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Chapter 24

"I can't say more," this made his companion reply, "than that
something in her face, her voice and her whole manner acted upon
me as nothing in her had ever acted before; and just for the
reason, above all, that I felt her trying her very best--and her
very best, poor duck, is very good--to be quiet and natural. It's
when one sees people who always ARE natural making little pale,
pathetic, blinking efforts for it--then it is that one knows
something's the matter. I can't describe my impression--you would
have had it for yourself. And the only thing that ever CAN be the
matter with Maggie is that. By 'that' I mean her beginning to
doubt. To doubt, for the first time," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"of her wonderful little judgment of her wonderful little world."

It was impressive, Fanny's vision, and the Colonel, as if himself
agitated by it, took another turn of prowling. "To doubt of
fidelity--to doubt of friendship! Poor duck indeed! It will go
hard with her. But she'll put it all," he concluded, "on
Charlotte."

Mrs. Assingham, still darkly contemplative, denied this with a
headshake. "She won't 'put' it anywhere. She won't do with it
anything anyone else would. She'll take it all herself."

"You mean she'll make it out her own fault?"

"Yes--she'll find means, somehow, to arrive at that."

"Ah then," the Colonel dutifully declared, "she's indeed a little
brick!"

"Oh," his wife returned, "you'll see, in one way or another, to
what tune!" And she spoke, of a sudden, with an approach to
elation--so that, as if immediately feeling his surprise, she
turned round to him. "She'll see me somehow through!"

"See YOU--?"

"Yes, me. I'm the worst. For," said Fanny Assingham, now with a
harder exaltation, "I did it all. I recognise that--I accept it.
She won't cast it up at me--she won't cast up anything. So I
throw myself upon her--she'll bear me up." She spoke almost
volubly--she held him with her sudden sharpness. "She'll carry
the whole weight of us."

There was still, nevertheless, wonder in it. "You mean she won't
mind? I SAY, love--!" And he not unkindly stared. "Then where's
the difficulty?"

"There isn't any!" Fanny declared with the same rich emphasis.
It kept him indeed, as by the loss of the thread, looking at her
longer. "Ah, you mean there isn't any for US!"

She met his look for a minute as if it perhaps a little too much
imputed a selfishness, a concern, at any cost, for their own
surface. Then she might have been deciding that their own surface
was, after all, what they had most to consider. "Not," she said
with dignity, "if we properly keep our heads." She appeared even
to signify that they would begin by keeping them now. This was
what it was to have at last a constituted basis. "Do you remember
what you said to me that night of my first REAL anxiety--after
the Foreign Office party?"

"In the carriage--as we came home?" Yes--he could recall it.
"Leave them to pull through?"

"Precisely. 'Trust their own wit,' you practically said, 'to save
all appearances.' Well, I've trusted it. I HAVE left them to pull
through."

He hesitated. "And your point is that they're not doing so?"

"I've left them," she went on, "but now I see how and where. I've
been leaving them all the while, without knowing it, to HER."

"To the Princess?"

"And that's what I mean," Mrs. Assingham pensively pursued.
"That's what happened to me with her to-day," she continued to
explain. "It came home to me that that's what I've really been
doing."

"Oh, I see."

"I needn't torment myself. She has taken them over."

The Colonel declared that he "saw"; yet it was as if, at this, he
a little sightlessly stared. "But what then has happened, from
one day to the other, to HER? What has opened her eyes?"

"They were never really shut. She misses him."

"Then why hasn't she missed him before?"

Well, facing him there, among their domestic glooms and glints,
Fanny worked it out. "She did--but she wouldn't let herself know
it. She had her reason--she wore her blind. Now, at last, her
situation has come to a head. To-day she does know it. And that's
illuminating. It has been," Mrs. Assingham wound up,
"illuminating to ME."

Her husband attended, but the momentary effect of his attention
was vagueness again, and the refuge of his vagueness was a gasp.
"Poor dear little girl!"

"Ah no--don't pity her!"

This did, however, pull him up. "We mayn't even be sorry for
her?"

"Not now--or at least not yet. It's too soon--that is if it isn't
very much too late. This will depend," Mrs. Assingham went on;
"at any rate we shall see. We might have pitied her before--for
all the good it would then have done her; we might have begun
some time ago. Now, however, she has begun to live. And the way
it comes to me, the way it comes to me--" But again she projected
her vision.

