The Golden Bowl Chapter 3

Later on in the afternoon, before the others arrived, the form of their reunion was at least remarkable: they might in their great eastward drawing-room have been comparing notes or nerves under menace of some stiff official visit. Maggie’s mind, in its restlessness, even played a little with the prospect; the high cool room in its afternoon shade, its old tapestries uncovered, the perfect polish of its wide floor reflecting the bowls of gathered flowers and the silver and linen of the prepared tea-table, drew from her a remark in which this whole effect was mirrored, as well as something else in the Prince’s movement while he slowly paced and turned. ‘We’re distinctly bourgeois!’ she a trifle grimly threw off as an echo of their old community; though to a spectator sufficiently detached they might have been quite the privileged pair they were reputed, granted only they were taken as awaiting the visit of Royalty. They might have been ready, on the word passed up in advance, to repair together to the foot of the staircase – the Prince somewhat in front, advancing indeed to the open doors and even going down, for all his princedom, to meet, on the stopping of the chariot, the august emergence. The time was stale, it was to be admitted, for incidents of magnitude; the September hush was in full possession at the end of the dull day, and a couple of the long windows stood open to the balcony that overhung the desolation – the balcony from which Maggie, in the springtime, had seen Amerigo and Charlotte look down together at the hour of her return from the Regent’s Park, near by, with her father, the Principino and Miss Bogle. Amerigo now again, in his punctual impatience, went out a couple of times and stood there; after which, as to report that nothing was in sight, he returned to the room with frankly nothing else to do. The Princess pretended to read; he looked at her as he passed; there hovered in her own sense the thought of other occasions when she had cheated appearances of agitation with a book. At last she felt him standing before her and then raised her eyes.

‘Do you remember how this morning when you told me of this event I asked you if there were anything particular you wished me to do? You spoke of my being at home, but that was a matter of course. You spoke of something else,’ he went on while she sat with her book on her knee and her raised eyes; ‘something that makes me almost wish it may happen. You spoke,’ he said, ‘of the possibility of my seeing her alone. Do you know, if that comes,’ he asked, ‘the use I shall make of it?’ And then as she waited: ‘The use is all before me.’

‘Ah it’s your own business now!’ said his wife. But it had made her rise.

‘I shall make it my own,’ he answered. ‘I shall tell her I lied to her.’

‘Ah no!’ she returned.

‘And I shall tell her you did.’

She shook her head again. ‘Oh still less!’

With which therefore they stood at difference, he with his head erect and his happy idea perched in its eagerness on his crest. ‘And how then is she to know?’

‘She isn’t to know.’

‘She’s only still to think you don’t –?’

‘And therefore that I’m always a fool? She may think,’ said Maggie, ‘what she likes.’

‘Think it without my protest –?’

The Princess made a movement. ‘What business is it of yours?’

‘Isn’t it my right to correct her –?’

Maggie let his question ring – ring long enough for him to hear it himself; only then she took it up. ‘ “Correct” her?’ – and it was her own now that really rang. ‘Aren’t you rather forgetting who she is?’ After which, while he quite stared for it, as it was the very first clear majesty he had known her to use, she flung down her book and raised a warning hand. ‘The carriage. Come!’

The ‘Come!’ had matched for lucid firmness the rest of her speech, and when they were below in the hall there was a ‘Go!’ for him, through the open doors and between the ranged servants, that matched even that. He received Royalty, bareheaded, therefore, in the persons of Mr and Mrs Verver, as it alighted on the pavement, and Maggie was at the threshold to welcome it to her house. Later on, upstairs again, she even herself felt still more the force of the limit of which she had just reminded him; at tea, in Charlotte’s affirmed presence – as Charlotte affirmed it – she drew a long breath of richer relief. It was the strangest, once more, of all impressions; but what she most felt for the half-hour was that Mr and Mrs Verver were making the occasion easy. They were somehow conjoined in it, conjoined for a present effect as Maggie had absolutely never yet seen them; and there occurred, before long, a moment in which Amerigo’s look met her own in recognitions that he couldn’t suppress. The question of the amount of correction to which Charlotte had laid herself open rose and hovered for the instant only to sink conspicuously by its own weight; so high a pitch she seemed to give to the unconsciousness of questions, so resplendent a show of serenity she succeeded in making. The shade of the official, in her beauty and security, never for a moment dropped; it was a cool high refuge, the deep arched recess of some coloured and gilded image, in which she sat and smiled and waited, drank her tea, referred to her husband and remembered her mission. Her mission had quite taken form – it was but another name for the interest of her great opportunity: that of representing the arts and the graces to a people languishing afar off and in ignorance. Maggie had sufficiently intimated to the Prince ten minutes before that she needed no showing as to what their friend wouldn’t consent to be taken for; but the difficulty now indeed was to choose, for explicit tribute of admiration, between the varieties of her nobler aspects. She carried it off, to put the matter coarsely, with a taste and a discretion that held our young woman’s attention, for the first quarter of an hour, to the very point of diverting it from the attitude of her overshadowed, her almost superseded companion. But Adam Verver profited indeed at this time even with his daughter by his so marked peculiarity of seeming on no occasion to have an attitude; and so long as they were in the room together she felt him still simply weave his web and play out his long fine cord, knew herself in presence of this tacit process very much as she had known herself at Fawns. He had a way, the dear man, wherever he was, of moving about the room, noiselessly, to see what it might contain; and his manner of now resorting to his habit, acquainted as he already was with the objects in view, expressed with a certain sharpness the intention of leaving his wife to her devices. It did even more than this; it signified, to the apprehension of the Princess, from the moment she more directly took thought of him, almost a special view of these devices, as actually exhibited in their rarity, together with an independent, a settled appreciation of their general handsome adequacy which scarcely required the accompaniment of his faint contemplative hum.

