The Golden Bowl Chapter 1

Charlotte, halfway up the ‘monumental’ staircase, had begun by waiting alone – waiting to be rejoined by her companion, who had gone down all the way, as in common kindness bound, and who, his duty performed, would know where to find her. She was meanwhile, though extremely apparent, not perhaps absolutely advertised; but she wouldn’t have cared if she had been – so little was it by this time her first occasion of facing society with a consciousness materially, with a confidence quite splendidly, enriched. For a couple of years now she had known as never before what it was to look ‘well’ – to look, that is, as well as she had always felt, from far back, that in certain conditions she might. On such an evening as this, that of a great official party in the full flush of the London spring-time, the conditions affected her, her nerves, her senses, her imagination, as all profusely present; so that perhaps at no moment yet had she been so justified of her faith as at the particular instant of our being again concerned with her, that of her chancing to glance higher up from where she stood and meeting in consequence the quiet eyes of Colonel Assingham, who had his elbows on the broad balustrade of the great gallery overhanging the staircase and who immediately exchanged with her one of his most artlessly familiar signals. This simplicity of his visual attention struck her, even with the other things she had to think about, as the quietest note in the whole high pitch – much in fact as if she had pressed a finger on a chord or a key and created, for the number of seconds, an arrest of vibration, a more muffled thump. The sight of him suggested indeed that Fanny would be there, though so far as opportunity went she hadn’t seen her. This was about the limit of what it could suggest.

The air, however, had suggestions enough – it abounded in them, many of them precisely helping to constitute those conditions with which, for our young woman, the hour was brilliantly crowned. She was herself in truth crowned, and it all hung together, melted together, in light and colour and sound: the unsurpassed diamonds that her head so happily carried, the other jewels, the other perfections of aspect and arrangement that made her personal scheme a success, the proved private theory that materials to work with had been all she required and that there were none too precious for her to understand and use – to which might be added lastly, as the strong-scented flower of the total sweetness, an easy command, a high enjoyment, of her crisis. For a crisis she was ready to take it, and this ease it was, doubtless, that helped her, while she waited, to the right assurance, to the right indifference, to the right expression, and above all, as she felt, to the right view of her opportunity for happiness – unless indeed the opportunity itself, rather, were, in its mere strange amplitude, the producing, the precipitating cause. The ordered revellers, rustling and shining, with sweep of train and glitter of star and clink of sword, and yet for all this but so imperfectly articulate, so vaguely vocal – the double stream of the coming and the going, flowing together where she stood, passed her, brushed her, treated her to much crude contemplation and now and then to a spasm of speech, an offered hand, even in some cases to an unencouraged pause; but she missed no countenance and invited no protection: she fairly liked to be, so long as she might, just as she was – exposed a little to the public, no doubt, in her unaccompanied state, but, even if it were a bit brazen, careless of queer reflexions on the dull polish of London faces, and exposed, since it was a question of exposure, to much more competent recognitions of her own. She hoped no one would stop – she was positively keeping herself; it was her idea to mark in a particular manner the importance of something that had just happened. She knew how she should mark it, and what she was doing there made already a beginning.

When she presently therefore from her vantage saw the Prince come back she had an impression of all the place as higher and wider and more appointed for great moments; with its dome of lustres lifted, its ascents and descents more majestic, its marble tiers more vividly overhung, its numerosity of royalties, foreign and domestic, more unprecedented, its symbolism of ‘State’ hospitality both emphasised and refined. This was doubtless a large consequence of a fairly familiar cause, a considerable inward stir to spring from the mere vision, striking as that might be, of Amerigo in a crowd; but she had her reasons, she held them there, she carried them in fact, responsibly and overtly, as she carried her head, her high tiara, her folded fan, her indifferent unattended eminence; and it was when he reached her and she could, taking his arm, show herself as placed in her relation, that she felt supremely justified. It was her notion of course that she gave a glimpse of but few of her grounds for this discrimination – indeed of the most evident alone; yet she would have been half-willing it should be guessed how she drew inspiration, drew support, in quantity sufficient for almost anything, from the individual value that, through all the picture, her husband’s son-in-law kept for the eye, deriving it from his fine unconscious way, in the swarming social sum, of outshining, overlooking and overtopping. It was as if in separation, even the shortest, she half-forgot or disbelieved how he affected her sight, so that reappearance had in him each time a virtue of its own – a kind of disproportionate intensity suggesting his connexion with occult sources of renewal. What did he do when he was away from her that made him always come back only looking, as she would have called it, ‘more so’? Superior to any shade of cabotinage,1 he yet almost resembled an actor who, between his moments on the stage, revisits his dressing-room, and, before the glass, pressed by his need of effect, retouches his make-up. The Prince was at present for instance, though he had quitted her but ten minutes before, still more than then the person it pleased her to be left with – a truth that had all its force for her while he made her his care for their conspicuous return together to the upper rooms. Conspicuous beyond any wish they could entertain was what, poor wonderful man, he couldn’t help making it; and when she raised her eyes again, on the ascent, to Bob Assingham, still aloft in his gallery and still looking down at her, she was aware that, in spite of hovering and warning inward voices, she even enjoyed the testimony rendered by his lonely vigil to the lustre she reflected.

