attention, that there were, for princesses of such a
line, more ways than one of being a heroine? Maggie's way
to-night was to surprise them all, truly, by the extravagance of
her affability. She was doubtless not positively boisterous; yet,
though Mrs. Assingham, as a bland critic, had never doubted her
being graceful, she had never seen her put so much of it into
being what might have been called assertive. It was all a tune to
which Fanny's heart could privately palpitate: her guest was
happy, happy as a consequence of something that had occurred, but
she was making the Prince not lose a ripple of her laugh, though
not perhaps always enabling him to find it absolutely not
foolish. Foolish, in public, beyond a certain point, he was
scarce the man to brook his wife's being thought to be; so that
there hovered before their friend the possibility of some
subsequent scene between them, in the carriage or at home, of
slightly sarcastic inquiry, of promptly invited explanation; a
scene that, according as Maggie should play her part in it, might
or might not precipitate developments. What made these
appearances practically thrilling, meanwhile, was this mystery--a
mystery, it was clear, to Amerigo himself--of the incident or the
influence that had so peculiarly determined them.

The lady of Cadogan Place was to read deeper, however, within
three days, and the page was turned for her on the eve of her
young confidant's leaving London. The awaited migration to Fawns
was to take place on the morrow, and it was known meanwhile to
Mrs. Assingham that their party of four were to dine that night,
at the American Embassy, with another and a larger party; so that
the elder woman had a sense of surprise on receiving from the
younger, under date of six o'clock, a telegram requesting her
immediate attendance. "Please come to me at once; dress early, if
necessary, so that we shall have time: the carriage, ordered for
us, will take you back first." Mrs. Assingham, on quick
deliberation, dressed, though not perhaps with full lucidity, and
by seven o'clock was in Portland Place, where her friend,
"upstairs" and described to her on her arrival as herself engaged
in dressing, instantly received her. She knew on the spot, poor
Fanny, as she was afterwards to declare to the Colonel, that her
feared crisis had popped up as at the touch of a spring, that her
impossible hour was before her. Her impossible hour was the hour
of its coming out that she had known of old so much more than she
had ever said; and she had often put it to herself, in
apprehension, she tried to think even in preparation, that she
should recognise the approach of her doom by a consciousness akin
to that of the blowing open of a window on some night of the
highest wind and the lowest thermometer. It would be all in vain
to have crouched so long by the fire; the glass would have been
smashed, the icy air would fill the place. If the air in Maggie's
room then, on her going up, was not, as yet, quite the polar
blast she had expected, it was distinctly, none the less, such an
atmosphere as they had not hitherto breathed together. The
Princess, she perceived, was completely dressed--that business
was over; it added indeed to the effect of her importantly
awaiting the assistance she had summoned, of her showing a deck
cleared, so to speak, for action. Her maid had already left her,
and she presented herself, in the large, clear room, where
everything was admirable, but where nothing was out of place, as,
for the first time in her life rather "bedizened." Was it that
she had put on too many things, overcharged herself with jewels,
wore in particular more of them than usual, and bigger ones, in
her hair?--a question her visitor presently answered by
attributing this appearance largely to the bright red spot, red
as some monstrous ruby, that burned in either of her cheeks.
These two items of her aspect had, promptly enough, their own
light for Mrs. Assingham, who made out by it that nothing more
pathetic could be imagined than the refuge and disguise her
agitation had instinctively asked of the arts of dress,
multiplied to extravagance, almost to incoherence. She had had,
visibly, her idea--that of not betraying herself by inattentions
into which she had never yet fallen, and she stood there circled
about and furnished forth, as always, in a manner that testified
to her perfect little personal processes. It had ever been her
sign that she was, for all occasions, FOUND ready, without loose
ends or exposed accessories or unremoved superfluities; a
suggestion of the swept and garnished, in her whole splendid, yet
thereby more or less encumbered and embroidered setting, that
reflected her small still passion for order and symmetry, for
objects with their backs to the walls, and spoke even of some
probable reference, in her American blood, to dusting and
polishing New England grandmothers. If her apartment was
"princely," in the clearness of the lingering day, she looked as
if she had been carried there prepared, all attired and
decorated, like some holy image in a procession, and left,
precisely, to show what wonder she could work under pressure. Her
friend felt--how could she not?--as the truly pious priest might
feel when confronted, behind the altar, before the festa, with
his miraculous Madonna. Such an occasion would be grave, in
general, with all the gravity of what he might look for. But the
gravity to-night would be of the rarest; what he might look for
would depend so on what he could give.

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.