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Chapter 3

It had been said as a joke, but as, after this, they awaited
their friend in silence, the effect of the silence was to turn
the time to gravity--a gravity not dissipated even when the
Prince next spoke. He had been thinking the case over and making
up his mind. A handsome, clever, odd girl staying with one was a
complication. Mrs. Assingham, so far, was right. But there were
the facts--the good relations, from schooldays, of the two young
women, and the clear confidence with which one of them had
arrived. "She can come, you know, at any time, to US."

Mrs. Assingham took it up with an irony beyond laughter. "You'd
like her for your honeymoon?"

"Oh no, you must keep her for that. But why not after?"

She had looked at him a minute; then, at the sound of a voice in
the corridor, they had got up. "Why not? You're splendid!"
Charlotte Stant, the next minute, was with them, ushered in as
she had alighted from her cab, and prepared for not finding Mrs.
Assingham alone--this would have been to be noticed--by the
butler's answer, on the stairs, to a question put to him. She
could have looked at her hostess with such straightness and
brightness only from knowing that the Prince was also there--the
discrimination of but a moment, yet which let him take her in
still better than if she had instantly faced him. He availed
himself of the chance thus given him, for he was conscious of all
these things. What he accordingly saw, for some seconds, with
intensity, was a tall, strong, charming girl who wore for him, at
first, exactly the look of her adventurous situation, a
suggestion, in all her person, in motion and gesture, in free,
vivid, yet altogether happy indications of dress, from the
becoming compactness of her hat to the shade of tan in her shoes,
of winds and waves and custom-houses, of far countries and long
journeys, the knowledge of how and where and the habit, founded
on experience, of not being afraid. He was aware, at the same
time, that of this combination the "strongminded" note was not,
as might have been apprehended, the basis; he was now
sufficiently familiar with English-speaking types, he had sounded
attentively enough such possibilities, for a quick vision of
differences. He had, besides, his own view of this young lady's
strength of mind. It was great, he had ground to believe, but it
would never interfere with the play of her extremely personal,
her always amusing taste. This last was the thing in her--for she
threw it out positively, on the spot, like a light--that she
might have reappeared, during these moments, just to cool his
worried eyes with. He saw her in her light that immediate,
exclusive address to their friend was like a lamp she was holding
aloft for his benefit and for his pleasure. It showed him
everything--above all her presence in the world, so closely, so
irretrievably contemporaneous with his own: a sharp, sharp fact,
sharper during these instants than any other at all, even than
that of his marriage, but accompanied, in a subordinate and
controlled way, with those others, facial, physiognomic, that
Mrs. Assingham had been speaking of as subject to appreciation.
So they were, these others, as he met them again, and that was
the connection they instantly established with him. If they had
to be interpreted, this made at least for intimacy. There was but
one way certainly for HIM--to interpret them in the sense of the
already known.

Making use then of clumsy terms of excess, the face was too
narrow and too long, the eyes not large, and the mouth, on the
other hand, by no means small, with substance in its lips and a
slight, the very slightest, tendency to protrusion in the solid
teeth, otherwise indeed well arrayed and flashingly white. But it
was, strangely, as a cluster of possessions of his own that these
things, in Charlotte Stant, now affected him; items in a full
list, items recognised, each of them, as if, for the long
interval, they had been "stored" wrapped up, numbered, put away
in a cabinet. While she faced Mrs. Assingham the door of the
cabinet had opened of itself; he took the relics out, one by one,
and it was more and more, each instant, as if she were giving him
time. He saw again that her thick hair was, vulgarly speaking,
brown, but that there was a shade of tawny autumn leaf in it, for
"appreciation"--a colour indescribable and of which he had known
no other case, something that gave her at moments the sylvan
head of a huntress. He saw the sleeves of her jacket drawn to her
wrists, but he again made out the free arms within them to be of
the completely rounded, the polished slimness that Florentine
sculptors, in the great time, had loved, and of which the
apparent firmness is expressed in their old silver and old
bronze. He knew her narrow hands, he knew her long fingers and
the shape and colour of her finger-nails, he knew her special
beauty of movement and line when she turned her back, and the
perfect working of all her main attachments, that of some
wonderful finished instrument, something intently made for
exhibition, for a prize. He knew above all the extraordinary
fineness of her flexible waist, the stem of an expanded flower,
which gave her a likeness also to some long, loose silk purse,
well filled with gold pieces, but having been passed, empty,
through a finger-ring that held it together. It was as if, before
she turned to him, he had weighed the whole thing in his open
palm and even heard a little the chink of the metal. When she
did turn to him it was to recognise with her eyes what he might
have been doing. She made no circumstance of thus coming upon
him, save so far as the intelligence in her face could at any
moment make a circumstance of almost anything. If when she moved
off she looked like a huntress, she looked when she came nearer
like his notion, perhaps not wholly correct, of a muse. But what
she said was simply: "You see you're not rid of me. How is dear
Maggie?"

