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Chapter 19

He had taken it from her, as we have seen, moreover, that Fanny
Assingham didn't now matter--the "now" he had even himself
supplied, as no more than fair to his sense of various earlier
stages; and, though his assent remained scarce more than tacit,
his behaviour, for the hour, so fell into line that, for many
days, he kept postponing the visit he had promised his old friend
on the occasion of their talk at the Foreign Office. With regret,
none the less, would he have seen it quite extinguished, that
theory of their relation as attached pupil and kind instructress
in which they had from the first almost equally found a
convenience. It had been he, no doubt, who had most put it
forward, since his need of knowledge fairly exceeded her mild
pretension; but he had again and again repeated to her that he
should never, without her, have been where he was, and she had
not successfully concealed the pleasure it might give her to
believe it, even after the question of where he was had begun to
show itself as rather more closed than open to interpretation. It
had never indeed, before that evening, come up as during the
passage at the official party, and he had for the first time at
those moments, a little disappointedly, got the impression of a
certain failure, on the dear woman's part, of something he was
aware of having always rather freely taken for granted in her. Of
what exactly the failure consisted he would still perhaps have
felt it a little harsh to try to say; and if she had in fact, as
by Charlotte's observation, "broken down," the details of the
collapse would be comparatively unimportant. They came to the
same thing, all such collapses--the failure of courage, the
failure of friendship, or the failure just simply of tact; for
didn't any one of them by itself amount really to the failure of
wit?--which was the last thing he had expected of her and which
would be but another name for the triumph of stupidity. It had
been Charlotte's remark that they were at last "beyond" her;
whereas he had ever enjoyed believing that a certain easy
imagination in her would keep up with him to the end. He shrank
from affixing a label to Mrs. Assingham's want of faith; but when
he thought, at his ease, of the way persons who were capable
really entertained--or at least with any refinement--the passion
of personal loyalty, he figured for them a play of fancy neither
timorous nor scrupulous. So would his personal loyalty, if need
be, have accepted the adventure for the good creature herself; to
that definite degree that he had positively almost missed the
luxury of some such call from her. That was what it all came back
to again with these people among whom he was married--that one
found one used one's imagination mainly for wondering how they
contrived so little to appeal to it. He felt at moments as if
there were never anything to do for them that was worthy--to call
worthy--of the personal relation; never any charming charge to
take of any confidence deeply reposed. He might vulgarly have put
it that one had never to plot or to lie for them; he might
humourously have put it that one had never, as by the higher
conformity, to lie in wait with the dagger or to prepare,
insidiously, the cup. These were the services that, by all
romantic tradition, were consecrated to affection quite as much
as to hate. But he could amuse himself with saying--so far as the
amusement went--that they were what he had once for all turned
his back on.

Fanny was meanwhile frequent, it appeared, in Eaton Square; so
much he gathered from the visitor who was not infrequent, least
of all at tea-time, during the same period, in Portland Place;
though they had little need to talk of her after practically
agreeing that they had outlived her. To the scene of these
conversations and suppressions Mrs. Assingham herself made,
actually, no approach; her latest view of her utility seeming to
be that it had found in Eaton Square its most urgent field. It
was finding there in fact everything and everyone but the Prince,
who mostly, just now, kept away, or who, at all events, on the
interspaced occasions of his calling, happened not to encounter
the only person from whom he was a little estranged. It would
have been all prodigious if he had not already, with Charlotte's
aid, so very considerably lived into it--it would have been all
indescribably remarkable, this fact that, with wonderful causes
for it so operating on the surface, nobody else, as yet, in the
combination, seemed estranged from anybody. If Mrs. Assingham
delighted in Maggie she knew by this time how most easily to
reach her, and if she was unhappy about Charlotte she knew, by
the same reasoning, how most probably to miss that vision of her
on which affliction would feed. It might feed of course on
finding her so absent from her home--just as this particular
phenomenon of her domestic detachment could be, by the anxious
mind, best studied there. Fanny was, however, for her reasons,
"shy" of Portland Place itself--this was appreciable; so that she
might well, after all, have no great light on the question of
whether Charlotte's appearances there were frequent or not, any
more than on that of the account they might be keeping of the
usual solitude (since it came to this) of the head of that house.
There was always, to cover all ambiguities, to constitute a fund
of explanation for the divisions of Mrs. Verver's day, the
circumstance that, at the point they had all reached together,
Mrs. Verver was definitely and by general acclamation in charge
of the "social relations" of the family, literally of those of
the two households; as to her genius for representing which in
the great world and in the grand style vivid evidence had more
and more accumulated. It had been established in the two
households at an early stage, and with the highest good-humour,
that Charlotte was a, was THE, "social success," whereas the
Princess, though kind, though punctilious, though charming,
though in fact the dearest little creature in the world and the
Princess into the bargain, was distinctly not, would distinctly
never be, and might as well, practically, give it up: whether
through being above it or below it, too much outside of it or too
much lost in it, too unequipped or too indisposed, didn't
especially matter. What sufficed was that the whole thing, call
it appetite or call it patience, the act of representation at
large and the daily business of intercourse, fell in with
Charlotte's tested facility and, not much less visibly, with her
accommodating, her generous, view of her domestic use. She had
come, frankly, into the connection, to do and to be what she
could, "no questions asked," and she had taken over, accordingly,
as it stood, and in the finest practical spirit, the burden of a
visiting-list that Maggie, originally, left to herself, and left
even more to the Principino, had suffered to get inordinately out
of hand.

