Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17

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."

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.