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Title: The Golden Bowl — Volume 1
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE GOLDEN BOWL, VOLUME I

HENRY JAMES

1904


BOOK FIRST: THE PRINCE

PART FIRST

                             I

The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him;
he was one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more
convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they
have left by the Tiber. Brought up on the legend of the City to
which the world paid tribute, he recognised in the present London
much more than in contemporary Rome the real dimensions of such a
case. If it was a question of an Imperium, he said to himself,
and if one wished, as a Roman, to recover a little the sense of
that, the place to do so was on London Bridge, or even, on a fine
afternoon in May, at Hyde Park Corner. It was not indeed to
either of those places that these grounds of his predilection,
after all sufficiently vague, had, at the moment we are concerned
with him, guided his steps; he had strayed, simply enough, into
Bond Street, where his imagination, working at comparatively
short range, caused him now and then to stop before a window in
which objects massive and lumpish, in silver and gold, in the
forms to which precious stones contribute, or in leather, steel,
brass, applied to a hundred uses and abuses, were as tumbled
together as if, in the insolence of the Empire, they had been the
loot of far-off victories. The young man's movements, however,
betrayed no consistency of attention--not even, for that matter,
when one of his arrests had proceeded from possibilities in faces
shaded, as they passed him on the pavement, by huge beribboned
hats, or more delicately tinted still under the tense silk of
parasols held at perverse angles in waiting victorias. And the
Prince's undirected thought was not a little symptomatic, since,
though the turn of the season had come and the flush of the
streets begun to fade, the possibilities of faces, on the August
afternoon, were still one of the notes of the scene. He was too
restless--that was the fact--for any concentration, and the last
idea that would just now have occurred to him in any connection
was the idea of pursuit.

He had been pursuing for six months as never in his life before,
and what had actually unsteadied him, as we join him, was the
sense of how he had been justified. Capture had crowned the
pursuit--or success, as he would otherwise have put it, had
rewarded virtue; whereby the consciousness of these things made
him, for the hour, rather serious than gay. A sobriety that might
have consorted with failure sat in his handsome face,
constructively regular and grave, yet at the same time oddly and,
as might be, functionally almost radiant, with its dark blue
eyes, its dark brown moustache and its expression no more sharply
"foreign" to an English view than to have caused it sometimes to
be observed of him with a shallow felicity that he looked like a
"refined" Irishman. What had happened was that shortly before, at
three o'clock, his fate had practically been sealed, and that
even when one pretended to no quarrel with it the moment had
something of the grimness of a crunched key in the strongest lock
that could be made. There was nothing to do as yet, further, but
feel what one had done, and our personage felt it while he
aimlessly wandered. It was already as if he were married, so
definitely had the solicitors, at three o'clock, enabled the date
to be fixed, and by so few days was that date now distant. He
was to dine at half-past eight o'clock with the young lady on
whose behalf, and on whose father's, the London lawyers had
reached an inspired harmony with his own man of business, poor
Calderoni, fresh from Rome and now apparently in the wondrous
situation of being "shown London," before promptly leaving it
again, by Mr. Verver himself, Mr. Verver whose easy way with his
millions had taxed to such small purpose, in the arrangements,
the principle of reciprocity. The reciprocity with which the
Prince was during these minutes most struck was that of
Calderoni's bestowal of his company for a view of the lions. If
there was one thing in the world the young man, at this juncture,
clearly intended, it was to be much more decent as a son-in-law
than lots of fellows he could think of had shown themselves in
that character. He thought of these fellows, from whom he was so
to differ, in English; he used, mentally, the English term to
describe his difference, for, familiar with the tongue from his
earliest years, so that no note of strangeness remained with him
either for lip or for ear, he found it convenient, in life, for
the greatest number of relations. He found it convenient, oddly,
even for his relation with himself--though not unmindful that
there might still, as time went on, be others, including a more
intimate degree of that one, that would seek, possibly with
violence, the larger or the finer issue--which was it?--of the
vernacular. Miss Verver had told him he spoke English too well--
it was his only fault, and he had not been able to speak worse
even to oblige her. "When I speak worse, you see, I speak
French," he had said; intimating thus that there were
discriminations, doubtless of the invidious kind, for which that
language was the most apt. The girl had taken this, she let him
know, as a reflection on her own French, which she had always so
dreamed of making good, of making better; to say nothing of his
evident feeling that the idiom supposed a cleverness she was not
a person to rise to. The Prince's answer to such remarks--genial,
charming, like every answer the parties to his new arrangement
had yet had from him--was that he was practising his American in
order to converse properly, on equal terms as it were, with Mr.
Verver. His prospective father-in-law had a command of it, he
said, that put him at a disadvantage in any discussion; besides
which--well, besides which he had made to the girl the
observation that positively, of all his observations yet, had
most finely touched her.

"You know I think he's a REAL galantuomo--'and no mistake.' There
are plenty of sham ones about. He seems to me simply the best man
I've ever seen in my life."

"Well, my dear, why shouldn't he be?" the girl had gaily
inquired.

It was this, precisely, that had set the Prince to think. The
things, or many of them, that had made Mr. Verver what he was
seemed practically to bring a charge of waste against the other
things that, with the other people known to the young man, had
failed of such a result. "Why, his 'form,'" he had returned,
"might have made one doubt."

"Father's form?" She hadn't seen it. It strikes me he hasn't got
any."

"He hasn't got mine--he hasn't even got yours."

"Thank you for 'even'!" the girl had laughed at him. "Oh, yours,
my dear, is tremendous. But your father has his own. I've made
that out. So don't doubt it. It's where it has brought him out--
that's the point."

"It's his goodness that has brought him out," our young woman
had, at this, objected.

"Ah, darling, goodness, I think, never brought anyone out.
Goodness, when it's real, precisely, rather keeps people in." He
had been interested in his discrimination, which amused him. "No,
it's his WAY. It belongs to him."

But she had wondered still. "It's the American way. That's all."

"Exactly--it's all. It's all, I say! It fits him--so it must be
good for something."

"Do you think it would be good for you?" Maggie Verver had
smilingly asked.

To which his reply had been just of the happiest. "I don't feel,
my dear, if you really want to know, that anything much can now
either hurt me or help me. Such as I am--but you'll see for
yourself. Say, however, I am a galantuomo--which I devoutly hope:
I'm like a chicken, at best, chopped up and smothered in sauce;
cooked down as a creme de volaille, with half the parts left out.
Your father's the natural fowl running about the bassecour. His
feathers, movements, his sounds--those are the parts that, with
me, are left out."

"All, as a matter of course--since you can't eat a chicken
alive!"

The Prince had not been annoyed at this, but he had been
positive. "Well, I'm eating your father alive--which is the only
way to taste him. I want to continue, and as it's when he talks
American that he is most alive, so I must also cultivate it, to
get my pleasure. He couldn't make one like him so much in any
other language."

It mattered little that the girl had continued to demur--it was
the mere play of her joy. "I think he could make you like him in
Chinese."

"It would be an unnecessary trouble. What I mean is that he's a
kind of result of his inevitable tone. My liking is accordingly
FOR the tone--which has made him possible."

"Oh, you'll hear enough of it," she laughed, "before you've done
with us."

Only this, in truth, had made him frown a little.

"What do you mean, please, by my having 'done' with you?"

"Why, found out about us all there is to find."

He had been able to take it indeed easily as a joke. "Ah, love, I
began with that. I know enough, I feel, never to be surprised.
It's you yourselves meanwhile," he continued, "who really know
nothing. There are two parts of me"--yes, he had been moved to go
on. "One is made up of the history, the doings, the marriages,
the crimes, the follies, the boundless betises of other people--
especially of their infamous waste of money that might have come
to me. Those things are written--literally in rows of volumes, in
libraries; are as public as they're abominable. Everybody can get
at them, and you've, both of you, wonderfully, looked them in the
face. But there's another part, very much smaller doubtless,
which, such as it is, represents my single self, the unknown,
unimportant, unimportant--unimportant save to YOU--personal
quantity. About this you've found out nothing."

"Luckily, my dear," the girl had bravely said; "for what then
would become, please, of the promised occupation of my future?"

The young man remembered even now how extraordinarily CLEAR--he
couldn't call it anything else--she had looked, in her
prettiness, as she had said it. He also remembered what he had
been moved to reply. "The happiest reigns, we are taught, you
know, are the reigns without any history."

"Oh, I'm not afraid of history!" She had been sure of that. "Call
it the bad part, if you like--yours certainly sticks out of you.
What was it else," Maggie Verver had also said, "that made me
originally think of you? It wasn't--as I should suppose you must
have seen--what you call your unknown quantity, your particular
self. It was the generations behind you, the follies and the
crimes, the plunder and the waste--the wicked Pope, the monster
most of all, whom so many of the volumes in your family library
are all about. If I've read but two or three yet, I shall give
myself up but the more--as soon as I have time--to the rest.
Where, therefore"--she had put it to him again--"without your
archives, annals, infamies, would you have been?"

He recalled what, to this, he had gravely returned. "I might have
been in a somewhat better pecuniary situation." But his actual
situation under the head in question positively so little
mattered to them that, having by that time lived deep into the
sense of his advantage, he had kept no impression of the girl's
rejoinder. It had but sweetened the waters in which he now
floated, tinted them as by the action of some essence, poured
from a gold-topped phial, for making one's bath aromatic. No one
before him, never--not even the infamous Pope--had so sat up to
his neck in such a bath. It showed, for that matter, how little
one of his race could escape, after all, from history. What was
it but history, and of THEIR kind very much, to have the
assurance of the enjoyment of more money than the palace-builder
himself could have dreamed of?  This was the element that bore
him up and into which Maggie scattered, on occasion, her
exquisite colouring drops. They were of the colour--of what on
earth? of what but the extraordinary American good faith? They
were of the colour of her innocence, and yet at the same time of
her imagination, with which their relation, his and these
people's, was all suffused. What he had further said on the
occasion of which we thus represent him as catching the echoes
from his own thoughts while he loitered--what he had further said
came back to him, for it had been the voice itself of his luck,
the soothing sound that was always with him. "You Americans are
almost incredibly romantic."

"Of course we are. That's just what makes everything so nice for
us."

"Everything?" He had wondered.

"Well, everything that's nice at all. The world, the beautiful,
world--or everything in it that is beautiful. I mean we see so
much."

He had looked at her a moment--and he well knew how she had
struck him, in respect to the beautiful world, as one of the
beautiful, the most beautiful things. But what he had answered
was: "You see too much--that's what may sometimes make you
difficulties. When you don't, at least," he had amended with a
further thought, "see too little." But he had quite granted that
he knew what she meant, and his warning perhaps was needless.

He had seen the follies of the romantic disposition, but there
seemed somehow no follies in theirs--nothing, one was obliged to
recognise, but innocent pleasures, pleasures without penalties.
Their enjoyment was a tribute to others without being a loss to
themselves. Only the funny thing, he had respectfully submitted,
was that her father, though older and wiser, and a man into the
bargain, was as bad--that is as good--as herself.

"Oh, he's better," the girl had freely declared "that is he's
worse. His relation to the things he cares for--and I think it
beautiful--is absolutely romantic. So is his whole life over
here--it's the most romantic thing I know."

"You mean his idea for his native place?"

"Yes--the collection, the Museum with which he wishes to endow
it, and of which he thinks more, as you know, than of anything in
the world. It's the work of his life and the motive of everything
he does."

The young man, in his actual mood, could have smiled again--
smiled delicately, as he had then smiled at her. "Has it been his
motive in letting me have you?"

"Yes, my dear, positively--or in a manner," she had said.

"American City isn't, by the way, his native town, for, though
he's not old, it's a young thing compared with him--a younger
one. He started there, he has a feeling about it, and the place
has grown, as he says, like the programme of a charity
performance. You're at any rate a part of his collection," she
had explained--"one of the things that can only be got over
here. You're a rarity, an object of beauty, an object of price.
You're not perhaps absolutely unique, but you're so curious and
eminent that there are very few others like you--you belong to a
class about which everything is known. You're what they call a
morceau de musee."

"I see. I have the great sign of it," he had risked--"that I cost
a lot of money."

"I haven't the least idea," she had gravely answered, "what you
cost"--and he had quite adored, for the moment, her way of saying
it. He had felt even, for the moment, vulgar. But he had made the
best of that. "Wouldn't you find out if it were a question of
parting with me? My value would in that case be estimated."

She had looked at him with her charming eyes, as if his value
were well before her. "Yes, if you mean that I'd pay rather than
lose you."

And then there came again what this had made him say. "Don't talk
about ME--it's you who are not of this age. You're a creature of
a braver and finer one, and the cinquecento, at its most golden
hour, wouldn't have been ashamed of you. It would of me, and if I
didn't know some of the pieces your father has acquired, I should
rather fear, for American City, the criticism of experts. Would
it at all events be your idea," he had then just ruefully asked,
"to send me there for safety?"

"Well, we may have to come to it."

"I'll go anywhere you want."

"We must see first--it will be only if we have to come to it.
There are things," she had gone on, "that father puts away--the
bigger and more cumbrous of course, which he stores, has already
stored in masses, here and in Paris, in Italy, in Spain, in
warehouses, vaults, banks, safes, wonderful secret places. We've
been like a pair of pirates--positively stage pirates, the sort
who wink at each other and say 'Ha-ha!' when they come to where
their treasure is buried. Ours is buried pretty well everywhere--
except what we like to see, what we travel with and have about
us. These, the smaller pieces, are the things we take out and
arrange as we can, to make the hotels we stay at and the houses
we hire a little less ugly. Of course it's a danger, and we have
to keep watch. But father loves a fine piece, loves, as he says,
the good of it, and it's for the company of some of his things
that he's willing to run his risks. And we've had extraordinary
luck"--Maggie had made that point; "we've never lost anything
yet. And the finest objects are often the smallest. Values, in
lots of cases, you must know, have nothing to do with size. But
there's nothing, however tiny," she had wound up, "that we've
missed."

"I like the class," he had laughed for this, "in which you place
me! I shall be one of the little pieces that you unpack at the
hotels, or at the worst in the hired houses, like this wonderful
one, and put out with the family photographs and the new
magazines. But it's something not to be so big that I have to be
buried."

"Oh," she had returned, "you shall not be buried, my dear, till
you're dead. Unless indeed you call it burial to go to American
City."

"Before I pronounce I should like to see my tomb." So he had had,
after his fashion, the last word in their interchange, save for
the result of an observation that had risen to his lips at the
beginning, which he had then checked, and which now came back to
him. "Good, bad or indifferent, I hope there's one thing you
believe about me."

He had sounded solemn, even to himself, but she had taken it
gaily. "Ah, don't fix me down to 'one'! I believe things enough
about you, my dear, to have a few left if most of them, even, go
to smash. I've taken care of THAT. I've divided my faith into
water-tight compartments. We must manage not to sink."

"You do believe I'm not a hypocrite? You recognise that I don't
lie or dissemble or deceive? Is THAT water-tight?"

The question, to which he had given a certain intensity, had made
her, he remembered, stare an instant, her colour rising as if it
had sounded to her still stranger than he had intended. He had
perceived on the spot that any SERIOUS discussion of veracity, of
loyalty, or rather of the want of them, practically took her
unprepared, as if it were quite new to her. He had noticed it
before: it was the English, the American sign that duplicity,
like "love," had to be joked about. It couldn't be "gone into."
So the note of his inquiry was--well, to call it nothing else--
premature; a mistake worth making, however, for the almost
overdone drollery in which her answer instinctively sought
refuge.

"Water-tight--the biggest compartment of all? Why, it's the best
cabin and the main deck and the engine-room and the steward's
pantry! It's the ship itself--it's the whole line. It's the
captain's table and all one's luggage--one's reading for the
trip." She had images, like that, that were drawn from steamers
and trains, from a familiarity with "lines," a command of "own"
cars, from an experience of continents and seas, that he was
unable as yet to emulate; from vast modern machineries and
facilities whose acquaintance he had still to make, but as to
which it was part of the interest of his situation as it stood
that he could, quite without wincing, feel his future likely to
bristle with them.

It was in fact, content as he was with his engagement and
charming as he thought his affianced bride, his view of THAT
furniture that mainly constituted our young man's "romance"--and
to an extent that made of his inward state a contrast that he was
intelligent enough to feel. He was intelligent enough to feel
quite humble, to wish not to be in the least hard or voracious,
not to insist on his own side of the bargain, to warn himself in
short against arrogance and greed. Odd enough, of a truth, was
his sense of this last danger--which may illustrate moreover his
general attitude toward dangers from within. Personally, he
considered, he hadn't the vices in question--and that was
so much to the good. His race, on the other hand, had had them
handsomely enough, and he was somehow full of his race. Its
presence in him was like the consciousness of some inexpugnable
scent in which his clothes, his whole person, his hands and the
hair of his head, might have been steeped as in some chemical
bath: the effect was nowhere in particular, yet he constantly
felt himself at the mercy of the cause. He knew his antenatal
history, knew it in every detail, and it was a thing to keep
causes well before him. What was his frank judgment of so much of
its ugliness, he asked himself, but a part of the cultivation of
humility? What was this so important step he had just taken but
the desire for some new history that should, so far as possible,
contradict, and even if need be flatly dishonour, the old? If
what had come to him wouldn't do he must MAKE something
different. He perfectly recognised--always in his humility--that
the material for the making had to be Mr. Verver's millions.
There was nothing else for him on earth to make it with; he had
tried before--had had to look about and see the truth. Humble as
he was, at the same time, he was not so humble as if he had known
himself frivolous or stupid. He had an idea--which may amuse his
historian--that when you were stupid enough to be mistaken about
such a matter you did know it. Therefore he wasn't mistaken--his
future might be MIGHT be scientific. There was nothing in
himself, at all events, to prevent it. He was allying himself to
science, for it was science but the absence of prejudice backed
by the presence of money? His life would be full of machinery,
which was the antidote to superstition, which was in its turn,
too much, the consequence, or at least the exhalation, of
archives. He thought of these--of his not being at all events
futile, and of his absolute acceptance of the developments of the
coming age to redress the balance of his being so differently
considered. The moments when he most winced were those at which
he found himself believing that, really, futility would have been
forgiven him. Even WITH it, in that absurd view, he would have
been good enough. Such was the laxity, in the Ververs, of the
romantic spirit. They didn't, indeed, poor dears, know what, in
that line--the line of futility--the real thing meant. HE did--
having seen it, having tried it, having taken its measure. This
was a memory in fact simply to screen out--much as, just in front
of him while he walked, the iron shutter of a shop, closing early
to the stale summer day, rattled down at the turn of some crank.
There was machinery again, just as the plate glass, all about
him, was money, was power, the power of the rich peoples. Well,
he was OF them now, of the rich peoples; he was on their side--if
it wasn't rather the pleasanter way of putting it that they were
on his.

Something of this sort was in any case the moral and the murmur
of his walk. It would have been ridiculous--such a moral from
such a source--if it hadn't all somehow fitted to the gravity of
the hour, that gravity the oppression of which I began by
recording. Another feature was the immediate nearness of the
arrival of the contingent from home. He was to meet them at
Charing Cross on the morrow: his younger brother, who had married
before him, but whose wife, of Hebrew race, with a portion that
had gilded the pill, was not in a condition to travel; his sister
and her husband, the most anglicised of Milanesi, his maternal
uncle, the most shelved of diplomatists, and his Roman cousin,
Don Ottavio, the most disponible of ex-deputies and of
relatives--a scant handful of the consanguineous who, in spite of
Maggie's plea for hymeneal reserve, were to accompany him to the
altar. It was no great array, yet it was apparently to be a more
numerous muster than any possible to the bride herself, having
no wealth of kinship to choose from and making it up, on the
other hand, by loose invitations. He had been interested in the
girl's attitude on the matter and had wholly deferred to it,
giving him, as it did, a glimpse, distinctly pleasing, of the
kind of ruminations she would in general be governed by--which
were quite such as fell in with his own taste. They hadn't
natural relations, she and her father, she had explained; so they
wouldn't try to supply the place by artificial, by make-believe
ones, by any searching of highways and hedges. Oh yes, they had
acquaintances enough--but a marriage was an intimate thing. You
asked acquaintances when you HAD your kith and kin--you asked
them over and above. But you didn't ask them alone, to cover your
nudity and look like what they weren't. She knew what she meant
and what she liked, and he was all ready to take from her,
finding a good omen in both of the facts. He expected her,
desired her, to have character; his wife SHOULD have it, and he
wasn't afraid of her having much. He had had, in his earlier
time, to deal with plenty of people who had had it; notably with
the three four ecclesiastics, his great-uncle, the Cardinal,
above all, who had taken a hand and played a part in his
education: the effect of all of which had never been to upset
him. He was thus fairly on the look-out for the characteristic
in this most intimate, as she was to come, of his associates.
He encouraged it when it appeared.

He felt therefore, just at present, as if his papers were in
order, as if his accounts so balanced as they had never done in
his life before and he might close the portfolio with a snap. It
would open again, doubtless, of itself, with the arrival of the
Romans; it would even perhaps open with his dining to-night in
Portland Place, where Mr. Verver had pitched a tent suggesting
that of Alexander furnished with the spoils of Darius. But what
meanwhile marked his crisis, as I have said, was his sense of the
immediate two or three hours. He paused on corners, at crossings;
there kept rising for him, in waves, that consciousness, sharp as
to its source while vague as to its end, which I began by
speaking of--the consciousness of an appeal to do something or
other, before it was too late, for himself. By any friend to whom
he might have mentioned it the appeal could have been turned to
frank derision. For what, for whom indeed but himself and the
high advantages attached, was he about to marry an
extraordinarily charming girl, whose "prospects," of the solid
sort, were as guaranteed as her amiability? He wasn't to do it,
assuredly, all for her. The Prince, as happened, however, was so
free to feel and yet not to formulate that there rose before him
after a little, definitely, the image of a friend whom he had
often found ironic. He withheld the tribute of attention from
passing faces only to let his impulse accumulate. Youth and
beauty made him scarcely turn, but the image of Mrs. Assingham
made him presently stop a hansom. HER youth, her beauty were
things more or less of the past, but to find her at home, as he
possibly might, would be "doing" what he still had time for,
would put something of a reason into his restlessness and thereby
probably soothe it. To recognise the propriety of this particular
pilgrimage--she lived far enough off, in long Cadogan Place--was
already in fact to work it off a little. A perception of the
propriety of formally thanking her, and of timing the act just as
he happened to be doing--this, he made out as he went, was
obviously all that had been the matter with him. It was true that
he had mistaken the mood of the moment, misread it rather,
superficially, as an impulse to look the other way--the other way
from where his pledges had accumulated. Mrs. Assingham,
precisely, represented, embodied his pledges--was, in her
pleasant person, the force that had set them successively in
motion. She had MADE his marriage, quite as truly as his papal
ancestor had made his family--though he could scarce see what she
had made it for unless because she too was perversely romantic.
He had neither bribed nor persuaded her, had given her nothing--
scarce even till now articulate thanks; so that her profit-to
think of it vulgarly--must have all had to come from the Ververs.

Yet he was far, he could still remind himself, from supposing
that she had been grossly remunerated. He was wholly sure she
hadn't; for if there were people who took presents and people who
didn't she would be quite on the right side and of the proud
class. Only then, on the other hand, her disinterestedness was
rather awful--it implied, that is, such abysses of confidence.
She was admirably attached to Maggie--whose possession of such a
friend might moreover quite rank as one of her "assets"; but the
great proof of her affection had been in bringing them, with her
design, together. Meeting him during a winter in Rome, meeting
him afterwards in Paris, and "liking" him, as she had in time
frankly let him know from the first, she had marked him for her
young friend's own and had then, unmistakably, presented him in a
light. But the interest in Maggie--that was the point--would have
achieved but little without her interest in HIM. On what did that
sentiment, unsolicited and unrecompensed, rest? what good,
again--for it was much like his question about Mr. Verver--should
he ever have done her? The Prince's notion of a recompense to
women--similar in this to his notion of an appeal--was more or
less to make love to them. Now he hadn't, as he believed, made
love the least little bit to Mrs. Assingham--nor did he think she
had for a moment supposed it. He liked in these days, to mark
them off, the women to whom he hadn't made love: it represented--
and that was what pleased him in it--a different stage of
existence from the time at which he liked to mark off the women
to whom he had. Neither, with all this, had Mrs. Assingham
herself been either aggressive or resentful. On what occasion,
ever, had she appeared to find him wanting? These things, the
motives of such people, were obscure--a little alarmingly so;
they contributed to that element of the impenetrable which alone
slightly qualified his sense of his good fortune. He remembered
to have read, as a boy, a wonderful tale by Allan Poe, his
prospective wife's countryman-which was a thing to show, by the
way, what imagination Americans COULD have: the story of the
shipwrecked Gordon Pym, who, drifting in a small boat further
toward the North Pole--or was it the South?--than anyone had ever
done, found at a given moment before him a thickness of white air
that was like a dazzling curtain of light, concealing as darkness
conceals, yet of the colour of milk or of snow. There were
moments when he felt his own boat move upon some such mystery.
The state of mind of his new friends, including Mrs. Assingham
herself, had resemblances to a great white curtain. He had never
known curtains but as purple even to blackness--but as producing
where they hung a darkness intended and ominous. When they were
so disposed as to shelter surprises the surprises were apt to be
shocks.

Shocks, however, from these quite different depths, were not what
he saw reason to apprehend; what he rather seemed to himself not
yet to have measured was something that, seeking a name for it,
he would have called the quantity of confidence reposed in him.
He had stood still, at many a moment of the previous month, with
the thought, freshly determined or renewed, of the general
expectation--to define it roughly--of which he was the subject.
What was singular was that it seemed not so much an expectation
of anything in particular as a large, bland, blank assumption of
merits almost beyond notation, of essential quality and value. It
was as if he had been some old embossed coin, of a purity of gold
no longer used, stamped with glorious arms, mediaeval, wonderful,
of which the "worth" in mere modern change, sovereigns and half
crowns, would be great enough, but as to which, since there were
finer ways of using it, such taking to pieces was superfluous.
That was the image for the security in which it was open to him
to rest; he was to constitute a possession, yet was to escape
being reduced to his component parts. What would this mean but
that, practically, he was never to be tried or tested? What would
it mean but that, if they didn't "change" him, they really
wouldn't know--he wouldn't know himself--how many pounds,
shillings and pence he had to give? These at any rate, for the
present, were unanswerable questions; all that was before him was
that he was invested with attributes. He was taken seriously.
Lost there in the white mist was the seriousness in them that
made them so take him. It was even in Mrs. Assingham, in spite of
her having, as she had frequently shown, a more mocking spirit.
All he could say as yet was that he had done nothing, so far as
to break any charm. What should he do if he were to ask her
frankly this afternoon what was, morally speaking, behind their
veil. It would come to asking what they expected him to do. She
would answer him probably: "Oh, you know, it's what we expect you
to be!" on which he would have no resource but to deny his
knowledge. Would that break the spell, his saying he had no idea?
What idea in fact could he have? He also took himself seriously--
made a point of it; but it wasn't simply a question of fancy and
pretension. His own estimate he saw ways, at one time and
another, of dealing with: but theirs, sooner or later, say what
they might, would put him to the practical proof. As the
practical proof, accordingly, would naturally be proportionate to
the cluster of his attributes, one arrived at a scale that he was
not, honestly, the man to calculate. Who but a billionaire could
say what was fair exchange for a billion? That measure was the
shrouded object, but he felt really, as his cab stopped in
Cadogan Place, a little nearer the shroud. He promised himself,
virtually, to give the latter a twitch.



                            II

"They're not good days, you know," he had said to Fanny Assingham
after declaring himself grateful for finding her, and then, with
his cup of tea, putting her in possession of the latest news--the
documents signed an hour ago, de part et d'autre, and the
telegram from his backers, who had reached Paris the morning
before, and who, pausing there a little, poor dears, seemed to
think the whole thing a tremendous lark. "We're very simple folk,
mere country cousins compared with you," he had also observed,
"and Paris, for my sister and her husband, is the end of the
world. London therefore will be more or less another planet. It
has always been, as with so many of us, quite their Mecca, but
this is their first real caravan; they've mainly known 'old
England' as a shop for articles in india-rubber and leather, in
which they've dressed themselves as much as possible. Which all
means, however, that you'll see them, all of them, wreathed in
smiles. We must be very easy with them. Maggie's too wonderful--
her preparations are on a scale! She insists on taking in the
sposi and my uncle. The, others will come to me. I've been
engaging their rooms at the hotel, and, with all those solemn
signatures of an hour ago, that brings the case home to me."

"Do you mean you're afraid?" his hostess had amusedly asked.

"Terribly afraid. I've now but to wait to see the monster come.
They're not good days; they're neither one thing nor the other.
I've really got nothing, yet I've everything to lose. One doesn't
know what still may happen."

The way she laughed at him was for an instant almost irritating;
it came out, for his fancy, from behind the white curtain. It was
a sign, that is, of her deep serenity, which worried instead of
soothing him. And to be soothed, after all, to be tided over, in
his mystic impatience, to be told what he could understand and
believe--that was what he had come for. "Marriage then," said
Mrs. Assingham, "is what you call the monster? I admit it's a
fearful thing at the best; but, for heaven's sake, if that's what
you're thinking of, don't run away from it."

"Ah, to run away from it would be to run away from you," the
Prince replied; "and I've already told you often enough how I
depend on you to see me through." He so liked the way she took
this, from the corner of her sofa, that he gave his sincerity--
for it WAS sincerity--fuller expression. "I'm starting on the
great voyage--across the unknown sea; my ship's all rigged and
appointed, the cargo's stowed away and the company complete. But
what seems the matter with me is that I can't sail alone; my ship
must be one of a pair, must have, in the waste of waters, a--what
do you call it?--a consort. I don't ask you to stay on board with
me, but I must keep your sail in sight for orientation. I don't
in the least myself know, I assure you, the points of the
compass. But with a lead I can perfectly follow. You MUST be my
lead."

"How can you be sure," she asked, "where I should take you?"

"Why, from your having brought me safely thus far. I should never
have got here without you. You've provided the ship itself, and,
if you've not quite seen me aboard, you've attended me, ever so
kindly, to the dock. Your own vessel is, all conveniently, in the
next berth, and you can't desert me now."

She showed him again her amusement, which struck him even as
excessive, as if, to his surprise, he made her also a little
nervous; she treated him in fine as if he were not uttering
truths, but making pretty figures for her diversion. "My vessel,
dear Prince?" she smiled. "What vessel, in the world, have I?
This little house is all our ship, Bob's and mine--and
thankful we are, now, to have it. We've wandered far, living, as
you may say, from hand to mouth, without rest for the soles of
our feet. But the time has come for us at last to draw in."

He made at this, the young man, an indignant protest. "You talk
about rest--it's too selfish!--when you're just launching me on
adventures?"

She shook her head with her kind lucidity. "Not adventures--
heaven forbid! You've had yours--as I've had mine; and my idea
has been, all along, that we should neither of us begin again. My
own last, precisely, has been doing for you all you so prettily
mention. But it consists simply in having conducted you to rest.
You talk about ships, but they're not the comparison. Your
tossings are over--you're practically IN port. The port," she
concluded, "of the Golden Isles."

He looked about, to put himself more in relation with the place;
then, after an hesitation, seemed to speak certain words instead
of certain others. "Oh, I know where I AM--! I do decline to be
left, but what I came for, of course, was to thank you. If to-day
has seemed, for the first time, the end of preliminaries, I feel
how little there would have been any at all without you. The
first were wholly yours."

"Well," said Mrs. Assingham, "they were remarkably easy. I've
seen them, I've HAD them," she smiled, "more difficult.
Everything, you must feel, went of itself. So, you must feel,
everything still goes."

The Prince quickly agreed. "Oh, beautifully! But you had the
conception."

"Ah, Prince, so had you!"

He looked at her harder a moment. "You had it first. You had it
most."

She returned his look as if it had made her wonder. "I LIKED it,
if that's what you mean. But you liked it surely yourself. I
protest, that I had easy work with you. I had only at last--when
I thought it was time--to speak for you."

"All that is quite true. But you're leaving me, all the same,
you're leaving me--you're washing your hands of me," he went on.
"However, that won't be easy; I won't BE left." And he had turned
his eyes about again, taking in the pretty room that she had just
described as her final refuge, the place of peace for a world-
worn couple, to which she had lately retired with "Bob." "I shall
keep this spot in sight. Say what you will, I shall need you. I'm
not, you know," he declared, "going to give you up for anybody."

"If you're afraid--which of course you're not--are you trying to
make me the same?" she asked after a moment.

He waited a minute too, then answered her with a question. "You
say you 'liked' it, your undertaking to make my engagement
possible. It remains beautiful for me that you did; it's charming
and unforgettable. But, still more, it's mysterious and
wonderful. WHY, you dear delightful woman, did you like it?"

"I scarce know what to make," she said, "of such an inquiry. If
you haven't by this time found out yourself, what meaning can
anything I say have for you? Don't you really after all feel,"
she added while nothing came from him--"aren't you conscious
every minute, of the perfection of the creature of whom I've put
you into possession?"

"Every minute--gratefully conscious. But that's exactly the
ground of my question. It wasn't only a matter of your handing me
over--it was a matter of your handing her. It was a matter of HER
fate still more than of mine. You thought all the good of her
that one woman can think of another, and yet, by your account,
you enjoyed assisting at her risk."

She had kept her eyes on him while he spoke, and this was what,
visibly, determined a repetition for her. "Are you trying to
frighten me?"

"Ah, that's a foolish view--I should be too vulgar. You
apparently can't understand either my good faith or my humility.
I'm awfully humble," the young man insisted; "that's the way I've
been feeling to-day, with everything so finished and ready. And
you won't take me for serious."

She continued to face him as if he really troubled her a little.
"Oh, you deep old Italians!"

"There you are," he returned--"it's what I wanted you to come to.
That's the responsible note."

"Yes," she went on--"if you're 'humble' you MUST be dangerous."

She had a pause while he only smiled; then she said: "I don't in
the least want to lose sight of you. But even if I did I
shouldn't think it right."

"Thank you for that--it's what I needed of you. I'm sure, after
all, that the more you're with me the more I shall understand.
It's the only thing in the world I want. I'm excellent, I really
think, all round--except that I'm stupid. I can do pretty well
anything I SEE. But I've got to see it first." And he pursued his
demonstration. "I don't in the least mind its having to be shown
me--in fact I like that better. Therefore it is that I want, that
I shall always want, your eyes. Through THEM I wish to look--even
at any risk of their showing me what I mayn't like. For then," he
wound up, "I shall know. And of that I shall never be afraid."

She might quite have been waiting to see what he would come to,
but she spoke with a certain impatience. "What on earth are you
talking about?"

But he could perfectly say: "Of my real, honest fear of being
'off' some day, of being wrong, WITHOUT knowing it. That's what I
shall always trust you for--to tell me when I am. No--with you
people it's a sense. We haven't got it--not as you have.
Therefore--!" But he had said enough. "Ecco!" he simply smiled.

It was not to be concealed that he worked upon her, but of course
she had always liked him. "I should be interested," she presently
remarked, "to see some sense you don't possess."

Well, he produced one on the spot. "The moral, dear Mrs.
Assingham. I mean, always, as you others consider it. I've of
course something that in our poor dear backward old Rome
sufficiently passes for it. But it's no more like yours than the
tortuous stone staircase--half-ruined into the bargain!--in some
castle of our quattrocento is like the `lightning elevator' in
one of Mr. Verver's fifteen-storey buildings. Your moral sense
works by steam--it sends you up like a rocket. Ours is slow and
steep and unlighted, with so many of the steps missing that--
well, that it's as short, in almost any case, to turn round and
come down again."

"Trusting," Mrs. Assingham smiled, "to get up some other way?"

"Yes--or not to have to get up at all. However," he added, "I
told you that at the beginning."

"Machiavelli!" she simply exclaimed.

"You do me too much honour. I wish indeed I had his genius.
However, if you really believe I have his perversity you wouldn't
say it. But it's all right," he gaily enough concluded; "I shall
always have you to come to."

On this, for a little, they sat face to face; after which,
without comment, she asked him if he would have more tea. All she
would give him, he promptly signified; and he developed, making
her laugh, his idea that the tea of the English race was somehow
their morality, "made," with boiling water, in a little pot, so
that the more of it one drank the more moral one would become.
His drollery served as a transition, and she put to him several
questions about his sister and the others, questions as to what
Bob, in particular, Colonel Assingham, her husband, could do for
the arriving gentlemen, whom, by the Prince's leave, he would
immediately go to see. He was funny, while they talked, about
his own people too, whom he described, with anecdotes of their
habits, imitations of their manners and prophecies of their
conduct, as more rococo than anything Cadogan Place would ever
have known. This, Mrs. Assingham professed, was exactly what
would endear them to her, and that, in turn, drew from her
visitor a fresh declaration of all the comfort of his being able
so to depend on her. He had been with her, at this point, some
twenty minutes; but he had paid her much longer visits, and he
stayed now as if to make his attitude prove his appreciation. He
stayed moreover--THAT was really the sign of the hour--in spite
of the nervous unrest that had brought him and that had in truth
much rather fed on the scepticism by which she had apparently
meant to soothe it. She had not soothed him, and there arrived,
remarkably, a moment when the cause of her failure gleamed out.
He had not frightened her, as she called it--he felt that; yet
she was herself not at ease. She had been nervous, though trying
to disguise it; the sight of him, following on the announcement
of his name, had shown her as disconcerted. This conviction, for
the young man, deepened and sharpened; yet with the effect, too,
of making him glad in spite of it. It was as if, in calling, he
had done even better than he intended. For it was somehow
IMPORTANT--that was what it was--that there should be at this
hour something the matter with Mrs. Assingham, with whom, in all
their acquaintance, so considerable now, there had never been the
least little thing the matter. To wait thus and watch for it was
to know, of a truth, that there was something the matter with
HIM; since strangely, with so little to go upon--his heart had
positively begun to beat to the tune of suspense. It fairly
befell at last, for a climax, that they almost ceased to
pretend--to pretend, that is, to cheat each other with forms. The
unspoken had come up, and there was a crisis--neither could have
said how long it lasted--during which they were reduced, for all
interchange, to looking at each other on quite an inordinate
scale. They might at this moment, in their positively portentous
stillness, have been keeping it up for a wager, sitting for their
photograph or even enacting a tableau-vivant.

The spectator of whom they would thus well have been worthy might
have read meanings of his own into the intensity of their
communion--or indeed, even without meanings, have found his
account, aesthetically, in some gratified play of our modern
sense of type, so scantly to be distinguished from our modern
sense of beauty. Type was there, at the worst, in Mrs.
Assingham's dark, neat head, on which the crisp black hair made
waves so fine and so numerous that she looked even more in the
fashion of the hour than she desired. Full of discriminations
against the obvious, she had yet to accept a flagrant appearance
and to make the best of misleading signs. Her richness of hue,
her generous nose, her eyebrows marked like those of an actress--
these things, with an added amplitude of person on which middle
age had set its seal, seemed to present her insistently as a
daughter of the south, or still more of the east, a creature
formed by hammocks and divans, fed upon sherbets and waited upon
by slaves. She looked as if her most active effort might be to
take up, as she lay back, her mandolin, or to share a sugared
fruit with a pet gazelle. She was in fact, however, neither a
pampered Jewess nor a lazy Creole; New York had been, recordedly,
her birthplace and "Europe" punctually her discipline. She wore
yellow and purple because she thought it better, as she said,
while one was about it, to look like the Queen of Sheba than like
a revendeuse; she put pearls in her hair and crimson and gold in
her tea-gown for the same reason: it was her theory that nature
itself had overdressed her and that her only course was to drown,
as it was hopeless to try to chasten, the overdressing. So she
was covered and surrounded with "things," which were frankly toys
and shams, a part of the amusement with which she rejoiced to
supply her friends. These friends were in the game that of
playing with the disparity between her aspect and her character.
Her character was attested by the second movement of her face,
which convinced the beholder that her vision of the humours of
the world was not supine, not passive. She enjoyed, she needed
the warm air of friendship, but the eyes of the American city
looked out, somehow, for the opportunity of it, from under the
lids of Jerusalem. With her false indolence, in short, her false
leisure, her false pearls and palms and courts and fountains, she
was a person for whom life was multitudinous detail, detail that
left her, as it at any moment found her, unappalled and
unwearied.

"Sophisticated as I may appear"--it was her frequent phrase--she
had found sympathy her best resource. It gave her plenty to do;
it made her, as she also said, sit up. She had in her life two
great holes to fill, and she described herself as dropping social
scraps into them as she had known old ladies, in her early
American time, drop morsels of silk into the baskets in which
they collected the material for some eventual patchwork quilt.

One of these gaps in Mrs. Assingham's completeness was her want
of children; the other was her want of wealth. It was wonderful
how little either, in the fulness of time, came to show; sympathy
and curiosity could render their objects practically filial, just
as an English husband who in his military years had "run"
everything in his regiment could make economy blossom like the
rose. Colonel  Bob had, a few years after his marriage, left the
army, which had clearly, by that time, done its laudable all for
the enrichment of his personal experience, and he could thus give
his whole time to the gardening in question. There reigned among
the younger friends of this couple a legend, almost too venerable
for historical criticism, that the marriage itself, the happiest
of its class, dated from the far twilight of the age, a primitive
period when such things--such things as American girls accepted
as "good enough"--had not begun to be;--so that the pleasant pair
had been, as to the risk taken on either side, bold and original,
honourably marked, for the evening of life, as discoverers of a
kind of hymeneal Northwest Passage. Mrs. Assingham knew better,
knew there had been no historic hour, from that of Pocahontas
down, when some young Englishman hadn't precipitately believed
and some American girl hadn't, with a few more gradations,
availed herself to the full of her incapacity to doubt; but she
accepted resignedly the laurel of the founder, since she was in
fact pretty well the doyenne, above ground, of her transplanted
tribe, and since, above all, she HAD invented combinations,
though she had not invented Bob's own. It was he who had done
that, absolutely puzzled it out, by himself, from his first odd
glimmer-resting upon it moreover, through the years to come, as
proof enough, in him, by itself, of the higher cleverness. If she
kept her own cleverness up it was largely that he should have
full credit. There were moments in truth when she privately felt
how little--striking out as he had done--he could have afforded
that she should show the common limits. But Mrs. Assingham's
cleverness was in truth tested when her present visitor at last
said to her: "I don't think, you know, that you're treating me
quite right. You've something on your mind that you don't tell
me."

It was positive too that her smile, in reply, was a trifle dim.
"Am I obliged to tell you everything I have on my mind?"

"It isn't a question of everything, but it's a question of
anything that may particularly concern me. Then you shouldn't
keep it back. You know with what care I desire to proceed, taking
everything into account and making no mistake that may possibly
injure HER."

Mrs. Assingham, at this, had after an instant an odd
interrogation. "'Her'?"

"Her and him. Both our friends. Either Maggie or her father."

"I have something on my mind," Mrs. Assingham presently returned;
"something has happened for which I hadn't been prepared. But it
isn't anything that properly concerns you."

The Prince, with immediate gaiety, threw back his head. "What do
you mean by 'properly'? I somehow see volumes in it. It's the way
people put a thing when they put it--well, wrong. _I_ put things
right. What is it that has happened for me?"

His hostess, the next moment, had drawn spirit from his tone.

"Oh, I shall be delighted if you'll take your share of it.
Charlotte Stant is in London. She has just been here."

"Miss Stant? Oh really?" The Prince expressed clear surprise--a
transparency through which his eyes met his friend's with a
certain hardness of concussion. "She has arrived from America?"
he then quickly asked.

"She appears to have arrived this noon--coming up from
Southampton; at an hotel. She dropped upon me after luncheon and
was here for more than an hour."

The young man heard with interest, though not with an interest
too great for his gaiety. "You think then I've a share in it?
What IS my share?"

"Why, any you like--the one you seemed just now eager to take. It
was you yourself who insisted."

He looked at her on this with conscious inconsistency, and she
could now see that he had changed colour. But he was always easy.

"I didn't know then what the matter was."

"You didn't think it could be so bad?"

"Do you call it very bad?" the young man asked. "Only," she
smiled, "because that's the way it seems to affect YOU."

He hesitated, still with the trace of his quickened colour, still
looking at her, still adjusting his manner. "But you allowed you
were upset."

"To the extent--yes--of not having in the least looked for her.
Any more," said Mrs. Assingham, "than I judge Maggie to have
done."

The Prince thought; then as if glad to be able to say something
very natural and true: "No--quite right. Maggie hasn't looked for
her. But I'm sure," he added, "she'll be delighted to see her."

"That, certainly"--and his hostess spoke with a different shade
of gravity.

"She'll be quite overjoyed," the Prince went on. "Has Miss Stant
now gone to her?"

"She has gone back to her hotel, to bring her things here. I
can't have her," said Mrs. Assingham, "alone at an hotel."

"No; I see."

"If she's here at all she must stay with me." He quite took it
in. "So she's coming now?"

"I expect her at any moment. If you wait you'll see her."

"Oh," he promptly declared--"charming!" But this word came out as
if, a little, in sudden substitution for some other. It sounded
accidental, whereas he wished to be firm. That accordingly was
what he next showed himself. "If it wasn't for what's going on
these next days Maggie would certainly want to have her. In
fact," he lucidly continued, "isn't what's happening just a
reason to MAKE her want to?" Mrs. Assingham, for answer, only
looked at him, and this, the next instant, had apparently had
more effect than if she had spoken. For he asked a question that
seemed incongruous. "What has she come for!"

It made his companion laugh. "Why, for just what you say. For
your marriage."

"Mine?"--he wondered.

"Maggie's--it's the same thing. It's 'for' your great event. And
then," said Mrs. Assingham, "she's so lonely."

"Has she given you that as a reason?"

"I scarcely remember--she gave me so many. She abounds, poor
dear, in reasons. But there's one that, whatever she does, I
always remember for myself."

"And which is that?" He looked as if he ought to guess but
couldn't.

"Why, the fact that she has no home--absolutely none whatever.
She's extraordinarily alone."

Again he took it in. "And also has no great means."

"Very small ones. Which is not, however, with the expense of
railways and hotels, a reason for her running to and fro."

"On the contrary. But she doesn't like her country."

"Hers, my dear man?--it's little enough 'hers.'" The attribution,
for the moment, amused his hostess. "She has rebounded now--but
she has had little enough else to do with it."

"Oh, I say hers," the Prince pleasantly explained, "very much as,
at this time of day, I might say mine. I quite feel, I assure
you, as if the great place already more or less belonged to ME."

"That's your good fortune and your point of view. You own--or you
soon practically WILL own--so much of it. Charlotte owns almost
nothing in the world, she tells me, but two colossal trunks-only
one of which I have given her leave to introduce into this house.
She'll depreciate to you," Mrs. Assingham added, "your property."

He thought of these things, he thought of every thing; but he had
always his resource at hand of turning all to the easy. "Has she
come with designs upon me?" And then in a moment, as if even this
were almost too grave, he sounded the note that had least to do
with himself. "Est-elle toujours aussi belle?" That was the
furthest point, somehow, to which Charlotte Stant could be
relegated.

Mrs. Assingham treated it freely. "Just the same. The person in
the world, to my sense, whose looks are most subject to
appreciation. It's all in the way she affects you. One admires
her if one doesn't happen not to. So, as well, one criticises
her."

"Ah, that's not fair!" said the Prince.

"To criticise her? Then there you are! You're answered."

"I'm answered." He took it, humorously, as his lesson--sank his
previous self-consciousness, with excellent effect, in grateful
docility. "I only meant that there are perhaps better things to
be done with Miss Stant than to criticise her. When once you
begin THAT, with anyone--!" He was vague and kind.

"I quite agree that it's better to keep out of it as long as one
can. But when one MUST do it--"

"Yes?" he asked as she paused. "Then know what you mean."

"I see. Perhaps," he smiled, "_I_ don't know what I mean."

"Well, it's what, just now, in all ways, you particularly should
know." Mrs. Assingham, however, made no more of this, having,
before anything else, apparently, a scruple about the tone she
had just used. "I quite understand, of course, that, given her
great friendship with Maggie, she should have wanted to be
present. She has acted impulsively--but she has acted
generously."

"She has acted beautifully," said the Prince.

"I say 'generously' because I mean she hasn't, in any way,
counted the cost. She'll have it to count, in a manner, now," his
hostess continued. "But that doesn't matter."

He could see how little. "You'll look after her."

"I'll look after her."

"So it's all right."

"It's all right," said Mrs. Assingham.

"Then why are you troubled?"

It pulled her up--but only for a minute. "I'm not--any more than
you."

The Prince's dark blue eyes were of the finest, and, on occasion,
precisely, resembled nothing so much as the high windows of a
Roman palace, of an historic front by one of the great old
designers, thrown open on a feast-day to the golden air. His look
itself, at such times, suggested an image--that of some very
noble personage who, expected, acclaimed by the crowd in the
street and with old precious stuffs falling over the sill for his
support, had gaily and gallantly come to show himself: always
moreover less in his own interest than in that of spectators and
subjects whose need to admire, even to gape, was periodically to
be considered. The young man's expression became, after this
fashion, something vivid and concrete--a beautiful personal
presence, that of a prince in very truth, a ruler, warrior,
patron, lighting up brave architecture and diffusing the sense of
a function. It had been happily said of his face that the figure
thus appearing in the great frame was the ghost of some proudest
ancestor. Whoever the ancestor now, at all events, the Prince
was, for Mrs. Assingham's benefit, in view of the people. He
seemed, leaning on crimson damask, to take in the bright day. He
looked younger than his years; he was beautiful, innocent, vague.

"Oh, well, I'M not!" he rang out clear.

"I should like to SEE you, sir!" she said. "For you wouldn't have
a shadow of excuse." He showed how he agreed that he would have
been at a loss for one, and the fact of their serenity was thus
made as important as if some danger of its opposite had directly
menaced them. The only thing was that if the evidence of their
cheer was so established Mrs. Assingham had a little to explain
her original manner, and she came to this before they dropped the
question. "My first impulse is always to behave, about
everything, as if I feared complications. But I don't fear them--
I really like them. They're quite my element."