He was always lonely at great parties, the dear Colonel – it wasn’t in such places that the seed he sowed at home was ever reaped by him; but nobody could have seemed to mind it less, to brave it with more bronzed indifference; so markedly that he moved about less like one of the guests than like some quite presentable person in charge of the police arrangements or the electric light. To Mrs Verver, as will be seen, he represented, with the perfect good faith of his apparent blankness, something definite enough; though her bravery was not thereby too blighted for her to feel herself calling him to witness that the only witchcraft her companion had used, within the few minutes, was that of attending Maggie, who had withdrawn from the scene, to her carriage. Notified at all events of Fanny’s probable presence, Charlotte was for a while after this divided between the sense of it as a fact somehow to reckon with and deal with, which was a perception that made in its degree for the prudence, the pusillanimity of postponement, of avoidance – and a quite other feeling, an impatience that presently ended by prevailing, an eagerness, really, to be suspected, sounded, veritably arraigned, if only that she might have the bad moment over, if only that she might prove to herself, let alone to Mrs Assingham also, that she could convert it to good; if only in short to be ‘square’, as they said, with her question. For herself indeed particularly it wasn’t a question; but something in her bones told her that Fanny would treat it as one, and there was truly nothing that from this friend she wasn’t bound in decency to take. She might hand things back with every tender precaution, with acknowledgements and assurances, but she owed it to them in any case, and owed it to all Mrs Assingham had done for her, not to get rid of them without having well unwrapped them and turned them over.

To-night, as happened – and she recognised it more and more, with the ebbing minutes, as an influence of everything about her – to-night exactly she would, no doubt, since she knew why, be as firm as she might at any near moment again hope to be for going through that process with the right temper and tone. She said after a little to the Prince ‘Stay with me; let no one take you; for I want her, yes, I do want her, to see us together, and the sooner the better’ – said it to keep her hand on him through constant diversions, and made him in fact by saying it profess a momentary vagueness. She had to explain to him that it was Fanny Assingham she wanted to see – who clearly would be there, since the Colonel never either stirred without her or, once arrived, concerned himself for her fate; and she had further, after Amerigo had met her with ‘See us together? why in the world? hasn’t she often seen us together?’ to inform him that what had elsewhere and otherwise happened didn’t now matter and that she at any rate well knew for the occasion what she was about. ‘You’re strange, cara mia,’ he consentingly enough dropped; but, for whatever strangeness, he kept her, as they circulated, from being waylaid, even remarking to her afresh, as he had often done before, on the help rendered in such situations by the intrinsic oddity of the London ‘squash’, a thing of vague slow senseless eddies, revolving as in fear of some menace of conversation suspended over it, the drop of which, with a consequent refreshing splash or spatter, yet never took place. Of course she was strange; this, as they went, Charlotte knew for herself: how could she be anything else when the situation holding her, and holding him, for that matter, just as much, had so the stamp of it? She had already accepted her consciousness, as we have already noted, that a crisis for them all was in the air; and when such hours weren’t depressing, which was the form indeed in which she had mainly known them, they were apparently in a high degree exhilarating.