"The way it comes to you can scarcely be that she'll like it!"

"The way it comes to me is that she will live. The way it comes
to me is that she'll triumph."

She said this with so sudden a prophetic flare that it fairly
cheered her husband. "Ah then, we must back her!"

"No--we mustn't touch her. We mayn't touch any of them. We must
keep our hands off; we must go on tiptoe. We must simply watch
and wait. And meanwhile," said Mrs. Assingham, "we must bear it
as we can. That's where we are--and serves us right. We're in
presence."

And so, moving about the room as in communion with shadowy
portents, she left it till he questioned again. "In presence of
what?"

"Well, of something possibly beautiful. Beautiful as it MAY come
off."

She had paused there before him while he wondered. "You mean
she'll get the Prince back?"

She raised her hand in quick impatience: the suggestion might
have been almost abject. "It isn't a question of recovery. It
won't be a question of any vulgar struggle. To 'get him back' she
must have lost him, and to have lost him she must have had him.
"With which Fanny shook her head. "What I take her to be waking
up to is the truth that, all the while, she really HASN'T had
him. Never."

"Ah, my dear--!" the poor Colonel panted.

"Never!" his wife repeated. And she went on without pity. "Do you
remember what I said to you long ago--that evening, just before
their marriage, when Charlotte had so suddenly turned up?"

The smile with which he met this appeal was not, it was to be
feared, robust. "What haven't you, love, said in your time?"

"So many things, no doubt, that they make a chance for my having
once or twice spoken the truth. I never spoke it more, at all
events, than when I put it to you, that evening, that Maggie was
the person in the world to whom a wrong thing could least be
communicated. It was as if her imagination had been closed to it,
her sense altogether sealed, That therefore," Fanny continued,
"is what will now HAVE to happen. Her sense will have to open."

"I see." He nodded. "To the wrong." He nodded again, almost
cheerfully--as if he had been keeping the peace with a baby or a
lunatic. "To the very, very wrong."

But his wife's spirit, after its effort of wing, was able to
remain higher. "To what's called Evil--with a very big E: for the
first time in her life. To the discovery of it, to the knowledge
of it, to the crude experience of it." And she gave, for the
possibility, the largest measure. "To the harsh, bewildering
brush, the daily chilling breath of it. Unless indeed"--and here
Mrs. Assingham noted a limit "unless indeed, as yet (so far as
she has come, and if she comes no further), simply to the
suspicion and the dread. What we shall see is whether that mere
dose of alarm will prove enough."

He considered. "But enough for what then, dear--if not enough to
break her heart?"

"Enough to give her a shaking!" Mrs. Assingham rather oddly
replied. "To give her, I mean, the right one. The right one won't
break her heart. It will make her," she explained--"well, it will
make her, by way of a change, understand one or two things in the
world."

"But isn't it a pity," the Colonel asked, "that they should
happen to be the one or two that will be the most disagreeable to
her?"

"Oh, 'disagreeable'--? They'll have had to be disagreeable--to
show her a little where she is. They'll have HAD to be
disagreeable to make her sit up. They'll have had to be
disagreeable to make her decide to live."

Bob Assingham was now at the window, while his companion slowly
revolved; he had lighted a cigarette, for final patience, and he
seemed vaguely to "time" her as she moved to and fro. He had at
the same time to do justice to the lucidity she had at last
attained, and it was doubtless by way of expression of this
teachability that he let his eyes, for a minute, roll, as from
the force of feeling, over the upper dusk of the room. He had
thought of the response his wife's words ideally implied.

"Decide to live--ah yes!--for her child."

"Oh, bother her child!"--and he had never felt so snubbed, for an
exemplary view, as when Fanny now stopped short. "To live, you
poor dear, for her father--which is another pair of sleeves!"

And Mrs. Assingham's whole ample, ornamented person irradiated,
with this, the truth that had begun, under so much handling, to
glow. "Any idiot can do things for her child. She'll have a
motive more original, and we shall see how it will work her.
She'll have to save HIM."

"To 'save' him--?"