 He deferred, for her, to this account of herself. "But still,"
he said, "if we're not in the presence of a complication."

She hesitated. "A handsome, clever, odd girl staying with one is
always a complication."

The young man weighed it almost as if the question were new to
him. "And will she stay very long?"

His friend gave a laugh. "How in the world can I know? I've
scarcely asked her."

"Ah yes. You can't."

But something in the tone of it amused her afresh. "Do you think
you could?"

"I?" he wondered.

"Do you think you could get it out of her for me--the probable
length of her stay?"

He rose bravely enough to the occasion and the challenge. "I
daresay, if you were to give me the chance."

"Here it is then for you," she answered; for she had heard,
within the minute, the stop of a cab at her door. "She's back."



                            III

It had been said as a joke, but as, after this, they awaited
their friend in silence, the effect of the silence was to turn
the time to gravity--a gravity not dissipated even when the
Prince next spoke. He had been thinking the case over and making
up his mind. A handsome, clever, odd girl staying with one was a
complication. Mrs. Assingham, so far, was right. But there were
the facts--the good relations, from schooldays, of the two young
women, and the clear confidence with which one of them had
arrived. "She can come, you know, at any time, to US."

Mrs. Assingham took it up with an irony beyond laughter. "You'd
like her for your honeymoon?"

"Oh no, you must keep her for that. But why not after?"

She had looked at him a minute; then, at the sound of a voice in
the corridor, they had got up. "Why not? You're splendid!"
Charlotte Stant, the next minute, was with them, ushered in as
she had alighted from her cab, and prepared for not finding Mrs.
Assingham alone--this would have been to be noticed--by the
butler's answer, on the stairs, to a question put to him. She
could have looked at her hostess with such straightness and
brightness only from knowing that the Prince was also there--the
discrimination of but a moment, yet which let him take her in
still better than if she had instantly faced him. He availed
himself of the chance thus given him, for he was conscious of all
these things. What he accordingly saw, for some seconds, with
intensity, was a tall, strong, charming girl who wore for him, at
first, exactly the look of her adventurous situation, a
suggestion, in all her person, in motion and gesture, in free,
vivid, yet altogether happy indications of dress, from the
becoming compactness of her hat to the shade of tan in her shoes,
of winds and waves and custom-houses, of far countries and long
journeys, the knowledge of how and where and the habit, founded
on experience, of not being afraid. He was aware, at the same
time, that of this combination the "strongminded" note was not,
as might have been apprehended, the basis; he was now
sufficiently familiar with English-speaking types, he had sounded
attentively enough such possibilities, for a quick vision of
differences. He had, besides, his own view of this young lady's
strength of mind. It was great, he had ground to believe, but it
would never interfere with the play of her extremely personal,
her always amusing taste. This last was the thing in her--for she
threw it out positively, on the spot, like a light--that she
might have reappeared, during these moments, just to cool his
worried eyes with. He saw her in her light that immediate,
exclusive address to their friend was like a lamp she was holding
aloft for his benefit and for his pleasure. It showed him
everything--above all her presence in the world, so closely, so
irretrievably contemporaneous with his own: a sharp, sharp fact,
sharper during these instants than any other at all, even than
that of his marriage, but accompanied, in a subordinate and
controlled way, with those others, facial, physiognomic, that
Mrs. Assingham had been speaking of as subject to appreciation.
So they were, these others, as he met them again, and that was
the connection they instantly established with him. If they had
to be interpreted, this made at least for intimacy. There was but
one way certainly for HIM--to interpret them in the sense of the
already known.

Making use then of clumsy terms of excess, the face was too
narrow and too long, the eyes not large, and the mouth, on the
other hand, by no means small, with substance in its lips and a
slight, the very slightest, tendency to protrusion in the solid
teeth, otherwise indeed well arrayed and flashingly white. But it
was, strangely, as a cluster of possessions of his own that these
things, in Charlotte Stant, now affected him; items in a full
list, items recognised, each of them, as if, for the long
interval, they had been "stored" wrapped up, numbered, put away
in a cabinet. While she faced Mrs. Assingham the door of the
cabinet had opened of itself; he took the relics out, one by one,
and it was more and more, each instant, as if she were giving him
time. He saw again that her thick hair was, vulgarly speaking,
brown, but that there was a shade of tawny autumn leaf in it, for
"appreciation"--a colour indescribable and of which he had known
no other case, something that gave her at moments the sylvan
head of a huntress. He saw the sleeves of her jacket drawn to her
wrists, but he again made out the free arms within them to be of
the completely rounded, the polished slimness that Florentine
sculptors, in the great time, had loved, and of which the
apparent firmness is expressed in their old silver and old
bronze. He knew her narrow hands, he knew her long fingers and
the shape and colour of her finger-nails, he knew her special
beauty of movement and line when she turned her back, and the
perfect working of all her main attachments, that of some
wonderful finished instrument, something intently made for
exhibition, for a prize. He knew above all the extraordinary
fineness of her flexible waist, the stem of an expanded flower,
which gave her a likeness also to some long, loose silk purse,
well filled with gold pieces, but having been passed, empty,
through a finger-ring that held it together. It was as if, before
she turned to him, he had weighed the whole thing in his open
palm and even heard a little the chink of the metal. When she
did turn to him it was to recognise with her eyes what he might
have been doing. She made no circumstance of thus coming upon
him, save so far as the intelligence in her face could at any
moment make a circumstance of almost anything. If when she moved
off she looked like a huntress, she looked when she came nearer
like his notion, perhaps not wholly correct, of a muse. But what
she said was simply: "You see you're not rid of me. How is dear
Maggie?"

It was to come soon enough by the quite unforced operation of
chance, the young man's opportunity to ask her the question
suggested by Mrs. Assingham shortly before her entrance. The
license, had he chosen to embrace it, was within a few minutes
all there--the license given him literally to inquire of this
young lady how long she was likely to be with them. For a matter
of the mere domestic order had quickly determined, on Mrs.
Assingham's part, a withdrawal, of a few moments, which had the
effect of leaving her visitors free. "Mrs. Betterman's there?"
she had said to Charlotte in allusion to some member of the
household who was to have received her and seen her belongings
settled; to which Charlotte had replied that she had encountered
only the butler, who had been quite charming. She had deprecated
any action taken on behalf of her effects; but her hostess,
rebounding from accumulated cushions, evidently saw more in Mrs.
Betterman's non-appearance than could meet the casual eye. What
she saw, in short, demanded her intervention, in spite of an
earnest "Let ME go!" from the girl, and a prolonged smiling wail
over the trouble she was giving. The Prince was quite aware, at
this moment, that departure, for himself, was indicated; the
question of Miss Stant's installation didn't demand his presence;
it was a case for one to go away--if one hadn't a reason for
staying. He had a reason, however--of that he was equally aware;
and he had not for a good while done anything more conscious and
intentional than not, quickly, to take leave. His visible
insistence--for it came to that--even demanded of him a certain
disagreeable effort, the sort of effort he had mostly associated
with acting for an idea. His idea was there, his idea was to find
out something, something he wanted much to know, and to find it
out not tomorrow, not at some future time, not in short with
waiting and wondering, but if possible before quitting the place.
This particular curiosity, moreover, confounded itself a little
with the occasion offered him to satisfy Mrs. Assingham's own; he
wouldn't have admitted that he was staying to ask a rude
question--there was distinctly nothing rude in his having his
reasons. It would be rude, for that matter, to turn one's back,
without a word or two, on an old friend.

Well, as it came to pass, he got the word or two, for Mrs.
Assingham's preoccupation was practically simplifying. The little
crisis was of shorter duration than our account of it; duration,
naturally, would have forced him to take up his hat. He was
somehow glad, on finding himself alone with Charlotte, that he
had not been guilty of that inconsequence. Not to be flurried was
the kind of consistency he wanted, just as consistency was the
kind of dignity. And why couldn't he have dignity when he had so
much of the good conscience, as it were, on which such advantages
rested? He had done nothing he oughtn't--he had in fact done
nothing at all. Once more, as a man conscious of having known
many women, he could assist, as he would have called it, at the
recurrent, the predestined phenomenon, the thing always as
certain as sunrise or the coming round of Saints' days, the doing
by the woman of the thing that gave her away. She did it, ever,
inevitably, infallibly--she couldn't possibly not do it. It was
her nature, it was her life, and the man could always expect it
without lifting a finger. This was HIS, the man's, any man's,
position and strength--that he had necessarily the advantage,
that he only had to wait, with a decent patience, to be placed,
in spite of himself, it might really be said, in the right. Just
so the punctuality of performance on the part of the other
creature was her weakness and her deep misfortune--not less, no
doubt, than her beauty. It produced for the man that
extraordinary mixture of pity and profit in which his relation
with her, when he was not a mere brute, mainly consisted; and
gave him in fact his most pertinent ground of being always nice
to her, nice about her, nice FOR her. She always dressed her act
up, of course, she muffled and disguised and arranged it, showing
in fact in these dissimulations a cleverness equal to but one
thing in the world, equal to her abjection: she would let it be
known for anything, for everything, but the truth of which it was
made. That was what, precisely, Charlotte Stant would be doing
now; that was the present motive and support, to a certainty, of
each of her looks and motions. She was the twentieth woman, she
was possessed by her doom, but her doom was also to arrange
appearances, and what now concerned him was to learn how she
proposed. He would help her, would arrange WITH her to any point
in reason; the only thing was to know what appearance could best
be produced and best be preserved. Produced and preserved on her
part of course; since on his own there had been luckily no folly
to cover up, nothing but a perfect accord between conduct and
obligation.

They stood there together, at all events, when the door had
closed behind their friend, with a conscious, strained smile and
very much as if each waited for the other to strike the note or
give the pitch. The young man held himself, in his silent
suspense--only not more afraid because he felt her own fear. She
was afraid of herself, however; whereas, to his gain of lucidity,
he was afraid only of her. Would she throw herself into his arms,
or would she be otherwise wonderful? She would see what he would
do--so their queer minute without words told him; and she would
act accordingly. But what could he do but just let her see that
he would make anything, everything, for her, as honourably easy
as possible? Even if she should throw herself into his arms he
would make that easy--easy, that is, to overlook, to ignore, not
to remember, and not, by the same token, either, to regret. This
was not what in fact happened, though it was also not at a single
touch, but by the finest gradations, that his tension subsided.
"It's too delightful to be back!" she said at last; and it was
all she definitely gave him--being moreover nothing but what
anyone else might have said. Yet with two or three other things
that, on his response, followed it, it quite pointed the path,
while the tone of it, and her whole attitude, were as far removed
as need have been from the truth of her situation. The abjection
that was present to him as of the essence quite failed to peep
out, and he soon enough saw that if she was arranging she could
be trusted to arrange. Good--it was all he asked; and all the
more that he could admire and like her for it,

The particular appearance she would, as they said, go in for was
that of having no account whatever to give him--it would be in
fact that of having none to give anybody--of reasons or of
motives, of comings or of goings. She was a charming young woman
who had met him before, but she was also a charming young woman
with a life of her own. She would take it high--up, up, up, ever
so high. Well then, he would do the same; no height would be too
great for them, not even the dizziest conceivable to a young
person so subtle. The dizziest seemed indeed attained when, after
another moment, she came as near as she was to come to an apology
for her abruptness.

"I've been thinking of Maggie, and at last I yearned for her. I
wanted to see her happy--and it doesn't strike me I find you too
shy to tell me I SHALL."

"Of course she's happy, thank God! Only it's almost terrible, you
know, the happiness of young, good, generous creatures. It rather
frightens one. But the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints," said
the Prince, "have her in their keeping."

"Certainly they have. She's the dearest of the dear. But I
needn't tell you," the girl added.

"Ah," he returned with gravity, "I feel that I've still much to
learn about her." To which he subjoined "She'll rejoice awfully
in your being with us."

"Oh, you don't need me!" Charlotte smiled. "It's her hour. It's a
great hour. One has seen often enough, with girls, what it is.
But that," she said, "is exactly why. Why I've wanted, I mean,
not to miss it."

He bent on her a kind, comprehending face. "You mustn't miss
anything." He had got it, the pitch, and he could keep it now,
for all he had needed was to have it given him. The pitch was the
happiness of his wife that was to be--the sight of that happiness
as a joy for an old friend. It was, yes, magnificent, and not the
less so for its coming to him, suddenly, as sincere, as nobly
exalted. Something in Charlotte's eyes seemed to tell him this,
seemed to plead with him in advance as to what he was to find in
it. He was eager--and he tried to show her that too--to find what
she liked; mindful as he easily could be of what the friendship
had been for Maggie. It had been armed with the wings of young
imagination, young generosity; it had been, he believed--always
counting out her intense devotion to her father--the liveliest
emotion she had known before the dawn of the sentiment inspired
by himself. She had not, to his knowledge, invited the object of
it to their wedding, had not thought of proposing to her, for a
matter of a couple of hours, an arduous and expensive journey.
But she had kept her connected and informed, from week to week,
in spite of preparations and absorptions. "Oh, I've been writing
to Charlotte--I wish you knew her better:" he could still hear,
from recent weeks, this record of the fact, just as he could
still be conscious, not otherwise than queerly, of the gratuitous
element in Maggie's wish, which he had failed as yet to indicate
to her. Older and perhaps more intelligent, at any rate, why
shouldn't Charlotte respond--and be quite FREE to respond--to
such fidelities with something more than mere formal good
manners? The relations of women with each other were of the
strangest, it was true, and he probably wouldn't have trusted
here a young person of his own race. He was proceeding throughout
on the ground of the immense difference--difficult indeed as it
might have been to disembroil in this young person HER race-
quality. Nothing in her definitely placed her; she was a rare, a
special product. Her singleness, her solitude, her want of means,
that is her want of ramifications and other advantages,
contributed to enrich her somehow with an odd, precious
neutrality, to constitute for her, so detached yet so aware, a
sort of small social capital. It was the only one she had--it was
the only one a lonely, gregarious girl COULD have, since few,
surely, had in anything like the same degree arrived at it, and
since this one indeed had compassed it but through the play of
some gift of nature to which you could scarce give a definite
name.

It wasn't a question of her strange sense for tongues, with which
she juggled as a conjuror at a show juggled with balls or hoops
or lighted brands--it wasn't at least entirely that, for he had
known people almost as polyglot whom their accomplishment had
quite failed to make interesting. He was polyglot himself, for
that matter--as was the case too with so many of his friends and
relations; for none of whom, more than for himself, was it
anything but a common convenience. The point was that in this
young woman it was a beauty in itself, and almost a mystery: so,
certainly, he had more than once felt in noting, on her lips,
that rarest, among the Barbarians, of all civil graces, a perfect
felicity in the use of Italian. He had known strangers--a few,
and mostly men--who spoke his own language agreeably; but he had
known neither man nor woman who showed for it Charlotte's almost
mystifying instinct. He remembered how, from the first of their
acquaintance, she had made no display of it, quite as if English,
between them, his English so matching with hers, were their
inevitable medium. He had perceived all by accident--by hearing
her talk before him to somebody else that they had an alternative
as good; an alternative in fact as much better as the amusement
for him was greater in watching her for the slips that never
came. Her account of the mystery didn't suffice: her recall of
her birth in Florence and Florentine childhood; her parents, from
the great country, but themselves already of a corrupt
generation, demoralised, falsified, polyglot well before her,
with the Tuscan balia who was her first remembrance; the servants
of the villa, the dear contadini of the poder, the little girls
and the other peasants of the next podere, all the rather shabby
but still ever so pretty human furniture of her early time,
including the good sisters of the poor convent of the Tuscan
hills, the convent shabbier than almost anything else, but
prettier too, in which she had been kept at school till the
subsequent phase, the phase of the much grander institution in
Paris at which Maggie was to arrive, terribly frightened, and as
a smaller girl, three years before her own ending of her period
of five. Such reminiscences, naturally, gave a ground, but they
had not prevented him from insisting that some strictly civil
ancestor--generations back, and from the Tuscan hills if she
would-made himself felt, ineffaceably, in her blood and in her
tone. She knew nothing of the ancestor, but she had taken his
theory from him, gracefully enough, as one of the little presents
that make friendship flourish. These matters, however, all melted
together now, though a sense of them was doubtless concerned, not
unnaturally, in the next thing, of the nature of a surmise, that
his discretion let him articulate. "You haven't, I rather
gather, particularly liked your country?" They would stick, for
the time, to their English.

"It doesn't, I fear, seem particularly mine. And it doesn't in
the least matter, over there, whether one likes it or not--that
is to anyone but one's self. But I didn't like it," said
Charlotte Stant.

"That's not encouraging then to me, is it?" the Prince went on.

"Do you mean because you're going?"

"Oh yes, of course we're going. I've wanted immensely to go."
She hesitated. "But now?--immediately?"

"In a month or two--it seems to be the new idea." On which there
was something in her face--as he imagined--that made him say:
"Didn't Maggie write to you?"

"Not of your going at once. But of course you must go. And of
course you must stay"--Charlotte was easily clear--"as long as
possible."

"Is that what you did?" he laughed. "You stayed as long as
possible?"

"Well, it seemed to me so--but I hadn't 'interests.' You'll have
them--on a great scale. It's the country for interests," said
Charlotte. "If I had only had a few I doubtless wouldn't have
left it."

He waited an instant; they were still on their feet. "Yours then
are rather here?"

"Oh, mine!"--the girl smiled. "They take up little room, wherever
they are."

It determined in him, the way this came from her and what it
somehow did for her-it determined in him a speech that would have
seemed a few minutes before precarious and in questionable taste.
The lead she had given him made the difference, and he felt it as
really a lift on finding an honest and natural word rise, by its
license, to his lips. Nothing surely could be, for both of them,
more in the note of a high bravery. "I've been thinking it all
the while so probable, you know, that you would have seen your
way to marrying."

She looked at him an instant, and, just for these seconds, he
feared for what he might have spoiled. "To marrying whom?"

"Why, some good, kind, clever, rich American."

Again his security hung in the balance--then she was, as he felt,
admirable.

"I tried everyone I came across. I did my best. I showed I had
come, quite publicly, FOR that. Perhaps I showed it too much. At
any rate it was no use. I had to recognise it. No one would have
me." Then she seemed to show as sorry for his having to hear of
her anything so disconcerting. She pitied his feeling about it;
if he was disappointed she would cheer him up. "Existence, you
know, all the same, doesn't depend on that. I mean," she smiled,
"on having caught a husband."

"Oh--existence!" the Prince vaguely commented. "You think I ought
to argue for more than mere existence?" she asked. "I don't see
why MY existence--even reduced as much as you like to being
merely mine--should be so impossible. There are things, of sorts,
I should be able to have--things I should be able to be. The
position of a single woman to-day is very favourable, you know."

"Favourable to what?"

"Why, just TO existence--which may contain, after all, in one way
and another, so much. It may contain, at the worst, even
affections; affections in fact quite particularly; fixed, that
is, on one's friends. I'm extremely fond of Maggie, for instance
--I quite adore her. How could I adore her more if I were married
to one of the people you speak of?"

The Prince gave a laugh. "You might adore HIM more--!"

"Ah, but it isn't, is it?" she asked, "a question of that."

"My dear friend," he returned, "it's always a question of doing
the best for one's self one can--without injury to others." He
felt by this time that they were indeed on an excellent basis; so
he went on again, as if to show frankly his sense of its
firmness. "I venture therefore to repeat my hope that you'll
marry some capital fellow; and also to repeat my belief that such
a marriage will be more favourable to you, as you call it, than
even the spirit of the age."

She looked at him at first only for answer, and would have
appeared to take it with meekness had she not perhaps appeared a
little more to take it with gaiety. "Thank you very much," she
simply said; but at that moment their friend was with them again.
It was undeniable that, as she came in, Mrs. Assingham looked,
with a certain smiling sharpness, from one of them to the other;
the perception of which was perhaps what led Charlotte, for
reassurance, to pass the question on. "The Prince hopes so much I
shall still marry some good person."

Whether it worked for Mrs. Assingham or not, the Prince was
himself, at this, more than ever reassured. He was SAFE, in a
word--that was what it all meant; and he had required to be safe.
He was really safe enough for almost any joke. "It's only," he
explained to their hostess, "because of what Miss Stant has been
telling me. Don't we want to keep up her courage?" If the joke
was broad he had at least not begun it--not, that is, AS a joke;
which was what his companion's address to their friend made of
it. "She has been trying in America, she says, but hasn't brought
it off."

The tone was somehow not what Mrs. Assingham had expected, but
she made the best of it. "Well then," she replied to the young
man, "if you take such an interest you must bring it off."

"And you must help, dear," Charlotte said unperturbed--"as you've
helped, so beautifully, in such things before." With which,
before Mrs. Assingham could meet the appeal, she had addressed
herself to the Prince on a matter much nearer to him. "YOUR mar-
riage is on Friday?--on Saturday?"

"Oh, on Friday, no! For what do you take us? There's not a vulgar
omen we're neglecting. On Saturday, please, at the Oratory, at
three o'clock--before twelve assistants exactly."

"Twelve including ME?"

It struck him--he laughed. "You'll make the thirteenth. It won't
do!"

"Not," said Charlotte, "if you're going in for 'omens.' Should
you like me to stay away?"

"Dear no--we'll manage. We'll make the round number--we'll have
in some old woman. They must keep them there for that, don't
they?"

Mrs. Assingham's return had at last indicated for him his
departure; he had possessed himself again of his hat and
approached her to take leave. But he had another word for
Charlotte. "I dine to-night with Mr. Verver. Have you any
message?"

The girl seemed to wonder a little. "For Mr. Verver?"

"For Maggie--about her seeing you early. That, I know, is what
she'll like."

"Then I'll come early--thanks."

"I daresay," he went on, "she'll send for you. I mean send a
carriage."

"Oh, I don't require that, thanks. I can go, for a penny, can't
I?" she asked of Mrs. Assingham, "in an omnibus."

"Oh, I say!" said the Prince while Mrs. Assingham looked at her
blandly.

"Yes, love--and I'll give you the penny. She shall get there,"
the good lady added to their friend.

But Charlotte, as the latter took leave of her, thought of
something else. "There's a great favour, Prince, that I want to
ask of you. I want, between this and Saturday, to make Maggie a
marriage-present."

"Oh, I say!" the young man again soothingly exclaimed.

"Ah, but I MUST," she went on. "It's really almost for that I
came back. It was impossible to get in America what I wanted."

Mrs. Assingham showed anxiety. "What is it then, dear, you want?"

But the girl looked only at their companion. "That's what the
Prince, if he'll be so good, must help me to decide."

"Can't _I_," Mrs. Assingham asked, "help you to decide?"

"Certainly, darling, we must talk it well over." And she kept her
eyes on the Prince. "But I want him, if he kindly will, to go with
me to look. I want him to judge with me and choose. That, if you
can spare the hour," she said, "is the great favour I mean."

He raised his eyebrows at her--he wonderfully smiled. "What you
came back from America to ask? Ah, certainly then, I must find
the hour!" He wonderfully smiled, but it was rather more, after
all, than he had been reckoning with. It went somehow so little
with the rest that, directly, for him, it wasn't the note of
safety; it preserved this character, at the best, but by being
the note of publicity. Quickly, quickly, however, the note of
publicity struck him as better than any other. In another moment
even it seemed positively what he wanted; for what so much as
publicity put their relation on the right footing? By this appeal
to Mrs. Assingham it was established as right, and she
immediately showed that such was her own understanding.

"Certainly, Prince," she laughed, "you must find the hour!" And
it was really so express a license from her, as representing
friendly judgment, public opinion, the moral law, the margin
allowed a husband about to be, or whatever, that, after observing
to Charlotte that, should she come to Portland Place in the morn-
ing, he would make a point of being there to see her and so,
easily, arrange with her about a time, he took his departure with
the absolutely confirmed impression of knowing, as he put it to
himself, where he was. Which was what he had prolonged his visit
for. He was where he could stay.



                             IV

"I don't quite see, my dear," Colonel Assingham said to his wife
the night of Charlotte's arrival, "I don't quite see, I'm bound
to say, why you take it, even at the worst, so ferociously hard.
It isn't your fault, after all, is it? I'll be hanged, at any
rate, if it's mine."

The hour was late, and the young lady who had disembarked at
Southampton that morning to come up by the "steamer special," and
who had then settled herself at an hotel only to re-settle
herself a couple of hours later at a private house, was by this
time, they might hope, peacefully resting from her exploits.
There had been two men at dinner, rather battered
brothers-in-arms, of his own period, casually picked up by her
host the day before, and when the gentlemen, after the meal,
rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room, Charlotte, pleading
fatigue, had already excused herself. The beguiled warriors,
however, had stayed till after eleven--Mrs. Assingham, though
finally quite without illusions, as she said, about the military
character, was always beguiling to old soldiers; and as the
Colonel had come in, before dinner, only in time to dress, he had
not till this moment really been summoned to meet his companion
over the situation that, as he was now to learn, their visitor's
advent had created for them. It was actually more than midnight,
the servants had been sent to bed, the rattle of the wheels had
ceased to come in through a window still open to the August air,
and Robert Assingham had been steadily learning, all the while,
what it thus behoved him to know. But the words just quoted from
him presented themselves, for the moment, as the essence of his
spirit and his attitude. He disengaged, he would be damned if he
didn't--they were both phrases he repeatedly used--his
responsibility. The simplest, the sanest, the most obliging of
men, he habitually indulged in extravagant language. His wife had
once told him, in relation to his violence of speech; that such
excesses, on his part, made her think of a retired General whom
she had once seen playing with toy soldiers, fighting and winning
battles, carrying on sieges and annihilating enemies with little
fortresses of wood and little armies of tin. Her husband's
exaggerated emphasis was his box of toy soldiers, his military
game. It harmlessly gratified in him, for his declining years,
the military instinct; bad words, when sufficiently numerous and
arrayed in their might, could represent battalions, squadrons,
tremendous cannonades and glorious charges of cavalry. It was
natural, it was delightful--the romance, and for her as well, of
camp life and of the perpetual booming of guns. It was fighting
to the end, to the death, but no one was ever killed.

Less fortunate than she, nevertheless, in spite of his wealth of
expression, he had not yet found the image that described her
favourite game; all he could do was practically to leave it to
her, emulating her own philosophy. He had again and again sat up
late to discuss those situations in which her finer consciousness
abounded, but he had never failed to deny that anything in life,
anything of hers, could be a situation for himself. She might be
in fifty at once if she liked--and it was what women did like, at
their ease, after all; there always being, when they had too much
of any, some man, as they were well aware, to get them out. He
wouldn't at any price, have one, of any sort whatever, of his
own, or even be in one along with her. He watched her,
accordingly, in her favourite element, very much as he had
sometimes watched, at the Aquarium, the celebrated lady who, in a
slight, though tight, bathing-suit, turned somersaults and did
tricks in the tank of water which looked so cold and
uncomfortable to the non-amphibious. He listened to his companion
to-night, while he smoked his last pipe, he watched her through
her demonstration, quite as if he had paid a shilling. But it was
true that, this being the case, he desired the value of his
money. What was it, in the name of wonder, that she was so bent
on being responsible FOR? What did she pretend was going to
happen, and what, at the worst, could the poor girl do, even
granting she wanted to do anything? What, at the worst, for that
matter, could she be conceived to have in her head?

"If she had told me the moment she got here," Mrs. Assingham
replied, "I shouldn't have my difficulty in finding out. But she
wasn't so obliging, and I see no sign at all of her becoming so.
What's certain is that she didn't come for nothing. She wants"--
she worked it out at her leisure--"to see the Prince again. THAT
isn't what troubles me. I mean that such a fact, as a fact,
isn't. But what I ask myself is, What does she want it FOR?"

"What's the good of asking yourself if you know you don't know?"
The Colonel sat back at his own ease, with an ankle resting on
the other knee and his eyes attentive to the good appearance of
an extremely slender foot which he kept jerking in its neat
integument of fine-spun black silk and patent leather. It seemed
to confess, this member, to consciousness of military discipline,
everything about it being as polished and perfect, as straight
and tight and trim, as a soldier on parade. It went so far as to
imply that someone or other would have "got" something or other,
confinement to barracks or suppression of pay, if it hadn't been
just as it was. Bob Assingham was distinguished altogether by a
leanness of person, a leanness quite distinct from physical
laxity, which might have been determined, on the part of superior
powers, by views of transport and accommodation, and which in
fact verged on the abnormal. He "did" himself as well as his
friends mostly knew, yet remained hungrily thin, with facial,
with abdominal cavities quite grim in their effect, and with a
consequent looseness of apparel that, combined with a choice of
queer light shades and of strange straw-like textures, of the
aspect of Chinese mats, provocative of wonder at his sources of
supply, suggested the habit of tropic islands, a continual
cane-bottomed chair, a governorship exercised on wide verandahs.
His smooth round head, with the particular shade of its white
hair, was like a silver pot reversed; his cheekbones and the
bristle of his moustache were worthy of Attila the Hun. The
hollows of his eyes were deep and darksome, but the eyes within
them, were like little blue flowers plucked that morning. He knew
everything that could be known about life, which he regarded as,
for far the greater part, a matter of pecuniary arrangement. His
wife accused him of a want, alike, of moral and of intellectual
reaction, or rather indeed of a complete incapacity for either.
He never went even so far as to understand what she meant, and it
didn't at all matter, since he could be in spite of the
limitation a perfectly social creature. The infirmities, the
predicaments of men neither surprised nor shocked him, and
indeed--which was perhaps his only real loss in a thrifty career
--scarce even amused; he took them for granted without horror,
classifying them after their kind and calculating results and
chances. He might, in old bewildering climates, in old campaigns
of cruelty and license, have had such revelations and known such
amazements that he had nothing more to learn. But he was wholly
content, in spite of his fondness, in domestic discussion, for
the superlative degree; and his kindness, in the oddest way,
seemed to have nothing to do with his experience. He could deal
with things perfectly, for all his needs, without getting near
them.

This was the way he dealt with his wife, a large proportion of
whose meanings he knew he could neglect. He edited, for their
general economy, the play of her mind, just as he edited,
savingly, with the stump of a pencil, her redundant telegrams.
The thing in the world that was least of a mystery to him was his
Club, which he was accepted as perhaps too completely managing,
and which he managed on lines of perfect penetration. His
connection with it was really a master-piece of editing. This was
in fact, to come back, very much the process he might have been
proposing to apply to Mrs. Assingham's view of what was now
before them; that is to their connection with Charlotte Stant's
possibilities. They wouldn't lavish on them all their little
fortune of curiosity and alarm; certainly they wouldn't spend
their cherished savings so early in the day. He liked Charlotte,
moreover, who was a smooth and compact inmate, and whom he felt
as, with her instincts that made against waste, much more of his
own sort than his wife. He could talk with her about Fanny almost
better than he could talk with Fanny about Charlotte. However, he
made at present the best of the latter necessity, even to the
pressing of the question he has been noted as having last
uttered. "If you can't think what to be afraid of, wait till you
can think. Then you'll do it much better. Or otherwise, if that's
waiting too long, find out from HER. Don't try to find out from
ME. Ask her herself."

Mrs. Assingham denied, as we know, that her husband had a play of
mind; so that she could, on her side, treat these remarks only as
if they had been senseless physical gestures or nervous facial
movements. She overlooked them as from habit and kindness; yet
there was no one to whom she talked so persistently of such
intimate things. "It's her friendship with Maggie that's the
immense complication. Because THAT," she audibly mused, "is so
natural."

"Then why can't she have come out for it?"

"She came out," Mrs. Assingham continued to meditate, "because
she hates America. There was no place for her there--she didn't
fit in. She wasn't in sympathy--no more were the people she saw.
Then it's hideously dear; she can't, on her means, begin to live
there. Not at all as she can, in a way, here."

"In the way, you mean, of living with US?"

"Of living with anyone. She can't live by visits alone--and she
doesn't want to. She's too good for it even if she could. But
she will--she MUST, sooner or later--stay with THEM. Maggie will
want her--Maggie will make her. Besides, she'll want to herself."

"Then why won't that do," the Colonel asked, "for you to think
it's what she has come for?"

"How will it do, HOW?"--she went on as without hearing him.

"That's what one keeps feeling."

"Why shouldn't it do beautifully?"

"That anything of the past," she brooded, "should come back NOW?
How will it do, how will it do?"

"It will do, I daresay, without your wringing your hands over it.
When, my dear," the Colonel pursued as he smoked, "have you ever
seen anything of yours--anything that you've done--NOT do?"

"Ah, I didn't do this!" It brought her answer straight. "I didn't
bring her back."

"Did you expect her to stay over there all her days to oblige
you?"

"Not a bit--for I shouldn't have minded her coming after their
marriage. It's her coming, this way, before." To which she added
with inconsequence: "I'm too sorry for her--of course she can't
enjoy it. But I don't see what perversity rides her. She needn't
have looked it all so in the face--as she doesn't do it, I
suppose, simply for discipline. It's almost--that's the bore of
it--discipline to ME."

"Perhaps then," said Bob Assingham, "that's what has been her
idea. Take it, for God's sake, as discipline to you and have done
with it. It will do," he added, "for discipline to me as well."

She was far, however, from having done with it; it was a
situation with such different sides, as she said, and to none of
which one could, in justice, be blind. "It isn't in the least,
you know, for instance, that I believe she's bad. Never, never,"
Mrs. Assingham declared. "I don't think that of her."

"Then why isn't that enough?"

Nothing was enough, Mrs. Assingham signified, but that she should
develop her thought. "She doesn't deliberately intend, she
doesn't consciously wish, the least complication. It's perfectly
true that she thinks Maggie a dear--as who doesn't? She's
incapable of any PLAN to hurt a hair of her head. Yet here she
is--and there THEY are," she wound up.

Her husband again, for a little, smoked in silence. "What in the
world, between them, ever took place?"

"Between Charlotte and the Prince? Why, nothing--except their
having to recognise that nothing COULD. That was their little
romance--it was even their little tragedy."

"But what the deuce did they DO?"

"Do? They fell in love with each other--but, seeing it wasn't
possible, gave each other up."

"Then where was the romance?"

"Why, in their frustration, in their having the courage to look
the facts in the face."

"What facts?" the Colonel went on.

"Well, to begin with, that of their neither of them having the
means to marry. If she had had even a little--a little, I mean,
for two--I believe he would bravely have done it." After which,
as her husband but emitted an odd vague sound, she corrected
herself. "I mean if he himself had had only a little--or a little
more than a little, a little for a prince. They would have done
what they could"--she did them justice"--if there had been a way.
But there wasn't a way, and Charlotte, quite to her honour, I
consider, understood it. He HAD to have money--it was a question
of life and death. It wouldn't have been a bit amusing, either,
to marry him as a pauper--I mean leaving him one. That was what
she had--as HE had--the reason to see."

"And their reason is what you call their romance?"

She looked at him a moment. "What do you want more?"

"Didn't HE," the Colonel inquired, "want anything more? Or
didn't, for that matter, poor Charlotte herself?"

She kept her eyes on him; there was a manner in it that half
answered. "They were thoroughly in love. She might have been
his--" She checked herself; she even for a minute lost herself.
"She might have been anything she liked--except his wife."

"But she wasn't," said the Colonel very smokingly.

"She wasn't," Mrs. Assingham echoed.

The echo, not loud but deep, filled for a little the room. He
seemed to listen to it die away; then he began again. "How are
you sure?"

She waited before saying, but when she spoke it was definite.
"There wasn't time."

He had a small laugh for her reason; he might have expected some
other. "Does it take so much time?"

She herself, however, remained serious. "It takes more than they
had."

He was detached, but he wondered. "What was the matter with their
time?" After which, as, remembering it all, living it over and
piecing it together, she only considered, "You mean that you came
in with your idea?" he demanded.

It brought her quickly to the point, and as if also in a measure
to answer herself. "Not a bit of it--THEN. But you surely
recall," she went on, "the way, a year ago, everything took
place. They had parted before he had ever heard of Maggie."

"Why hadn't he heard of her from Charlotte herself?"

"Because she had never spoken of her."

"Is that also," the Colonel inquired, "what she has told you?"

"I'm not speaking," his wife returned, "of what she has told me.
That's one thing. I'm speaking of what I know by myself. That's
another."

"You feel, in other words, that she lies to you?" Bob Assingham
more sociably asked.

She neglected the question, treating it as gross. "She never so
much, at the time, as named Maggie."

It was so positive that it appeared to strike him. "It's he then
who has told you?"

She after a moment admitted it. "It's he."

"And he doesn't lie?"

"No--to do him justice. I believe he absolutely doesn't. If I
hadn't believed it," Mrs. Assingham declared, for her general
justification, "I would have had nothing to do with him--that is
in this connection. He's a gentleman--I mean ALL as much of one
as he ought to be. And he had nothing to gain. That helps," she
added, "even a gentleman. It was I who named Maggie to him--a
year from last May. He had never heard of her before."

"Then it's grave," said the Colonel.

She hesitated. "Do you mean grave for me?"

"Oh, that everything's grave for 'you' is what we take for
granted and are fundamentally talking about. It's grave--it WAS--
for Charlotte. And it's grave for Maggie. That is it WAS--when he
did see her. Or when she did see HIM."

"You don't torment me as much as you would like," she presently
went on, "because you think of nothing that I haven't a thousand
times thought of, and because I think of everything that you
never will. It would all," she recognised, "have been grave if it
hadn't all been right. You can't make out," she contended, "that
we got to Rome before the end of February."

He more than agreed. "There's nothing in life, my dear, that I
CAN make out."

Well, there was nothing in life, apparently, that she, at real
need, couldn't. "Charlotte, who had been there, that year, from
early, quite from November, left suddenly, you'll quite remember,
about the 10th of April. She was to have stayed on--she was to
have stayed, naturally, more or less, for us; and she was to have
stayed all the more that the Ververs, due all winter, but
delayed, week after week, in Paris, were at last really coming.
They were coming--that is Maggie was--largely to see her, and
above all to be with her THERE. It was all altered--by
Charlotte's going to Florence. She went from one day to the
other--you forget everything. She gave her reasons, but I thought
it odd, at the time; I had a sense that something must have
happened. The difficulty was that, though I knew a little, I
didn't know enough. I didn't know her relation with him had been,
as you say, a 'near' thing--that is I didn't know HOW near. The
poor girl's departure was a flight--she went to save herself."

He had listened more than he showed--as came out in his tone.
"To save herself?"

"Well, also, really, I think, to save HIM too. I saw it
afterwards--I see it all now. He would have been sorry--he didn't
want to hurt her."

"Oh, I daresay," the Colonel laughed. "They generally don't!"

"At all events," his wife pursued, "she escaped--they both did;
for they had had simply to face it. Their marriage couldn't be,
and, if that was so, the sooner they put the Apennines between
them the better. It had taken them, it is true, some time to feel
this and to find it out. They had met constantly, and not always
publicly, all that winter; they had met more than was known--
though it was a good deal known. More, certainly," she said,
"than I then imagined--though I don't know what difference it
would after all have made with me. I liked him, I thought him
charming, from the first of our knowing him; and now, after more
than a year, he has done nothing to spoil it. And there are
things he might have done--things that many men easily would.
Therefore I believe in him, and I was right, at first, in knowing
I was going to. So I haven't"--and she stated it as she might
have quoted from a slate, after adding up the items, the sum of a
column of figures--"so I haven't, I say to myself, been a fool."

"Well, are you trying to make out that I've said you have? All
their case wants, at any rate," Bob Assingham declared, "is that
you should leave it well alone. It's theirs now; they've bought
it, over the counter, and paid for it. It has ceased to be
yours."

"Of which case," she asked, "are you speaking?"

He smoked a minute: then with a groan: "Lord, are there so many?"

"There's Maggie's and the Prince's, and there's the Prince's and
Charlotte's."

"Oh yes; and then," the Colonel scoffed, "there's Charlotte's and
the Prince's."

"There's Maggie's and Charlotte's," she went on--"and there's
also Maggie's and mine. I think too that there's Charlotte's and
mine. Yes," she mused, "Charlotte's and mine is certainly a case.
In short, you see, there are plenty. But I mean," she said, "to
keep my head."

"Are we to settle them all," he inquired, "to-night?"

"I should lose it if things had happened otherwise--if I had
acted with any folly." She had gone on in her earnestness,
unheeding of his question. "I shouldn't be able to bear that now.
But my good conscience is my strength; no one can accuse me.
The Ververs came on to Rome alone--Charlotte, after their days
with her in Florence, had decided about America. Maggie, I
daresay, had helped her; she must have made her a present, and a
handsome one, so that many things were easy. Charlotte left them,
came to England, 'joined' somebody or other, sailed for New York.
I have still her letter from Milan, telling me; I didn't know at
the moment all that was behind it, but I felt in it nevertheless
the undertaking of a new life. Certainly, in any case, it cleared
THAT air--I mean the dear old Roman, in which we were steeped.
It left the field free--it gave me a free hand. There was no
question for me of anybody else when I brought the two others
together. More than that, there was no question for them. So you
see," she concluded, "where that puts me." She got up, on the
words, very much as if they were the blue daylight towards which,
through a darksome tunnel, she had been pushing her way, and the
elation in her voice, combined with her recovered alertness,
might have signified the sharp whistle of the train that shoots
at last into the open. She turned about the room; she looked out
a moment into the August night; she stopped, here and there,
before the flowers in bowls and vases. Yes, it was distinctly as
if she had proved what was needing proof, as if the issue of her
operation had been, almost unexpectedly, a success. Old
arithmetic had perhaps been fallacious, but the new settled the
question. Her husband, oddly, however, kept his place without
apparently measuring these results. As he had been amused at her
intensity, so he was not uplifted by her relief; his interest
might in fact have been more enlisted than he allowed. "Do you
mean," he presently asked, "that he had already forgot about
Charlotte?"

She faced round as if he had touched a spring. "He WANTED to,
naturally--and it was much the best thing he could do." She was
in possession of the main case, as it truly seemed; she had it
all now. "He was capable of the effort, and he took the best way.
Remember too what Maggie then seemed to us."

"She's very nice; but she always seems to me, more than anything
else, the young woman who has a million a year. If you mean that
that's what she especially seemed to him, you of course place the
thing in your light. The effort to forget Charlotte couldn't, I
grant you, have been so difficult."

This pulled her up but for an instant. "I never said he didn't
from the first--I never said that he doesn't more and more--like
Maggie's money."

"I never said I shouldn't have liked it myself," Bob Assingham
returned. He made no movement; he smoked another minute. "How
much did Maggie know?"

"How much?" She seemed to consider--as if it were between quarts
and gallons--how best to express the quantity. "She knew what
Charlotte, in Florence, had told her."

"And what had Charlotte told her?"

"Very little."

"What makes you so sure?"

"Why, this--that she couldn't tell her." And she explained a
little what she meant. "There are things, my dear--haven't you
felt it yourself, coarse as you are?--that no one could tell
Maggie. There are things that, upon my word, I shouldn't care to
attempt to tell her now."

The Colonel smoked on it. "She'd be so scandalised?"

"She'd be so frightened. She'd be, in her strange little way, so
hurt. She wasn't born to know evil. She must never know it."
Bob Assingham had a queer grim laugh; the sound of which, in
fact, fixed his wife before him. "We're taking grand ways to
prevent it."

But she stood there to protest. "We're not taking any ways. The
ways are all taken; they were taken from the moment he came up to
our carriage that day in Villa Borghese--the second or third of
her days in Rome, when, as you remember, you went off somewhere
with Mr. Verver, and the Prince, who had got into the carriage
with us, came home with us to tea. They had met; they had seen
each other well; they were in relation: the rest was to come of
itself and as it could. It began, practically, I recollect, in
our drive. Maggie happened to learn, by some other man's greeting
of him, in the bright Roman way, from a streetcorner as we
passed, that one of the Prince's baptismal names, the one always
used for him among his relations, was Amerigo: which (as you
probably don't know, however, even after a lifetime of ME), was
the name, four hundred years ago, or whenever, of the pushing man
who followed, across the sea, in the wake of Columbus and
succeeded, where Columbus had failed, in becoming godfather, or
name-father, to the new Continent; so that the thought of any
connection with him can even now thrill our artless breasts."

The Colonel's grim placidity could always quite adequately meet
his wife's not infrequent imputation of ignorances, on the score
of the land of her birth, unperturbed and unashamed; and these
dark depths were even at the present moment not directly lighted
by an inquiry that managed to be curious without being
apologetic. "But where does the connection come in?"

His wife was prompt. "By the women--that is by some obliging
woman, of old, who was a descendant of the pushing man, the
make-believe discoverer, and whom the Prince is therefore luckily
able to refer to as an ancestress. A branch of the other family
had become great--great enough, at least, to marry into his; and
the name of the navigator, crowned with glory, was, very
naturally, to become so the fashion among them that some son, of
every generation, was appointed to wear it. My point is, at any
rate, that I recall noticing at the time how the Prince was, from
the start, helped with the dear Ververs by his wearing it. The
connection became romantic for Maggie the moment she took it in;
she filled out, in a flash, every link that might be vague. 'By
that sign,' I quite said to myself, 'he'll conquer'--with his
good fortune, of course, of having the other necessary signs too.
It really," said Mrs. Assingham, "was, practically, the fine side
of the wedge. Which struck me as also," she wound up, "a lovely
note for the candour of the Ververs."

The Colonel took in the tale, but his comment was prosaic. "He
knew, Amerigo, what he was about. And I don't mean the OLD one."

"I know what you mean!" his wife bravely threw off.

"The old one"--he pointed his effect "isn't the only discoverer
in the family."

"Oh, as much as you like! If he discovered America--or got
himself honoured as if he had--his successors were, in due time,
to discover the Americans. And it was one of them in particular,
doubtless, who was to discover how patriotic we are."

"Wouldn't this be the same one," the Colonel asked, "who really
discovered what you call the connection?"

She gave him a look. "The connection's a true thing--the
connection's perfectly historic, Your insinuations recoil upon
your cynical mind. Don't you understand," she asked, "that the
history of such people is known, root and branch, at every moment
of its course?"

"Oh, it's all right," said Bob Assingham.

"Go to the British Museum," his companion continued with spirit.

"And what am I to do there?"

"There's a whole immense room, or recess, or department, or
whatever, filled with books written about his family alone. You
can see for yourself."

"Have you seen for YOUR self?"

She faltered but an instant. "Certainly--I went one day with
Maggie. We looked him up, so to say. They were most civil." And
she fell again into the current her husband had slightly ruffled.
"The effect was produced, the charm began to work, at all events,
in Rome, from that hour of the Prince's drive with us. My only
course, afterwards, had to be to make the best of it. It was
certainly good enough for that," Mrs. Assingham hastened to add,
"and I didn't in the least see my duty in making the worst. In
the same situation, to-day; I wouldn't act differently. I entered
into the case as it then appeared to me--and as, for the matter
of that, it still does. I LIKED it, I thought all sorts of good
of it, and nothing can even now," she said with some intensity,
"make me think anything else."

"Nothing can ever make you think anything you don't want to," the
Colonel, still in his chair, remarked over his pipe. "You've got
a precious power of thinking whatever you do want. You want also,
from moment to moment, to think such desperately different
things. What happened," he went on, "was that you fell violently
in love with the Prince yourself, and that as you couldn't get me
out of the way you had to take some roundabout course. You
couldn't marry him, any more than Charlotte could--that is not to
yourself. But you could to somebody else--it was always the
Prince, it was always marriage. You could to your little friend,
to whom there were no objections."

"Not only there were no objections, but there were reasons,
positive ones--and all excellent, all charming." She spoke with
an absence of all repudiation of his exposure of the spring of
her conduct; and this abstention, clearly and effectively
conscious, evidently cost her nothing. "It IS always the Prince;
and it IS always, thank heaven, marriage. And these are the
things, God grant, that it will always be. That I could help, a
year ago, most assuredly made me happy, and it continues to make
me happy."

"Then why aren't you quiet?"

"I AM quiet," said Fanny Assingham.

He looked at her, with his colourless candour, still in his
place; she moved about again, a little, emphasising by her unrest
her declaration of her tranquillity. He was as silent, at first,
as if he had taken her answer, but he was not to keep it long.
"What do you make of it that, by your own show, Charlotte
couldn't tell her all? What do you make of it that the Prince
didn't tell her anything? Say one understands that there are
things she can't be told--since, as you put it, she is so easily
scared and shocked." He produced these objections slowly, giving
her time, by his pauses, to stop roaming and come back to him.
But she was roaming still when he concluded his inquiry. "If
there hadn't been anything there shouldn't have been between the
pair before Charlotte bolted--in order, precisely, as you say,
that there SHOULDN'T be: why in the world was what there HAD
been too bad to be spoken of?"

Mrs. Assingham, after this question, continued still to
circulate--not directly meeting it even when at last she stopped.

"I thought you wanted me to be quiet."

"So I do--and I'm trying to make you so much so that you won't
worry more. Can't you be quiet on THAT?"

She thought a moment--then seemed to try. "To relate that she had
to 'bolt' for the reasons we speak  of, even though the bolting
had done for her what she wished--THAT I can perfectly feel
Charlotte's not wanting to do."

"Ah then, if it HAS done for her what she wished-!" But the
Colonel's conclusion hung by the "if" which his wife didn't take
up. So it hung but the longer when he presently spoke again. "All
one wonders, in that case, is why then she has come back to him."

"Say she hasn't come back to him. Not really to HIM."

"I'll say anything you like. But that won't do me the same good
as your saying it."

"Nothing, my dear, will do you good," Mrs. Assingham returned.
"You don't care for anything in itself; you care for nothing but
to be grossly amused because I don't keep washing my hands--!"

"I thought your whole argument was that everything is so right
that this is precisely what you do."

But his wife, as it was a point she had often made, could go on
as she had gone on before. "You're perfectly indifferent, really;
you're perfectly immoral. You've taken part in the sack of
cities, and I'm sure you've done dreadful things yourself. But I
DON'T trouble my head, if you like. 'So now there!'" she laughed.

He accepted her laugh, but he kept his way. "Well, I back poor
Charlotte."

"'Back' her?"

"To know what she wants."