She had in a word not only mounted, cheerfully, the London
treadmill--she had handsomely professed herself, for the further
comfort of the three others, sustained in the effort by a
"frivolous side," if that were not too harsh a name for a
pleasant constitutional curiosity. There were possibilities of
dulness, ponderosities of practice, arid social sands, the bad
quarters-of-an-hour that turned up like false pieces in a debased
currency, of which she made, on principle, very nearly as light
as if she had not been clever enough to distinguish. The Prince
had, on this score, paid her his compliment soon after her return
from her wedding-tour in America, where, by all accounts, she had
wondrously borne the brunt; facing brightly, at her husband's
side, everything that came up--and what had come, often, was
beyond words: just as, precisely, with her own interest only at
stake, she had thrown up the game during the visit paid before
her marriage. The discussion of the American world, the
comparison of notes, impressions and adventures, had been all at
hand, as a ground of meeting for Mrs. Verver and her husband's
son-in-law, from the hour of the reunion of the two couples. Thus
it had been, in short, that Charlotte could, for her friend's
appreciation, so promptly make her point; even using expressions
from which he let her see, at the hour, that he drew amusement of
his own. "What could be more simple than one's going through with
everything," she had asked, "when it's so plain a part of one's
contract? I've got so much, by my marriage"--for she had never
for a moment concealed from him how "much" she had felt it and
was finding it "that I should deserve no charity if I stinted my
return. Not to do that, to give back on the contrary all one can,
are just one's decency and one's honour and one's virtue. These
things, henceforth, if you're interested to know, are my rule of
life, the absolute little gods of my worship, the holy images set
up on the wall. Oh yes, since I'm not a brute," she had wound up,
"you shall see me as I AM!" Which was therefore as he had seen
her--dealing always, from month to month, from day to day and
from one occasion to the other, with the duties of a remunerated
office. Her perfect, her brilliant efficiency had doubtless, all
the while, contributed immensely to the pleasant ease in which
her husband and her husband's daughter were lapped. It had in
fact probably done something more than this--it had given them a
finer and sweeter view of the possible scope of that ease. They
had brought her in--on the crudest expression of it--to do the
"worldly" for them, and she had done it with such genius that
they had themselves in consequence renounced it even more than
they had originally intended. In proportion as she did it,
moreover, was she to be relieved of other and humbler doings;
which minor matters, by the properest logic, devolved therefore
upon Maggie, in whose chords and whose province they more
naturally lay. Not less naturally, by the same token, they
included the repair, at the hands of the latter young woman, of
every stitch conceivably dropped by Charlotte in Eaton Square.
This was homely work, but that was just what made it Maggie's.
Bearing in mind dear Amerigo, who was so much of her own great
mundane feather, and whom the homeliness in question didn't, no
doubt, quite equally provide for--that would be, to balance, just
in a manner Charlotte's very most charming function, from the
moment Charlotte could be got adequately to recognise it.

