The resemblance had not been present to her on first coming out into the hot, still brightness of the Sunday afternoon — only the second Sunday, of all the summer, when the party of six, the party of seven including the Principino, had practically been without accessions or invasions; but within sight of Charlotte, seated far away, very much where she had expected to find her, the Princess fell to wondering if her friend wouldn’t be affected quite as she herself had been, that night on the terrace, under Mrs. Verver’s perceptive pursuit. The relation, today, had turned itself round; Charlotte was seeing her come, through patches of lingering noon, quite as she had watched Charlotte menace her through the starless dark; and there was a moment, that of her waiting a little as they thus met across the distance, when the interval was bridged by a recognition not less soundless, and to all appearance not less charged with strange meanings, than that of the other occasion. The point, however, was that they had changed places; Maggie had from her window, seen her stepmother leave the house — at so unlikely an hour, three o’clock of a canicular August, for a ramble in garden or grove — and had thereupon felt her impulse determined with the same sharpness that had made the spring of her companion’s three weeks before. It was the hottest day of the season, and the shaded siesta, for people all at their ease, would certainly rather have been prescribed; but our young woman had perhaps not yet felt it so fully brought home that such refinements of repose, among them, constituted the empty chair at the feast. This was the more distinct as the feast, literally, in the great bedimmed dining-room, the cool, ceremonious semblance of luncheon, had just been taking place without Mrs. Verver. She had been represented but by the plea of a bad headache, not reported to the rest of the company by her husband, but offered directly to Mr. Verver himself, on their having assembled, by her maid, deputed for the effect and solemnly producing it.
Maggie had sat down, with the others, to viands artfully iced, to the slow circulation of precious tinkling jugs, to marked reserves of reference in many directions — poor Fanny Assingham herself scarce thrusting her nose out of the padded hollow into which she had withdrawn. A consensus of languor, which might almost have been taken for a community of dread, ruled the scene — relieved only by the fitful experiments of Father Mitchell, good holy, hungry man, a trusted and overworked London friend and adviser, who had taken, for a week or two, the light neighbouring service, local rites flourishing under Maggie’s munificence, and was enjoying, as a convenience, all the bounties of the house. HE conversed undiscouraged, Father Mitchell — conversed mainly with the indefinite, wandering smile of the entertainers, and the Princess’s power to feel him on the whole a blessing for these occasions was not impaired by what was awkward in her consciousness of having, from the first of her trouble, really found her way without his guidance. She asked herself at times if he suspected how more than subtly, how perversely, she had dispensed with him, and she balanced between visions of all he must privately have guessed and certitudes that he had guessed nothing whatever. He might nevertheless have been so urbanely filling up gaps, at present, for the very reason that his instinct, sharper than the expression of his face, had sufficiently served him — made him aware of the thin ice, figuratively speaking, and of prolongations of tension, round about him, mostly foreign to the circles in which luxury was akin to virtue. Some day in some happier season, she would confess to him that she hadn’t confessed, though taking so much on her conscience; but just now she was carrying in her weak, stiffened hand a glass filled to the brim, as to which she had recorded a vow that no drop should overflow. She feared the very breath of a better wisdom, the jostle of the higher light, of heavenly help itself; and, in addition, however that might be, she drew breath this afternoon, as never yet, in an element heavy to oppression. Something grave had happened, somehow and somewhere, and she had, God knew, her choice of suppositions: her heart stood still when she wondered above all if the cord mightn’t at last have snapped between her husband and her father. She shut her eyes for dismay at the possibility of such a passage — there moved before them the procession of ugly forms it might have taken. “Find out for yourself!” she had thrown to Amerigo, for her last word, on the question of who else “knew,” that night of the breaking of the Bowl; and she flattered herself that she hadn’t since then helped him, in her clear consistency, by an inch. It was what she had given him, all these weeks, to be busy with, and she had again and again lain awake for the obsession of this sense of his uncertainty ruthlessly and endlessly playing with his dignity. She had handed him over to an ignorance that couldn’t even try to become indifferent and that yet wouldn’t project itself, either, into the cleared air of conviction. In proportion as he was generous it had bitten into his spirit, and more than once she had said to herself that to break the spell she had cast upon him and that the polished old ivory of her father’s inattackable surface made so absolute, he would suddenly commit some mistake or some violence, smash some windowpane for air, fail even of one of his blest inveteracies of taste. In that way, fatally, he would have put himself in the wrong — blighting by a single false step the perfection of his outward show.