"Ah then, so do I. She does know what she wants." And Mrs.
Assingham produced this quantity, at last, on the girl's behalf,
as the ripe result of her late wanderings and musings. She had
groped through their talk, for the thread, and now she had got
it. "She wants to be magnificent."

"She is," said the Colonel almost cynically.

"She wants"--his wife now had it fast "to be thoroughly superior,
and she's capable of that."

"Of wanting to?"

"Of carrying out her idea."

"And what IS her idea?"

"To see Maggie through."

Bob Assingham wondered. "Through what?"

"Through everything. She KNOWS the Prince."

"And Maggie doesn't. No, dear thing"--Mrs. Assingham had to
recognise it--"she doesn't."

"So that Charlotte has come out to give her lessons?"

She continued, Fanny Assingham, to work out her thought. "She has
done this great thing for him. That is, a year ago, she
practically did it. She practically, at any rate, helped him to
do it himself--and helped me to help him. She kept off, she
stayed away, she left him free; and what, moreover, were her
silences to Maggie but a direct aid to him? If she had spoken in
Florence; if she had told her own poor story; if she had, come
back at any time--till within a few weeks ago; if she hadn't gone
to New York and hadn't held out there: if she hadn't done these
things all that has happened since would certainly have been
different. Therefore she's in a position to be consistent now.
She knows the Prince," Mrs. Assingham repeated. It involved even
again her former recognition. "And Maggie, dear thing, doesn't."

She was high, she was lucid, she was almost inspired; and it was
but the deeper drop therefore to her husband's flat common sense.
"In other words Maggie is, by her ignorance, in danger? Then if
she's in danger, there IS danger."

"There WON'T be--with Charlotte's understanding of it. That's
where she has had her conception of being able to be heroic, of
being able in fact to be sublime. She is, she will be"--the good
lady by this time glowed. "So she sees it--to become, for her
best friend, an element of POSITIVE safety."

Bob Assingham looked at it hard. "Which of them do you call her
best friend?"

She gave a toss of impatience. "I'll leave you to discover!" But
the grand truth thus made out she had now completely adopted.
"It's for US, therefore, to be hers."

"'Hers'?"

"You and I. It's for us to be Charlotte's. It's for us, on our
side, to see HER through."

"Through her sublimity?"

"Through her noble, lonely life. Only--that's essential--it
mustn't be lonely. It will be all right if she marries."

"So we're to marry her?"

"We're to marry her. It will be," Mrs. Assingham continued, "the
great thing I can do." She made it out more and more. "It will
make up."

"Make up for what?" As she said nothing, however, his desire for
lucidity renewed itself. "If everything's so all right what is
there to make up for?"

"Why, if I did do either of them, by any chance, a wrong. If I
made a mistake."

"You'll make up for it by making another?" And then as she again
took her time: "I thought your whole point is just that you're
sure."

"One can never be ideally sure of anything. There are always
possibilities."

"Then, if we can but strike so wild, why keep meddling?"

It made her again look at him. "Where would you have been, my
dear, if I hadn't meddled with YOU?"

"Ah, that wasn't meddling--I was your own. I was your own," said
the Colonel, "from the moment I didn't object."

"Well, these people won't object. They are my own too--in the
sense that I'm awfully fond of them. Also in the sense," she
continued, "that I think they're not so very much less fond of
me. Our relation, all round, exists--it's a reality, and a very
good one; we're mixed up, so to speak, and it's too late to
change it. We must live IN it and with it. Therefore to see that
Charlotte gets a good husband as soon as possible--that, as I
say, will be one of my ways of living. It will cover," she said
with conviction, "all the ground." And then as his own conviction
appeared to continue as little to match: "The ground, I mean, of
any nervousness I may ever feel. It will be in fact my duty
and I shan't rest till my duty's performed." She had arrived by
this time at something like exaltation. "I shall give, for the
next year or two if necessary, my life to it. I shall have done
in that case what I can."

He took it at last as it came. "You hold there's no limit to what
you 'can'?"

"I don't say there's no limit, or anything of the sort. I say
there are good chances--enough of them for hope. Why shouldn't
there be when a girl is, after all, all that she is?"

"By after 'all' you mean after she's in love with somebody else?"

The Colonel put his question with a quietude doubtless designed
to be fatal; but it scarcely pulled her up. "She's not too much
in love not herself to want to marry. She would now particularly
like to."

"Has she told you so?"

"Not yet. It's too soon. But she will. Meanwhile, however, I
don't require the information. Her marrying will prove the
truth."

"And what truth?"

"The truth of everything I say."

"Prove it to whom?"

"Well, to myself, to begin with. That will be enough for me--to
work for her. What it will prove," Mrs. Assingham presently went
on, "will be that she's cured. That she accepts the situation."

He paid this the tribute of a long pull at his pipe. "The
situation of doing the one thing she can that will really seem to
cover her tracks?"

His wife looked at him, the good dry man, as if now at last he
was merely vulgar. "The one thing she can do that will really
make new tracks altogether. The thing that, before any other,
will be wise and right. The thing that will best give her her
chance to be magnificent."

He slowly emitted his smoke. "And best give you, by the same
token, yours to be magnificent with her?"

"I shall be as magnificent, at least, as I can."

Bob Assingham got up. "And you call ME immoral?"

She hesitated. "I'll call you stupid if you prefer. But stupidity
pushed to a certain point IS, you know, immorality. Just so what
is morality but high intelligence?" This he was unable to tell
her; which left her more definitely to conclude. "Besides, it's
all, at the worst, great fun."

"Oh, if you simply put it at THAT--!"

His implication was that in this case they had a common ground;
yet even thus he couldn't catch her by it. "Oh, I don't mean,"
she said from the threshold, "the fun that you mean. Good-night."
In answer to which, as he turned out the electric light, he gave
an odd, short groan, almost a grunt. He HAD apparently meant some
particular kind.



                            V

"Well, now I must tell you, for I want to be absolutely honest."
So Charlotte spoke, a little ominously, after they had got into
the Park. "I don't want to pretend, and I can't pretend a moment
longer. You may think of me what you will, but I don't care. I
knew I shouldn't and I find now how little. I came back for this.
Not really for anything else. For this," she repeated as, under
the influence of her tone, the Prince had already come to a
pause.

"For 'this'?" He spoke as if the particular thing she indicated
were vague to him--or were, rather, a quantity that couldn't, at
the most, be much.

It would be as much, however, as she should be able to make it.
"To have one hour alone with you." It had rained heavily in the
night, and though the pavements were now dry, thanks to a
cleansing breeze, the August morning, with its hovering,
thick-drifting clouds and freshened air, was cool and grey. The
multitudinous green of the Park had been deepened, and a
wholesome smell of irrigation, purging the place of dust and of
odours less acceptable, rose from the earth. Charlotte had looked
about her, with expression, from the first of their coming in,
quite as if for a deep greeting, for general recognition: the day
was, even in the heart of London, of a rich, low-browed,
weatherwashed English type. It was as if it had been waiting for
her, as if she knew it, placed it, loved it, as if it were in
fact a part of what she had come back for. So far as this was the
case the impression of course could only be lost on a mere vague
Italian; it was one of those for which you had to be, blessedly,
an American--as indeed you had to be, blessedly, an American for
all sorts of things: so long as you hadn't, blessedly or not, to
remain in America. The Prince had, by half-past ten--as also by
definite appointment--called in Cadogan Place for Mrs.
Assingham's visitor, and then, after brief delay, the two had
walked together up Sloane Street and got straight into the Park
from Knightsbridge. The understanding to this end had taken its
place, after a couple of days, as inevitably consequent on the
appeal made by the girl during those first moments in Mrs.
Assingham's drawing-room. It was an appeal the couple of days had
done nothing to invalidate--everything, much rather, to place in
a light, and as to which, obviously, it wouldn't have fitted that
anyone should raise an objection. Who was there, for that matter,
to raise one, from the moment Mrs. Assingham, informed and
apparently not disapproving, didn't intervene? This the young man
had asked himself--with a very sufficient sense of what would
have made him ridiculous. He wasn't going to begin--that at least
was certain--by showing a fear. Even had fear at first been sharp
in him, moreover, it would already, not a little, have dropped;
so happy, all round, so propitious, he quite might have called
it, had been the effect of this rapid interval.

The time had been taken up largely by his active reception of his
own wedding-guests and by Maggie's scarce less absorbed
entertainment of her friend, whom she had kept for hours together
in Portland Place; whom she had not, as wouldn't have been
convenient, invited altogether as yet to migrate, but who had
been present, with other persons, his contingent, at luncheon, at
tea, at dinner, at perpetual repasts--he had never in his life,
it struck him, had to reckon with so much eating--whenever he had
looked in. If he had not again, till this hour, save for a
minute, seen Charlotte alone, so, positively, all the while, he
had not seen even Maggie; and if, therefore, he had not seen even
Maggie, nothing was more natural than that he shouldn't have seen
Charlotte. The exceptional minute, a mere snatch, at the tail of
the others, on the huge Portland Place staircase had sufficiently
enabled the girl to remind him--so ready she assumed him to be--
of what they were to do. Time pressed if they were to do it at
all. Everyone had brought gifts; his relations had brought
wonders--how did they still have, where did they still find, such
treasures? She only had brought nothing, and she was ashamed; yet
even by the sight of the rest of the tribute she wouldn't be put
off. She would do what she could, and he was, unknown to Maggie,
he must remember, to give her his aid. He had prolonged the
minute so far as to take time to hesitate, for a reason, and then
to risk bringing his reason out. The risk was because he might
hurt her--hurt her pride, if she had that particular sort. But
she might as well be hurt one way as another; and, besides, that
particular sort of pride was just what she hadn't. So his slight
resistance, while they lingered, had been just easy enough not to
be impossible.

"I hate to encourage you--and for such a purpose, after all--to
spend your money."

She had stood a stair or two below him; where, while she looked
up at him beneath the high, domed light of the hall, she rubbed
with her palm the polished mahogany of the balustrade, which was
mounted on fine ironwork, eighteenth-century English. "Because
you think I must have so little? I've enough, at any rate--enough
for us to take our hour. Enough," she had smiled, "is as good as
a feast! And then," she had said, "it isn't of course a question
of anything expensive, gorged with treasure as Maggie is; it
isn't a question of competing or outshining. What, naturally, in
the way of the priceless, hasn't she got? Mine is to be the
offering of the poor--something, precisely, that--no rich person
COULD ever give her, and that, being herself too rich ever to buy
it, she would therefore never have." Charlotte had spoken as if
after so much thought. "Only, as it can't be fine, it ought to be
funny--and that's the sort of thing to hunt for. Hunting in
London, besides, is amusing in itself."

He recalled even how he had been struck with her word. "'Funny'?"
"Oh, I don't mean a comic toy--I mean some little thing with a
charm. But absolutely RIGHT, in its comparative cheapness. That's
what I call funny," she had explained. "You used," she had also
added, "to help me to get things cheap in Rome. You were splendid
for beating down. I have them all still, I needn't say--the
little bargains I there owed you. There are bargains in London in
August."

"Ah, but I don't understand your English buying, and I confess I
find it dull." So much as that, while they turned to go up
together, he had objected. "I understood my poor dear Romans."

"It was they who understood you--that was your pull," she had
laughed. "Our amusement here is just that they don't understand
us. We can make it amusing. You'll see."

If he had hesitated again it was because the point permitted.
"The amusement surely will be to find our present."

"Certainly--as I say."

"Well, if they don't come down--?"

"Then we'll come up. There's always something to be done.
Besides, Prince," she had gone on, "I'm not, if you come to that,
absolutely a pauper. I'm too poor for some things," she had
said--yet, strange as she was, lightly enough; "but I'm not too
poor for others." And she had paused again at the top. "I've been
saving up."

He had really challenged it. "In America?"

"Yes, even there--with my motive. And we oughtn't, you know," she
had wound up, "to leave it beyond to-morrow."

That, definitely, with ten words more, was what had passed--he
feeling all the while how any sort of begging-off would only
magnify it. He might get on with things as they were, but he must
do anything rather than magnify. Besides which it was pitiful to
make her beg of him. He WAS making her--she had begged; and this,
for a special sensibility in him, didn't at all do. That was
accordingly, in fine, how they had come to where they were: he
was engaged, as hard as possible, in the policy of not
magnifying. He had kept this up even on her making a point--and
as if it were almost the whole point--that Maggie of course was
not to have an idea. Half the interest of the thing at least
would be that she shouldn't suspect; therefore he was completely
to keep it from her--as Charlotte on her side would--that they
had been anywhere at all together or had so much as seen each
other for five minutes alone. The absolute secrecy of their
little excursion was in short of the essence; she appealed to his
kindness to let her feel that he didn't betray her. There had
been something, frankly, a little disconcerting in such an appeal
at such an hour, on the very eve of his nuptials: it was one
thing to have met the girl casually at Mrs. Assingham's and
another to arrange with her thus for a morning practically as
private as their old mornings in Rome and practically not less
intimate. He had immediately told Maggie, the same evening, of
the minutes that had passed between them in Cadogan Place--though
not mentioning those of Mrs. Assingham's absence any more than he
mentioned the fact of what their friend had then, with such small
delay, proposed. But what had briefly checked his assent to any
present, to any positive making of mystery--what had made him,
while they stood at the top of the stairs, demur just long enough
for her to notice it--was the sense of the resemblance of the
little plan before him to occasions, of the past, from which he
was quite disconnected, from which he could only desire to be.
This was like beginning something over, which was the last thing
he wanted. The strength, the beauty of his actual position was in
its being wholly a fresh start, was that what it began would be
new altogether. These items of his consciousness had clustered so
quickly that by the time Charlotte read them in his face he was
in presence of what they amounted to. She had challenged them as
soon as read them, had met them with a "Do you want then to go
and tell her?" that had somehow made them ridiculous. It had made
him, promptly, fall back on minimizing it--that is on minimizing
"fuss." Apparent scruples were, obviously, fuss, and he had on
the spot clutched, in the light of this truth, at the happy
principle that would meet every case.

This principle was simply to be, with the girl, always simple--
and with the very last simplicity. That would cover everything.
It had covered, then and there, certainly, his immediate
submission to the sight of what was clearest. This was, really,
that what she asked was little compared to what she gave. What
she gave touched him, as she faced him, for it was the full tune
of her renouncing. She really renounced--renounced everything,
and without even insisting now on what it had all been for her.
Her only insistence was her insistence on the small matter of
their keeping their appointment to themselves. That, in exchange
for "everything," everything she gave up, was verily but a
trifle. He let himself accordingly be guided; he so soon
assented, for enlightened indulgence, to any particular turn she
might wish the occasion to take, that the stamp of her preference
had been well applied to it even while they were still in the
Park. The application in fact presently required that they should
sit down a little, really to see where they were; in obedience to
which propriety they had some ten minutes, of a quality quite
distinct, in a couple of penny-chairs under one of the larger
trees. They had taken, for their walk, to the cropped,
rain-freshened grass, after finding it already dry; and the
chairs, turned away from the broad alley, the main drive and the
aspect of Park Lane, looked across the wide reaches of green
which seemed in a manner to refine upon their freedom. They
helped Charlotte thus to make her position--her temporary
position--still more clear, and it was for this purpose,
obviously, that, abruptly, on seeing her opportunity, she sat
down. He stood for a little before her, as if to mark the
importance of not wasting time, the importance she herself had
previously insisted on; but after she had said a few words it was
impossible for him not to resort again to good-nature. He marked
as he could, by this concession, that if he had finally met her
first proposal for what would be "amusing" in it, so any idea she
might have would contribute to that effect. He had consequently--
in all consistency--to treat it as amusing that she reaffirmed,
and reaffirmed again, the truth that was HER truth.

"I don't care what you make of it, and I don't ask anything
whatever of you--anything but this. I want to have said it--
that's all; I want not to have failed to say it. To see you once
and be with you, to be as we are now and as we used to be, for
one small hour--or say for two--that's what I have had for weeks
in my head. I mean, of course, to get it BEFORE--before what
you're going to do. So, all the while, you see," she went on with
her eyes on him, "it was a question for me if I should be able to
manage it in time. If I couldn't have come now I probably
shouldn't have come at all--perhaps even ever. Now that I'm here
I shall stay, but there were moments, over there, when I
despaired. It wasn't easy--there were reasons; but it was either
this or nothing. So I didn't struggle, you see, in vain. AFTER--
oh, I didn't want that! I don't mean," she smiled, "that it
wouldn't have been delightful to see you even then--to see you at
any time; but I would never have come for it. This is different.
This is what I wanted. This is what I've got. This is what I
shall always have. This is what I should have missed, of course,"
she pursued, "if you had chosen to make me miss it. If you had
thought me horrid, had refused to come, I should, naturally, have
been immensely 'sold.' I had to take the risk. Well, you're all I
could have hoped. That's what I was to have said. I didn't want
simply to get my time with you, but I wanted you to know. I
wanted you"--she kept it up, slowly, softly, with a small tremor
of voice, but without the least failure of sense or sequence--"I
wanted you to understand. I wanted you, that is, to hear. I don't
care, I think, whether you understand or not. If I ask nothing of
you I don't--I mayn't--ask even so much as that. What you may
think of me--that doesn't in the least matter. What I want is
that it shall always be with you--so that you'll never be able
quite to get rid of it--that I DID. I won't say that you did--you
may make as little of that as you like. But that I was here with
you where we are and as we are--I just saying this. Giving
myself, in other words, away--and perfectly willing to do it for
nothing. That's all."

She paused as if her demonstration was complete--yet, for the
moment, without moving; as if in fact to give it a few minutes to
sink in; into the listening air, into the watching space, into
the conscious hospitality of nature, so far as nature was, all
Londonised, all vulgarised, with them there; or even, for that
matter, into her own open ears, rather than into the attention of
her passive and prudent friend. His attention had done all that
attention could do; his handsome, slightly anxious, yet still
more definitely "amused" face sufficiently played its part. He
clutched, however, at what he could best clutch at--the fact that
she let him off, definitely let him off. She let him off, it
seemed, even from so much as answering; so that while he smiled
back at her in return for her information he felt his lips remain
closed to the successive vaguenesses of rejoinder, of objection,
that rose for him from within. Charlotte herself spoke again at
last--"You may want to know what I get by it. But that's my own
affair." He really didn't want to know even this--or continued,
for the safest plan, quite to behave as if he didn't; which
prolonged the mere dumbness of diversion in which he had taken
refuge. He was glad when, finally--the point she had wished to
make seeming established to her satisfaction--they brought to
what might pass for a close the moment of his life at which he
had had least to say. Movement and progress, after this, with
more impersonal talk, were naturally a relief; so that he was not
again, during their excursion, at a loss for the right word. The
air had been, as it were, cleared; they had their errand itself
to discuss, and the opportunities of London, the sense of the
wonderful place, the pleasures of prowling there, the question of
shops, of possibilities, of particular objects, noticed by each
in previous prowls. Each professed surprise at the extent of the
other's knowledge; the Prince in especial wondered at his
friend's possession of her London. He had rather prized his own
possession, the guidance he could really often give a cabman; it
was a whim of his own, a part of his Anglomania, and congruous
with that feature, which had, after all, so much more surface
than depth. When his companion, with the memory of other visits
and other rambles, spoke of places he hadn't seen and things he
didn't know, he actually felt again--as half the effect--just a
shade humiliated. He might even have felt a trifle annoyed--if it
hadn't been, on this spot, for his being, even more, interested.
It was a fresh light on Charlotte and on her curious
world-quality, of which, in Rome, he had had his due sense, but
which clearly would show larger on the big London stage. Rome
was, in comparison, a village, a family-party, a little old-world
spinnet for the fingers of one hand. By the time they reached the
Marble Arch it was almost as if she were showing him a new side,
and that, in fact, gave amusement a new and a firmer basis. The
right tone would be easy for putting himself in her hands. Should
they disagree a little--frankly and fairly--about directions and
chances, values and authenticities, the situation would be quite
gloriously saved. They were none the less, as happened, much of
one mind on the article of their keeping clear of resorts with
which Maggie would be acquainted. Charlotte recalled it as a
matter of course, named it in time as a condition--they would
keep away from any place to which he had already been with
Maggie.

This made indeed a scant difference, for though he had during the
last month done few things so much as attend his future wife on
her making of purchases, the antiquarii, as he called them with
Charlotte, had not been the great affair. Except in Bond Street,
really, Maggie had had no use for them: her situation indeed, in
connection with that order of traffic, was full of consequences
produced by her father's. Mr. Verver, one of the great collectors
of the world, hadn't left his daughter to prowl for herself; he
had little to do with shops, and was mostly, as a purchaser,
approached privately and from afar. Great people, all over
Europe, sought introductions to him; high personages, incredibly
high, and more of them than would ever be known, solemnly sworn
as everyone was, in such cases, to discretion, high personages
made up to him as the one man on the short authentic list likely
to give the price. It had therefore been easy to settle, as they
walked, that the tracks of the Ververs, daughter's as well as
father's, were to be avoided; the importance only was that their
talk about it led for a moment to the first words they had as yet
exchanged on the subject of Maggie. Charlotte, still in the Park,
proceeded to them--for it was she who began--with a serenity of
appreciation that was odd, certainly, as a sequel to her words of
ten minutes before. This was another note on her--what he would
have called another light--for her companion, who, though without
giving a sign, admired, for what it was, the simplicity of her
transition, a transition that took no trouble either to trace or
to explain itself. She paused again an instant, on the grass, to
make it; she stopped before him with a sudden "Anything of
course, dear as she is, will do for her. I mean if I were to give
her a pin-cushion from the Baker-Street Bazaar."

"That's exactly what _I_ meant"--the Prince laughed out this
allusion to their snatch of talk in Portland Place. "It's just
what I suggested."

She took, however, no notice of the reminder; she went on in her
own way. "But it isn't a reason. In that case one would never do
anything for her. I mean," Charlotte explained, "if one took
advantage of her character."

"Of her character?"

"We mustn't take advantage of her character," the girl, again
unheeding, pursued. "One mustn't, if not for HER, at least for
one's self. She saves one such trouble."

She had spoken thoughtfully, with her eyes on her friend's; she
might have been talking, preoccupied and practical, of someone
with whom he was comparatively unconnected. "She certainly GIVES
one no trouble," said the Prince. And then as if this were
perhaps ambiguous or inadequate: "She's not selfish--God forgive
her!--enough."

"That's what I mean," Charlotte instantly said. "She's not
selfish enough. There's nothing, absolutely, that one NEED do for
her. She's so modest," she developed--"she doesn't miss things. I
mean if you love her--or, rather, I should say, if she loves you.
She lets it go."

The Prince frowned a little--as a tribute, after all, to
seriousness. "She lets what--?"

"Anything--anything that you might do and that you don't. She
lets everything go but her own disposition to be kind to you.
It's of herself that she asks efforts--so far as she ever HAS to
ask them. She hasn't, much. She does everything herself. And
that's terrible."

The Prince had listened; but, always with propriety, he didn't
commit himself. "Terrible?"

"Well, unless one is almost as good as she. It makes too easy
terms for one. It takes stuff, within one, so far as one's
decency is concerned, to stand it. And nobody," Charlotte
continued in the same manner, "is decent enough, good enough, to
stand it--not without help from religion, or something of that
kind. Not without prayer and fasting--that is without taking
great care. Certainly," she said, "such people as you and I are
not."

The Prince, obligingly, thought an instant. "Not good enough to
stand it?"

"Well, not good enough not rather to feel the strain. We happen
each, I think, to be of the kind that are easily spoiled."

Her friend, again, for propriety, followed the argument. "Oh, I
don't know. May not one's affection for her do something more for
one's decency, as you call it, than her own generosity--her own
affection, HER 'decency'--has the unfortunate virtue to undo?"

"Ah, of course it must be all in that."

But she had made her question, all the same, interesting to him.
"What it comes to--one can see what you mean--is the way she
believes in one. That is if she believes at all."

"Yes, that's what it comes to," said Charlotte Stant.

"And why," he asked, almost soothingly, "should it be terrible?"
He couldn't, at the worst, see that.

"Because it's always so--the idea of having to pity people."

"Not when there's also, with it, the idea of helping them."

"Yes, but if we can't help them?"

"We CAN--we always can. That is," he competently added, "if we
care for them. And that's what we're talking about."

"Yes"--she on the whole assented. "It comes back then to our
absolutely refusing to be spoiled."

"Certainly. But everything," the Prince laughed as they went on--
"all your 'decency,' I mean--comes back to that."

She walked beside him a moment. "It's just what _I_ meant," she
then reasonably said.



                            VI

The man in the little shop in which, well after this, they
lingered longest, the small but interesting dealer in the
Bloomsbury street who was remarkable for an insistence not
importunate, inasmuch as it was mainly mute, but singularly,
intensely coercive--this personage fixed on his visitors an
extraordinary pair of eyes and looked from one to the other while
they considered the object with which he appeared mainly to hope
to tempt them. They had come to him last, for their time was
nearly up; an hour of it at least, from the moment of their
getting into a hansom at the Marble Arch, having yielded no
better result than the amusement invoked from the first. The
amusement, of course, was to have consisted in seeking, but it
had also involved the idea of finding; which latter necessity
would have been obtrusive only if they had found too soon. The
question at present was if they were finding, and they put it to
each other, in the Bloomsbury shop, while they enjoyed the
undiverted attention of the shopman. He was clearly the master,
and devoted to his business--the essence of which, in his
conception, might precisely have been this particular secret that
he possessed for worrying the customer so little that it fairly
made for their relations a sort of solemnity. He had not many
things, none of the redundancy of "rot" they had elsewhere seen,
and our friends had, on entering, even had the sense of a muster
so scant that, as high values obviously wouldn't reign, the
effect might be almost pitiful. Then their impression had
changed; for, though the show was of small pieces, several taken
from the little window and others extracted from a cupboard
behind the counter--dusky, in the rather low-browed place,
despite its glass doors--each bid for their attention spoke,
however modestly, for itself, and the pitch of their
entertainer's pretensions was promptly enough given. His array
was heterogeneous and not at all imposing; still, it differed
agreeably from what they had hitherto seen.

Charlotte, after the incident, was to be full of impressions, of
several of which, later on, she gave her companion--always in the
interest of their amusement--the benefit; and one of the
impressions had been that the man himself was the greatest
curiosity they had looked at. The Prince was to reply to this
that he himself hadn't looked at him; as, precisely, in the
general connection, Charlotte had more than once, from other
days, noted, for his advantage, her consciousness of how, below a
certain social plane, he never SAW. One kind of shopman was just
like another to him--which was oddly inconsequent on the part of
a mind that, where it did notice, noticed so much. He took
throughout, always, the meaner sort for granted--the night of
their meanness, or whatever name one might give it for him, made
all his cats grey. He didn't, no doubt, want to hurt them, but he
imaged them no more than if his eyes acted only for the level of
his own high head. Her own vision acted for every relation--this
he had seen for himself: she remarked beggars, she remembered
servants, she recognised cabmen; she had often distinguished
beauty, when out with him, in dirty children; she had admired
"type" in faces at hucksters' stalls. Therefore, on this
occasion, she had found their antiquario interesting; partly
because he cared so for his things, and partly because he cared--
well, so for them. "He likes his things--he loves them," she was
to say; "and it isn't only--it isn't perhaps even at all--that he
loves to sell them. I think he would love to keep them if he
could; and he prefers, at any rate, to sell them to right people.
We, clearly, were right people--he knows them when he sees them;
and that's why, as I say, you could make out, or at least _I_
could, that he cared for us. Didn't you see"--she was to ask it
with an insistence--"the way he looked at us and took us in? I
doubt if either of us have ever been so well looked at before.
Yes, he'll remember us"--she was to profess herself convinced of
that almost to uneasiness. "But it was after all"--this was
perhaps reassuring--"because, given his taste, since he HAS
taste, he was pleased with us, he was struck--he had ideas about
us. Well, I should think people might; we're beautiful--aren't
we?--and he knows. Then, also, he has his way; for that way of
saying nothing with his lips when he's all the while pressing you
so with his face, which shows how he knows you feel it--that is a
regular way."

Of decent old gold, old silver, old bronze, of old chased and
jewelled artistry, were the objects that, successively produced,
had ended by numerously dotting the counter, where the shopman's
slim, light fingers, with neat nails, touched them at moments,
briefly, nervously, tenderly, as those of a chess-player rest, a
few seconds, over the board, on a figure he thinks he may move
and then may not: small florid ancientries, ornaments, pendants,
lockets, brooches, buckles, pretexts for dim brilliants,
bloodless rubies, pearls either too large or too opaque for
value; miniatures mounted with diamonds that had ceased to
dazzle; snuffboxes presented to--or by--the too-questionable
great; cups, trays, taper-stands, suggestive of pawn-tickets,
archaic and brown, that would themselves, if preserved, have been
prized curiosities. A few commemorative medals, of neat outline
but dull reference; a classic monument or two, things of the
first years of the century; things consular, Napoleonic, temples,
obelisks, arches, tinily re-embodied, completed the discreet
cluster; in which, however, even after tentative reinforcement
from several quaint rings, intaglios, amethysts, carbuncles, each
of which had found a home in the ancient sallow satin of some
weakly-snapping little box, there was, in spite of the due
proportion of faint poetry, no great force of persuasion. They
looked, the visitors, they touched, they vaguely pretended to
consider, but with scepticism, so far as courtesy permitted, in
the quality of their attention. It was impossible they shouldn't,
after a little, tacitly agree as to the absurdity of carrying to
Maggie a token from such a stock. It would be--that was the
difficulty--pretentious without being "good"; too usual, as a
treasure, to have been an inspiration of the giver, and yet too
primitive to be taken as tribute welcome on any terms. They had
been out more than two hours and, evidently, had found nothing.
It forced from Charlotte a kind of admission.

"It ought, really, if it should be a thing of this sort, to take
its little value from having belonged to one's self."

"Ecco!" said the Prince--just triumphantly enough. "There you
are."

Behind the dealer were sundry small cupboards in the wall. Two or
three of these Charlotte had seen him open, so that her eyes
found themselves resting on those he had not visited. But she
completed her admission. "There's nothing here she could wear."

It was only after a moment that her companion rejoined. "Is there
anything--do you think--that you could?"

It made her just start. She didn't, at all events, look at the
objects; she but looked for an instant very directly at him.
"No."

"Ah!" the Prince quietly exclaimed.

"Would it be," Charlotte asked, "your idea to offer me
something?"

"Well, why not--as a small ricordo."

"But a ricordo of what?"

"Why, of 'this'--as you yourself say. Of this little hunt."

"Oh, I say it--but hasn't my whole point been that I don't ask
you to. Therefore," she demanded--but smiling at him now--
"where's the logic?"

"Oh, the logic--!" he laughed.

"But logic's everything. That, at least, is how I feel it. A
ricordo from you--from you to me--is a ricordo of nothing. It
has no reference."

"Ah, my dear!" he vaguely protested. Their entertainer,
meanwhile, stood there with his eyes on them, and the girl,
though at this minute more interested in her passage with her
friend than in anything else, again met his gaze. It was a
comfort to her that their foreign tongue covered what they said--
and they might have appeared of course, as the Prince now had one
of the snuffboxes in his hand, to be discussing a purchase.

"You don't refer," she went on to her companion. "_I_ refer."

He had lifted the lid of his little box and he looked into it
hard. "Do you mean by that then that you would be free--?"

"'Free'--?"

"To offer me something?"

This gave her a longer pause, and when she spoke again she might
have seemed, oddly, to be addressing the dealer. "Would you allow
me--?"

"No," said the Prince into his little box.

"You wouldn't accept it from me?"

"No," he repeated in the same way.

She exhaled a long breath that was like a guarded sigh. "But
you've touched an idea that HAS been mine. It's what I've
wanted." Then she added: "It was what I hoped."

He put down his box--this had drawn his eyes. He made nothing,
clearly, of the little man's attention. "It's what you brought me
out for?"

"Well, that's, at any rate," she returned, "my own affair. But
it won't do?"

"It won't do, cara mia."

"It's impossible?"

"It's impossible." And he took up one of the brooches.

She had another pause, while the shopman only waited. "If I were
to accept from you one of these charming little ornaments as you
suggest, what should I do with it?"

He was perhaps at last a little irritated; he even--as if HE
might understand--looked vaguely across at their host. "Wear it,
per Bacco!"

"Where then, please? Under my clothes?"

"Wherever you like. But it isn't then, if you will," he added,
"worth talking about."

"It's only worth talking about, mio caro," she smiled, "from your
having begun it. My question is only reasonable--so that your
idea may stand or fall by your answer to it. If I should pin one
of these things on for you would it be, to your mind, that I
might go home and show it to Maggie as your present?"

They had had between them often in talk the refrain, jocosely,
descriptively applied, of "old Roman." It had been, as a
pleasantry, in the other time, his explanation to her of
everything; but nothing, truly, had even seemed so old-Roman as
the shrug in which he now indulged. "Why in the world not?"

"Because--on our basis--it would be impossible to give her an
account of the pretext."

"The pretext--?" He wondered.

"The occasion. This ramble that we shall have had together and
that we're not to speak of."

"Oh yes," he said after a moment "I remember we're not to speak
of it."

"That of course you're pledged to. And the one thing, you see,
goes with the other. So you don't insist."

He had again, at random, laid back his trinket; with which he
quite turned to her, a little wearily at last--even a little
impatiently. "I don't insist."

It disposed for the time of the question, but what was next
apparent was that it had seen them no further. The shopman, who
had not stirred, stood there in his patience--which, his mute
intensity helping, had almost the effect of an ironic comment.
The Prince moved to the glass door and, his back to the others,
as with nothing more to contribute, looked--though not less
patiently--into the street. Then the shopman, for Charlotte,
momentously broke silence. "You've seen, disgraziatamente,
signora principessa," he sadly said, "too much"--and it made the
Prince face about. For the effect of the momentous came, if not
from the sense, from the sound of his words; which was that of
the suddenest, sharpest Italian. Charlotte exchanged with her
friend a glance that matched it, and just for the minute they
were held in check. But their glance had, after all, by that
time, said more than one thing; had both exclaimed on the
apprehension, by the wretch, of their intimate conversation, let
alone of her possible, her impossible, title, and remarked, for
mutual reassurance, that it didn't, all the same, matter. The
Prince remained by the door, but immediately addressing the
speaker from where he stood.

"You're Italian then, are you?"

But the reply came in English. "Oh dear no."

"You're English?"

To which the answer was this time, with a smile, in briefest
Italian. "Che!" The dealer waived the question--he practically
disposed of it by turning straightway toward a receptacle to
which he had not yet resorted and from which, after unlocking it,
he extracted a square box, of some twenty inches in height,
covered with worn-looking leather. He placed the box on the
counter, pushed back a pair of small hooks, lifted the lid and
removed from its nest a drinking-vessel larger than a common cup,
yet not of exorbitant size, and formed, to appearance, either of
old fine gold or of some material once richly gilt. He handled it
with tenderness, with ceremony, making a place for it on a small
satin mat. "My Golden Bowl," he observed--and it sounded, on his
lips, as if it said everything. He left the important object--for
as "important" it did somehow present itself--to produce its
certain effect. Simple, but singularly elegant, it stood on a
circular foot, a short pedestal with a slightly spreading base,
and, though not of signal depth, justified its title by the charm
of its shape as well as by the tone of its surface. It might have
been a large goblet diminished, to the enhancement of its happy
curve, by half its original height. As formed of solid gold it
was impressive; it seemed indeed to warn off the prudent admirer.
Charlotte, with care, immediately took it up, while the Prince,
who had after a minute shifted his position again, regarded it
from a distance.

It was heavier than Charlotte had thought. "Gold, really gold?"
she asked of their companion.

He hesitated. "Look a little, and perhaps you'll make out."

She looked, holding it up in both her fine hands, turning it to
the light. "It may be cheap for what it is, but it will be dear,
I'm afraid, for me."

"Well," said the man, "I can part with it for less than its
value. I got it, you see, for less."

"For how much then?"

Again he waited, always with his serene stare. "Do you like it
then?"

Charlotte turned to her friend. "Do YOU like it?" He came no
nearer; he looked at their companion. "cos'e?"

"Well, signori miei, if you must know, it's just a perfect
crystal."

"Of course we must know, per Dio!" said the Prince. But he turned
away again--he went back to his glass door.

Charlotte set down the bowl; she was evidently taken. "Do you
mean it's cut out of a single crystal?"

"If it isn't I think I can promise you that you'll never find any
joint or any piecing."

She wondered. "Even if I were to scrape off the gold?"

He showed, though with due respect, that she amused him. "You
couldn't scrape it off--it has been too well put on; put on I
don't know when and I don't know how. But by some very fine old
worker and by some beautiful old process."

Charlotte, frankly charmed with the cup, smiled back at him now.
"A lost art?"

"Call it a lost art,"

"But of what time then is the whole thing?"

"Well, say also of a lost time."

The girl considered. "Then if it's so precious, how comes it to
be cheap?"

Her interlocutor once more hung fire, but by this time the Prince
had lost patience. "I'll wait for you out in the air," he said to
his companion, and, though he spoke without irritation, he
pointed his remark by passing immediately into the street, where,
during the next minutes, the others saw him, his back to the
shopwindow, philosophically enough hover and light a fresh
cigarette. Charlotte even took, a little, her time; she was aware
of his funny Italian taste for London street-life.

Her host meanwhile, at any rate, answered her question. "Ah, I've
had it a long time without selling it. I think I must have been
keeping it, madam, for you."

"You've kept it for me because you've thought I mightn't see
what's the matter with it?"

He only continued to face her--he only continued to appear to
follow the play of her mind. "What IS the matter with it?"

"Oh, it's not for me to say; it's for you honestly to tell me. Of
course I know something must be."

"But if it's something you can't find out, isn't it as good as if
it were nothing?"

"I probably SHOULD find out as soon as I had paid for it."

"Not," her host lucidly insisted, "if you hadn't paid too much."

"What do you call," she asked, "little enough?"

"Well, what should you say to fifteen pounds?"

"I should say," said Charlotte with the utmost promptitude, "that
it's altogether too much."

The dealer shook his head slowly and sadly, but firmly. "It's my
price, madam--and if you admire the thing I think it really might
be yours. It's not too much. It's too little. It's almost
nothing. I can't go lower."

Charlotte, wondering, but resisting, bent over the bowl again.
"Then it's impossible. It's more than I can afford."

"Ah," the man returned, "one can sometimes afford for a present
more than one can afford for one's self." He said it so coaxingly
that she found herself going on without, as might be said,
putting him in his place. "Oh, of course it would be only for a
present--!"

"Then it would be a lovely one."

"Does one make a present," she asked, "of an object that
contains, to one's knowledge, a flaw?"

"Well, if one knows of it one has only to mention it. The good
faith," the man smiled, "is always there."

"And leave the person to whom one gives the thing, you mean, to
discover it?"

"He wouldn't discover it--if you're speaking of a gentleman."

"I'm not speaking of anyone in particular," Charlotte said.

"Well, whoever it might be. He might know--and he might try. But
he wouldn't find."

She kept her eyes on him as if, though unsatisfied, mystified,
she yet had a fancy for the bowl. "Not even if the thing should
come to pieces?" And then as he was silent: "Not even if he
should have to say to me 'The Golden Bowl is broken'?"

He was still silent; after which he had his strangest smile. "Ah,
if anyone should WANT to smash it--!"

She laughed; she almost admired the little man's expression. "You
mean one could smash it with a hammer?"

"Yes; if nothing else would do. Or perhaps even by dashing it
with violence--say upon a marble floor."

"Oh, marble floors!" But she might have been thinking--for they
were a connection, marble floors; a connection with many things:
with her old Rome, and with his; with the palaces of his past,
and, a little, of hers; with the possibilities of his future,
with the sumptuosities of his marriage, with the wealth of the
Ververs. All the same, however, there were other things; and they
all together held for a moment her fancy. "Does crystal then
break--when it IS crystal? I thought its beauty was its
hardness."

Her friend, in his way, discriminated. "Its beauty is its BEING
crystal. But its hardness is certainly, its safety. It doesn't
break," he went on, "like vile glass. It splits--if there is a
split."

"Ah!"--Charlotte breathed with interest. "If there is a split."
And she looked down again at the bowl. "There IS a split, eh?
Crystal does split, eh?"

"On lines and by laws of its own."

"You mean if there's a weak place?"

For all answer, after an hesitation, he took the bowl up again,
holding it aloft and tapping it with a key. It rang with the
finest, sweetest sound. "Where is the weak place?"

She then did the question justice. "Well, for ME, only the price.
I'm poor, you see--very poor. But I thank you and I'll think."
The Prince, on the other side of the shop-window, had finally
faced about and, as to see if she hadn't done, was trying to
reach, with his eyes, the comparatively dim interior. "I like
it," she said--"I want it. But I must decide what I can do."

The man, not ungraciously, resigned himself. "Well, I'll keep it
for you."

The small quarter-of-an-hour had had its marked oddity--this she
felt even by the time the open air and the Bloomsbury aspects had
again, in their protest against the truth of her gathered
impression, made her more or less their own. Yet the oddity might
have been registered as small as compared to the other effect
that, before they had gone much further, she had, with her
companion, to take account of. This latter was simply the effect
of their having, by some tacit logic, some queer inevitability,
quite dropped the idea of a continued pursuit. They didn't say
so, but it was on the line of giving up Maggie's present that
they practically proceeded--the line of giving it up without more
reference to it. The Prince's first reference was in fact quite
independently made. "I hope you satisfied yourself, before you
had done, of what was the matter with that bowl."

"No indeed, I satisfied myself of nothing. Of nothing at least
but that the more I looked at it the more I liked it, and that if
you weren't so unaccommodating this would be just the occasion
for your giving me the pleasure of accepting it."

He looked graver for her, at this, than he had looked all the
morning. "Do you propose it seriously--without wishing to play me
a trick?"

She wondered. "What trick would it be?"

He looked at her harder. "You mean you really don't know?"

"But know what?"

"Why, what's the matter with it. You didn't see, all the while?"

She only continued, however, to stare. "How could you see--out in
the street?"

"I saw before I went out. It was because I saw that I did go out.
I didn't want to have another scene with you, before that rascal,
and I judged you would presently guess for yourself."

"Is he a rascal?" Charlotte asked. "His price is so moderate. She
waited but a moment. "Five pounds. Really so little."

"Five pounds?"

He continued to look at her. "Five pounds."

He might have been doubting her word, but he was only, it
appeared, gathering emphasis. "It would be dear--to make a gift
of--at five shillings. If it had cost you even but five pence I
wouldn't take it from you."

"Then," she asked, "what IS the matter?"

"Why, it has a crack."

It sounded, on his lips, so sharp, it had such an authority, that
she almost started, while her colour, at the word, rose. It was
as if he had been right, though his assurance was wonderful. "You
answer for it without having looked?"

"I did look. I saw the object itself. It told its story. No
wonder it's cheap."

"But it's exquisite," Charlotte, as if with an interest in it now
made even tenderer and stranger, found herself moved to insist.

"Of course it's exquisite. That's the danger." Then a light
visibly came to her--a light in which her friend suddenly and
intensely showed. The reflection of it, as she smiled at him, was
in her own face. "The danger--I see--is because you're
superstitious."

"Per Dio, I'm superstitious! A crack is a crack--and an omen's an
omen."

"You'd be afraid--?"

"Per Bacco!"

"For your happiness?"

"For my happiness."

"For your safety?"

"For my safety."

She just paused. "For your marriage?"

"For my marriage. For everything."

She thought again. "Thank goodness then that if there BE a crack
we know it! But if we may perish by cracks in things that we
don't know--!" And she smiled with the sadness of it. "We can
never then give each other anything."

He considered, but he met it. "Ah, but one does know. _I_ do, at
least--and by instinct. I don't fail. That will always protect
me."

It was funny, the way he said such things; yet she liked him,
really, the more for it. They fell in for her with a general, or
rather with a special, vision. But she spoke with a mild despair.

"What then will protect ME?"

"Where I'm concerned _I_ will. From me at least you've nothing to
fear," he now quite amiably responded. "Anything you consent to
accept from me--" But he paused.

"Well?"

"Well, shall be perfect."

"That's very fine," she presently answered. "It's vain, after
all, for you to talk of my accepting things when you'll accept
nothing from me."

Ah, THERE, better still, he could meet her. "You attach an
impossible condition. That, I mean, of my keeping your gift so to
myself."

Well, she looked, before him there, at the condition--then,
abruptly, with a gesture, she gave it up. She had a headshake of
disenchantment--so far as the idea had appealed to her. It all
appeared too difficult. "Oh, my 'condition'--I don't hold to it.
You may cry it on the housetops--anything I ever do."

"Ah well, then--!" This made, he laughed, all the difference.

But it was too late. "Oh, I don't care now! I SHOULD have liked
the Bowl. But if that won't do there's nothing."

He considered this; he took it in, looking graver again; but
after a moment he qualified. "Yet I shall want some day to give
you something."

She wondered at him. "What day?"

"The day you marry. For you WILL marry. You must--SERIOUSLY--
marry."

She took it from him, but it determined in her the only words she
was to have uttered, all the morning, that came out as if a
spring had been pressed. "To make you feel better?"

"Well," he replied frankly, wonderfully--"it will. But here," he
added, "is your hansom."

He had signalled--the cab was charging. She put out no hand for
their separation, but she prepared to get in. Before she did so,
however, she said what had been gathering while she waited.
"Well, I would marry, I think, to have something from you in all
freedom."



PART SECOND

                           VII

Adam Verver, at Fawns, that autumn Sunday, might have been
observed to open the door of the billiard-room with a certain
freedom--might have been observed, that is, had there been a
spectator in the field. The justification of the push he had
applied, however, and of the push, equally sharp, that, to shut
himself in, he again applied--the ground of this energy was
precisely that he might here, however briefly, find himself
alone, alone with the handful of letters, newspapers and other
unopened missives, to which, during and since breakfast, he had
lacked opportunity to give an eye. The vast, square, clean
apartment was empty, and its large clear windows looked out into
spaces of terrace and garden, of park and woodland and shining
artificial lake, of richly-condensed horizon, all dark blue
upland and church-towered village and strong cloudshadow, which
were, together, a thing to create the sense, with everyone else
at church, of one's having the world to one's self. We share this
world, none the less, for the hour, with Mr. Verver; the very
fact of his striking, as he would have said, for solitude, the
fact of his quiet flight, almost on tiptoe, through tortuous
corridors, investing him with an interest that makes our
attention--tender indeed almost to compassion--qualify his
achieved isolation. For it may immediately be mentioned that this
amiable man bethought himself of his personal advantage, in
general, only when it might appear to him that other advantages,
those of other persons, had successfully put in their claim. It
may be mentioned also that he always figured other persons--such
was the law of his nature--as a numerous array, and that, though
conscious of but a single near tie, one affection, one duty
deepest-rooted in his life, it had never, for many minutes
together, been his portion not to feel himself surrounded and
committed, never quite been his refreshment to make out where the
many-coloured human appeal, represented by gradations of tint,
diminishing concentric zones of intensity, of importunity, really
faded to the blessed impersonal whiteness for which his vision
sometimes ached. It shaded off, the appeal--he would have
admitted that; but he had as yet noted no point at which it
positively stopped.

Thus had grown in him a little habit--his innermost secret, not
confided even to Maggie, though he felt she understood it, as she
understood, to his view, everything--thus had shaped itself the
innocent trick of occasionally making believe that he had no
conscience, or at least that blankness, in the field of duty, did
reign for an hour; a small game to which the few persons near
enough to have caught him playing it, and of whom Mrs. Assingham,
for instance, was one, attached indulgently that idea of
quaintness, quite in fact that charm of the pathetic, involved in
the preservation by an adult of one of childhood's toys. When he
took a rare moment "off," he did so with the touching, confessing
eyes of a man of forty-seven caught in the act of handling a
relic of infancy--sticking on the head of a broken soldier or
trying the lock of a wooden gun. It was essentially, in him, the
IMITATION of depravity--which, for amusement, as might have been,
he practised "keeping up." In spite of practice he was still
imperfect, for these so artlessly-artful interludes were
condemned, by the nature of the case, to brevity. He had fatally
stamped himself--it was his own fault--a man who could be
interrupted with impunity. The greatest of wonders, moreover, was
exactly in this, that so interrupted a man should ever have got,
as the phrase was, should above all have got so early, to where
he was. It argued a special genius; he was clearly a case of
that. The spark of fire, the point of light, sat somewhere in his
inward vagueness as a lamp before a shrine twinkles in the dark
perspective of a church; and while youth and early middle-age,
while the stiff American breeze of example and opportunity were
blowing upon it hard, had made of the chamber of his brain a
strange workshop of fortune. This establishment, mysterious and
almost anonymous, the windows of which, at hours of highest
pressure, never seemed, for starers and wonderers, perceptibly to
glow, must in fact have been during certain years the scene of an
unprecedented, a miraculous white-heat, the receipt for producing
which it was practically felt that the master of the forge could
not have communicated even with the best intentions.

