Part 4 out of 6
Charlotte, who had unmistakably acquired it, through the young
man's having amiably passed it on. She made use, for her so
quietly grateful host, however this might be, of quite the same
shades of attention and recognition, was mistress in an equal
degree of the regulated, the developed art of placing him high in
the scale of importance. That was even for his own thought a
clumsy way of expressing the element of similarity in the
agreeable effect they each produced on him, and it held him for a
little only because this coincidence in their felicity caused him
vaguely to connect or associate them in the matter of tradition,
training, tact, or whatever else one might call it. It might
almost have been--if such a link between them was to be
imagined--that Amerigo had, a little, "coached" or incited their
young friend, or perhaps rather that she had simply, as one of
the signs of the general perfection Fanny Assingham commended in
her, profited by observing, during her short opportunity before
the start of the travellers, the pleasant application by the
Prince of his personal system. He might wonder what exactly it
was that they so resembled each other in treating him like--from
what noble and propagated convention, in cases in which the
exquisite "importance" was to be neither too grossly attributed
nor too grossly denied, they had taken their specific lesson; but
the difficulty was here of course that one could really never
know--couldn't know without having been one's self a personage;
whether a Pope, a King, a President, a Peer, a General, or just a
Before such a question, as before several others when they
recurred, he would come to a pause, leaning his arms on the old
parapet and losing himself in a far excursion. He had as to so
many of the matters in hand a divided view, and this was exactly
what made him reach out, in his unrest, for some idea, lurking in
the vast freshness of the night, at the breath of which
disparities would submit to fusion, and so, spreading beneath
him, make him feel that he floated. What he kept finding himself
return to, disturbingly enough, was the reflection, deeper than
anything else, that in forming a new and intimate tie he should
in a manner abandon, or at the best signally relegate, his
daughter. He should reduce to definite form the idea that he had
lost her--as was indeed inevitable--by her own marriage; he
should reduce to definite form the idea of his having incurred an
injury, or at the best an inconvenience, that required some
makeweight and deserved some amends. And he should do this the
more, which was the great point, that he should appear to adopt,
in doing it, the sentiment, in fact the very conviction,
entertained, and quite sufficiently expressed, by Maggie herself,
in her beautiful generosity, as to what he had suffered--putting
it with extravagance--at her hands. If she put it with
extravagance the extravagance was yet sincere, for it came--which
she put with extravagance too--from her persistence, always, in
thinking, feeling, talking about him, as young. He had had
glimpses of moments when to hear her thus, in her absolutely
unforced compunction, one would have supposed the special edge of
the wrong she had done him to consist in his having still before
him years and years to groan under it. She had sacrificed a
parent, the pearl of parents, no older than herself: it wouldn't
so much have mattered if he had been of common parental age. That
he wasn't, that he was just her extraordinary equal and
contemporary, this was what added to her act the long train of
its effect. Light broke for him at last, indeed, quite as a
consequence of the fear of breathing a chill upon this luxuriance
of her spiritual garden. As at a turn of his labyrinth he saw his
issue, which opened out so wide, for the minute, that he held his
breath with wonder. He was afterwards to recall how, just then,
the autumn night seemed to clear to a view in which the whole
place, everything round him, the wide terrace where he stood, the
others, with their steps, below, the gardens, the park, the lake,
the circling woods, lay there as under some strange midnight sun.
It all met him during these instants as a vast expanse of
discovery, a world that looked, so lighted, extraordinarily new,
and in which familiar objects had taken on a distinctness that,
as if it had been a loud, a spoken pretension to beauty,
interest, importance, to he scarce knew what, gave them an
inordinate quantity of character and, verily, an inordinate size.
This hallucination, or whatever he might have called it, was
brief, but it lasted long enough to leave him gasping. The gasp
of admiration had by this time, however, lost itself in an
intensity that quickly followed--the way the wonder of it, since
wonder was in question, truly had been the strange DELAY of his
vision. He had these several days groped and groped for an object
that lay at his feet and as to which his blindness came from his
stupidly looking beyond. It had sat all the while at his hearth-
stone, whence it now gazed up in his face.
Once he had recognised it there everything became coherent. The
sharp point to which all his light converged was that the whole
call of his future to him, as a father, would be in his so
managing that Maggie would less and less appear to herself to
have forsaken him. And it not only wouldn't be decently humane,
decently possible, not to make this relief easy to her--the idea
shone upon him, more than that, as exciting, inspiring,
uplifting. It fell in so beautifully with what might be otherwise
possible; it stood there absolutely confronted with the material
way in which it might be met. The way in which it might be met
was by his putting his child at peace, and the way to put her at
peace was to provide for his future--that is for hers--by
marriage, by a marriage as good, speaking proportionately, as
hers had been. As he fairly inhaled this measure of refreshment
he tasted the meaning of recent agitations. He had seen that
Charlotte could contribute--what he hadn't seen was what she
could contribute TO. When it had all supremely cleared up and he
had simply settled this service to his daughter well before him
as the proper direction of his young friend's leisure, the cool
darkness had again closed round him, but his moral lucidity was
constituted. It wasn't only moreover that the word, with a click,
so fitted the riddle, but that the riddle, in such perfection,
fitted the word. He might have been equally in want and yet not
have had his remedy. Oh, if Charlotte didn't accept him, of
course the remedy would fail; but, as everything had fallen
together, it was at least there to be tried. And success would be
great--that was his last throb--if the measure of relief effected
for Maggie should at all prove to have been given by his own
actual sense of felicity. He really didn't know when in his life
he had thought of anything happier. To think of it merely for
himself would have been, even as he had just lately felt, even
doing all justice to that condition--yes, impossible. But there
was a grand difference in thinking of it for his child.
It was at Brighton, above all, that this difference came out; it
was during the three wonderful days he spent there with Charlotte
that he had acquainted himself further--though doubtless not even
now quite completely--with the merits of his majestic scheme. And
while, moreover, to begin with, he still but held his vision in
place, steadying it fairly with his hands, as he had often
steadied, for inspection, a precarious old pot or kept a glazed
picture in its right relation to the light, the other, the outer
presumptions in his favour, those independent of what he might
himself contribute and that therefore, till he should "speak,"
remained necessarily vague--that quantity, I say, struck him as
positively multiplying, as putting on, in the fresh Brighton air
and on the sunny Brighton front, a kind of tempting palpability.
He liked, in this preliminary stage, to feel that he should be
able to "speak" and that he would; the word itself being
romantic, pressing for him the spring of association with stories
and plays where handsome and ardent young men, in uniforms,
tights, cloaks, high-boots, had it, in soliloquies, ever on their
lips; and the sense on the first day that he should probably have
taken the great step before the second was over conduced already
to make him say to his companion that they must spend more than
their mere night or two. At his ease on the ground of what was
before him he at all events definitely desired to be, and it was
strongly his impression that he was proceeding step by step. He
was acting--it kept coming back to that--not in the dark, but in
the high golden morning; not in precipitation, flurry, fever,
dangers these of the path of passion properly so called, but with
the deliberation of a plan, a plan that might be a thing of less
joy than a passion, but that probably would, in compensation for
that loss, be found to have the essential property, to wear even
the decent dignity, of reaching further and of providing for more
contingencies. The season was, in local parlance, "on," the
elements were assembled; the big windy hotel, the draughty social
hall, swarmed with "types," in Charlotte's constant phrase, and
resounded with a din in which the wild music of gilded and
befrogged bands, Croatian, Dalmatian, Carpathian, violently
exotic and nostalgic, was distinguished as struggling against the
perpetual popping of corks. Much of this would decidedly have
disconcerted our friends if it hadn't all happened, more
preponderantly, to give them the brighter surprise. The noble
privacy of Fawns had left them--had left Mr. Verver at least--
with a little accumulated sum of tolerance to spend on the high
pitch and high colour of the public sphere. Fawns, as it had been
for him, and as Maggie and Fanny Assingham had both attested, was
out of the world, whereas the scene actually about him, with the
very sea a mere big booming medium for excursions and aquariums,
affected him as so plump in the conscious centre that nothing
could have been more complete for representing that pulse of life
which they had come to unanimity at home on the subject of their
advisedly not hereafter forgetting. The pulse of life was what
Charlotte, in her way, at home, had lately reproduced, and there
were positively current hours when it might have been open to her
companion to feel himself again indebted to her for
introductions. He had "brought" her, to put it crudely, but it
was almost as if she were herself, in her greater gaiety, her
livelier curiosity and intensity, her readier, happier irony,
taking him about and showing him the place. No one, really, when
he came to think, had ever taken him about before--it had always
been he, of old, who took others and who in particular took
Maggie. This quickly fell into its relation with him as part of
an experience--marking for him, no doubt, what people call,
considerately, a time of life; a new and pleasant order, a
flattered passive state, that might become--why shouldn't it?--
one of the comforts of the future.
Mr. Gutermann-Seuss proved, on the second day--our friend had
waited till then--a remarkably genial, a positively lustrous
young man occupying a small neat house in a quarter of the place
remote from the front and living, as immediate and striking signs
testified, in the bosom of his family. Our visitors found
themselves introduced, by the operation of close contiguity, to a
numerous group of ladies and gentlemen older and younger, and of
children larger and smaller, who mostly affected them as scarce
less anointed for hospitality and who produced at first the
impression of a birthday party, of some anniversary gregariously
and religiously kept, though they subsequently fell into their
places as members of one quiet domestic circle, preponderantly
and directly indebted for their being, in fact, to Mr.
Gutermann-Seuss. To the casual eye a mere smart and shining youth
of less than thirty summers, faultlessly appointed in every
particular, he yet stood among his progeny--eleven in all, as he
confessed without a sigh, eleven little brown clear faces, yet
with such impersonal old eyes astride of such impersonal old
noses--while he entertained the great American collector whom he
had so long hoped he might meet, and whose charming companion,
the handsome, frank, familiar young lady, presumably Mrs. Verver,
noticed the graduated offspring, noticed the fat, ear-ringed
aunts and the glossy, cockneyfied, familiar uncles, inimitable of
accent and assumption, and of an attitude of cruder intention
than that of the head of the firm; noticed the place in short,
noticed the treasure produced, noticed everything, as from the
habit of a person finding her account at any time, according to a
wisdom well learned of life, in almost any "funny" impression. It
really came home to her friend on the spot that this free range
of observation in her, picking out the frequent funny with
extraordinary promptness, would verily henceforth make a
different thing for him of such experiences, of the customary
hunt for the possible prize, the inquisitive play of his accepted
monomania; which different thing could probably be a lighter and
perhaps thereby a somewhat more boisterously refreshing form of
sport. Such omens struck him as vivid, in any case, when Mr.
