The Golden Bowl Chapter 9

It was quite for the Prince after this as if the view had further cleared; so that the half-hour during which he strolled on the terrace and smoked – the day being lovely – overflowed with the plenitude of its particular quality. Its general brightness was composed doubtless of many elements, but what shone out of it as if the whole place and time had been a great picture, from the hand of genius, presented to him as a prime ornament for his collection and all varnished and framed to hang up – what marked it especially for the highest appreciation was his extraordinarily unchallenged, his absolutely appointed and enhanced possession of it. Poor Fanny Assingham’s challenge amounted to nothing: one of the things he thought of while he leaned on the old marble balustrade – so like others that he knew in still more nobly-terraced Italy – was that she was squared, all-conveniently even to herself, and that, rumbling toward London with this contentment, she had become an image irrelevant to the scene. It further passed across him – as his imagination was, for reasons, during the time, unprecedentedly active – that he had after all gained more from women than he had ever lost by them; there appeared so, more and more, on those mystic books that are kept, in connexion with such commerce, even by men of the loosest business habits, a balance in his favour that he could pretty well as a rule take for granted. What were they doing at this very moment, wonderful creatures, but trying to outdo each other in his interest? – from Maggie herself, most wonderful in her way of all, to his hostess of the present hour, into whose head it had so inevitably come to keep Charlotte on, for particular reasons, and who had asked in this benevolent spirit why in the world, if not obliged, without plausibility, to hurry, her husband’s son-in-law shouldn’t wait over in her company. He would at least see, Lady Castledean had said, that nothing dreadful should happen to her either while still there or during the exposure of the run to town; and, for that matter, if they exceeded a little their licence it would positively help them to have done so together. Each of them would in this way have the other comfortably to complain of at home. All of which, besides, in Lady Castledean as in Maggie, in Fanny Assingham as in Charlotte herself, was working for him without provocation or pressure, by the mere play of some vague sense on their part – definite and conscious at the most only in Charlotte – that he wasn’t, as a nature, as a character, as a gentleman, in fine, below his remarkable fortune.

But there were more things before him than even these; things that melted together, almost indistinguishably, to feed his sense of beauty. If the outlook was in every way spacious – and the towers of three cathedrals, in different counties, as had been pointed out to him, gleamed discernibly, like dim silver, in the rich sameness of tone – didn’t he somehow the more feel it so because, precisely, Lady Castledean had kept over a man of her own, and that this offered a certain sweet intelligibility as the note of the day? It made everything fit; above all it diverted him to the extent of keeping up, while he lingered and waited, his meditative smile. She had detained Charlotte because she wished to detain Mr Blint, and she couldn’t detain Mr Blint, disposed though he clearly was to oblige her, without spreading over the act some ampler drapery. Castledean had gone up to London; the place was all her own; she had had a fancy for a quiet morning with Mr Blint, a sleek civil accomplished young man – distinctly younger than her ladyship – who played and sang delightfully (played even ‘bridge’ and sang the English-comic as well as the French-tragic), and the presence – which really meant the absence – of a couple of other friends, if they were happily chosen, would make everything all right. The Prince had the sense, all good-humouredly, of being happily chosen, and it wasn’t spoiled for him even by another sense that followed in its train and with which during his life in England he had more than once had reflectively to deal: the state of being reminded how after all, as an outsider, a foreigner, and even as a mere representative husband and son-in-law, he was so irrelevant to the working of affairs that he could be bent on occasion to uses comparatively trivial. No other of her guests would have been thus convenient for their hostess; affairs, of whatever sorts, had claimed, by early trains, every active easy smoothly-working man, each in his way a lubricated item of the great social political administrative engrenage1 – claimed most of all Castledean himself, who was so very oddly, given the personage and the type, rather a large item. If he, the great and the clever Roman, on the other hand, had an affair, it wasn’t of that order; it was of the order verily that he had been reduced to as to a not quite glorious substitute.