The essential pulse of the flame, the very action of the cerebral
temperature, brought to the highest point, yet extraordinarily
contained--these facts themselves were the immensity of the
result; they were one with perfection of machinery, they had
constituted the kind of acquisitive power engendered and applied,
the necessary triumph of all operations. A dim explanation of
phenomena once vivid must at all events for the moment suffice
us; it being obviously no account of the matter to throw on our
friend's amiability alone the weight of the demonstration of his
economic history. Amiability, of a truth, is an aid to success;
it has even been known to be the principle of large
accumulations; but the link, for the mind, is none the less
fatally missing between proof, on such a scale, of continuity, if
of nothing more insolent, in one field, and accessibility to
distraction in every other. Variety of imagination--what is that
but fatal, in the world of affairs, unless so disciplined as not
to be distinguished from monotony? Mr. Verver then, for a fresh,
full period, a period betraying, extraordinarily, no wasted year,
had been inscrutably monotonous behind an iridescent cloud. The
cloud was his native envelope--the soft looseness, so to say, of
his temper and tone, not directly expressive enough, no doubt, to
figure an amplitude of folds, but of a quality unmistakable for
sensitive feelers. He was still reduced, in fine, to getting his
rare moments with himself by feigning a cynicism. His real
inability to maintain the pretence, however, had perhaps not
often been better instanced than by his acceptance of the
inevitable to-day--his acceptance of it on the arrival, at the
end of a quarter-of-an hour, of that element of obligation with
which he had all the while known he must reckon. A quarter-of-an-
hour of egoism was about as much as he, taking one situation with
another, usually got. Mrs. Rance opened the door--more
tentatively indeed than he himself had just done; but on the
other hand, as if to make up for this, she pushed forward even
more briskly on seeing him than he had been moved to do on seeing
nobody. Then, with force, it came home to him that he had,
definitely, a week before, established a precedent. He did her at
least that justice--it was a kind of justice he was always doing
someone. He had on the previous Sunday liked to stop at home, and
he had exposed himself thereby to be caught in the act. To make
this possible, that is, Mrs. Rance had only had to like to do the
same--the trick was so easily played. It had not occurred to him
to plan in any way for her absence--which would have destroyed,
somehow, in principle, the propriety of his own presence. If
persons under his roof hadn't a right not to go to church, what
became, for a fair mind, of his own right? His subtlest manoeuvre
had been simply to change from the library to the billiard-room,
it being in the library that his guest, or his daughter's, or the
guest of the Miss Lutches--he scarce knew in which light to
regard her--had then, and not unnaturally, of course, joined him.
It was urged on him by his memory of the duration of the visit
she had that time, as it were, paid him, that the law of
recurrence would already have got itself enacted. She had spent
the whole morning with him, was still there, in the library, when
the others came back--thanks to her having been tepid about their
taking, Mr. Verver and she, a turn outside. It had been as if she
looked on that as a kind of subterfuge--almost as a form of
disloyalty. Yet what was it she had in mind, what did she wish to
make of him beyond what she had already made, a patient,
punctilious host, mindful that she had originally arrived much as
a stranger, arrived not at all deliberately or yearningly
invited?--so that one positively had her possible
susceptibilities the MORE on one's conscience. The Miss Lutches,
the sisters from the middle West, were there as friends of
Maggie's, friends of the earlier time; but Mrs. Rance was there--
or at least had primarily appeared--only as a friend of the Miss
Lutches.

This lady herself was not of the middle West--she rather insisted
on it--but of New Jersey, Rhode Island or Delaware, one of the
smallest and most intimate States: he couldn't remember which,
though she insisted too on that. It was not in him--we may say it
for him--to go so far as to wonder if their group were next to be
recruited by some friend of her own; and this partly because she
had struck him, verily, rather as wanting to get the Miss Lutches
themselves away than to extend the actual circle, and partly, as
well as more essentially, because such connection as he enjoyed
with the ironic question in general resided substantially less in
a personal use of it than in the habit of seeing it as easy to
others. He was so framed by nature as to be able to keep his
inconveniences separate from his resentments; though indeed if
the sum of these latter had at the most always been small, that
was doubtless in some degree a consequence of the fewness of the
former. His greatest inconvenience, he would have admitted, had
he analyzed, was in finding it so taken for granted that, as he
had money, he had force. It pressed upon him hard, and all round,
assuredly, this attribution of power. Everyone had need of one's
power, whereas one's own need, at the best, would have seemed to
be but some trick for not communicating it. The effect of a
reserve so merely, so meanly defensive would in most cases,
beyond question, sufficiently discredit the cause; wherefore,
though it was complicating to be perpetually treated as an
infinite agent, the outrage was not the greatest of which a brave
man might complain. Complaint, besides, was a luxury, and he
dreaded the imputation of greed. The other, the constant
imputation, that of being able to "do," would have no ground if
he hadn't been, to start with--this was the point--provably
luxurious. His lips, somehow, were closed--and by a spring
connected moreover with the action of his eyes themselves. The
latter showed him what he had done, showed him where he had come
out; quite at the top of his hill of difficulty, the tall sharp
spiral round which he had begun to wind his ascent at the age of
twenty, and the apex of which was a platform looking down, if one
would, on the kingdoms of the earth and with standing-room for
but half-a-dozen others.

His eyes, in any case, now saw Mrs. Rance approach with an
instant failure to attach to the fact any grossness of avidity of
Mrs. Rance's own--or at least to descry any triumphant use even
for the luridest impression of her intensity. What was virtually
supreme would be her vision of his having attempted, by his
desertion of the library, to mislead her--which in point of fact
barely escaped being what he had designed. It was not easy for
him, in spite of accumulations fondly and funnily regarded as of
systematic practice, not now to be ashamed; the one thing
comparatively easy would be to gloss over his course. The
billiard-room was NOT, at the particular crisis, either a natural
or a graceful place for the nominally main occupant of so large a
house to retire to--and this without prejudice, either, to the
fact that his visitor wouldn't, as he apprehended, explicitly
make him a scene. Should she frankly denounce him for a sneak he
would simply go to pieces; but he was, after an instant, not
afraid of that. Wouldn't she rather, as emphasising their
communion, accept and in a manner exploit the anomaly, treat it
perhaps as romantic or possibly even as comic?--show at least
that they needn't mind even though the vast table, draped in
brown holland, thrust itself between them as an expanse of desert
sand. She couldn't cross the desert, but she could, and did,
beautifully get round it; so that for him to convert it into an
obstacle he would have had to cause himself, as in some childish
game or unbecoming romp, to be pursued, to be genially hunted.
This last was a turn he was well aware the occasion should on no
account take; and there loomed before him--for the mere moment--
the prospect of her fairly proposing that they should knock about
the balls. That danger certainly, it struck him, he should manage
in some way to deal with. Why too, for that matter, had he need
of defences, material or other?--how was it a question of dangers
really to be called such? The deep danger, the only one that made
him, as an idea, positively turn cold, would have been the
possibility of her seeking him in marriage, of her bringing up
between them that terrible issue. Here, fortunately, she was
powerless, it being apparently so provable against her that she
had a husband in undiminished existence.

She had him, it was true, only in America, only in Texas, in
Nebraska, in Arizona or somewhere--somewhere that, at old Fawns
House, in the county of Kent, scarcely counted as a definite
place at all; it showed somehow, from afar, as so lost, so
indistinct and illusory, in the great alkali desert of cheap
Divorce. She had him even in bondage, poor man, had him in
contempt, had him in remembrance so imperfect as barely to assert
itself, but she had him, none the less, in existence unimpeached:
the Miss Lutches had seen him in the flesh--as they had appeared
eager to mention; though when they were separately questioned
their descriptions failed to tally. He would be at the worst,
should it come to the worst, Mrs. Rance's difficulty, and he
served therefore quite enough as the stout bulwark of anyone
else. This was in truth logic without a flaw, yet it gave Mr.
Verver less comfort than it ought. He feared not only danger--he
feared the idea of danger, or in other words feared, hauntedly,
himself. It was above all as a symbol that Mrs. Rance actually
rose before him--a symbol of the supreme effort that he should
have sooner or later, as he felt, to make. This effort would be
to say No--he lived in terror of having to. He should be proposed
to at a given moment--it was only a question of time--and then he
should have to do a thing that would be extremely disagreeable.
He almost wished, on occasion, that he wasn't so sure he WOULD do
it. He knew himself, however, well enough not to doubt: he knew
coldly, quite bleakly, where he would, at the crisis, draw the
line. It was Maggie's marriage and Maggie's finer happiness--
happy as he had supposed her before--that had made the
difference; he hadn't in the other time, it now seemed to him,
had to think of such things. They hadn't come up for him, and it
was as if she, positively, had herself kept them down. She had
only been his child--which she was indeed as much as ever; but
there were sides on which she had protected him as if she were
more than a daughter. She had done for him more than he knew--
much, and blissfully, as he always HAD known. If she did at
present more than ever, through having what she called the change
in his life to make up to him for, his situation still, all the
same, kept pace with her activity--his situation being simply
that there was more than ever to be done.

There had not yet been quite so much, on all the showing, as
since their return from their twenty months in America, as since
their settlement again in England, experimental though it was,
and the consequent sense, now quite established for him, of a
domestic air that had cleared and lightened, producing the
effect, for their common personal life, of wider perspectives and
large waiting spaces. It was as if his son-in-law's presence,
even from before his becoming his son-in-law, had somehow filled
the scene and blocked the future--very richly and handsomely,
when all was said, not at all inconveniently or in ways not to
have been desired: inasmuch as though the Prince, his measure now
practically taken, was still pretty much the same "big fact," the
sky had lifted, the horizon receded, the very foreground itself
expanded, quite to match him, quite to keep everything in
comfortable scale. At first, certainly, their decent little
old-time union, Maggie's and his own, had resembled a good deal
some pleasant public square, in the heart of an old city, into
which a great Palladian church, say--something with a grand
architectural front--had suddenly been dropped; so that the rest
of the place, the space in front, the way round, outside, to the
east end, the margin of street and passage, the quantity of
over-arching heaven, had been temporarily compromised. Not even
then, of a truth, in a manner disconcerting--given, that is, for
the critical, or at least the intelligent, eye, the great style
of the facade and its high place in its class. The phenomenon
that had since occurred, whether originally to have been
pronounced calculable or not, had not, naturally, been the
miracle of a night, but had taken place so gradually, quietly,
easily, that from this vantage of wide, wooded Fawns, with its
eighty rooms, as they said, with its spreading park, with its
acres and acres of garden and its majesty of artificial lake--
though that, for a person so familiar with the "great" ones,
might be rather ridiculous--no visibility of transition showed,
no violence of adjustment, in retrospect, emerged. The Palladian
church was always there, but the piazza took care of itself. The
sun stared down in his fulness, the air circulated, and the
public not less; the limit stood off, the way round was easy, the
east end was as fine, in its fashion, as the west, and there were
also side doors for entrance, between the two--large, monumental,
ornamental, in their style--as for all proper great churches. By
some such process, in fine, had the Prince, for his father-in-
law, while remaining solidly a feature, ceased to be, at all
ominously, a block.

Mr. Verver, it may further be mentioned, had taken at no moment
sufficient alarm to have kept in detail the record of his
reassurance; but he would none the less not have been unable, not
really have been indisposed, to impart in confidence to the right
person his notion of the history of the matter. The right
person--it is equally distinct--had not, for this illumination,
been wanting, but had been encountered in the form of Fanny
Assingham, not for the first time indeed admitted to his
counsels, and who would have doubtless at present, in any case,
from plenitude of interest and with equal guarantees, repeated
his secret. It all came then, the great clearance, from the one
prime fact that the Prince, by good fortune, hadn't proved
angular. He clung to that description of his daughter's husband
as he often did to terms and phrases, in the human, the social
connection, that he had found for himself: it was his way to have
times of using these constantly, as if they just then lighted the
world, or his own path in it, for him--even when for some of his
interlocutors they covered less ground. It was true that with
Mrs. Assingham he never felt quite sure of the ground anything
covered; she disputed with him so little, agreed with him so
much, surrounded him with such systematic consideration, such
predetermined tenderness, that it was almost--which he had once
told her in irritation as if she were nursing a sick baby. He
had accused her of not taking him seriously, and she had
replied--as from her it couldn't frighten him--that she took him
religiously, adoringly. She had laughed again, as she had laughed
before, on his producing for her that good right word about the
happy issue of his connection with the Prince--with an effect the
more odd perhaps as she had not contested its value. She couldn't
of course, however, be, at the best, as much in love with his
discovery as he was himself. He was so much so that he fairly
worked it--to his own comfort; came in fact sometimes near
publicly pointing the moral of what might have occurred if
friction, so to speak, had occurred. He pointed it frankly one
day to the personage in question, mentioned to the Prince the
particular justice he did him, was even explicit as to the danger
that, in their remarkable relation, they had thus escaped. Oh,
if he HAD been angular!--who could say what might THEN have
happened? He spoke--and it was the way he had spoken to Mrs.
Assingham too--as if he grasped the facts, without exception, for
which angularity stood.

It figured for him, clearly, as a final idea, a conception of the
last vividness. He might have been signifying by it the sharp
corners and hard edges, all the stony pointedness, the grand
right geometry of his spreading Palladian church. Just so, he was
insensible to no feature of the felicity of a contact that,
beguilingly, almost confoundingly, was a contact but with
practically yielding lines and curved surfaces. "You're round, my
boy," he had said--"you're ALL, you're variously and
inexhaustibly round, when you might, by all the chances, have
been abominably square. I'm not sure, for that matter," he had
added, "that you're not square in the general mass--whether
abominably or not. The abomination isn't a question, for you're
inveterately round--that's what I mean--in the detail. It's the
sort of thing, in you, that one feels--or at least I do--with
one's hand. Say you had been formed, all over, in a lot of little
pyramidal lozenges like that wonderful side of the Ducal Palace
in Venice--so lovely in a building, but so damnable, for rubbing
against, in a man, and especially in a near relation. I can see
them all from here--each of them sticking out by itself--all the
architectural cut diamonds that would have scratched one's softer
sides. One would have been scratched by diamonds--doubtless the
neatest way if one was to be scratched at all--but one would have
been more or less reduced to a hash. As it is, for living with,
you're a pure and perfect crystal. I give you my idea--I think
you ought to have it--just as it has come to me." The Prince had
taken the idea, in his way, for he was well accustomed, by this
time, to taking; and nothing perhaps even could more have
confirmed Mr. Verver's account of his surface than the manner in
which these golden drops evenly flowed over it. They caught in no
interstice, they gathered in no concavity; the uniform smoothness
betrayed the dew but by showing for the moment a richer tone. The
young man, in other words, unconfusedly smiled--though indeed as
if assenting, from principle and habit, to more than he
understood. He liked all signs that things were well, but he
cared rather less WHY they were.

In regard to the people among whom he had since his marriage been
living, the reasons they so frequently gave--so much oftener than
he had ever heard reasons given before--remained on the whole the
element by which he most differed from them; and his father-in-
law and his wife were, after all, only first among the people
among whom he had been living. He was never even yet sure of how,
at this, that or the other point, he would strike them; they felt
remarkably, so often, things he hadn't meant, and missed not less
remarkably, and not less often, things he had. He had fallen
back on his general explanation--"We haven't the same values;" by
which he understood the same measure of importance. His "curves"
apparently were important because they had been unexpected, or,
still more, unconceived; whereas when one had always, as in his
relegated old world, taken curves, and in much greater quantities
too, for granted, one was no more surprised at the resulting
feasibility of intercourse than one was surprised at being
upstairs in a house that had a staircase. He had in fact on this
occasion disposed alertly enough of the subject of Mr. Verver's
approbation. The promptitude of his answer, we may in fact well
surmise, had sprung not a little from a particular kindled
remembrance; this had given his acknowledgment its easiest turn.
"Oh, if I'm a crystal I'm delighted that I'm a perfect one, for I
believe that they sometimes have cracks and flaws--in which case
they're to be had very cheap!" He had stopped short of the
emphasis it would have given his joke to add that there had been
certainly no having HIM cheap; and it was doubtless a mark of the
good taste practically reigning between them that Mr. Verver had
not, on his side either, taken up the opportunity. It is the
latter's relation to such aspects, however, that now most
concerns us, and the bearing of his pleased view of this absence
of friction upon Amerigo's character as a representative precious
object. Representative precious objects, great ancient pictures
and other works of art, fine eminent "pieces" in gold, in silver,
in enamel, majolica, ivory, bronze, had for a number of years so
multiplied themselves round him and, as a general challenge to
acquisition and appreciation, so engaged all the faculties of his
mind, that the instinct, the particular sharpened appetite of the
collector, had fairly served as a basis for his acceptance of the
Prince's suit.

Over and above the signal fact of the impression made on Maggie
herself, the aspirant to his daughter's hand showed somehow the
great marks and signs, stood before him with the high
authenticities, he had learned to look for in pieces of the first
order. Adam Verver knew, by this time, knew thoroughly; no man in
Europe or in America, he privately believed, was less capable, in
such estimates, of vulgar mistakes. He had never spoken of
himself as infallible--it was not his way; but, apart from the
natural affections, he had acquainted himself with no greater
joy, of the intimately personal type, than the joy of his
originally coming to feel, and all so unexpectedly, that he had
in him the spirit of the connoisseur. He had, like many other
persons, in the course of his reading, been struck with Keats's
sonnet about stout Cortez in the presence of the Pacific; but few
persons, probably, had so devoutly fitted the poet's grand image
to a fact of experience. It consorted so with Mr. Verver's
consciousness of the way in which, at a given moment, he had
stared at HIS  Pacific, that a couple of perusals of the immortal
lines had sufficed to stamp them in his memory. His "peak in
Darien" was the sudden hour that had transformed his life, the
hour of his perceiving with a mute inward gasp akin to the low
moan of apprehensive passion, that a world was left him to
conquer and that he might conquer it if he tried. It had been a
turning of the page of the book of life--as if a leaf long inert
had moved at a touch and, eagerly reversed, had made such a stir
of the air as sent up into his face the very breath of the Golden
Isles. To rifle the Golden Isles had, on the spot, become the
business of his future, and with the sweetness of it--what was
most wondrous of all--still more even in the thought than in the
act. The thought was that of the affinity of Genius, or at least
of Taste, with something in himself--with the dormant
intelligence of which he had thus almost violently become aware
and that affected him as changing by a mere revolution of the
screw his whole intellectual plane. He was equal, somehow, with
the great seers, the invokers and encouragers of beauty--and he
didn't after all perhaps dangle so far below the great producers
and creators. He had been nothing of that kind before-too
decidedly, too dreadfully not; but now he saw why he had been
what he had, why he had failed and fallen short even in huge
success; now he read into his career, in one single magnificent
night, the immense meaning it had waited for.

It was during his first visit to Europe after the death of his
wife, when his daughter was ten years old, that the light, in his
mind, had so broken--and he had even made out at that time why,
on an earlier occasion, the journey of his honeymoon year, it had
still been closely covered. He had "bought" then, so far as he
had been able, but he had bought almost wholly for the frail,
fluttered creature at his side, who had had her fancies,
decidedly, but all for the art, then wonderful to both of them,
of the Rue de la Paix, the costly authenticities of dressmakers
and jewellers. Her flutter--pale disconcerted ghost as she
actually was, a broken white flower tied round, almost
grotesquely for his present sense, with a huge satin "bow" of the
Boulevard--her flutter had been mainly that of ribbons, frills
and fine fabrics; all funny, pathetic evidence, for memory, of
the bewilderments overtaking them as a bridal pair confronted
with opportunity. He could wince, fairly, still, as he remembered
the sense in which the poor girl's pressure had, under his fond
encouragement indeed, been exerted in favour of purchase and
curiosity. These were wandering images, out of the earlier dusk,
that threw her back, for his pity, into a past more remote than
he liked their common past, their young affection, to appear.
It would have had to be admitted, to an insistent criticism, that
Maggie's mother, all too strangely, had not so much failed of
faith as of the right application of it; since she had exercised
it eagerly and restlessly, made it a pretext for innocent
perversities in respect to which philosophic time was at, last to
reduce all groans to gentleness. And they had loved each other so
that his own intelligence, on the higher line, had temporarily
paid for it. The futilities, the enormities, the depravities, of
decoration and ingenuity, that, before his sense was unsealed,
she had made him think lovely! Musing, reconsidering little man
that he was, and addicted to silent pleasures--as he was
accessible to silent pains--he even sometimes wondered what would
have become of his intelligence, in the sphere in which it was to
learn more and more exclusively to play, if his wife's influence
upon it had not been, in the strange scheme of things, so
promptly removed. Would she have led him altogether, attached as
he was to her, into the wilderness of mere mistakes? Would she
have prevented him from ever scaling his vertiginous Peak?--or
would she, otherwise, have been able to accompany him to that
eminence, where he might have pointed out to her, as Cortez to
HIS companions, the revelation vouchsafed? No companion of Cortez
had presumably been a real lady: Mr. Verver allowed that historic
fact to determine his inference.



                             VIII

What was at all events not permanently hidden from him was a
truth much less invidious about his years of darkness. It was the
strange scheme of things again: the years of darkness had been
needed to render possible the years of light. A wiser hand than
he at first knew had kept him hard at acquisition of one sort as
a perfect preliminary to acquisition of another, and the
preliminary would have been weak and wanting if the good faith of
it had been less. His comparative blindness had made the good
faith, which in its turn had made the soil propitious for the
flower of the supreme idea. He had had to LIKE forging and
sweating, he had had to like polishing and piling up his arms.
They were things at least he had had to believe he liked, just as
he had believed he liked transcendent calculation and imaginative
gambling all for themselves, the creation of "interests" that
were the extinction of other interests, the livid vulgarity,
even, of getting in, or getting out, first. That had of course
been so far from really the case--with the supreme idea, all the
while, growing and striking deep, under everything, in the warm,
rich earth. He had stood unknowing, he had walked and worked
where it was buried, and the fact itself, the fact of his
fortune, would have been a barren fact enough if the first sharp
tender shoot had never struggled into day. There on one side was
the ugliness his middle time had been spared; there on the other,
from all the portents, was the beauty with which his age might
still be crowned. He was happier, doubtless, than he deserved;
but THAT, when one was happy at all, it was easy to be. He had
wrought by devious ways, but he had reached the place, and what
would ever have been straighter, in any man's life, than his way,
now, of occupying it? It hadn't merely, his plan, all the
sanctions of civilization; it was positively civilization
condensed, concrete, consummate, set down by his hands as a house
on a rock--a house from whose open doors and windows, open to
grateful, to thirsty millions, the higher, the highest knowledge
would shine out to bless the land. In this house, designed as a
gift, primarily, to the people of his adoptive city and native
State, the urgency of whose release from the bondage of ugliness
he was in a position to measure--in this museum of museums, a
palace of art which was to show for compact as a Greek temple was
compact, a receptacle of treasures sifted to positive sanctity,
his spirit to-day almost altogether lived, making up, as he would
have said, for lost time and haunting the portico in anticipation
of the final rites.

These would be the "opening exercises," the august dedication of
the place. His imagination, he was well aware, got over the
ground faster than his judgment; there was much still to do for
the production of his first effect. Foundations were laid and
walls were rising, the structure of the shell all determined; but
raw haste was forbidden him in a connection so intimate with the
highest effects of patience and piety; he should belie himself by
completing without a touch at least of the majesty of delay a
monument to the religion he wished to propagate, the exemplary
passion, the passion for perfection at any price. He was far from
knowing as yet where he would end, but he was admirably definite
as to where he wouldn't begin. He wouldn't begin with a small
show--he would begin with a great, and he could scarce have
indicated, even had he wished to try, the line of division he had
drawn. He had taken no trouble to indicate it to his fellow-
citizens, purveyors and consumers, in his own and the
circumjacent commonwealths, of comic matter in large lettering,
diurnally "set up," printed, published, folded and delivered, at
the expense of his presumptuous emulation of the snail. The snail
had become for him, under this ironic suggestion, the loveliest
beast in nature, and his return to England, of which we are
present witnesses, had not been unconnected with the appreciation
so determined. It marked what he liked to mark, that he needed,
on the matter in question, instruction from no one on earth. A
couple of years of Europe again, of renewed nearness to changes
and chances, refreshed sensibility to the currents of the market,
would fall in with the consistency of wisdom, the particular
shade of enlightened conviction, that he wished to observe. It
didn't look like much for a whole family to hang about waiting-
they being now, since the birth of his grandson, a whole family;
and there was henceforth only one ground in all the world, he
felt, on which the question of appearance would ever really again
count for him. He cared that a work of art of price should "look
like" the master to whom it might perhaps be deceitfully
attributed; but he had ceased on the whole to know any matter of
the rest of life by its looks.

He took life in general higher up the stream; so far as he was
not actually taking it as a collector, he was taking it,
decidedly, as a grandfather. In the way of precious small pieces
he had handled nothing so precious as the Principino, his
daughter's first-born, whose Italian designation endlessly amused
him and whom he could manipulate and dandle, already almost toss
and catch again, as he couldn't a correspondingly rare morsel of
an earlier pate tendre. He could take the small clutching child
from his nurse's arms with an iteration grimly discountenanced,
in respect to their contents, by the glass doors of high
cabinets. Something clearly beatific in this new relation had,
moreover, without doubt, confirmed for him the sense that none of
his silent answers to public detraction, to local vulgarity, had
ever been so legitimately straight as the mere element of
attitude--reduce it, he said, to that--in his easy weeks at
Fawns. The element of attitude was all he wanted of these weeks,
and he was enjoying it on the spot, even more than he had hoped:
enjoying it in spite of Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches; in spite
of the small worry of his belief that Fanny Assingham had really
something for him that she was keeping back; in spite of his full
consciousness, overflowing the cup like a wine too generously
poured, that if he had consented to marry his daughter, and
thereby to make, as it were, the difference, what surrounded him
now was, exactly, consent vivified, marriage demonstrated, the
difference, in fine, definitely made. He could call back his
prior, his own wedded consciousness--it was not yet out of range
of vague reflection. He had supposed himself, above all he had
supposed his wife, as married as anyone could be, and yet he
wondered if their state had deserved the name, or their union
worn the beauty, in the degree to which the couple now before him
carried the matter. In especial since the birth of their boy, in
New York--the grand climax of their recent American period,
brought to so right an issue--the happy pair struck him as having
carried it higher, deeper, further; to where it ceased to concern
his imagination, at any rate, to follow them. Extraordinary,
beyond question, was one branch of his characteristic mute
wonderment--it characterised above all, with its subject before
it, his modesty: the strange dim doubt, waking up for him at the
end of the years, of whether Maggie's mother had, after all, been
capable of the maximum. The maximum of tenderness he meant--as
the terms existed for him; the maximum of immersion in the fact
of being married. Maggie herself was capable; Maggie herself at
this season, was, exquisitely, divinely, the maximum: such was
the impression that, positively holding off a little for the
practical, the tactful consideration it inspired in him, a
respect for the beauty and sanctity of it almost amounting to awe
--such was the impression he daily received from her. She was her
mother, oh yes--but her mother and something more; it becoming
thus a new light for him, and in such a curious way too, that
anything more than her mother should prove at this time of day
possible.

He could live over again at almost any quiet moment the long
process of his introduction to his present interests--an
introduction that had depended all on himself, like the "cheek"
of the young man who approaches a boss without credentials or
picks up an acquaintance, makes even a real friend, by speaking
to a passer in the street. HIS real friend, in all the business,
was to have been his own mind, with which nobody had put him in
relation. He had knocked at the door of that essentially private
house, and his call, in truth, had not been immediately answered;
so that when, after waiting and coming back, he had at last got
in, it was, twirling his hat, as an embarrassed stranger, or,
trying his keys, as a thief at night. He had gained confidence
only with time, but when he had taken real possession of the
place it had been never again to come away. All of which success
represented, it must be allowed, his one principle of pride.
Pride in the mere original spring, pride in his money, would have
been pride in something that had come, in comparison, so easily.
The right ground for elation was difficulty mastered, and his
difficulty--thanks to his modesty--had been to believe in his
facility. THIS was the problem he had worked out to its
solution--the solution that was now doing more than all else to
make his feet settle and his days flush; and when he wished to
feel "good," as they said at American City, he had but to retrace
his immense development. That was what the whole thing came back
to--that the development had not been somebody's else passing
falsely, accepted too ignobly, for his. To think how servile he
might have been was absolutely to respect himself, was in fact,
as much as he liked, to admire himself, as free. The very finest
spring that ever responded to his touch was always there to
press--the memory of his freedom as dawning upon him, like a
sunrise all pink and silver, during a winter divided between
Florence, Rome and Naples some three years after his wife's
death. It was the hushed daybreak of the Roman revelation in
particular that he could usually best recover, with the way that
there, above all, where the princes and Popes had been before
him, his divination of his faculty most went to his head. He was
a plain American citizen, staying at an hotel where, sometimes,
for days together, there were twenty others like him; but no
Pope, no prince of them all had read a richer meaning, he
believed, into the character of the Patron of Art. He was ashamed
of them really, if he wasn't afraid, and he had on the whole
never so climbed to the tip-top as in judging, over a perusal of
Hermann Grimm, where Julius II and Leo X were "placed" by their
treatment of Michael Angelo. Far below the plain American
citizen--in the case at least in which this personage happened
not to be too plain to be Adam Verver. Going to our friend's
head,  moreover, some of the results of such comparisons may
doubtless be described as having stayed there. His freedom to
see--of which the comparisons were part--what could it do but
steadily grow and grow?

It came perhaps even too much to stand to him for ALL freedom--
since, for example, it was as much there as ever at the very time
of Mrs. Rance's conspiring against him, at Fawns, with the
billiard-room and the Sunday morning, on the occasion round which
we have perhaps drawn our circle too wide. Mrs. Rance at least
controlled practically each other license of the present and the
near future: the license to pass the hour as he would have found
convenient; the license to stop remembering, for a little, that,
though if proposed to--and not only by this aspirant but by any
other--he wouldn't prove foolish, the proof of wisdom was none
the less, in such a fashion, rather cruelly conditioned; the
license in especial to proceed from his letters to his journals
and insulate, orientate, himself afresh by the sound, over his
gained interval, of the many-mouthed monster the exercise of
whose lungs he so constantly stimulated. Mrs. Rance remained with
him till the others came back from church, and it was by that
time clearer than ever that his ordeal, when it should arrive,
would be really most unpleasant. His impression--this was the
point--took somehow the form not so much of her wanting to press
home her own advantage as of her building better than she knew;
that is of her symbolising, with virtual unconsciousness, his own
special deficiency, his unfortunate lack of a wife to whom
applications could be referred. The applications, the
contingencies with which Mrs. Rance struck him as potentially
bristling, were not of a sort, really, to be met by one's self.
And the possibility of them, when his visitor said, or as good as
said, "I'm restrained, you see, because of Mr. Rance, and also
because I'm proud and refined; but if it WASN'T for Mr. Rance and
for my refinement and my pride!"--the possibility of them, I say,
turned to a great murmurous rustle, of a volume to fill the
future; a rustle of petticoats, of scented, many-paged letters,
of voices as to which, distinguish themselves as they might from
each other, it mattered little in what part of the resounding
country they had learned to make themselves prevail. The
Assinghams and the Miss Lutches had taken the walk, through the
park, to the little old church, "on the property," that our
friend had often found himself wishing he were able to transport,
as it stood, for its simple sweetness, in a glass case, to one of
his exhibitory halls; while Maggie had induced her husband, not
inveterate in such practices, to make with her, by carriage, the
somewhat longer pilgrimage to the nearest altar, modest though it
happened to be, of the faith--her own as it had been her
mother's, and as Mr. Verver himself had been loosely willing,
always, to let it be taken for his--without the solid ease of
which, making the stage firm and smooth, the drama of her
marriage might not have been acted out.

What at last appeared to have happened, however, was that the
divided parties, coming back at the same moment, had met outside
and then drifted together, from empty room to room, yet not in
mere aimless quest of the pair of companions they had left at
home. The quest had carried them to the door of the billiard-
room, and their appearance, as it opened to admit them,
determined for Adam Verver, in the oddest way in the world, a new
and sharp perception. It was really remarkable: this perception
expanded, on the spot, as a flower, one of the strangest, might,
at a breath, have suddenly opened. The breath, for that matter,
was more than anything else, the look in his daughter's eyes--the
look with which he SAW her take in exactly what had occurred in
her absence: Mrs. Rance's pursuit of him to this remote locality,
the spirit and the very form, perfectly characteristic, of his
acceptance of the complication--the seal set, in short,
unmistakably, on one of Maggie's anxieties. The anxiety, it was
true, would have been, even though not imparted, separately
shared; for Fanny Assingham's face was, by the same stroke, not
at all thickly veiled for him, and a queer light, of a colour
quite to match, fairly glittered in the four fine eyes of the
Miss Lutches. Each of these persons--counting out, that is, the
Prince and the Colonel, who didn't care, and who didn't even see
that the others did--knew something, or had at any rate had her
idea; the idea, precisely, that this was what Mrs. Rance,
artfully biding her time, WOULD do. The special shade of
apprehension on the part of the Miss Lutches might indeed have
suggested the vision of an energy supremely asserted. It was
droll, in truth, if one came to that, the position of the Miss
Lutches: they had themselves brought, they had guilelessly
introduced Mrs. Rance, strong in the fact of Mr. Rance's having
been literally beheld of them; and it was now for them,
positively, as if their handful of flowers--since Mrs. Rance was
a handful!--had been but the vehicle of a dangerous snake. Mr.
Verver fairly felt in the air the Miss Lutches' imputation--in
the intensity of which, really, his own propriety might have been
involved.

That, none the less, was but a flicker; what made the real
difference, as I have hinted, was his mute passage with Maggie.
His daughter's anxiety alone had depths, and it opened out for
him the wider that it was altogether new. When, in their common
past, when till this moment, had she shown a fear, however
dumbly, for his individual life? They had had fears together,
just as they had had joys, but all of hers, at least, had been
for what equally concerned them. Here of a sudden was a question
that concerned him alone, and the soundless explosion of it
somehow marked a date. He was on her mind, he was even in a
manner on her hands--as a distinct thing, that is, from being,
where he had always been, merely deep in her heart and in her
life; too deep down, as it were, to be disengaged, contrasted or
opposed, in short objectively presented. But time finally had
done it; their relation was altered: he SAW, again, the
difference lighted for her. This marked it to himself--and it
wasn't a question simply of a Mrs. Rance the more or the less.
For Maggie too, at a stroke, almost beneficently, their visitor
had, from being an inconvenience, become a sign. They had made
vacant, by their marriage, his immediate foreground, his personal
precinct--they being the Princess and the Prince. They had made
room in it for others--so others had become aware. He became
aware himself, for that matter, during the minute Maggie stood
there before speaking; and with the sense, moreover, of what he
saw her see, he had the sense of what she saw HIM. This last, it
may be added, would have been his intensest perception had there
not, the next instant, been more for him in Fanny Assingham. Her
face couldn't keep it from him; she had seen, on top of
everything, in her quick way, what they both were seeing.



                             IX

So much mute communication was doubtless, all this time,
marvellous, and we may confess to having perhaps read into the
scene, prematurely, a critical character that took longer to
develop. Yet the quiet hour of reunion enjoyed that afternoon by
the father and the daughter did really little else than deal with
the elements definitely presented to each in the vibration
produced by the return of the church-goers. Nothing allusive,
nothing at all insistent, passed between them either before or
immediately after luncheon--except indeed so far as their failure
soon again to meet might be itself an accident charged with
reference. The hour or two after luncheon--and on Sundays with
especial rigour, for one of the domestic reasons of which it
belonged to Maggie quite multitudinously to take account--were
habitually spent by the Princess with her little boy, in whose
apartment she either frequently found her father already
established or was sooner or later joined by him. His visit to
his grandson, at some hour or other, held its place, in his day,
against all interventions, and this without counting his
grandson's visits to HIM, scarcely less ordered and timed, and
the odd bits, as he called them, that they picked up together
when they could--communions snatched, for the most part, on the
terrace, in the gardens or the park, while the Principino, with
much pomp and circumstance of perambulator, parasol, fine lace
over-veiling and incorruptible female attendance, took the air.
In the private apartments, which, occupying in the great house
the larger part of a wing of their own, were not much more easily
accessible than if the place had been a royal palace and the
small child an heir-apparent--in the nursery of nurseries the
talk, at these instituted times, was always so prevailingly with
or about the master of the scene that other interests and other
topics had fairly learned to avoid the slighting and inadequate
notice there taken of them. They came in, at the best, but as
involved in the little boy's future, his past, or his
comprehensive present, never getting so much as a chance to plead
their own merits or to complain of being neglected. Nothing
perhaps, in truth, had done more than this united participation
to confirm in the elder parties that sense of a life not only
uninterrupted but more deeply associated, more largely combined,
of which, on Adam Verver's behalf, we have made some mention. It
was of course an old story and a familiar idea that a beautiful
baby could take its place as a new link between a wife and a
husband, but Maggie and her father had, with every ingenuity,
converted the precious creature into a link between a mamma and a
grandpapa. The Principino, for a chance spectator of this
process, might have become, by an untoward stroke, a hapless
half-orphan, with the place of immediate male parent swept bare
and open to the next nearest sympathy.

They had no occasion thus, the conjoined worshippers, to talk of
what the Prince might be or might do for his son--the sum of
service, in his absence, so completely filled itself out. It was
not in the least, moreover, that there was doubt of him, for he
was conspicuously addicted to the manipulation of the child, in
the frank Italian way, at such moments as he judged discreet in
respect to other claims: conspicuously, indeed, that is, for
Maggie, who had more occasion, on the whole, to speak to her
husband of the extravagance of her father than to speak to her
father of the extravagance of her husband. Adam Verver had, all
round, in this connection, his own serenity. He was sure of his
son-in-law's auxiliary admiration--admiration, he meant, of his
grand-son; since, to begin with, what else had been at work but
the instinct--or it might fairly have been the tradition--of the
latter's making the child so solidly beautiful as to HAVE to be
admired? What contributed most to harmony in this play of
relations, however, was the way the young man seemed to leave it
to be gathered that, tradition for tradition, the grandpapa's own
was not, in any estimate, to go for nothing. A tradition, or
whatever it was, that had flowered prelusively in the Princess
herself--well, Amerigo's very discretions were his way of taking
account of it. His discriminations in respect to his heir were,
in fine, not more angular than any others to be observed in him;
and Mr. Verver received perhaps from no source so distinct an
impression of being for him an odd and important phenomenon as he
received from this impunity of appropriation, these unchallenged
nursery hours. It was as if the grandpapa's special show of the
character were but another side for the observer to study,
another item for him to note. It came back, this latter personage
knew, to his own previous perception--that of the Prince's
inability, in any matter in which he was concerned, to CONCLUDE.
The idiosyncrasy, for him, at each stage, had to be
demonstrated--on which, however, he admirably accepted it. This
last was, after all, the point; he really worked, poor young man,
for acceptance, since he worked so constantly for comprehension.
And how, when you came to that, COULD you know that a horse
wouldn't shy at a brass-band, in a country road, because it
didn't shy at a traction-engine? It might have been brought up to
traction-engines without having been brought up to brass-bands.
Little by little, thus, from month to month, the Prince was
learning what his wife's father had been brought up to; and now
it could be checked off--he had been brought, up to the romantic
view of principini. Who would have thought it, and where would it
all stop? The only fear somewhat sharp for Mr. Verver was a
certain fear of disappointing him for strangeness. He felt that
the evidence he offered, thus viewed, was too much on the
positive side. He didn't know--he was learning, and it was funny
for him--to how many things he HAD been brought up. If the Prince
could only strike something to which he hadn't! This wouldn't, it
seemed to him, ruffle the smoothness, and yet MIGHT, a little,
add to the interest.

What was now clear, at all events, for the father and the
daughter, was their simply knowing they wanted, for the time, to
be together--at any cost, as it were; and their necessity so
worked in them as to bear them out of the house, in a quarter
hidden from that in which their friends were gathered, and cause
them to wander, unseen, unfollowed, along a covered walk in the
"old" garden, as it was called, old with an antiquity of formal
things, high box and shaped yew and expanses of brick wall that
had turned at once to purple and to pink. They went out of a door
in the wall, a door that had a slab with a date set above it,
1713, but in the old multiplied lettering, and then had before
them a small white gate, intensely white and clean amid all the
greenness, through which they gradually passed to where some of
the grandest trees spaciously clustered and where they would find
one of the quietest places. A bench had been placed, long ago,
beneath a great oak that helped to crown a mild eminence, and the
ground sank away below it, to rise again, opposite, at a distance
sufficient to enclose the solitude and figure a bosky horizon.
Summer, blissfully, was with them yet, and the low sun made a
splash of light where it pierced the looser shade; Maggie, coming
down to go out, had brought a parasol, which, as, over her
charming bare head, she now handled it, gave, with the big straw
hat that her father in these days always wore a good deal tipped
back, definite intention to their walk. They knew the bench; it
was "sequestered"--they had praised it for that together, before,
and liked the word; and after they had begun to linger there they
could have smiled (if they hadn't been really too serious, and if
the question hadn't so soon ceased to matter), over the probable
wonder of the others as to what would have become of them.

The extent to which they enjoyed their indifference to any
judgment of their want of ceremony, what did that of itself speak
but for the way that, as a rule, they almost equally had others
on their mind? They each knew that both were full of the
superstition of not "hurting," but might precisely have been
asking themselves, asking in fact each other, at this moment,
whether that was to be, after all, the last word of their
conscientious development. Certain it was, at all events, that,
in addition to the Assinghams and the Lutches and Mrs. Rance, the
attendance at tea, just in the right place on the west terrace,
might perfectly comprise the four or five persons--among them the
very pretty, the typically Irish Miss Maddock, vaunted, announced
and now brought--from the couple of other houses near enough, one
of these the minor residence Of their proprietor, established,
thriftily, while he hired out his ancestral home, within sight
and sense of his profit. It was not less certain, either, that,
for once in a way, the group in question must all take the case
as they found it. Fanny Assingham, at any time, for that matter,
might perfectly be trusted to see Mr. Verver and his daughter, to
see their reputation for a decent friendliness, through any
momentary danger; might be trusted even to carry off their
absence for Amerigo, for Amerigo's possible funny Italian
anxiety; Amerigo always being, as the Princess was well aware,
conveniently amenable to this friend's explanations,
beguilements, reassurances, and perhaps in fact rather more than
less dependent on them as his new life--since that was his own
name for it--opened out. It was no secret to Maggie--it was
indeed positively a public joke for her--that she couldn't
explain as Mrs. Assingham did, and that, the Prince liking
explanations, liking them almost as if he collected them, in the
manner of book-plates or postage-stamps, for themselves, his
requisition of this luxury had to be met. He didn't seem to want
them as yet for use--rather for ornament and amusement, innocent
amusement of the kind he most fancied and that was so
characteristic of his blessed, beautiful, general, slightly
indolent lack of more dissipated, or even just of more
sophisticated, tastes.

However that might be, the dear woman had come to be frankly and
gaily recognised--and not least by herself--as filling in the
intimate little circle an office that was not always a sinecure.
It was almost as if she had taken, with her kind, melancholy
Colonel at her heels, a responsible engagement; to be within
call, as it were, for all those appeals that sprang out of talk,
that sprang not a little, doubtless too, out of leisure. It
naturally led her position in the household, as, she called it,
to considerable frequency of presence, to visits, from the good
couple, freely repeated and prolonged, and not so much as under
form of protest. She was there to keep him quiet--it was
Amerigo's own description of her influence; and it would only
have needed a more visible disposition to unrest in him
to make the account perfectly fit. Fanny herself limited indeed,
she minimised, her office; you didn't need a jailor, she
contended, for a domesticated lamb tied up with pink ribbon. This
was not an animal to be controlled--it was an animal to be, at
the most, educated. She admitted accordingly that she was
educative--which Maggie was so aware that she herself,
inevitably, wasn't; so it came round to being true that what she
was most in charge of was his mere intelligence. This left,
goodness knew, plenty of different calls for Maggie to meet--in a
case in which so much pink ribbon, as it might be symbolically
named, was lavished on the creature. What it all amounted to, at
any rate, was that Mrs. Assingham would be keeping him quiet now,
while his wife and his father-in-law carried out their own little
frugal picnic; quite moreover, doubtless, not much less neededly
in respect to the members of the circle that were with them there
than in respect to the pair they were missing almost for the
first time. It was present to Maggie that the Prince could bear,
when he was with his wife, almost any queerness on the part of
people, strange English types, who bored him, beyond convenience,
by being so little as he himself was; for this was one of the
ways in which a wife was practically sustaining. But she was as
positively aware that she hadn't yet learned to see him as
meeting such exposure in her absence. How did he move and talk,
how above all did he, or how WOULD he, look--he who, with his so
nobly handsome face, could look such wonderful things--in case of
being left alone with some of the subjects of his wonder? There
were subjects for wonder among these very neighbours; only Maggie
herself had her own odd way--which didn't moreover the least
irritate him--of really liking them in proportion as they could
strike her as strange. It came out in her by heredity, he amused
himself with declaring, this love of chinoiseries; but she
actually this evening didn't mind--he might deal with her Chinese
as he could.

Maggie indeed would always have had for such moments, had they
oftener occurred, the impression made on her by a word of Mrs.
Assingham's, a word referring precisely to that appetite in
Amerigo for the explanatory which we have just found in our path.
It wasn't that the Princess could be indebted to another person,
even to so clever a one as this friend, for seeing anything in
her husband that she mightn't see unaided; but she had ever,
hitherto, been of a nature to accept with modest gratitude any
better description of a felt truth than her little limits--
terribly marked, she knew, in the direction of saying the right
things--enabled her to make. Thus it was, at any rate, that she
was able to live more or less in the light of the fact expressed
so lucidly by their common comforter--the fact that the Prince
was saving up, for some very mysterious but very fine eventual
purpose, all the wisdom, all the answers to his questions, all
the impressions and generalisations, he gathered; putting them
away and packing them down because he wanted his great gun to be
loaded to the brim on the day he should decide to let it off. He
wanted first to make sure of the whole of the subject that was
unrolling itself before him; after which the innumerable facts he
had collected would find their use. He knew what he was about---
trust him at last therefore to make, and to some effect, his big
noise. And Mrs. Assingham had repeated that he knew what he was
about. It was the happy form of this assurance that had remained
with Maggie; it could always come in for her that Amerigo knew
what he was about. He might at moments seem vague, seem absent,
seem even bored: this when, away from her father, with whom it
was impossible for him to appear anything but respectfully
occupied, he let his native gaiety go in outbreaks of song, or
even of quite whimsical senseless sound, either expressive of
intimate relaxation or else fantastically plaintive. He might at
times reflect with the frankest lucidity on the circumstance that
the case was for a good while yet absolutely settled in regard to
what he still had left, at home, of his very own; in regard to
the main seat of his affection, the house in Rome, the big black
palace, the Palazzo Nero, as he was fond of naming it, and also
on the question of the villa in the Sabine hills, which she had,
at the time of their engagement, seen and yearned over, and the
Castello proper, described by him always as the "perched" place,
that had, as she knew, formerly stood up, on the pedestal of its
mountain-slope, showing beautifully blue from afar, as the head
and front of the princedom. He might rejoice in certain moods
over the so long-estranged state of these properties, not indeed
all irreclaimably alienated, but encumbered with unending leases
and charges, with obstinate occupants, with impossibilities of
use--all without counting the cloud of mortgages that had, from
far back, buried them beneath the ashes of rage and remorse, a
shroud as thick as the layer once resting on the towns at the
foot of Vesuvius, and actually making of any present restorative
effort a process much akin to slow excavation. Just so he might
with another turn of his humour almost wail for these brightest
spots of his lost paradise, declaring that he was an idiot not to
be able to bring himself to face the sacrifices--sacrifices
resting, if definitely anywhere, with Mr. Verver--necessary for
winning them back.

One of the most comfortable things between the husband and the
wife meanwhile--one of those easy certitudes they could be merely
gay about--was that she never admired him so much, or so found
him heartbreakingly handsome, clever, irresistible, in the very
degree in which he had originally and fatally dawned upon her, as
when she saw other women reduced to the same passive pulp that
had then begun, once for all, to constitute HER substance. There
was really nothing they had talked of together with more intimate
and familiar pleasantry than of the license and privilege, the
boundless happy margin, thus established for each: she going so
far as to put it that, even should he some day get drunk and beat
her, the spectacle of him with hated rivals would, after no
matter what extremity, always, for the sovereign charm of it,
charm of it in itself and as the exhibition of him that most
deeply moved her, suffice to bring her round. What would
therefore be more open to him than to keep her in love with him?
He agreed, with all his heart, at these light moments, that his
course wouldn't then be difficult, inasmuch as, so simply
constituted as he was on all the precious question--and why
should he be ashamed of it?--he knew but one way with the fair.
They had to be fair--and he was fastidious and particular, his
standard was high; but when once this was the case what relation
with them was conceivable, what relation was decent, rudimentary,
properly human, but that of a plain interest in the fairness? His
interest, she always answered, happened not to be "plain," and
plainness, all round, had little to do with the matter, which was
marked, on the contrary, by the richest variety of colour; but
the working basis, at all events, had been settled--the Miss
Maddocks of life been assured of their importance for him. How
conveniently assured Maggie--to take him too into the joke--had
more than once gone so far as to mention to her father; since it
fell in easily with the tenderness of her disposition to remember
she might occasionally make him happy by an intimate confidence.
This was one of her rules-full as she was of little rules,
considerations, provisions. There were things she of course
couldn't tell him, in so many words, about Amerigo and herself, and
about their happiness and their union and their deepest depths--and
there were other things she needn't; but there were also those
that were both true and amusing, both communicable and real, and
of these, with her so conscious, so delicately cultivated scheme
of conduct as a daughter, she could make her profit at will.
A pleasant hush, for that matter, had fallen on most of the
elements while she lingered apart with her companion; it
involved, this serenity, innumerable complete assumptions: since
so ordered and so splendid a rest, all the tokens, spreading
about them, of confidence solidly supported, might have suggested
for persons of poorer pitch the very insolence of facility.
Still, they weren't insolent--THEY weren't, our pair could
reflect; they were only blissful and grateful and personally
modest, not ashamed of knowing, with competence, when great
things were great, when good things were good, and when safe
things were safe, and not, therefore, placed below their fortune
by timidity which would have been as bad as being below it by
impudence. Worthy of it as they were, and as each appears, under
our last possible analysis, to have wished to make the other feel
that they were, what they most finally exhaled into the evening
air as their eyes mildly met may well have been a kind of
helplessness in their felicity. Their rightness, the
justification of everything--something they so felt the pulse
of--sat there with them; but they might have been asking
themselves a little blankly to what further use they could
put anything so perfect. They had created and nursed and
established it; they had housed it here in dignity and crowned it
with comfort; but mightn't the moment possibly count for them--or
count at least for us while we watch them with their fate all
before them--as the dawn of the discovery that it doesn't always
meet ALL contingencies to be right? Otherwise why should Maggie
have found a word of definite doubt--the expression of the fine
pang determined in her a few hours before--rise after a time to
her lips? She took so for granted moreover her companion's
intelligence of her doubt that the mere vagueness of her question
could say it all. "What is it, after all, that they want to do to
you?" "They" were for the Princess too the hovering forces of
which Mrs. Rance was the symbol, and her father, only smiling
back now, at his ease, took no trouble to appear not to know what
she meant. What she meant--when once she had spoken--could come
out well enough; though indeed it was nothing, after they had
come to the point, that could serve as ground for a great
defensive campaign. The waters of talk spread a little, and
Maggie presently contributed an idea in saying: "What has really
happened is that the proportions, for us, are altered." He
accepted equally, for the time, this somewhat cryptic remark; he
still failed to challenge her even when she added that it
wouldn't so much matter if he hadn't been so terribly young. He
uttered a sound of protest only when she went to declare that she
ought as a daughter, in common decency, to have waited. Yet by
that time she was already herself admitting that she should have
had to wait long--if she waited, that is, till he was old. But
there was a way. "Since you ARE an irresistible youth, we've got
to face it. That, somehow, is what that woman has made me feel.
There'll be others."