These shadows rose and fell for her while Father Mitchell prattled; with other shadows as well, those that hung over Charlotte herself, those that marked her as a prey to equal suspicions — to the idea, in particular, of a change, such a change as she didn’t dare to face, in the relations of the two men. Or there were yet other possibilities, as it seemed to Maggie; there were always too many, and all of them things of evil when one’s nerves had at last done for one all that nerves could do; had left one in a darkness of prowling dangers that was like the predicament of the night-watcher in a beast-haunted land who has no more means for a fire. She might, with such nerves, have supposed almost anything of any one; anything, almost, of poor Bob Assingham, condemned to eternal observances and solemnly appreciating her father’s wine; anything, verily, yes, of the good priest, as he finally sat back with fat folded hands and twiddled his thumbs on his stomach. The good priest looked hard at the decanters, at the different dishes of dessert — he eyed them, half-obliquely, as if THEY might have met him today, for conversation, better than any one present. But the Princess had her fancy at last about that too; she was in the midst of a passage, before she knew it, between Father Mitchell and Charlotte — some approach he would have attempted with her, that very morning perhaps, to the circumstance of an apparent detachment, recently noted in her, from any practice of devotion. He would have drawn from this, say, his artless inference — taken it for a sign of some smothered inward trouble and pointed, naturally, the moral that the way out of such straits was not through neglect of the grand remedy. He had possibly prescribed contrition — he had at any rate quickened in her the beat of that false repose to which our young woman’s own act had devoted her at her all so deluded instance. The falsity of it had laid traps compared to which the imputation of treachery even accepted might have seemed a path of roses. The acceptance, strangely, would have left her nothing to do — she could have remained, had she liked, all insolently passive; whereas the failure to proceed against her, as it might have been called, left her everything, and all the more that it was wrapped so in confidence. She had to confirm, day after day, the rightness of her cause and the justice and felicity of her exemption — so that wouldn’t there have been, fairly, in any explicit concern of Father Mitchell’s, depths of practical derision of her success?
The question was provisionally answered, at all events, by the time the party at luncheon had begun to disperse — with Maggie’s version of Mrs. Verver sharp to the point of representing her pretext for absence as a positive flight from derision. She met the good priest’s eyes before they separated, and priests were really, at the worst, so to speak, such wonderful people that she believed him for an instant on the verge of saying to her, in abysmal softness: “Go to Mrs. Verver, my child — YOU go: you’ll find that you can help her.” This didn’t come, however; nothing came but the renewed twiddle of thumbs over the satisfied stomach and the full flush, the comical candour, of reference to the hand employed at Fawns for mayonnaise of salmon. Nothing came but the receding backs of each of the others — her father’s slightly bent shoulders, in especial, which seemed to weave his spell, by the force of habit, not less patiently than if his wife had been present. Her husband indeed was present to feel anything there might be to feel — which was perhaps exactly why this personage was moved promptly to emulate so definite an example of “sloping.” He had his occupations — books to arrange perhaps even at Fawns; the idea of the siesta, moreover, in all the conditions, had no need to be loudly invoked. Maggie, was, in the event, left alone for a minute with Mrs. Assingham, who, after waiting for safety, appeared to have at heart to make a demonstration. The stage of “talking over” had long passed for them; when they communicated now it was on quite ultimate facts; but Fanny desired to testify to the existence, on her part, of an attention that nothing escaped. She was like the kind lady who, happening to linger at the circus while the rest of the spectators pour grossly through the exits, falls in with the overworked little trapezist girl — the acrobatic support presumably of embarrassed and exacting parents — and gives her, as an obscure and meritorious artist, assurance of benevolent interest. What was clearest, always, in our young woman’s imaginings, was the sense of being herself left, for any occasion, in the breach. She was essentially there to bear the burden, in the last resort, of surrounding omissions and evasions, and it was eminently to that office she had been today abandoned — with this one alleviation, as appeared, of Mrs. Assingham’s keeping up with her. Mrs. Assingham suggested that she too was still on the ramparts — though her gallantry proved indeed after a moment to consist not a little of her curiosity. She had looked about and seen their companions beyond earshot.