Gutermann-Seuss, with a sharpness of discrimination he had at
first scarce seemed to promise, invited his eminent couple into
another room, before the threshold of which the rest of the
tribe, unanimously faltering, dropped out of the scene. The
treasure itself here, the objects on behalf of which Mr. Verver's
interest had been booked, established quickly enough their claim
to engage the latter's attention; yet at what point of his past
did our friend's memory, looking back and back, catch him, in any
such place, thinking so much less of wares artfully paraded than
of some other and quite irrelevant presence? Such places were not
strange to him when they took the form of bourgeois back-
parlours, a trifle ominously grey and grim from their north
light, at watering-places prevailingly homes of humbug, or even
when they wore some aspect still less, if not perhaps still more,
insidious. He had been everywhere, pried and prowled everywhere,
going, on occasion, so far as to risk, he believed, life, health
and the very bloom of honour; but where, while precious things,
extracted one by one from thrice-locked yet often vulgar drawers
and soft satchels of old oriental ilk, were impressively ranged
before him, had he, till now, let himself, in consciousness,
wander like one of the vague?
He didn't betray it--ah THAT he knew; but two recognitions took
place for him at once, and one of them suffered a little in
sweetness by the confusion. Mr. Gutermann-Seuss had truly, for
the crisis, the putting down of his cards, a rare manner; he was
perfect master of what not to say to such a personage as Mr.
Verver while the particular importance that dispenses with
chatter was diffused by his movements themselves, his repeated
act of passage between a featureless mahogany meuble and a table
so virtuously disinterested as to look fairly smug under a cotton
cloth of faded maroon and indigo, all redolent of patriarchal
teas. The Damascene tiles, successively, and oh so tenderly,
unmuffled and revealed, lay there at last in their full harmony
and their venerable splendour, but the tribute of appreciation
and decision was, while the spectator considered, simplified to a
point that but just failed of representing levity on the part of
a man who had always acknowledged without shame, in such affairs,
the intrinsic charm of what was called discussion. The infinitely
ancient, the immemorial amethystine blue of the glaze, scarcely
more meant to be breathed upon, it would seem, than the cheek of
royalty--this property of the ordered and matched array had
inevitably all its determination for him, but his submission was,
perhaps for the first time in his life, of the quick mind alone,
the process really itself, in its way, as fine as the perfection
perceived and admired: every inch of the rest of him being given
to the foreknowledge that an hour or two later he should have
"spoken." The burning of his ships therefore waited too near to
let him handle his opportunity with his usual firm and sentient
fingers--waited somehow in the predominance of Charlotte's very
person, in her being there exactly as she was, capable, as Mr.
Gutermann-Seuss himself was capable, of the right felicity of
silence, but with an embracing ease, through it all, that made
deferred criticism as fragrant as some joy promised a lover by
his mistress, or as a big bridal bouquet held patiently behind
her. He couldn't otherwise have explained, surely, why he found
himself thinking, to his enjoyment, of so many other matters than
the felicity of his acquisition and the figure of his cheque,
quite equally high; any more than why, later on, with their
return to the room in which they had been received and the
renewed encompassment of the tribe, he felt quite merged in the
elated circle formed by the girl's free response to the
collective caress of all the shining eyes, and by her genial
acceptance of the heavy cake and port wine that, as she was
afterwards to note, added to their transaction, for a finish, the
touch of some mystic rite of old Jewry.
This characterisation came from her as they walked away--walked
together, in the waning afternoon, back to the breezy sea and the
bustling front, back to the nimble and the flutter and the
shining shops that sharpened the grin of solicitation on the mask
of night. They were walking thus, as he felt, nearer and nearer
to where he should see his ships burn, and it was meanwhile for
him quite as if this red glow would impart, at the harmonious
hour, a lurid grandeur to his good faith. It was meanwhile too a
sign of the kind of sensibility often playing up in him that--
fabulous as this truth may sound--he found a sentimental link, an
obligation of delicacy, or perhaps even one of the penalties of
its opposite, in his having exposed her to the north light, the
quite properly hard business-light, of the room in which they had
been alone with the treasure and its master. She had listened to
the name of the sum he was capable of looking in the face. Given
the relation of intimacy with him she had already, beyond all
retractation, accepted, the stir of the air produced at the other
place by that high figure struck him as a thing that, from the
moment she had exclaimed or protested as little as he himself had
apologised, left him but one thing more to do. A man of decent
feeling didn't thrust his money, a huge lump of it, in such a
way, under a poor girl's nose--a girl whose poverty was, after a
fashion, the very basis of her enjoyment of his hospitality--
without seeing, logically, a responsibility attached. And this
was to remain none the less true for the fact that twenty minutes
later, after he had applied his torch, applied it with a sign or
two of insistence, what might definitely result failed to be
immediately clear. He had spoken--spoken as they sat together on
the out-of-the-way bench observed during one of their walks and
kept for the previous quarter of the present hour well in his
memory's eye; the particular spot to which, between intense
pauses and intenser advances, he had all the while consistently
led her. Below the great consolidated cliff, well on to where the
city of stucco sat most architecturally perched, with the
rumbling beach and the rising tide and the freshening stars in
front and above, the safe sense of the whole place yet prevailed
in lamps and seats and flagged walks, hovering also overhead in
the close neighbourhood of a great replete community about to
assist anew at the removal of dish-covers.
"We've had, as it seems to me, such quite beautiful days
together, that I hope it won't come to you too much as a shock
when I ask if you think you could regard me with any satisfaction
as a husband." As if he had known she wouldn't, she of course
couldn't, at all gracefully, and whether or no, reply with a
rush, he had said a little more--quite as he had felt he must in
thinking it out in advance. He had put the question on which
there was no going back and which represented thereby the
sacrifice of his vessels, and what he further said was to stand
for the redoubled thrust of flame that would make combustion
sure. "This isn't sudden to me, and I've wondered at moments if
you haven't felt me coming to it. I've been coming ever since we
left Fawns--I really started while we were there." He spoke
slowly, giving her, as he desired, time to think; all the more
that it was making her look at him steadily, and making her also,
in a remarkable degree, look "well" while she did so--a large
and, so far, a happy, consequence. She wasn't at all events
shocked--which he had glanced at but for a handsome humility--and
he would give her as many minutes as she liked. "You mustn't
think I'm forgetting that I'm not young."
"Oh, that isn't so. It's I that am old. You ARE young." This was
what she had at first answered--and quite in the tone too of
having taken her minutes. It had not been wholly to the point,
but it had been kind--which was what he most wanted. And she
kept, for her next words, to kindness, kept to her clear, lowered
voice and unshrinking face. "To me too it thoroughly seems that
these days have been beautiful. I shouldn't be grateful to them
if I couldn't more or less have imagined their bringing us to
this." She affected him somehow as if she had advanced a step to
meet him and yet were at the same time standing still. It only
meant, however, doubtless, that she was, gravely and reasonably,
thinking--as he exactly desired to make her. If she would but
think enough she would probably think to suit him. "It seems to
me," she went on, "that it's for YOU to be sure."
"Ah, but I AM sure," said Adam Verver. "On matters of importance
I never speak when I'm not. So if you can yourself FACE such a
union you needn't in the least trouble."
She had another pause, and she might have been felt as facing it
while, through lamplight and dusk, through the breath of the
mild, slightly damp southwest, she met his eyes without evasion.
Yet she had at the end of another minute debated only to the
extent of saying: "I won't pretend I don't think it would be good
for me to marry. Good for me, I mean," she pursued, "because I'm
so awfully unattached. I should like to be a little less adrift.
I should like to have a home. I should like to have an existence.
I should like to have a motive for one thing more than another--a
motive outside of myself. In fact," she said, so sincerely that
it almost showed pain, yet so lucidly that it almost showed
humour, "in fact, you know, I want to BE married. It's--well,
it's the condition."
"The condition--?" He was just vague.
"It's the state, I mean. I don't like my own. 'Miss,' among us
all, is too dreadful--except for a shopgirl. I don't want to be a
horrible English old-maid."
"Oh, you want to be taken care of. Very well then, I'll do it."
"I dare say it's very much that. Only I don't see why, for what I
speak of," she smiled--"for a mere escape from my state--I need
do quite so MUCH."
"So much as marry me in particular?"
Her smile was as for true directness. "I might get what I want
"You think it so much for you to do?"
"Yes," she presently said, "I think it's a great deal."
Then it was that, though she was so gentle, so quite perfect with
him, and he felt he had come on far--then it was that of a sudden
something seemed to fail and he didn't quite know where they
were. There rose for him, with this, the fact, to be sure, of
their disparity, deny it as mercifully and perversely as she
would. He might have been her father. "Of course, yes--that's my
disadvantage: I'm not the natural, I'm so far from being the
ideal match to your youth and your beauty. I've the drawback that
you've seen me always, so inevitably, in such another light."
But she gave a slow headshake that made contradiction soft--made
it almost sad, in fact, as from having to be so complete; and he
had already, before she spoke, the dim vision of some objection
in her mind beside which the one he had named was light, and
which therefore must be strangely deep. "You don't understand me.
It's of all that it is for YOU to do--it's of that I'm thinking."
Oh, with this, for him, the thing was clearer! "Then you needn't
think. I know enough what it is for me to do."
But she shook her head again. "I doubt if you know. I doubt if
"And why not, please--when I've had you so before me? That I'm
old has at least THAT fact about it to the good--that I've known
you long and from far back."
"Do you think you've 'known' me?" asked Charlotte Stant. He
hesitated--for the tone of it, and her look with it might have
made him doubt. Just these things in themselves, however, with
all the rest, with his fixed purpose now, his committed deed, the
fine pink glow, projected forward, of his ships, behind him,
definitely blazing and crackling--this quantity was to push him
harder than any word of her own could warn him. All that she was
herself, moreover, was so lighted, to its advantage, by the pink
glow. He wasn't rabid, but he wasn't either, as a man of a proper
spirit, to be frightened. "What is that then--if I accept it--but
as strong a reason as I can want for just LEARNING to know you?"
She faced him always--kept it up as for honesty, and yet at the
same time, in her odd way, as for mercy. "How can you tell
whether if you did you would?"
It was ambiguous for an instant, as she showed she felt. "I mean
when it's a question of learning, one learns sometimes too late."
"I think it's a question," he promptly enough made answer, "of
liking you the more just for your saying these things. You should
make something," he added, "of my liking you."
"I make everything. But are you sure of having exhausted all
This, of a truth, enlarged his gaze. "But what other ways?"
"Why, you've more ways of being kind than anyone I ever knew."
"Take it then," he answered, "that I'm simply putting them all
together for you." She looked at him, on this, long again--still
as if it shouldn't be said she hadn't given him time or had
withdrawn from his view, so to speak, a single inch of her
surface. This at least she was fully to have exposed. It
represented her as oddly conscientious, and he scarce knew in
what sense it affected him. On the whole, however, with
admiration. "You're very, very honourable."