                              X

To talk of it thus appeared at last a positive relief to him.
"Yes, there'll be others. But you'll see me through."

She hesitated. "Do you mean if you give in?"

"Oh no. Through my holding out."

Maggie waited again, but when she spoke it had an effect of
abruptness. "Why SHOULD you hold out forever?"

He gave, none the less, no start--and this as from the habit of
taking anything, taking everything, from her as harmonious. But
it was quite written upon him too, for that matter, that holding
out wouldn't be, so very completely, his natural, or at any rate
his acquired, form. His appearance would have testified that he
might have to do so a long time--for a man so greatly beset. This
appearance, that is, spoke but little, as yet, of short
remainders and simplified senses--and all in spite of his being a
small, spare, slightly stale person, deprived of the general
prerogative of presence. It was not by mass or weight or vulgar
immediate quantity that he would in the future, any more than he
had done in the past, insist or resist or prevail. There was even
something in him that made his position, on any occasion, made
his relation to any scene or to any group, a matter of the back
of the stage, of an almost visibly conscious want of affinity
with the footlights. He would have figured less than anything the
stage-manager or the author of the play, who most occupy the
foreground; he might be, at the best, the financial "backer,"
watching his interests from the wing, but in rather confessed
ignorance of the mysteries of mimicry. Barely taller than his
daughter, he pressed at no point on the presumed propriety of his
greater stoutness. He had lost early in life much of his crisp,
closely-curling hair, the fineness of which was repeated in a
small neat beard, too compact to be called "full," though worn
equally, as for a mark where other marks were wanting, on lip and
cheek and chin. His neat, colourless face, provided with the
merely indispensable features, suggested immediately, for a
description, that it was CLEAR, and in this manner somewhat
resembled a small decent room, clean-swept and unencumbered with
furniture, but drawing a particular advantage, as might presently
be noted, from the outlook of a pair of ample and uncurtained
windows. There was something in Adam Verver's eyes that both
admitted the morning and the evening in unusual quantities and
gave the modest area the outward extension of a view that was
"big" even when restricted to stars. Deeply and changeably blue,
though not romantically large, they were yet youthfully, almost
strangely beautiful, with their ambiguity of your scarce knowing
if they most carried their possessor's vision out or most opened
themselves to your own. Whatever you might feel, they stamped the
place with their importance, as the house-agents say; so that, on
one side or the other, you were never out of their range, were
moving about, for possible community, opportunity, the sight of
you scarce knew what, either before them or behind them. If other
importances, not to extend the question, kept themselves down,
they were in no direction less obtruded than in that of our
friend's dress, adopted once for all as with a sort of sumptuary
scruple. He wore every day of the year, whatever the occasion,
the same little black "cut away" coat, of the fashion of his
younger time; he wore the same cool-looking trousers, chequered
in black and white--the proper harmony with which, he
inveterately considered, was a sprigged blue satin necktie; and,
over his concave little stomach, quaintly indifferent to climates
and seasons, a white duck waistcoat. "Should you really," he now
asked, "like me to marry?" He spoke as if, coming from his
daughter herself, it MIGHT be an idea; which, for that matter, he
would be ready to carry out should she definitely say so.

Definite, however, just yet, she was not prepared to be, though
it seemed to come to her with force, as she thought, that there
was a truth, in the connection, to utter. "What I feel is that
there is somehow something that used to be right and that I've
made wrong. It used to be right that you hadn't married, and that
you didn't seem to want to. It used also"--she continued to make
out "to seem easy for the question not to come up. That's what
I've made different. It does come up. It WILL come up."

"You don't think I can keep it down?" Mr. Verver's tone was
cheerfully pensive.

"Well, I've given you, by MY move, all the trouble of having to."

He liked the tenderness of her idea, and it made him, as she sat
near him, pass his arm about her. "I guess I don't feel as if you
had 'moved' very far. You've only moved next door."

"Well," she continued, "I don't feel as if it were fair for me
just to have given you a push and left you so. If I've made the
difference for you, I must think of the difference."

"Then what, darling," he indulgently asked, "DO you think?"

"That's just what I don't yet know. But I must find out. We must
think together--as we've always thought. What I mean," she went
on after a moment, "is that it strikes me that I ought to at
least offer you some alternative. I ought to have worked one out
for you."

"An alternative to what?"

"Well, to your simply missing what you've lost--without anything
being done about it."

"But what HAVE I lost?"

She thought a minute, as if it were difficult to say, yet as if
she more and more saw it. "Well, whatever it was that, BEFORE,
kept us from thinking, and kept you, really, as you might say, in
the market. It was as if you couldn't be in the market when you
were married to me. Or rather as if I kept people off,
innocently, by being married to you. Now that I'm married to some
one else you're, as in consequence, married to nobody. Therefore
you may be married to anybody, to everybody. People don't see why
you shouldn't be married to THEM."

"Isn't it enough of a reason," he mildly inquired, "that I don't
want to be?"

"It's enough of a reason, yes. But to BE enough of a reason it
has to be too much of a trouble. I mean FOR you. It has to be too
much of a fight. You ask me what you've lost," Maggie continued
to explain. "The not having to take the trouble and to make the
fight--that's what you've lost. The advantage, the happiness of
being just as you were--because I was just as _I_ was--that's
what you miss."

"So that you think," her father presently said, "that I had
better get married just in order to be as I was before?"

The detached tone of it--detached as if innocently to amuse her
by showing his desire to accommodate--was so far successful as to
draw from her gravity a short, light laugh. "Well, what I don't
want you to feel is that if you were to I shouldn't understand. I
SHOULD understand. That's all," said the Princess gently.

Her companion turned it pleasantly over. "You don't go so far as
to wish me to take somebody I don't like?"

"Ah, father," she sighed, "you know how far I go--how far I COULD
go. But I only wish that if you ever SHOULD like anybody, you may
never doubt of my feeling how I've brought you to it. You'll
always know that I know that it's my fault."

"You mean," he went on in his contemplative way, "that it will be
you who'll take the consequences?"

Maggie just considered. "I'll leave you all the good ones, but
I'll take the bad."

"Well, that's handsome." He emphasised his sense of it by drawing
her closer and holding her more tenderly. "It's about all I could
expect of you. So far as you've wronged me, therefore, we'll call
it square. I'll let you know in time if I see a prospect of your
having to take it up. But am I to understand meanwhile," he soon
went on, "that, ready as you are to see me through my collapse,
you're not ready, or not AS ready, to see me through my
resistance? I've got to be a regular martyr before you'll be
inspired?"

She demurred at his way of putting it. "Why, if you like it, you
know, it won't BE a collapse."

"Then why talk about seeing me through at all? I shall only
collapse if I do like it. But what I seem to feel is that I don't
WANT to like it. That is," he amended, "unless I feel surer I do
than appears very probable. I don't want to have to THINK I like
it in a case when I really shan't. I've had to do that in some
cases," he confessed--"when it has been a question of other
things. I don't want," he wound up, "to be MADE to make a
mistake."

"Ah, but it's too dreadful," she returned, "that you should even
have to FEAR--or just nervously to dream--that you may be. What
does that show, after all," she asked, "but that you do really,
well within, feel a want? What does it show but that you're truly
susceptible?"

"Well, it may show that"--he defended himself against nothing.
"But it shows also, I think, that charming women are, in the kind
of life we're leading now, numerous and formidable."

Maggie entertained for a moment the proposition; under cover of
which, however, she passed quickly from the general to the
particular. "Do you feel Mrs. Rance to be charming?"

"Well, I feel her to be formidable. When they cast a spell it
comes to the same thing. I think she'd do anything."

"Oh well, I'd help you," the Princess said with decision, "as
against HER--if that's all you require. It's too funny," she went
on before he again spoke, "that Mrs. Rance should be here at all.
But if you talk of the life we lead, much of it is, altogether,
I'm bound to say, too funny. The thing is," Maggie developed
under this impression, "that I don't think we lead, as regards
other people, any life at all. We don't at any rate, it seems to
me, lead half the life we might. And so it seems, I think, to
Amerigo. So it seems also, I'm sure, to Fanny Assingham."

Mr. Verver-as if from due regard for these persons--considered a
little. "What life would they like us to lead?"

"Oh, it's not a question, I think, on which they quite feel
together. SHE thinks, dear Fanny, that we ought to be greater."

"Greater--?" He echoed it vaguely. "And Amerigo too, you say?"

"Ah yes"-her reply was prompt "but Amerigo doesn't mind. He
doesn't care, I mean, what we do. It's for us, he considers, to
see things exactly as we wish. Fanny herself," Maggie pursued,
"thinks he's magnificent. Magnificent, I mean, for taking
everything as it is, for accepting the 'social limitations' of
our life, for not missing what we don't give him."

Mr. Verver attended. "Then if he doesn't miss it his magnificence
is easy."

"It IS easy-that's exactly what I think. If there were things he
DID miss, and if in spite of them he were always sweet, then, no
doubt, he would be a more or less unappreciated hero. He COULD be
a Hero--he WILL be one if it's ever necessary. But it will be
about something better than our dreariness. _I_ know," the
Princess declared, "where he's magnificent." And she rested a
minute on that. She ended, however, as she had begun. "We're not,
all the same, committed to anything stupid. If we ought to be
grander, as Fanny thinks, we CAN be grander. There's nothing to
prevent."

"Is it a strict moral obligation?" Adam Verver inquired.

"No--it's for the amusement."

"For whose? For Fanny's own?"

"For everyone's--though I dare say Fanny's would be a large
part." She hesitated; she had now, it might have appeared,
something more to bring out, which she finally produced. "For
yours in particular, say--if you go into the question." She even
bravely followed it up. "I haven't really, after all, had to
think much to see that much more can be done for you than is
done."

Mr. Verver uttered an odd vague sound. "Don't you think a good
deal is done when you come out and talk to me this way?"

"Ah," said his daughter, smiling at him, "we make too much of
that!" And then to explain: "That's good, and it's natural--but
it isn't great. We forget that we're as free as air."

"Well, THAT'S great," Mr. Verver pleaded. "Great if we act on it.
Not if we don't."

She continued to smile, and he took her smile; wondering again a
little by this time, however; struck more and more by an
intensity in it that belied a light tone. "What do you want," he
demanded, "to do to me?" And he added, as she didn't say: "You've
got something in your mind." It had come to him within the minute
that from the beginning of their session there she had been
keeping something back, and that an impression of this had more
than once, in spite of his general theoretic respect for her
present right to personal reserves and mysteries, almost ceased
to be vague in him. There had been from the first something in
her anxious eyes, in the way she occasionally lost herself, that
it would perfectly explain. He was therefore now quite sure.

"You've got something up your sleeve."

She had a silence that made him right. "Well, when I tell you
you'll understand. It's only up my sleeve in the sense of being
in a letter I got this morning. All day, yes--it HAS been in my
mind. I've been asking myself if it were quite the right moment,
or in any way fair, to ask you if you could stand just now
another woman."

It relieved him a little, yet the beautiful consideration of her
manner made it in a degree portentous. "Stand" one--?"

"Well, mind her coming."

He stared--then he laughed. It depends on who she is."

"There--you see! I've at all events been thinking whether you'd
take this particular person but as a worry the more. Whether,
that is, you'd go so far with her in your notion of having to be
kind."

He gave at this the quickest shake to his foot. How far would she
go in HER notion of it.

"Well," his daughter returned, "you know how far, in a general
way, Charlotte Stant goes."

"Charlotte? Is SHE coming?"

"She writes me, practically, that she'd like to if we're so good
as to ask her."

Mr. Verver continued to gaze, but rather as if waiting for more.
Then, as everything appeared to have come, his expression had a
drop. If this was all it was simple. "Then why in the world not?"

Maggie's face lighted anew, but it was now another light. "It
isn't a want of tact?"

"To ask her?"

"To propose it to you."

"That _I_ should ask her?"

He put the question as an effect of his remnant of vagueness, but
this had also its own effect. Maggie wondered an instant; after
which, as with a flush of recognition, she took it up. "It would
be too beautiful if you WOULD!"

This, clearly, had not been her first idea--the chance of his
words had prompted it. "Do you mean write to her myself?"

"Yes--it would be kind. It would be quite beautiful of you. That
is, of course," said Maggie, "if you sincerely CAN."

He appeared to wonder an instant why he sincerely shouldn't, and
indeed, for that matter, where the question of sincerity came in.
This virtue, between him and his daughter's friend, had surely
been taken for granted. "My dear child," he returned, "I don't
think I'm afraid of Charlotte."

"Well, that's just what it's lovely to have from you. From the
moment you're NOT--the least little bit--I'll immediately invite
her."

"But where in the world is she?" He spoke as if he had not
thought of Charlotte, nor so much as heard her name pronounced,
for a very long time. He quite in fact amicably, almost amusedly,
woke up to her.

"She's in Brittany, at a little bathing-place, with some people I
don't know. She's always with people, poor dear--she rather has
to be; even when, as is sometimes the case; they're people she
doesn't immensely like."

"Well, I guess she likes US," said Adam Verver. "Yes--fortunately
she likes us. And if I wasn't afraid of spoiling it for you,"
Maggie added, "I'd even mention that you're not the one of our
number she likes least."

"Why should that spoil it for me?"

"Oh, my dear, you know. What else have we been talking about? It
costs you so much to be liked. That's why I hesitated to tell you
of my letter."

He stared a moment--as if the subject had suddenly grown out of
recognition. "But Charlotte--on other visits--never used to cost
me anything."

"No--only her 'keep,'" Maggie smiled.

"Then I don't think I mind her keep--if that's all." The
Princess, however, it was clear, wished to be thoroughly
conscientious. "Well, it may not be quite all. If I think of its
being pleasant to have her, it's because she WILL make a
difference."

"Well, what's the harm in that if it's but a difference for the
better?"

"Ah then--there you are!" And the Princess showed in her smile
her small triumphant wisdom. "If you acknowledge a possible
difference for the better we're not, after all, so tremendously
right as we are. I mean we're not--as satisfied and amused. We do
see there are ways of being grander."

"But will Charlotte Stant," her father asked with surprise, "make
us grander?"

Maggie, on this, looking at him well, had a remarkable reply.
"Yes, I think. Really grander."

He thought; for if this was a sudden opening he wished but the
more to meet it. "Because she's so handsome?"

"No, father." And the Princess was almost solemn. "Because she's
so great."

"Great--?"

"Great in nature, in character, in spirit. Great in life."

"So?" Mr. Verver echoed. "What has she done--in life?"

"Well, she has been brave and bright," said Maggie. "That mayn't
sound like much, but she has been so in the face of things that
might well have made it too difficult for many other girls. She
hasn't a creature in the world really--that is nearly--belonging
to her. Only acquaintances who, in all sorts of ways, make use of
her, and distant relations who are so afraid she'll make use of
THEM that they seldom let her look at them."

Mr. Verver was struck--and, as usual, to some purpose. "If we get
her here to improve us don't we too then make use of her?"

It pulled the Princess up, however, but an instant. "We're old,
old friends--we do her good too. I should always, even at the
worst--speaking for myself--admire her still more than I used
her."

"I see. That always does good."

Maggie hesitated. "Certainly--she knows it. She knows, I mean,
how great I think her courage and her cleverness. She's not
afraid--not of anything; and yet she no more ever takes a liberty
with you than if she trembled for her life. And then she's
INTERESTING--which plenty of other people with plenty of other
merits never are a bit." In which fine flicker of vision
the truth widened to the Princess's view. "I myself of course
don't take liberties, but then I do, always, by nature, tremble
for my life. That's the way I live."

"Oh I say, love!" her father vaguely murmured.

"Yes, I live in terror," she insisted. "I'm a small creeping
thing."

"You'll not persuade me that you're not as good as Charlotte
Stant," he still placidly enough remarked.

"I may be as good, but I'm not so great--and that's what we're
talking about. She has a great imagination. She has, in every
way, a great attitude. She has above all a great conscience."
More perhaps than ever in her life before Maggie addressed her
father at this moment with a shade of the absolute in her tone.
She had never come so near telling him what he should take it
from her to believe. "She has only twopence in the world--but
that has nothing to do with it. Or rather indeed"--she quickly
corrected herself--"it has everything. For she doesn't care. I
never saw her do anything but laugh at her poverty. Her life has
been harder than anyone knows."

It was moreover as if, thus unprecedentedly positive, his child
had an effect upon him that Mr. Verver really felt as a new
thing. "Why then haven't you told me about her before?"

"Well, haven't we always known--?"

"I should have thought," he submitted, "that we had already
pretty well sized her up."

"Certainly--we long ago quite took her for granted. But things
change, with time, and I seem to know that, after this interval,
I'm going to like her better than ever. I've lived more myself,
I'm older, and one judges better. Yes, I'm going to see in
Charlotte," said the Princess--and speaking now as with high and
free expectation--"more than I've ever seen."

"Then I'll try to do so too. She WAS"--it came back to Mr. Verver
more--"the one of your friends I thought the best for you."

His companion, however, was so launched in her permitted liberty
of appreciation that she for the moment scarce heard him. She was
lost in the case she made out, the vision of the different ways
in which Charlotte had distinguished herself.

"She would have liked for instance--I'm sure she would have liked
extremely--to marry; and nothing in general is more ridiculous,
even when it has been pathetic, than a woman who has tried and
has not been able."

It had all Mr. Verver's attention. "She has 'tried'--?"

"She has seen cases where she would have liked to."

"But she has not been able?"

"Well, there are more cases, in Europe, in which it doesn't come
to girls who are poor than in which it does come to them.
Especially," said Maggie with her continued competence, "when
they're Americans."

Well, her father now met her, and met her cheerfully, on all
sides. "Unless you mean," he suggested, "that when the girls are
American there are more cases in which it comes to the rich than
to the poor."

She looked at him good-humouredly. "That may be--but I'm not
going to be smothered in MY case. It ought to make me--if I were
in danger of being a fool--all the nicer to people like
Charlotte. It's not hard for ME," she practically explained, "not
to be ridiculous--unless in a very different way. I might easily
be ridiculous, I suppose, by behaving as if I thought I had done
a great thing. Charlotte, at any rate, has done nothing, and
anyone can see it, and see also that it's rather strange; and yet
no one--no one not awfully presumptuous or offensive would like,
or would dare, to treat her, just as she is, as anything but
quite RIGHT. That's what it is to have something about you that
carries things off."

Mr. Verver's silence, on this, could only be a sign that she had
caused her story to interest him; though the sign when he spoke
was perhaps even sharper. "And is it also what you mean by
Charlotte's being 'great'?"

"Well," said Maggie, "it's one of her ways. But she has many."

Again for a little her father considered. "And who is it she has
tried to marry?"

Maggie, on her side as well, waited as if to bring it out with
effect; but she after a minute either renounced or encountered an
obstacle. "I'm afraid I'm not sure."

"Then how do you know?"

"Well, I don't KNOW"--and, qualifying again, she was earnestly
emphatic. "I only make it out for myself."

"But you must make it out about someone in particular."

She had another pause. "I don't think I want even for myself to
put names and times, to pull away any veil. I've an idea there
has been, more than once, somebody I'm not acquainted with--and
needn't be or want to be. In any case it's all over, and, beyond
giving her credit for everything, it's none of my business."

Mr. Verver deferred, yet he discriminated. "I don't see how you
can give credit without knowing the facts."

"Can't I give it--generally--for dignity? Dignity, I mean, in
misfortune."

"You've got to postulate the misfortune first."

"Well," said Maggie, "I can do that. Isn't it always a misfortune
to be--when you're so fine--so wasted? And yet," she went on,
"not to wail about it, not to look even as if you knew it?"

Mr. Verver seemed at first to face this as a large question, and
then, after a little, solicited by another view, to let the
appeal drop. "Well, she mustn't be wasted. We won't at least have
waste."

It produced in Maggie's face another gratitude. "Then, dear sir,
that's all I want."

And it would apparently have settled their question and ended
their talk if her father had not, after a little, shown the
disposition to revert. "How many times are you supposing that she
has tried?"

Once more, at this, and as if she hadn't been, couldn't be, hated
to be, in such delicate matters, literal, she was moved to
attenuate. "Oh, I don't say she absolutely ever TRIED--!"

He looked perplexed. "But if she has so absolutely failed, what
then had she done?"

"She has suffered--she has done that." And the Princess added:
"She has loved--and she has lost."

Mr. Verver, however, still wondered. "But how many times."

Maggie hesitated, but it cleared up. "Once is enough. Enough,
that is, for one to be kind to her."

Her father listened, yet not challenging--only as with a need of
some basis on which, under these new lights, his bounty could be
firm. "But has she told you nothing?"

"Ah, thank goodness, no!"

He stared. "Then don't young women tell?"

"Because, you mean, it's just what they're supposed to do?" She
looked at him, flushed again now; with which, after another
hesitation, "Do young men tell?" she asked.

He gave a short laugh. "How do I know, my dear, what young men
do?"

"Then how do _I_ know, father, what vulgar girls do?"

"I see--I see," he quickly returned.

But she spoke the next moment as if she might, odiously, have
been sharp. "What happens at least is that where there's a great
deal of pride there's a great deal of silence. I don't know, I
admit, what _I_ should do if I were lonely and sore--for what
sorrow, to speak of, have I ever had in my life? I don't know
even if I'm proud--it seems to me the question has never come up
for me."

"Oh, I guess you're proud, Mag," her father cheerfully
interposed. "I mean I guess you're proud enough."

"Well then, I hope I'm humble enough too. I might, at all events,
for all I know, be abject under a blow. How can I tell? Do you
realise, father, that I've never had the least blow?"

He gave her a long, quiet look. "Who SHOULD realise if I don't?"

"Well, you'll realise when I HAVE one!" she exclaimed with a
short laugh that resembled, as for good reasons, his own of a
minute before. "I wouldn't in any case have let her tell me what
would have been dreadful to me. For such wounds and shames are
dreadful: at least," she added, catching herself up, "I suppose
they are; for what, as I say, do I know of them? I don't WANT to
know!"--she spoke quite with vehemence. "There are things that
are sacred whether they're joys or pains. But one can always, for
safety, be kind," she kept on; "one feels when that's right."

She had got up with these last words; she stood there before him
with that particular suggestion in her aspect to which even the
long habit of their life together had not closed his sense, kept
sharp, year after year, by the collation of types and signs, the
comparison of fine object with fine object, of one degree of
finish, of one form of the exquisite with another--the appearance
of some slight, slim draped "antique" of Vatican or Capitoline
halls, late and refined, rare as a note and immortal as a link,
set in motion by the miraculous infusion of a modern impulse and
yet, for all the sudden freedom of folds and footsteps forsaken
after centuries by their pedestal, keeping still the quality, the
perfect felicity, of the statue; the blurred, absent eyes, the
smoothed, elegant, nameless head, the impersonal flit of a
creature lost in an alien age and passing as an image in worn
relief round and round a precious vase. She had always had odd
moments of striking him, daughter of his very own though she was,
as a figure thus simplified, "generalised" in its grace, a figure
with which his human connection was fairly interrupted by some
vague analogy of turn and attitude, something shyly mythological
and nymphlike. The trick, he was not uncomplacently aware, was
mainly of his own mind; it came from his caring for precious
vases only less than for precious daughters. And what was more to
the point still, it often operated while he was quite at the same
time conscious that Maggie had been described, even in her
prettiness, as "prim"--Mrs. Rance herself had enthusiastically
used the word of her; while he remembered that when once she had
been told before him, familiarly, that she resembled a nun, she
had replied that she was delighted to hear it and would certainly
try to; while also, finally, it was present to him that,
discreetly heedless, thanks to her long association with
nobleness in art, to the leaps and bounds of fashion, she brought
her hair down very straight and flat over her temples, in the
constant manner of her mother, who had not been a bit
mythological. Nymphs and nuns were certainly separate types, but
Mr. Verver, when he really amused himself, let consistency go.
The play of vision was at all events so rooted in him that he
could receive impressions of sense even while positively
thinking. He was positively thinking while Maggie stood there,
and it led for him to yet another question--which in its turn led
to others still. "Do you regard the condition as hers then that
you spoke of a minute ago?"

"The condition--?"

"Why that of having loved so intensely that she's, as you say,
'beyond everything'?"

Maggie had scarcely to reflect--her answer was so prompt. "Oh no.
She's beyond nothing. For she has had nothing."

"I see. You must have had things to be them. It's a kind of law
of perspective."

Maggie didn't know about the law, but she continued definite.
"She's not, for example, beyond help."

"Oh well then, she shall have all we can give her. I'll write to
her," he said, "with pleasure."

"Angel!" she answered as she gaily and tenderly looked at him.

True as this might be, however, there was one thing more--he was
an angel with a human curiosity. "Has she told you she likes me
much?"

"Certainly she has told me--but I won't pamper you. Let it be
enough for you it has always been one of my reasons for liking
HER."

"Then she's indeed not beyond everything," Mr. Verver more or
less humorously observed.

"Oh it isn't, thank goodness, that she's in love with you. It's
not, as I told you at first, the sort of thing for you to fear."

He had spoken with cheer, but it appeared to drop before this
reassurance, as if the latter overdid his alarm, and that should
be corrected. "Oh, my dear, I've always thought of her as a
little girl."

"Ah, she's not a little girl," said the Princess.

"Then I'll write to her as a brilliant woman."

"It's exactly what she is."

Mr. Verver had got up as he spoke, and for a little, before
retracing their steps, they stood looking at each other as if
they had really arranged something. They had come out together
for themselves, but it had produced something more. What it had
produced was in fact expressed by the words with which he met his
companion's last emphasis. "Well, she has a famous friend in you,
Princess."

Maggie took this in--it was too plain for a protest. "Do you know
what I'm really thinking of?" she asked.

He wondered, with her eyes on him--eyes of contentment at her
freedom now to talk; and he wasn't such a fool, he presently
showed, as not, suddenly, to arrive at it. "Why, of your finding
her at last yourself a husband."

"Good for YOU!" Maggie smiled. "But it will take," she added,
"some looking."

"Then let me look right here with you," her father said as they
walked on.



                             XI

Mrs. Assingham and the Colonel, quitting Fawns before the end of
September, had come back later on; and now, a couple of weeks
after, they were again interrupting their stay, but this time
with the question of their return left to depend, on matters that
were rather hinted at than importunately named. The Lutches and
Mrs. Rance had also, by the action of Charlotte Stant's arrival,
ceased to linger, though with hopes and theories, as to some
promptitude of renewal, of which the lively expression, awakening
the echoes of the great stone-paved, oak-panelled, galleried hall
that was not the least interesting feature of the place, seemed
still a property of the air. It was on this admirable spot that,
before her October afternoon had waned, Fanny Assingham spent
with her easy host a few moments which led to her announcing her
own and her husband's final secession, at the same time as they
tempted her to point the moral of all vain reverberations. The
double door of the house stood open to an effect of hazy autumn
sunshine, a wonderful, windless, waiting, golden hour, under the
influence of which Adam Verver met his genial friend as she came
to drop into the post-box with her own hand a thick sheaf of
letters. They presently thereafter left the house together and
drew out half-an-hour on the terrace in a manner they were to
revert to in thought, later on, as that of persons who really had
been taking leave of each other at a parting of the ways. He
traced his impression, on coming to consider, back to a mere
three words she had begun by using about Charlotte Stant. She
simply "cleared them out"--those had been the three words, thrown
off in reference to the general golden peace that the Kentish
October had gradually ushered in, the "halcyon" days the full
beauty of which had appeared to shine out for them after
Charlotte's arrival. For it was during these days that Mrs. Rance
and the Miss Lutches had been observed to be gathering themselves
for departure, and it was with that difference made that the
sense of the whole situation showed most fair--the sense of how
right they had been to engage for so ample a residence, and of
all the pleasure so fruity an autumn there could hold in its lap.
This was what had occurred, that their lesson had been learned;
and what Mrs. Assingham had dwelt upon was that without Charlotte
it would have been learned but half. It would certainly not have
been taught by Mrs. Rance and the Miss Lutches if these ladies
had remained with them as long as at one time seemed probable.
Charlotte's light intervention had thus become a cause, operating
covertly but none the less actively, and Fanny Assingham's
speech, which she had followed up a little, echoed within him,
fairly to startle him, as the indication of something
irresistible. He could see now how this superior force had
worked, and he fairly liked to recover the sight--little harm as
he dreamed of doing, little ill as he dreamed of wishing, the
three ladies, whom he had after all entertained for a stiffish
series of days. She had been so vague and quiet about it,
wonderful Charlotte, that he hadn't known what was happening--
happening, that is, as a result of her influence. "Their fires,
as they felt her, turned to smoke," Mrs. Assingham remarked;
which he was to reflect on indeed even while they strolled. He
had retained, since his long talk with Maggie--the talk that had
settled the matter of his own direct invitation to her friend--an
odd little taste, as he would have described it, for hearing
things said about this young woman, hearing, so to speak, what
COULD be said about her: almost as it her portrait, by some
eminent hand, were going on, so that he watched it grow under the
multiplication of touches. Mrs. Assingham, it struck him, applied
two or three of the finest in their discussion of their young
friend--so different a figure now from that early playmate of
Maggie's as to whom he could almost recall from of old the
definite occasions of his having paternally lumped the two
children together in the recommendation that they shouldn't make
too much noise nor eat too much jam. His companion professed that
in the light of Charlotte's prompt influence she had not been a
stranger to a pang of pity for their recent visitors. "I felt in
fact, privately, so sorry for them, that I kept my impression to
myself while they were here--wishing not to put the rest of you
on the scent; neither Maggie, nor the Prince, nor yourself, nor
even Charlotte HERself, if you didn't happen to notice. Since you
didn't, apparently, I perhaps now strike you as extravagant. But
I'm not--I followed it all. One SAW the consciousness I speak of
come over the poor things, very much as I suppose people at the
court of the Borgias may have watched each other begin to look
queer after having had the honour of taking wine with the heads
of the family. My comparison's only a little awkward, for I don't
in the least mean that Charlotte was consciously dropping poison
into their cup. She was just herself their poison, in the sense
of mortally disagreeing with them--but she didn't know it."

"Ah, she didn't know it?" Mr. Verver had asked with interest.

"Well, I THINK she didn't"--Mrs. Assingham had to admit that she
hadn't pressingly sounded her. "I don't pretend to be sure, in
every connection, of what Charlotte knows. She doesn't,
certainly, like to make people suffer--not, in general, as is the
case with so many of us, even other women: she likes much rather
to put them at their ease with her. She likes, that is--as all
pleasant people do--to be liked."

"Ah, she likes to be liked?" her companion had gone on.

"She did, at the same time, no doubt, want to help us--to put us
at our ease. That is she wanted to put you--and to put Maggie
about you. So far as that went she had a plan. But it was only
AFTER--it was not before, I really believe--that she saw how
effectively she could work."

Again, as Mr. Verver felt, he must have taken it up. "Ah, she
wanted to help us?--wanted to help ME?"

"Why," Mrs. Assingham asked after an instant, "should it surprise
you?"

He just thought. "Oh, it doesn't!"

"She saw, of course, as soon as she came, with her quickness,
where we all were. She didn't need each of us to go, by
appointment, to her room at night, or take her out into the
fields, for our palpitating tale. No doubt even she was rather
impatient."

"OF the poor things?" Mr. Verver had here inquired while he
waited.

"Well, of your not yourselves being so--and of YOUR not in
particular. I haven't the least doubt in the world, par exemple,
that she thinks you too meek."

"Oh, she thinks me too meek?"

"And she had been sent for, on the very face of it, to work right
in. All she had to do, after all, was to be nice to you."

"To--a--ME?" said Adam Verver.

He could remember now that his friend had positively had a laugh
for his tone. "To you and to every one. She had only to be what
she is--and to be it all round. If she's charming, how can she
help it? So it was, and so only, that she 'acted'--as the Borgia
wine used to act. One saw it come over them--the extent to which,
in her particular way, a woman, a woman other, and SO other, than
themselves, COULD be charming. One saw them understand and
exchange looks, then one saw them lose heart and decide to move.
For what they had to take home was that it's she who's the real
thing."

"Ah, it's she who's the real thing?" As HE had not hitherto taken
it home as completely as the Miss Lutches and Mrs. Rance, so,
doubtless, he had now, a little, appeared to offer submission in
his appeal. "I see, I see"--he could at least simply take it home
now; yet as not without wanting, at the same time, to be sure of
what the real thing was. "And what would it be--a--definitely
that you understand by that?"

She had only for an instant not found it easy to say. "Why,
exactly what those women themselves want to be, and what her
effect on them is to make them recognise that they never will."

"Oh--of course never?"

It not only remained and abode with them, it positively developed
and deepened, after this talk, that the luxurious side of his
personal existence was now again furnished, socially speaking,
with the thing classed and stamped as "real"--just as he had been
able to think of it as not otherwise enriched in consequence of
his daughter's marriage. The note of reality, in so much
projected light, continued to have for him the charm and the
importance of which the maximum had occasionally been reached in
his great "finds"--continued, beyond any other, to keep him
attentive and gratified. Nothing perhaps might affect us as
queerer, had we time to look into it, than this application of
the same measure of value to such different pieces of property as
old Persian carpets, say, and new human acquisitions; all the
more indeed that the amiable man was not without an inkling, on
his own side, that he was, as a taster of life, economically
constructed. He put into his one little glass everything he
raised to his lips, and it was as if he had always carried in his
pocket, like a tool of his trade, this receptacle, a little glass
cut with a fineness of which the art had long since been lost,
and kept in an old morocco case stamped in uneffaceable gilt with
the arms of a deposed dynasty. As it had served him to satisfy
himself, so to speak, both about Amerigo and about the Bernadino
Luini he had happened to come to knowledge of at the time he was
consenting to the announcement of his daughter's betrothal, so it
served him at present to satisfy himself about Charlotte Stant
and an extraordinary set of oriental tiles of which he had lately
got wind, to which a provoking legend was attached, and as to
which he had made out, contentedly, that further news was to be
obtained from a certain Mr. Gutermann-Seuss of Brighton. It was
all, at bottom, in him, the aesthetic principle, planted where it
could burn with a cold, still flame; where it fed almost wholly
on the material directly involved, on the idea (followed by
appropriation) of plastic beauty, of the thing visibly perfect in
its kind; where, in short, in spite of the general tendency of
the "devouring element" to spread, the rest of his spiritual
furniture, modest, scattered, and tended with unconscious care,
escaped the consumption that in so many cases proceeds from the
undue keeping-up of profane altar-fires. Adam Verver had in other
words learnt the lesson of the senses, to the end of his own
little book, without having, for a day, raised the smallest
scandal in his economy at large; being in this particular not
unlike those fortunate bachelors, or other gentlemen of pleasure,
who so manage their entertainment of compromising company that
even the austerest housekeeper, occupied and competent below-
stairs, never feels obliged to give warning.

That figure has, however, a freedom that the occasion doubtless
scarce demands, though we may retain it for its rough negative
value. It was to come to pass, by a pressure applied to the
situation wholly from within, that before the first ten days of
November had elapsed he found himself practically alone at Fawns
with his young friend; Amerigo and Maggie having, with a certain
abruptness, invited his assent to their going abroad for a month,
since his amusement was now scarce less happily assured than his
security. An impulse eminently natural had stirred within the
Prince; his life, as for some time established, was deliciously
dull, and thereby, on the whole, what he best liked; but a small
gust of yearning had swept over him, and Maggie repeated to her
father, with infinite admiration, the pretty terms in which,
after it had lasted a little, he had described to her this
experience. He called it a "serenade," a low music that, outside
one of the windows of the sleeping house, disturbed his rest at
night. Timid as it was, and plaintive, he yet couldn't close his
eyes for it, and when finally, rising on tiptoe, he had looked
out, he had recognised in the figure below with a mandolin, all
duskily draped in her grace, the raised appealing eyes and the
one irresistible voice of the ever-to-be-loved Italy. Sooner or
later, that way, one had to listen; it was a hovering, haunting
ghost, as of a creature to whom one had done a wrong, a dim,
pathetic shade crying out to be comforted. For this there was
obviously but one way--as there were doubtless also many words
for the simple fact that so prime a Roman had a fancy for again
seeing Rome. They would accordingly--hadn't they better?--go for
a little; Maggie meanwhile making the too-absurdly artful point
with her father, so that he repeated it, in his amusement, to
Charlotte Stant, to whom he was by this time conscious of
addressing many remarks, that it was absolutely, when she came to
think, the first thing Amerigo had ever asked of her. "She
doesn't count of course his having asked of her to marry him"--
this was Mr. Verver's indulgent criticism; but he found
Charlotte, equally touched by the ingenuous Maggie, in easy
agreement with him over the question. If the Prince had asked
something of his wife every day in the year, this would be still
no reason why the poor dear man should not, in a beautiful fit of
homesickness, revisit, without reproach, his native country.

What his father-in-law frankly counselled was that the
reasonable, the really too reasonable, pair should, while they
were about it, take three or four weeks of Paris as well--Paris
being always, for Mr. Verver, in any stress of sympathy, a
suggestion that rose of itself to the lips. If they would only do
that, on their way back, or however they preferred it, Charlotte
and he would go over to join them there for a small look--though
even then, assuredly, as he had it at heart to add, not in the
least because they should have found themselves bored at being
left together. The fate of this last proposal indeed was that it
reeled, for the moment, under an assault of destructive analysis
from Maggie, who--having, as she granted, to choose between being
an unnatural daughter or an unnatural mother, and "electing" for
the former--wanted to know what would become of the Principino if
the house were cleared of everyone but the servants. Her question
had fairly resounded, but it had afterwards, like many of her
questions, dropped still more effectively than it had risen: the
highest moral of the matter being, before the couple took their
departure, that Mrs. Noble and Dr. Brady must mount unchallenged
guard over the august little crib. If she hadn't supremely
believed in the majestic value of the nurse, whose experience was
in itself the amplest of pillows, just as her attention was a
spreading canopy from which precedent and reminiscence dropped as
thickly as parted curtains--if she hadn't been able to rest in
this confidence she would fairly have sent her husband on his
journey without her. In the same manner, if the sweetest--for it
was so she qualified him--of little country doctors hadn't proved
to her his wisdom by rendering irresistible, especially on rainy
days and in direct proportion to the frequency of his calls,
adapted to all weathers, that she should converse with him for
hours over causes and consequences, over what he had found to
answer with his little five at home, she would have drawn scant
support from the presence of a mere grandfather and a mere
brilliant friend. These persons, accordingly, her own
predominance having thus, for the time, given way, could carry
with a certain ease, and above all with mutual aid, their
consciousness of a charge. So far as their office weighed they
could help each other with it--which was in fact to become, as
Mrs. Noble herself loomed larger for them, not a little of a
relief and a diversion.

Mr. Verver met his young friend, at certain hours, in the
day-nursery, very much as he had regularly met the child's fond
mother--Charlotte having, as she clearly considered, given Maggie
equal pledges and desiring never to fail of the last word for the
daily letter she had promised to write. She wrote with high
fidelity, she let her companion know, and the effect of it was,
remarkably enough, that he himself didn't write. The reason of
this was partly that Charlotte "told all about him"--which she
also let him know she did--and partly that he enjoyed feeling, as
a consequence, that he was generally, quite systematically, eased
and, as they said, "done" for. Committed, as it were, to this
charming and clever young woman, who, by becoming for him a
domestic resource, had become for him practically a new person--
and committed, especially, in his own house, which somehow made
his sense of it a deeper thing--he took an interest in seeing how
far the connection could carry him, could perhaps even lead him,
and in thus putting to the test, for pleasant verification, what
Fanny Assingham had said, at the last, about the difference such
a girl could make. She was really making one now, in their
simplified existence, and a very considerable one, though there
was no one to compare her with, as there had been, so usefully,
for Fanny--no Mrs. Rance, no Kitty, no Dotty Lutch, to help her
to be felt, according to Fanny's diagnosis, as real. She was
real, decidedly, from other causes, and Mr. Verver grew in time
even a little amused at the amount of machinery Mrs. Assingham
had seemed to see needed for pointing it. She was directly and
immediately real, real on a pleasantly reduced and intimate
scale, and at no moments more so than during those--at which we
have just glanced--when Mrs. Noble made them both together feel
that she, she alone, in the absence of the queen-mother, was
regent of the realm and governess of the heir. Treated on such
occasions as at best a pair of dangling and merely nominal
court-functionaries, picturesque hereditary triflers entitled to
the petites entrees but quite external to the State, which began
and ended with the Nursery, they could only retire, in quickened
sociability, to what was left them of the Palace, there to digest
their gilded insignificance and cultivate, in regard to the true
Executive, such snuff-taking ironies as might belong to rococo
chamberlains moving among china lap-dogs.

Every evening, after dinner, Charlotte Stant played to him;
seated at the piano and requiring no music, she went through his
"favourite things"--and he had many favourites--with a facility
that never failed, or that failed but just enough to pick itself
up at a touch from his fitful voice. She could play anything, she
could play everything--always shockingly, she of course insisted,
but always, by his own vague measure, very much as if she might,
slim, sinuous and strong, and with practised passion, have been
playing lawn-tennis or endlessly and rhythmically waltzing. His
love of music, unlike his other loves, owned to vaguenesses, but
while, on his comparatively shaded sofa, and smoking, smoking,
always smoking, in the great Fawns drawing-room as everywhere,
the cigars of his youth, rank with associations--while, I say, he
so listened to Charlotte's piano, where the score was ever absent
but, between the lighted candles, the picture distinct, the
vagueness spread itself about him like some boundless carpet, a
surface delightfully soft to the pressure of his interest. It was
a manner of passing the time that rather replaced conversation,
but the air, at the end, none the less, before they separated,
had a way of seeming full of the echoes of talk. They separated,
in the hushed house, not quite easily, yet not quite awkwardly
either, with tapers that twinkled in the large dark spaces, and
for the most part so late that the last solemn servant had been
dismissed for the night.

Late as it was on a particular evening toward the end of October,
there had been a full word or two dropped into the still-stirring
sea of other voices--a word or two that affected our friend even
at the moment, and rather oddly, as louder and rounder than any
previous sound; and then he had lingered, under pretext of an
opened window to be made secure, after taking leave of his
companion in the hall and watching her glimmer away up the
staircase. He had for himself another impulse than to go to bed;
picking up a hat in the hall, slipping his arms into a sleeveless
cape and lighting still another cigar, he turned out upon the
terrace through one of the long drawing-room windows and moved to
and fro there for an hour beneath the sharp autumn stars. It was
where he had walked in the afternoon sun with Fanny Assingham,
and the sense of that other hour, the sense of the suggestive
woman herself, was before him again as, in spite of all the
previous degustation we have hinted at, it had not yet been. He
thought, in a loose, an almost agitated order, of many things;
the power that was in them to agitate having been part of his
conviction that he should not soon sleep. He truly felt for a
while that he should never sleep again till something had come to
him; some light, some idea, some mere happy word perhaps, that he
had begun to want, but had been till now, and especially the last
day or two, vainly groping for. "Can you really then come if we
start early?"--that was practically all he had said to the girl
as she took up her bedroom light. And "Why in the world not, when
I've nothing else to do, and should, besides, so immensely like
it?"--this had as definitely been, on her side, the limit of the
little scene. There had in fact been nothing to call a scene,
even of the littlest, at all--though he perhaps didn't quite know
why something like the menace of one hadn't proceeded from her
stopping half-way upstairs to turn and say, as she looked down on
him, that she promised to content herself, for their journey,
with a toothbrush and a sponge. There hovered about him, at all
events, while he walked, appearances already familiar, as well as
two or three that were new, and not the least vivid of the former
connected itself with that sense of being treated with
consideration which had become for him, as we have noted, one of
the minor yet so far as there were any such, quite one of the
compensatory, incidents of being a father-in-law. It had struck
him, up to now, that this particular balm was a mixture of which
Amerigo, as through some hereditary privilege, alone possessed
the secret; so that he found himself wondering if it had come to
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
beautiful Author.

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.



                             XII

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
for less."

"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
you CAN."

"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
other ways?"

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
about herself?"

"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.

"Consoled?"

"Forsaken."

"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
marry for?"

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
leave us?"

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
then?"

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--a--at Fawns?"

"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
Maggie says?"

Oh, she wanted to be sure she was. "Do you mean she'll ASK it of
me?"

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,
all."

"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.



                            XIII

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
another week."

"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,
"YOU do."

"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
for yourself."

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
promise you."

"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.
"'Naturally'--?"

"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
he's charming?"

"Oh, charming," said Charlotte Stant. "If he weren't I shouldn't
mind."

"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
me--!"

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
Prince."

"I SAY!"--he gaily rang out. "Then it's best of all."

"It's enough."

"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
breakfast? Dejeunons."

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
coat.



PART THIRD

                            XIV

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
beginning.

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
reflected.

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
left him."

"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
count with."

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
Prince--!"

"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
GOOD people."

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
arrange?"

"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
daughter--?"

"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
about!"

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.



                              XV

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
your appendage."

"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
good-nature.

"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
emphasis.

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
confess it?"

"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.



                              XVI

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
had been a moment, in the dim desert of Eaton Square, when she
broke into speech.

"It's only their defending themselves so much more than they
need--it's only THAT that makes me wonder. It's their having so
remarkably much to say for themselves."

Her husband had, as usual, lighted his cigar, remaining
apparently as busy with it as she with her agitation. "You mean
it makes you feel that you have nothing?" To which, as she made
no answer, the Colonel added: "What in the world did you ever
suppose was going to happen? The man's in a position in which he
has nothing in life to do."

Her silence seemed to characterise this statement as superficial,
and her thoughts, as always in her husband's company, pursued an
independent course. He made her, when they were together, talk,
but as if for some other person; who was in fact for the most
part herself. Yet she addressed herself with him as she could
never have done without him. "He has behaved beautifully--he did
from the first. I've thought it, all along, wonderful of him; and
I've more than once, when I've had a chance, told him so.
Therefore, therefore--!" But it died away as she mused.

"Therefore he has a right, for a change, to kick up his heels?"

"It isn't a question, of course, however," she undivertedly went
on, "of their behaving beautifully apart. It's a question of
their doing as they should when together--which is another
matter."

"And how do you think then," the Colonel asked with interest,
"that, when together, they SHOULD do? The less they do, one would
say, the better--if you see so much in it."

His wife, at this, appeared to hear him. "I don't see in it what
YOU'D see. And don't, my dear," she further answered, "think it
necessary to be horrid or low about them. They're the last
people, really, to make anything of that sort come in right."

"I'm surely never horrid or low," he returned, "about anyone but
my extravagant wife. I can do with all our friends--as I see them
myself: what I can't do with is the figures you make of them. And
when you take to adding your figures up--!" But he exhaled it
again in smoke.

"My additions don't matter when you've not to pay the bill." With
which her meditation again bore her through the air. "The great
thing was that when it so suddenly came up for her he wasn't
afraid. If he had been afraid he could perfectly have prevented
it. And if I had seen he was--if I hadn't seen he wasn't--so,"
said Mrs. Assingham, "could I. So," she declared, "WOULD I. It's
perfectly true," she went on--"it was too good a thing for her,
such a chance in life, not to be accepted. And I LIKED his not
keeping her out of it merely from a fear of his own nature. It
was so wonderful it should come to her. The only thing would have
been if Charlotte herself couldn't have faced it. Then, if SHE
had not had confidence, we might have talked. But she had it to
any amount."

"Did you ask her how much?" Bob Assingham patiently inquired.

He had put the question with no more than his usual modest hope
of reward, but he had pressed, this time, the sharpest spring of
response. "Never, never--it wasn't a time to 'ask.' Asking is
suggesting--and it wasn't a time to suggest. One had to make up
one's mind, as quietly as possible, by what one could judge. And
I judge, as I say, that Charlotte felt she could face it. For
which she struck me at the time as--for so proud a creature--
almost touchingly grateful. The thing I should never forgive her
for would be her forgetting to whom it is her thanks have
remained most due."

"That is to Mrs. Assingham?"

She said nothing for a little--there were, after all,
alternatives. "Maggie herself of course--astonishing little
Maggie."

"Is Maggie then astonishing too?"--and he gloomed out of his
window.

His wife, on her side now, as they rolled, projected the same
look. "I'm not sure that I don't begin to see more in her than--
dear little person as I've always thought--I ever supposed there
was. I'm not sure that, putting a good many things together, I'm
not beginning to make her out rather extraordinary."

"You certainly will if you can," the Colonel resignedly remarked.

Again his companion said nothing; then again she broke out. "In
fact--I do begin to feel it--Maggie's the great comfort. I'm
getting hold of it. It will be SHE who'll see us through. In fact
she'll have to. And she'll be able."

Touch by touch her meditation had completed it, but with a
cumulative effect for her husband's general sense of her method
that caused him to overflow, whimsically enough, in his corner,
into an ejaculation now frequent on his lips for the relief that,
especially in communion like the present, it gave him, and that
Fanny had critically traced to the quaint example, the aboriginal
homeliness, still so delightful, of Mr. Verver. "Oh, Lordy,
Lordy!"