“Don’t you really want us to go —?”
Maggie found a faint smile. “Do you really want to —?”
It made her friend colour. “Well then — no. But we WOULD, you know, at a look from you. We’d pack up and be off — as a sacrifice.”
“Ah, make no sacrifice,” said Maggie. “See me through.”
“That’s it — that’s all I want. I should be too base —! Besides,” Fanny went on, “you’re too splendid.”
“Splendid. Also, you know, you ARE all but ‘through.’ You’ve done it,” said Mrs. Assingham. But Maggie only half took it from her.
“What does it strike you that I’ve done?”
“What you wanted. They’re going.”
Maggie continued to look at her. “Is that what I wanted?”
“Oh, it wasn’t for you to say. That was his business.”
“My father’s?” Maggie asked after an hesitation.
“Your father’s. He has chosen — and now she knows. She sees it all before her — and she can’t speak, or resist, or move a little finger. That’s what’s the matter with HER,” said Fanny Assingham.
It made a picture, somehow, for the Princess, as they stood there — the picture that the words of others, whatever they might be, always made for her, even when her vision was already charged, better than any words of her own. She saw, round about her, through the chinks of the shutters, the hard glare of nature — saw Charlotte, somewhere in it, virtually at bay, and yet denied the last grace of any protecting truth. She saw her off somewhere all unaided, pale in her silence and taking in her fate. “Has she told you?” she then asked.
Her companion smiled superior. “I don’t need to be told — either! I see something, thank God, every day.” And then as Maggie might appear to be wondering what, for instance: “I see the long miles of ocean and the dreadful great country, State after State — which have never seemed to me so big or so terrible. I see THEM at last, day by day and step by step, at the far end — and I see them never come back. But NEVER— simply. I see the extraordinary ‘interesting’ place — which I’ve never been to, you know, and you have — and the exact degree in which she will be expected to be interested.”
“She WILL be,” Maggie presently replied. “Expected?”
For a little, after this, their eyes met on it; at the end of which Fanny said: “She’ll be-yes — what she’ll HAVE to be. And it will be-won’t it? for ever and ever.” She spoke as abounding in her friend’s sense, but it made Maggie still only look at her.
These were large words and large visions — all the more that now, really, they spread and spread. In the midst of them, however, Mrs. Assingham had soon enough continued. “When I talk of ‘knowing,’ indeed, I don’t mean it as you would have a right to do. You know because you see — and I don’t see HIM. I don’t make him out,” she almost crudely confessed.
Maggie again hesitated. “You mean you don’t make out Amerigo?”
But Fanny shook her head, and it was quite as if, as an appeal to one’s intelligence, the making out of Amerigo had, in spite of everything, long been superseded. Then Maggie measured the reach of her allusion, and how what she next said gave her meaning a richness. No other name was to be spoken, and Mrs. Assingham had taken that, without delay, from her eyes — with a discretion, still, that fell short but by an inch. “You know how he feels.”
Maggie at this then slowly matched her headshake. “I know nothing.”
“You know how YOU feel.”
But again she denied it. “I know nothing. If I did —!”
“Well, if you did?” Fanny asked as she faltered.
She had had enough, however. “I should die,” she said as she turned away.