It marked however the feeling of the hour with the Prince that this vision of being ‘reduced’ interfered not at all with the measure of his actual ease. It kept before him again at moments the so familiar fact of his sacrifices – down to the idea of the very relinquishment, for his wife’s convenience, of his real situation in the world; with the consequence thus that he was, in the last analysis, among all these so often inferior people, practically held cheap and made light of. But though all this was sensible enough there was a spirit in him that could rise above it, a spirit that positively played with the facts, with all of them; from that of the droll ambiguity of English relations to that of his having in mind something quite beautiful and independent and harmonious, something wholly his own. He couldn’t somehow take Mr Blint seriously – he was much more an outsider, by the larger scale, even than a Roman prince who consented to be in abeyance. Yet it was past finding out, either, how such a woman as Lady Castledean could take him – since this question but sank for him again into the fathomless depths of English equivocation. He knew them all, as was said, ‘well’; he had lived with them, stayed with them, dined, hunted, shot and done various other things with them; but the number of questions about them he couldn’t have answered had much rather grown than shrunken, so that experience struck him for the most part as having left in him but one residual impression. They didn’t like les situations nettes2 – that was all he was very sure of. They wouldn’t have them at any price; it had been their national genius and their national success to avoid them at every point. They called it themselves, with complacency, their wonderful spirit of compromise – the very influence of which actually so hung about him here from moment to moment that the earth and the air, the light and the colour, the fields and the hills and the sky, the blue-green counties and the cold cathedrals, owed to it every accent of their tone. Verily, as one had to feel in presence of such a picture, it had succeeded; it had made, up to now, for that seated solidity in the rich sea-mist on which the garish, the supposedly envious, peoples have ever cooled their eyes. But it was at the same time precisely why even much initiation left one at given moments so puzzled as to the element of staleness in all the freshness and of freshness in all the staleness, of innocence in the guilt and of guilt in the innocence. There were other marble terraces, sweeping more purple prospects, on which he would have known what to think, and would have enjoyed thereby at least the small intellectual fillip of a discerned relation between a given appearance and a taken meaning. The enquiring mind, in these present conditions, might, it was true, be more sharply challenged; but the result of its attention and its ingenuity, it had unluckily learned to know, was too often to be confronted with a mere dead wall, a lapse of logic, a confirmed bewilderment. And moreover above all nothing mattered, in the relation of the enclosing scene to his own consciousness, but its very most direct bearings.

Lady Castledean’s dream of Mr Blint for the morning was doubtless already, with all the spacious harmonies re-established, taking the form of ‘going over’ something with him, at the piano, in one of the numerous smaller rooms that were consecrated to the less gregarious uses; what she had wished had been effected – her convenience had been assured. This made him however ask himself the more where Charlotte was – since he didn’t at all suppose her to be making a tactless third, which would be to have accepted mere spectatorship, in the duet of their companions. The upshot of everything for him, alike of the less and of the more, was that the exquisite day bloomed there like a large fragrant flower that he had only to gather. But it was to Charlotte he wished to make the offering, and as he moved along the terrace, which rendered visible parts of two sides of the house, he looked up at all the windows that were open to the April morning and wondered which of them would represent his friend’s room. It befell thus that his question was after no long time answered; he saw Charlotte appear above as if she had been called by the pausing of his feet on the flags. She had come to the sill,3 on which she leaned to look down, and she remained there a minute smiling at him. He had been immediately struck with her wearing a hat and a jacket – which conduced to her appearance of readiness not so much to join him, with a beautiful uncovered head and a parasol, where he stood, as to take with him some larger step altogether. The larger step had been since the evening before intensely in his own mind, though he hadn’t fully thought out even yet the slightly difficult detail of it; but he had had no chance, such as he needed, to speak the definite word to her, and the face she now showed affected him thereby as a notice that she had wonderfully guessed it for herself. They had these identities of impulses – they had had them repeatedly before; and if such unarranged but unerring encounters gave the measure of the degree in which people were, in the common phrase, meant for each other, no union in the world had ever been more sweetened with rightness. What in fact most often happened was that her rightness went, as who should say, even further than his own; they were conscious of the same necessity at the same moment, only it was she who as a general thing most clearly saw her way to it. Something in her long look at him now out of the old grey window, something in the very poise of her hat, the colour of her necktie, the prolonged stillness of her smile, touched into sudden light for him all the wealth of the fact that he could count on her. He had his hand there, to pluck it, on the open bloom of the day; but what did the bright minute mean but that her answering hand was already intelligently out? So therefore while the minute lasted it passed between them that their cup was full; which cup their very eyes, holding it fast, carried and steadied and began, as they tasted it, to praise. He broke however after a moment the silence.

‘It only wants a moon, a mandolin and a little danger to be a serenade.’

