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Chapter 21

He found himself therefore saying, with gaiety, even to Fanny
Assingham, for their common, concerned glance at Eaton Square,
the glance that was so markedly never, as it might have been, a
glance at Portland Place: "What WOULD our cari sposi have made of
it here? what would they, you know, really?"--which overflow
would have been reckless if, already, and surprisingly perhaps
even to himself, he had not got used to thinking of this friend
as a person in whom the element of protest had of late been
unmistakably allayed. He exposed himself of course to her
replying: "Ah, if it would have been so bad for them, how can it
be so good for you?"--but, quite apart from the small sense the
question would have had at the best, she appeared already to
unite with him in confidence and cheer. He had his view, as
well--or at least a partial one--of the inner spring of this
present comparative humility, which was all consistent with the
retraction he had practically seen her make after Mr. Verver's
last dinner. Without diplomatising to do so, with no effort to
square her, none to bribe her to an attitude for which he would
have had no use in her if it were not sincere, he yet felt how he
both held her and moved her by the felicity of his taking pity,
all instinctively, on her just discernible depression. By just so
much as he guessed that she felt herself, as the slang was, out
of it, out of the crystal current and the expensive picture, by
just so much had his friendship charmingly made up to her, from
hour to hour, for the penalties, as they might have been grossly
called, of her mistake. Her mistake had only been, after all, in
her wanting to seem to him straight; she had let herself in for
being--as she had made haste, for that matter, during the very
first half-hour, at tea, to proclaim herself--the sole and single
frump of the party. The scale of everything was so different that
all her minor values, her quainter graces, her little local
authority, her humour and her wardrobe alike, for which it was
enough elsewhere, among her bons amis, that they were hers, dear
Fanny Assingham's--these matters and others would be all, now, as
nought: five minutes had sufficed to give her the fatal pitch. In
Cadogan Place she could always, at the worst, be picturesque--for
she habitually spoke of herself as "local" to Sloane Street
whereas at Matcham she should never be anything but horrible. And
it all would have come, the disaster, from the real refinement,
in her, of the spirit of friendship. To prove to him that she
wasn't really watching him--ground for which would have been too
terribly grave--she had followed him in his pursuit of pleasure:
SO she might, precisely, mark her detachment. This was handsome
trouble for her to take--the Prince could see it all: it wasn't a
shade of interference that a good-natured man would visit on her.
So he didn't even say, when she told him how frumpy she knew
herself, how frumpy her very maid, odiously going back on her,
rubbed it into her, night and morning, with unsealed eyes and
lips, that she now knew her--he didn't then say "Ah, see what
you've done: isn't it rather your own fault?" He behaved
differently altogether: eminently distinguished himself--for she
told him she had never seen him so universally distinguished--he
yet distinguished her in her obscurity, or in what was worse, her
objective absurdity, and frankly invested her with her absolute
value, surrounded her with all the importance of her wit. That
wit, as discriminated from stature and complexion, a sense for
"bridge" and a credit for pearls, could have importance was
meanwhile but dimly perceived at Matcham; so that his "niceness"
to her--she called it only niceness, but it brought tears into
her eyes--had the greatness of a general as well as of a special
demonstration.

"She understands," he said, as a comment on all this, to Mrs.
Verver--"she understands all she needs to understand. She has
taken her time, but she has at last made it out for herself: she
sees how all we can desire is to give them the life they prefer,
to surround them with the peace and quiet, and above all with the
sense of security, most favourable to it. She can't of course
very well put it to us that we have, so far as she is concerned,
but to make the best of our circumstances; she can't say in so
many words 'Don't think of me, for I too must make the best of
mine: arrange as you can, only, and live as you must.' I don't
get quite THAT from her, any more than I ask for it. But her tone
and her whole manner mean nothing at all unless they mean that
she trusts us to take as watchful, to take as artful, to take as
tender care, in our way, as she so anxiously takes in hers. So
that she's--well," the Prince wound up, "what you may call
practically all right." Charlotte in fact, however, to help out
his confidence, didn't call it anything; return as he might to
the lucidity, the importance, or whatever it was, of this lesson,
she gave him no aid toward reading it aloud. She let him, two or
three times over, spell it out for himself; only on the eve of
their visit's end was she, for once, clear or direct in response.
They had found a minute together in the great hall of the house
during the half-hour before dinner; this easiest of chances they
had already, a couple of times, arrived at by waiting
persistently till the last other loiterers had gone to dress, and
by being prepared themselves to dress so expeditiously that they
might, a little later on, be among the first to appear in festal
array. The hall then was empty, before the army of rearranging,
cushion-patting housemaids were marshalled in, and there was a
place by the forsaken fire, at one end, where they might imitate,
with art, the unpremeditated. Above all, here, for the snatched
instants, they could breathe so near to each other that the
interval was almost engulfed in it, and the intensity both of the
union and the caution became a workable substitute for contact.
They had prolongations of instants that counted as visions of
bliss; they had slow approximations that counted as long
caresses. The quality of these passages, in truth, made the
spoken word, and especially the spoken word about other people,
fall below them; so that our young woman's tone had even now a
certain dryness. "It's very good of her, my dear, to trust us.
But what else can she do?"