Charlotte throned, as who should say, between her hostess and her host, the whole scene having crystallised, as soon as she took her place, to the right quiet lustre; the harmony wasn’t less sustained for being superficial, and the only approach to a break in it was while Amerigo remained standing long enough for his father-in-law, vaguely wondering, to appeal to him, invite or address him, and then in default of any such word selected for presentation to the other visitor a plate of petits fours.1 Maggie watched her husband – if it now could be called watching – offer this refreshment; she noted the consummate way – for ‘consummate’ was the term she privately applied – in which Charlotte cleared her acceptance, cleared her impersonal smile, of any betrayal, any slightest value, of consciousness; and then felt the slow surge of a vision that at the end of another minute or two had floated her across the room to where her father stood looking at a picture, an early Florentine sacred subject, that he had given her on her marriage. He might have been in silence taking his last leave of it; it was a work for which she knew he entertained an unqualified esteem. The tenderness represented for her by his sacrifice of such a treasure had become to her sense a part of the whole infusion, of the immortal expression; the beauty of his sentiment looked out at her always, from the beauty of the rest, as if the frame made positively a window for his spiritual face: she might have said to herself at this moment that in leaving the thing behind him, held as in her clasping arms, he was doing the most possible toward leaving her a part of his palpable self. She put her hand over his shoulder, and their eyes were held again together by the abiding felicity; they smiled in emulation, vaguely, as if speech failed them through their having passed too far: she would have begun to wonder the next minute if it were reserved to them, for the last stage, to find their contact, like that of old friends reunited too much on the theory of the unchanged, subject to shy lapses.

‘It’s all right, eh?’

‘Oh my dear – rather!’

He had applied the question to the great fact of the picture, as she had spoken for the picture in reply, but it was as if their words for an instant afterwards symbolised another truth, so that they looked about at everything else to give them this extension. She had passed her arm into his, and the other objects in the room, the other pictures, the sofas, the chairs, the tables, the cabinets, the ‘important’ pieces, supreme in their way, stood out, round them, consciously, for recognition and applause. Their eyes moved together from piece to piece, taking in the whole nobleness – quite as if for him to measure the wisdom of old ideas. The two noble persons seated in conversation and at tea fell thus into the splendid effect and the general harmony: Mrs Verver and the Prince fairly ‘placed’ themselves, however unwittingly, as high expressions of the kind of human furniture required ├Žsthetically by such a scene. The fusion of their presence with the decorative elements, their contribution to the triumph of selection, was complete and admirable; though to a lingering view, a view more penetrating than the occasion really demanded, they also might have figured as concrete attestations of a rare power of purchase. There was much indeed in the tone in which Adam Verver spoke again, and who shall say where his thought stopped? ‘Le compte y est.2 You’ve got some good things.’3

Maggie met it afresh – ‘Ah don’t they look well?’ Their companions, at the sound of this, gave them, in a spacious intermission of slow talk, an attention, all of gravity, that was like an ampler submission to the general duty of magnificence; sitting as still to be thus appraised, as a pair of effigies of the contemporary great on one of the platforms of Madame Tussaud. ‘I’m so glad – for your last look.’

With which, after Maggie – quite in the air – had said it, the note was struck indeed; the note of that strange accepted finality of relation, as from couple to couple, which almost escaped an awkwardness only by not attempting a gloss. Yes, this was the wonder, that the occasion defied insistence precisely because of the vast quantities with which it dealt – so that separation was on a scale beyond any compass of parting. To do such an hour justice would have been in some degree to question its grounds – which was why they remained in fine, the four of them, in the upper air, united through the firmest abstention from pressure. There was visibly no point at which, face to face, either Amerigo or Charlotte had pressed; and how little she herself was in danger of doing so Maggie scarce needed to remember. That her father wouldn’t by the tip of a toe – of that she was equally conscious: the only thing was that since he didn’t she could but hold her breath for what he would do instead. When at the end of three minutes more he had said, with an effect of suddenness, ‘Well, Mag – and the Principino?’ it was quite as if that were by contrast the hard, the truer voice.