"To keep her father from her own knowledge. THAT"--and she seemed
to see it, before her, in her husband's very eyes--"will be work
cut out!" With which, as at the highest conceivable climax, she
wound up their colloquy. "Good night!"

There was something in her manner, however--or in the effect, at
least, of this supreme demonstration that had fairly, and by a
single touch, lifted him to her side; so that, after she had
turned her back to regain the landing and the staircase, he
overtook her, before she had begun to mount, with the ring of
excited perception. "Ah, but, you know, that's rather jolly!"

"Jolly'--?" she turned upon it, again, at the foot of the
staircase.

"I mean it's rather charming."

"'Charming'--?" It had still to be their law, a little, that she
was tragic when he was comic.

"I mean it's rather beautiful. You just said, yourself, it would
be. Only," he pursued promptly, with the impetus of this idea,
and as if it had suddenly touched with light for him connections
hitherto dim--"only I don't quite see why that very care for him
which has carried her to such other lengths, precisely, as affect
one as so 'rum,' hasn't also, by the same stroke, made her notice
a little more what has been going on."

"Ah, there you are! It's the question that I've all along been
asking myself." She had rested her eyes on the carpet, but she
raised them as she pursued--she let him have it straight. "And
it's the question of an idiot."

"An idiot--?"

"Well, the idiot that I'VE been, in all sorts of ways--so often,
of late, have I asked it. You're excusable, since you ask it but
now. The answer, I saw to-day, has all the while been staring me
in the face."

"Then what in the world is it?"

"Why, the very intensity of her conscience about him--the very
passion of her brave little piety. That's the way it has worked,"
Mrs. Assingham explained "and I admit it to have been as 'rum' a
way as possible. But it has been working from a rum start. From
the moment the dear man married to ease his daughter off, and it
then happened, by an extraordinary perversity, that the very
opposite effect was produced--!" With the renewed vision of this
fatality, however, she could give but a desperate shrug.

"I see," the Colonel sympathetically mused. "That WAS a rum
start."

But his very response, as she again flung up her arms, seemed to
make her sense, for a moment, intolerable. "Yes--there I am! I
was really at the bottom of it," she declared; "I don't know what
possessed me--but I planned for him, I goaded him on." With
which, however, the next moment, she took herself up. "Or,
rather, I DO know what possessed me--for wasn't he beset with
ravening women, right and left, and didn't he, quite
pathetically, appeal for protection, didn't he, quite charmingly,
show one how he needed and desired it? Maggie," she thus lucidly
continued, "couldn't, with a new life of her own, give herself up
to doing for him in the future all she had done in the past--to
fencing him in, to keeping him safe and keeping THEM off. One
perceived this," she went on--"out of the abundance of one's
affection and one's sympathy." It all blessedly came back to
her--when it wasn't all, for the fiftieth time, obscured, in face
of the present facts, by anxiety and compunction. "One was no
doubt a meddlesome fool; one always IS, to think one sees
people's lives for them better than they see them for themselves.
But one's excuse here," she insisted, "was that these people
clearly DIDN'T see them for themselves--didn't see them at all.
It struck one for very pity--that they were making a mess of such
charming material; that they were but wasting it and letting it
go. They didn't know HOW to live--and "somehow one couldn't, if
one took an interest in them at all, simply stand and see it.
That's what I pay for"--and the poor woman, in straighter
communion with her companion's intelligence at this moment, she
appeared to feel, than she had ever been before, let him have the
whole of the burden of her consciousness. "I always pay for it,
sooner or later, my sociable, my damnable, my unnecessary
interest. Nothing of course would suit me but that it should fix
itself also on Charlotte--Charlotte who was hovering there on the
edge of our lives, when not beautifully, and a trifle
mysteriously, flitting across them, and who was a piece of waste
and a piece of threatened failure, just as, for any possible good
to the WORLD, Mr. Verver and Maggie were. It began to come over
me, in the watches of the night, that Charlotte was a person who
COULD keep off ravening women--without being one herself, either,
in the vulgar way of the others; and that this service to Mr.
Verver would be a sweet employment for her future. There was
something, of course, that might have stopped me: you know, you
know what I mean--it looks at me," she veritably moaned, "out of
your face! But all I can say is that it didn't; the reason
largely being--once I had fallen in love with the beautiful
symmetry of my plan--that I seemed to feel sure Maggie would
accept Charlotte, whereas I didn't quite make out either what
other woman, or what other KIND of woman, one could think of her
accepting."

