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Chapter 12

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.

Henry James

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