She went to her room, through the quiet house; she roamed there a moment, picking up, pointlessly, a different fan, and then took her way to the shaded apartments in which, at this hour, the Principino would be enjoying his nap. She passed through the first empty room, the day nursery, and paused at an open door. The inner room, large, dim and cool, was equally calm; her boy’s ample, antique, historical, royal crib, consecrated, reputedly, by the guarded rest of heirs-apparent, and a gift, early in his career, from his grandfather, ruled the scene from the centre, in the stillness of which she could almost hear the child’s soft breathing. The prime protector of his dreams was installed beside him; her father sat there with as little motion — with head thrown back and supported, with eyes apparently closed, with the fine foot that was so apt to betray nervousness at peace upon the other knee, with the unfathomable heart folded in the constant flawless freshness of the white waistcoat that could always receive in its armholes the firm prehensile thumbs. Mrs. Noble had majestically melted, and the whole place signed her temporary abdication; yet the actual situation was regular, and Maggie lingered but to look. She looked over her fan, the top of which was pressed against her face, long enough to wonder if her father really slept or if, aware of her, he only kept consciously quiet. Did his eyes truly fix her between lids partly open, and was she to take this — his forebearance from any question — only as a sign again that everything was left to her? She at all events, for a minute, watched his immobility — then, as if once more renewing her total submission, returned, without a sound, to her own quarters.
A strange impulse was sharp in her, but it was not, for her part, the desire to shift the weight. She could as little have slept as she could have slept that morning, days before, when she had watched the first dawn from her window. Turned to the east, this side of her room was now in shade, with the two wings of the casement folded back and the charm she always found in her seemingly perched position — as if her outlook, from above the high terraces, was that of some castle-tower mounted on a rock. When she stood there she hung over, over the gardens and the woods — all of which drowsed below her, at this hour, in the immensity of light. The miles of shade looked hot, the banks of flowers looked dim; the peacocks on the balustrades let their tails hang limp and the smaller birds lurked among the leaves. Nothing therefore would have appeared to stir in the brilliant void if Maggie, at the moment she was about to turn away, had not caught sight of a moving spot, a clear green sunshade in the act of descending a flight of steps. It passed down from the terrace, receding, at a distance, from sight, and carried, naturally, so as to conceal the head and back of its bearer; but Maggie had quickly recognised the white dress and the particular motion of this adventurer — had taken in that Charlotte, of all people, had chosen the glare of noon for an exploration of the gardens, and that she could be betaking herself only to some unvisited quarter deep in them, or beyond them, that she had already marked as a superior refuge. The Princess kept her for a few minutes in sight, watched her long enough to feel her, by the mere betrayal of her pace and direction, driven in a kind of flight, and then understood, for herself, why the act of sitting still had become impossible to either of them. There came to her, confusedly, some echo of an ancient fable — some vision of Io goaded by the gadfly or of Ariadne roaming the lone sea-strand. It brought with it all the sense of her own intention and desire; she too might have been, for the hour, some far-off harassed heroine — only with a part to play for which she knew, exactly, no inspiring precedent. She knew but that, all the while — all the while of her sitting there among the others without her — she had wanted to go straight to this detached member of the party and make somehow, for her support, the last demonstration. A pretext was all that was needful, and Maggie after another instant had found one. She had caught a glimpse, before Mrs. Verver disappeared, of her carrying a book — made out, half lost in the folds of her white dress, the dark cover of a volume that was to explain her purpose in case of her being met with surprise, and the mate of which, precisely, now lay on Maggie’s table. The book was an old novel that the Princess had a couple of days before mentioned having brought down from Portland Place in the charming original form of its three volumes. Charlotte had hailed, with a specious glitter of interest, the opportunity to read it, and our young woman had, thereupon, on the morrow, directed her maid to carry it to Mrs. Verver’s apartments. She was afterwards to observe that this messenger, unintelligent or inadvertent, had removed but one of the volumes, which happened not to be the first. Still possessed, accordingly, of the first while Charlotte, going out, fantastically, at such an hour, to cultivate romance in an arbour, was helplessly armed with the second, Maggie prepared on the spot to sally forth with succour. The right volume, with a parasol, was all she required — in addition, that is, to the bravery of her general idea. She passed again through the house, unchallenged, and emerged upon the terrace, which she followed, hugging the shade, with that consciousness of turning the tables on her friend which we have already noted. But so far as she went, after descending into the open and beginning to explore the grounds, Mrs. Verver had gone still further — with the increase of the oddity, moreover, of her having exchanged the protection of her room for these exposed and shining spaces. It was not, fortunately, however, at last, that by persisting in pursuit one didn’t arrive at regions of admirable shade: this was the asylum, presumably, that the poor wandering woman had had in view — several wide alleys, in particular, of great length, densely overarched with the climbing rose and the honeysuckle and converging, in separate green vistas, at a sort of umbrageous temple, an ancient rotunda, pillared and statued, niched and roofed, yet with its uncorrected antiquity, like that of everything else at Fawns, conscious hitherto of no violence from the present and no menace from the future. Charlotte had paused there, in her frenzy, or what ever it was to be called; the place was a conceivable retreat, and she was staring before her, from the seat to which she appeared to have sunk, all unwittingly, as Maggie stopped at the beginning of one of the perspectives.