"I see--I see." She had paused, meeting all the while his
listening look, and the fever of her retrospect had so risen with
her talk that the desire was visibly strong in him to meet her,
on his side, but with cooling breath. "One quite understands, my
dear."

It only, however, kept her there sombre. "I naturally see, love,
what you understand; which sits again, perfectly, in your eyes.
You see that I saw that Maggie would accept her in helpless
ignorance. Yes, dearest"--and the grimness of her dreariness
suddenly once more possessed her: "you've only to tell me that
that knowledge was my reason for what I did. How, when you do,
can I stand up to you? You see," she said with an ineffable
headshake, "that I don't stand up! I'm down, down, down," she
declared; "yet" she as quickly added--"there's just one little
thing that helps to save my life." And she kept him waiting but
an instant. "They might easily--they would perhaps even
certainly--have done something worse."

He thought. "Worse than that Charlotte--?"

"Ah, don't tell me," she cried, "that there COULD have been
nothing worse. There might, as they were, have been many things.
Charlotte, in her way, is extraordinary."

He was almost simultaneous. "Extraordinary!"

"She observes the forms," said Fanny Assingham.

He hesitated. "With the Prince--?"

"FOR the Prince. And with the others," she went on. "With Mr.
Verver--wonderfully. But above all with Maggie. And the forms"
--she had to do even THEM justice--"are two-thirds of conduct.
Say he had married a woman who would have made a hash of them."

But he jerked back. "Ah, my dear, I wouldn't say it for the
world!"

"Say," she none the less pursued, "he had married a woman the
Prince would really have cared for."

"You mean then he doesn't care for Charlotte--?" This was still a
new view to jump to, and the Colonel, perceptibly, wished to make
sure of the necessity of the effort. For that, while he stared,
his wife allowed him time; at the end of which she simply said:
"No!"

"Then what on earth are they up to?" Still, however, she only
looked at him; so that, standing there before her with his hands
in his pockets, he had time, further, to risk, soothingly,
another question. "Are the 'forms' you speak of--that are
two-thirds of conduct--what will be keeping her now, by your
hypothesis, from coming home with him till morning?"

"Yes--absolutely. THEIR forms."

"'Theirs'--?"

"Maggie's and Mr. Verver's--those they IMPOSE on Charlotte and
the Prince. Those," she developed. "that, so perversely, as I
say, have succeeded in setting themselves up as the right ones."

He considered--but only now, at last, really to relapse into woe.
"Your 'perversity,' my dear, is exactly what I don't understand.
The state of things existing hasn't grown, like a field of
mushrooms, in a night. Whatever they, all round, may be in for
now is at least the consequence of what they've DONE. Are they
mere helpless victims of fate?"

Well, Fanny at last had the courage of it, "Yes--they are. To be
so abjectly innocent--that IS to be victims of fate."

"And Charlotte and the Prince are abjectly innocent--?"

It took her another minute, but she rose to the full height.
"Yes. That is they WERE--as much so in their way as the others.
There were beautiful intentions all round. The Prince's and
Charlotte's were beautiful--of THAT I had my faith. They WERE--
I'd go to the stake. Otherwise," she added, "I should have been a
wretch. And I've not been a wretch. I've only been a double-dyed
donkey."

"Ah then," he asked, "what does our muddle make THEM to have
been?"

"Well, too much taken up with considering each other. You may
call such a mistake as that by what ever name you please; it at
any rate means, all round, their case. It illustrates the
misfortune," said Mrs. Assingham gravely, "of being too, too
charming."

This was another matter that took some following, but the Colonel
again did his best. "Yes, but to whom?--doesn't it rather depend
on that? To whom have the Prince and Charlotte then been too
charming?"

"To each other, in the first place--obviously. And then both of
them together to Maggie."

"To Maggie?" he wonderingly echoed.

"To Maggie." She was now crystalline. "By having accepted, from
the first, so guilelessly--yes, so guilelessly, themselves--her
guileless idea of still having her father, of keeping him fast,
in her life."