Later on, in a corner to which, at sight of an empty sofa, Mrs Assingham had, after a single attentive arrest, led her with a certain earnestness, this vision of the critical was much more sharpened than blurred. Fanny had taken it from her: yes, she was there with Amerigo alone, Maggie having come with them and then, within ten minutes, changed her mind, repented and departed. ‘So you’re staying on together without her?’ the elder woman had asked; and it was Charlotte’s answer to this that had determined for them, quite indeed according to the latter’s expectation, the need of some seclusion and her companion’s pounce at the sofa. They were staying on together alone, and – oh distinctly! – it was alone that Maggie had driven away, her father, as usual, not having managed to come. ‘ “As usual” –?’ Mrs Assingham had seemed to wonder; Mr Verver’s reluctances not having, she in fact quite intimated, hitherto struck her. Charlotte responded at any rate that his indisposition to go out had lately much increased – even though to-night, as she admitted, he had pleaded his not feeling well. Maggie had wished to stay with him – for the Prince and she, dining out, had afterwards called in Portland Place, whence, in the event, they had brought her, Charlotte, on. Maggie had come but to oblige her father – she had urged the two others to go without her; then she had yielded for the time to Mr Verver’s persuasion. But here, when they had, after the long wait in the carriage, fairly got in; here, once up the stairs and with the rooms before them, remorse had ended by seizing her: she had listened to no other remonstrance, and at present therefore, as Charlotte put it, the two were doubtless making together a little party at home. But it was all right – so Charlotte also put it: there was nothing in the world they liked better than these snatched felicities, little parties, long talks, with ‘I’ll come to you to-morrow,’ and ‘No, I’ll come to you,’ make-believe renewals of their old life. They were fairly at times, the dear things, like children playing at paying visits, playing at ‘Mr Thompson and Mrs Fane’, each hoping that the other would really stay to tea. Charlotte was sure she should find Maggie there on getting home – a remark in which Mrs Verver’s immediate response to her friend’s enquiry had culminated. She had thus on the spot the sense of having given her plenty to think about, and that moreover of liking to see it even better than she had expected. She had plenty to think about herself, and there was already something in Fanny that made it seem still more.

‘You say your husband’s ill? He felt too ill to come?’

‘No, my dear – I think not. If he had been too ill I wouldn’t have left him.’

‘And yet Maggie was worried?’ Mrs Assingham asked.

‘She worries easily, you know. She’s afraid of influenza – of which he has had at different times several attacks, though never with the least gravity.’

‘But you’re not afraid of it?’

Charlotte had for a moment a pause; it had continued to come to her that really to have her case ‘out’, as they said, with the person in the world to whom her most intimate difficulties had oftenest referred themselves, would help her on the whole more than hinder; and under that feeling all her opportunity, with nothing kept back, with a thing or two perhaps even thrust forward, seemed temptingly to open. Besides, didn’t Fanny at bottom half-expect, absolutely at the bottom half-want, things? – so that she’d be disappointed if, after what must just have occurred for her, she didn’t get something to put between the teeth of her so restless rumination, that cultivation of the fear, of which our young woman had already had glimpses, that she might have ‘gone too far’ in her irrepressible interest in other lives. What had just happened – it pieced itself together for Charlotte – was that the Assingham sposi, drifting like every one else, had had somewhere in the gallery, in the rooms, an accidental concussion; had it after the Colonel, over his balustrade, had observed, in the favouring high light, her public junction with the Prince. His very dryness in this encounter would have, as always, struck a spark from his wife’s curiosity, and, familiar, on his side, with all that she saw in things, he must have thrown her, as a fine little bone to pick, some report of the way one of her young friends was ‘going on’ with another. He knew perfectly – such at least was Charlotte’s liberal assumption – that she wasn’t going on with any one, but she also knew that, given the circumstances, she was inevitably to be sacrificed, in some form or another, to the humorous intercourse of the inimitable pair. The Prince meanwhile had also, under coercion, sacrificed her; the Ambassador had come up to him with a message from Royalty, to whom he was led away; after which she had talked for five minutes with Sir John Brinder, who had been of the Ambassador’s company and who had rather artlessly remained with her. Fanny had then arrived in sight of them at the same moment as some one else she didn’t know, some one who knew Mrs Assingham and also knew Sir John. Charlotte had left it to her friend’s competence to throw the two others immediately together and to find a way for entertaining her in closer quarters. This was the little history of the vision in her that was now rapidly helping her to recognise a precious chance, the chance that mightn’t again soon be so good for the vivid making of a point. Her point was before her; it was sharp, bright, true; above all it was her own. She had reached it quite by herself; no one, not even Amerigo – Amerigo least of all, who would have nothing to do with it – had given her aid. To make it now with force for Fanny Assingham’s benefit would see her further, in the direction in which the light had dawned, than any other spring she should doubtless yet awhile be able to press. The direction was that of her greater freedom – which was all in the world she had in mind. Her opportunity had accordingly, after a few minutes of Mrs Assingham’s almost imprudently interested expression of face, positively acquired such a price for her that she may for ourselves, while the intensity lasted, rather resemble a person holding out a small mirror at arm’s length and consulting it with a special turn of the head. It was in a word with this value of her chance that she was intelligently playing when she said in answer to Fanny’s last question: ‘Don’t you remember what you told me, on the occasion of something or other, the other day? That you believe there’s nothing I’m afraid of? So, my dear, don’t ask me!’