"It's just what I want to be. I don't see," she added, "why
you're not right, I don't see why you're not happy, as you are. I
can not ask myself, I can not ask YOU," she went on, "if you're
really as much at liberty as your universal generosity leads you
to assume. Oughtn't we," she asked, "to think a little of others?
Oughtn't I, at least, in loyalty--at any rate in delicacy--to
think of Maggie?" With which, intensely gentle, so as not to
appear too much to teach him his duty, she explained. "She's
everything to you--she has always been. Are you so certain that
there's room in your life--?"
"For another daughter?--is that what you mean?" She had not hung
upon it long, but he had quickly taken her up.
He had not, however, disconcerted her. "For another young woman--
very much of her age, and whose relation to her has always been
so different from what our marrying would make it. For another
companion," said Charlotte Stant.
"Can't a man be, all his life then," he almost fiercely asked,
"anything but a father?" But he went on before she could answer.
"You talk about differences, but they've been already made--as no
one knows better than Maggie. She feels the one she made herself
by her own marriage--made, I mean, for me. She constantly thinks
of it--it allows her no rest. To put her at peace is therefore,"
he explained, "what I'm trying, with you, to do. I can't do it
alone, but I can do it with your help. You can make her," he
said, "positively happy about me."
"About you?" she thoughtfully echoed. "But what can I make her
"Oh, if she's at ease about me the rest will take care of itself.
The case," he declared, "is in your hands. You'll effectually put
out of her mind that I feel she has abandoned me."
Interest certainly now was what he had kindled in her face, but
it was all the more honourable to her, as he had just called it
that she should want to see each of the steps of his conviction.
"If you've been driven to the 'likes' of me, mayn't it show that
you've felt truly forsaken?"
"Well, I'm willing to suggest that, if I can show at the same
time that I feel consoled."
"But HAVE you," she demanded, "really felt so?" He hesitated.
"No--I haven't. But if it's her idea--!" If it was her idea, in
short, that was enough. This enunciation of motive, the next
moment, however, sounded to him perhaps slightly thin, so that he
gave it another touch. "That is if it's my idea. I happen, you
see, to like my idea."
"Well, it's beautiful and wonderful. But isn't it, possibly,"
Charlotte asked, "not quite enough to marry me for?"
"Why so, my dear child? Isn't a man's idea usually what he does
Charlotte, considering, looked as if this might perhaps be a
large question, or at all events something of an extension of one
they were immediately concerned with. "Doesn't that a good deal
depend on the sort of thing it may be?" She suggested that, about
marriage, ideas, as he called them, might differ; with which,
however, giving no more time to it, she sounded another question.
"Don't you appear rather to put it to me that I may accept your
offer for Maggie's sake? Somehow"--she turned it over--"I don't
so clearly SEE her quite so much finding reassurance, or even
quite so much needing it."
"Do you then make nothing at all of her having been so ready to
Ah, Charlotte on the contrary made much! "She was ready to leave
us because she had to be. From the moment the Prince wanted it
she could only go with him."
"Perfectly--so that, if you see your way, she will be able to 'go
with him' in future as much as she likes."
Charlotte appeared to examine for a minute, in Maggie's interest,
this privilege--the result of which was a limited concession.
"You've certainly worked it out!"
"Of course I've worked it out--that's exactly what I HAVE done.
She hadn't for a long time been so happy about anything as at
your being there with me."
"I was to be with you," said Charlotte, "for her security."
"Well," Adam Verver rang out, "this IS her security. You've
only, if you can't see it, to ask her."
"'Ask' her?"--the girl echoed it in wonder. "Certainly--in so
many words. Telling her you don't believe me."
Still she debated. "Do you mean write it to her?"
"Quite so. Immediately. To-morrow."
"Oh, I don't think I can write it," said Charlotte Stant. "When I
write to her"--and she looked amused for so different a shade--
"it's about the Principino's appetite and Dr. Brady's visits."
"Very good then--put it to her face to face. We'll go straight to
Paris to meet them."
Charlotte, at this, rose with a movement that was like a small
cry; but her unspoken sense lost itself while she stood with her
eyes on him--he keeping his seat as for the help it gave him, a
little, to make his appeal go up. Presently, however, a new sense
had come to her, and she covered him, kindly, with the expression
of it. "I do think, you know, you must rather 'like' me."
"Thank you," said Adam Verver. "You WILL put it to her yourself
She had another hesitation. "We go over, you say, to meet them?"
"As soon as we can get back to Fawns. And wait there for them, if
necessary, till they come."
"Wait in Paris. That will be charming in itself."
"You take me to pleasant places." She turned it over. "You
propose to me beautiful things."
"It rests but with you to make them beautiful and pleasant.
You've made Brighton--!"
"Ah!"--she almost tenderly protested. "With what I'm doing now?"
"You're promising me now what I want. Aren't you promising me,"
he pressed, getting up, "aren't you promising me to abide by what
Oh, she wanted to be sure she was. "Do you mean she'll ASK it of
It gave him indeed, as by communication, a sense of the propriety
of being himself certain. Yet what was he but certain? "She'll
speak to you. She'll speak to you FOR me."
This at last then seemed to satisfy her. "Very good. May we wait
again to talk of it till she has done so?" He showed, with his
hands down in his pockets and his shoulders expressively up, a
certain disappointment. Soon enough, none the less, his
gentleness was all back and his patience once more exemplary. "Of
course I give you time. Especially," he smiled, "as it's time
that I shall be spending with you. Our keeping on together will
help you perhaps to see. To see, I mean, how I need you."
"I already see," said Charlotte, "how you've persuaded yourself
you do." But she had to repeat it. "That isn't, unfortunately,
"Well then, how you'll make Maggie right."
"'Right'?" She echoed it as if the word went far. And "O--oh!"
she still critically murmured as they moved together away.
He had talked to her of their waiting in Paris, a week later, but
on the spot there this period of patience suffered no great
strain. He had written to his daughter, not indeed from Brighton,
but directly after their return to Fawns, where they spent only
forty-eight hours before resuming their journey; and Maggie's
reply to his news was a telegram from Rome, delivered to him at
noon of their fourth day and which he brought out to Charlotte,
who was seated at that moment in the court of the hotel, where
they had agreed that he should join her for their proceeding
together to the noontide meal. His letter, at Fawns--a letter of
several pages and intended lucidly, unreservedly, in fact all but
triumphantly, to inform--had proved, on his sitting down to it,
and a little to his surprise, not quite so simple a document to
frame as even his due consciousness of its weight of meaning had
allowed him to assume: this doubtless, however, only for reasons
naturally latent in the very wealth of that consciousness, which
contributed to his message something of their own quality of
impatience. The main result of their talk, for the time, had been
a difference in his relation to his young friend, as well as a
difference, equally sensible, in her relation to himself; and
this in spite of his not having again renewed his undertaking to
"speak" to her so far even as to tell her of the communication
despatched to Rome. Delicacy, a delicacy more beautiful still,
all the delicacy she should want, reigned between them--it being
rudimentary, in their actual order, that she mustn't be further
worried until Maggie should have put her at her ease.
It was just the delicacy, however, that in Paris--which,
suggestively, was Brighton at a hundredfold higher pitch--made,
between him and his companion, the tension, made the suspense,
made what he would have consented perhaps to call the provisional
peculiarity, of present conditions. These elements acted in a
manner of their own, imposing and involving, under one head, many
abstentions and precautions, twenty anxieties and reminders--
things, verily, he would scarce have known how to express; and
yet creating for them at every step an acceptance of their
reality. He was hanging back, with Charlotte, till another person
should intervene for their assistance, and yet they had, by what
had already occurred, been carried on to something it was out of
the power of other persons to make either less or greater. Common
conventions--that was what was odd--had to be on this basis more
thought of; those common conventions that, previous to the
passage by the Brighton strand, he had so enjoyed the sense of
their overlooking. The explanation would have been, he supposed--
or would have figured it with less of unrest--that Paris had, in
its way, deeper voices and warnings, so that if you went at all
"far" there it laid bristling traps, as they might have been
viewed, all smothered in flowers, for your going further still.
There were strange appearances in the air, and before you knew it
you might be unmistakably matching them. Since he wished
therefore to match no appearance but that of a gentleman playing
with perfect fairness any game in life he might be called to, he
found himself, on the receipt of Maggie's missive, rejoicing with
a certain inconsistency. The announcement made her from home had,
in the act, cost some biting of his pen to sundry parts of him--
his personal modesty, his imagination of her prepared state for
so quick a jump, it didn't much matter which--and yet he was more
eager than not for the drop of delay and for the quicker
transitions promised by the arrival of the imminent pair. There
was after all a hint of offence to a man of his age in being
taken, as they said at the shops, on approval. Maggie, certainly,
would have been as far as Charlotte herself from positively
desiring this, and Charlotte, on her side, as far as Maggie from
holding him light as a real value. She made him fidget thus, poor
girl, but from generous rigour of conscience.
These allowances of his spirit were, all the same, consistent
with a great gladness at the sight of the term of his ordeal; for
it was the end of his seeming to agree that questions and doubts
had a place. The more he had inwardly turned the matter over the
more it had struck him that they had in truth only an ugliness.
What he could have best borne, as he now believed, would have
been Charlotte's simply saying to him that she didn't like him
enough. This he wouldn't have enjoyed, but he would quite have
understood it and been able ruefully to submit. She did like him
enough--nothing to contradict that had come out for him; so that
he was restless for her as well as for himself. She looked at him
hard a moment when he handed her his telegram, and the look, for
what he fancied a dim, shy fear in it, gave him perhaps his best
moment of conviction that--as a man, so to speak--he properly
pleased her. He said nothing--the words sufficiently did it for
him, doing it again better still as Charlotte, who had left her
chair at his approach, murmured them out. "We start to-night to
bring you all our love and joy and sympathy." There they were,
the words, and what did she want more? She didn't, however, as
she gave him back the little unfolded leaf, say they were enough
--though he saw, the next moment, that her silence was probably
not disconnected from her having just visibly turned pale. Her
extraordinarily fine eyes, as it was his present theory that he
had always thought them, shone at him the more darkly out of this
change of colour; and she had again, with it, her apparent way of
subjecting herself, for explicit honesty and through her
willingness to face him, to any view he might take, all at his
ease, and even to wantonness, of the condition he produced in
her. As soon as he perceived that emotion kept her soundless he
knew himself deeply touched, since it proved that, little as she
professed, she had been beautifully hoping. They stood there a
minute while he took in from this sign that, yes then, certainly
she liked him enough--liked him enough to make him, old as he was
ready to brand himself, flush for the pleasure of it. The
pleasure of it accordingly made him speak first. "Do you begin, a
little, to be satisfied?"