It was a repetition more than ever then of the evening on the terrace; the distance was too great to assure her she had been immediately seen, but the Princess waited, with her intention, as Charlotte on the other occasion had waited — allowing, oh allowing, for the difference of the intention! Maggie was full of the sense of THAT— so full that it made her impatient; whereupon she moved forward a little, placing herself in range of the eyes that had been looking off elsewhere, but that she had suddenly called to recognition. Charlotte had evidently not dreamed of being followed, and instinctively, with her pale stare, she stiffened herself for protest. Maggie could make that out — as well as, further, however, that her second impression of her friend’s approach had an instant effect on her attitude. The Princess came nearer, gravely and in silence, but fairly paused again, to give her time for whatever she would. Whatever she would, whatever she could, was what Maggie wanted — wanting above all to make it as easy for her as the case permitted. That was not what Charlotte had wanted the other night, but this never mattered — the great thing was to allow her, was fairly to produce in her, the sense of highly choosing. At first, clearly, she had been frightened; she had not been pursued, it had quickly struck her, without some design on the part of her pursuer, and what might she not be thinking of in addition but the way she had, when herself the pursuer, made her stepdaughter take in her spirit and her purpose? It had sunk into Maggie at the time, that hard insistence, and Mrs. Verver had felt it and seen it and heard it sink; which wonderful remembrance of pressure successfully applied had naturally, till now, remained with her. But her stare was like a projected fear that the buried treasure, so dishonestly come by, for which her companion’s still countenance, at the hour and afterwards, had consented to serve as the deep soil, might have worked up again to the surface, to be thrown back upon her hands. Yes, it was positive that during one of these minutes the Princess had the vision of her particular alarm. “It’s her lie, it’s her lie that has mortally disagreed with her; she can keep down no longer her rebellion at it, and she has come to retract it, to disown it and denounce it — to give me full in my face the truth instead.” This, for a concentrated instant, Maggie felt her helplessly gasp — but only to let it bring home the indignity, the pity of her state. She herself could but tentatively hover, place in view the book she carried, look as little dangerous, look as abjectly mild, as possible; remind herself really of people she had read about in stories of the wild west, people who threw up their hands, on certain occasions, as a sign they weren’t carrying revolvers. She could almost have smiled at last, troubled as she yet knew herself, to show how richly she was harmless; she held up her volume, which was so weak a weapon, and while she continued, for consideration, to keep her distance, she explained with as quenched a quaver as possible. “I saw you come out — saw you from my window, and couldn’t bear to think you should find yourself here without the beginning of your book. THIS is the beginning; you’ve got the wrong volume, and I’ve brought you out the right.”