‘Mayn’t I ask you,’ Mrs Assingham returned, ‘how the case stands with your poor husband?’

‘Certainly, dear. Only when you ask me as if I mightn’t perhaps know what to think, it seems to me best to let you see that I know perfectly what to think.’

Mrs Assingham had a wait, then, blinking a little, she took her risk. ‘You didn’t think that if it was a question of any one’s returning to him in his trouble it would be better you yourself should have gone?’

Well, Charlotte’s answer to this enquiry visibly shaped itself in the interest of the highest considerations. The highest considerations were good humour, candour, clearness and, obviously, the real truth. ‘If we couldn’t be perfectly frank and dear with each other it would be ever so much better, wouldn’t it? that we shouldn’t talk about anything at all; which however would be dreadful – and we certainly at any rate haven’t yet come to it. You can ask me anything under the sun you like, because, don’t you see? you can’t upset me.’

‘I’m sure, my dear Charlotte,’ Fanny Assingham laughed, ‘I don’t want to upset you.’

‘Indeed, love, you simply couldn’t even if you thought it necessary – that’s all I mean. Nobody could, for it belongs to my situation that I’m, by no merit of my own, just fixed – fixed as fast as a pin stuck up to its head in a cushion. I’m placed – I can’t imagine any one more placed. There I am!’

Fanny had indeed never listened to emphasis more firmly applied, and it brought into her own eyes, though she had reasons for striving to keep them from betrayals, a sort of anxiety of intelligence. ‘I dare say – but your statement of your position, however you see it, isn’t an answer to my enquiry. I confess it seems to me at the same time,’ Mrs Assingham added, ‘to give but the more reason for it. You speak of our being “frank”. How can we possibly be anything else? If Maggie has gone off through finding herself too distressed to stay, and if she’s willing to leave you and her husband to show here without her, aren’t the grounds of her preoccupation more or less discussable?’

‘If they’re not,’ Charlotte replied, ‘it’s only from their being in a way too evident. They’re not grounds for me – they weren’t when I accepted Adam’s preference that I should come to-night without him: just as I accept absolutely, as a fixed rule, all his preferences. But that of course doesn’t alter the fact that my husband’s daughter rather than his wife should have felt she could after all be the one to stay with him, the one to make the sacrifice of this hour – seeing especially that the daughter has a husband of her own in the field.’ With which she produced, as it were, her explanation. ‘I’ve simply to see the truth of the matter – see that Maggie thinks more on the whole of fathers than of husbands. And my situation is such,’ she went on, ‘that this becomes immediately, don’t you understand? a thing I have to count with.’

Mrs Assingham, vaguely heaving, panting a little but trying not to show it, turned about, from some inward spring, in her seat. ‘If you mean such a thing as that she doesn’t adore the Prince –!’

‘I don’t say she doesn’t adore him. What I say is that she doesn’t think of him. One of those conditions doesn’t always at all stages involve the other. This is just how she adores him,’ Charlotte said. ‘And what reason is there in the world, after all, why he and I shouldn’t, as you say, show together? We’ve shown together, my dear,’ she smiled, ‘before.’

Her friend, for a little, only looked at her – speaking then with abruptness. ‘You ought to be absolutely happy. You live with such good people.’

The effect of it, as well, was an arrest for Charlotte; whose face however, all of whose fine and slightly hard radiance, it had the next instant caused further to brighten. ‘Does one ever put into words anything so fatuously rash? It’s a thing that must be said, in prudence, for one – by somebody who’s so good as to take the responsibility: the more that it gives one always a chance to show one’s best manners by not contradicting it. Certainly, you’ll never have the distress, or whatever, of hearing me complain.’

‘Truly, my dear, I hope in all conscience not!’ – and the elder woman’s spirit found relief in a laugh more resonant than was quite advised by their pursuit of privacy.

