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Chapter 14

Charlotte, half way up the "monumental" staircase, had begun by
waiting alone--waiting to be rejoined by her companion, who had
gone down all the way, as in common kindness bound, and who, his
duty performed, would know where to find her. She was meanwhile,
though extremely apparent, not perhaps absolutely advertised; but
she would not have cared if she had been--so little was it, by
this time, her first occasion of facing society with a
consciousness materially, with a confidence quite splendidly,
enriched. For a couple of years now she had known as never before
what it was to look "well"--to look, that is, as well as she had
always felt, from far back, that, in certain conditions, she
might. On such an evening as this, that of a great official party
in the full flush of the London spring-time, the conditions
affected her, her nerves, her senses, her imagination, as all
profusely present; so that perhaps at no moment yet had she been
so justified of her faith as at the particular instant of our
being again concerned with her, that of her chancing to glance
higher up from where she stood and meeting in consequence the
quiet eyes of Colonel Assingham, who had his elbows on the broad
balustrade of the great gallery overhanging the staircase and who
immediately exchanged with her one of his most artlessly familiar
signals. This simplicity of his visual attention struck her, even
with the other things she had to think about, as the quietest
note in the whole high pitch--much, in fact, as if she had
pressed a finger on a chord or a key and created, for the number
of seconds, an arrest of vibration, a more muffled thump. The
sight of him suggested indeed that Fanny would be there, though
so far as opportunity went she had not seen her. This was about
the limit of what it could suggest.

The air, however, had suggestions enough--it abounded in them,
many of them precisely helping to constitute those conditions
with which, for our young woman, the hour was brilliantly
crowned. She was herself in truth crowned, and it all hung
together, melted together, in light and colour and sound: the
unsurpassed diamonds that her head so happily carried, the other
jewels, the other perfections of aspect and arrangement that made
her personal scheme a success, the PROVED private theory that
materials to work with had been all she required and that there
were none too precious for her to understand and use--to which
might be added lastly, as the strong-scented flower of the total
sweetness, an easy command, a high enjoyment, of her crisis. For
a crisis she was ready to take it, and this ease it was,
doubtless, that helped her, while she waited, to the right
assurance, to the right indifference, to the right expression,
and above all, as she felt, to the right view of her opportunity
for happiness--unless indeed the opportunity itself, rather,
were, in its mere strange amplitude, the producing, the
precipitating cause. The ordered revellers, rustling and shining,
with sweep of train and glitter of star and clink of sword, and
yet, for all this, but so imperfectly articulate, so vaguely
vocal--the double stream of the coming and the going, flowing
together where she stood, passed her, brushed her, treated her to
much crude contemplation and now and then to a spasm of speech,
an offered hand, even in some cases to an unencouraged pause; but
she missed no countenance and invited no protection: she fairly
liked to be, so long as she might, just as she was--exposed a
little to the public, no doubt, in her unaccompanied state, but,
even if it were a bit brazen, careless of queer reflections on
the dull polish of London faces, and exposed, since it was a
question of exposure, to much more competent recognitions of her
own. She hoped no one would stop--she was positively keeping
herself; it was her idea to mark in a particular manner the
importance of something that had just happened. She knew how she
should mark it, and what she was doing there made already a

When presently, therefore, from her standpoint, she saw the
Prince come back she had an impression of all the place as higher
and wider and more appointed for great moments; with its dome of
lustres lifted, its ascents and descents more majestic, its
marble tiers more vividly overhung, its numerosity of royalties,
foreign and domestic, more unprecedented, its symbolism of
"State" hospitality both emphasised and refined. This was
doubtless a large consequence of a fairly familiar cause, a
considerable inward stir to spring from the mere vision, striking
as that might be, of Amerigo in a crowd; but she had her reasons,
she held them there, she carried them in fact, responsibly and
overtly, as she carried her head, her high tiara, her folded fan,
her indifferent, unattended eminence; and it was when he reached
her and she could, taking his arm, show herself as placed in her
relation, that she felt supremely justified. It was her notion of
course that she gave a glimpse of but few of her grounds for this
discrimination--indeed of the most evident alone; yet she would
have been half willing it should be guessed how she drew
inspiration, drew support, in quantity sufficient for almost
anything, from the individual value that, through all the
picture, her husband's son-in-law kept for the eye, deriving it
from his fine unconscious way, in the swarming social sum, of
outshining, overlooking and overtopping. It was as if in
separation, even the shortest, she half forgot or disbelieved how
he affected her sight, so that reappearance had, in him, each
time, a virtue of its own--a kind of disproportionate intensity
suggesting his connection with occult sources of renewal. What
did he do when he was away from her that made him always come
back only looking, as she would have called it, "more so?"
Superior to any shade of cabotinage, he yet almost
resembled an actor who, between his moments on the stage,
revisits his dressing-room and, before the glass, pressed by his
need of effect, retouches his make-up. The Prince was at present,
for instance, though he had quitted her but ten minutes before,
still more than then the person it pleased her to be left with--a
truth that had all its force for her while he made her his care
for their conspicuous return together to the upper rooms.
Conspicuous beyond any wish they could entertain was what, poor
wonderful man, he couldn't help making it; and when she raised
her eyes again, on the ascent, to Bob Assingham, still aloft in
his gallery and still looking down at her, she was aware that, in
spite of hovering and warning inward voices, she even enjoyed the
testimony rendered by his lonely vigil to the lustre she