She glanced at the clock. ‘I “ordered” him for half-past five – which hasn’t yet struck. Trust him, my dear, not to fail you!’

‘Oh I don’t want him to fail me!’ was Mr Verver’s reply; yet uttered in so explicitly jocose a relation to the possibilities of failure that even when just afterwards he wandered in his impatience to one of the long windows and passed out to the balcony she asked herself but for a few seconds whether reality, should she follow him, would overtake or meet her there. She followed him of necessity – it came absolutely so near to his inviting her, by stepping off into temporary detachment, to give the others something of the chance that she and her husband had so fantastically discussed. Beside him then, while they hung over the great dull place, clear and almost coloured now, coloured with the odd sad pictured ‘old-fashioned’ look that empty London streets take on in waning afternoons of the summer’s end, she felt once more how impossible such a passage would have been to them, how it would have torn them to pieces, if they had so much as suffered its suppressed relations to peep out of their eyes. This danger would doubtless indeed have been more to be reckoned with if the instinct of each – she could certainly at least answer for her own – hadn’t so successfully acted to trump up other apparent connexions for it, connexions as to which they could pretend to be frank.

‘You mustn’t stay on here, you know,’ Adam Verver said as a result of his unobstructed outlook. ‘Fawns is all there for you of course – to the end of my tenure. But Fawns so dismantled,’ he added with mild ruefulness, ‘Fawns with half its contents and half its best things removed, won’t seem to you, I’m afraid, particularly lively.’

‘No,’ Maggie answered, ‘we should miss its best things. Its best things, my dear, have certainly been removed. To be back there,’ she went on, ‘to be back there –!’ And she paused for the force of her idea.

‘Oh to be back there without anything good –!’

But she didn’t hesitate now; she brought her idea forth. ‘To be back there without Charlotte is more than I think would do.’ And as she smiled at him with it, so she saw him the next instant take it – take it in a way that helped her smile to pass all for an allusion to what she didn’t and couldn’t say. This quantity was too clear – that she couldn’t at such an hour be pretending to name to him what it was, as he would have said, ‘going to be’, at Fawns or anywhere else, to want for him. That was now – and in a manner exaltedly, sublimely – out of their compass and their question; so that what was she doing while they waited for the Principino, while they left the others together and their tension just sensibly threatened, what was she doing but just offer a bold but substantial substitute? Nothing was stranger moreover, under the action of Charlotte’s presence, than the fact of a felt sincerity in her words. She felt her sincerity absolutely sound – she gave it for all it might mean. ‘Because Charlotte, dear, you know,’ she said, ‘is incomparable.’ It took thirty seconds, but she was to feel when these were over that she had pronounced one of the happiest words of her life. They had turned from the view of the street; they leaned together against the balcony rail, with the room largely in sight from where they stood, but with the Prince and Mrs Verver out of range. Nothing he could try, she immediately saw, was to keep his eyes from lighting; not even his taking out his cigarette-case and saying before he said anything else: ‘May I smoke?’ She met it for encouragement with her ‘My dear!’ again, and then while he struck his match she had just another minute to be nervous – a minute that she made use of however not in the least to falter, but to reiterate with a high ring, a ring that might, for all she cared, reach the pair inside: ‘Father, father – Charlotte’s great!’

It was not till after he had begun to smoke that he looked at her. ‘Charlotte’s great.’

They could close upon it – such a basis as they might immediately feel it make; and so they stood together over it quite gratefully, each recording to the other’s eyes that it was firm under their feet. They had even thus a renewed wait as for proof of it; much as if he were letting her see, while the minutes lapsed for their concealed companions, that this was finally just why – but just why! ‘You see,’ he presently added, ‘how right I was. Right, I mean, to do it for you.’

‘Ah rather!’ she murmured with her smile. And then as to be herself ideally right: ‘I don’t see what you would have done without her.’

‘The point was,’ he returned quietly, ‘that I didn’t see what you were to do. Yet it was a risk.’

‘It was a risk,’ said Maggie – ‘but I believed in it. At least for myself!’ she smiled.

‘Well now,’ he smoked, ‘we see.’

‘We see.’

‘I know her better.’

‘You know her best.’