To this demonstration her friend gave no heed. ‘With all our absence after marriage, and with the separation from her produced in particular by our so many months in America, Maggie has still arrears, still losses to make up – still the need of showing how, for so long, she simply kept missing him. She missed his company – a large allowance of which is, in spite of everything else, of the first necessity to her. So she puts it in when she can – a little here, a little there, and it ends by making up a considerable amount. The fact of our distinct establishments – which has all the same everything in its favour,’ Charlotte hastened to declare – ‘makes her really see more of him than when they had the same house. To make sure she doesn’t fail of it she’s always arranging for it – which she didn’t have to do while they lived together. But she likes to arrange,’ Charlotte steadily proceeded; ‘it peculiarly suits her; and the result of our separate households is really, for them, more contact and more intimacy. To-night for instance has been practically an arrangement. She likes him best alone. And it’s the way,’ said our young woman, ‘in which he best likes her. It’s what I mean therefore by being “placed”. And the great thing is, as they say, to “know” one’s place. Doesn’t it all strike you,’ she wound up, ‘as rather placing the Prince too?’

Fanny Assingham had at this moment the sense as of a large heaped dish presented to her intelligence and inviting it to a feast – so thick were the notes of intention in this remarkable speech. But she also felt that to plunge at random, to help herself too freely, would – apart from there not being at such a moment time for it – tend to jostle the ministering hand, confound the array and, more vulgarly speaking, make a mess. She picked out after consideration a solitary plum. ‘So placed that you have to arrange?’

‘Certainly I have to arrange.’

‘And the Prince also – if the effect for him is the same?’

‘Really I think not less.’

‘And does he arrange,’ Mrs Assingham asked, ‘to make up his arrears?’ The question had risen to her lips – it was as if another morsel, on the dish, had tempted her. The sound of it at once struck her own ear as giving out more of her thought than she had as yet intended; but she quickly saw that she must follow it up, at any risk, with simplicity, and that what was simplest was the ease of boldness. ‘Make them up, I mean, by coming to see you?’

Charlotte replied however without, as her friend would have phrased it, turning a hair. She shook her head, but it was beautifully gentle. ‘He never comes.’

‘Oh!’ said Fanny Assingham: with which she felt a little stupid.

‘There it is. He might so well, you know, otherwise.’

‘ “Otherwise”?’ – and Fanny was still vague.

It passed this time over her companion, whose eyes, wandering to a distance, found themselves held. The Prince was at hand again; the Ambassador was still at his side; they were stopped a moment by a uniformed personage, a little old man, of apparently the highest military character, bristling with medals and orders. This gave Charlotte time to go on. ‘He has not been for three months.’ And then as with her friend’s last word in her ear: ‘ “Otherwise” – yes. He arranges otherwise. And in my position,’ she added, ‘I might too. It’s too absurd we shouldn’t meet.’

‘You’ve met, I gather,’ said Fanny Assingham, ‘to-night.’

‘Yes – as far as that goes. But what I mean is that I might – placed for it as we both are – go to see him.’

‘And do you?’ Fanny asked with almost mistaken solemnity.

The perception of this excess made Charlotte, whether for gravity or for irony, hang fire a minute. ‘I have been. But that’s nothing,’ she said, ‘in itself, and I tell you of it only to show you how our situation works. It essentially becomes one, a situation, for both of us. The Prince’s however is his own affair – I meant but to speak of mine.’

‘Your situation’s perfect,’ Mrs Assingham presently declared.

‘I don’t say it isn’t. Taken in fact all round I think it is. And I don’t, as I tell you, complain of it. The only thing is that I have to act as it demands of me.’

‘To “act”?’ said Mrs Assingham with an irrepressible quaver.

‘Isn’t it acting, my dear, to accept it? I do accept it. What do you want me to do less?’

‘I want you to believe that you’re a very fortunate person.’

‘Do you call that less?’ Charlotte asked with a smile. ‘From the point of view of my freedom I call it more. Let it take, my position, any name you like.’

‘Don’t let it at any rate’ – and Mrs Assingham’s impatience prevailed at last over her presence of mind – ‘don’t let it make you think too much of your freedom.’

‘I don’t know what you call too much – for how can I not see it as it is? You’d see your own quickly enough if the Colonel gave you the same liberty – and I haven’t to tell you, with your so much greater knowledge of everything, what it is that gives such liberty most. For yourself personally of course,’ Charlotte went on, ‘you only know the state of neither needing it nor missing it. Your husband doesn’t treat you as of less importance to him than some other woman.’