"Then isn't one supposed, in common humanity, and if one hasn't
quarrelled with him, and one has the means, and he, on his side,
doesn't drink or kick up rows--isn't one supposed to keep one's
aged parent in one's life?"

"Certainly--when there aren't particular reasons against it. That
there may be others than his getting drunk is exactly the moral
of what is before us. In the first place Mr. Verver isn't aged."

The Colonel just hung fire--but it came. "Then why the deuce does
he--oh, poor dear man!--behave as if he were?"

She took a moment to meet it. "How do you know how he behaves?"

"Well, my own love, we see how Charlotte does!" Again, at this,
she faltered; but again she rose. "Ah, isn't my whole point that
he's charming to her?"

"Doesn't it depend a bit on what she regards as charming?"

She faced the question as if it were flippant, then with a
headshake of dignity she brushed it away. "It's Mr. Verver who's
really young--it's Charlotte who's really old. And what I was
saying," she added, "isn't affected!"

"You were saying"--he did her the justice--"that they're all
guileless."

"That they were. Guileless, all, at first--quite extraordinarily.
It's what I mean by their failure to see that the more they took
for granted they could work together the more they were really
working apart. For I repeat," Fanny went on, "that I really
believe Charlotte and the Prince honestly to have made up their
minds, originally, that their very esteem for Mr. Verver--which
was serious, as well it might be!--would save them."

"I see." The Colonel inclined himself. "And save HIM."

"It comes to the same thing!"

"Then save Maggie."

"That comes," said Mrs. Assingham, "to something a little
different. For Maggie has done the most."

He wondered. "What do you call the most?"

"Well, she did it originally--she began the vicious circle. For
that--though you make round eyes at my associating her with
'vice'--is simply what it has been. It's their mutual
consideration, all round, that has made it the bottomless gulf;
and they're really so embroiled but because, in their way,
they've been so improbably GOOD."

"In their way--yes!" the Colonel grinned.

"Which was, above all, Maggie's way." No flicker of his ribaldry
was anything to her now. "Maggie had in the first place to make
up to her father for her having suffered herself to become--poor
little dear, as she believed--so intensely married. Then she had
to make up to her husband for taking so much of the time they
might otherwise have spent together to make this reparation to
Mr. Verver perfect. And her way to do this, precisely, was by
allowing the Prince the use, the enjoyment, whatever you may call
it, of Charlotte to cheer his path--by instalments, as it were--
in proportion as she herself, making sure her father was all
right, might be missed from his side. By so much, at the same
time, however," Mrs. Assingham further explained, "by so much as
she took her young stepmother, for this purpose, away from Mr.
Verver, by just so much did this too strike her as something
again to be made up for. It has saddled her, you will easily see,
with a positively new obligation to her father, an obligation
created and aggravated by her unfortunate, even if quite heroic,
little sense of justice. She began with wanting to show him that
his marriage could never, under whatever temptation of her own
bliss with the Prince, become for her a pretext for deserting or
neglecting HIM. Then that, in its order, entailed her wanting to
show the Prince that she recognised how the other desire--this
wish to remain, intensely, the same passionate little daughter
she had always been--involved in some degree, and just for the
present, so to speak, her neglecting and deserting him. I quite
hold," Fanny with characteristic amplitude parenthesised, "that a
person can mostly feel but one passion--one TENDER passion, that
is--at a time. Only, that doesn't hold good for our primary and
instinctive attachments, the 'voice of blood,' such as one's
feeling for a parent or a brother. Those may be intense and
yet not prevent other intensities--as you will recognise, my
dear, when you remember how I continued, tout betement, to adore
my mother, whom you didn't adore, for years after I had begun to
adore you. Well, Maggie"--she kept it up--"is in the same
situation as I was, PLUS complications from which I was, thank
heaven, exempt: PLUS the complication, above all, of not having
in the least begun with the sense for complications that I should
have had. Before she knew it, at any rate, her little scruples
and her little lucidities, which were really so divinely blind--
her feverish little sense of justice, as I say--had brought the
two others together as her grossest misconduct couldn't have
done. And now she knows something or other has happened--yet
hasn't heretofore known what. She has only piled up her remedy,
poor child--something that she has earnestly but confusedly seen
as her necessary policy; piled it on top of the policy, on top of
the remedy, that she at first thought out for herself, and that
would really have needed, since then, so much modification. Her
only modification has been the growth of her necessity to prevent
her father's wondering if all, in their life in common, MAY be so
certainly for the best. She has now as never before to keep him
unconscious that, peculiar, if he makes a point of it, as their
situation is, there's anything in it all uncomfortable or
disagreeable, anything morally the least out of the way. She has
to keep touching it up to make it, each day, each month, look
natural and normal to him; so that--God forgive me the
comparison!--she's like an old woman who has taken to 'painting'
and who has to lay it on thicker, to carry it off with a greater
audacity, with a greater impudence even, the older she grows."
And Fanny stood a moment captivated with the image she had thrown
off. "I like the idea of Maggie audacious and impudent--learning
to be so to gloss things over. She could--she even will, yet, I
believe--learn it, for that sacred purpose, consummately,
diabolically. For from the moment the dear man should see it's
all rouge--!" She paused, staring at the vision.

