‘Beautiful’ – Golden Bowl / 30

Book TWO Part 4 Chapter 30

[Maggie] There was a blankness in her blandness, assuredly, and very nearly an extravagance in her generalising gaiety; a precipitation of cheer particularly marked whenever they met again after short separations: meetings during the first flush of which Maggie sometimes felt reminded of other looks in other faces; of two strangely unobliterated impressions above all, the physiognomic light that had played out in her husband at the shock—she had come at last to talk to herself of the “shock”—of his first vision of her on his return from Matcham and Gloucester, and the wonder of Charlotte’s beautiful bold wavering gaze when, the next morning in Eaton Square, this old friend had turned from the window to begin to deal with her.

[Maggie] If she had dared to think of it so crudely she would have said that Fanny was afraid of her, afraid of something she might say or do, even as, for their few brief seconds, Amerigo and Charlotte had been—which made, exactly, an expressive element common to the three. The difference however was that this look had in the dear woman its oddity of a constant renewal, whereas it had never for the least little instant again peeped out of the others. Other looks, other lights, radiant and steady, with the others, had taken its place, reaching a climax so short a time ago, that morning of the appearance of the pair on the balcony of her house to overlook what she had been doing with her father; when their general interested brightness and beauty, attuned to the outbreak of summer, had seemed to shed down warmth and welcome and the promise of protection.

[What Maggie might say to Father with respect to Charlotte] This last advantage for her, was, however, too sadly out of the question; her sole strength lay in her being able to see that if Charlotte wouldn’t “want” the Assinghams it would be because that sentiment too would have motives and grounds. She had all the while command of one way of meeting any objection, any complaint, on his wife’s part, reported to her by her father; it would be open to her to retort to his possible “What are your reasons, my dear?” by a lucidly-produced “What are hers, love, please?—isn’t that what we had better know? Mayn’t her reasons be a dislike, beautifully founded, of the presence, and thereby of the observation, of persons who perhaps know about her things it’s inconvenient to her they should know?” That hideous card she might in mere logic play—being by this time, at her still swifter private pace, intimately familiar with all the fingered pasteboard in her pack.

[Maggie, Mrs. Assingham] For a minute after this they remained face to face; Maggie had sprung up while her friend sat enthroned, and, after moving to and fro in her intensity, now paused to receive the light she had invoked. It had accumulated, considerably, by this time, round Mrs. Assingham’s ample presence, and it made, even to our young woman’s own sense, a medium in which she could at last take a deeper breath. “I’ve affected you, these months—and these last weeks in especial—as quiet and natural and easy?”
But it was a question that took, not imperceptibly, some answering. “You’ve never affected me, from the first hour I beheld you, as anything but—in a way all your own—absolutely good and sweet and beautiful. In a way, as I say,” Mrs. Assingham almost caressingly repeated, “just all your very own—nobody else’s at all. I’ve never thought of you but as OUTSIDE of ugly things, so ignorant of any falsity or cruelty or vulgarity as never to have to be touched by them or to touch them. I’ve never mixed you up with them; there would have been time enough for that if they had seemed to be near you. But they haven’t—if that’s what you want to know.”

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