‘Ah then,’ she lightly called down, ‘let it at least have this!’ With which she detached a rich white rosebud from its company with another in the front of her dress and flung it down to him.

He caught it in its fall, fixing her again after she had watched him place it in his buttonhole. ‘Come down quickly!’ he said in an Italian not loud but deep.

‘Vengo, vengo!’4 she as clearly, but more lightly, tossed out; and she had left him the next minute to wait for her.

He came along the terrace again, with pauses during which his eyes rested, as they had already often done, on the brave darker wash of far-away water-colour that represented the most distant of the cathedral towns. This place, with its great church and its high accessibility, its towers that distinguishably signalled, its English history, its appealing type, its acknowledged interest, this place had sounded its name to him half the night through, and its name had become but another name, the pronounceable and convenient one, for that supreme sense of things which now throbbed within him. He had kept saying to himself ‘Glo’ster, Glo’ster, Glo’ster,’ quite as if the sharpest meaning of all the years just ended were intensely expressed in it. That meaning was really that his situation remained quite sublimely consistent with itself, and that they absolutely, he and Charlotte, stood there together in the very lustre of this truth. Every present circumstance helped to proclaim it; it was blown into their faces as by the lips of the morning. He knew why he had from the first of his marriage tried with such patience for such conformity; he knew why he had given up so much and bored himself so much; he knew why he had at any rate gone in, on the basis of all forms, on the basis of his having in a manner sold himself, for a situation nette. It had all been just in order that his – well, what on earth should he call it but his freedom? – should at present be as perfect and rounded and lustrous as some huge precious pearl. He hadn’t struggled nor snatched; he was taking but what had been given him; the pearl dropped itself, with its exquisite quality and rarity, straight into his hand. Here precisely it was, incarnate; its size and its value grew as Mrs Verver appeared, afar off, in one of the smaller doorways. She came toward him in silence while he moved to meet her; the great scale of this particular front, at Matcham, multiplied thus, in the golden morning, the stages of their meeting and the successions of their consciousness. It wasn’t till she had come quite close that he produced for her his ‘Glo’ster, Glo’ster, Glo’ster,’ and his ‘Look at it over there!’

She knew just where to look. ‘Yes – isn’t it one of the best? There are cloisters or towers or something.’ And her eyes, which, though her lips smiled, were almost grave with their depths of acceptance, came back to him. ‘Or the tomb of some old king.’

‘We must see the old king; we must “do” the cathedral,’ he said; ‘we must know all about it. If we could but take,’ he exhaled, ‘the full opportunity!’ And then while, for all they seemed to give him, he sounded again her eyes: ‘I feel the day like a great gold cup that we must somehow drain together.’

‘I feel it, as you always make me feel everything, just as you do; so that I know ten miles off how you feel! But do you remember,’ she asked, ‘apropos of great gold cups, the beautiful one, the real one, that I offered you so long ago and that you wouldn’t have? Just before your marriage’ – she brought it back to him: ‘the gilded crystal bowl in the little Bloomsbury shop.’

‘Oh yes!’ – but it took, with a slight surprise on the Prince’s part, some small recollecting. ‘The treacherous cracked thing you wanted to palm off on me, and the little swindling Jew who understood Italian and who backed you up! But I feel this an occasion,’ he immediately added, ‘and I hope you don’t mean,’ he smiled, ‘that as an occasion it’s also cracked.’

They spoke, naturally, more low than loud, overlooked as they were, though at a respectful distance, by tiers of windows; but it made each find in the other’s voice a taste as of something slowly and deeply absorbed. ‘Don’t you think too much of “cracks” and aren’t you too afraid of them? I risk the cracks,’ said Charlotte, ‘and I’ve often recalled the bowl and the little swindling Jew, wondering if they’ve parted company. He made,’ she said, ‘a great impression on me.’

‘Well, you also, no doubt, made a great impression on him, and I dare say that if you were to go back to him you’d find he has been keeping that treasure for you. But as to cracks,’ the Prince went on – ‘what did you tell me the other day you prettily call them in English? “rifts within the lute”? – risk them as much as you like for yourself, but don’t risk them for me.’ He spoke it in all the gaiety of his just barely-tremulous serenity. ‘I go, as you know, by my superstitions. And that’s why,’ he said, ‘I know where we are. They’re every one to-day on our side.’