"If she is, however," Mrs. Assingham continued, "she'll be
extraordinary enough--and that's what I'm thinking of. But I'm
not indeed so very sure," she added, "of the person to whom
Charlotte ought in decency to be most grateful. I mean I'm not
sure if that person is even almost the incredible little idealist
who has made her his wife."

"I shouldn't think you would be, love," the Colonel with some
promptness responded. "Charlotte as the wife of an incredible
little idealist--!" His cigar, in short, once more, could alone
express it.

"Yet what is that, when one thinks, but just what she struck one
as more or less persuaded that she herself was really going to
be?"--this memory, for the full view, Fanny found herself also
invoking.

It made her companion, in truth, slightly gape. "An incredible
little idealist--Charlotte herself?"

"And she was sincere," his wife simply proceeded "she was
unmistakably sincere. The question is only how much is left of
it."

"And that--I see--happens to be another of the questions you
can't ask her. You have to do it all," said Bob Assingham, "as if
you were playing some game with its rules drawn up--though who's
to come down on you if you break them I don't quite see. Or must
you do it in three guesses--like forfeits on Christmas eve?" To
which, as his ribaldry but dropped from her, he further added:
"How much of anything will have to be left for you to be able to
go on with it?"

"I shall go on," Fanny Assingham a trifle grimly declared, "while
there's a scrap as big as your nail. But we're not yet, luckily,
reduced only to that." She had another pause, holding the while
the thread of that larger perception into which her view of Mrs.
Verver's obligation to Maggie had suddenly expanded. "even if her
debt was not to the others--even then it ought to be quite
sufficiently to the Prince himself to keep her straight. For
what, really, did the Prince do," she asked herself, "but
generously trust her? What did he do but take it from her that if
she felt herself willing it was because she felt herself strong?
That creates for her, upon my word," Mrs. Assingham pursued, "a
duty of considering him, of honourably repaying his trust, which
--well, which she'll be really a fiend if she doesn't make the
law of her conduct. I mean of course his trust that she wouldn't
interfere with him--expressed by his holding himself quiet at the
critical time."

The brougham was nearing home, and it was perhaps this sense of
ebbing opportunity that caused the Colonel's next meditation to
flower in a fashion almost surprising to his wife. They were
united, for the most part, but by his exhausted patience; so that
indulgent despair was generally, at the best, his note. He at
present, however, actually compromised with his despair to the
extent of practically admitting that he had followed her steps.
He literally asked, in short, an intelligent, well nigh a
sympathising, question. "Gratitude to the Prince for not having
put a spoke in her wheel--that, you mean, should, taking it in
the right way, be precisely the ballast of her boat?"

"Taking it in the right way." Fanny, catching at this gleam,
emphasised the proviso.

"But doesn't it rather depend on what she may most feel to BE the
right way?"

"No--it depends on nothing. Because there's only one way--for
duty or delicacy."

"Oh--delicacy!" Bob Assingham rather crudely murmured.

"I mean the highest kind--moral. Charlotte's perfectly capable of
appreciating that. By every dictate of moral delicacy she must
let him alone."

"Then you've made up your mind it's all poor Charlotte?" he asked
with an effect of abruptness.

The effect, whether intended or not, reached her--brought her
face short round. It was a touch at which she again lost her
balance, at which, somehow, the bottom dropped out of her
recovered comfort. "Then you've made up yours differently? It
really struck you that there IS something?"

The movement itself, apparently, made him once more stand off. He
had felt on his nearer approach the high temperature of the
question. "Perhaps that's just what she's doing: showing him how
much she's letting him alone--pointing it out to him from day to
day."

"Did she point it out by waiting for him to-night on the stair-
case in the manner you described to me?"

"I really, my dear, described to you a manner?" the Colonel,
clearly, from want of habit, scarce recognised himself in the
imputation.

"Yes--for once in a way; in those few words we had after you had
watched them come up you told me something of what you had seen.
You didn't tell me very much--THAT you couldn't for your life;
but I saw for myself that, strange to say, you had received your
impression, and I felt therefore that there must indeed have been
something out of the way for you so to betray it." She was fully
upon him now, and she confronted him with his proved sensibility
to the occasion--confronted him because of her own uneasy need to
profit by it. It came over her still more than at the time, it
came over her that he had been struck with something, even HE,
poor dear man; and that for this to have occurred there must have
been much to be struck with. She tried in fact to corner him, to
pack him insistently down, in the truth of his plain vision, the
very plainness of which was its value; for so recorded, she felt,
none of it would escape--she should have it at hand for
reference. "Come, my dear--you thought what you thought: in the
presence of what you saw you couldn't resist thinking. I don't
ask more of it than that. And your idea is worth, this time,
quite as much as any of mine--so that you can't pretend, as
usual, that mine has run away with me. I haven't caught up with
you. I stay where I am. But I see," she concluded, "where you
are, and I'm much obliged to you for letting me. You give me a
point de repere outside myself--which is where I like it. Now I
can work round you."

Their conveyance, as she spoke, stopped at their door, and it
was, on the spot, another fact of value for her that her husband,
though seated on the side by which they must alight, made no
movement. They were in a high degree votaries of the latch-key,
so that their household had gone to bed; and as they were
unaccompanied by a footman the coachman waited in peace. It was
so indeed that for a minute Bob Assingham waited--conscious of a
reason for replying to this address otherwise than by the so
obvious method of turning his back. He didn't turn his face, but
he stared straight before him, and his wife had already perceived
in the fact of his not moving all the proof she could desire--
proof, that is, of her own contention. She knew he never cared
what she said, and his neglect of his chance to show it was
thereby the more eloquent. "Leave it," he at last remarked, "to
THEM."

"'Leave' it--?" She wondered.

"Let them alone. They'll manage."

"They'll manage, you mean, to do everything they want? Ah, there
then you are!"

"They'll manage in their own way," the Colonel almost cryptically
repeated.

It had its effect for her: quite apart from its light on the
familiar phenomenon of her husband's indurated conscience, it
gave her, full in her face, the particular evocation of which she
had made him guilty. It was wonderful truly, then, the evocation.
"So cleverly--THAT'S your idea?--that no one will be the wiser?
It's your idea that we shall have done all that's required of us
if we simply protect them?"

The Colonel, still in his place, declined, however, to be drawn
into a statement of his idea. Statements were too much like
theories, in which one lost one's way; he only knew what he said,
and what he said represented the limited vibration of which his
confirmed old toughness had been capable. Still, none the less,
he had his point to make--for which he took another instant. But
he made it, for the third time, in the same fashion. "They'll
manage in their own way." With which he got out.

Oh yes, at this, for his companion, it had indeed its effect, and
while he mounted their steps she but stared, without following
him, at his opening of their door. Their hall was lighted, and as
he stood in the aperture looking back at her, his tall lean
figure outlined in darkness and with his crush-hat, according to
his wont, worn cavalierly, rather diabolically, askew, he seemed
to prolong the sinister emphasis of his meaning. In general, on
these returns, he came back for her when he had prepared their
entrance; so that it was now as if he were ashamed to face her in
closer quarters. He looked at her across the interval, and, still
in her seat, weighing his charge, she felt her whole view of
everything flare up. Wasn't it simply what had been written in
the Prince's own face BENEATH what he was saying?--didn't it
correspond with the mocking presence there that she had had her
troubled glimpse of? Wasn't, in fine, the pledge that they would
"manage in their own way" the thing he had been feeling for his
chance to invite her to take from him? Her husband's tone somehow
fitted Amerigo's look--the one that had, for her, so strangely,
peeped, from behind, over the shoulder of the one in front. She
had not then read it--but wasn't she reading it when she now saw
in it his surmise that she was perhaps to be squared? She wasn't
to be squared, and while she heard her companion call across to
her "Well, what's the matter?" she also took time to remind
herself that she had decided she couldn't be frightened. The
"matter"?--why, it was sufficiently the matter, with all this,
that she felt a little sick. For it was not the Prince that she
had been prepared to regard as primarily the shaky one. Shakiness
in Charlotte she had, at the most, perhaps postulated--it would
be, she somehow felt, more easy to deal with. Therefore if HE had
come so far it was a different pair of sleeves. There was nothing
to choose between them. It made her so helpless that, as the time
passed without her alighting, the Colonel came back and fairly
drew her forth; after which, on the pavement, under the
street-lamp, their very silence might have been the mark of
something grave--their silence eked out for her by his giving her
his arm and their then crawling up their steps quite mildly and
unitedly together, like some old Darby and Joan who have had a
disappointment. It almost resembled a return from a funeral--
unless indeed it resembled more the hushed approach to a house of
mourning. What indeed had she come home for but to bury, as
decently as possible, her mistake?



                             XVII

It appeared thus that they might enjoy together extraordinary
freedom, the two friends, from the moment they should understand
their position aright. With the Prince himself, from an early
stage, not unnaturally, Charlotte had made a great point of their
so understanding it; she had found frequent occasion to describe
to him this necessity, and, her resignation tempered, or her
intelligence at least quickened, by irrepressible irony, she
applied at different times different names to the propriety of
their case. The wonderful thing was that her sense of propriety
had been, from the first, especially alive about it. There were
hours when she spoke of their taking refuge in what she called
the commonest tact--as if this principle alone would suffice to
light their way; there were others when it might have seemed, to
listen to her, that their course would demand of them the most
anxious study and the most independent, not to say original,
interpretation of signs. She talked now as if it were indicated,
at every turn, by finger-posts of almost ridiculous prominence;
she talked again as if it lurked in devious ways and were to be
tracked through bush and briar; and she even, on occasion,
delivered herself in the sense that, as their situation was
unprecedented, so their heaven was without stars. "'Do'?" she
once had echoed to him as the upshot of passages covertly, though
briefly, occurring between them on her return from the visit to
America that had immediately succeeded her marriage, determined
for her by this event as promptly as an excursion of the like
strange order had been prescribed in his own case. "Isn't the
immense, the really quite matchless beauty of our position that
we have to 'do' nothing in life at all?--nothing except the
usual, necessary, everyday thing which consists in one's not
being more of a fool than one can help. That's all--but that's as
true for one time as for another. There has been plenty of
'doing,' and there will doubtless be plenty still; but it's all
theirs, every inch of it; it's all a matter of what they've done
TO us." And she showed how the question had therefore been only
of their taking everything as everything came, and all as quietly
as might be. Nothing stranger surely had ever happened to a
conscientious, a well-meaning, a perfectly passive pair: no more
extraordinary decree had ever been launched against such victims
than this of forcing them against their will into a relation of
mutual close contact that they had done everything to avoid.

She was to remember not a little, meanwhile, the particular
prolonged silent look with which the Prince had met her allusion
to these primary efforts at escape. She was inwardly to dwell on
the element of the unuttered that her tone had caused to play up
into his irresistible eyes; and this because she considered with
pride and joy that she had, on the spot, disposed of the doubt,
the question, the challenge, or whatever else might have been,
that such a look could convey. He had been sufficiently off his
guard to show some little wonder as to their having plotted so
very hard against their destiny, and she knew well enough, of
course, what, in this connection, was at the bottom of his
thought, and what would have sounded out more or less if he had
not happily saved himself from words. All men were brutes enough
to catch when they might at such chances for dissent--for all the
good it really did them; but the Prince's distinction was in
being one of the few who could check himself before acting on the
impulse. This, obviously, was what counted in a man as delicacy.
If her friend had blurted or bungled he would have said, in his
simplicity, "Did we do 'everything to avoid' it when we faced
your remarkable marriage?"--quite handsomely of course using the
plural, taking his share of the case, by way of a tribute of
memory to the telegram she had received from him in Paris after
Mr. Verver had despatched to Rome the news of their engagement.
That telegram, that acceptance of the prospect proposed to them--
an acceptance quite other than perfunctory--she had never
destroyed; though reserved for no eyes but her own it was still
carefully reserved. She kept it in a safe place--from which, very
privately, she sometimes took it out to read it over. "A la
guerre comme a la guerre then"--it had been couched in the French
tongue. "We must lead our lives as we see them; but I am charmed
with your courage and almost surprised at my own." The message
had remained ambiguous; she had read it in more lights than one;
it might mean that even without her his career was up-hill work
for him, a daily fighting-matter on behalf of a good appearance,
and that thus, if they were to become neighbours again, the event
would compel him to live still more under arms. It might mean on
the other hand that he found he was happy enough, and that
accordingly, so far as she might imagine herself a danger, she
was to think of him as prepared in advance, as really seasoned
and secure. On his arrival in Paris with his wife, none the less,
she had asked for no explanation, just as he himself had not
asked if the document were still in her possession. Such an
inquiry, everything implied, was beneath him--just as it was
beneath herself to mention to him, uninvited, that she had
instantly offered, and in perfect honesty, to show the telegram
to Mr. Verver, and that if this companion had but said the word
she would immediately have put it before him. She had thereby
forborne to call his attention to her consciousness that such an
exposure would, in all probability, straightway have dished her
marriage; that all her future had in fact, for the moment, hung
by the single hair of Mr. Verver's delicacy (as she supposed they
must call it); and that her position, in the matter of
responsibility, was therefore inattackably straight.

For the Prince himself, meanwhile, time, in its measured
allowance, had originally much helped him--helped him in the
sense of there not being enough of it to trip him up; in spite of
which it was just this accessory element that seemed, at present,
with wonders of patience, to lie in wait. Time had begotten at
first, more than anything else, separations, delays and
intervals; but it was troublesomely less of an aid from the
moment it began so to abound that he had to meet the question of
what to do with it. Less of it was required for the state of
being married than he had, on the whole, expected; less,
strangely, for the state of being married even as he was married.
And there was a logic in the matter, he knew; a logic that but
gave this truth a sort of solidity of evidence. Mr. Verver,
decidedly, helped him with it--with his wedded condition; helped
him really so much that it made all the difference. In the degree
in which he rendered it the service on Mr. Verver's part was
remarkable--as indeed what service, from the first of their
meeting, had not been? He was living, he had been living these
four or five years, on Mr. Verver's services: a truth scarcely
less plain if he dealt with them, for appreciation, one by one,
than if he poured them all together into the general pot of his
gratitude and let the thing simmer to a nourishing broth. To the
latter way with them he was undoubtedly most disposed; yet he
would even thus, on occasion, pick out a piece to taste on its
own merits. Wondrous at such hours could seem the savour of the
particular "treat," at his father-in-law's expense, that he more
and more struck himself as enjoying. He had needed months and
months to arrive at a full appreciation--he couldn't originally
have given offhand a name to his deepest obligation; but by the
time the name had flowered in his mind he was practically living
at the ease guaranteed him. Mr. Verver then, in a word, took care
of his relation to Maggie, as he took care, and apparently always
would, of everything else. He relieved him of all anxiety about
his married life in the same manner in which he relieved him on
the score of his bank-account. And as he performed the latter
office by communicating with the bankers, so the former sprang as
directly from his good understanding with his daughter. This
understanding had, wonderfully--THAT was in high evidence--the
same deep intimacy as the commercial, the financial association
founded, far down, on a community of interest. And the
correspondence, for the Prince, carried itself out in identities
of character the vision of which, fortunately, rather tended to
amuse than to--as might have happened--irritate him. Those
people--and his free synthesis lumped together capitalists and
bankers, retired men of business, illustrious collectors,
American fathers-in-law, American fathers, little American
daughters, little American wives--those people were of the same
large lucky group, as one might say; they were all, at least, of
the same general species and had the same general instincts; they
hung together, they passed each other the word, they spoke each
other's language, they did each other "turns." In this last
connection it of course came up for our young man at a given
moment that Maggie's relation with HIM was also, on the perceived
basis, taken care of. Which was in fact the real upshot of the
matter. It was a "funny" situation--that is it was funny just as
it stood. Their married life was in question, but the solution
was, not less strikingly, before them. It was all right for
himself, because Mr. Verver worked it so for Maggie's comfort;
and it was all right for Maggie, because he worked it so for her
husband's.

The fact that time, however, was not, as we have said, wholly on
the Prince's side might have shown for particularly true one dark
day on which, by an odd but not unprecedented chance, the
reflections just noted offered themselves as his main recreation.
They alone, it appeared, had been appointed to fill the hours for
him, and even to fill the great square house in Portland Place,
where the scale of one of the smaller saloons fitted them but
loosely. He had looked into this room on the chance that he might
find the Princess at tea; but though the fireside service of the
repast was shiningly present the mistress of the table was not,
and he had waited for her, if waiting it could be called, while
he measured again and again the stretch of polished floor. He
could have named to himself no pressing reason for seeing her at
this moment, and her not coming in, as the half-hour elapsed,
became in fact quite positively, however perversely, the
circumstance that kept him on the spot. Just there, he might have
been feeling, just there he could best take his note. This
observation was certainly by itself meagre amusement for a dreary
little crisis; but his walk to and fro, and in particular his
repeated pause at one of the high front windows, gave each of the
ebbing minutes, none the less, after a time, a little more of the
quality of a quickened throb of the spirit. These throbs scarce
expressed, however, the impatience of desire, any more than they
stood for sharp disappointment: the series together resembled
perhaps more than anything else those fine waves of clearness
through which, for a watcher of the east, dawn at last trembles
into rosy day. The illumination indeed was all for the mind, the
prospect revealed by it a mere immensity of the world of thought;
the material outlook was all the while a different matter. The
March afternoon, judged at the window, had blundered back into
autumn; it had been raining for hours, and the colour of the
rain, the colour of the air, of the mud, of the opposite houses,
of life altogether, in so grim a joke, so idiotic a masquerade,
was an unutterable dirty brown. There was at first even, for the
young man, no faint flush in the fact of the direction taken,
while he happened to look out, by a slow-jogging four-wheeled cab
which, awkwardly deflecting from the middle course, at the
apparent instance of a person within, began to make for the
left-hand pavement and so at last, under further instructions,
floundered to a full stop before the Prince's windows. The person
within, alighting with an easier motion, proved to be a lady who
left the vehicle to wait and, putting up no umbrella, quickly
crossed the wet interval that separated her from the house. She
but flitted and disappeared; yet the Prince, from his standpoint,
had had time to recognise her, and the recognition kept him for
some minutes motionless.

Charlotte Stant, at such an hour, in a shabby four-wheeler and a
waterproof, Charlotte Stant turning up for him at the very climax
of his special inner vision, was an apparition charged with a
congruity at which he stared almost as if it had been a violence.
The effect of her coming to see him, him only, had, while he
stood waiting, a singular intensity--though after some minutes
had passed the certainty of this began to drop. Perhaps she had
NOT come, or had come only for Maggie; perhaps, on learning below
that the Princess had not returned, she was merely leaving a
message, writing a word on a card. He should see, at any rate;
and meanwhile, controlling himself, would do nothing. This
thought of not interfering took on a sudden force for him; she
would doubtless hear he was at home, but he would let her visit
to him be all of her own choosing. And his view of a reason for
leaving her free was the more remarkable that, though taking no
step, he yet intensely hoped. The harmony of her breaking into
sight while the superficial conditions were so against her was a
harmony with conditions that were far from superficial and that
gave, for his imagination, an extraordinary value to her
presence. The value deepened strangely, moreover, with the rigour
of his own attitude--with the fact too that, listening hard, he
neither heard the house-door close again nor saw her go back to
her cab; and it had risen to a climax by the time he had become
aware, with his quickened sense, that she had followed the butler
up to the landing from which his room opened. If anything could
further then have added to it, the renewed pause outside, as if
she had said to the man "Wait a moment!" would have constituted
this touch. Yet when the man had shown her in, had advanced to
the tea-table to light the lamp under the kettle and had then
busied himself, all deliberately, with the fire, she made it easy
for her host to drop straight from any height of tension and to
meet her, provisionally, on the question of Maggie. While the
butler remained it was Maggie that she had come to see and Maggie
that--in spite of this attendant's high blankness on the subject
of all possibilities on that lady's part--she would cheerfully,
by the fire, wait for. As soon as they were alone together,
however, she mounted, as with the whizz and the red light of a
rocket, from the form to the fact, saying straight out, as she
stood and looked at him: "What else, my dear, what in the world
else can we do?"

It was as if he then knew, on the spot, why he had been feeling,
for hours, as he had felt--as if he in fact knew, within the
minute, things he had not known even while she was panting, as
from the effect of the staircase, at the door of the room. He
knew at the same time, none the less, that she knew still more
than he--in the sense, that is, of all the signs and portents
that might count for them; and his vision of alternative--she
could scarce say what to call them, solutions, satisfactions--
opened out, altogether, with this tangible truth of her attitude
by the chimney-place, the way she looked at him as through the
gained advantage of it; her right hand resting on the marble and
her left keeping her skirt from the fire while she held out a
foot to dry. He couldn't have told what particular links and gaps
had at the end of a few minutes found themselves renewed and
bridged; for he remembered no occasion, in Rome, from which the
picture could have been so exactly copied. He remembered, that
is, none of her coming to see him in the rain while a muddy
four-wheeler waited, and while, though having left her waterproof
downstairs, she was yet invested with the odd eloquence--the
positive picturesqueness, yes, given all the rest of the matter--
of a dull dress and a black Bowdlerised hat that seemed to make a
point of insisting on their time of life and their moral
intention, the hat's and the frock's own, as well as on the irony
of indifference to them practically playing in her so handsome
rain-freshened face. The sense of the past revived for him
nevertheless as it had not yet done: it made that other time
somehow meet the future close, interlocking with it, before his
watching eyes, as in a long embrace of arms and lips, and so
handling and hustling the present that this poor quantity scarce
retained substance enough, scarce remained sufficiently THERE, to
be wounded or shocked.

What had happened, in short, was that Charlotte and he had, by a
single turn of the wrist of fate--"led up" to indeed, no doubt,
by steps and stages that conscious computation had missed--been
placed face to face in a freedom that partook, extraordinarily,
of ideal perfection, since the magic web had spun itself without
their toil, almost without their touch. Above all, on this
occasion, once more, there sounded through their safety, as an
undertone, the very voice he had listened to on the eve of his
marriage with such another sort of unrest. Dimly, again and
again, from that period on, he had seemed to hear it tell him why
it kept recurring; but it phrased the large music now in a way
that filled the room. The reason was--into which he had lived,
quite intimately, by the end of a quarter-of-an-hour--that just
this truth of their safety offered it now a kind of unexampled
receptacle, letting it spread and spread, but at the same time
elastically enclosing it, banking it in, for softness, as with
billows of eiderdown. On that morning; in the Park there had
been, however dissimulated, doubt and danger, whereas the tale
this afternoon was taken up with a highly emphasised confidence.
The emphasis, for their general comfort, was what Charlotte had
come to apply; inasmuch as, though it was not what she definitely
began with, it had soon irrepressibly shaped itself. It was the
meaning of the question she had put to him as soon as they were
alone--even though indeed, as from not quite understanding, he
had not then directly replied; it was the meaning of everything
else, down to the conscious quaintness of her ricketty "growler"
and the conscious humility of her dress. It had helped him a
little, the question of these eccentricities, to let her
immediate appeal pass without an answer. He could ask her instead
what had become of her carriage and why, above all, she was not
using it in such weather.

"It's just because of the weather," she explained. "It's my
little idea. It makes me feel as I used to--when I could do as I
liked."



                            XVIII

This came out so straight that he saw at once how much truth it
expressed; yet it was truth that still a little puzzled him. "But
did you ever like knocking about in such discomfort?"

"It seems to me now that I then liked everything. It's the charm,
at any rate," she said from her place at the fire, "of trying
again the old feelings. They come back--they come back.
Everything," she went on, "comes back. Besides," she wound up,
"you know for yourself."

He stood near her, his hands in his pockets; but not looking at
her, looking hard at the tea-table. "Ah, I haven't your courage.
Moreover," he laughed, "it seems to me that, so far as that goes,
I do live in hansoms. But you must awfully want your tea," he
quickly added; "so let me give you a good stiff cup."

He busied himself with this care, and she sat down, on his
pushing up a low seat, where she had been standing; so that,
while she talked, he could bring her what she further desired. He
moved to and fro before her, he helped himself; and her visit, as
the moments passed, had more and more the effect of a signal
communication that she had come, all responsibly and
deliberately, as on the clear show of the clock-face of their
situation, to make. The whole demonstration, none the less,
presented itself as taking place at a very high level of debate--
in the cool upper air of the finer discrimination, the deeper
sincerity, the larger philosophy. No matter what were the facts
invoked and arrayed, it was only a question, as yet, of their
seeing their way together: to which indeed, exactly, the present
occasion appeared to have so much to contribute. "It's not that
you haven't my courage," Charlotte said, "but that you haven't, I
rather think, my imagination. Unless indeed it should turn out
after all," she added, "that you haven't even my intelligence.
However, I shall not be afraid of that till you've given me more
proof." And she made again, but more clearly, her point of a
moment before. "You knew, besides, you knew to-day, I would come.
And if you knew that you know everything." So she pursued, and if
he didn't meanwhile, if he didn't even at this, take her up, it
might be that she was so positively fitting him again with the
fair face of temporising kindness that he had given her, to keep
her eyes on, at the other important juncture, and the sense of
which she might ever since have been carrying about with her like
a precious medal--not exactly blessed by the Pope suspended round
her neck. She had come back, however this might be, to her
immediate account of herself, and no mention of their great
previous passage was to rise to the lips of either. "Above all,"
she said, "there has been the personal romance of it."

"Of tea with me over the fire? Ah, so far as that goes I don't
think even my intelligence fails me."

"Oh, it's further than that goes; and if I've had a better day
than you it's perhaps, when I come to think of it, that I AM
braver. You bore yourself, you see. But I don't. I don't, I
don't," she repeated.

"It's precisely boring one's self without relief," he protested,
"that takes courage."

"Passive then--not active. My romance is that, if you want to
know, I've been all day on the town. Literally on the town--isn't
that what they call it? I know how it feels." After which, as if
breaking off, "And you, have you never been out?" she asked.

He still stood there with his hands in his pockets. "What should
I have gone out for?"

"Oh, what should people in our case do anything for? But you're
wonderful, all of YOU--you know how to live. We're clumsy brutes,
we other's, beside you--we must always be 'doing' something.
However," Charlotte pursued, "if you had gone out you might have
missed the chance of me--which I'm sure, though you won't confess
it, was what you didn't want; and might have missed, above all,
the satisfaction that, look blank about it as you will, I've come
to congratulate you on. That's really what I can at last do. You
can't not know at least, on such a day as this--you can't not
know," she said, "where you are." She waited as for him either to
grant that he knew or to pretend that he didn't; but he only drew
a long deep breath which came out like a moan of impatience. It
brushed aside the question of where he was or what he knew; it
seemed to keep the ground clear for the question of his visitor
herself, that of Charlotte Verver exactly as she sat there. So,
for some moments, with their long look, they but treated the
matter in silence; with the effect indeed, by the end of the
time, of having considerably brought it on. This was sufficiently
marked in what Charlotte next said. "There it all is--
extraordinary beyond words. It makes such a relation for us as, I
verily believe, was never before in the world thrust upon two
well-meaning creatures. Haven't we therefore to take things as we
find them?" She put the question still more directly than that of
a moment before, but to this one, as well, he returned no
immediate answer. Noticing only that she had finished her tea, he
relieved her of her cup, carried it back to the table, asked her
what more she would have; and then, on her "Nothing, thanks,"
returned to the fire and restored a displaced log to position by
a small but almost too effectual kick. She had meanwhile got up
again, and it was on her feet that she repeated the words she had
first frankly spoken. "What else can we do, what in all the world
else?"

He took them up, however, no more than at first. "Where then have
you been?" he asked as from mere interest in her adventure.

"Everywhere I could think of--except to see people. I didn't want
people--I wanted too much to think. But I've been back at
intervals--three times; and then come away again. My cabman must
think me crazy--it's very amusing; I shall owe him, when we come
to settle, more money than he has ever seen. I've been, my dear,"
she went on, "to the British Museum--which, you know, I always
adore. And I've been to the National Gallery, and to a dozen old
booksellers', coming across treasures, and I've lunched, on some
strange nastiness, at a cookshop in Holborn. I wanted to go to
the Tower, but it was too far--my old man urged that; and I would
have gone to the Zoo if it hadn't been too wet--which he also
begged me to observe. But you wouldn't believe--I did put in St.
Paul's. Such days," she wound up, "are expensive; for, besides
the cab, I've bought quantities of books." She immediately
passed, at any rate, to another point: "I can't help wondering
when you must last have laid eyes on them." And then as it had
apparently for her companion an effect of abruptness: "Maggie, I
mean, and the child. For I suppose you know he's with her."

"Oh yes, I know he's with her. I saw them this morning."

"And did they then announce their programme?"

"She told me she was taking him, as usual, da nonno."

"And for the whole day?"

He hesitated, but it was as if his attitude had slowly shifted.

"She didn't say. And I didn't ask."

"Well," she went on, "it can't have been later than half-past
ten--I mean when you saw them. They had got to Eaton Square
before eleven. You know we don't formally breakfast, Adam and I;
we have tea in our rooms--at least I have; but luncheon is early,
and I saw my husband, this morning, by twelve; he was showing the
child a picture-book. Maggie had been there with them, had left
them settled together. Then she had gone out--taking the carriage
for something he had been intending but that she offered to do
instead."

The Prince appeared to confess, at this, to his interest.

"Taking, you mean, YOUR carriage?"

"I don't know which, and it doesn't matter. It's not a question,"
she smiled, "of a carriage the more or the less. It's not a
question even, if you come to that, of a cab. It's so beautiful,"
she said, "that it's not a question of anything vulgar or
horrid." Which she gave him time to agree about; and though he
was silent it was, rather remarkably, as if he fell in. "I went
out--I wanted to. I had my idea. It seemed to me important. It
has BEEN--it IS important. I know as I haven't known before the
way they feel. I couldn't in any other way have made so sure of
it."

"They feel a confidence," the Prince observed.

He had indeed said it for her. "They feel a confidence." And she
proceeded, with lucidity, to the fuller illustration of it;
speaking again of the three different moments that, in the course
of her wild ramble, had witnessed her return--for curiosity, and
even really a little from anxiety--to Eaton Square. She was
possessed of a latch-key, rarely used: it had always irritated
Adam--one of the few things that did--to find servants standing
up so inhumanly straight when they came home, in the small hours,
after parties. "So I had but to slip in, each time, with my cab
at the door, and make out for myself, without their knowing it,
that Maggie was still there. I came, I went--without their so
much as dreaming. What do they really suppose," she asked,
"becomes of one?--not so much sentimentally or morally, so to
call it, and since that doesn't matter; but even just physically,
materially, as a mere wandering woman: as a decent harmless wife,
after all; as the best stepmother, after all, that really ever
was; or at the least simply as a maitresse de maison not quite
without a conscience. They must even in their odd way," she
declared, "have SOME idea."

"Oh, they've a great deal of idea," said the Prince. And nothing
was easier than to mention the quantity. "They think so much of
us. They think in particular so much of you."

"Ah, don't put it all on 'me'!" she smiled.

But he was putting it now where she had admirably prepared the
place. "It's a matter of your known character."

"Ah, thank you for 'known'!" she still smiled.

"It's a matter of your wonderful cleverness and wonderful charm.
It's a matter of what those things have done for you in the
world--I mean in THIS world and this place. You're a Personage
for them--and Personages do go and come."

"Oh no, my dear; there you're quite wrong." And she laughed now
in the happier light they had diffused. "That's exactly what
Personages don't do: they live in state and under constant
consideration; they haven't latch-keys, but drums and trumpets
announce them; and when they go out in growlers it makes a
greater noise still. It's you, caro mio," she said, "who, so far
as that goes, are the Personage."

"Ah," he in turn protested, "don't put it all on me! What, at any
rate, when you get home," he added, "shall you say that you've
been doing?"

"I shall say, beautifully, that I've been here."

"All day?"

"Yes--all day. Keeping you company in your solitude. How can we
understand anything," she went on, "without really seeing that
this is what they must like to think I do for you?--just as,
quite as comfortably, you do it for me. The thing is for us to
learn to take them as they are."

He considered this a while, in his restless way, but with his
eyes not turning from her; after which, rather disconnectedly,
though very vehemently, he brought out: "How can I not feel more
than anything else how they adore together my boy?" And then,
further, as if, slightly disconcerted, she had nothing to meet
this and he quickly perceived the effect: "They would have done
the same for one of yours."

"Ah, if I could have had one--! I hoped and I believed," said
Charlotte, "that that would happen. It would have been better. It
would have made perhaps some difference. He thought so too, poor
duck--that it might have been. I'm sure he hoped and intended so.
It's not, at any rate," she went on, "my fault. There it is." She
had uttered these statements, one by one, gravely, sadly and
responsibly, owing it to her friend to be clear. She paused
briefly, but, as if once for all, she made her clearness
complete. "And now I'm too sure. It will never be."

He waited for a moment. "Never?"

"Never." They treated the matter not exactly with solemnity, but
with a certain decency, even perhaps urgency, of distinctness.
"It would probably have been better," Charlotte added. "But
things turn out--! And it leaves us"--she made the point--"more
alone."

He seemed to wonder. "It leaves you more alone."

"Oh," she again returned, "don't put it all on me! Maggie would
have given herself to his child, I'm sure, scarcely less than he
gives himself to yours. It would have taken more than any child
of mine," she explained--"it would have taken more than ten
children of mine, could I have had them--to keep our sposi
apart." She smiled as for the breadth of the image, but, as he
seemed to take it, in spite of this, for important, she then
spoke gravely enough. "It's as strange as you like, but we're
immensely alone." He kept vaguely moving, but there were moments
when, again, with an awkward ease and his hands in his pockets,
he was more directly before her. He stood there at these last
words, which had the effect of making him for a little throw back
his head and, as thinking something out, stare up at the ceiling.
"What will you say," she meanwhile asked, "that you've been
doing?" This brought his consciousness and his eyes back to her,
and she pointed her question. "I mean when she comes in--for I
suppose she WILL, some time, come in. It seems to me we must say
the same thing."

Well, he thought again. "Yet I can scarce pretend to have had
what I haven't."

"Ah, WHAT haven't you had?--what aren't you having?"

Her question rang out as they lingered face to face, and he still
took it, before he answered, from her eyes. "We must at least
then, not to be absurd together, do the same thing. We must act,
it would really seem, in concert."

"It would really seem!" Her eyebrows, her shoulders went up,
quite in gaiety, as for the relief this brought her. "It's all in
the world I pretend. We must act in concert. Heaven knows," she
said, "THEY do!"

So it was that he evidently saw and that, by his admission, the
case, could fairly be put. But what he evidently saw appeared to
come over him, at the same time, as too much for him, so that he
fell back suddenly to ground where she was not awaiting him. "The
difficulty is, and will always be, that I don't understand them.
I didn't at first, but I thought I should learn to. That was what
I hoped, and it appeared then that Fanny Assingham might help
me."

"Oh, Fanny Assingham!" said Charlotte Verver.

He stared a moment at her tone. "She would do anything for us."

To which Charlotte at first said nothing--as if from the sense of
too much. Then, indulgently enough, she shook her head. "We're
beyond her."

He thought a moment--as of where this placed them. "She'd do
anything then for THEM."

"Well, so would we--so that doesn't help us. She has broken down.
She doesn't understand us. And really, my dear," Charlotte added,
"Fanny Assingham doesn't matter."

He wondered again. "Unless as taking care of THEM."

"Ah," Charlotte instantly said, "isn't it for us, only, to do
that?" She spoke as with a flare of pride for their privilege and
their duty. "I think we want no one's aid."

She spoke indeed with a nobleness not the less effective for
coming in so oddly; with a sincerity visible even through the
complicated twist by which any effort to protect the father and
the daughter seemed necessarily conditioned for them. It moved
him, in any case, as if some spring of his own, a weaker one, had
suddenly been broken by it. These things, all the while, the
privilege, the duty, the opportunity, had been the substance of
his own vision; they formed the note he had been keeping back to
show her that he was not, in their so special situation, without
a responsible view. A conception that he could name, and could
act on, was something that now, at last, not to be too eminent a
fool, he was required by all the graces to produce, and the
luminous idea she had herself uttered would have been his
expression of it. She had anticipated him, but, as her expression
left, for positive beauty, nothing to be desired, he felt rather
righted than wronged. A large response, as he looked at her, came
into his face, a light of excited perception all his own, in the
glory of which--as it almost might be called--what he gave her
back had the value of what she had, given him. "They're
extraordinarily happy."

Oh, Charlotte's measure of it was only too full. "Beatifically."

"That's the great thing," he went on; "so that it doesn't matter,
really, that one doesn't understand. Besides, you do--enough."

"I understand my husband perhaps," she after an instant conceded.
"I don't understand your wife."

"You're of the same race, at any rate--more or less; of the same
general tradition and education, of the same moral paste. There
are things you have in common with them. But I, on my side, as
I've gone on trying to see if I haven't some of these things
too--I, on my side, have more and more failed. There seem at last
to be none worth mentioning. I can't help seeing it--I'm
decidedly too different."

"Yet you're not"--Charlotte made the important point--"too
different from ME."

"I don't know--as we're not married. That brings things out.
Perhaps if we were," he said, "you WOULD find some abyss of
divergence."

"Since it depends on that then," she smiled, "I'm safe--as you
are anyhow. Moreover, as one has so often had occasion to feel,
and even to remark, they're very, very simple. That makes," she
added, "a difficulty for belief; but when once one has taken it
in it makes less difficulty for action. I HAVE at last, for
myself, I think, taken it in. I'm not afraid."

He wondered a moment. "Not afraid of what?"

"Well, generally, of some beastly mistake. Especially of any
mistake founded on one's idea of their difference. For that
idea," Charlotte developed, "positively makes one so tender."

"Ah, but rather!"

"Well then, there it is. I can't put myself into Maggie's skin--I
can't, as I say. It's not my fit--I shouldn't be able, as I see
it, to breathe in it. But I can feel that I'd do anything--to
shield it from a bruise. Tender as I am for her too," she went
on, "I think I'm still more so for my husband. HE'S in truth of a
sweet simplicity--!"

The Prince turned over a while the sweet simplicity of Mr.
Verver. "Well, I don't know that I can choose. At night all cats
are grey. I only see how, for so many reasons, we ought to stand
toward them--and how, to do ourselves justice, we do. It
represents for us a conscious care--"

"Of every hour, literally," said Charlotte. She could rise to the
highest measure of the facts. "And for which we must trust each
other--!"

"Oh, as we trust the saints in glory. Fortunately," the Prince
hastened to add, "we can." With which, as for the full assurance
and the pledge it involved, their hands instinctively found their
hands. "It's all too wonderful."

Firmly and gravely she kept his hand. "It's too beautiful."

And so for a minute they stood together, as strongly held and as
closely confronted as any hour of their easier past even had seen
them. They were silent at first, only facing and faced, only
grasping and grasped, only meeting and met. "It's sacred," he
said at last.

"It's sacred," she breathed back to him. They vowed it, gave it
out and took it in, drawn, by their intensity, more closely
together. Then of a sudden, through this tightened circle, as at
the issue of a narrow strait into the sea beyond, everything
broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and mingled. Their lips
sought their lips, their pressure their response and their
response their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself
the next moment to the longest and deepest of stillnesses they
passionately sealed their pledge.



                            XIX

He had taken it from her, as we have seen, moreover, that Fanny
Assingham didn't now matter--the "now" he had even himself
supplied, as no more than fair to his sense of various earlier
stages; and, though his assent remained scarce more than tacit,
his behaviour, for the hour, so fell into line that, for many
days, he kept postponing the visit he had promised his old friend
on the occasion of their talk at the Foreign Office. With regret,
none the less, would he have seen it quite extinguished, that
theory of their relation as attached pupil and kind instructress
in which they had from the first almost equally found a
convenience. It had been he, no doubt, who had most put it
forward, since his need of knowledge fairly exceeded her mild
pretension; but he had again and again repeated to her that he
should never, without her, have been where he was, and she had
not successfully concealed the pleasure it might give her to
believe it, even after the question of where he was had begun to
show itself as rather more closed than open to interpretation. It
had never indeed, before that evening, come up as during the
passage at the official party, and he had for the first time at
those moments, a little disappointedly, got the impression of a
certain failure, on the dear woman's part, of something he was
aware of having always rather freely taken for granted in her. Of
what exactly the failure consisted he would still perhaps have
felt it a little harsh to try to say; and if she had in fact, as
by Charlotte's observation, "broken down," the details of the
collapse would be comparatively unimportant. They came to the
same thing, all such collapses--the failure of courage, the
failure of friendship, or the failure just simply of tact; for
didn't any one of them by itself amount really to the failure of
wit?--which was the last thing he had expected of her and which
would be but another name for the triumph of stupidity. It had
been Charlotte's remark that they were at last "beyond" her;
whereas he had ever enjoyed believing that a certain easy
imagination in her would keep up with him to the end. He shrank
from affixing a label to Mrs. Assingham's want of faith; but when
he thought, at his ease, of the way persons who were capable
really entertained--or at least with any refinement--the passion
of personal loyalty, he figured for them a play of fancy neither
timorous nor scrupulous. So would his personal loyalty, if need
be, have accepted the adventure for the good creature herself; to
that definite degree that he had positively almost missed the
luxury of some such call from her. That was what it all came back
to again with these people among whom he was married--that one
found one used one's imagination mainly for wondering how they
contrived so little to appeal to it. He felt at moments as if
there were never anything to do for them that was worthy--to call
worthy--of the personal relation; never any charming charge to
take of any confidence deeply reposed. He might vulgarly have put
it that one had never to plot or to lie for them; he might
humourously have put it that one had never, as by the higher
conformity, to lie in wait with the dagger or to prepare,
insidiously, the cup. These were the services that, by all
romantic tradition, were consecrated to affection quite as much
as to hate. But he could amuse himself with saying--so far as the
amusement went--that they were what he had once for all turned
his back on.

Fanny was meanwhile frequent, it appeared, in Eaton Square; so
much he gathered from the visitor who was not infrequent, least
of all at tea-time, during the same period, in Portland Place;
though they had little need to talk of her after practically
agreeing that they had outlived her. To the scene of these
conversations and suppressions Mrs. Assingham herself made,
actually, no approach; her latest view of her utility seeming to
be that it had found in Eaton Square its most urgent field. It
was finding there in fact everything and everyone but the Prince,
who mostly, just now, kept away, or who, at all events, on the
interspaced occasions of his calling, happened not to encounter
the only person from whom he was a little estranged. It would
have been all prodigious if he had not already, with Charlotte's
aid, so very considerably lived into it--it would have been all
indescribably remarkable, this fact that, with wonderful causes
for it so operating on the surface, nobody else, as yet, in the
combination, seemed estranged from anybody. If Mrs. Assingham
delighted in Maggie she knew by this time how most easily to
reach her, and if she was unhappy about Charlotte she knew, by
the same reasoning, how most probably to miss that vision of her
on which affliction would feed. It might feed of course on
finding her so absent from her home--just as this particular
phenomenon of her domestic detachment could be, by the anxious
mind, best studied there. Fanny was, however, for her reasons,
"shy" of Portland Place itself--this was appreciable; so that she
might well, after all, have no great light on the question of
whether Charlotte's appearances there were frequent or not, any
more than on that of the account they might be keeping of the
usual solitude (since it came to this) of the head of that house.
There was always, to cover all ambiguities, to constitute a fund
of explanation for the divisions of Mrs. Verver's day, the
circumstance that, at the point they had all reached together,
Mrs. Verver was definitely and by general acclamation in charge
of the "social relations" of the family, literally of those of
the two households; as to her genius for representing which in
the great world and in the grand style vivid evidence had more
and more accumulated. It had been established in the two
households at an early stage, and with the highest good-humour,
that Charlotte was a, was THE, "social success," whereas the
Princess, though kind, though punctilious, though charming,
though in fact the dearest little creature in the world and the
Princess into the bargain, was distinctly not, would distinctly
never be, and might as well, practically, give it up: whether
through being above it or below it, too much outside of it or too
much lost in it, too unequipped or too indisposed, didn't
especially matter. What sufficed was that the whole thing, call
it appetite or call it patience, the act of representation at
large and the daily business of intercourse, fell in with
Charlotte's tested facility and, not much less visibly, with her
accommodating, her generous, view of her domestic use. She had
come, frankly, into the connection, to do and to be what she
could, "no questions asked," and she had taken over, accordingly,
as it stood, and in the finest practical spirit, the burden of a
visiting-list that Maggie, originally, left to herself, and left
even more to the Principino, had suffered to get inordinately out
of hand.

She had in a word not only mounted, cheerfully, the London
treadmill--she had handsomely professed herself, for the further
comfort of the three others, sustained in the effort by a
"frivolous side," if that were not too harsh a name for a
pleasant constitutional curiosity. There were possibilities of
dulness, ponderosities of practice, arid social sands, the bad
quarters-of-an-hour that turned up like false pieces in a debased
currency, of which she made, on principle, very nearly as light
as if she had not been clever enough to distinguish. The Prince
had, on this score, paid her his compliment soon after her return
from her wedding-tour in America, where, by all accounts, she had
wondrously borne the brunt; facing brightly, at her husband's
side, everything that came up--and what had come, often, was
beyond words: just as, precisely, with her own interest only at
stake, she had thrown up the game during the visit paid before
her marriage. The discussion of the American world, the
comparison of notes, impressions and adventures, had been all at
hand, as a ground of meeting for Mrs. Verver and her husband's
son-in-law, from the hour of the reunion of the two couples. Thus
it had been, in short, that Charlotte could, for her friend's
appreciation, so promptly make her point; even using expressions
from which he let her see, at the hour, that he drew amusement of
his own. "What could be more simple than one's going through with
everything," she had asked, "when it's so plain a part of one's
contract? I've got so much, by my marriage"--for she had never
for a moment concealed from him how "much" she had felt it and
was finding it "that I should deserve no charity if I stinted my
return. Not to do that, to give back on the contrary all one can,
are just one's decency and one's honour and one's virtue. These
things, henceforth, if you're interested to know, are my rule of
life, the absolute little gods of my worship, the holy images set
up on the wall. Oh yes, since I'm not a brute," she had wound up,
"you shall see me as I AM!" Which was therefore as he had seen
her--dealing always, from month to month, from day to day and
from one occasion to the other, with the duties of a remunerated
office. Her perfect, her brilliant efficiency had doubtless, all
the while, contributed immensely to the pleasant ease in which
her husband and her husband's daughter were lapped. It had in
fact probably done something more than this--it had given them a
finer and sweeter view of the possible scope of that ease. They
had brought her in--on the crudest expression of it--to do the
"worldly" for them, and she had done it with such genius that
they had themselves in consequence renounced it even more than
they had originally intended. In proportion as she did it,
moreover, was she to be relieved of other and humbler doings;
which minor matters, by the properest logic, devolved therefore
upon Maggie, in whose chords and whose province they more
naturally lay. Not less naturally, by the same token, they
included the repair, at the hands of the latter young woman, of
every stitch conceivably dropped by Charlotte in Eaton Square.
This was homely work, but that was just what made it Maggie's.
Bearing in mind dear Amerigo, who was so much of her own great
mundane feather, and whom the homeliness in question didn't, no
doubt, quite equally provide for--that would be, to balance, just
in a manner Charlotte's very most charming function, from the
moment Charlotte could be got adequately to recognise it.

Well, that Charlotte might be appraised as at last not
ineffectually recognising it, was a reflection that, during the
days with which we are actually engaged, completed in the
Prince's breast these others, these images and ruminations of his
leisure, these gropings and fittings of his conscience and his
experience, that we have attempted to set in order there. They
bore him company, not insufficiently--considering, in especial,
his fuller resources in that line--while he worked out--to the
last lucidity the principle on which he forbore either to seek
Fanny out in Cadogan Place or to perpetrate the error of too
marked an assiduity in Eaton Square. This error would be his not
availing himself to the utmost of the convenience of any artless
theory of his constitution, or of Charlotte's, that might prevail
there. That artless theories could and did prevail was a fact he
had ended by accepting, under copious evidence, as definite and
ultimate; and it consorted with common prudence, with the
simplest economy of life, not to be wasteful of any odd gleaning.
To haunt Eaton Square, in fine, would be to show that he had not,
like his brilliant associate, a sufficiency of work in the world.
It was just his having that sufficiency, it was just their having
it together, that, so strangely and so blessedly, made, as they
put it to each other, everything possible. What further propped
up the case, moreover, was that the "world," by still another
beautiful perversity of their chance, included Portland Place
without including to anything like the same extent Eaton Square.
The latter residence, at the same time, it must promptly be
added, did, on occasion, wake up to opportunity and, as giving
itself a frolic shake, send out a score of invitations--one of
which fitful flights, precisely, had, before Easter, the effect
of disturbing a little our young man's measure of his margin.
Maggie, with a proper spirit, held that her father ought from
time to time to give a really considered dinner, and Mr. Verver,
who had as little idea as ever of not meeting expectation, was of
the harmonious opinion that his wife ought. Charlotte's own
judgment was, always, that they were ideally free--the proof of
which would always be, she maintained, that everyone they feared
they might most have alienated by neglect would arrive, wreathed
with smiles, on the merest hint of a belated signal. Wreathed in
smiles, all round, truly enough, these apologetic banquets struck
Amerigo as being; they were, frankly, touching occasions to him,
marked, in the great London bousculade, with a small, still grace
of their own, an investing amenity and humanity. Everybody came,
everybody rushed; but all succumbed to the soft influence, and
the brutality of mere multitude, of curiosity without tenderness,
was put off, at the foot of the fine staircase, with the
overcoats and shawls. The entertainment offered a few evenings
before Easter, and at which Maggie and he were inevitably present
as guests, was a discharge of obligations not insistently
incurred, and had thereby, possibly, all the more, the note of
this almost Arcadian optimism: a large, bright, dull, murmurous,
mild-eyed, middle-aged dinner, involving for the most part very
bland, though very exalted, immensely announceable and
hierarchically placeable couples, and followed, without the
oppression of a later contingent, by a brief instrumental
concert, over the preparation of which, the Prince knew, Maggie's
anxiety had conferred with Charlotte's ingenuity and both had
supremely revelled, as it were, in Mr. Verver's solvency.

