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Chapter 35

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
pax Britannica.

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
scared.

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."

"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?"

"'Told' me--?"

"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--?"

"Everything. I told him what I knew--and I told him how I knew
it."

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,
either."

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
doing so."

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
understands."

"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
extraordinary."

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,
"she MUST!"

"Well then--?"

"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
truth?"

"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
have lied?"

Maggie brought it out roundly. "He'll simply, he'll insistently
have lied."

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
think what he would--there had been three or four minutes during
which, while she asked him question upon question, she had
doubtless too little cared. And he had spoken, for his
remembrance, as fully as she could have wished; he had spoken,
oh, delightedly, for the "terms" on which his other visitors had
appeared to be with each other, and in fact for that conviction
of the nature and degree of their intimacy under which, in spite
of precautions, they hadn't been able to help leaving him. He had
observed and judged and not forgotten; he had been sure they were
great people, but no, ah no, distinctly, hadn't "liked" them as
he liked the Signora Principessa. Certainly--she had created no
vagueness about that--he had been in possession of her name and
address, for sending her both her cup and her account. But the
others he had only, always, wondered about--he had been sure they
would never come back. And as to the time of their visit, he
could place it, positively, to a day--by reason of a transaction
of importance, recorded in his books, that had occurred but a few
hours later. He had left her, in short, definitely rejoicing that
he had been able to make up to her for not having been quite
"square" over their little business by rendering her, so
unexpectedly, the service of this information. His joy, moreover,
was--as much as Amerigo would!--a matter of the personal interest
with which her kindness, gentleness, grace, her charming
presence and easy humanity and familiarity, had inspired him. All
of which, while, in thought, Maggie went over it again and again
--oh, over any imputable rashness of her own immediate passion
and pain, as well as over the rest of the straight little story
she had, after all, to tell--might very conceivably make a long
sum for the Prince to puzzle out.

There were meanwhile, after the Castledeans and those invited to
meet them had gone, and before Mrs. Rance and the Lutches had
come, three or four days during which she was to learn the full
extent of her need not to be penetrable; and then it was indeed
that she felt all the force, and threw herself upon all the help,
of the truth she had confided, several nights earlier, to Fanny
Assingham. She had known it in advance, had warned herself of it
while the house was full: Charlotte had designs upon her of a
nature best known to herself, and was only waiting for the better
opportunity of their finding themselves less companioned. This
consciousness had been exactly at the bottom of Maggie's wish to
multiply their spectators; there were moments for her,
positively, moments of planned postponement, of evasion scarcely
less disguised than studied, during which she turned over with
anxiety the different ways--there being two or three possible
ones--in which her young stepmother might, at need, seek to work
upon her. Amerigo's not having "told" her of his passage with his
wife gave, for Maggie, altogether a new aspect to Charlotte's
consciousness and condition--an aspect with which, for
apprehension, for wonder, and even, at moments, inconsequently
enough, for something like compassion, the Princess had now to
reckon. She asked herself--for she was capable of that--what he
had MEANT by keeping the sharer of his guilt in the dark about a
matter touching her otherwise so nearly; what he had meant, that
is, for this unmistakably mystified personage herself. Maggie
could imagine what he had meant for her--all sorts of thinkable
things, whether things of mere "form" or things of sincerity,
things of pity or things of prudence: he had meant, for instance,
in all probability, primarily, to conjure away any such
appearance of a changed relation between the two women as his
father-in-law might notice and follow up. It would have been open
to him however, given the pitch of their intimacy, to avert this
danger by some more conceivable course with Charlotte; since an
earnest warning, in fact, the full freedom of alarm, that of his
insisting to her on the peril of suspicion incurred, and on the
importance accordingly of outward peace at any price, would have
been the course really most conceivable. Instead of warning and
advising he had reassured and deceived her; so that our young
woman, who had been, from far back, by the habit, if her nature,
as much on her guard against sacrificing others as if she felt
the great trap of life mainly to be set for one's doing so, now
found herself attaching her fancy to that side of the situation
of the exposed pair which involved, for themselves at least, the
sacrifice of the least fortunate.

She never, at present, thought of what Amerigo might be
intending, without the reflection, by the same stroke, that,
whatever this quantity, he was leaving still more to her own
ingenuity. He was helping her, when the thing came to the test,
only by the polished, possibly almost too polished surface his
manner to his wife wore for an admiring world; and that, surely,
was entitled to scarcely more than the praise of negative
diplomacy. He was keeping his manner right, as she had related to
Mrs. Assingham; the case would have been beyond calculation,
truly, if, on top of everything, he had allowed it to go wrong.
She had hours of exaltation indeed when the meaning of all this
pressed in upon her as a tacit vow from him to abide without
question by whatever she should be able to achieve or think fit
to prescribe. Then it was that, even while holding her breath for
the awe of it, she truly felt almost able enough for anything. It
was as if she had passed, in a time incredibly short, from being
nothing for him to being all; it was as if, rightly noted, every
turn of his head, every tone of his voice, in these days, might
mean that there was but one way in which a proud man reduced to
abjection could hold himself. During those of Maggie's vigils in
which that view loomed largest, the image of her husband that it
thus presented to her gave out a beauty for the revelation of
which she struck herself as paying, if anything, all too little.
To make sure of it--to make sure of the beauty shining out of the
humility, and of the humility lurking in all the pride of his
presence--she would have gone the length of paying more yet, of
paying with difficulties and anxieties compared to which those
actually before her might have been as superficial as headaches
or rainy days.

The point at which these exaltations dropped, however, was the
point at which it was apt to come over her that if her
complications had been greater the question of paying would have
been limited still less to the liabilities of her own pocket. The
complications were verily great enough, whether for ingenuities
or sublimities, so long as she had to come back to it so often
that Charlotte, all the while, could only be struggling with
secrets sharper than her own. It was odd how that certainty again
and again determined and coloured her wonderments of detail; the
question, for instance, of HOW Amerigo, in snatched opportunities
of conference, put the haunted creature off with false
explanations, met her particular challenges and evaded--if that
was what he did do!--her particular demands. Even the conviction
that Charlotte was but awaiting some chance really to test her
trouble upon her lover's wife left Maggie's sense meanwhile open
as to the sight of gilt wires and bruised wings, the spacious but
suspended cage, the home of eternal unrest, of pacings, beatings,
shakings, all so vain, into which the baffled consciousness
helplessly resolved itself. The cage was the deluded condition,
and Maggie, as having known delusion--rather!--understood the
nature of cages. She walked round Charlotte's--cautiously and in
a very wide circle; and when, inevitably, they had to communicate
she felt herself, comparatively, outside, on the breast of
nature, and saw her companion's face as that of a prisoner
looking through bars. So it was that through bars, bars richly
gilt, but firmly, though discreetly, planted, Charlotte finally
struck her as making a grim attempt; from which, at first, the
Princess drew back as instinctively as if the door of the cage
had suddenly been opened from within.

Henry James

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