Still, however, she had to think. "We've hurried them, you see.
Why so breathless a start?"
"Because they want to congratulate us. They want," said Adam
Verver, "to SEE our happiness."
She wondered again--and this time also, for him, as publicly as
possible. "So much as that?"
"Do you think it's too much?"
She continued to think plainly. "They weren't to have started for
"Well, what then? Isn't our situation worth the little sacrifice?
We'll go back to Rome as soon as you like WITH them."
This seemed to hold her--as he had previously seen her held, just
a trifle inscrutably, by his allusions to what they would do
together on a certain contingency. "Worth it, the little
sacrifice, for whom? For us, naturally--yes," she said. "We want
to see them--for our reasons. That is," she rather dimly smiled,
"And you do, my dear, too!" he bravely declared. "Yes then--I do
too," she after an instant ungrudging enough acknowledged. "For
us, however, something depends on it."
"Rather! But does nothing depend on it for them?"
"What CAN--from the moment that, as appears, they don't want to
nip us in the bud? I can imagine their rushing up to prevent us.
But an enthusiasm for us that can wait so very little--such
intense eagerness, I confess," she went on, "more than a little
puzzles me. You may think me," she also added, "ungracious and
suspicious, but the Prince can't at all want to come back so
soon. He wanted quite too intensely to get away."
Mr. Verver considered. "Well, hasn't he been away?"
"Yes, just long enough to see how he likes it. Besides," said
Charlotte, "he may not be able to join in the rosy view of our
case that you impute to her. It can't in the least have appeared
to him hitherto a matter of course that you should give his wife
a bouncing stepmother."
Adam Verver, at this, looked grave. "I'm afraid then he'll just
have to accept from us whatever his wife accepts; and accept it--
if he can imagine no better reason--just because she does. That,"
he declared, "will have to do for him."
His tone made her for a moment meet his face; after which, "Let
me," she abruptly said, "see it again"--taking from him the
folded leaf that she had given back and he had kept in his hand.
"Isn't the whole thing," she asked when she had read it over,
"perhaps but a way like another for their gaining time?"
He again stood staring; but the next minute, with that upward
spring of his shoulders and that downward pressure of his pockets
which she had already, more than once, at disconcerted moments,
determined in him, he turned sharply away and wandered from her
in silence. He looked about in his small despair; he crossed the
hotel court, which, overarched and glazed, muffled against loud
sounds and guarded against crude sights, heated, gilded, draped,
almost carpeted, with exotic trees in tubs, exotic ladies in
chairs, the general exotic accent and presence suspended, as with
wings folded or feebly fluttering, in the superior, the supreme,
the inexorably enveloping Parisian medium, resembled some
critical apartment of large capacity, some "dental," medical,
surgical waiting-room, a scene of mixed anxiety and desire,
preparatory, for gathered barbarians, to the due amputation or
extraction of excrescences and redundancies of barbarism. He went
as far as the porte-cochere, took counsel afresh of his usual
optimism, sharpened even, somehow, just here, by the very air he
tasted, and then came back smiling to Charlotte. "It is
incredible to you that when a man is still as much in love as
Amerigo his most natural impulse should be to feel what his wife
feels, to believe what she believes, to want what she wants?--in
the absence, that is, of special impediments to his so doing."
The manner of it operated--she acknowledged with no great delay
this natural possibility. "No--nothing is incredible to me of
people immensely in love."
"Well, isn't Amerigo immensely in love?"
She hesitated but as for the right expression of her sense of the
degree--but she after all adopted Mr. Verver's. "Immensely."
"Then there you are!"
She had another smile, however--she wasn't there quite yet. "That
isn't all that's wanted."
"But what more?"
"Why that his wife shall have made him really believe that SHE
really believes." With which Charlotte became still more lucidly
logical. "The reality of his belief will depend in such a case on
the reality of hers. The Prince may for instance now," she went
on, "have made out to his satisfaction that Maggie may mainly
desire to abound in your sense, whatever it is you do. He may
remember that he has never seen her do anything else."
"Well," said Adam Verver, "what kind of a warning will he have
found in that? To what catastrophe will he have observed such a
disposition in her to lead?"
"Just to THIS one!" With which she struck him as rising
straighter and clearer before him than she had done even yet.
"Our little question itself?" Her appearance had in fact, at the
moment, such an effect on him that he could answer but in
marvelling mildness. "Hadn't we better wait a while till we call
it a catastrophe?"
Her rejoinder to this was to wait--though by no means as long as
he meant. When at the end of her minute she spoke, however, it
was mildly too. "What would you like, dear friend, to wait for?"
It lingered between them in the air, this demand, and they
exchanged for the time a look which might have made each of them
seem to have been watching in the other the signs of its overt
irony. These were indeed immediately so visible in Mr. Verver's
face that, as if a little ashamed of having so markedly produced
them--and as if also to bring out at last, under pressure,
something she had all the while been keeping back--she took a
jump to pure plain reason. "You haven't noticed for yourself, but
I can't quite help noticing, that in spite of what you assume--WE
assume, if you like--Maggie wires her joy only to you. She makes
no sign of its overflow to me."
It was a point--and, staring a moment, he took account of it. But
he had, as before, his presence of mind--to say nothing of his
kindly humour. "Why, you complain of the very thing that's most
charmingly conclusive! She treats us already as ONE."
Clearly now, for the girl, in spite of lucidity and logic, there
was something in the way he said things--! She faced him in all
her desire to please him, and then her word quite simply and
definitely showed it. "I do like you, you know."
Well, what could this do but stimulate his humour? "I see what's
the matter with you. You won't be quiet till you've heard from
the Prince himself. I think," the happy man added, "that I'll go
and secretly wire to him that you'd like, reply paid, a few words
It could apparently but encourage her further to smile. "Reply
paid for him, you mean--or for me?"
"Oh, I'll pay, with pleasure, anything back for you--as many
words as you like." And he went on, to keep it up. "Not requiring
either to see your message."
She could take it, visibly, as he meant it. "Should you require
to see the Prince's?"
"Not a bit. You can keep that also to yourself."
On his speaking, however, as if his transmitting the hint were a
real question, she appeared to consider--and almost as if for
good taste--that the joke had gone far enough. "It doesn't
matter. Unless he speaks of his own movement--! And why should it
be," she asked, "a thing that WOULD occur to him?"
"I really think," Mr. Verver concurred, "that it naturally
wouldn't. HE doesn't know you're morbid."
She just wondered--but she agreed. "No--he hasn't yet found it
out. Perhaps he will, but he hasn't yet; and I'm willing to give
him meanwhile the benefit of the doubt." So with this the
situation, to her view, would appear to have cleared had she not
too quickly had one of her restless relapses. "Maggie, however,
does know I'm morbid. SHE hasn't the benefit."
"Well," said Adam Verver a little wearily at last, "I think I
feel that you'll hear from her yet." It had even fairly come over
him, under recurrent suggestion, that his daughter's omission WAS
surprising. And Maggie had never in her life been wrong for more
than three minutes.
"Oh, it isn't that I hold that I've a RIGHT to it," Charlotte the
next instant rather oddly qualified--and the observation itself
gave him a further push.
"Very well--I shall like it myself."
At this then, as if moved by his way of constantly--and more or
less against his own contention--coming round to her, she showed
how she could also always, and not less gently, come half way. "I
speak of it only as the missing GRACE--the grace that's in
everything that Maggie does. It isn't my due"--she kept it up--
"but, taking from you that we may still expect it, it will have
the touch. It will be beautiful."
"Then come out to breakfast." Mr. Verver had looked at his
watch. "It will be here when we get back."
"If it isn't"--and Charlotte smiled as she looked about for a
feather boa that she had laid down on descending from her room--
"if it isn't it will have had but THAT slight fault."
He saw her boa on the arm of the chair from which she had moved
to meet him, and, after he had fetched it, raising it to make its
charming softness brush his face--for it was a wondrous product
of Paris, purchased under his direct auspices the day before--he
held it there a minute before giving it up. "Will you promise me
then to be at peace?"
She looked, while she debated, at his admirable present. "I
"Quite for ever?"
"Quite for ever."
"Remember," he went on, to justify his demand, "remember that in
wiring you she'll naturally speak even more for her husband than
she has done in wiring me."
It was only at a word that Charlotte had a demur.
"Why, our marriage puts him for you, you see--or puts you for
him--into a new relation, whereas it leaves his relation to me
unchanged. It therefore gives him more to say to you about it."
"About its making me his stepmother-in-law--or whatever I SHOULD
become?" Over which, for a little, she not undivertedly mused.
"Yes, there may easily be enough for a gentleman to say to a
young woman about that."
"Well, Amerigo can always be, according to the case, either as
funny or as serious as you like; and whichever he may be for you,
in sending you a message, he'll be it ALL." And then as the girl,
with one of her so deeply and oddly, yet so tenderly, critical
looks at him, failed to take up the remark, he found himself
moved, as by a vague anxiety, to add a question. "Don't you think
"Oh, charming," said Charlotte Stant. "If he weren't I shouldn't
"No more should I!" her friend harmoniously returned.
"Ah, but you DON'T mind. You don't have to. You don't have to, I
mean, as I have. It's the last folly ever to care, in an anxious
way, the least particle more than one is absolutely forced. If I
were you," she went on--"if I had in my life, for happiness and
power and peace, even a small fraction of what you have, it would
take a great deal to make me waste my worry. I don't know," she
said, "what in the world--that didn't touch my luck--I should
trouble my head about."
"I quite understand you--yet doesn't it just depend," Mr. Verver
asked, "on what you call one's luck? It's exactly my luck that
I'm talking about. I shall be as sublime as you like when you've
made me all right. It's only when one is right that one really
has the things you speak of. It isn't they," he explained, "that
make one so: it's the something else I want that makes THEM
right. If you'll give me what I ask, you'll see."
She had taken her boa and thrown it over her shoulders, and her
eyes, while she still delayed, had turned from him, engaged by
another interest, though the court was by this time, the hour of
dispersal for luncheon, so forsaken that they would have had it,
for free talk, should they have been moved to loudness, quite to
themselves. She was ready for their adjournment, but she was also
aware of a pedestrian youth, in uniform, a visible emissary of
the Postes et Telegraphes, who had approached, from the street,
the small stronghold of the concierge and who presented there a
missive taken from the little cartridge-box slung over his
shoulder. The portress, meeting him on the threshold, met
equally, across the court, Charlotte's marked attention to his
visit, so that, within the minute, she had advanced to our
friends with her cap-streamers flying and her smile of
announcement as ample as her broad white apron. She raised aloft
a telegraphic message and, as she delivered it, sociably
discriminated. "Cette fois-ci pour madame!"--with which she as
genially retreated, leaving Charlotte in possession. Charlotte,
taking it, held it at first unopened. Her eyes had come back to
her companion, who had immediately and triumphantly greeted it.