The Assinghams were there, by prescription, though quite at the
foot of the social ladder, and with the Colonel's wife, in spite
of her humility of position, the Prince was more inwardly
occupied than with any other person except Charlotte. He was
occupied with Charlotte because, in the first place, she looked
so inordinately handsome and held so high, where so much else was
mature and sedate, the torch of responsive youth and the standard
of passive grace; and because of the fact that, in the second,
the occasion, so far as it referred itself with any confidence of
emphasis to a hostess, seemed to refer itself preferentially,
well-meaningly and perversely, to Maggie. It was not
indistinguishable to him, when once they were all stationed, that
his wife too had in perfection her own little character; but he
wondered how it managed so visibly to simplify itself--and this,
he knew, in spite of any desire she entertained--to the essential
air of having overmuch on her mind the felicity, and indeed the
very conduct and credit, of the feast. He knew, as well, the
other things of which her appearance was at any time--and in
Eaton Square especially--made up: her resemblance to her father,
at times so vivid, and coming out, in the delicate warmth of
occasions, like the quickened fragrance of a flower; her
resemblance, as he had hit it off for her once in Rome, in the
first flushed days, after their engagement, to a little
dancing-girl at rest, ever so light of movement but most often
panting gently, even a shade compunctiously, on a bench; her
approximation, finally--for it was analogy, somehow, more than
identity--to the transmitted images of rather neutral and
negative propriety that made up, in his long line, the average of
wifehood and motherhood. If the Roman matron had been, in
sufficiency, first and last, the honour of that line, Maggie
would no doubt, at fifty, have expanded, have solidified to some
such dignity, even should she suggest a little but a Cornelia in
miniature. A light, however, broke for him in season, and when
once it had done so it made him more than ever aware of Mrs.
Verver's vaguely, yet quite exquisitely, contingent
participation--a mere hinted or tendered discretion; in short of
Mrs. Verver's indescribable, unfathomable relation to the scene.
Her placed condition, her natural seat and neighbourhood, her
intenser presence, her quieter smile, her fewer jewels, were
inevitably all as nothing compared with the preoccupation that
burned in Maggie like a small flame and that had in fact kindled
in each of her cheeks a little attesting, but fortunately by no
means unbecoming, spot. The party was her father's party, and its
greater or smaller success was a question having for her all the
importance of his importance; so that sympathy created for her a
sort of visible suspense, under pressure of which she bristled
with filial reference, with little filial recalls of expression,
movement, tone. It was all unmistakable, and as pretty as
possible, if one would, and even as funny; but it put the pair so
together, as undivided by the marriage of each, that the Princess
il n'y avait pas a dire--might sit where she liked: she would
still, always, in that house, be irremediably Maggie Verver. The
Prince found himself on this occasion so beset with that
perception that its natural complement for him would really have
been to wonder if Mr. Verver had produced on people something of
the same impression in the recorded cases of his having dined
with his daughter.

This backward speculation, had it begun to play, however, would
have been easily arrested; for it was at present to come over
Amerigo as never before that his remarkable father-in-law was the
man in the world least equipped with different appearances for
different hours. He was simple, he was a revelation of
simplicity, and that was the end of him so far as he consisted of
an appearance at all--a question that might verily, for a
weakness in it, have been argued. It amused our young man, who
was taking his pleasure to-night, it will be seen, in sundry
occult ways, it amused him to feel how everything else the master
of the house consisted of, resources, possessions, facilities and
amiabilities amplified by the social legend, depended, for
conveying the effect of quantity, on no personal "equation," no
mere measurable medium. Quantity was in the air for these good
people, and Mr. Verver's estimable quality was almost wholly in
that pervasion. He was meagre and modest and clearbrowed, and his
eyes, if they wandered without fear, yet stayed without defiance;
his shoulders were not broad, his chest was not high, his
complexion was not fresh, and the crown of his head was not
covered; in spite of all of which he looked, at the top of his
table, so nearly like a little boy shyly entertaining in virtue
of some imposed rank, that he COULD only be one of the powers,
the representative of a force--quite as an infant king is the
representative of a dynasty. In this generalised view of his
father-in-law, intensified to-night but always operative, Amerigo
had now for some time taken refuge. The refuge, after the reunion
of the two households in England, had more and more offered
itself as the substitute for communities, from man to man, that,
by his original calculation, might have become possible, but that
had not really ripened and flowered. He met the decent family
eyes across the table, met them afterwards in the music-room, but
only to read in them still what he had learned to read during his
first months, the time of over-anxious initiation, a kind of
apprehension in which the terms and conditions were finally fixed
and absolute. This directed regard rested at its ease, but it
neither lingered nor penetrated, and was, to the Prince's fancy,
much of the same order as any glance directed, for due attention,
from the same quarter, to the figure of a cheque received in the
course of business and about to be enclosed to a banker. It made
sure of the amount--and just so, from time to time, the amount of
the Prince was made sure. He was being thus, in renewed
instalments, perpetually paid in; he already reposed in the bank
as a value, but subject, in this comfortable way, to repeated, to
infinite endorsement. The net result of all of which, moreover,
was that the young man had no wish to see his value diminish. He
himself, after all, had not fixed it--the "figure" was a
conception all of Mr. Verver's own. Certainly, however,
everything must be kept up to it; never so much as to-night had
the Prince felt this. He would have been uncomfortable, as these
quiet expressions passed, had the case not been guaranteed for
him by the intensity of his accord with Charlotte. It was
impossible that he should not now and again meet Charlotte's
eyes, as it was also visible that she too now and again met her
husband's. For her as well, in all his pulses, he felt the
conveyed impression. It put them, it kept them together, through
the vain show of their separation, made the two other faces, made
the whole lapse of the evening, the people, the lights, the
flowers, the pretended talk, the exquisite music, a mystic golden
bridge between them, strongly swaying and sometimes almost
vertiginous, for that intimacy of which the sovereign law would
be the vigilance of "care," would be never rashly to forget and
never consciously to wound.



                             XX

The main interest of these hours for us, however, will have been
in the way the Prince continued to know, during a particular
succession of others, separated from the evening in Eaton Square
by a short interval, a certain persistent aftertaste. This was
the lingering savour of a cup presented to him by Fanny
Assingham's hand after dinner, while the clustered quartette kept
their ranged companions, in the music-room, moved if one would,
but conveniently motionless. Mrs. Assingham contrived, after a
couple of pieces, to convey to her friend that, for her part, she
was moved--by the genius of Brahms--beyond what she could bear;
so that, without apparent deliberation, she had presently floated
away, at the young man's side, to such a distance as permitted
them to converse without the effect of disdain. It was the twenty
minutes enjoyed with her, during the rest of the concert, in the
less associated electric glare of one of the empty rooms--it was
their achieved and, as he would have said, successful, most
pleasantly successful, talk on one of the sequestered sofas, it
was this that was substantially to underlie his consciousness of
the later occasion. The later occasion, then mere matter of
discussion, had formed her ground for desiring--in a light
undertone into which his quick ear read indeed some nervousness--
these independent words with him: she had sounded, covertly but
distinctly, by the time they were seated together, the great
question of what it might involve. It had come out for him before
anything else, and so abruptly that this almost needed an
explanation. Then the abruptness itself had appeared to explain--
which had introduced, in turn, a slight awkwardness. "Do you know
that they're not, after all, going to Matcham; so that, if they
don't--if, at least, Maggie doesn't--you won't, I suppose, go by
yourself?" It was, as I say, at Matcham, where the event had
placed him, it was at Matcham during the Easter days, that it
most befell him, oddly enough, to live over, inwardly, for its
wealth of special significance, this passage by which the event
had been really a good deal determined. He had paid, first and
last, many an English country visit; he had learned, even from of
old, to do the English things, and to do them, all sufficiently,
in the English way; if he didn't always enjoy them madly he
enjoyed them at any rate as much, to an appearance, as the good
people who had, in the night of time, unanimously invented them,
and who still, in the prolonged afternoon of their good faith,
unanimously, even if a trifle automatically, practised them; yet,
with it all, he had never so much as during such sojourns the
trick of a certain detached, the amusement of a certain inward
critical, life; the determined need, which apparently all
participant, of returning upon itself, of backing noiselessly in,
far in again, and rejoining there, as it were, that part of his
mind that was not engaged at the front. His body, very
constantly, was engaged at the front--in shooting, in riding, in
golfing, in walking, over the fine diagonals of meadow-paths or
round the pocketed corners of billiard-tables; it sufficiently,
on the whole, in fact, bore the brunt of bridge-playing, of
breakfasting, lunching, tea-drinking, dining, and of the nightly
climax over the bottigliera, as he called it, of the bristling
tray; it met, finally, to the extent of the limited tax on lip,
on gesture, on wit, most of the current demands of conversation
and expression. Therefore something of him, he often felt at
these times, was left out; it was much more when he was alone, or
when he was with his own people--or when he was, say, with Mrs.
Verver and nobody else--that he moved, that he talked, that he
listened, that he felt, as a congruous whole.

"English society," as he would have said, cut him, accordingly,
in two, and he reminded himself often, in his relations with it,
of a man possessed of a shining star, a decoration, an order of
some sort, something so ornamental as to make his identity not
complete, ideally, without it, yet who, finding no other such
object generally worn, should be perpetually, and the least bit
ruefully, unpinning it from his breast to transfer it to his
pocket. The Prince's shining star may, no doubt, having been
nothing more precious than his private subtlety; but whatever the
object was he just now fingered it a good deal, out of sight--
amounting as it mainly did for him to a restless play of memory
and a fine embroidery of thought. Something had rather
momentously occurred, in Eaton Square, during his enjoyed minutes
with his old friend: his present perspective made definitely
clear to him that she had plumped out for him her first little
lie. That took on--and he could scarce have said why--a sharpness
of importance: she had never lied to him before--if only because
it had never come up for her, properly, intelligibly, morally,
that she must. As soon as she had put to him the question of what
he would do--by which she meant of what Charlotte would also do--
in that event of Maggie's and Mr. Verver's not embracing the
proposal they had appeared for a day or two resignedly to
entertain; as soon as she had betrayed her curiosity as to the
line the other pair, so left to themselves, might take, a desire
to avoid the appearance of at all too directly prying had become
marked in her. Betrayed by the solicitude of which she had,
already, three weeks before, given him a view, she had been
obliged, on a second thought, to name, intelligibly, a reason for
her appeal; while the Prince, on his side, had had, not without
mercy, his glimpse of her momentarily groping for one and yet
remaining unprovided. Not without mercy because, absolutely, he
had on the spot, in his friendliness, invented one for her use,
presenting it to her with a look no more significant than if he
had picked up, to hand back to her, a dropped flower. "You ask if
I'm likely also to back out then, because it may make a
difference in what you and the Colonel decide?"--he had gone as
far as that for her, fairly inviting her to assent, though not
having had his impression, from any indication offered him by
Charlotte, that the Assinghams were really in question for the
large Matcham party. The wonderful thing, after this, was that
the active couple had, in the interval, managed to inscribe
themselves on the golden roll; an exertion of a sort that, to do
her justice, he had never before observed Fanny to make. This
last passage of the chapter but proved, after all, with what
success she could work when she would.

Once launched, himself, at any rate, as he had been directed by
all the terms of the intercourse between Portland Place and Eaton
Square, once steeped, at Matcham, in the enjoyment of a splendid
hospitality, he found everything, for his interpretation, for his
convenience, fall easily enough into place; and all the more that
Mrs. Verver was at hand to exchange ideas and impressions with.
The great house was full of people, of possible new combinations,
of the quickened play of possible propinquity, and no appearance,
of course, was less to be cultivated than that of his having
sought an opportunity to foregather with his friend at a safe
distance from their respective sposi. There was a happy boldness,
at the best, in their mingling thus, each unaccompanied, in the
same sustained sociability--just exactly a touch of that
eccentricity of associated freedom which sat so lightly on the
imagination of the relatives left behind. They were exposed as
much as one would to its being pronounced funny that they should,
at such a rate, go about together--though, on the other hand,
this consideration drew relief from the fact that, in their high
conditions and with the easy tradition, the almost inspiring
allowances, of the house in question, no individual line, however
freely marked, was pronounced anything more than funny. Both our
friends felt afresh, as they had felt before, the convenience of
a society so placed that it had only its own sensibility to
consider--looking as it did well over the heads of all lower
growths; and that moreover treated its own sensibility quite as
the easiest, friendliest, most informal and domesticated party to
the general alliance. What anyone "thought" of anyone else--above
all of anyone else with anyone else--was a matter incurring in
these lulls so little awkward formulation that hovering judgment,
the spirit with the scales, might perfectly have been imaged
there as some rather snubbed and subdued, but quite trained and
tactful poor relation, of equal, of the properest, lineage, only
of aspect a little dingy, doubtless from too limited a change of
dress, for whose tacit and abstemious presence, never betrayed by
a rattle of her rusty machine, a room in the attic and a plate at
the side-table were decently usual. It was amusing, in such
lightness of air, that the Prince should again present himself
only to speak for the Princess, so unfortunately unable, again,
to leave home; and that Mrs. Verver should as regularly figure as
an embodied, a beautifully deprecating apology for her husband,
who was all geniality and humility among his own treasures, but
as to whom the legend had grown up that he couldn't bear, with
the height of his standards and the tone of the company, in the
way of sofas and cabinets, habitually kept by him, the irritation
and depression to which promiscuous visiting, even at pompous
houses, had been found to expose him. That was all right, the
noted working harmony of the clever son-in-law and the charming
stepmother, so long as the relation was, for the effect in
question, maintained at the proper point between sufficiency and
excess.

What with the noble fairness of the place, meanwhile, the
generous mood of the sunny, gusty, lusty English April, all
panting and heaving with impatience, or kicking and crying, even,
at moments, like some infant Hercules who wouldn't be dressed;
what with these things and the bravery of youth and beauty, the
insolence of fortune and appetite so diffused among his
fellow-guests that the poor Assinghams, in their comparatively
marked maturity and their comparatively small splendour, were the
only approach to a false note in the concert, the stir of the air
was such, for going, in a degree, to one's head, that, as a mere
matter of exposure, almost grotesque in its flagrancy, his
situation resembled some elaborate practical joke carried out at
his expense. Every voice in the great bright house was a call to
the ingenuities and impunities of pleasure; every echo was a
defiance of difficulty, doubt or danger; every aspect of the
picture, a glowing plea for the immediate, and as with plenty
more to come, was another phase of the spell. For a world so
constituted was governed by a spell, that of the smile of the
gods and the favour of the powers; the only handsome, the only
gallant, in fact the only intelligent acceptance of which was a
faith in its guarantees and a high spirit for its chances. Its
demand--to that the thing came back--was above all for courage
and good-humour; and the value of this as a general assurance--
that is for seeing one through at the worst--had not even in the
easiest hours of his old Roman life struck the Prince so
convincingly. His old Roman life had had more poetry, no doubt,
but as he looked back upon it now it seemed to hang in the air of
mere iridescent horizons, to have been loose and vague and thin,
with large languorous unaccountable blanks. The present order, as
it spread about him, had somehow the ground under its feet, and a
trumpet in its ears, and a bottomless bag of solid shining
British sovereigns--which was much to the point--in its hand.
Courage and good-humour therefore were the breath of the day;
though for ourselves at least it would have been also much to the
point that, with Amerigo, really, the innermost effect of all
this perceptive ease was perhaps a strange final irritation. He
compared the lucid result with the extraordinary substitute for
perception that presided, in the bosom of his wife, at so
contented a view of his conduct and course--a state of mind that
was positively like a vicarious good conscience, cultivated
ingeniously on his behalf, a perversity of pressure innocently
persisted in; and this wonder of irony became on occasion too
intense to be kept wholly to himself. It wasn't that, at Matcham,
anything particular, anything monstrous, anything that had to be
noticed permitted itself, as they said, to "happen"; there were
only odd moments when the breath of the day, as it has been
called, struck him so full in the face that he broke out with all
the hilarity of "What indeed would THEY have made of it?" "They"
were of course Maggie and her father, moping--so far as they ever
consented to mope in monotonous Eaton Square, but placid too in
the belief that they knew beautifully what their expert
companions were in for. They knew, it might have appeared in
these lights, absolutely nothing on earth worth speaking of--
whether beautifully or cynically; and they would perhaps
sometimes be a little less trying if they would only once for all
peacefully admit that knowledge wasn't one of their needs and
that they were in fact constitutionally inaccessible to it. They
were good children, bless their hearts, and the children of good
children; so that, verily, the Principino himself, as less
consistently of that descent, might figure to the fancy as the
ripest genius of the trio.

The difficulty was, for the nerves of daily intercourse with
Maggie in particular, that her imagination was clearly never
ruffled by the sense of any anomaly. The great anomaly would have
been that her husband, or even that her father's wife, should
prove to have been made, for the long run, after the pattern set
from so far back to the Ververs. If one was so made one had
certainly no business, on any terms, at Matcham; whereas if one
wasn't one had no business there on the particular terms--terms
of conformity with the principles of Eaton Square--under which
one had been so absurdly dedicated. Deep at the heart of that
resurgent unrest in our young man which we have had to content
ourselves with calling his irritation--deep in the bosom of this
falsity of position glowed the red spark of his inextinguishable
sense of a higher and braver propriety. There were situations
that were ridiculous, but that one couldn't yet help, as for
instance when one's wife chose, in the most usual way, to make
one so. Precisely here, however, was the difference; it had taken
poor Maggie to invent a way so extremely unusual--yet to which,
none the less, it would be too absurd that he should merely lend
himself. Being thrust, systematically, with another woman, and a
woman one happened, by the same token, exceedingly to like, and
being so thrust that the theory of it seemed to publish one as
idiotic or incapable--this WAS a predicament of which the dignity
depended all on one's own handling. What was supremely grotesque,
in fact, was the essential opposition of theories--as if a
galantuomo, as HE at least constitutionally conceived
galantuomini, could do anything BUT blush to "go about" at such a
rate with such a person as Mrs. Verver in a state of childlike
innocence, the state of our primitive parents before the Fall.
The grotesque theory, as he would have called it, was perhaps an
odd one to resent with violence, and he did it--also as a man of
the world--all merciful justice; but, assuredly, none the less,
there was but one way REALLY to mark, and for his companion as
much as for himself, the commiseration in which they held it.
Adequate comment on it could only be private, but it could also
at least be active, and of rich and effectual comment Charlotte
and he were fortunately alike capable. Wasn't this consensus
literally their only way not to be ungracious? It was positively
as if the measure of their escape from that danger were given by
the growth between them, during their auspicious visit, of an
exquisite sense of complicity.



                              XXI

He found himself therefore saying, with gaiety, even to Fanny
Assingham, for their common, concerned glance at Eaton Square,
the glance that was so markedly never, as it might have been, a
glance at Portland Place: "What WOULD our cari sposi have made of
it here? what would they, you know, really?"--which overflow
would have been reckless if, already, and surprisingly perhaps
even to himself, he had not got used to thinking of this friend
as a person in whom the element of protest had of late been
unmistakably allayed. He exposed himself of course to her
replying: "Ah, if it would have been so bad for them, how can it
be so good for you?"--but, quite apart from the small sense the
question would have had at the best, she appeared already to
unite with him in confidence and cheer. He had his view, as
well--or at least a partial one--of the inner spring of this
present comparative humility, which was all consistent with the
retraction he had practically seen her make after Mr. Verver's
last dinner. Without diplomatising to do so, with no effort to
square her, none to bribe her to an attitude for which he would
have had no use in her if it were not sincere, he yet felt how he
both held her and moved her by the felicity of his taking pity,
all instinctively, on her just discernible depression. By just so
much as he guessed that she felt herself, as the slang was, out
of it, out of the crystal current and the expensive picture, by
just so much had his friendship charmingly made up to her, from
hour to hour, for the penalties, as they might have been grossly
called, of her mistake. Her mistake had only been, after all, in
her wanting to seem to him straight; she had let herself in for
being--as she had made haste, for that matter, during the very
first half-hour, at tea, to proclaim herself--the sole and single
frump of the party. The scale of everything was so different that
all her minor values, her quainter graces, her little local
authority, her humour and her wardrobe alike, for which it was
enough elsewhere, among her bons amis, that they were hers, dear
Fanny Assingham's--these matters and others would be all, now, as
nought: five minutes had sufficed to give her the fatal pitch. In
Cadogan Place she could always, at the worst, be picturesque--for
she habitually spoke of herself as "local" to Sloane Street
whereas at Matcham she should never be anything but horrible. And
it all would have come, the disaster, from the real refinement,
in her, of the spirit of friendship. To prove to him that she
wasn't really watching him--ground for which would have been too
terribly grave--she had followed him in his pursuit of pleasure:
SO she might, precisely, mark her detachment. This was handsome
trouble for her to take--the Prince could see it all: it wasn't a
shade of interference that a good-natured man would visit on her.
So he didn't even say, when she told him how frumpy she knew
herself, how frumpy her very maid, odiously going back on her,
rubbed it into her, night and morning, with unsealed eyes and
lips, that she now knew her--he didn't then say "Ah, see what
you've done: isn't it rather your own fault?" He behaved
differently altogether: eminently distinguished himself--for she
told him she had never seen him so universally distinguished--he
yet distinguished her in her obscurity, or in what was worse, her
objective absurdity, and frankly invested her with her absolute
value, surrounded her with all the importance of her wit. That
wit, as discriminated from stature and complexion, a sense for
"bridge" and a credit for pearls, could have importance was
meanwhile but dimly perceived at Matcham; so that his "niceness"
to her--she called it only niceness, but it brought tears into
her eyes--had the greatness of a general as well as of a special
demonstration.

"She understands," he said, as a comment on all this, to Mrs.
Verver--"she understands all she needs to understand. She has
taken her time, but she has at last made it out for herself: she
sees how all we can desire is to give them the life they prefer,
to surround them with the peace and quiet, and above all with the
sense of security, most favourable to it. She can't of course
very well put it to us that we have, so far as she is concerned,
but to make the best of our circumstances; she can't say in so
many words 'Don't think of me, for I too must make the best of
mine: arrange as you can, only, and live as you must.' I don't
get quite THAT from her, any more than I ask for it. But her tone
and her whole manner mean nothing at all unless they mean that
she trusts us to take as watchful, to take as artful, to take as
tender care, in our way, as she so anxiously takes in hers. So
that she's--well," the Prince wound up, "what you may call
practically all right." Charlotte in fact, however, to help out
his confidence, didn't call it anything; return as he might to
the lucidity, the importance, or whatever it was, of this lesson,
she gave him no aid toward reading it aloud. She let him, two or
three times over, spell it out for himself; only on the eve of
their visit's end was she, for once, clear or direct in response.
They had found a minute together in the great hall of the house
during the half-hour before dinner; this easiest of chances they
had already, a couple of times, arrived at by waiting
persistently till the last other loiterers had gone to dress, and
by being prepared themselves to dress so expeditiously that they
might, a little later on, be among the first to appear in festal
array. The hall then was empty, before the army of rearranging,
cushion-patting housemaids were marshalled in, and there was a
place by the forsaken fire, at one end, where they might imitate,
with art, the unpremeditated. Above all, here, for the snatched
instants, they could breathe so near to each other that the
interval was almost engulfed in it, and the intensity both of the
union and the caution became a workable substitute for contact.
They had prolongations of instants that counted as visions of
bliss; they had slow approximations that counted as long
caresses. The quality of these passages, in truth, made the
spoken word, and especially the spoken word about other people,
fall below them; so that our young woman's tone had even now a
certain dryness. "It's very good of her, my dear, to trust us.
But what else can she do?"

"Why, whatever people do when they don't trust. Let one see they
don't."

"But let whom see?"

"Well, let ME, say, to begin with."

"And should you mind that?"

He had a slight show of surprise. "Shouldn't you?"

"Her letting you see? No," said Charlotte; "the only thing I can
imagine myself minding is what you yourself, if you don't look
out, may let HER see." To which she added: "You may let her see,
you know, that you're afraid."

"I'm only afraid of you, a little, at moments," he presently
returned. "But I shan't let Fanny see that."

It was clear, however, that neither the limits nor the extent of
Mrs. Assingham's vision were now a real concern to her, and she
gave expression to this as she had not even yet done. "What in
the world can she do against us? There's not a word that she can
breathe. She's helpless; she can't speak; she would be herself
the first to be dished by it." And then as he seemed slow to
follow: "It all comes back to her. It all began with her.
Everything, from the first. She introduced you to Maggie. She
made your marriage."

The Prince might have had his moment of demur, but at this, after
a little, as with a smile dim but deep, he came on. "Mayn't she
also be said, a good deal, to have made yours? That was intended,
I think, wasn't it? for a kind of rectification."

Charlotte, on her side, for an instant, hesitated; then she was
prompter still. "I don't mean there was anything to rectify;
everything was as it had to be, and I'm not speaking of how she
may have been concerned for you and me. I'm speaking of how she
took, in her way, each time, THEIR lives in hand, and how,
therefore, that ties her up to-day. She can't go to them and say
'It's very awkward of course, you poor dear things, but I was
frivolously mistaken.'"

He took it in still, with his long look at her. "All the more
that she wasn't. She was right. Everything's right," he went on,
"and everything will stay so."

"Then that's all I say."

But he worked it out, for the deeper satisfaction, even to
superfluous lucidity. "We're happy, and they're happy. What more
does the position admit of? What more need Fanny Assingham want?"

"Ah, my dear," said Charlotte, "it's not I who say that she need
want anything. I only say that she's FIXED, that she must stand
exactly where everything has, by her own act, placed her. It's
you who have seemed haunted with the possibility, for her, of
some injurious alternative, something or other we must be
prepared for." And she had, with her high reasoning, a strange
cold smile. "We ARE prepared--for anything, for everything; and
AS we are, practically, so she must take us. She's condemned to
consistency; she's doomed, poor thing, to a genial optimism.
That, luckily for her, however, is very much the law of her
nature. She was born to soothe and to smooth. Now then,
therefore," Mrs. Verver gently laughed, "she has the chance of
her life!"

"So that her present professions may, even at the best, not be
sincere?--may be but a mask for doubts and fears, and for gaining
time?"

The Prince had looked, with the question, as if this, again,
could trouble him, and it determined in his companion a slight
impatience. "You keep talking about such things as if they were
our affair at all. I feel, at any rate, that I've nothing to do
with her doubts and fears, or with anything she may feel. She
must arrange all that for herself. It's enough for me that she'll
always be, of necessity, much more afraid for herself, REALLY,
either to see or to speak, than we should be to have her do it
even if we were the idiots and cowards we aren't." And
Charlotte's face, with these words--to the mitigation of the
slightly hard ring there might otherwise have been in them--
fairly lightened, softened, shone out. It reflected as really
never yet the rare felicity of their luck. It made her look for
the moment as if she had actually pronounced that word of
unpermitted presumption--so apt is the countenance, as with a
finer consciousness than the tongue, to betray a sense of this
particular lapse. She might indeed, the next instant, have seen
her friend wince, in advance, at her use of a word that was
already on her lips; for it was still unmistakable with him that
there were things he could prize, forms of fortune he could
cherish, without at all proportionately liking their names. Had
all this, however, been even completely present to his companion,
what other term could she have applied to the strongest and
simplest of her ideas but the one that exactly fitted it? She
applied it then, though her own instinct moved her, at the same
time, to pay her tribute to the good taste from which they hadn't
heretofore by a hair's breadth deviated. "If it didn't sound so
vulgar I should say that we're--fatally, as it were--SAFE. Pardon
the low expression--since it's what we happen to be. We're so
because they are. And they're so because they can't be anything
else, from the moment that, having originally intervened for
them, she wouldn't now be able to bear herself if she didn't keep
them so. That's the way she's inevitably WITH us," said Charlotte
over her smile. "We hang, essentially, together."

Well, the Prince candidly allowed she did bring it home to him.
Every way it worked out. "Yes, I see. We hang, essentially,
together."

His friend had a shrug--a shrug that had a grace. "Cosa
volete?" The effect, beautifully, nobly, was more than Roman.
"Ah, beyond doubt, it's a case."

He stood looking at her. "It's a case. There can't," he said,
"have been many."

"Perhaps never, never, never any other. That," she smiled, "I
confess I should like to think. Only ours."

"Only ours--most probably. Speriamo." To which, as after hushed
connections, he presently added: "Poor Fanny!" But Charlotte had
already, with a start and a warning hand, turned from a glance at
the clock. She sailed away to dress, while he watched her reach
the staircase. His eyes followed her till, with a simple swift
look round at him, she vanished. Something in the sight, however,
appeared to have renewed the spring of his last exclamation,
which he breathed again upon the air. "Poor, poor Fanny!"

It was to prove, however, on the morrow, quite consistent with
the spirit of these words that, the party at Matcham breaking up
and multitudinously dispersing, he should be able to meet the
question of the social side of the process of repatriation with
due presence of mind. It was impossible, for reasons, that he
should travel to town with the Assinghams; it was impossible, for
the same reasons, that he should travel to town save in the
conditions that he had for the last twenty-four hours been
privately, and it might have been said profoundly, thinking out.
The result of his thought was already precious to him, and this
put at his service, he sufficiently believed, the right tone for
disposing of his elder friend's suggestion, an assumption in fact
equally full and mild, that he and Charlotte would conveniently
take the same train and occupy the same compartment as the
Colonel and herself. The extension of the idea to Mrs. Verver had
been, precisely, a part of Mrs. Assingham's mildness, and nothing
could better have characterised her sense for social shades than
her easy perception that the gentleman from Portland Place and
the lady from Eaton Square might now confess, quite without
indiscretion, to simultaneity of movement. She had made, for the
four days, no direct appeal to the latter personage, but the
Prince was accidental witness of her taking a fresh start at the
moment the company were about to scatter for the last night of
their stay. There had been, at this climax, the usual preparatory
talk about hours and combinations, in the midst of which poor
Fanny gently approached Mrs. Verver. She said "You and the
Prince, love,"--quite, apparently, without blinking; she took for
granted their public withdrawal together; she remarked that she
and Bob were alike ready, in the interest of sociability, to take
any train that would make them all one party. "I feel really as
if, all this time, I had seen nothing of you"--that gave an added
grace to the candour of the dear thing's approach. But just then
it was, on the other hand, that the young man found himself
borrow most effectively the secret of the right tone for doing as
he preferred. His preference had, during the evening, not failed
of occasion to press him with mute insistences; practically
without words, without any sort of straight telegraphy, it had
arrived at a felt identity with Charlotte's own. She spoke all
for their friend while she answered their friend's question, but
she none the less signalled to him as definitely as if she had
fluttered a white handkerchief from a window. "It's awfully sweet
of you, darling--our going together would be charming. But you
mustn't mind us--you must suit yourselves we've settled, Amerigo
and I, to stay over till after luncheon."

Amerigo, with the chink of this gold in his ear, turned straight
away, so as not to be instantly appealed to; and for the very
emotion of the wonder, furthermore, of what divination may
achieve when winged by a community of passion. Charlotte had
uttered the exact plea that he had been keeping ready for the
same foreseen necessity, and had uttered it simply as a
consequence of their deepening unexpressed need of each other and
without the passing between them of a word. He hadn't, God knew,
to take it from her--he was too conscious of what he wanted; but
the lesson for him was in the straight clear tone that Charlotte
could thus distil, in the perfect felicity of her adding no
explanation, no touch for plausibility, that she wasn't strictly
obliged to add, and in the truly superior way in which women, so
situated, express and distinguish themselves. She had answered
Mrs. Assingham quite adequately; she had not spoiled it by a
reason a scrap larger than the smallest that would serve, and she
had, above all, thrown off, for his stretched but covered
attention, an image that flashed like a mirror played at the face
of the sun. The measure of EVERYTHING, to all his sense, at these
moments, was in it--the measure especially of the thought that
had been growing with him a positive obsession and that began to
throb as never yet under this brush of her having, by perfect
parity of imagination, the match for it. His whole consciousness
had by this time begun almost to ache with a truth of an
exquisite order, at the glow of which she too had, so
unmistakably then, been warming herself--the truth that the
occasion constituted by the last few days couldn't possibly, save
by some poverty of their own, refuse them some still other and
still greater beauty. It had already told them, with an hourly
voice, that it had a meaning--a meaning that their associated
sense was to drain even as thirsty lips, after the plough through
the sands and the sight, afar, of the palm-cluster, might drink
in at last the promised well in the desert. There had been
beauty, day after day, and there had been, for the spiritual
lips, something of the pervasive taste of it; yet it was all,
none the less, as if their response had remained below their
fortune. How to bring it, by some brave, free lift, up to the
same height was the idea with which, behind and beneath
everything, he was restlessly occupied, and in the exploration of
which, as in that of the sun-chequered greenwood of romance, his
spirit thus, at the opening of a vista, met hers. They were
already, from that moment, so hand-in-hand in the place that he
found himself making use, five minutes later, of exactly the same
tone as Charlotte's for telling Mrs. Assingham that he was
likewise, in the matter of the return to London, sorry for what
mightn't be.

This had become, of a sudden, the simplest thing in the world--
the sense of which moreover seemed really to amount to a portent
that he should feel, forevermore, on the general head,
conveniently at his ease with her. He went in fact a step further
than Charlotte--put the latter forward as creating his necessity.
She was staying over luncheon to oblige their hostess--as a
consequence of which he must also stay to see her decently home.
He must deliver her safe and sound, he felt, in Eaton Square.
Regret as he might, too, the difference made by this obligation,
he frankly didn't mind, inasmuch as, over and above the pleasure
itself, his scruple would certainly gratify both Mr. Verver and
Maggie. They never yet had absolutely and entirely learned, he
even found deliberation to intimate, how little he really
neglected the first--as it seemed nowadays quite to have become--
of his domestic duties: therefore he still constantly felt how
little he must remit his effort to make them remark it. To which
he added with equal lucidity that they would return in time for
dinner, and if he didn't, as a last word, subjoin that it would
be "lovely" of Fanny to find, on her own return, a moment to go
to Eaton Square and report them as struggling bravely on, this
was not because the impulse, down to the very name for the
amiable act, altogether failed to rise. His inward assurance, his
general plan, had at moments, where she was concerned, its drops
of continuity, and nothing would less have pleased him than that
she should suspect in him, however tempted, any element of
conscious "cheek." But he was always--that was really the
upshot--cultivating thanklessly the considerate and the delicate:
it was a long lesson, this unlearning, with people of English
race, all the little superstitions that accompany friendship.
Mrs. Assingham herself was the first to say that she would
unfailingly "report"; she brought it out in fact, he thought,
quite wonderfully--having attained the summit of the wonderful
during the brief interval that had separated her appeal to
Charlotte from this passage with himself. She had taken the five
minutes, obviously, amid the rest of the talk and the movement,
to retire into her tent for meditation--which showed, among
several things, the impression Charlotte had made on her. It was
from the tent she emerged, as with arms refurbished; though who
indeed could say if the manner in which she now met him spoke
most, really, of the glitter of battle or of the white waver of
the flag of truce? The parley was short either way; the gallantry
of her offer was all sufficient.

"I'll go to our friends then--I'll ask for luncheon. I'll tell
them when to expect you."

"That will be charming. Say we're all right."

"All right--precisely. I can't say more," Mrs. Assingham smiled.

"No doubt." But he considered, as for the possible importance of
it. "Neither can you, by what I seem to feel, say less."

"Oh, I WON'T say less!" Fanny laughed; with which, the next
moment, she had turned away. But they had it again, not less
bravely, on the morrow, after breakfast, in the thick of the
advancing carriages and the exchange of farewells. "I think I'll
send home my maid from Euston," she was then prepared to amend,
"and go to Eaton Square straight. So you can be easy."

"Oh, I think we're easy," the Prince returned. "Be sure to say,
at any rate, that we're bearing up."

"You're bearing up--good. And Charlotte returns to dinner?"

"To dinner. We're not likely, I think, to make another night
away."

"Well then, I wish you at least a pleasant day,"

"Oh," he laughed as they separated, "we shall do our best for
it!"--after which, in due course, with the announcement of their
conveyance, the Assinghams rolled off.



                           XXII

It was quite, for the Prince, after this, as if the view had
further cleared; so that the half-hour during which he strolled
on the terrace and smoked--the day being lovely--overflowed with
the plenitude of its particular quality. Its general brightness
was composed, doubtless, of many elements, but what shone out of
it as if the whole place and time had been a great picture, from
the hand of genius, presented to him as a prime ornament for his
collection and all varnished and framed to hang up--what marked
it especially for the highest appreciation was his
extraordinarily unchallenged, his absolutely appointed and
enhanced possession of it. Poor Fanny Assingham's challenge
amounted to nothing: one of the things he thought of while he
leaned on the old marble balustrade--so like others that he knew
in still more nobly-terraced Italy--was that she was squared,
all-conveniently even to herself, and that, rumbling toward
London with this contentment, she had become an image irrelevant
to the scene. It further passed across him, as his imagination
was, for reasons, during the time, unprecedentedly active,--that
he had, after all, gained more from women than he had ever lost
by them; there appeared so, more and more, on those mystic books
that are kept, in connection with such commerce, even by men of
the loosest business habits, a balance in his favour that he
could pretty well, as a rule, take for granted. What were they
doing at this very moment, wonderful creatures, but combine and
conspire for his advantage?--from Maggie herself, most wonderful,
in her way, of all, to his hostess of the present hour, into
whose head it had so inevitably come to keep Charlotte on, for
reasons of her own, and who had asked, in this benevolent spirit,
why in the world, if not obliged, without plausibility, to hurry,
her husband's son-in-law should not wait over in her company. He
would at least see, Lady Castledean had said, that nothing
dreadful should happen to her, either while still there or during
the exposure of the run to town; and, for that matter, if they
exceeded a little their license it would positively help them to
have done so together. Each of them would, in this way, at home,
have the other comfortably to blame. All of which, besides, in
Lady Castledean as in Maggie, in Fanny Assingham as in Charlotte
herself, was working; for him without provocation or pressure, by
the mere play of some vague sense on their part--definite and
conscious at the most only in Charlotte--that he was not, as a
nature, as a character, as a gentleman, in fine, below his
remarkable fortune.

But there were more things before him than even these; things
that melted together, almost indistinguishably, to feed his sense
of beauty. If the outlook was in every way spacious--and the
towers of three cathedrals, in different counties, as had been
pointed out to him, gleamed discernibly, like dim silver, in the
rich sameness of tone--didn't he somehow the more feel it so
because, precisely, Lady Castledean had kept over a man of her
own, and that this offered a certain sweet intelligibility as the
note of the day? It made everything fit; above all it diverted
him to the extent of keeping up, while he lingered and waited,
his meditative smile. She had detained Charlotte because she
wished to detain Mr. Blint, and she couldn't detain Mr. Blint,
disposed though he clearly was to oblige her, without spreading
over the act some ampler drapery. Castledean had gone up to
London; the place was all her own; she had had a fancy for a
quiet morning with Mr. Blint, a sleek, civil, accomplished young
man--distinctly younger than her ladyship--who played and sang
delightfully (played even "bridge" and sang the English-comic as
well as the French-tragic), and the presence--which really meant
the absence--of a couple of other friends, if they were happily
chosen, would make everything all right. The Prince had the
sense, all good-humouredly, of being happily chosen, and it was
not spoiled for him even by another sense that followed in its
train and with which, during his life in England, he had more
than once had reflectively to deal: the state of being reminded
how, after all, as an outsider, a foreigner, and even as a mere
representative husband and son-in-law, he was so irrelevant to
the working of affairs that he could be bent on occasion to uses
comparatively trivial. No other of her guests would have been
thus convenient for their hostess; affairs, of whatever sorts,
had claimed, by early trains, every active, easy,
smoothly-working man, each in his way a lubricated item of the
great social, political, administrative engrenage--claimed most
of all Castledean himself, who was so very oddly, given the
personage and the type, rather a large item. If he, on the other
hand, had an affair, it was not of that order; it was of the
order, verily, that he had been reduced to as a not quite
glorious substitute.

It marked, however, the feeling of the hour with him that this
vision of being "reduced" interfered not at all with the measure
of his actual ease. It kept before him again, at moments, the so
familiar fact of his sacrifices--down to the idea of the very
relinquishment, for his wife's convenience, of his real situation
in the world; with the consequence, thus, that he was, in the
last analysis, among all these so often inferior people,
practically held cheap and made light of. But though all this was
sensible enough there was a spirit in him that could rise above
it, a spirit that positively played with the facts, with all of
them; from that of the droll ambiguity of English relations to
that of his having in mind something quite beautiful and
independent and harmonious, something wholly his own. He couldn't
somehow take Mr. Blint seriously--he was much more an outsider,
by the larger scale, even than a Roman prince who consented to be
in abeyance. Yet it was past finding out, either, how such a
woman as Lady Castledean could take him--since this question but
sank for him again into the fathomless depths of English
equivocation. He knew them all, as was said, "well"; he had lived
with them, stayed with them, dined, hunted, shot and done various
other things with them; but the number of questions about them he
couldn't have answered had much rather grown than shrunken, so
that experience struck him for the most part as having left in
him but one residual impression. They didn't like les situations
nettes--that was all he was very sure of. They wouldn't have them
at any price; it had been their national genius and their
national success to avoid them at every point. They called it
themselves, with complacency, their wonderful spirit of
compromise--the very influence of which actually so hung about
him here, from moment to moment, that the earth and the air, the
light and the colour, the fields and the hills and the sky, the
blue-green counties and the cold cathedrals, owed to it every
accent of their tone. Verily, as one had to feel in presence of
such a picture, it had succeeded; it had made, up to now, for
that seated solidity, in the rich sea-mist, on which the garish,
the supposedly envious, peoples have ever cooled their eyes. But
it was at the same time precisely why even much initiation left
one, at given moments, so puzzled as to the element of staleness
in all the freshness and of freshness in all the staleness, of
innocence in the guilt and of guilt in the innocence. There were
other marble terraces, sweeping more purple prospects, on which
he would have known what to think, and would have enjoyed thereby
at least the small intellectual fillip of a discerned relation
between a given appearance and a taken meaning. The inquiring
mind, in these present conditions, might, it was true, be more
sharply challenged; but the result of its attention and its
ingenuity, it had unluckily learned to know, was too often to be
confronted with a mere dead wall, a lapse of logic, a confirmed
bewilderment. And moreover, above all, nothing mattered, in the
relation of the enclosing scene to his own consciousness, but its
very most direct bearings.

Lady Castledean's dream of Mr. Blint for the morning was
doubtless already, with all the spacious harmonies re-
established, taking the form of "going over" something with him,
at the piano, in one of the numerous smaller rooms that were
consecrated to the less gregarious uses; what she had wished had
been effected--her convenience had been assured. This made him,
however, wonder the more where Charlotte was--since he didn't at
all suppose her to be making a tactless third, which would be to
have accepted mere spectatorship, in the duet of their
companions. The upshot of everything for him, alike of the less
and of the more, was that the exquisite day bloomed there like a
large fragrant flower that he had only to gather. But it was to
Charlotte he wished to make the offering, and as he moved along
the terrace, which rendered visible parts of two sides of the
house, he looked up at all the windows that were open to the
April morning, and wondered which of them would represent his
friend's room. It befell thus that his question, after no long
time, was answered; he saw Charlotte appear above as if she had
been called by the pausing of his feet on the flags. She had come
to the sill, on which she leaned to look down, and she remained
there a minute smiling at him. He had been immediately struck
with her wearing a hat and a jacket--which conduced to her
appearance of readiness not so much to join him, with a beautiful
uncovered head and a parasol, where he stood, as to take with him
some larger step altogether. The larger step had been, since the
evening before, intensely in his own mind, though he had not
fully thought out, even yet, the slightly difficult detail of it;
but he had had no chance, such as he needed, to speak the
definite word to her, and the face she now showed affected him,
accordingly, as a notice that she had wonderfully guessed it for
herself. They had these identities of impulse--they had had them
repeatedly before; and if such unarranged but unerring encounters
gave the measure of the degree in which people were, in the
common phrase, meant for each other, no union in the world had
ever been more sweetened with rightness. What in fact most often
happened was that her rightness went, as who should say, even
further than his own; they were conscious of the same necessity
at the same moment, only it was she, as a general thing, who most
clearly saw her way to it. Something in her long look at him now
out of the old grey window, something in the very poise of her
hat, the colour of her necktie, the prolonged stillness of her
smile, touched into sudden light for him all the wealth of the
fact that he could count on her. He had his hand there, to pluck
it, on the open bloom of the day; but what did the bright minute
mean but that her answering hand was already intelligently out?
So, therefore, while the minute lasted, it passed between them
that their cup was full; which cup their very eyes, holding it
fast, carried and steadied and began, as they tasted it, to
praise. He broke, however, after a moment, the silence.

"It only wants a moon, a mandolin, and a little danger, to be a
serenade."

"Ah, then," she lightly called down, "let it at least have THIS!"
With which she detached a rich white rosebud from its company
with another in the front of her dress and flung it down to him.
He caught it in its fall, fixing her again after she had watched
him place it in his buttonhole. "Come down quickly!" he said in
an Italian not loud but deep.

"Vengo, vengo!" she as clearly, but more lightly, tossed out; and
she had left him the next minute to wait for her.

He came along the terrace again, with pauses during which his
eyes rested, as they had already often done, on the brave darker
wash of far-away watercolour that represented the most distant of
the cathedral towns. This place, with its great church and its
high accessibility, its towers that distinguishably signalled,
its English history, its appealing type, its acknowledged
interest, this place had sounded its name to him half the night
through, and its name had become but another name, the
pronounceable and convenient one, for that supreme sense of
things which now throbbed within him. He had kept saying to
himself "Gloucester, Gloucester, Gloucester," quite as if the
sharpest meaning of all the years just passed were intensely
expressed in it. That meaning was really that his situation
remained quite sublimely consistent with itself, and that they
absolutely, he and Charlotte, stood there together in the very
lustre of this truth. Every present circumstance helped to
proclaim it; it was blown into their faces as by the lips of the
morning. He knew why, from the first of his marriage, he had
tried with such patience for such conformity; he knew why he had
given up so much and bored himself so much; he knew why he, at
any rate, had gone in, on the basis of all forms, on the basis of
his having, in a manner, sold himself, for a situation nette. It
had all been just in order that his--well, what on earth should
he call it but his freedom?--should at present be as perfect and
rounded and lustrous as some huge precious pearl. He hadn't
struggled nor snatched; he was taking but what had been given
him; the pearl dropped itself, with its exquisite quality and
rarity, straight into his hand. Here, precisely, it was,
incarnate; its size and its value grew as Mrs. Verver appeared,
afar off, in one of the smaller doorways. She came toward him in
silence, while he moved to meet her; the great scale of this
particular front, at Matcham, multiplied thus, in the golden
morning, the stages of their meeting and the successions of their
consciousness. It wasn't till she had come quite close that he
produced for her his "Gloucester, Gloucester, Gloucester,"
and his "Look at it over there!"

She knew just where to look. "Yes--isn't it one of the best?
There are cloisters or towers or some thing." And her eyes,
which, though her lips smiled, were almost grave with their
depths of acceptance; came back to him. "Or the tomb of some old
king."

"We must see the old king; we must 'do' the cathedral," he said;
"we must know all about it. If we could but take," he exhaled,
"the full opportunity!" And then while, for all they seemed to
give him, he sounded again her eyes: "I feel the day like a great
gold cup that we must somehow drain together."

"I feel it, as you always make me feel everything, just as you
do; so that I know ten miles off how you feel! But do you
remember," she asked, "apropos of great gold cups, the beautiful
one, the real one, that I offered you so long ago and that you
wouldn't have? Just before your marriage"--she brought it back to
him: "the gilded crystal bowl in the little Bloomsbury shop."

"Oh yes!"--but it took, with a slight surprise on the 'Prince's
part, some small recollecting. "The treacherous cracked thing you
wanted to palm off on me, and the little swindling Jew who
understood Italian and who backed you up! But I feel this an
occasion," he immediately added, "and I hope you don't mean," he
smiled, "that AS an occasion it's also cracked."

They spoke, naturally, more low than loud, overlooked as they
were, though at a respectful distance, by tiers of windows; but
it made each find in the other's voice a taste as of something
slowly and deeply absorbed. "Don't you think too much of
'cracks,' and aren't you too afraid of them? I risk the cracks,"
said Charlotte, "and I've often recalled the bowl and the little
swindling Jew, wondering if they've parted company. He made," she
said, "a great impression on me."

"Well, you also, no doubt, made a great impression on him, and I
dare say that if you were to go back to him you'd find he has
been keeping that treasure for you. But as to cracks," the Prince
went on--"what did you tell me the other day you prettily call
them in English?-'rifts within the lute'?--risk them as much as
you like for yourself, but don't risk them for me." He spoke it
in all the gaiety of his just barely-tremulous serenity. "I go,
as you know, by my superstitions. And that's why," he said, "I
know where we are. They're every one, to-day, on our side."

Resting on the parapet; toward the great view, she was silent a
little, and he saw the next moment that her eyes were closed. "I
go but by one thing." Her hand was on the sun-warmed stone; so
that, turned as they were away from the house, he put his
own upon it and covered it. "I go by YOU," she said. "I go by
you."

So they remained a moment, till he spoke again with a gesture
that matched. "What is really our great necessity, you know, is
to go by my watch. It's already eleven"--he had looked at the
time; "so that if we stop here to luncheon what becomes of our
afternoon?"

To this Charlotte's eyes opened straight. "There's not the
slightest need of our stopping here to luncheon. Don't you see,"
she asked, "how I'm ready?" He had taken it in, but there was
always more and more of her. "You mean you've arranged--?"

"It's easy to arrange. My maid goes up with my things. You've
only to speak to your man about yours, and they can go together."

"You mean we can leave at once?"

She let him have it all. "One of the carriages, about which I
spoke, will already have come back for us. If your superstitions
are on our side," she smiled, "so my arrangements are, and I'll
back my support against yours."

"Then you had thought," he wondered, "about Gloucester?"

She hesitated--but it was only her way. "I thought you would
think. We have, thank goodness, these harmonies. They are food
for superstition if you like. It's beautiful," she went on, "that
it should be Gloucester; 'Glo'ster, Glo'ster,' as you say, making
it sound like an old song. However, I'm sure Glo'ster, Glo'ster
will be charming," she still added; "we shall be able easily to
lunch there, and, with our luggage and our servants off our
hands, we shall have at least three or four hours. We can wire,"
she wound up, "from there."