It imparted itself even to Bob. "Then the fun would begin?" As it
but made her look at him hard, however, he amended the form of
his inquiry. "You mean that in that case she WILL, charming
creature, be lost?"

She was silent a moment more. "As I've told you before, she won't
be lost if her father's saved. She'll see that as salvation
enough."

The Colonel took it in. "Then she's a little heroine."

"Rather--she's a little heroine. But it's his innocence, above
all," Mrs. Assingham added, "that will pull them through."

Her companion, at this, focussed again Mr. Verver's innocence.
"It's awfully quaint."

"Of course it's awfully quaint! That it's awfully quaint, that
the pair are awfully quaint, quaint with all our dear old
quaintness--by which I don't mean yours and mine, but that of my
own sweet countrypeople, from whom I've so deplorably
degenerated--that," Mrs. Assingham declared, "was originally the
head and front of their appeal to me and of my interest in
them. And of course I shall feel them quainter still," she rather
ruefully subjoined, "before they've done with me!"

This might be, but it wasn't what most stood in the Colonel's
way. "You believe so in Mr. Verver's innocence after two years of
Charlotte?"

She stared. "But the whole point is just that two years of
Charlotte are what he hasn't really--or what you may call
undividedly--had."

"Any more than Maggie, by your theory, eh, has 'really or
undividedly,' had four of the Prince? It takes all she hasn't
had," the Colonel conceded, "to account for the innocence that in
her, too, so leaves us in admiration."

So far as it might be ribald again she let this pass. "It takes a
great many things to account for Maggie. What is definite, at all
events, is that--strange though this be--her effort for her
father has, up to now, sufficiently succeeded. She has made him,
she makes him, accept the tolerably obvious oddity of their
relation, all round, for part of the game. Behind her there,
protected and amused and, as it were, exquisitely humbugged--the
Principino, in whom he delights, always aiding--he has safely and
serenely enough suffered the conditions of his life to pass for
those he had sublimely projected. He hadn't worked them out in
detail--any more than I had, heaven pity me!--and the queerness
has been, exactly, in the detail. This, for him, is what it was
to have married Charlotte. And they both," she neatly wound up,
'help.'"

"'Both'--?"

"I mean that if Maggie, always in the breach, makes it seem to
him all so flourishingly to fit, Charlotte does her part not
less. And her part is very large. Charlotte," Fanny declared,
"works like a horse."

So there it all was, and her husband looked at her a minute
across it. "And what does the Prince work like?"

She fixed him in return. "Like a Prince!" Whereupon, breaking
short off, to ascend to her room, she presented her highly--
decorated back--in which, in odd places, controlling the
complications of its aspect, the ruby or the garnet, the
turquoise and the topaz, gleamed like faint symbols of the wit
that pinned together the satin patches of her argument.

He watched her as if she left him positively under the impression
of her mastery of her subject; yes, as if the real upshot of the
drama before them was but that he had, when it came to the tight
places of life--as life had shrunk for him now--the most luminous
of wives. He turned off, in this view of her majestic retreat,
the comparatively faint little electric lamp which had presided
over their talk; then he went up as immediately behind her as the
billows of her amber train allowed, making out how all the
clearness they had conquered was even for herself a relief--how
at last the sense of the amplitude of her exposition sustained
and floated her. Joining her, however, on the landing above,
where she had already touched a metallic point into light, he
found she had done perhaps even more to create than to extinguish
in him the germ of a curiosity. He held her a minute longer
--there was another plum in the pie. "What did you mean some
minutes ago by his not caring for Charlotte?"