‘Oh but naturally!’ On which, as the warranted truth of it hung in the air – the truth warranted, as who should say, exactly by the present opportunity to pronounce, this opportunity created and accepted – she found herself lost, though with a finer thrill than she had perhaps yet known, in the vision of all he might mean. The sense of it in her rose higher, rose with each moment that he invited her thus to see him linger; and when, after a little more, he had said, smoking again and looking up, with head thrown back and hands spread on the balcony rail, at the grey gaunt front of the house, ‘She’s beautiful, beautiful!’ her sensibility reported to her the shade of a new note. It was all she might have wished, for it was, with a kind of speaking competence, the note of possession and control; and yet it conveyed to her as nothing till now had done the reality of their parting. They were parting, in the light of it, absolutely on Charlotte’s value – the value that was filling the room out of which they had stepped as if to give it play, and with which the Prince on his side was perhaps making larger acquaintance. If Maggie had desired at so late an hour some last conclusive comfortable category to place him in for dismissal, she might have found it here in its all coming back to his ability to rest upon high values. Somehow, when all was said, and with the memory of her gifts, her variety, her power, so much remained of Charlotte’s! What else had she herself meant three minutes before by speaking of her as great? Great for the world that was before her – that he proposed she should be: she wasn’t to be wasted in the application of his plan. Maggie held to this then – that she wasn’t to be wasted. To let his daughter know it he had sought this brief privacy. What a blessing accordingly that she could speak her joy in it! His face meanwhile at all events was turned to her, and as she met his eyes again her joy went straight. ‘It’s success, father.’

‘It’s success. And even this,’ he added as the Principino, appearing alone, deep within, piped across an instant greeting – ‘even this isn’t altogether failure!’

They went in to receive the boy, upon whose introduction to the room by Miss Bogle Charlotte and the Prince got up – seemingly with an impressiveness that had caused Miss Bogle not to give further effect to her own entrance. She had retired, but the Principino’s presence by itself sufficiently broke the tension – the subsidence of which, in the great room, ten minutes later, gave to the air something of the quality produced by the cessation of a sustained rattle. Stillness, when the Prince and Princess returned from attending the visitors to their carriage, might have been said to be not so much restored as created; so that whatever next took place in it was foredoomed to remarkable salience. That would have been the case even with so natural, though so futile, a movement as Maggie’s going out to the balcony again to follow with her eyes her father’s departure. The carriage was out of sight – it had taken her too long solemnly to reascend, and she looked a while only at the great grey space on which, as on the room still more, the shadow of dusk had fallen. Here at first her husband hadn’t rejoined her; he had come up with the boy, who, clutching his hand, abounded, as usual, in remarks worthy of the family archives; but the two appeared then to have proceeded to report to Miss Bogle. It meant something for the Princess that her husband had thus got their son out of the way, not bringing him back to his mother; but everything now, as she vaguely moved about, struck her as meaning so much that the unheard chorus swelled. Yet this above all – her just being there as she was and waiting for him to come in, their freedom to be together there always – was the meaning most disengaged: she stood in the cool twilight and took in all about her where it lurked her reason for what she had done. She knew at last really why – and how she had been inspired and guided, how she had been persistently able, how to her soul all the while it had been for the sake of this end. Here it was then, the moment, the golden fruit that had shone from afar; only what were these things in the fact, for the hand and for the lips, when tested, when tasted – what were they as a reward? Closer than she had ever been to the measure of her course and the full face of her act, she had an instant of the terror that, when there has been suspense, always precedes, on the part of the creature to be paid, the certification of the amount. Amerigo knew it, the amount; he still held it, and the delay in his return, making her heart beat too fast to go on, was like a sudden blinding light on a wild speculation. She had thrown the dice, but his hand was over her cast.

He opened the door however at last – he hadn’t been away ten minutes; and then with her sight of him renewed to intensity she seemed to have a view of the number. His presence alone, as he paused to look at her, somehow made it the highest, and even before he had spoken she had begun to be paid in full. With that consciousness in fact an extraordinary thing occurred; the assurance of her safety so making her terror drop that already within the minute it had been changed to concern for his own anxiety, for everything that was deep in his being and everything that was fair in his face. So far as seeing that she was ‘paid’ went he might have been holding out the money-bag for her to come and take it. But what instantly rose for her between the act and her acceptance was the sense that she must strike him as waiting for a confession. This in turn charged her with a new horror: if that was her proper payment she would go without money. His acknowledgement hung there, too monstrously, at the expense of Charlotte, before whose mastery of the greater style she had just been standing dazzled. All she now knew accordingly was that she should be ashamed to listen to the uttered word; all, that is, but that she might dispose of it on the spot for ever.

‘Isn’t she too splendid?’ she simply said, offering it to explain and to finish.

‘Oh splendid!’ With which he came over to her.

‘That’s our help, you see,’ she added – to point further her moral.

It kept him before her therefore, taking in – or trying to – what she so wonderfully gave. He tried, too clearly, to please her – to meet her in her own way; but with the result only that, close to her, her face kept before him, his hands holding her shoulders, his whole act enclosing her, he presently echoed: ‘ “See”? I see nothing but you.’ And the truth of it had with this force after a moment so strangely lighted his eyes that as for pity and dread of them she buried her own in his breast.