"Ah, there you are!"
She broke the envelope then in silence, and for a minute, as with
the message he himself had put before her, studied its contents
without a sign. He watched her without a question, and at last
she looked up. "I'll give you," she simply said, "what you ask."
The expression of her face was strange--but since when had a
woman's at moments of supreme surrender not a right to be? He
took it in with his own long look and his grateful silence--so
that nothing more, for some instants, passed between them. Their
understanding sealed itself--he already felt that she had made
him right. But he was in presence too of the fact that Maggie had
made HER so; and always, therefore, without Maggie, where, in
fine, would he be? She united them, brought them together as with
the click of a silver spring, and, on the spot, with the vision
of it, his eyes filled, Charlotte facing him meanwhile with her
expression made still stranger by the blur of his gratitude.
Through it all, however, he smiled. "What my child does for
Through it all as well, that is still through the blur, he saw
Charlotte, rather than heard her, reply. She held her paper wide
open, but her eyes were all for his. "It isn't Maggie. It's the
"I SAY!"--he gaily rang out. "Then it's best of all."
"Thank you for thinking so!" To which he added "It's enough for
our question, but it isn't--is it? quite enough for our
She stood there, however, in spite of this appeal, her document
always before them. "Don't you want to read it?"
He thought. "Not if it satisfies you. I don't require it."
But she gave him, as for her conscience, another chance. "You can
if you like."
He hesitated afresh, but as for amiability, not for curiosity.
"Is it funny?"
Thus, finally, she again dropped her eyes on it, drawing in her
lips a little. "No--I call it grave."
"Ah, then, I don't want it."
"Very grave," said Charlotte Stant.
"Well, what did I tell you of him?" he asked, rejoicing, as they
started: a question for all answer to which, before she took his
arm, the girl thrust her paper, crumpled, into the pocket of her
Charlotte, half way up the "monumental" staircase, had begun by
waiting alone--waiting to be rejoined by her companion, who had
gone down all the way, as in common kindness bound, and who, his
duty performed, would know where to find her. She was meanwhile,
though extremely apparent, not perhaps absolutely advertised; but
she would not have cared if she had been--so little was it, by
this time, her first occasion of facing society with a
consciousness materially, with a confidence quite splendidly,
enriched. For a couple of years now she had known as never before
what it was to look "well"--to look, that is, as well as she had
always felt, from far back, that, in certain conditions, she
might. On such an evening as this, that of a great official party
in the full flush of the London spring-time, the conditions
affected her, her nerves, her senses, her imagination, as all
profusely present; so that perhaps at no moment yet had she been
so justified of her faith as at the particular instant of our
being again concerned with her, that of her chancing to glance
higher up from where she stood and meeting in consequence the
quiet eyes of Colonel Assingham, who had his elbows on the broad
balustrade of the great gallery overhanging the staircase and who
immediately exchanged with her one of his most artlessly familiar
signals. This simplicity of his visual attention struck her, even
with the other things she had to think about, as the quietest
note in the whole high pitch--much, in fact, as if she had
pressed a finger on a chord or a key and created, for the number
of seconds, an arrest of vibration, a more muffled thump. The
sight of him suggested indeed that Fanny would be there, though
so far as opportunity went she had not seen her. This was about
the limit of what it could suggest.
The air, however, had suggestions enough--it abounded in them,
many of them precisely helping to constitute those conditions
with which, for our young woman, the hour was brilliantly
crowned. She was herself in truth crowned, and it all hung
together, melted together, in light and colour and sound: the
unsurpassed diamonds that her head so happily carried, the other
jewels, the other perfections of aspect and arrangement that made
her personal scheme a success, the PROVED private theory that
materials to work with had been all she required and that there
were none too precious for her to understand and use--to which
might be added lastly, as the strong-scented flower of the total
sweetness, an easy command, a high enjoyment, of her crisis. For
a crisis she was ready to take it, and this ease it was,
doubtless, that helped her, while she waited, to the right
assurance, to the right indifference, to the right expression,
and above all, as she felt, to the right view of her opportunity
for happiness--unless indeed the opportunity itself, rather,
were, in its mere strange amplitude, the producing, the
precipitating cause. The ordered revellers, rustling and shining,
with sweep of train and glitter of star and clink of sword, and
yet, for all this, but so imperfectly articulate, so vaguely
vocal--the double stream of the coming and the going, flowing
together where she stood, passed her, brushed her, treated her to
much crude contemplation and now and then to a spasm of speech,
an offered hand, even in some cases to an unencouraged pause; but
she missed no countenance and invited no protection: she fairly
liked to be, so long as she might, just as she was--exposed a
little to the public, no doubt, in her unaccompanied state, but,
even if it were a bit brazen, careless of queer reflections on
the dull polish of London faces, and exposed, since it was a
question of exposure, to much more competent recognitions of her
own. She hoped no one would stop--she was positively keeping
herself; it was her idea to mark in a particular manner the
importance of something that had just happened. She knew how she
should mark it, and what she was doing there made already a
When presently, therefore, from her standpoint, she saw the
Prince come back she had an impression of all the place as higher
and wider and more appointed for great moments; with its dome of
lustres lifted, its ascents and descents more majestic, its
marble tiers more vividly overhung, its numerosity of royalties,
foreign and domestic, more unprecedented, its symbolism of
"State" hospitality both emphasised and refined. This was
doubtless a large consequence of a fairly familiar cause, a
considerable inward stir to spring from the mere vision, striking
as that might be, of Amerigo in a crowd; but she had her reasons,
she held them there, she carried them in fact, responsibly and
overtly, as she carried her head, her high tiara, her folded fan,
her indifferent, unattended eminence; and it was when he reached
her and she could, taking his arm, show herself as placed in her
relation, that she felt supremely justified. It was her notion of
course that she gave a glimpse of but few of her grounds for this
discrimination--indeed of the most evident alone; yet she would
have been half willing it should be guessed how she drew
inspiration, drew support, in quantity sufficient for almost
anything, from the individual value that, through all the
picture, her husband's son-in-law kept for the eye, deriving it
from his fine unconscious way, in the swarming social sum, of
outshining, overlooking and overtopping. It was as if in
separation, even the shortest, she half forgot or disbelieved how
he affected her sight, so that reappearance had, in him, each
time, a virtue of its own--a kind of disproportionate intensity
suggesting his connection with occult sources of renewal. What
did he do when he was away from her that made him always come
back only looking, as she would have called it, "more so?"
Superior to any shade of cabotinage, he yet almost
resembled an actor who, between his moments on the stage,
revisits his dressing-room and, before the glass, pressed by his
need of effect, retouches his make-up. The Prince was at present,
for instance, though he had quitted her but ten minutes before,
still more than then the person it pleased her to be left with--a
truth that had all its force for her while he made her his care
for their conspicuous return together to the upper rooms.
Conspicuous beyond any wish they could entertain was what, poor
wonderful man, he couldn't help making it; and when she raised
her eyes again, on the ascent, to Bob Assingham, still aloft in
his gallery and still looking down at her, she was aware that, in
spite of hovering and warning inward voices, she even enjoyed the
testimony rendered by his lonely vigil to the lustre she
He was always lonely at great parties, the dear Colonel--it
wasn't in such places that the seed he sowed at home was ever
reaped by him; but nobody could have seemed to mind it less, to
brave it with more bronzed indifference; so markedly that he
moved about less like one of the guests than like some quite
presentable person in charge of the police arrangements or the
electric light. To Mrs. Verver, as will be seen, he represented,
with the perfect good faith of his apparent blankness, something
definite enough; though her bravery was not thereby too blighted
for her to feel herself calling him to witness that the only
witchcraft her companion had used, within the few minutes, was
that of attending Maggie, who had withdrawn from the scene, to
her carriage. Notified, at all events, of Fanny's probable
presence, Charlotte was, for a while after this, divided between
the sense of it as a fact somehow to reckon with and deal with,
which was a perception that made, in its degree, for the
prudence, the pusillanimity of postponement, of avoidance--and a
quite other feeling, an impatience that presently ended by
prevailing, an eagerness, really, to BE suspected, sounded,
veritably arraigned, if only that she might have the bad moment
over, if only that she might prove to herself, let alone to
Mrs. Assingham also, that she could convert it to good; if only,
in short, to be "square," as they said, with her question. For
herself indeed, particularly, it wasn't a question; but something
in her bones told her that Fanny would treat it as one, and there
was truly nothing that, from this friend, she was not bound in
decency to take. She might hand things back with every tender
precaution, with acknowledgments and assurances, but she owed it
to them, in any case, and it to all Mrs. Assingham had done for
her, not to get rid of them without having well unwrapped and
turned them over.
To-night, as happened--and she recognised it more and more, with
the ebbing minutes, as an influence of everything about her--
to-night exactly, she would, no doubt, since she knew why, be as
firm as she might at any near moment again hope to be for going
through that process with the right temper and tone. She said,
after a little, to the Prince, "Stay with me; let no one take
you; for I want her, yes, I do want her to see us together, and
the sooner the better"--said it to keep her hand on him through
constant diversions, and made him, in fact, by saying it, profess
a momentary vagueness. She had to explain to him that it was
Fanny Assingham, she wanted to see--who clearly would be there,
since the Colonel never either stirred without her or, once
arrived, concerned himself for her fate; and she had, further,
after Amerigo had met her with "See us together? why in the
world? hasn't she often seen us together?" to inform him that
what had elsewhere and otherwise happened didn't now matter and
that she at any rate well knew, for the occasion, what she was
about. "You're strange, cara mia," he consentingly enough
dropped; but, for whatever strangeness, he kept her, as they
circulated, from being waylaid, even remarking to her afresh as
he had often done before, on the help rendered, in such
situations, by the intrinsic oddity of the London "squash," a
thing of vague, slow, senseless eddies, revolving as in fear of
some menace of conversation suspended over it, the drop of which,
with some consequent refreshing splash or spatter, yet never took
place. Of course she was strange; this, as they went, Charlotte
knew for herself: how could she be anything else when the
situation holding her, and holding him, for that matter, just as
much, had so the stamp of it? She had already accepted her
consciousness, as we have already noted, that a crisis, for them
all, was in the air; and when such hours were not depressing,
which was the form indeed in which she had mainly known them,
they were apparently in a high degree exhilarating.
Later on, in a corner to which, at sight of an empty sofa, Mrs.
Assingham had, after a single attentive arrest, led her with a
certain earnestness, this vision of the critical was much more
sharpened than blurred. Fanny had taken it from her: yes, she was
there with Amerigo alone, Maggie having come with them and then,
within ten minutes, changed her mind, repented and departed. "So
you're staying on together without her?" the elder woman had
asked; and it was Charlotte's answer to this that had determined
for them, quite indeed according to the latter's expectation, the
need of some seclusion and her companion's pounce at the sofa.