Well, that Charlotte might be appraised as at last not
ineffectually recognising it, was a reflection that, during the
days with which we are actually engaged, completed in the
Prince's breast these others, these images and ruminations of his
leisure, these gropings and fittings of his conscience and his
experience, that we have attempted to set in order there. They
bore him company, not insufficiently--considering, in especial,
his fuller resources in that line--while he worked out--to the
last lucidity the principle on which he forbore either to seek
Fanny out in Cadogan Place or to perpetrate the error of too
marked an assiduity in Eaton Square. This error would be his not
availing himself to the utmost of the convenience of any artless
theory of his constitution, or of Charlotte's, that might prevail
there. That artless theories could and did prevail was a fact he
had ended by accepting, under copious evidence, as definite and
ultimate; and it consorted with common prudence, with the
simplest economy of life, not to be wasteful of any odd gleaning.
To haunt Eaton Square, in fine, would be to show that he had not,
like his brilliant associate, a sufficiency of work in the world.
It was just his having that sufficiency, it was just their having
it together, that, so strangely and so blessedly, made, as they
put it to each other, everything possible. What further propped
up the case, moreover, was that the "world," by still another
beautiful perversity of their chance, included Portland Place
without including to anything like the same extent Eaton Square.
The latter residence, at the same time, it must promptly be
added, did, on occasion, wake up to opportunity and, as giving
itself a frolic shake, send out a score of invitations--one of
which fitful flights, precisely, had, before Easter, the effect
of disturbing a little our young man's measure of his margin.
Maggie, with a proper spirit, held that her father ought from
time to time to give a really considered dinner, and Mr. Verver,
who had as little idea as ever of not meeting expectation, was of
the harmonious opinion that his wife ought. Charlotte's own
judgment was, always, that they were ideally free--the proof of
which would always be, she maintained, that everyone they feared
they might most have alienated by neglect would arrive, wreathed
with smiles, on the merest hint of a belated signal. Wreathed in
smiles, all round, truly enough, these apologetic banquets struck
Amerigo as being; they were, frankly, touching occasions to him,
marked, in the great London bousculade, with a small, still grace
of their own, an investing amenity and humanity. Everybody came,
everybody rushed; but all succumbed to the soft influence, and
the brutality of mere multitude, of curiosity without tenderness,
was put off, at the foot of the fine staircase, with the
overcoats and shawls. The entertainment offered a few evenings
before Easter, and at which Maggie and he were inevitably present
as guests, was a discharge of obligations not insistently
incurred, and had thereby, possibly, all the more, the note of
this almost Arcadian optimism: a large, bright, dull, murmurous,
mild-eyed, middle-aged dinner, involving for the most part very
bland, though very exalted, immensely announceable and
hierarchically placeable couples, and followed, without the
oppression of a later contingent, by a brief instrumental
concert, over the preparation of which, the Prince knew, Maggie's
anxiety had conferred with Charlotte's ingenuity and both had
supremely revelled, as it were, in Mr. Verver's solvency.

The Assinghams were there, by prescription, though quite at the
foot of the social ladder, and with the Colonel's wife, in spite
of her humility of position, the Prince was more inwardly
occupied than with any other person except Charlotte. He was
occupied with Charlotte because, in the first place, she looked
so inordinately handsome and held so high, where so much else was
mature and sedate, the torch of responsive youth and the standard
of passive grace; and because of the fact that, in the second,
the occasion, so far as it referred itself with any confidence of
emphasis to a hostess, seemed to refer itself preferentially,
well-meaningly and perversely, to Maggie. It was not
indistinguishable to him, when once they were all stationed, that
his wife too had in perfection her own little character; but he
wondered how it managed so visibly to simplify itself--and this,
he knew, in spite of any desire she entertained--to the essential
air of having overmuch on her mind the felicity, and indeed the
very conduct and credit, of the feast. He knew, as well, the
other things of which her appearance was at any time--and in
Eaton Square especially--made up: her resemblance to her father,
at times so vivid, and coming out, in the delicate warmth of
occasions, like the quickened fragrance of a flower; her
resemblance, as he had hit it off for her once in Rome, in the
first flushed days, after their engagement, to a little
dancing-girl at rest, ever so light of movement but most often
panting gently, even a shade compunctiously, on a bench; her
approximation, finally--for it was analogy, somehow, more than
identity--to the transmitted images of rather neutral and
negative propriety that made up, in his long line, the average of
wifehood and motherhood. If the Roman matron had been, in
sufficiency, first and last, the honour of that line, Maggie
would no doubt, at fifty, have expanded, have solidified to some
such dignity, even should she suggest a little but a Cornelia in
miniature. A light, however, broke for him in season, and when
once it had done so it made him more than ever aware of Mrs.
Verver's vaguely, yet quite exquisitely, contingent
participation--a mere hinted or tendered discretion; in short of
Mrs. Verver's indescribable, unfathomable relation to the scene.
Her placed condition, her natural seat and neighbourhood, her
intenser presence, her quieter smile, her fewer jewels, were
inevitably all as nothing compared with the preoccupation that
burned in Maggie like a small flame and that had in fact kindled
in each of her cheeks a little attesting, but fortunately by no
means unbecoming, spot. The party was her father's party, and its
greater or smaller success was a question having for her all the
importance of his importance; so that sympathy created for her a
sort of visible suspense, under pressure of which she bristled
with filial reference, with little filial recalls of expression,
movement, tone. It was all unmistakable, and as pretty as
possible, if one would, and even as funny; but it put the pair so
together, as undivided by the marriage of each, that the Princess
il n'y avait pas a dire--might sit where she liked: she would
still, always, in that house, be irremediably Maggie Verver. The
Prince found himself on this occasion so beset with that
perception that its natural complement for him would really have
been to wonder if Mr. Verver had produced on people something of
the same impression in the recorded cases of his having dined
with his daughter.