‘Ah don’t talk to me of other women!’ Fanny now overtly panted. ‘Do you call Mr Verver’s perfectly natural interest in his daughter –?’

‘The greatest affection of which he’s capable?’ – Charlotte took it up in all readiness. ‘I do distinctly – and in spite of my having done all I could think of to make him capable of a greater. I’ve done, earnestly, everything I could – I’ve made it, month after month, my study. But I haven’t succeeded – that has been vividly brought home to me to-night. However,’ she pursued, ‘I’ve hoped against hope, for I recognise that, as I told you at the time, I was duly warned.’ And then as she met in her friend’s face the absence of any such remembrance: ‘He did tell me he wanted me just because I could be useful about her.’ With which Charlotte broke into a wonderful smile. ‘So you see I am!’

It was on Fanny Assingham’s lips for the moment to reply that this was on the contrary what she saw least of all; she came in fact within an ace of saying: ‘You strike me as having quite failed to help his idea to work – since by your account Maggie has him not less, but so much more, on her mind. How in the world, with so much of a remedy, comes there to remain so much of what was to be obviated?’ But she saved herself in time, conscious above all that she was in presence of still deeper things than she had yet dared to fear, that there was ‘more in it’ than any admission she had made represented – and she had held herself familiar with admissions: so that, not to seem to understand where she couldn’t accept, and not to seem to accept where she couldn’t approve, and could still less, with precipitation, advise, she invoked the mere appearance of casting no weight whatever into the scales of her young friend’s consistency. The only thing was that, as she was quickly enough to feel, she invoked it rather to excess. It brought her, her invocation, too abruptly to her feet. She brushed away everything. ‘I can’t conceive, my dear, what you’re talking about!’

Charlotte promptly rose then, as might be, to meet it, and her colour for the first time perceptibly heightened. She looked, for the minute, as her companion had looked – as if twenty protests, blocking each other’s way, had surged up within her. But when Charlotte had to make a selection it was always the most effective possible. It was happy now, above all, for being made not in anger but in sorrow. ‘You give me up then?’

‘Give you up –?’

‘You forsake me at the hour of my life when it seems to me I most deserve a friend’s loyalty? If you do you’re not just, Fanny; you’re even, I think,’ she went on, ‘rather cruel; and it’s least of all worthy of you to seem to wish to quarrel with me in order to cover your desertion.’ She spoke, at the same time, with the noblest moderation of tone, and the image of high pale lighted disappointment she meanwhile presented, as of a creature patient and lonely in her splendour, was an impression so firmly imposed that she could fill her measure to the brim and yet enjoy the last word, as it is called in such cases, with a perfection void of any vulgarity of triumph. She merely completed, for truth’s sake, her demonstration. ‘What’s a quarrel with me but a quarrel with my right to recognise the conditions of my bargain? But I can carry them out alone,’ she said as she turned away. She turned to meet the Ambassador and the Prince, who, their colloquy with their Field-Marshal ended, were now at hand and had already, between them, she was aware, addressed her a remark that failed to penetrate the golden glow in which her intelligence was temporarily bathed. She had made her point, the point she had foreseen she must make; she had made it thoroughly and once for all, so that no more making was required; and her success was reflected in the faces of the two men of distinction before her, unmistakeably moved to admiration by her exceptional radiance. She at first but watched this reflexion, taking no note of any less adequate form of it possibly presented by poor Fanny – poor Fanny left to stare at her incurred ‘score’, chalked up in so few strokes on the wall; then she made out what the Ambassador was saying in French, what he was apparently repeating to her.

‘A desire for your presence, Madame, has been expressed en très haut lieu,2 and I’ve let myself in for the responsibility, to say nothing of the honour, of seeing, as the most respectful of your friends, that so august an impatience is not kept waiting.’ The greatest possible Personage had in short, according to the odd formula of societies subject to the greatest personages possible, ‘sent for’ her, and she asked, in her surprise, ‘What in the world does he want to do to me?’ only to know, without looking, that Fanny’s bewilderment was called to a still larger application, and to hear the Prince say with authority, indeed with a certain prompt dryness: ‘You must go immediately – it’s a summons.’ The Ambassador, using authority as well, had already somehow possessed himself of her hand, which he drew into his arm, and she was further conscious as she went off with him that, though still speaking for her benefit, Amerigo had turned to Fanny Assingham. He would explain afterwards – besides which she would understand for herself. To Fanny, however, he had laughed – as a mark, it seemed, that for this infallible friend no explanation at all would be necessary.