The Golden Bowl — Volume 1
"Oh, I daresay," the Colonel laughed. "They generally don't!"
"At all events," his wife pursued, "she escaped—they both did; for they had had simply to face it. Their marriage couldn't be, and, if that was so, the sooner they put the Apennines between them the better. It had taken them, it is true, some time to feel this and to find it out. They had met constantly, and not always publicly, all that winter; they had met more than was known— though it was a good deal known. More, certainly," she said, "than I then imagined—though I don't know what difference it would after all have made with me. I liked him, I thought him charming, from the first of our knowing him; and now, after more than a year, he has done nothing to spoil it. And there are things he might have done—things that many men easily would. Therefore I believe in him, and I was right, at first, in knowing I was going to. So I haven't"—and she stated it as she might have quoted from a slate, after adding up the items, the sum of a column of figures—"so I haven't, I say to myself, been a fool."
"Well, are you trying to make out that I've said you have? All their case wants, at any rate," Bob Assingham declared, "is that you should leave it well alone. It's theirs now; they've bought it, over the counter, and paid for it. It has ceased to be yours."
"Of which case," she asked, "are you speaking?"
He smoked a minute: then with a groan: "Lord, are there so many?"
"There's Maggie's and the Prince's, and there's the Prince's andCharlotte's."
"Oh yes; and then," the Colonel scoffed, "there's Charlotte's and the Prince's."
"There's Maggie's and Charlotte's," she went on—"and there's also Maggie's and mine. I think too that there's Charlotte's and mine. Yes," she mused, "Charlotte's and mine is certainly a case. In short, you see, there are plenty. But I mean," she said, "to keep my head."
"Are we to settle them all," he inquired, "to-night?"
"I should lose it if things had happened otherwise—if I had acted with any folly." She had gone on in her earnestness, unheeding of his question. "I shouldn't be able to bear that now. But my good conscience is my strength; no one can accuse me. The Ververs came on to Rome alone—Charlotte, after their days with her in Florence, had decided about America. Maggie, I daresay, had helped her; she must have made her a present, and a handsome one, so that many things were easy. Charlotte left them, came to England, 'joined' somebody or other, sailed for New York. I have still her letter from Milan, telling me; I didn't know at the moment all that was behind it, but I felt in it nevertheless the undertaking of a new life. Certainly, in any case, it cleared THAT air—I mean the dear old Roman, in which we were steeped. It left the field free—it gave me a free hand. There was no question for me of anybody else when I brought the two others together. More than that, there was no question for them. So you see," she concluded, "where that puts me." She got up, on the words, very much as if they were the blue daylight towards which, through a darksome tunnel, she had been pushing her way, and the elation in her voice, combined with her recovered alertness, might have signified the sharp whistle of the train that shoots at last into the open. She turned about the room; she looked out a moment into the August night; she stopped, here and there, before the flowers in bowls and vases. Yes, it was distinctly as if she had proved what was needing proof, as if the issue of her operation had been, almost unexpectedly, a success. Old arithmetic had perhaps been fallacious, but the new settled the question. Her husband, oddly, however, kept his place without apparently measuring these results. As he had been amused at her intensity, so he was not uplifted by her relief; his interest might in fact have been more enlisted than he allowed. "Do you mean," he presently asked, "that he had already forgot about Charlotte?"
She faced round as if he had touched a spring. "He WANTED to, naturally—and it was much the best thing he could do." She was in possession of the main case, as it truly seemed; she had it all now. "He was capable of the effort, and he took the best way. Remember too what Maggie then seemed to us."
"She's very nice; but she always seems to me, more than anything else, the young woman who has a million a year. If you mean that that's what she especially seemed to him, you of course place the thing in your light. The effort to forget Charlotte couldn't, I grant you, have been so difficult."
This pulled her up but for an instant. "I never said he didn't from the first—I never said that he doesn't more and more—like Maggie's money."
"I never said I shouldn't have liked it myself," Bob Assingham returned. He made no movement; he smoked another minute. "How much did Maggie know?"
"How much?" She seemed to consider—as if it were between quarts and gallons—how best to express the quantity. "She knew what Charlotte, in Florence, had told her."
"And what had Charlotte told her?"
"What makes you so sure?"
"Why, this—that she couldn't tell her." And she explained a little what she meant. "There are things, my dear—haven't you felt it yourself, coarse as you are?—that no one could tell Maggie. There are things that, upon my word, I shouldn't care to attempt to tell her now."
The Colonel smoked on it. "She'd be so scandalised?"
"She'd be so frightened. She'd be, in her strange little way, so hurt. She wasn't born to know evil. She must never know it." Bob Assingham had a queer grim laugh; the sound of which, in fact, fixed his wife before him. "We're taking grand ways to prevent it."
But she stood there to protest. "We're not taking any ways. The ways are all taken; they were taken from the moment he came up to our carriage that day in Villa Borghese—the second or third of her days in Rome, when, as you remember, you went off somewhere with Mr. Verver, and the Prince, who had got into the carriage with us, came home with us to tea. They had met; they had seen each other well; they were in relation: the rest was to come of itself and as it could. It began, practically, I recollect, in our drive. Maggie happened to learn, by some other man's greeting of him, in the bright Roman way, from a streetcorner as we passed, that one of the Prince's baptismal names, the one always used for him among his relations, was Amerigo: which (as you probably don't know, however, even after a lifetime of ME), was the name, four hundred years ago, or whenever, of the pushing man who followed, across the sea, in the wake of Columbus and succeeded, where Columbus had failed, in becoming godfather, or name-father, to the new Continent; so that the thought of any connection with him can even now thrill our artless breasts."