This backward speculation, had it begun to play, however, would
have been easily arrested; for it was at present to come over
Amerigo as never before that his remarkable father-in-law was the
man in the world least equipped with different appearances for
different hours. He was simple, he was a revelation of
simplicity, and that was the end of him so far as he consisted of
an appearance at all--a question that might verily, for a
weakness in it, have been argued. It amused our young man, who
was taking his pleasure to-night, it will be seen, in sundry
occult ways, it amused him to feel how everything else the master
of the house consisted of, resources, possessions, facilities and
amiabilities amplified by the social legend, depended, for
conveying the effect of quantity, on no personal "equation," no
mere measurable medium. Quantity was in the air for these good
people, and Mr. Verver's estimable quality was almost wholly in
that pervasion. He was meagre and modest and clearbrowed, and his
eyes, if they wandered without fear, yet stayed without defiance;
his shoulders were not broad, his chest was not high, his
complexion was not fresh, and the crown of his head was not
covered; in spite of all of which he looked, at the top of his
table, so nearly like a little boy shyly entertaining in virtue
of some imposed rank, that he COULD only be one of the powers,
the representative of a force--quite as an infant king is the
representative of a dynasty. In this generalised view of his
father-in-law, intensified to-night but always operative, Amerigo
had now for some time taken refuge. The refuge, after the reunion
of the two households in England, had more and more offered
itself as the substitute for communities, from man to man, that,
by his original calculation, might have become possible, but that
had not really ripened and flowered. He met the decent family
eyes across the table, met them afterwards in the music-room, but
only to read in them still what he had learned to read during his
first months, the time of over-anxious initiation, a kind of
apprehension in which the terms and conditions were finally fixed
and absolute. This directed regard rested at its ease, but it
neither lingered nor penetrated, and was, to the Prince's fancy,
much of the same order as any glance directed, for due attention,
from the same quarter, to the figure of a cheque received in the
course of business and about to be enclosed to a banker. It made
sure of the amount--and just so, from time to time, the amount of
the Prince was made sure. He was being thus, in renewed
instalments, perpetually paid in; he already reposed in the bank
as a value, but subject, in this comfortable way, to repeated, to
infinite endorsement. The net result of all of which, moreover,
was that the young man had no wish to see his value diminish. He
himself, after all, had not fixed it--the "figure" was a
conception all of Mr. Verver's own. Certainly, however,
everything must be kept up to it; never so much as to-night had
the Prince felt this. He would have been uncomfortable, as these
quiet expressions passed, had the case not been guaranteed for
him by the intensity of his accord with Charlotte. It was
impossible that he should not now and again meet Charlotte's
eyes, as it was also visible that she too now and again met her
husband's. For her as well, in all his pulses, he felt the
conveyed impression. It put them, it kept them together, through
the vain show of their separation, made the two other faces, made
the whole lapse of the evening, the people, the lights, the
flowers, the pretended talk, the exquisite music, a mystic golden
bridge between them, strongly swaying and sometimes almost
vertiginous, for that intimacy of which the sovereign law would
be the vigilance of "care," would be never rashly to forget and
never consciously to wound.

Henry James

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