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Chapter 11

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.

Henry James

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