"Why, whatever people do when they don't trust. Let one see they
don't."

"But let whom see?"

"Well, let ME, say, to begin with."

"And should you mind that?"

He had a slight show of surprise. "Shouldn't you?"

"Her letting you see? No," said Charlotte; "the only thing I can
imagine myself minding is what you yourself, if you don't look
out, may let HER see." To which she added: "You may let her see,
you know, that you're afraid."

"I'm only afraid of you, a little, at moments," he presently
returned. "But I shan't let Fanny see that."

It was clear, however, that neither the limits nor the extent of
Mrs. Assingham's vision were now a real concern to her, and she
gave expression to this as she had not even yet done. "What in
the world can she do against us? There's not a word that she can
breathe. She's helpless; she can't speak; she would be herself
the first to be dished by it." And then as he seemed slow to
follow: "It all comes back to her. It all began with her.
Everything, from the first. She introduced you to Maggie. She
made your marriage."

The Prince might have had his moment of demur, but at this, after
a little, as with a smile dim but deep, he came on. "Mayn't she
also be said, a good deal, to have made yours? That was intended,
I think, wasn't it? for a kind of rectification."

Charlotte, on her side, for an instant, hesitated; then she was
prompter still. "I don't mean there was anything to rectify;
everything was as it had to be, and I'm not speaking of how she
may have been concerned for you and me. I'm speaking of how she
took, in her way, each time, THEIR lives in hand, and how,
therefore, that ties her up to-day. She can't go to them and say
'It's very awkward of course, you poor dear things, but I was
frivolously mistaken.'"

He took it in still, with his long look at her. "All the more
that she wasn't. She was right. Everything's right," he went on,
"and everything will stay so."

"Then that's all I say."

But he worked it out, for the deeper satisfaction, even to
superfluous lucidity. "We're happy, and they're happy. What more
does the position admit of? What more need Fanny Assingham want?"

"Ah, my dear," said Charlotte, "it's not I who say that she need
want anything. I only say that she's FIXED, that she must stand
exactly where everything has, by her own act, placed her. It's
you who have seemed haunted with the possibility, for her, of
some injurious alternative, something or other we must be
prepared for." And she had, with her high reasoning, a strange
cold smile. "We ARE prepared--for anything, for everything; and
AS we are, practically, so she must take us. She's condemned to
consistency; she's doomed, poor thing, to a genial optimism.
That, luckily for her, however, is very much the law of her
nature. She was born to soothe and to smooth. Now then,
therefore," Mrs. Verver gently laughed, "she has the chance of
her life!"

"So that her present professions may, even at the best, not be
sincere?--may be but a mask for doubts and fears, and for gaining
time?"

The Prince had looked, with the question, as if this, again,
could trouble him, and it determined in his companion a slight
impatience. "You keep talking about such things as if they were
our affair at all. I feel, at any rate, that I've nothing to do
with her doubts and fears, or with anything she may feel. She
must arrange all that for herself. It's enough for me that she'll
always be, of necessity, much more afraid for herself, REALLY,
either to see or to speak, than we should be to have her do it
even if we were the idiots and cowards we aren't." And
Charlotte's face, with these words--to the mitigation of the
slightly hard ring there might otherwise have been in them--
fairly lightened, softened, shone out. It reflected as really
never yet the rare felicity of their luck. It made her look for
the moment as if she had actually pronounced that word of
unpermitted presumption--so apt is the countenance, as with a
finer consciousness than the tongue, to betray a sense of this
particular lapse. She might indeed, the next instant, have seen
her friend wince, in advance, at her use of a word that was
already on her lips; for it was still unmistakable with him that
there were things he could prize, forms of fortune he could
cherish, without at all proportionately liking their names. Had
all this, however, been even completely present to his companion,
what other term could she have applied to the strongest and
simplest of her ideas but the one that exactly fitted it? She
applied it then, though her own instinct moved her, at the same
time, to pay her tribute to the good taste from which they hadn't
heretofore by a hair's breadth deviated. "If it didn't sound so
vulgar I should say that we're--fatally, as it were--SAFE. Pardon
the low expression--since it's what we happen to be. We're so
because they are. And they're so because they can't be anything
else, from the moment that, having originally intervened for
them, she wouldn't now be able to bear herself if she didn't keep
them so. That's the way she's inevitably WITH us," said Charlotte
over her smile. "We hang, essentially, together."