They were staying on together alone, and--oh distinctly!--it was
alone that Maggie had driven away, her father, as usual, not
having managed to come. "'As usual'--?" Mrs. Assingham had seemed
to wonder; Mr. Verver's reluctances not having, she in fact quite
intimated, hitherto struck her. Charlotte responded, at any rate,
that his indisposition to go out had lately much increased--even
though to-night, as she admitted, he had pleaded his not feeling
well. Maggie had wished to stay with him--for the Prince and she,
dining out, had afterwards called in Portland Place, whence, in
the event, they had brought her, Charlotte, on. Maggie had come
but to oblige her father--she had urged the two others to go
without her; then she had yielded, for the time, to Mr. Verver's
persuasion. But here, when they had, after the long wait in the
carriage, fairly got in; here, once up the stairs, with the rooms
before them, remorse had ended by seizing her: she had listened
to no other remonstrance, and at present therefore, as Charlotte
put it, the two were doubtless making together a little party at
home. But it was all right--so Charlotte also put it: there was
nothing in the world they liked better than these snatched
felicities, little parties, long talks, with "I'll come to you
to-morrow," and "No, I'll come to you," make-believe renewals of
their old life. They were fairly, at times, the dear things, like
children playing at paying visits, playing at "Mr. Thompson" and
"Mrs. Fane," each hoping that the other would really stay to tea.
Charlotte was sure she should find Maggie there on getting home--
a remark in which Mrs. Verver's immediate response to her
friend's inquiry had culminated. She had thus, on the spot, the
sense of having given her plenty to think about, and that
moreover of liking to see it even better than she had expected.
She had plenty to think about herself, and there was already
something in Fanny that made it seem still more.
"You say your husband's ill? He felt too ill to come?"
"No, my dear--I think not. If he had been too ill I wouldn't have
"And yet Maggie was worried?" Mrs. Assingham asked.
"She worries, you know, easily. She's afraid of influenza--of
which he has had, at different times, though never with the least
gravity, several attacks."
"But you're not afraid of it?"
Charlotte had for a moment a pause; it had continued to come to
her that really to have her case "out," as they said, with the
person in the world to whom her most intimate difficulties had
oftenest referred themselves, would help her, on the whole, more
than hinder; and under that feeling all her opportunity, with
nothing kept back; with a thing or two perhaps even thrust
forward, seemed temptingly to open. Besides, didn't Fanny at
bottom half expect, absolutely at the bottom half WANT, things?--
so that she would be disappointed if, after what must just have
occurred for her, she didn't get something to put between the
teeth of her so restless rumination, that cultivation of the
fear, of which our young woman had already had glimpses, that she
might have "gone too far" in her irrepressible interest in other
lives. What had just happened--it pieced itself together for
Charlotte--was that the Assingham pair, drifting like everyone
else, had had somewhere in the gallery, in the rooms, an
accidental concussion; had it after the Colonel, over his
balustrade, had observed, in the favouring high light, her public
junction with the Prince. His very dryness, in this encounter,
had, as always, struck a spark from his wife's curiosity, and,
familiar, on his side, with all that she saw in things, he had
thrown her, as a fine little bone to pick, some report of the way
one of her young friends was "going on" with another. He knew
perfectly--such at least was Charlotte's liberal assumption--that
she wasn't going on with anyone, but she also knew that, given
the circumstances, she was inevitably to be sacrificed, in some
form or another, to the humorous intercourse of the inimitable
couple. The Prince meanwhile had also, under coercion, sacrificed
her; the Ambassador had come up to him with a message from
Royalty, to whom he was led away; after which she had talked for
five minutes with Sir John Brinder, who had been of the
Ambassador's company and who had rather artlessly remained with
her. Fanny had then arrived in sight of them at the same moment
as someone else she didn't know, someone who knew Mrs. Assingham
and also knew Sir John. Charlotte had left it to her friend's
competence to throw the two others immediately together and to
find a way for entertaining her in closer quarters. This was the
little history of the vision, in her, that was now rapidly
helping her to recognise a precious chance, the chance that
mightn't again soon be so good for the vivid making of a point.
Her point was before her; it was sharp, bright, true; above all
it was her own. She had reached it quite by herself; no one, not
even Amerigo--Amerigo least of all, who would have nothing to do
with it--had given her aid. To make it now with force for Fanny
Assingham's benefit would see her further, in the direction in
which the light had dawned, than any other spring she should, yet
awhile, doubtless, be able to press. The direction was that of
her greater freedom--which was all in the world she had in mind.
Her opportunity had accordingly, after a few minutes of Mrs.
Assingham's almost imprudently interested expression of face,
positively acquired such a price for her that she may, for
ourselves, while the intensity lasted, rather resemble a person
holding out a small mirror at arm's length and consulting it
with a special turn of the head. It was, in a word, with this
value of her chance that she was intelligently playing when she
said in answer to Fanny's last question: "Don't you remember what
you told me, on the occasion of something or other, the other
day? That you believe there's nothing I'm afraid of? So, my dear,
don't ask me!"
"Mayn't I ask you," Mrs. Assingham returned, "how the case stands
with your poor husband?"
"Certainly, dear. Only, when you ask me as if I mightn't perhaps
know what to think, it seems to me best to let you see that I
know perfectly what to think."
Mrs. Assingham hesitated; then, blinking a little, she took her
risk. "You didn't think that if it was a question of anyone's
returning to him, in his trouble, it would be better you yourself
should have gone?"
Well, Charlotte's answer to this inquiry visibly shaped itself in
the interest of the highest considerations. The highest
considerations were good humour, candour, clearness and,
obviously, the REAL truth. "If we couldn't be perfectly frank and
dear with each other, it would be ever so much better, wouldn't
it? that we shouldn't talk about anything at all; which, however,
would be dreadful--and we certainly, at any rate, haven't yet
come to it. You can ask me anything under the sun you like,
because, don't you see? you can't upset me."
"I'm sure, my dear Charlotte," Fanny Assingham laughed, "I don't
want to upset you."
"Indeed, love, you simply COULDN'T even if you thought it
necessary--that's all I mean. Nobody could, for it belongs to my
situation that I'm, by no merit of my own, just fixed--fixed as
fast as a pin stuck, up to its head, in a cushion. I'm placed--I
can't imagine anyone MORE placed. There I AM!"
Fanny had indeed never listened to emphasis more firmly applied,
and it brought into her own eyes, though she had reasons for
striving to keep them from betrayals, a sort of anxiety of
intelligence. "I dare say--but your statement of your position,
however you see it, isn't an answer to my inquiry. It seems to
me, at the same time, I confess," Mrs. Assingham added, "to give
but the more reason for it. You speak of our being 'frank.' How
can we possibly be anything else? If Maggie has gone off through
finding herself too distressed to stay, and if she's willing to
leave you and her husband to show here without her, aren't the
grounds of her preoccupation more or less discussable?"
"If they're not," Charlotte replied, "it's only from their being,
in a way, too evident. They're not grounds for me--they weren't
when I accepted Adam's preference that I should come to-night
without him: just as I accept, absolutely, as a fixed rule, ALL
his preferences. But that doesn't alter the fact, of course, that
my husband's daughter, rather than his wife, should have felt SHE
could, after all, be the one to stay with him, the one to make
the sacrifice of this hour--seeing, especially, that the daughter
has a husband of her own in the field." With which she produced,
as it were, her explanation. "I've simply to see the truth of the
matter--see that Maggie thinks more, on the whole, of fathers
than of husbands. And my situation is such," she went on, "that
this becomes immediately, don't you understand? a thing I have to
Mrs. Assingham, vaguely heaving, panting a little but trying not
to show it, turned about, from some inward spring, in her seat.
"If you mean such a thing as that she doesn't adore the
"I don't say she doesn't adore him. What I say is that she
doesn't think of him. One of those conditions doesn't always, at
all stages, involve the other. This is just HOW she adores him,"
Charlotte said. "And what reason is there, in the world, after
all, why he and I shouldn't, as you say, show together? We've
shown together, my dear," she smiled, "before."
Her friend, for a little, only looked at her--speaking then with
abruptness. "You ought to be absolutely happy. You live with such
The effect of it, as well, was an arrest for Charlotte; whose
face, however, all of whose fine and slightly hard radiance, it
had caused, the next instant, further to brighten. "Does one ever
put into words anything so fatuously rash? It's a thing that must
be said, in prudence, FOR one--by somebody who's so good as to
take the responsibility: the more that it gives one always a
chance to show one's best manners by not contradicting it.
Certainly, you'll never have the distress, or whatever, of
hearing me complain."
"Truly, my dear, I hope in all conscience not!" and the elder
woman's spirit found relief in a laugh more resonant than was
quite advised by their pursuit of privacy.
To this demonstration her friend gave no heed. "With all our
absence after marriage, and with the separation from her produced
in particular by our so many months in America, Maggie has still
arrears, still losses to make up--still the need of showing how,
for so long, she simply kept missing him. She missed his
company--a large allowance of which is, in spite of everything
else, of the first necessity to her. So she puts it in when she
can--a little here, a little there, and it ends by making up a
considerable amount. The fact of our distinct establishments--
which has, all the same, everything in its favour," Charlotte
hastened to declare, "makes her really see more of him than when
they had the same house. To make sure she doesn't fail of it
she's always arranging for it--which she didn't have to do while
they lived together. But she likes to arrange," Charlotte
steadily proceeded; "it peculiarly suits her; and the result of
our separate households is really, for them, more contact and
more intimacy. To-night, for instance, has been practically an
arrangement. She likes him best alone. And it's the way," said
our young woman, "in which he best likes HER. It's what I mean
therefore by being 'placed.' And the great thing is, as they say,
to 'know' one's place. Doesn't it all strike you," she wound up,
"as rather placing the Prince too?"
Fanny Assingham had at this moment the sense as of a large heaped
dish presented to her intelligence and inviting it to a feast--so
thick were the notes of intention in this remarkable speech. But
she also felt that to plunge at random, to help herself too
freely, would--apart from there not being at such a moment time
for it--tend to jostle the ministering hand, confound the array
and, more vulgarly speaking, make a mess. So she picked out,
after consideration, a solitary plum. "So placed that YOU have to
"Certainly I have to arrange."
"And the Prince also--if the effect for him is the same?"
"Really, I think, not less."
"And does he arrange," Mrs. Assingham asked, "to make up HIS
arrears?" The question had risen to her lips--it was as if
another morsel, on the dish, had tempted her. The sound of it
struck her own ear, immediately, as giving out more of her
thought than she had as yet intended; but she quickly saw that
she must follow it up, at any risk, with simplicity, and that
what was simplest was the ease of boldness. "Make them up, I
mean, by coming to see YOU?"