He was always lonely at great parties, the dear Colonel--it
wasn't in such places that the seed he sowed at home was ever
reaped by him; but nobody could have seemed to mind it less, to
brave it with more bronzed indifference; so markedly that he
moved about less like one of the guests than like some quite
presentable person in charge of the police arrangements or the
electric light. To Mrs. Verver, as will be seen, he represented,
with the perfect good faith of his apparent blankness, something
definite enough; though her bravery was not thereby too blighted
for her to feel herself calling him to witness that the only
witchcraft her companion had used, within the few minutes, was
that of attending Maggie, who had withdrawn from the scene, to
her carriage. Notified, at all events, of Fanny's probable
presence, Charlotte was, for a while after this, divided between
the sense of it as a fact somehow to reckon with and deal with,
which was a perception that made, in its degree, for the
prudence, the pusillanimity of postponement, of avoidance--and a
quite other feeling, an impatience that presently ended by
prevailing, an eagerness, really, to BE suspected, sounded,
veritably arraigned, if only that she might have the bad moment
over, if only that she might prove to herself, let alone to
Mrs. Assingham also, that she could convert it to good; if only,
in short, to be "square," as they said, with her question. For
herself indeed, particularly, it wasn't a question; but something
in her bones told her that Fanny would treat it as one, and there
was truly nothing that, from this friend, she was not bound in
decency to take. She might hand things back with every tender
precaution, with acknowledgments and assurances, but she owed it
to them, in any case, and it to all Mrs. Assingham had done for
her, not to get rid of them without having well unwrapped and
turned them over.

To-night, as happened--and she recognised it more and more, with
the ebbing minutes, as an influence of everything about her--
to-night exactly, she would, no doubt, since she knew why, be as
firm as she might at any near moment again hope to be for going
through that process with the right temper and tone. She said,
after a little, to the Prince, "Stay with me; let no one take
you; for I want her, yes, I do want her to see us together, and
the sooner the better"--said it to keep her hand on him through
constant diversions, and made him, in fact, by saying it, profess
a momentary vagueness. She had to explain to him that it was
Fanny Assingham, she wanted to see--who clearly would be there,
since the Colonel never either stirred without her or, once
arrived, concerned himself for her fate; and she had, further,
after Amerigo had met her with "See us together? why in the
world? hasn't she often seen us together?" to inform him that
what had elsewhere and otherwise happened didn't now matter and
that she at any rate well knew, for the occasion, what she was
about. "You're strange, cara mia," he consentingly enough
dropped; but, for whatever strangeness, he kept her, as they
circulated, from being waylaid, even remarking to her afresh as
he had often done before, on the help rendered, in such
situations, by the intrinsic oddity of the London "squash," a
thing of vague, slow, senseless eddies, revolving as in fear of
some menace of conversation suspended over it, the drop of which,
with some consequent refreshing splash or spatter, yet never took
place. Of course she was strange; this, as they went, Charlotte
knew for herself: how could she be anything else when the
situation holding her, and holding him, for that matter, just as
much, had so the stamp of it? She had already accepted her
consciousness, as we have already noted, that a crisis, for them
all, was in the air; and when such hours were not depressing,
which was the form indeed in which she had mainly known them,
they were apparently in a high degree exhilarating.