Ever so quietly she had brought it, as she had thought it, all
out, and it had to be as covertly that he let his appreciation
expand. "Then Lady Castledean--?"

"Doesn't dream of our staying."

He took it, but thinking yet. "Then what does she dream--?"

"Of Mr. Blint, poor dear; of Mr. Blint only." Her smile for him--
for the Prince himself--was free. "Have I positively to tell you
that she doesn't want us? She only wanted us for the others--to
show she wasn't left alone with him. Now that that's done, and
that they've all gone, she of course knows for herself--!"

"'Knows'?" the Prince vaguely echoed.

"Why, that we like cathedrals; that we inevitably stop to see
them, or go round to take them in, whenever we've a chance; that
it's what our respective families quite expect of us and would be
disappointed for us to fail of. This, as forestieri," Mrs. Verver
pursued, "would be our pull--if our pull weren't indeed so great
all round."

He could only keep his eyes on her. "And have you made out the
very train--?"

"The very one. Paddington--the 6.50 'in.' That gives us oceans;
we can dine, at the usual hour, at home; and as Maggie will of
course be in Eaton Square I hereby invite you."

For a while he still but looked at her; it was a minute before he
spoke. "Thank you very much. With pleasure." To which he in a
moment added: "But the train for Gloucester?"

"A local one--11.22; with several stops, but doing it a good
deal, I forget how much, within the hour. So that we've time.
Only," she said, "we must employ our time."

He roused himself as from the mere momentary spell of her; he
looked again at his watch while they moved back to the door
through which she had advanced. But he had also again questions
and stops--all as for the mystery and the charm. "You looked it
up--without my having asked you?"

"Ah, my dear," she laughed, "I've seen you with Bradshaw! It
takes Anglo-Saxon blood."

"'Blood'?" he echoed. "You've that of every race!" It kept her
before him. "You're terrible."

Well, he could put it as he liked. "I know the name of the inn."

"What is it then?"

"There are two--you'll see. But I've chosen the right one. And I
think I remember the tomb," she smiled.

"Oh, the tomb--!" Any tomb would do for him. "But I mean I had
been keeping my idea so cleverly for you, while there you already
were with it."

"You had been keeping it 'for' me as much as you like. But how do
you make out," she asked, "that you were keeping it FROM me?"

"I don't--now. How shall I ever keep anything--some day when I
shall wish to?"

"Ah, for things I mayn't want to know, I promise you shall find
me stupid." They had reached their door, where she herself paused
to explain. "These days, yesterday, last night, this morning,
I've wanted everything."

Well, it was all right. "You shall have everything."



                             XXIII

Fanny, on her arrival in town, carried out her second idea,
despatching the Colonel to his club for luncheon and packing her
maid into a cab, for Cadogan Place, with the variety of their
effects. The result of this for each of the pair was a state of
occupation so unbroken that the day practically passed without
fresh contact between them. They dined out together, but it was
both in going to their dinner and in coming back that they
appeared, on either side, to have least to communicate. Fanny was
wrapped in her thoughts still more closely than in the lemon-
coloured mantle that protected her bare shoulders, and her
husband, with her silence to deal with, showed himself not less
disposed than usual, when so challenged, to hold up, as he would
have said, his end of it. They had, in general, in these days,
longer pauses and more abrupt transitions; in one of which latter
they found themselves, for a climax, launched at midnight. Mrs.
Assingham, rather wearily housed again, ascended to the first
floor, there to sink, overburdened, on the landing outside the
drawing-room, into a great gilded Venetian chair--of which at
first, however, she but made, with her brooding face, a sort of
throne of meditation. She would thus have recalled a little, with
her so free orientalism of type, the immemorially speechless
Sphinx about at last to become articulate. The Colonel, not
unlike, on his side, some old pilgrim of the desert camping at
the foot of that monument, went, by way of reconnoissance, into
the drawing-room. He visited, according to his wont, the windows
and their fastenings; he cast round the place the eye, all at
once, of the master and the manager, the commandant and the
rate-payer; then he came back to his wife, before whom, for a
moment, he stood waiting. But she herself, for a time, continued
to wait, only looking up at him inscrutably. There was in these
minor manoeuvres and conscious patiences something of a
suspension of their old custom of divergent discussion, that
intercourse by misunderstanding which had grown so clumsy now.
This familiar pleasantry seemed to desire to show it could yield,
on occasion, to any clear trouble; though it was also sensibly,
and just incoherently, in the air that no trouble was at present
to be vulgarly recognised as clear.

There might, for that matter, even have been in Mr. Assingham's
face a mild perception of some finer sense--a sense for his
wife's situation, and the very situation she was, oddly enough,
about to repudiate--that she had fairly caused to grow in him.
But it was a flower to breathe upon gently, and this was very
much what she finally did. She knew he needed no telling that she
had given herself, all the afternoon, to her friends in Eaton
Square, and that her doing so would have been but the prompt
result of impressions gathered, in quantities, in brimming
baskets, like the purple grapes of the vintage, at Matcham; a
process surrounded by him, while it so unmistakably went on, with
abstentions and discretions that might almost have counted as
solemnities. The solemnities, at the same time, had committed him
to nothing--to nothing beyond this confession itself of a
consciousness of deep waters. She had been out on these waters,
for him, visibly; and his tribute to the fact had been his
keeping her, even if without a word, well in sight. He had not
quitted for an hour, during her adventure, the shore of the
mystic lake; he had on the contrary stationed himself where she
could signal to him at need. Her need would have arisen if the
planks of her bark had parted--THEN some sort of plunge would
have become his immediate duty. His present position, clearly,
was that of seeing her in the centre of her sheet of dark water,
and of wondering if her actual mute gaze at him didn't perhaps
mean that her planks WERE now parting. He held himself so ready
that it was quite as if the inward man had pulled off coat and
waistcoat. Before he had plunged, however--that is before he had
uttered a question--he perceived, not without relief, that she
was making for land. He watched her steadily paddle, always a
little nearer, and at last he felt her boat bump. The bump was
distinct, and in fact she stepped ashore. "We were all wrong.
There's nothing."

"Nothing--?" It was like giving her his hand up the bank.

"Between Charlotte Verver and the Prince. I was uneasy--but I'm
satisfied now. I was in fact quite mistaken. There's nothing."

"But I thought," said Bob Assingham, "that that was just what you
did persistently asseverate. You've guaranteed their straightness
from the first."

"No--I've never till now guaranteed anything but my own
disposition to worry. I've never till now," Fanny went on gravely
from her chair, "had such a chance to see and to judge. I had it
at that place--if I had, in my infatuation and my folly," she
added with expression, "nothing else. So I did see--I HAVE seen.
And now I know." Her emphasis, as she repeated the word, made her
head, in her seat of infallibility, rise higher. "I know."

The Colonel took it--but took it at first in silence. "Do you
mean they've TOLD you--?"

"No--I mean nothing so absurd. For in the first place I haven't
asked them, and in the second their word in such a matter
wouldn't count."

"Oh," said the Colonel with all his oddity, "they'd tell US."

It made her face him an instant as with her old impatience of his
short cuts, always across her finest flower-beds; but she felt,
none the less, that she kept her irony down. "Then when they've
told you, you'll be perhaps so good as to let me know."

He jerked up his chin, testing the growth of his beard with the
back of his hand while he fixed her with a single eye. "Ah, I
don't say that they'd necessarily tell me that they ARE over the
traces."

"They'll necessarily, whatever happens, hold their tongues, I
hope, and I'm talking of them now as I take them for myself only.
THAT'S enough for me--it's all I have to regard." With which,
after an instant, "They're wonderful," said Fanny Assingham.

"Indeed," her husband concurred, "I really think they are."

"You'd think it still more if you knew. But you don't know--
because you don't see. Their situation"--this was what he didn't
see--"is too extraordinary."

"'Too'?" He was willing to try.

"Too extraordinary to be believed, I mean, if one didn't see. But
just that, in a way, is what saves them. They take it seriously."

He followed at his own pace. "Their situation?"

"The incredible side of it. They make it credible."

"Credible then--you do say--to YOU?"

She looked at him again for an interval. "They believe in it
themselves. They take it for what it is. And that," she said,
"saves them."

"But if what it 'is' is just their chance--?"

"It's their chance for what I told you when Charlotte first
turned up. It's their chance for the idea that I was then sure
she had."

The Colonel showed his effort to recall. "Oh, your idea, at
different moments, of any one of THEIR ideas!" This dim
procession, visibly, mustered before him, and, with the best will
in the world, he could but watch its immensity. "Are you speaking
now of something to which you can comfortably settle down?"

Again, for a little, she only glowered at him. "I've come back
to my belief, and that I have done so--"

"Well?" he asked as she paused.

"Well, shows that I'm right--for I assure you I had wandered far.
Now I'm at home again, and I mean," said Fanny Assingham, "to
stay here. They're beautiful," she declared.

"The Prince and Charlotte?"

"The Prince and Charlotte. THAT'S how they're so remarkable. And
the beauty," she explained, "is that they're afraid for them.
Afraid, I mean, for the others."

"For Mr. Verver and Maggie?" It did take some following. "Afraid
of what?"

"Afraid of themselves."

The Colonel wondered. "Of THEMSELVES? Of Mr. Verver's and
Maggie's selves?"

Mrs. Assingham remained patient as well as lucid. "Yes--of SUCH
blindness too. But most of all of their own danger."

He turned it over. "That danger BEING the blindness--?"

"That danger being their position. What their position contains--
of all the elements--I needn't at this time of day attempt to
tell you. It contains, luckily--for that's the mercy--
everything BUT blindness: I mean on their part. The blindness,"
said Fanny, "is primarily her husband's."

He stood for a moment; he WOULD have it straight. "Whose
husband's?"

"Mr. Verver's," she went on. "The blindness is most of all his.
That they feel--that they see. But it's also his wife's."

"Whose wife's?" he asked as she continued to gloom at him in a
manner at variance with the comparative cheer of her contention.
And then as she only gloomed: "The Prince's?"

"Maggie's own--Maggie's very own," she pursued as for herself.

He had a pause. "Do you think Maggie so blind?"

"The question isn't of what I think. The question's of the
conviction that guides the Prince and Charlotte--who have better
opportunities than I for judging."

The Colonel again wondered. "Are you so very sure their
opportunities are better?"

"Well," his wife asked, "what is their whole so extraordinary
situation, their extraordinary relation, but an opportunity?"

"Ah, my dear, you have that opportunity--of their extraordinary
situation and relation--as much as they."

"With the difference, darling," she returned with some spirit,
"that neither of those matters are, if you please, mine. I see
the boat they're in, but I'm not, thank God, in it myself.
To-day, however," Mrs. Assingham added, "to-day in Eaton Square I
did see."

"Well then, what?"

But she mused over it still. "Oh, many things. More, somehow,
than ever before. It was as if, God help me, I was seeing FOR
them--I mean for the others. It was as if something had
happened--I don't know what, except some effect of these days
with them at that place--that had either made things come out or
had cleared my own eyes." These eyes indeed of the poor lady's
rested on her companion's, meanwhile, with the lustre not so much
of intenser insight as of a particular portent that he had at
various other times had occasion to recognise. She desired,
obviously, to reassure him, but it apparently took a couple of
large, candid, gathering, glittering tears to emphasise
the fact. They had immediately, for him, their usual direct
action: she must reassure him, he was made to feel, absolutely in
her own way. He would adopt it and conform to it as soon as he
should be able to make it out. The only thing was that it took
such incalculable twists and turns. The twist seemed remarkable
for instance as she developed her indication of what had come out
in the afternoon. "It was as if I knew better than ever what
makes them--"

"What makes them?"--he pressed her as she fitfully dropped.

"Well, makes the Prince and Charlotte take it all as they do. It
might well have been difficult to know HOW to take it; and they
may even say for themselves that they were a long time trying to
see. As I say, to-day," she went on, "it was as if I were
suddenly, with a kind of horrible push, seeing through their
eyes." On which, as to shake off her perversity, Fanny
Assingham sprang up. But she remained there, under the dim
illumination, and while the Colonel, with his high, dry, spare
look of "type," to which a certain conformity to the whiteness of
inaccessible snows in his necktie, shirt-front and waistcoat gave
a rigour of accent, waited, watching her, they might, at the late
hour and in the still house, have been a pair of specious worldly
adventurers, driven for relief, under sudden stress, to some grim
midnight reckoning in an odd corner. Her attention moved
mechanically over the objects of ornament disposed too freely on
the walls of staircase and landing, as to which recognition, for
the time, had lost both fondness and compunction. "I can imagine
the way it works," she said; "it's so easy to understand. Yet I
don't want to be wrong," she the next moment broke out "I don't,
I don't want to be wrong!"

"To make a mistake, you mean?"

Oh no, she meant nothing of the sort; she knew but too well what
she meant. "I don't make mistakes. But I perpetrate--in thought--
crimes." And she spoke with all intensity. "I'm a most dreadful
person. There are times when I seem not to mind a bit what I've
done, or what I think or imagine or fear or accept; when I feel
that I'd do it again--feel that I'd do things myself."

"Ah, my dear!" the Colonel remarked in the coolness of debate.

"Yes, if you had driven me back on my 'nature.' Luckily for you
you never have. You've done every thing else, but you've never
done that. But what I really don't a bit want," she declared, "is
to abet them or to protect them."

Her companion turned this over. "What is there to protect them
from?--if, by your now so settled faith, they've done nothing
that justly exposes them."

And it in fact half pulled her up. "Well, from a sudden scare.
From the alarm, I mean, of what Maggie MAY think."

"Yet if your whole idea is that Maggie thinks nothing--?"

She waited again. "It isn't my 'whole' idea. Nothing is my
'whole' idea--for I felt to-day, as I tell you, that there's so
much in the air."

"Oh, in the air--!" the Colonel dryly breathed.

"Well, what's in the air always HAS--hasn't it?--to come down to
the earth. And Maggie," Mrs. Assingham continued, "is a very
curious little person. Since I was 'in,' this afternoon, for
seeing more than I had ever done--well, I felt THAT too, for some
reason, as I hadn't yet felt it."

"For 'some' reason? For what reason?" And then, as his wife at
first said nothing: "Did she give any sign? Was she in any way
different?"

"She's always so different from anyone else in the world that
it's hard to say when she's different from herself. But she has
made me," said Fanny after an instant, "think of her differently.
She drove me home."

"Home here?"

"First to Portland Place--on her leaving her father: since she
does, once in a while, leave him. That was to keep me with her a
little longer. But she kept the carriage and, after tea there,
came with me herself back here. This was also for the same
purpose. Then she went home, though I had brought her a message
from the Prince that arranged their movements otherwise. He and
Charlotte must have arrived--if they have arrived--expecting to
drive together to Eaton Square and keep Maggie on to dinner
there. She has everything there, you know--she has clothes."

The Colonel didn't in fact know, but he gave it his apprehension.
"Oh, you mean a change?"

"Twenty changes, if you like--all sorts of things. She dresses,
really, Maggie does, as much for her father--and she always did--
as for her husband or for herself. She has her room in his house
very much as she had it before she was married--and just as the
boy has quite a second nursery there, in which Mrs. Noble, when
she comes with him, makes herself, I assure you, at home. Si bien
that if Charlotte, in her own house, so to speak, should wish a
friend or two to stay with her, she really would be scarce able
to put them up."

It was a picture into which, as a thrifty entertainer himself,
Bob Assingham could more or less enter. "Maggie and the child
spread so?"

"Maggie and the child spread so."

Well, he considered. "It IS rather rum,"

"That's all I claim"--she seemed thankful for the word. "I don't
say it's anything more--but it IS, distinctly, rum."

Which, after an instant, the Colonel took up. "'More'? What more
COULD it be?"

"It could be that she's unhappy, and that she takes her funny
little way of consoling herself. For if she were unhappy"--Mrs.
Assingham had figured it out--"that's just the way, I'm
convinced, she would take. But how can she be unhappy, since--as
I'm also convinced--she, in the midst of everything, adores her
husband as much as ever?"

The Colonel at this brooded for a little at large. "Then if she's
so happy, please what's the matter?"

It made his wife almost spring at him. "You think then she's
secretly wretched?"

But he threw up his arms in deprecation. "Ah, my dear, I give
them up to YOU. I've nothing more to suggest."

"Then it's not sweet of you." She spoke at present as if he were
frequently sweet. "You admit that it is 'rum.'"

And this indeed fixed again, for a moment, his intention. "Has
Charlotte complained of the want of rooms for her friends?"

"Never, that I know of, a word. It isn't the sort of thing she
does. And whom has she, after all," Mrs. Assingham added, "to
complain to?"

"Hasn't she always you?"

"Oh, 'me'! Charlotte and I, nowadays--!" She spoke as of a
chapter closed. "Yet see the justice I still do her. She strikes
me, more and more, as extraordinary."

A deeper shade, at the renewal of the word, had come into the
Colonel's face. "If they're each and all so extraordinary then,
isn't that why one must just resign one's self to wash one's
hands of them--to be lost?" Her face, however, so met the
question as if it were but a flicker of the old tone that their
trouble had now become too real for--her charged eyes so betrayed
the condition of her nerves that he stepped back, alertly enough,
to firmer ground. He had spoken before in this light of a plain
man's vision, but he must be something more than a plain man now.
"Hasn't she then, Charlotte, always her husband--?"

"To complain to? She'd rather die."

"Oh!"--and Bob Assingham's face, at the vision of such
extremities, lengthened for very docility. "Hasn't she the Prince
then?"

"For such matters? Oh, he doesn't count."

"I thought that was just what--as the basis of our agitation--he
does do!"

Mrs. Assingham, however, had her distinction ready. "Not a bit as
a person to bore with complaints. The ground of MY agitation is,
exactly, that she never on any pretext bores him. Not Charlotte!"
And in the imagination of Mrs. Verver's superiority to any such
mistake she gave, characteristically, something like a toss of
her head--as marked a tribute to that lady's general grace, in
all the conditions, as the personage referred to doubtless had
ever received.

"Ah, only Maggie!" With which the Colonel gave a short low
gurgle. But it found his wife again prepared.

"No--not only Maggie. A great many people in London--and small
wonder!--bore him."

"Maggie only worst then?" But it was a question that he had
promptly dropped at the returning brush of another, of which she
had shortly before sown the seed. "You said just now that he
would by this time be back with Charlotte 'if they HAVE arrived.'
You think it then possible that they really won't have returned?"

His companion exhibited to view, for the idea, a sense of her
responsibility; but this was insufficient, clearly, to keep her
from entertaining it. "I think there's nothing they're not now
capable of--in their so intense good faith."

"Good faith?"--he echoed the words, which had in fact something
of an odd ring, critically.

"Their false position. It comes to the same thing." And she bore
down, with her decision, the superficial lack of sequence. "They
may very possibly, for a demonstration--as I see them--not have
come back."

He wondered, visibly, at this, how she did see them. "May have
bolted somewhere together?"

"May have stayed over at Matcham itself till tomorrow. May have
wired home, each of them, since Maggie left me. May have done,"
Fanny Assingham continued, "God knows what!" She went on,
suddenly, with more emotion--which, at the pressure of some
spring of her inner vision, broke out in a wail of distress,
imperfectly smothered. "Whatever they've done I shall never know.
Never, never--because I don't want to, and because nothing will
induce me. So they may do as they like. But I've worked for them
ALL" She uttered this last with another irrepressible quaver, and
the next moment her tears had come, though she had, with the
explosion, quitted her husband as if to hide it from him. She
passed into the dusky drawing-room, where, during his own prowl,
shortly previous, he had drawn up a blind, so that the light of
the street-lamps came in a little at the window. She made for
this window, against which she leaned her head, while the
Colonel, with his lengthened face, looked after her for a minute
and hesitated. He might have been wondering what she had really
done, to what extent, beyond his knowledge or his conception, in
the affairs of these people, she COULD have committed herself.
But to hear her cry, and yet try not to, was, quickly enough, too
much for him; he had known her at other times quite not try not
to, and that had not been so bad. He went to her and put his arm
round her; he drew her head to his breast, where, while she
gasped, she let it stay a little--all with a patience that
presently stilled her. Yet the effect of this small crisis, oddly
enough, was not to close their colloquy, with the natural result
of sending them to bed: what was between them had opened out
further, had somehow, through the sharp show of her feeling,
taken a positive stride, had entered, as it were, without more
words, the region of the understood, shutting the door after it
and bringing them so still more nearly face to face. They
remained for some minutes looking at it through the dim window
which opened upon the world of human trouble in general and which
let the vague light play here and there upon gilt and crystal and
colour, the florid features, looming dimly, of Fanny's
drawing-room. And the beauty of what thus passed between them,
passed with her cry of pain, with her burst of tears, with his
wonderment and his kindness and his comfort, with the moments of
their silence, above all, which might have represented their
sinking together, hand in hand, for a time, into the mystic lake
where he had begun, as we have hinted, by seeing her paddle
alone--the beauty of it was that they now could really talk
better than before, because the basis had at last, once for all,
defined itself. What was the basis, which Fanny absolutely
exacted, but that Charlotte and the Prince must be saved--so far
as consistently speaking of them as still safe might save them?
It did save them, somehow, for Fanny's troubled mind--for that
was the nature of the mind of women. He conveyed to her now, at
all events, by refusing her no gentleness, that he had
sufficiently got the tip, and that the tip was all he had wanted.
This remained quite clear even when he presently reverted to what
she had told him of her recent passage with Maggie. "I don't
altogether see, you know, what you infer from it, or why you
infer anything." When he so expressed himself it was quite as if
in possession of what they had brought up from the depths.



                             XXIV

"I can't say more," this made his companion reply, "than that
something in her face, her voice and her whole manner acted upon
me as nothing in her had ever acted before; and just for the
reason, above all, that I felt her trying her very best--and her
very best, poor duck, is very good--to be quiet and natural. It's
when one sees people who always ARE natural making little pale,
pathetic, blinking efforts for it--then it is that one knows
something's the matter. I can't describe my impression--you would
have had it for yourself. And the only thing that ever CAN be the
matter with Maggie is that. By 'that' I mean her beginning to
doubt. To doubt, for the first time," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"of her wonderful little judgment of her wonderful little world."

It was impressive, Fanny's vision, and the Colonel, as if himself
agitated by it, took another turn of prowling. "To doubt of
fidelity--to doubt of friendship! Poor duck indeed! It will go
hard with her. But she'll put it all," he concluded, "on
Charlotte."

Mrs. Assingham, still darkly contemplative, denied this with a
headshake. "She won't 'put' it anywhere. She won't do with it
anything anyone else would. She'll take it all herself."

"You mean she'll make it out her own fault?"

"Yes--she'll find means, somehow, to arrive at that."

"Ah then," the Colonel dutifully declared, "she's indeed a little
brick!"

"Oh," his wife returned, "you'll see, in one way or another, to
what tune!" And she spoke, of a sudden, with an approach to
elation--so that, as if immediately feeling his surprise, she
turned round to him. "She'll see me somehow through!"

"See YOU--?"

"Yes, me. I'm the worst. For," said Fanny Assingham, now with a
harder exaltation, "I did it all. I recognise that--I accept it.
She won't cast it up at me--she won't cast up anything. So I
throw myself upon her--she'll bear me up." She spoke almost
volubly--she held him with her sudden sharpness. "She'll carry
the whole weight of us."

There was still, nevertheless, wonder in it. "You mean she won't
mind? I SAY, love--!" And he not unkindly stared. "Then where's
the difficulty?"

"There isn't any!" Fanny declared with the same rich emphasis.
It kept him indeed, as by the loss of the thread, looking at her
longer. "Ah, you mean there isn't any for US!"

She met his look for a minute as if it perhaps a little too much
imputed a selfishness, a concern, at any cost, for their own
surface. Then she might have been deciding that their own surface
was, after all, what they had most to consider. "Not," she said
with dignity, "if we properly keep our heads." She appeared even
to signify that they would begin by keeping them now. This was
what it was to have at last a constituted basis. "Do you remember
what you said to me that night of my first REAL anxiety--after
the Foreign Office party?"

"In the carriage--as we came home?" Yes--he could recall it.
"Leave them to pull through?"

"Precisely. 'Trust their own wit,' you practically said, 'to save
all appearances.' Well, I've trusted it. I HAVE left them to pull
through."

He hesitated. "And your point is that they're not doing so?"

"I've left them," she went on, "but now I see how and where. I've
been leaving them all the while, without knowing it, to HER."

"To the Princess?"

"And that's what I mean," Mrs. Assingham pensively pursued.
"That's what happened to me with her to-day," she continued to
explain. "It came home to me that that's what I've really been
doing."

"Oh, I see."

"I needn't torment myself. She has taken them over."

The Colonel declared that he "saw"; yet it was as if, at this, he
a little sightlessly stared. "But what then has happened, from
one day to the other, to HER? What has opened her eyes?"

"They were never really shut. She misses him."

"Then why hasn't she missed him before?"

Well, facing him there, among their domestic glooms and glints,
Fanny worked it out. "She did--but she wouldn't let herself know
it. She had her reason--she wore her blind. Now, at last, her
situation has come to a head. To-day she does know it. And that's
illuminating. It has been," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"illuminating to ME."

Her husband attended, but the momentary effect of his attention
was vagueness again, and the refuge of his vagueness was a gasp.
"Poor dear little girl!"

"Ah no--don't pity her!"

This did, however, pull him up. "We mayn't even be sorry for
her?"

"Not now--or at least not yet. It's too soon--that is if it isn't
very much too late. This will depend," Mrs. Assingham went on;
"at any rate we shall see. We might have pitied her before--for
all the good it would then have done her; we might have begun
some time ago. Now, however, she has begun to live. And the way
it comes to me, the way it comes to me--" But again she projected
her vision.

"The way it comes to you can scarcely be that she'll like it!"

"The way it comes to me is that she will live. The way it comes
to me is that she'll triumph."

She said this with so sudden a prophetic flare that it fairly
cheered her husband. "Ah then, we must back her!"

"No--we mustn't touch her. We mayn't touch any of them. We must
keep our hands off; we must go on tiptoe. We must simply watch
and wait. And meanwhile," said Mrs. Assingham, "we must bear it
as we can. That's where we are--and serves us right. We're in
presence."

And so, moving about the room as in communion with shadowy
portents, she left it till he questioned again. "In presence of
what?"

"Well, of something possibly beautiful. Beautiful as it MAY come
off."

She had paused there before him while he wondered. "You mean
she'll get the Prince back?"

She raised her hand in quick impatience: the suggestion might
have been almost abject. "It isn't a question of recovery. It
won't be a question of any vulgar struggle. To 'get him back' she
must have lost him, and to have lost him she must have had him.
"With which Fanny shook her head. "What I take her to be waking
up to is the truth that, all the while, she really HASN'T had
him. Never."

"Ah, my dear--!" the poor Colonel panted.

"Never!" his wife repeated. And she went on without pity. "Do you
remember what I said to you long ago--that evening, just before
their marriage, when Charlotte had so suddenly turned up?"

The smile with which he met this appeal was not, it was to be
feared, robust. "What haven't you, love, said in your time?"

"So many things, no doubt, that they make a chance for my having
once or twice spoken the truth. I never spoke it more, at all
events, than when I put it to you, that evening, that Maggie was
the person in the world to whom a wrong thing could least be
communicated. It was as if her imagination had been closed to it,
her sense altogether sealed, That therefore," Fanny continued,
"is what will now HAVE to happen. Her sense will have to open."

"I see." He nodded. "To the wrong." He nodded again, almost
cheerfully--as if he had been keeping the peace with a baby or a
lunatic. "To the very, very wrong."

But his wife's spirit, after its effort of wing, was able to
remain higher. "To what's called Evil--with a very big E: for the
first time in her life. To the discovery of it, to the knowledge
of it, to the crude experience of it." And she gave, for the
possibility, the largest measure. "To the harsh, bewildering
brush, the daily chilling breath of it. Unless indeed"--and here
Mrs. Assingham noted a limit "unless indeed, as yet (so far as
she has come, and if she comes no further), simply to the
suspicion and the dread. What we shall see is whether that mere
dose of alarm will prove enough."

He considered. "But enough for what then, dear--if not enough to
break her heart?"

"Enough to give her a shaking!" Mrs. Assingham rather oddly
replied. "To give her, I mean, the right one. The right one won't
break her heart. It will make her," she explained--"well, it will
make her, by way of a change, understand one or two things in the
world."

"But isn't it a pity," the Colonel asked, "that they should
happen to be the one or two that will be the most disagreeable to
her?"

"Oh, 'disagreeable'--? They'll have had to be disagreeable--to
show her a little where she is. They'll have HAD to be
disagreeable to make her sit up. They'll have had to be
disagreeable to make her decide to live."

Bob Assingham was now at the window, while his companion slowly
revolved; he had lighted a cigarette, for final patience, and he
seemed vaguely to "time" her as she moved to and fro. He had at
the same time to do justice to the lucidity she had at last
attained, and it was doubtless by way of expression of this
teachability that he let his eyes, for a minute, roll, as from
the force of feeling, over the upper dusk of the room. He had
thought of the response his wife's words ideally implied.

"Decide to live--ah yes!--for her child."

"Oh, bother her child!"--and he had never felt so snubbed, for an
exemplary view, as when Fanny now stopped short. "To live, you
poor dear, for her father--which is another pair of sleeves!"

And Mrs. Assingham's whole ample, ornamented person irradiated,
with this, the truth that had begun, under so much handling, to
glow. "Any idiot can do things for her child. She'll have a
motive more original, and we shall see how it will work her.
She'll have to save HIM."

"To 'save' him--?"

"To keep her father from her own knowledge. THAT"--and she seemed
to see it, before her, in her husband's very eyes--"will be work
cut out!" With which, as at the highest conceivable climax, she
wound up their colloquy. "Good night!"

There was something in her manner, however--or in the effect, at
least, of this supreme demonstration that had fairly, and by a
single touch, lifted him to her side; so that, after she had
turned her back to regain the landing and the staircase, he
overtook her, before she had begun to mount, with the ring of
excited perception. "Ah, but, you know, that's rather jolly!"

"Jolly'--?" she turned upon it, again, at the foot of the
staircase.

"I mean it's rather charming."

"'Charming'--?" It had still to be their law, a little, that she
was tragic when he was comic.

"I mean it's rather beautiful. You just said, yourself, it would
be. Only," he pursued promptly, with the impetus of this idea,
and as if it had suddenly touched with light for him connections
hitherto dim--"only I don't quite see why that very care for him
which has carried her to such other lengths, precisely, as affect
one as so 'rum,' hasn't also, by the same stroke, made her notice
a little more what has been going on."

"Ah, there you are! It's the question that I've all along been
asking myself." She had rested her eyes on the carpet, but she
raised them as she pursued--she let him have it straight. "And
it's the question of an idiot."

"An idiot--?"

"Well, the idiot that I'VE been, in all sorts of ways--so often,
of late, have I asked it. You're excusable, since you ask it but
now. The answer, I saw to-day, has all the while been staring me
in the face."

"Then what in the world is it?"

"Why, the very intensity of her conscience about him--the very
passion of her brave little piety. That's the way it has worked,"
Mrs. Assingham explained "and I admit it to have been as 'rum' a
way as possible. But it has been working from a rum start. From
the moment the dear man married to ease his daughter off, and it
then happened, by an extraordinary perversity, that the very
opposite effect was produced--!" With the renewed vision of this
fatality, however, she could give but a desperate shrug.

"I see," the Colonel sympathetically mused. "That WAS a rum
start."

But his very response, as she again flung up her arms, seemed to
make her sense, for a moment, intolerable. "Yes--there I am! I
was really at the bottom of it," she declared; "I don't know what
possessed me--but I planned for him, I goaded him on." With
which, however, the next moment, she took herself up. "Or,
rather, I DO know what possessed me--for wasn't he beset with
ravening women, right and left, and didn't he, quite
pathetically, appeal for protection, didn't he, quite charmingly,
show one how he needed and desired it? Maggie," she thus lucidly
continued, "couldn't, with a new life of her own, give herself up
to doing for him in the future all she had done in the past--to
fencing him in, to keeping him safe and keeping THEM off. One
perceived this," she went on--"out of the abundance of one's
affection and one's sympathy." It all blessedly came back to
her--when it wasn't all, for the fiftieth time, obscured, in face
of the present facts, by anxiety and compunction. "One was no
doubt a meddlesome fool; one always IS, to think one sees
people's lives for them better than they see them for themselves.
But one's excuse here," she insisted, "was that these people
clearly DIDN'T see them for themselves--didn't see them at all.
It struck one for very pity--that they were making a mess of such
charming material; that they were but wasting it and letting it
go. They didn't know HOW to live--and "somehow one couldn't, if
one took an interest in them at all, simply stand and see it.
That's what I pay for"--and the poor woman, in straighter
communion with her companion's intelligence at this moment, she
appeared to feel, than she had ever been before, let him have the
whole of the burden of her consciousness. "I always pay for it,
sooner or later, my sociable, my damnable, my unnecessary
interest. Nothing of course would suit me but that it should fix
itself also on Charlotte--Charlotte who was hovering there on the
edge of our lives, when not beautifully, and a trifle
mysteriously, flitting across them, and who was a piece of waste
and a piece of threatened failure, just as, for any possible good
to the WORLD, Mr. Verver and Maggie were. It began to come over
me, in the watches of the night, that Charlotte was a person who
COULD keep off ravening women--without being one herself, either,
in the vulgar way of the others; and that this service to Mr.
Verver would be a sweet employment for her future. There was
something, of course, that might have stopped me: you know, you
know what I mean--it looks at me," she veritably moaned, "out of
your face! But all I can say is that it didn't; the reason
largely being--once I had fallen in love with the beautiful
symmetry of my plan--that I seemed to feel sure Maggie would
accept Charlotte, whereas I didn't quite make out either what
other woman, or what other KIND of woman, one could think of her
accepting."

"I see--I see." She had paused, meeting all the while his
listening look, and the fever of her retrospect had so risen with
her talk that the desire was visibly strong in him to meet her,
on his side, but with cooling breath. "One quite understands, my
dear."

It only, however, kept her there sombre. "I naturally see, love,
what you understand; which sits again, perfectly, in your eyes.
You see that I saw that Maggie would accept her in helpless
ignorance. Yes, dearest"--and the grimness of her dreariness
suddenly once more possessed her: "you've only to tell me that
that knowledge was my reason for what I did. How, when you do,
can I stand up to you? You see," she said with an ineffable
headshake, "that I don't stand up! I'm down, down, down," she
declared; "yet" she as quickly added--"there's just one little
thing that helps to save my life." And she kept him waiting but
an instant. "They might easily--they would perhaps even
certainly--have done something worse."

He thought. "Worse than that Charlotte--?"

"Ah, don't tell me," she cried, "that there COULD have been
nothing worse. There might, as they were, have been many things.
Charlotte, in her way, is extraordinary."

He was almost simultaneous. "Extraordinary!"

"She observes the forms," said Fanny Assingham.

He hesitated. "With the Prince--?"

"FOR the Prince. And with the others," she went on. "With Mr.
Verver--wonderfully. But above all with Maggie. And the forms"
--she had to do even THEM justice--"are two-thirds of conduct.
Say he had married a woman who would have made a hash of them."

But he jerked back. "Ah, my dear, I wouldn't say it for the
world!"

"Say," she none the less pursued, "he had married a woman the
Prince would really have cared for."

"You mean then he doesn't care for Charlotte--?" This was still a
new view to jump to, and the Colonel, perceptibly, wished to make
sure of the necessity of the effort. For that, while he stared,
his wife allowed him time; at the end of which she simply said:
"No!"

"Then what on earth are they up to?" Still, however, she only
looked at him; so that, standing there before her with his hands
in his pockets, he had time, further, to risk, soothingly,
another question. "Are the 'forms' you speak of--that are
two-thirds of conduct--what will be keeping her now, by your
hypothesis, from coming home with him till morning?"

"Yes--absolutely. THEIR forms."

"'Theirs'--?"

"Maggie's and Mr. Verver's--those they IMPOSE on Charlotte and
the Prince. Those," she developed. "that, so perversely, as I
say, have succeeded in setting themselves up as the right ones."

He considered--but only now, at last, really to relapse into woe.
"Your 'perversity,' my dear, is exactly what I don't understand.
The state of things existing hasn't grown, like a field of
mushrooms, in a night. Whatever they, all round, may be in for
now is at least the consequence of what they've DONE. Are they
mere helpless victims of fate?"

Well, Fanny at last had the courage of it, "Yes--they are. To be
so abjectly innocent--that IS to be victims of fate."

"And Charlotte and the Prince are abjectly innocent--?"

It took her another minute, but she rose to the full height.
"Yes. That is they WERE--as much so in their way as the others.
There were beautiful intentions all round. The Prince's and
Charlotte's were beautiful--of THAT I had my faith. They WERE--
I'd go to the stake. Otherwise," she added, "I should have been a
wretch. And I've not been a wretch. I've only been a double-dyed
donkey."

"Ah then," he asked, "what does our muddle make THEM to have
been?"

"Well, too much taken up with considering each other. You may
call such a mistake as that by what ever name you please; it at
any rate means, all round, their case. It illustrates the
misfortune," said Mrs. Assingham gravely, "of being too, too
charming."

This was another matter that took some following, but the Colonel
again did his best. "Yes, but to whom?--doesn't it rather depend
on that? To whom have the Prince and Charlotte then been too
charming?"

"To each other, in the first place--obviously. And then both of
them together to Maggie."

"To Maggie?" he wonderingly echoed.

"To Maggie." She was now crystalline. "By having accepted, from
the first, so guilelessly--yes, so guilelessly, themselves--her
guileless idea of still having her father, of keeping him fast,
in her life."

"Then isn't one supposed, in common humanity, and if one hasn't
quarrelled with him, and one has the means, and he, on his side,
doesn't drink or kick up rows--isn't one supposed to keep one's
aged parent in one's life?"

"Certainly--when there aren't particular reasons against it. That
there may be others than his getting drunk is exactly the moral
of what is before us. In the first place Mr. Verver isn't aged."

The Colonel just hung fire--but it came. "Then why the deuce does
he--oh, poor dear man!--behave as if he were?"

She took a moment to meet it. "How do you know how he behaves?"

"Well, my own love, we see how Charlotte does!" Again, at this,
she faltered; but again she rose. "Ah, isn't my whole point that
he's charming to her?"

"Doesn't it depend a bit on what she regards as charming?"

She faced the question as if it were flippant, then with a
headshake of dignity she brushed it away. "It's Mr. Verver who's
really young--it's Charlotte who's really old. And what I was
saying," she added, "isn't affected!"

"You were saying"--he did her the justice--"that they're all
guileless."

"That they were. Guileless, all, at first--quite extraordinarily.
It's what I mean by their failure to see that the more they took
for granted they could work together the more they were really
working apart. For I repeat," Fanny went on, "that I really
believe Charlotte and the Prince honestly to have made up their
minds, originally, that their very esteem for Mr. Verver--which
was serious, as well it might be!--would save them."

"I see." The Colonel inclined himself. "And save HIM."

"It comes to the same thing!"

"Then save Maggie."

"That comes," said Mrs. Assingham, "to something a little
different. For Maggie has done the most."

He wondered. "What do you call the most?"

"Well, she did it originally--she began the vicious circle. For
that--though you make round eyes at my associating her with
'vice'--is simply what it has been. It's their mutual
consideration, all round, that has made it the bottomless gulf;
and they're really so embroiled but because, in their way,
they've been so improbably GOOD."

"In their way--yes!" the Colonel grinned.

"Which was, above all, Maggie's way." No flicker of his ribaldry
was anything to her now. "Maggie had in the first place to make
up to her father for her having suffered herself to become--poor
little dear, as she believed--so intensely married. Then she had
to make up to her husband for taking so much of the time they
might otherwise have spent together to make this reparation to
Mr. Verver perfect. And her way to do this, precisely, was by
allowing the Prince the use, the enjoyment, whatever you may call
it, of Charlotte to cheer his path--by instalments, as it were--
in proportion as she herself, making sure her father was all
right, might be missed from his side. By so much, at the same
time, however," Mrs. Assingham further explained, "by so much as
she took her young stepmother, for this purpose, away from Mr.
Verver, by just so much did this too strike her as something
again to be made up for. It has saddled her, you will easily see,
with a positively new obligation to her father, an obligation
created and aggravated by her unfortunate, even if quite heroic,
little sense of justice. She began with wanting to show him that
his marriage could never, under whatever temptation of her own
bliss with the Prince, become for her a pretext for deserting or
neglecting HIM. Then that, in its order, entailed her wanting to
show the Prince that she recognised how the other desire--this
wish to remain, intensely, the same passionate little daughter
she had always been--involved in some degree, and just for the
present, so to speak, her neglecting and deserting him. I quite
hold," Fanny with characteristic amplitude parenthesised, "that a
person can mostly feel but one passion--one TENDER passion, that
is--at a time. Only, that doesn't hold good for our primary and
instinctive attachments, the 'voice of blood,' such as one's
feeling for a parent or a brother. Those may be intense and
yet not prevent other intensities--as you will recognise, my
dear, when you remember how I continued, tout betement, to adore
my mother, whom you didn't adore, for years after I had begun to
adore you. Well, Maggie"--she kept it up--"is in the same
situation as I was, PLUS complications from which I was, thank
heaven, exempt: PLUS the complication, above all, of not having
in the least begun with the sense for complications that I should
have had. Before she knew it, at any rate, her little scruples
and her little lucidities, which were really so divinely blind--
her feverish little sense of justice, as I say--had brought the
two others together as her grossest misconduct couldn't have
done. And now she knows something or other has happened--yet
hasn't heretofore known what. She has only piled up her remedy,
poor child--something that she has earnestly but confusedly seen
as her necessary policy; piled it on top of the policy, on top of
the remedy, that she at first thought out for herself, and that
would really have needed, since then, so much modification. Her
only modification has been the growth of her necessity to prevent
her father's wondering if all, in their life in common, MAY be so
certainly for the best. She has now as never before to keep him
unconscious that, peculiar, if he makes a point of it, as their
situation is, there's anything in it all uncomfortable or
disagreeable, anything morally the least out of the way. She has
to keep touching it up to make it, each day, each month, look
natural and normal to him; so that--God forgive me the
comparison!--she's like an old woman who has taken to 'painting'
and who has to lay it on thicker, to carry it off with a greater
audacity, with a greater impudence even, the older she grows."
And Fanny stood a moment captivated with the image she had thrown
off. "I like the idea of Maggie audacious and impudent--learning
to be so to gloss things over. She could--she even will, yet, I
believe--learn it, for that sacred purpose, consummately,
diabolically. For from the moment the dear man should see it's
all rouge--!" She paused, staring at the vision.

It imparted itself even to Bob. "Then the fun would begin?" As it
but made her look at him hard, however, he amended the form of
his inquiry. "You mean that in that case she WILL, charming
creature, be lost?"

She was silent a moment more. "As I've told you before, she won't
be lost if her father's saved. She'll see that as salvation
enough."

The Colonel took it in. "Then she's a little heroine."

"Rather--she's a little heroine. But it's his innocence, above
all," Mrs. Assingham added, "that will pull them through."

Her companion, at this, focussed again Mr. Verver's innocence.
"It's awfully quaint."

"Of course it's awfully quaint! That it's awfully quaint, that
the pair are awfully quaint, quaint with all our dear old
quaintness--by which I don't mean yours and mine, but that of my
own sweet countrypeople, from whom I've so deplorably
degenerated--that," Mrs. Assingham declared, "was originally the
head and front of their appeal to me and of my interest in
them. And of course I shall feel them quainter still," she rather
ruefully subjoined, "before they've done with me!"

This might be, but it wasn't what most stood in the Colonel's
way. "You believe so in Mr. Verver's innocence after two years of
Charlotte?"

She stared. "But the whole point is just that two years of
Charlotte are what he hasn't really--or what you may call
undividedly--had."

"Any more than Maggie, by your theory, eh, has 'really or
undividedly,' had four of the Prince? It takes all she hasn't
had," the Colonel conceded, "to account for the innocence that in
her, too, so leaves us in admiration."

So far as it might be ribald again she let this pass. "It takes a
great many things to account for Maggie. What is definite, at all
events, is that--strange though this be--her effort for her
father has, up to now, sufficiently succeeded. She has made him,
she makes him, accept the tolerably obvious oddity of their
relation, all round, for part of the game. Behind her there,
protected and amused and, as it were, exquisitely humbugged--the
Principino, in whom he delights, always aiding--he has safely and
serenely enough suffered the conditions of his life to pass for
those he had sublimely projected. He hadn't worked them out in
detail--any more than I had, heaven pity me!--and the queerness
has been, exactly, in the detail. This, for him, is what it was
to have married Charlotte. And they both," she neatly wound up,
'help.'"

"'Both'--?"

"I mean that if Maggie, always in the breach, makes it seem to
him all so flourishingly to fit, Charlotte does her part not
less. And her part is very large. Charlotte," Fanny declared,
"works like a horse."

So there it all was, and her husband looked at her a minute
across it. "And what does the Prince work like?"

She fixed him in return. "Like a Prince!" Whereupon, breaking
short off, to ascend to her room, she presented her highly--
decorated back--in which, in odd places, controlling the
complications of its aspect, the ruby or the garnet, the
turquoise and the topaz, gleamed like faint symbols of the wit
that pinned together the satin patches of her argument.

He watched her as if she left him positively under the impression
of her mastery of her subject; yes, as if the real upshot of the
drama before them was but that he had, when it came to the tight
places of life--as life had shrunk for him now--the most luminous
of wives. He turned off, in this view of her majestic retreat,
the comparatively faint little electric lamp which had presided
over their talk; then he went up as immediately behind her as the
billows of her amber train allowed, making out how all the
clearness they had conquered was even for herself a relief--how
at last the sense of the amplitude of her exposition sustained
and floated her. Joining her, however, on the landing above,
where she had already touched a metallic point into light, he
found she had done perhaps even more to create than to extinguish
in him the germ of a curiosity. He held her a minute longer
--there was another plum in the pie. "What did you mean some
minutes ago by his not caring for Charlotte?"

"The Prince's? By his not 'really' caring?" She recalled, after a
little, benevolently enough. "I mean that men don't, when it has
all been too easy. That's how, in nine cases out of ten, a woman
is treated who has risked her life. You asked me just now how he
works," she added; "but you might better perhaps have asked me
how he plays."

Well, he made it up. "Like a Prince?"

"Like a Prince. He is, profoundly, a Prince. For that," she said
with expression, "he's--beautifully--a case. They're far rarer,
even in the 'highest circles,' than they pretend to be--and
that's what makes so much of his value. He's perhaps one of the
very last--the last of the real ones. So it is we must take him.
We must take him all round."

The Colonel considered. "And how must Charlotte--if anything
happens--take him?"

The question held her a minute, and while she waited, with her
eyes on him, she put out a grasping hand to his arm, in the flesh
of which he felt her answer distinctly enough registered. Thus
she gave him, standing off a little, the firmest, longest,
deepest injunction he had ever received from her. "Nothing
--in spite of everything--WILL happen. Nothing HAS happened.
Nothing IS happening."

He looked a trifle disappointed. "I see. For US."

"For us. For whom else?" And he was to feel indeed how she wished
him to understand it. "We know nothing on earth--!" It was an
undertaking he must sign.

So he wrote, as it were, his name. "We know nothing on earth." It
was like the soldiers' watchword at night.

"We're as innocent," she went on in the same way, "as babes."

"Why not rather say," he asked, "as innocent as they themselves
are?"

"Oh, for the best of reasons! Because we're much more so."

He wondered. "But how can we be more--?"

"For them? Oh, easily! We can be anything."

"Absolute idiots then?"

"Absolute idiots. And oh," Fanny breathed, "the way it will rest
us!"

Well, he looked as if there were something in that. "But won't
they know we're not?"

She barely hesitated. "Charlotte and the Prince think we are--
which is so much gained. Mr. Verver believes in our
intelligence--but he doesn't matter."

"And Maggie? Doesn't SHE know--?"

"That we see before our noses?" Yes, this indeed took longer.
"Oh, so far as she may guess it she'll give no sign. So it comes
to the same thing."

He raised his eyebrows. "Comes to our not being able to help
her?"

"That's the way we SHALL help her."

"By looking like fools?"

She threw up her hands. "She only wants, herself, to look like a
bigger! So there we are!" With which she brushed it away--his
conformity was promised. Something, however, still held her; it
broke, to her own vision, as a last wave of clearness.
"Moreover NOW," she said, "I see! I mean," she added,--what you
were asking me: how I knew to-day, in Eaton Square, that Maggie's
awake." And she had indeed visibly got it. "It was by seeing them
together."

"Seeing her with her father?" He fell behind again. "But you've
seen her often enough before."

"Never with my present eyes. For nothing like such a test--that
of this length of the others' absence together--has hitherto
occurred."

"Possibly! But if she and Mr. Verver insisted upon it--?"

"Why is it such a test? Because it has become one without their
intending it. It has spoiled, so to speak, on their hands."

"It has soured, eh?" the Colonel said.

"The word's horrible--say rather it has 'changed.' Perhaps,"
Fanny went on, "she did wish to see how much she can bear. In
that case she HAS seen. Only it was she alone who--about the
visit--insisted. Her father insists on nothing. And she watches
him do it."

Her husband looked impressed. "Watches him?"

"For the first faint sign. I mean of his noticing. It doesn't, as
I tell you, come. But she's there for it to see. And I felt," she
continued, "HOW she's there; I caught her, as it were, in the
fact. She couldn't keep it from me--though she left her post on
purpose--came home with me to throw dust in my eyes. I took it
all--her dust; but it was what showed me." With which supreme
lucidity she reached the door of her room. "Luckily it showed me
also how she has succeeded. Nothing--from him--HAS come."

"You're so awfully sure?"

"Sure. Nothing WILL. Good-night," she said. "She'll die first."





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