She remained after she had spoken; it was like holding a parley with a possible adversary, and her intense, her exalted little smile asked for formal leave. “May I come nearer now?” she seemed to say — as to which, however, the next minute, she saw Charlotte’s reply lose itself in a strange process, a thing of several sharp stages, which she could stand there and trace. The dread, after a minute, had dropped from her face; though, discernibly enough, she still couldn’t believe in her having, in so strange a fashion, been deliberately made up to. If she had been made up to, at least, it was with an idea — the idea that had struck her at first as necessarily dangerous. That it wasn’t, insistently wasn’t, this shone from Maggie with a force finally not to be resisted; and on that perception, on the immense relief so constituted, everything had by the end of three minutes extraordinarily changed. Maggie had come out to her, really, because she knew her doomed, doomed to a separation that was like a knife in her heart; and in the very sight of her uncontrollable, her blinded physical quest of a peace not to be grasped, something of Mrs. Assingham’s picture of her as thrown, for a grim future, beyond the great sea and the great continent had at first found fulfilment. She had got away, in this fashion — burning behind her, almost, the ships of disguise — to let her horror of what was before her play up without witnesses; and even after Maggie’s approach had presented an innocent front it was still not to be mistaken that she bristled with the signs of her extremity. It was not to be said for them, either, that they were draped at this hour in any of her usual graces; unveiled and all but unashamed, they were tragic to the Princess in spite of the dissimulation that, with the return of comparative confidence, was so promptly to operate. How tragic, in essence, the very change made vivid, the instant stiffening of the spring of pride — this for possible defence if not for possible aggression. Pride indeed, the next moment, had become the mantle caught up for protection and perversity; she flung it round her as a denial of any loss of her freedom. To be doomed was, in her situation, to have extravagantly incurred a doom, so that to confess to wretchedness was, by the same stroke, to confess to falsity. She wouldn’t confess, she didn’t — a thousand times no; she only cast about her, and quite frankly and fiercely, for something else that would give colour to her having burst her bonds. Her eyes expanded, her bosom heaved as she invoked it, and the effect upon Maggie was verily to wish she could only help her to it. She presently got up — which seemed to mean “Oh, stay if you like!” and when she had moved about awhile at random, looking away, looking at anything, at everything but her visitor; when she had spoken of the temperature and declared that she revelled in it; when she had uttered her thanks for the book, which, a little incoherently, with her second volume, she perhaps found less clever than she expected; when she had let Maggie approach sufficiently closer to lay, untouched, the tribute in question on a bench and take up obligingly its superfluous mate: when she had done these things she sat down in another place, more or less visibly in possession of her part. Our young woman was to have passed, in all her adventure, no stranger moments; for she not only now saw her companion fairly agree to take her then for the poor little person she was finding it so easy to appear, but fell, in a secret, responsive ecstasy, to wondering if there were not some supreme abjection with which she might be inspired. Vague, but increasingly brighter, this possibility glimmered on her. It at last hung there adequately plain to Charlotte that she had presented herself once more to (as they said) grovel; and that, truly, made the stage large. It had absolutely, within the time, taken on the dazzling merit of being large for each of them alike.
“I’m glad to see you alone — there’s something I’ve been wanting to say to you. I’m tired,” said Mrs. Verver, “I’m tired —!”
“Tired —?” It had dropped the next thing; it couldn’t all come at once; but Maggie had already guessed what it was, and the flush of recognition was in her face.
“Tired of this life — the one we’ve been leading. You like it, I know, but I’ve dreamed another dream.” She held up her head now; her lighted eyes more triumphantly rested; she was finding, she was following her way. Maggie, by the same influence, sat in sight of it; there was something she was SAVING, some quantity of which she herself was judge; and it was for a long moment, even with the sacrifice the Princess had come to make, a good deal like watching her, from the solid shore, plunge into uncertain, into possibly treacherous depths. “I see something else,” she went on; “I’ve an idea that greatly appeals to me — I’ve had it for a long time. It has come over me that we’re wrong. Our real life isn’t here.”
Maggie held her breath. “‘Ours’—?”
“My husband’s and mine. I’m not speaking for you.”
“Oh!” said Maggie, only praying not to be, not even to appear, stupid.
“I’m speaking for ourselves. I’m speaking,” Charlotte brought out, “for HIM.”
“I see. For my father.”
“For your father. For whom else?” They looked at each other hard now, but Maggie’s face took refuge in the intensity of her interest. She was not at all even so stupid as to treat her companion’s question as requiring an answer; a discretion that her controlled stillness had after an instant justified. “I must risk your thinking me selfish — for of course you know what it involves. Let me admit it — I AM selfish. I place my husband first.”
“Well,” said Maggie smiling and smiling, “since that’s where I place mine —!”
