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Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And did they then announce their programme?"

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

"And for the whole day?"

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

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

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

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

"Taking, you mean, YOUR carriage?"

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

"They feel a confidence," the Prince observed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"All day?"

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

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

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

He waited for a moment. "Never?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh, Fanny Assingham!" said Charlotte Verver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah, but rather!"

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

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

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

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

Firmly and gravely she kept his hand. "It's too beautiful."

And so for a minute they stood together, as strongly held and as
closely confronted as any hour of their easier past even had seen
them. They were silent at first, only facing and faced, only
grasping and grasped, only meeting and met. "It's sacred," he
said at last.

"It's sacred," she breathed back to him. They vowed it, gave it
out and took it in, drawn, by their intensity, more closely
together. Then of a sudden, through this tightened circle, as at
the issue of a narrow strait into the sea beyond, everything
broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and mingled. Their lips
sought their lips, their pressure their response and their
response their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself
the next moment to the longest and deepest of stillnesses they
passionately sealed their pledge.

Henry James

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