Resting on the parapet toward the great view she was silent a little, and he saw the next moment that her eyes were closed. ‘I go but by one thing.’ Her hand was on the sun-warmed stone; so that, turned as they were away from the house, he put his own upon it and covered it. ‘I go by you,’ she said. ‘I go by you.’

So they remained a moment, till he spoke again with a gesture that matched. ‘What’s really our great necessity, you know, is to go by my watch. It’s already eleven’ – he had looked at the time; ‘so that if we stop here to luncheon what becomes of our afternoon?’

To this Charlotte’s eyes opened straight. ‘There’s not the slightest need of our stopping here to luncheon. Don’t you see,’ she asked, ‘how I’m ready?’

He had taken it in, but there was always more and more of her. ‘You mean you’ve arranged –?’

‘It’s easy to arrange. My maid goes up with my things. You’ve only to speak to your man about yours, and they can go together.’

‘You mean we can leave at once?’

She let him have it all. ‘One of the carriages, about which I spoke, will already have come back for us. If your superstitions are on our side,’ she smiled, ‘so my arrangements are, and I’ll back my support against yours.’

‘Then you had thought,’ he wondered, ‘about Gloucester?’

She hesitated – but it was only her way. ‘I thought you would think. We have, thank goodness, these harmonies. They’re food for superstition if you like. It’s beautiful,’ she went on, ‘that it should be Gloucester; “Glo’ster Glo’ster”, as you say, making it sound like an old song. However, I’m sure “Glo’ster Glo’ster” will be charming,’ she still added; ‘we shall be able easily to lunch there, and, with our luggage and our servants off our hands, we shall have at least three or four hours. We can wire,’ she wound up, ‘from there.’

Ever so quietly she had brought it, as she had thought it, all out, and it had to be as covertly that he let his appreciation expand. ‘Then Lady Castledean –?’

‘Doesn’t dream of our staying.’

He took it, but thinking yet. ‘Then what does she dream –?’

‘Of Mr Blint, poor dear; of Mr Blint only.’ Her smile for him – for the Prince himself – was free. ‘Have I positively to tell you that she doesn’t want us? She only wanted us for the others – to show she wasn’t left alone with him. Now that that’s done and that they’ve all gone she of course knows for herself –!’

‘ “Knows”?’ the Prince vaguely echoed.

‘Why that we like cathedrals; that we inevitably stop to see them, or go round to take them in, whenever we’ve a chance; that it’s what our respective families quite expect of us and would be disappointed for us to fail of. This, as forestieri,’5 Mrs Verver pursued, ‘would be our pull – if our pull weren’t indeed so great all round.’

He could only keep his eyes on her. ‘And have you made out the very train –?’

‘The very one. Paddington – the 6.50 “in”. That gives us oceans; we can dine, at the usual hour, at home; and as Maggie will of course be in Eaton Square I hereby invite you.’

For a while he still but looked at her; it was a minute before he spoke. ‘Thank you very much. With pleasure.’ To which he in a moment added: ‘But the train for Gloucester?’

‘A local one – 11.22; with several stops, but doing it a good deal, I forget how much, within the hour. So that we’ve time. Only,’ she said, ‘we must employ our time.’

He roused himself as from the mere momentary spell of her; he looked again at his watch while they moved back to the door through which she had advanced. But he had also again questions and stops – all as for the mystery and the charm. ‘You looked it up – without my having asked you?’

‘Ah my dear,’ she laughed, ‘I’ve seen you with Bradshaw!6 It takes Anglo-Saxon blood.’

‘ “Blood”?’7 he echoed. ‘You’ve that of every race!’ It kept her before him. ‘You’re terrible.’

Well, he could put it as he liked. ‘I know the name of the inn.’

‘What is it then?’

‘There are two – you’ll see. But I’ve chosen the right one. And I think I remember the tomb,’ she smiled.

‘Oh the tomb –!’ Any tomb would do for him. ‘But I mean I had been keeping my idea so cleverly for you while there you already were with it.’

‘You had been keeping it “for” me as much as you like. But how do you make out,’ she asked, ‘that you were keeping it from me?’

‘I don’t – now. How shall I ever keep anything – some day when I shall wish to?’

‘Ah for things I mayn’t want to know I promise you shall find me stupid.’ They had reached their door, where she herself paused to explain. ‘These days, yesterday, last night, this morning, I’ve wanted everything.’

Well, it was all right. ‘You shall have everything.’