The Colonel's grim placidity could always quite adequately meet his wife's not infrequent imputation of ignorances, on the score of the land of her birth, unperturbed and unashamed; and these dark depths were even at the present moment not directly lighted by an inquiry that managed to be curious without being apologetic. "But where does the connection come in?"
His wife was prompt. "By the women—that is by some obliging woman, of old, who was a descendant of the pushing man, the make-believe discoverer, and whom the Prince is therefore luckily able to refer to as an ancestress. A branch of the other family had become great—great enough, at least, to marry into his; and the name of the navigator, crowned with glory, was, very naturally, to become so the fashion among them that some son, of every generation, was appointed to wear it. My point is, at any rate, that I recall noticing at the time how the Prince was, from the start, helped with the dear Ververs by his wearing it. The connection became romantic for Maggie the moment she took it in; she filled out, in a flash, every link that might be vague. 'By that sign,' I quite said to myself, 'he'll conquer'—with his good fortune, of course, of having the other necessary signs too. It really," said Mrs. Assingham, "was, practically, the fine side of the wedge. Which struck me as also," she wound up, "a lovely note for the candour of the Ververs."
The Colonel took in the tale, but his comment was prosaic. "He knew, Amerigo, what he was about. And I don't mean the OLD one."
"I know what you mean!" his wife bravely threw off.
"The old one"—he pointed his effect "isn't the only discoverer in the family."
"Oh, as much as you like! If he discovered America—or got himself honoured as if he had—his successors were, in due time, to discover the Americans. And it was one of them in particular, doubtless, who was to discover how patriotic we are."
"Wouldn't this be the same one," the Colonel asked, "who really discovered what you call the connection?"
She gave him a look. "The connection's a true thing—the connection's perfectly historic, Your insinuations recoil upon your cynical mind. Don't you understand," she asked, "that the history of such people is known, root and branch, at every moment of its course?"
"Oh, it's all right," said Bob Assingham.
"Go to the British Museum," his companion continued with spirit.
"And what am I to do there?"
"There's a whole immense room, or recess, or department, or whatever, filled with books written about his family alone. You can see for yourself."
"Have you seen for YOUR self?"
She faltered but an instant. "Certainly—I went one day with Maggie. We looked him up, so to say. They were most civil." And she fell again into the current her husband had slightly ruffled. "The effect was produced, the charm began to work, at all events, in Rome, from that hour of the Prince's drive with us. My only course, afterwards, had to be to make the best of it. It was certainly good enough for that," Mrs. Assingham hastened to add, "and I didn't in the least see my duty in making the worst. In the same situation, to-day; I wouldn't act differently. I entered into the case as it then appeared to me—and as, for the matter of that, it still does. I LIKED it, I thought all sorts of good of it, and nothing can even now," she said with some intensity, "make me think anything else."
"Nothing can ever make you think anything you don't want to," the Colonel, still in his chair, remarked over his pipe. "You've got a precious power of thinking whatever you do want. You want also, from moment to moment, to think such desperately different things. What happened," he went on, "was that you fell violently in love with the Prince yourself, and that as you couldn't get me out of the way you had to take some roundabout course. You couldn't marry him, any more than Charlotte could—that is not to yourself. But you could to somebody else—it was always the Prince, it was always marriage. You could to your little friend, to whom there were no objections."
"Not only there were no objections, but there were reasons, positive ones—and all excellent, all charming." She spoke with an absence of all repudiation of his exposure of the spring of her conduct; and this abstention, clearly and effectively conscious, evidently cost her nothing. "It IS always the Prince; and it IS always, thank heaven, marriage. And these are the things, God grant, that it will always be. That I could help, a year ago, most assuredly made me happy, and it continues to make me happy."
"Then why aren't you quiet?"
"I AM quiet," said Fanny Assingham.
He looked at her, with his colourless candour, still in his place; she moved about again, a little, emphasising by her unrest her declaration of her tranquillity. He was as silent, at first, as if he had taken her answer, but he was not to keep it long. "What do you make of it that, by your own show, Charlotte couldn't tell her all? What do you make of it that the Prince didn't tell her anything? Say one understands that there are things she can't be told—since, as you put it, she is so easily scared and shocked." He produced these objections slowly, giving her time, by his pauses, to stop roaming and come back to him. But she was roaming still when he concluded his inquiry. "If there hadn't been anything there shouldn't have been between the pair before Charlotte bolted—in order, precisely, as you say, that there SHOULDN'T be: why in the world was what there HAD been too bad to be spoken of?"
Mrs. Assingham, after this question, continued still to circulate—not directly meeting it even when at last she stopped.
"I thought you wanted me to be quiet."
"So I do—and I'm trying to make you so much so that you won't worry more. Can't you be quiet on THAT?"
She thought a moment—then seemed to try. "To relate that she had to 'bolt' for the reasons we speak of, even though the bolting had done for her what she wished—THAT I can perfectly feel Charlotte's not wanting to do."
"Ah then, if it HAS done for her what she wished-!" But the Colonel's conclusion hung by the "if" which his wife didn't take up. So it hung but the longer when he presently spoke again. "All one wonders, in that case, is why then she has come back to him."
"Say she hasn't come back to him. Not really to HIM."
"I'll say anything you like. But that won't do me the same good as your saying it."
"Nothing, my dear, will do you good," Mrs. Assingham returned. "You don't care for anything in itself; you care for nothing but to be grossly amused because I don't keep washing my hands—!"
"I thought your whole argument was that everything is so right that this is precisely what you do."