Later on, in a corner to which, at sight of an empty sofa, Mrs.
Assingham had, after a single attentive arrest, led her with a
certain earnestness, this vision of the critical was much more
sharpened than blurred. Fanny had taken it from her: yes, she was
there with Amerigo alone, Maggie having come with them and then,
within ten minutes, changed her mind, repented and departed. "So
you're staying on together without her?" the elder woman had
asked; and it was Charlotte's answer to this that had determined
for them, quite indeed according to the latter's expectation, the
need of some seclusion and her companion's pounce at the sofa.
They were staying on together alone, and--oh distinctly!--it was
alone that Maggie had driven away, her father, as usual, not
having managed to come. "'As usual'--?" Mrs. Assingham had seemed
to wonder; Mr. Verver's reluctances not having, she in fact quite
intimated, hitherto struck her. Charlotte responded, at any rate,
that his indisposition to go out had lately much increased--even
though to-night, as she admitted, he had pleaded his not feeling
well. Maggie had wished to stay with him--for the Prince and she,
dining out, had afterwards called in Portland Place, whence, in
the event, they had brought her, Charlotte, on. Maggie had come
but to oblige her father--she had urged the two others to go
without her; then she had yielded, for the time, to Mr. Verver's
persuasion. But here, when they had, after the long wait in the
carriage, fairly got in; here, once up the stairs, with the rooms
before them, remorse had ended by seizing her: she had listened
to no other remonstrance, and at present therefore, as Charlotte
put it, the two were doubtless making together a little party at
home. But it was all right--so Charlotte also put it: there was
nothing in the world they liked better than these snatched
felicities, little parties, long talks, with "I'll come to you
to-morrow," and "No, I'll come to you," make-believe renewals of
their old life. They were fairly, at times, the dear things, like
children playing at paying visits, playing at "Mr. Thompson" and
"Mrs. Fane," each hoping that the other would really stay to tea.
Charlotte was sure she should find Maggie there on getting home--
a remark in which Mrs. Verver's immediate response to her
friend's inquiry had culminated. She had thus, on the spot, the
sense of having given her plenty to think about, and that
moreover of liking to see it even better than she had expected.
She had plenty to think about herself, and there was already
something in Fanny that made it seem still more.

"You say your husband's ill? He felt too ill to come?"

"No, my dear--I think not. If he had been too ill I wouldn't have
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

"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

"Certainly I have to arrange."

"And the Prince also--if the effect for him is the same?"

"Really, I think, not less."

"And does he arrange," Mrs. Assingham asked, "to make up HIS
arrears?" The question had risen to her lips--it was as if
another morsel, on the dish, had tempted her. The sound of it
struck her own ear, immediately, as giving out more of her
thought than she had as yet intended; but she quickly saw that
she must follow it up, at any risk, with simplicity, and that
what was simplest was the ease of boldness. "Make them up, I
mean, by coming to see YOU?"

Charlotte replied, however, without, as her friend would have
phrased it, turning a hair. She shook her head, but it was
beautifully gentle. "He never comes."

"Oh!" said Fanny Assingham: with which she felt a little stupid.
"There it is. He might so well, you know, otherwise."

"'Otherwise'?"--and Fanny was still vague.

It passed, this time, over her companion, whose eyes, wandering,
to a distance, found themselves held. The Prince was at hand
again; the Ambassador was still at his side; they were stopped a
moment by a uniformed personage, a little old man, of apparently
the highest military character, bristling with medals and orders.
This gave Charlotte time to go on. "He has not been for three
months." And then as with her friend's last word in her ear:
"'Otherwise'--yes. He arranges otherwise. And in my position,"
she added, "I might too. It's too absurd we shouldn't meet."

"You've met, I gather," said Fanny Assingham, "to-night."

"Yes--as far as that goes. But what I mean is that I might--
placed for it as we both are--go to see HIM."

"And do you?" Fanny asked with almost mistaken solemnity.

The perception of this excess made Charlotte, whether for gravity
or for irony, hang fire a minute. "I HAVE been. But that's
nothing," she said, "in itself, and I tell you of it only to show
you how our situation works. It essentially becomes one, a
situation, for both of us. The Prince's, however, is his own
affair--I meant but to speak of mine."

"Your situation's perfect," Mrs. Assingham presently declared.

"I don't say it isn't. Taken, in fact, all round, I think it is.
And I don't, as I tell you, complain of it. The only thing is
that I have to act as it demands of me."

"To 'act'?" said Mrs. Assingham with an irrepressible quaver.

"Isn't it acting, my dear, to accept it? I do accept it. What do
you want me to do less?"

"I want you to believe that you're a very fortunate person."

"Do you call that LESS?" Charlotte asked with a smile. "From the
point of view of my freedom I call it more. Let it take, my
position, any name you like."

"Don't let it, at any rate"--and Mrs. Assingham's impatience
prevailed at last over her presence of mind--"don't let it make
you think too much of your freedom."

"I don't know what you call too much--for how can I not see it as
it is? You'd see your own quickly enough if the Colonel gave you
the same liberty--and I haven't to tell you, with your so much
greater knowledge of everything, what it is that gives such
liberty most. For yourself personally of course," Charlotte went
on, "you only know the state of neither needing it nor missing
it. Your husband doesn't treat you as of less importance to him
than some other woman."

