Book 3, Chapters 3-4 Summary
Colonel and Mrs. Assingham return home following the party, riding in a hired carriage. They discuss Charlotte and the Prince’s public appearance as a couple without their respective spouses. Mrs. Assingham feels that their strong defense of themselves supports her idea that there is something inappropriate occurring between the two. The Colonel points out that the Prince, whose wife is more devoted to her father than she is to her husband, is left out in the cold with nothing really to do. Mrs. Assingham admits that, as long as she has known him, the Prince has always acted admirably. The Colonel asks if she means that the Prince has earned the right to “kick up his heels.” His wife replies that it isn’t a question of their behaving well apart but of how they behave together. They discuss which one, Charlotte or the Prince, is to be held responsible for the impending scandal. Mrs. Assingham believes it is more due to Charlotte’s behavior than the Prince’s. The Colonel advises her to leave the situation alone. Mrs. Assingham objects that they would be implicitly encouraging the situation, but the Colonel insists that she mind her own business. The Prince’s and Charlotte’s behaviors—and consequences—are their own responsibility and not anyone else’s.
Charlotte and the Prince feel that they now have an “extraordinary freedom.” Charlotte presses the idea of this freedom, though the Prince has also felt it for some time. The inevitability of the relationship and the direction in which it is going are apparent to Charlotte. This freedom was felt when Charlotte returned from an extended stay in America, where Mr. Verver was arranging his newly purchased antiques in his museum. The Prince wonders if they did everything they could have done to avoid this outcome when he received the telegram announcing Charlotte’s marriage and responded with his own, which telegram Charlotte still keeps in a secret place. They had the attitude that what will happen will happen, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
Charlotte arrives to visit, and the Prince wonders if she will leave when she learns Maggie is not present. She does not. She joins him in the parlor, where Charlotte dries her feet, having come through the rain. She tells the Prince that she did not use her own carriage because of the weather, which makes her feel as she used to—that she could do anything she liked.