Charlotte replied, however, without, as her friend would have
phrased it, turning a hair. She shook her head, but it was
beautifully gentle. "He never comes."
"Oh!" said Fanny Assingham: with which she felt a little stupid.
"There it is. He might so well, you know, otherwise."
"'Otherwise'?"--and Fanny was still vague.
It passed, this time, over her companion, whose eyes, wandering,
to a distance, found themselves held. The Prince was at hand
again; the Ambassador was still at his side; they were stopped a
moment by a uniformed personage, a little old man, of apparently
the highest military character, bristling with medals and orders.
This gave Charlotte time to go on. "He has not been for three
months." And then as with her friend's last word in her ear:
"'Otherwise'--yes. He arranges otherwise. And in my position,"
she added, "I might too. It's too absurd we shouldn't meet."
"You've met, I gather," said Fanny Assingham, "to-night."
"Yes--as far as that goes. But what I mean is that I might--
placed for it as we both are--go to see HIM."
"And do you?" Fanny asked with almost mistaken solemnity.
The perception of this excess made Charlotte, whether for gravity
or for irony, hang fire a minute. "I HAVE been. But that's
nothing," she said, "in itself, and I tell you of it only to show
you how our situation works. It essentially becomes one, a
situation, for both of us. The Prince's, however, is his own
affair--I meant but to speak of mine."
"Your situation's perfect," Mrs. Assingham presently declared.
"I don't say it isn't. Taken, in fact, all round, I think it is.
And I don't, as I tell you, complain of it. The only thing is
that I have to act as it demands of me."
"To 'act'?" said Mrs. Assingham with an irrepressible quaver.
"Isn't it acting, my dear, to accept it? I do accept it. What do
you want me to do less?"
"I want you to believe that you're a very fortunate person."
"Do you call that LESS?" Charlotte asked with a smile. "From the
point of view of my freedom I call it more. Let it take, my
position, any name you like."
"Don't let it, at any rate"--and Mrs. Assingham's impatience
prevailed at last over her presence of mind--"don't let it make
you think too much of your freedom."
"I don't know what you call too much--for how can I not see it as
it is? You'd see your own quickly enough if the Colonel gave you
the same liberty--and I haven't to tell you, with your so much
greater knowledge of everything, what it is that gives such
liberty most. For yourself personally of course," Charlotte went
on, "you only know the state of neither needing it nor missing
it. Your husband doesn't treat you as of less importance to him
than some other woman."
"Ah, don't talk to me of other women!" Fanny now overtly panted.
"Do you call Mr. Verver's perfectly natural interest in his
"The greatest affection of which he is capable?" Charlotte took
it up in all readiness. "I do distinctly--and in spite of my
having done all I could think of--to make him capable of a
greater. I've done, earnestly, everything I could--I've made it,
month after month, my study. But I haven't succeeded--it has been
vividly brought home to me to-night. However," she pursued, "I've
hoped against hope, for I recognise that, as I told you at the
time, I was duly warned." And then as she met in her friend's
face the absence of any such remembrance: "He did tell me that he
wanted me just BECAUSE I could be useful about her." With which
Charlotte broke into a wonderful smile. "So you see I AM!"
It was on Fanny Assingham's lips for the moment to reply that
this was, on the contrary, exactly what she didn't see; she came
in fact within an ace of saying: "You strike me as having quite
failed to help his idea to work--since, by your account, Maggie
has him not less, but so much more, on her mind. How in the
world, with so much of a remedy, comes there to remain so much of
what was to be obviated?" But she saved herself in time,
conscious above all that she was in presence of still deeper
things than she had yet dared to fear, that there was "more in
it" than any admission she had made represented--and she had held
herself familiar with admissions: so that, not to seem to
understand where she couldn't accept, and not to seem to accept
where she couldn't approve, and could still less, with
precipitation, advise, she invoked the mere appearance of casting
no weight whatever into the scales of her young friend's
consistency. The only thing was that, as she was quickly enough
to feel, she invoked it rather to excess. It brought her,
her invocation, too abruptly to her feet. She brushed away
everything. "I can't conceive, my dear, what you're talking
Charlotte promptly rose then, as might be, to meet it, and her
colour, for the first time, perceptibly heightened. She looked,
for the minute, as her companion had looked--as if twenty
protests, blocking each other's way, had surged up within her.
But when Charlotte had to make a selection, her selection was
always the most effective possible. It was happy now, above all,
for being made not in anger but in sorrow. "You give me up then?"
"Give you up--?"
"You forsake me at the hour of my life when it seems to me I most
deserve a friend's loyalty? If you do you're not just, Fanny;
you're even, I think," she went on, "rather cruel; and it's least
of all worthy of you to seem to wish to quarrel with me in order
to cover your desertion." She spoke, at the same time, with the
noblest moderation of tone, and the image of high, pale, lighted
disappointment she meanwhile presented, as of a creature patient
and lonely in her splendour, was an impression so firmly imposed
that she could fill her measure to the brim and yet enjoy the
last word, as it is called in such cases, with a perfection void
of any vulgarity of triumph. She merely completed, for truth's
sake, her demonstration. "What is a quarrel with me but a quarrel
with my right to recognise the conditions of my bargain? But
I can carry them out alone," she said as she turned away. She
turned to meet the Ambassador and the Prince, who, their colloquy
with their Field-Marshal ended, were now at hand and had already,
between them, she was aware, addressed her a remark that failed
to penetrate the golden glow in which her intelligence was
temporarily bathed. She had made her point, the point she had
foreseen she must make; she had made it thoroughly and once for
all, so that no more making was required; and her success was
reflected in the faces of the two men of distinction before her,
unmistakably moved to admiration by her exceptional radiance. She
at first but watched this reflection, taking no note of any less
adequate form of it possibly presented by poor Fanny--poor Fanny
left to stare at her incurred "score," chalked up in so few
strokes on the wall; then she took in what the Ambassador was
saying, in French, what he was apparently repeating to her.
"A desire for your presence, Madame, has been expressed en
tres-haut lieu, and I've let myself in for the responsibility, to
say nothing of the honour, of seeing, as the most respectful of
your friends, that so august an impatience is not kept waiting."
The greatest possible Personage had, in short, according to the
odd formula of societies subject to the greatest personages
possible, "sent for" her, and she asked, in her surprise, "What
in the world does he want to do to me?" only to know, without
looking, that Fanny's bewilderment was called to a still larger
application, and to hear the Prince say with authority, indeed
with a certain prompt dryness: "You must go immediately--it's a
summons." The Ambassador, using authority as well, had already
somehow possessed himself of her hand, which he drew into his
arm, and she was further conscious as she went off with him that,
though still speaking for her benefit, Amerigo had turned to
Fanny Assingham. He would explain afterwards--besides which she
would understand for herself. To Fanny, however, he had laughed--
as a mark, apparently, that for this infallible friend no
explanation at all would be necessary.
It may be recorded none the less that the Prince was the next
moment to see how little any such assumption was founded. Alone
with him now Mrs. Assingham was incorruptible. "They send for
Charlotte through YOU?"
"No, my dear; as you see, through the Ambassador."
"Ah, but the Ambassador and you, for the last quarter-of-an-hour,
have been for them as one. He's YOUR ambassador." It may indeed
be further mentioned that the more Fanny looked at it the more
she saw in it. "They've connected her with you--she's treated as
"Oh, my 'appendage,'" the Prince amusedly exclaimed--"cara mia,
what a name! She's treated, rather, say, as my ornament and my
glory. And it's so remarkable a case for a mother-in-law that you
surely can't find fault with it."
"You've ornaments enough, it seems to me--as you've certainly
glories enough--without her. And she's not the least little bit,"
Mrs. Assingham observed, "your mother-in-law. In such a matter a
shade of difference is enormous. She's no relation to you
whatever, and if she's known in high quarters but as going about
with you, then--then--!" She failed, however, as from positive
intensity of vision. "Then, then what?" he asked with perfect
"She had better in such a case not be known at all."
"But I assure you I never, just now, so much as mentioned her. Do
you suppose I asked them," said the young man, still amused, "if
they didn't want to see her? You surely don't need to be shown
that Charlotte speaks for herself--that she does so above all on
such an occasion as this and looking as she does to-night. How,
so looking, can she pass unnoticed? How can she not have
'success'? Besides," he added as she but watched his face,
letting him say what he would, as if she wanted to see how he
would say it, "besides, there IS always the fact that we're of
the same connection, of--what is your word?--the same 'concern.'
We're certainly not, with the relation of our respective sposi,
simply formal acquaintances. We're in the same boat"--and the
Prince smiled with a candour that added an accent to his
Fanny Assingham was full of the special sense of his manner: it
caused her to turn for a moment's refuge to a corner of her
general consciousness in which she could say to herself that she
was glad SHE wasn't in love with such a man. As with Charlotte
just before, she was embarrassed by the difference between what
she took in and what she could say, what she felt and what she
could show. "It only appears to me of great importance that--now
that you all seem more settled here--Charlotte should be known,
for any presentation, any further circulation or introduction,
as, in particular, her husband's wife; known in the least
possible degree as anything else. I don't know what you mean by
the 'same' boat. Charlotte is naturally in Mr. Verver's boat."
"And, pray, am _I_ not in Mr. Verver's boat too? Why, but for Mr.
Verver's boat, I should have been by this time"--and his quick
Italian gesture, an expressive direction and motion of his
forefinger, pointed to deepest depths--"away down, down, down."
She knew of course what he meant--how it had taken his
father-in-law's great fortune, and taken no small slice, to
surround him with an element in which, all too fatally weighted
as he had originally been, he could pecuniarily float; and with
this reminder other things came to her--how strange it was that,
with all allowance for their merit, it should befall some people
to be so inordinately valued, quoted, as they said in the
stock-market, so high, and how still stranger, perhaps, that
there should be cases in which, for some reason, one didn't mind
the so frequently marked absence in them of the purpose really to
represent their price. She was thinking, feeling, at any rate,
for herself; she was thinking that the pleasure SHE could take in
this specimen of the class didn't suffer from his consent to be
merely made buoyant: partly because it was one of those pleasures
(he inspired them) that, by their nature, COULDN'T suffer, to
whatever proof they were put; and partly because, besides, he
after all visibly had on his conscience some sort of return for
services rendered. He was a huge expense assuredly--but it had
been up to now her conviction that his idea was to behave
beautifully enough to make the beauty well nigh an equivalent.