"The Prince's? By his not 'really' caring?" She recalled, after a
little, benevolently enough. "I mean that men don't, when it has
all been too easy. That's how, in nine cases out of ten, a woman
is treated who has risked her life. You asked me just now how he
works," she added; "but you might better perhaps have asked me
how he plays."

Well, he made it up. "Like a Prince?"

"Like a Prince. He is, profoundly, a Prince. For that," she said
with expression, "he's--beautifully--a case. They're far rarer,
even in the 'highest circles,' than they pretend to be--and
that's what makes so much of his value. He's perhaps one of the
very last--the last of the real ones. So it is we must take him.
We must take him all round."

The Colonel considered. "And how must Charlotte--if anything
happens--take him?"

The question held her a minute, and while she waited, with her
eyes on him, she put out a grasping hand to his arm, in the flesh
of which he felt her answer distinctly enough registered. Thus
she gave him, standing off a little, the firmest, longest,
deepest injunction he had ever received from her. "Nothing
--in spite of everything--WILL happen. Nothing HAS happened.
Nothing IS happening."

He looked a trifle disappointed. "I see. For US."

"For us. For whom else?" And he was to feel indeed how she wished
him to understand it. "We know nothing on earth--!" It was an
undertaking he must sign.

So he wrote, as it were, his name. "We know nothing on earth." It
was like the soldiers' watchword at night.

"We're as innocent," she went on in the same way, "as babes."

"Why not rather say," he asked, "as innocent as they themselves
are?"

"Oh, for the best of reasons! Because we're much more so."

He wondered. "But how can we be more--?"

"For them? Oh, easily! We can be anything."

"Absolute idiots then?"

"Absolute idiots. And oh," Fanny breathed, "the way it will rest
us!"

Well, he looked as if there were something in that. "But won't
they know we're not?"

She barely hesitated. "Charlotte and the Prince think we are--
which is so much gained. Mr. Verver believes in our
intelligence--but he doesn't matter."

"And Maggie? Doesn't SHE know--?"

"That we see before our noses?" Yes, this indeed took longer.
"Oh, so far as she may guess it she'll give no sign. So it comes
to the same thing."

He raised his eyebrows. "Comes to our not being able to help
her?"

"That's the way we SHALL help her."

"By looking like fools?"

She threw up her hands. "She only wants, herself, to look like a
bigger! So there we are!" With which she brushed it away--his
conformity was promised. Something, however, still held her; it
broke, to her own vision, as a last wave of clearness.
"Moreover NOW," she said, "I see! I mean," she added,--what you
were asking me: how I knew to-day, in Eaton Square, that Maggie's
awake." And she had indeed visibly got it. "It was by seeing them
together."

"Seeing her with her father?" He fell behind again. "But you've
seen her often enough before."

"Never with my present eyes. For nothing like such a test--that
of this length of the others' absence together--has hitherto
occurred."

"Possibly! But if she and Mr. Verver insisted upon it--?"

"Why is it such a test? Because it has become one without their
intending it. It has spoiled, so to speak, on their hands."

"It has soured, eh?" the Colonel said.

"The word's horrible--say rather it has 'changed.' Perhaps,"
Fanny went on, "she did wish to see how much she can bear. In
that case she HAS seen. Only it was she alone who--about the
visit--insisted. Her father insists on nothing. And she watches
him do it."

Her husband looked impressed. "Watches him?"

"For the first faint sign. I mean of his noticing. It doesn't, as
I tell you, come. But she's there for it to see. And I felt," she
continued, "HOW she's there; I caught her, as it were, in the
fact. She couldn't keep it from me--though she left her post on
purpose--came home with me to throw dust in my eyes. I took it
all--her dust; but it was what showed me." With which supreme
lucidity she reached the door of her room. "Luckily it showed me
also how she has succeeded. Nothing--from him--HAS come."

"You're so awfully sure?"

"Sure. Nothing WILL. Good-night," she said. "She'll die first."

Henry James

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