The Golden Bowl — Volume 1
"How will it do, HOW?"—she went on as without hearing him.
"That's what one keeps feeling."
"Why shouldn't it do beautifully?"
"That anything of the past," she brooded, "should come back NOW?How will it do, how will it do?"
"It will do, I daresay, without your wringing your hands over it. When, my dear," the Colonel pursued as he smoked, "have you ever seen anything of yours—anything that you've done—NOT do?"
"Ah, I didn't do this!" It brought her answer straight. "I didn't bring her back."
"Did you expect her to stay over there all her days to oblige you?"
"Not a bit—for I shouldn't have minded her coming after their marriage. It's her coming, this way, before." To which she added with inconsequence: "I'm too sorry for her—of course she can't enjoy it. But I don't see what perversity rides her. She needn't have looked it all so in the face—as she doesn't do it, I suppose, simply for discipline. It's almost—that's the bore of it—discipline to ME."
"Perhaps then," said Bob Assingham, "that's what has been her idea. Take it, for God's sake, as discipline to you and have done with it. It will do," he added, "for discipline to me as well."
She was far, however, from having done with it; it was a situation with such different sides, as she said, and to none of which one could, in justice, be blind. "It isn't in the least, you know, for instance, that I believe she's bad. Never, never," Mrs. Assingham declared. "I don't think that of her."
"Then why isn't that enough?"
Nothing was enough, Mrs. Assingham signified, but that she should develop her thought. "She doesn't deliberately intend, she doesn't consciously wish, the least complication. It's perfectly true that she thinks Maggie a dear—as who doesn't? She's incapable of any PLAN to hurt a hair of her head. Yet here she is—and there THEY are," she wound up.
Her husband again, for a little, smoked in silence. "What in the world, between them, ever took place?"
"Between Charlotte and the Prince? Why, nothing—except their having to recognise that nothing COULD. That was their little romance—it was even their little tragedy."
"But what the deuce did they DO?"
"Do? They fell in love with each other—but, seeing it wasn't possible, gave each other up."
"Then where was the romance?"
"Why, in their frustration, in their having the courage to look the facts in the face."
"What facts?" the Colonel went on.
"Well, to begin with, that of their neither of them having the means to marry. If she had had even a little—a little, I mean, for two—I believe he would bravely have done it." After which, as her husband but emitted an odd vague sound, she corrected herself. "I mean if he himself had had only a little—or a little more than a little, a little for a prince. They would have done what they could"—she did them justice"—if there had been a way. But there wasn't a way, and Charlotte, quite to her honour, I consider, understood it. He HAD to have money—it was a question of life and death. It wouldn't have been a bit amusing, either, to marry him as a pauper—I mean leaving him one. That was what she had—as HE had—the reason to see."
"And their reason is what you call their romance?"
She looked at him a moment. "What do you want more?"
"Didn't HE," the Colonel inquired, "want anything more? Or didn't, for that matter, poor Charlotte herself?"
She kept her eyes on him; there was a manner in it that half answered. "They were thoroughly in love. She might have been his—" She checked herself; she even for a minute lost herself. "She might have been anything she liked—except his wife."
"But she wasn't," said the Colonel very smokingly.
"She wasn't," Mrs. Assingham echoed.
The echo, not loud but deep, filled for a little the room. He seemed to listen to it die away; then he began again. "How are you sure?"
She waited before saying, but when she spoke it was definite."There wasn't time."
He had a small laugh for her reason; he might have expected some other. "Does it take so much time?"
She herself, however, remained serious. "It takes more than they had."
He was detached, but he wondered. "What was the matter with their time?" After which, as, remembering it all, living it over and piecing it together, she only considered, "You mean that you came in with your idea?" he demanded.
It brought her quickly to the point, and as if also in a measure to answer herself. "Not a bit of it—THEN. But you surely recall," she went on, "the way, a year ago, everything took place. They had parted before he had ever heard of Maggie."
"Why hadn't he heard of her from Charlotte herself?"
"Because she had never spoken of her."
"Is that also," the Colonel inquired, "what she has told you?"
"I'm not speaking," his wife returned, "of what she has told me. That's one thing. I'm speaking of what I know by myself. That's another."
"You feel, in other words, that she lies to you?" Bob Assingham more sociably asked.
She neglected the question, treating it as gross. "She never so much, at the time, as named Maggie."
It was so positive that it appeared to strike him. "It's he then who has told you?"
She after a moment admitted it. "It's he."
"And he doesn't lie?"
"No—to do him justice. I believe he absolutely doesn't. If I hadn't believed it," Mrs. Assingham declared, for her general justification, "I would have had nothing to do with him—that is in this connection. He's a gentleman—I mean ALL as much of one as he ought to be. And he had nothing to gain. That helps," she added, "even a gentleman. It was I who named Maggie to him—a year from last May. He had never heard of her before."
"Then it's grave," said the Colonel.
She hesitated. "Do you mean grave for me?"
"Oh, that everything's grave for 'you' is what we take for granted and are fundamentally talking about. It's grave—it WAS— for Charlotte. And it's grave for Maggie. That is it WAS—when he did see her. Or when she did see HIM."
"You don't torment me as much as you would like," she presently went on, "because you think of nothing that I haven't a thousand times thought of, and because I think of everything that you never will. It would all," she recognised, "have been grave if it hadn't all been right. You can't make out," she contended, "that we got to Rome before the end of February."
He more than agreed. "There's nothing in life, my dear, that ICAN make out."
Well, there was nothing in life, apparently, that she, at real need, couldn't. "Charlotte, who had been there, that year, from early, quite from November, left suddenly, you'll quite remember, about the 10th of April. She was to have stayed on—she was to have stayed, naturally, more or less, for us; and she was to have stayed all the more that the Ververs, due all winter, but delayed, week after week, in Paris, were at last really coming. They were coming—that is Maggie was—largely to see her, and above all to be with her THERE. It was all altered—by Charlotte's going to Florence. She went from one day to the other—you forget everything. She gave her reasons, but I thought it odd, at the time; I had a sense that something must have happened. The difficulty was that, though I knew a little, I didn't know enough. I didn't know her relation with him had been, as you say, a 'near' thing—that is I didn't know HOW near. The poor girl's departure was a flight—she went to save herself."
He had listened more than he showed—as came out in his tone."To save herself?"
"Well, also, really, I think, to save HIM too. I saw it afterwards—I see it all now. He would have been sorry—he didn't want to hurt her."