And that he had carried out his idea, carried it out by
continuing to lead the life, to breathe the air, very nearly to
think the thoughts, that best suited his wife and her father--
this she had till lately enjoyed the comfort of so distinctly
perceiving as to have even been moved more than once, to express
to him the happiness it gave her. He had that in his favour as
against other matters; yet it discouraged her too, and rather
oddly, that he should so keep moving, and be able to show her
that he moved, on the firm ground of the truth. His
acknowledgment of obligation was far from unimportant, but she
could find in his grasp of the real itself a kind of ominous
intimation. The intimation appeared to peep at her even out of
his next word, lightly as he produced it.
"Isn't it rather as if we had, Charlotte and I, for bringing us
together, a benefactor in common?" And the effect, for his
interlocutress, was still further to be deepened. "I somehow
feel, half the time, as if he were her father-in-law too. It's as
if he had saved us both--which is a fact in our lives, or at any
rate in our hearts, to make of itself a link. Don't you
remember"--he kept it up--"how, the day she suddenly turned up
for you, just before my wedding, we so frankly and funnily
talked, in her presence, of the advisability, for her, of some
good marriage?" And then as his friend's face, in her extremity,
quite again as with Charlotte, but continued to fly the black
flag of general repudiation: "Well, we really began then, as it
seems to me, the work of placing her where she is. We were wholly
right--and so was she. That it was exactly the thing is shown by
its success. We recommended a good marriage at almost any price,
so to speak, and, taking us at our word, she has made the very
best. That was really what we meant, wasn't it? Only--what she
has got--something thoroughly good. It would be difficult, it
seems to me, for her to have anything better--once you allow her
the way it's to be taken. Of course if you don't allow her that
the case is different. Her offset is a certain decent freedom--
which, I judge, she'll be quite contented with. You may say that
will be very good of her, but she strikes me as perfectly humble
about it. She proposes neither to claim it nor to use it with any
sort of retentissement. She would enjoy it, I think, quite as
quietly as it might be given. The 'boat,' you see"--the Prince
explained it no less considerately and lucidly--"is a good deal
tied up at the dock, or anchored, if you like, out in the stream.
I have to jump out from time to time to stretch my legs, and
you'll probably perceive, if you give it your attention, that
Charlotte really can't help occasionally doing the same. It isn't
even a question, sometimes, of one's getting to the dock--one has
to take a header and splash about in the water. Call our having
remained here together to-night, call the accident of my having
put them, put our illustrious friends there, on my companion's
track--for I grant you this as a practical result of our
combination--call the whole thing one of the harmless little
plunges off the deck, inevitable for each of us. Why not take
them, when they occur, as inevitable--and, above all, as not
endangering life or limb? We shan't drown, we shan't sink--at
least I can answer for myself. Mrs. Verver too, moreover--do her
the justice--visibly knows how to swim."
He could easily go on, for she didn't interrupt him; Fanny felt
now that she wouldn't have interrupted him for the world. She
found his eloquence precious; there was not a drop of it that she
didn't, in a manner, catch, as it came, for immediate bottling,
for future preservation. The crystal flask of her innermost
attention really received it on the spot, and she had even
already the vision of how, in the snug laboratory of her
afterthought, she should be able chemically to analyse it. There
were moments, positively, still beyond this, when, with the
meeting of their eyes, something as yet unnamable came out for
her in his look, when something strange and subtle and at
variance with his words, something that GAVE THEM AWAY, glimmered
deep down, as an appeal, almost an incredible one, to her finer
comprehension. What, inconceivably, was it like? Wasn't it,
however gross, such a rendering of anything so occult, fairly
like a quintessential wink, a hint of the possibility of their
REALLY treating their subject--of course on some better
occasion--and thereby, as well, finding it much more interesting?
If this far red spark, which might have been figured by her mind
as the head-light of an approaching train seen through the length
of a tunnel, was not, on her side, an ignis fatuus, a mere
subjective phenomenon, it twinkled there at the direct expense of
what the Prince was inviting her to understand. Meanwhile too,
however, and unmistakably, the real treatment of their subject
did, at a given moment, sound. This was when he proceeded, with
just the same perfect possession of his thought--on the manner of
which he couldn't have improved--to complete his successful
simile by another, in fact by just the supreme touch, the touch
for which it had till now been waiting. "For Mrs. Verver to be
known to people so intensely and exclusively as her husband's
wife, something is wanted that, you know, they haven't exactly
got. He should manage to be known--or at least to be seen--a
little more as his wife's husband. You surely must by this time
have seen for yourself that he has his own habits and his own
ways, and that he makes, more and more--as of course he has a
perfect right to do--his own discriminations. He's so perfect, so
ideal a father, and, doubtless largely by that very fact, a
generous, a comfortable, an admirable father-in-law, that I
should really feel it base to avail myself of any standpoint
whatever to criticise him. To YOU, nevertheless, I may make just
one remark; for you're not stupid--you always understand so
blessedly what one means."
He paused an instant, as if even this one remark might be
difficult for him should she give no sign of encouraging him to
produce it. Nothing would have induced her, however, to encourage
him; she was now conscious of having never in her life stood so
still or sat, inwardly, as it were, so tight; she felt like the
horse of the adage, brought--and brought by her own fault--to the
water, but strong, for the occasion, in the one fact that she
couldn't be forced to drink. Invited, in other words, to
understand, she held her breath for fear of showing she did, and
this for the excellent reason that she was at last fairly afraid
to. It was sharp for her, at the same time, that she was certain,
in advance, of his remark; that she heard it before it had
sounded, that she already tasted, in fine, the bitterness it
would have for her special sensibility. But her companion, from
an inward and different need of his own, was presently not
deterred by her silence. "What I really don't see is why, from
his own point of view--given, that is, his conditions, so
fortunate as they stood--he should have wished to marry at all."
There it was then--exactly what she knew would come, and exactly,
for reasons that seemed now to thump at her heart, as distressing
to her. Yet she was resolved, meanwhile, not to suffer, as they
used to say of the martyrs, then and there; not to suffer,
odiously, helplessly, in public--which could be prevented but by
her breaking off, with whatever inconsequence; by her treating
their discussion as ended and getting away. She suddenly wanted
to go home much as she had wanted, an hour or two before, to
come. She wanted to leave well behind her both her question and
the couple in whom it had, abruptly, taken such vivid form--but
it was dreadful to have the appearance of disconcerted flight.
Discussion had of itself, to her sense, become danger--such
light, as from open crevices, it let in; and the overt
recognition of danger was worse than anything else. The worst in
fact came while she was thinking how she could retreat and still
not overtly recognise. Her face had betrayed her trouble, and
with that she was lost. "I'm afraid, however," the Prince said,
"that I, for some reason, distress you--for which I beg your
pardon. We've always talked so well together--it has been, from
the beginning, the greatest pull for me." Nothing so much as such
a tone could have quickened her collapse; she felt he had her now
at his mercy, and he showed, as he went on, that he knew it. "We
shall talk again, all the same, better than ever--I depend on it
too much. Don't you remember what I told you, so definitely, one
day before my marriage?--that, moving as I did in so many ways
among new things, mysteries, conditions, expectations,
assumptions different from any I had known, I looked to you, as
my original sponsor, my fairy godmother, to see me through. I beg
you to believe," he added, "that I look to you yet."
His very insistence had, fortunately, the next moment, affected
her as bringing her help; with which, at least, she could hold up
her head to speak. "Ah, you ARE through--you were through long
ago. Or if you aren't you ought to be."
"Well then, if I ought to be it's all the more reason why you
should continue to help me. Because, very distinctly, I assure
you, I'm not. The new things or ever so many of them--are still
for me new things; the mysteries and expectations and assumptions
still contain an immense element that I've failed to puzzle out.
As we've happened, so luckily, to find ourselves again really
taking hold together, you must let me, as soon as possible, come
to see you; you must give me a good, kind hour. If you refuse it
me"--and he addressed himself to her continued reserve--"I shall
feel that you deny, with a stony stare, your responsibility."
At this, as from a sudden shake, her reserve proved an inadequate
vessel. She could bear her own, her private reference to the
weight on her mind, but the touch of another hand made it too
horribly press. "Oh, I deny responsibility--to YOU. So far as I
ever had it I've done with it."
He had been, all the while, beautifully smiling; but she made his
look, now, penetrate her again more. "As to whom then do you
"Ah, mio caro, that's--if to anyone--my own business!"
He continued to look at her hard. "You give me up then?"
It was what Charlotte had asked her ten minutes before, and its
coming from him so much in the same way shook her in her place.
She was on the point of replying "Do you and she agree together
for what you'll say to me?"--but she was glad afterwards to have
checked herself in time, little as her actual answer had perhaps
bettered it. "I think I don't know what to make of you."
"You must receive me at least," he said.
"Oh, please, not till I'm ready for you!"--and, though she found
a laugh for it, she had to turn away. She had never turned away
from him before, and it was quite positively for her as if she
were altogether afraid of him.
Later on, when their hired brougham had, with the long
vociferation that tormented her impatience, been extricated from
the endless rank, she rolled into the London night, beside her
husband, as into a sheltering darkness where she could muffle
herself and draw breath. She had stood for the previous half-hour
in a merciless glare, beaten upon, stared out of countenance, it
fairly seemed to her, by intimations of her mistake. For what she
was most immediately feeling was that she had, in the past, been
active, for these people, to ends that were now bearing fruit and
that might yet bear a larger crop. She but brooded, at first, in
her corner of the carriage: it was like burying her exposed face,
a face too helplessly exposed, in the cool lap of the common
indifference, of the dispeopled streets, of the closed shops and
darkened houses seen through the window of the brougham, a world
mercifully unconscious and unreproachful. It wouldn't, like the
world she had just left, know sooner or later what she had done,
or would know it, at least, only if the final consequence should
be some quite overwhelming publicity. She fixed this possibility
itself so hard, however, for a few moments, that the misery of
her fear produced the next minute a reaction; and when the
carriage happened, while it grazed a turn, to catch the straight
shaft from the lamp of a policeman in the act of playing his
inquisitive flash over an opposite house-front, she let herself
wince at being thus incriminated only that she might protest, not
less quickly, against mere blind terror. It had become, for the
occasion, preposterously, terror--of which she must shake herself
free before she could properly measure her ground. The perception
of this necessity had in truth soon aided her; since she found,
on trying, that, lurid as her prospect might hover there, she
could none the less give it no name. The sense of seeing was
strong in her, but she clutched at the comfort of not being sure
of what she saw. Not to know what it would represent on a longer
view was a help, in turn, to not making out that her hands were
embrued; since if she had stood in the position of a producing
cause she should surely be less vague about what she had
produced. This, further, in its way, was a step toward reflecting
that when one's connection with any matter was too indirect to be
traced it might be described also as too slight to be deplored.
By the time they were nearing Cadogan Place she had in fact
recognised that she couldn't be as curious as she desired without
arriving at some conviction of her being as innocent. But there