Well, the Prince candidly allowed she did bring it home to him.
Every way it worked out. "Yes, I see. We hang, essentially,
together."

His friend had a shrug--a shrug that had a grace. "Cosa
volete?" The effect, beautifully, nobly, was more than Roman.
"Ah, beyond doubt, it's a case."

He stood looking at her. "It's a case. There can't," he said,
"have been many."

"Perhaps never, never, never any other. That," she smiled, "I
confess I should like to think. Only ours."

"Only ours--most probably. Speriamo." To which, as after hushed
connections, he presently added: "Poor Fanny!" But Charlotte had
already, with a start and a warning hand, turned from a glance at
the clock. She sailed away to dress, while he watched her reach
the staircase. His eyes followed her till, with a simple swift
look round at him, she vanished. Something in the sight, however,
appeared to have renewed the spring of his last exclamation,
which he breathed again upon the air. "Poor, poor Fanny!"

It was to prove, however, on the morrow, quite consistent with
the spirit of these words that, the party at Matcham breaking up
and multitudinously dispersing, he should be able to meet the
question of the social side of the process of repatriation with
due presence of mind. It was impossible, for reasons, that he
should travel to town with the Assinghams; it was impossible, for
the same reasons, that he should travel to town save in the
conditions that he had for the last twenty-four hours been
privately, and it might have been said profoundly, thinking out.
The result of his thought was already precious to him, and this
put at his service, he sufficiently believed, the right tone for
disposing of his elder friend's suggestion, an assumption in fact
equally full and mild, that he and Charlotte would conveniently
take the same train and occupy the same compartment as the
Colonel and herself. The extension of the idea to Mrs. Verver had
been, precisely, a part of Mrs. Assingham's mildness, and nothing
could better have characterised her sense for social shades than
her easy perception that the gentleman from Portland Place and
the lady from Eaton Square might now confess, quite without
indiscretion, to simultaneity of movement. She had made, for the
four days, no direct appeal to the latter personage, but the
Prince was accidental witness of her taking a fresh start at the
moment the company were about to scatter for the last night of
their stay. There had been, at this climax, the usual preparatory
talk about hours and combinations, in the midst of which poor
Fanny gently approached Mrs. Verver. She said "You and the
Prince, love,"--quite, apparently, without blinking; she took for
granted their public withdrawal together; she remarked that she
and Bob were alike ready, in the interest of sociability, to take
any train that would make them all one party. "I feel really as
if, all this time, I had seen nothing of you"--that gave an added
grace to the candour of the dear thing's approach. But just then

it was, on the other hand, that the young man found himself
borrow most effectively the secret of the right tone for doing as
he preferred. His preference had, during the evening, not failed
of occasion to press him with mute insistences; practically
without words, without any sort of straight telegraphy, it had
arrived at a felt identity with Charlotte's own. She spoke all
for their friend while she answered their friend's question, but
she none the less signalled to him as definitely as if she had
fluttered a white handkerchief from a window. "It's awfully sweet
of you, darling--our going together would be charming. But you
mustn't mind us--you must suit yourselves we've settled, Amerigo
and I, to stay over till after luncheon."