"Ah, don't talk to me of other women!" Fanny now overtly panted.
"Do you call Mr. Verver's perfectly natural interest in his

"The greatest affection of which he is capable?" Charlotte took
it up in all readiness. "I do distinctly--and in spite of my
having done all I could think of--to make him capable of a
greater. I've done, earnestly, everything I could--I've made it,
month after month, my study. But I haven't succeeded--it has been
vividly brought home to me to-night. However," she pursued, "I've
hoped against hope, for I recognise that, as I told you at the
time, I was duly warned." And then as she met in her friend's
face the absence of any such remembrance: "He did tell me that he
wanted me just BECAUSE I could be useful about her." With which
Charlotte broke into a wonderful smile. "So you see I AM!"

It was on Fanny Assingham's lips for the moment to reply that
this was, on the contrary, exactly what she didn't see; she came
in fact within an ace of saying: "You strike me as having quite
failed to help his idea to work--since, by your account, Maggie
has him not less, but so much more, on her mind. How in the
world, with so much of a remedy, comes there to remain so much of
what was to be obviated?" But she saved herself in time,
conscious above all that she was in presence of still deeper
things than she had yet dared to fear, that there was "more in
it" than any admission she had made represented--and she had held
herself familiar with admissions: so that, not to seem to
understand where she couldn't accept, and not to seem to accept
where she couldn't approve, and could still less, with
precipitation, advise, she invoked the mere appearance of casting
no weight whatever into the scales of her young friend's
consistency. The only thing was that, as she was quickly enough
to feel, she invoked it rather to excess. It brought her,
her invocation, too abruptly to her feet. She brushed away
everything. "I can't conceive, my dear, what you're talking

Charlotte promptly rose then, as might be, to meet it, and her
colour, for the first time, perceptibly heightened. She looked,
for the minute, as her companion had looked--as if twenty
protests, blocking each other's way, had surged up within her.
But when Charlotte had to make a selection, her selection was
always the most effective possible. It was happy now, above all,
for being made not in anger but in sorrow. "You give me up then?"

"Give you up--?"

"You forsake me at the hour of my life when it seems to me I most
deserve a friend's loyalty? If you do you're not just, Fanny;
you're even, I think," she went on, "rather cruel; and it's least
of all worthy of you to seem to wish to quarrel with me in order
to cover your desertion." She spoke, at the same time, with the
noblest moderation of tone, and the image of high, pale, lighted
disappointment she meanwhile presented, as of a creature patient
and lonely in her splendour, was an impression so firmly imposed
that she could fill her measure to the brim and yet enjoy the
last word, as it is called in such cases, with a perfection void
of any vulgarity of triumph. She merely completed, for truth's
sake, her demonstration. "What is a quarrel with me but a quarrel
with my right to recognise the conditions of my bargain? But
I can carry them out alone," she said as she turned away. She
turned to meet the Ambassador and the Prince, who, their colloquy
with their Field-Marshal ended, were now at hand and had already,
between them, she was aware, addressed her a remark that failed
to penetrate the golden glow in which her intelligence was
temporarily bathed. She had made her point, the point she had
foreseen she must make; she had made it thoroughly and once for
all, so that no more making was required; and her success was
reflected in the faces of the two men of distinction before her,
unmistakably moved to admiration by her exceptional radiance. She
at first but watched this reflection, taking no note of any less
adequate form of it possibly presented by poor Fanny--poor Fanny
left to stare at her incurred "score," chalked up in so few
strokes on the wall; then she took in what the Ambassador was
saying, in French, what he was apparently repeating to her.

"A desire for your presence, Madame, has been expressed en
tres-haut lieu, and I've let myself in for the responsibility, to
say nothing of the honour, of seeing, as the most respectful of
your friends, that so august an impatience is not kept waiting."
The greatest possible Personage had, in short, according to the
odd formula of societies subject to the greatest personages
possible, "sent for" her, and she asked, in her surprise, "What
in the world does he want to do to me?" only to know, without
looking, that Fanny's bewilderment was called to a still larger
application, and to hear the Prince say with authority, indeed
with a certain prompt dryness: "You must go immediately--it's a
summons." The Ambassador, using authority as well, had already
somehow possessed himself of her hand, which he drew into his
arm, and she was further conscious as she went off with him that,
though still speaking for her benefit, Amerigo had turned to
Fanny Assingham. He would explain afterwards--besides which she
would understand for herself. To Fanny, however, he had laughed--
as a mark, apparently, that for this infallible friend no
explanation at all would be necessary.

Henry James

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