“You mean you’ll have no quarrel with me? So much the better then; for,” Charlotte went on with a higher and higher flight, “my plan is completely formed.”
Maggie waited — her glimmer had deepened; her chance somehow was at hand. The only danger was her spoiling it; she felt herself skirting an abyss. “What then, may I ask IS your plan?”
It hung fire but ten seconds; it came out sharp. “To take him home — to his real position. And not to wait.”
“Do you mean — a — this season?”
“I mean immediately. And — I may as well tell you now — I mean for my own time. I want,” Charlotte said, “to have him at last a little to myself; I want, strange as it may seem to you”— and she gave it all its weight “to KEEP the man I’ve married. And to do so, I see, I must act.”
Maggie, with the effort still to follow the right line, felt herself colour to the eyes. “Immediately?” she thoughtfully echoed.
“As soon as we can get off. The removal of everything is, after all, but a detail. That can always be done; with money, as he spends it, everything can. What I ask for,” Charlotte declared, “is the definite break. And I wish it now.” With which her head, like her voice rose higher. “Oh,” she added, “I know my difficulty!”
Far down below the level of attention, in she could scarce have said what sacred depths, Maggie’s inspiration had come, and it had trembled the next moment into sound. “Do you mean I’M your difficulty?”
“You and he together — since it’s always with you that I’ve had to see him. But it’s a difficulty that I’m facing, if you wish to know; that I’ve already faced; that I propose to myself to surmount. The struggle with it — none too pleasant — hasn’t been for me, as you may imagine, in itself charming; I’ve felt in it at times, if I must tell you all, too great and too strange, an ugliness. Yet I believe it may succeed.”
She had risen, with this, Mrs. Verver, and had moved, for the emphasis of it, a few steps away; while Maggie, motionless at first, but sat and looked at her. “You want to take my father FROM me?”
The sharp, successful, almost primitive wail in it made Charlotte turn, and this movement attested for the Princess the felicity of her deceit. Something in her throbbed as it had throbbed the night she stood in the drawing-room and denied that she had suffered. She was ready to lie again if her companion would but give her the opening. Then she should know she had done all. Charlotte looked at her hard, as if to compare her face with her note of resentment; and Maggie, feeling this, met it with the signs of an impression that might pass for the impression of defeat. “I want really to possess him,” said Mrs. Verver. “I happen also to feel that he’s worth it.”
Maggie rose as if to receive her. “Oh — worth it!” she wonderfully threw off.
The tone, she instantly saw, again had its effect: Charlotte flamed aloft — might truly have been believing in her passionate parade. “You’ve thought YOU’VE known what he’s worth?”
“Indeed then, my dear, I believe I have — as I believe I still do.”
She had given it, Maggie, straight back, and again it had not missed. Charlotte, for another moment, only looked at her; then broke into the words — Maggie had known they would come — of which she had pressed the spring. “How I see that you loathed our marriage!”
“Do you ASK me?” Maggie after an instant demanded.
Charlotte had looked about her, picked up the parasol she had laid on a bench, possessed herself mechanically of one of the volumes of the relegated novel and then, more consciously, flung it down again: she was in presence, visibly, of her last word. She opened her sunshade with a click; she twirled it on her shoulder in her pride. “‘Ask’ you? Do I need? How I see,” she broke out, “that you’ve worked against me!”
“Oh, oh, oh!” the Princess exclaimed.
Her companion, leaving her, had reached one of the archways, but on this turned round with a flare. “You haven’t worked against me?”
Maggie took it and for a moment kept it; held it, with closed eyes, as if it had been some captured fluttering bird pressed by both hands to her breast. Then she opened her eyes to speak. “What does it matter — if I’ve failed?”
“You recognise then that you’ve failed?” asked Charlotte from the threshold.
Maggie waited; she looked, as her companion had done a moment before, at the two books on the seat; she put them together and laid them down; then she made up her mind. “I’ve failed!” she sounded out before Charlotte, having given her time, walked away. She watched her, splendid and erect, float down the long vista; then she sank upon a seat. Yes, she had done all.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10