Amerigo, with the chink of this gold in his ear, turned straight
away, so as not to be instantly appealed to; and for the very
emotion of the wonder, furthermore, of what divination may
achieve when winged by a community of passion. Charlotte had
uttered the exact plea that he had been keeping ready for the
same foreseen necessity, and had uttered it simply as a
consequence of their deepening unexpressed need of each other and
without the passing between them of a word. He hadn't, God knew,
to take it from her--he was too conscious of what he wanted; but
the lesson for him was in the straight clear tone that Charlotte
could thus distil, in the perfect felicity of her adding no
explanation, no touch for plausibility, that she wasn't strictly
obliged to add, and in the truly superior way in which women, so
situated, express and distinguish themselves. She had answered
Mrs. Assingham quite adequately; she had not spoiled it by a
reason a scrap larger than the smallest that would serve, and she
had, above all, thrown off, for his stretched but covered
attention, an image that flashed like a mirror played at the face
of the sun. The measure of EVERYTHING, to all his sense, at these
moments, was in it--the measure especially of the thought that
had been growing with him a positive obsession and that began to
throb as never yet under this brush of her having, by perfect
parity of imagination, the match for it. His whole consciousness
had by this time begun almost to ache with a truth of an
exquisite order, at the glow of which she too had, so
unmistakably then, been warming herself--the truth that the
occasion constituted by the last few days couldn't possibly, save
by some poverty of their own, refuse them some still other and
still greater beauty. It had already told them, with an hourly
voice, that it had a meaning--a meaning that their associated
sense was to drain even as thirsty lips, after the plough through
the sands and the sight, afar, of the palm-cluster, might drink
in at last the promised well in the desert. There had been
beauty, day after day, and there had been, for the spiritual
lips, something of the pervasive taste of it; yet it was all,
none the less, as if their response had remained below their
fortune. How to bring it, by some brave, free lift, up to the
same height was the idea with which, behind and beneath
everything, he was restlessly occupied, and in the exploration of
which, as in that of the sun-chequered greenwood of romance, his
spirit thus, at the opening of a vista, met hers. They were
already, from that moment, so hand-in-hand in the place that he
found himself making use, five minutes later, of exactly the same
tone as Charlotte's for telling Mrs. Assingham that he was
likewise, in the matter of the return to London, sorry for what
mightn't be.

This had become, of a sudden, the simplest thing in the world--
the sense of which moreover seemed really to amount to a portent
that he should feel, forevermore, on the general head,
conveniently at his ease with her. He went in fact a step further
than Charlotte--put the latter forward as creating his necessity.
She was staying over luncheon to oblige their hostess--as a
consequence of which he must also stay to see her decently home.
He must deliver her safe and sound, he felt, in Eaton Square.
Regret as he might, too, the difference made by this obligation,
he frankly didn't mind, inasmuch as, over and above the pleasure
itself, his scruple would certainly gratify both Mr. Verver and
Maggie. They never yet had absolutely and entirely learned, he
even found deliberation to intimate, how little he really
neglected the first--as it seemed nowadays quite to have become--
of his domestic duties: therefore he still constantly felt how
little he must remit his effort to make them remark it. To which
he added with equal lucidity that they would return in time for
dinner, and if he didn't, as a last word, subjoin that it would
be "lovely" of Fanny to find, on her own return, a moment to go
to Eaton Square and report them as struggling bravely on, this
was not because the impulse, down to the very name for the
amiable act, altogether failed to rise. His inward assurance, his
general plan, had at moments, where she was concerned, its drops
of continuity, and nothing would less have pleased him than that
she should suspect in him, however tempted, any element of
conscious "cheek." But he was always--that was really the
upshot--cultivating thanklessly the considerate and the delicate:
it was a long lesson, this unlearning, with people of English
race, all the little superstitions that accompany friendship.
Mrs. Assingham herself was the first to say that she would
unfailingly "report"; she brought it out in fact, he thought,
quite wonderfully--having attained the summit of the wonderful
during the brief interval that had separated her appeal to
Charlotte from this passage with himself. She had taken the five
minutes, obviously, amid the rest of the talk and the movement,
to retire into her tent for meditation--which showed, among
several things, the impression Charlotte had made on her. It was
from the tent she emerged, as with arms refurbished; though who
indeed could say if the manner in which she now met him spoke
most, really, of the glitter of battle or of the white waver of
the flag of truce? The parley was short either way; the gallantry
of her offer was all sufficient.

"I'll go to our friends then--I'll ask for luncheon. I'll tell
them when to expect you."

"That will be charming. Say we're all right."

"All right--precisely. I can't say more," Mrs. Assingham smiled.

"No doubt." But he considered, as for the possible importance of
it. "Neither can you, by what I seem to feel, say less."

"Oh, I WON'T say less!" Fanny laughed; with which, the next
moment, she had turned away. But they had it again, not less
bravely, on the morrow, after breakfast, in the thick of the
advancing carriages and the exchange of farewells. "I think I'll
send home my maid from Euston," she was then prepared to amend,
"and go to Eaton Square straight. So you can be easy."

"Oh, I think we're easy," the Prince returned. "Be sure to say,
at any rate, that we're bearing up."

"You're bearing up--good. And Charlotte returns to dinner?"

"To dinner. We're not likely, I think, to make another night
away."

"Well then, I wish you at least a pleasant day,"

"Oh," he laughed as they separated, "we shall do our best for
it!"--after which, in due course, with the announcement of their
conveyance, the Assinghams rolled off.

Henry James

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