It was to come soon enough by the quite unforced operation of
chance, the young man's opportunity to ask her the question
suggested by Mrs. Assingham shortly before her entrance. The
license, had he chosen to embrace it, was within a few minutes
all there--the license given him literally to inquire of this
young lady how long she was likely to be with them. For a matter
of the mere domestic order had quickly determined, on Mrs.
Assingham's part, a withdrawal, of a few moments, which had the
effect of leaving her visitors free. "Mrs. Betterman's there?"
she had said to Charlotte in allusion to some member of the
household who was to have received her and seen her belongings
settled; to which Charlotte had replied that she had encountered
only the butler, who had been quite charming. She had deprecated
any action taken on behalf of her effects; but her hostess,
rebounding from accumulated cushions, evidently saw more in Mrs.
Betterman's non-appearance than could meet the casual eye. What
she saw, in short, demanded her intervention, in spite of an
earnest "Let ME go!" from the girl, and a prolonged smiling wail
over the trouble she was giving. The Prince was quite aware, at
this moment, that departure, for himself, was indicated; the
question of Miss Stant's installation didn't demand his presence;
it was a case for one to go away--if one hadn't a reason for
staying. He had a reason, however--of that he was equally aware;
and he had not for a good while done anything more conscious and
intentional than not, quickly, to take leave. His visible
insistence--for it came to that--even demanded of him a certain
disagreeable effort, the sort of effort he had mostly associated
with acting for an idea. His idea was there, his idea was to find
out something, something he wanted much to know, and to find it
out not tomorrow, not at some future time, not in short with
waiting and wondering, but if possible before quitting the place.
This particular curiosity, moreover, confounded itself a little
with the occasion offered him to satisfy Mrs. Assingham's own; he
wouldn't have admitted that he was staying to ask a rude
question--there was distinctly nothing rude in his having his
reasons. It would be rude, for that matter, to turn one's back,
without a word or two, on an old friend.

Well, as it came to pass, he got the word or two, for Mrs.
Assingham's preoccupation was practically simplifying. The little
crisis was of shorter duration than our account of it; duration,
naturally, would have forced him to take up his hat. He was
somehow glad, on finding himself alone with Charlotte, that he
had not been guilty of that inconsequence. Not to be flurried was
the kind of consistency he wanted, just as consistency was the
kind of dignity. And why couldn't he have dignity when he had so
much of the good conscience, as it were, on which such advantages
rested? He had done nothing he oughtn't--he had in fact done
nothing at all. Once more, as a man conscious of having known
many women, he could assist, as he would have called it, at the
recurrent, the predestined phenomenon, the thing always as
certain as sunrise or the coming round of Saints' days, the doing
by the woman of the thing that gave her away. She did it, ever,
inevitably, infallibly--she couldn't possibly not do it. It was
her nature, it was her life, and the man could always expect it
without lifting a finger. This was HIS, the man's, any man's,
position and strength--that he had necessarily the advantage,
that he only had to wait, with a decent patience, to be placed,
in spite of himself, it might really be said, in the right. Just
so the punctuality of performance on the part of the other
creature was her weakness and her deep misfortune--not less, no
doubt, than her beauty. It produced for the man that
extraordinary mixture of pity and profit in which his relation
with her, when he was not a mere brute, mainly consisted; and
gave him in fact his most pertinent ground of being always nice
to her, nice about her, nice FOR her. She always dressed her act
up, of course, she muffled and disguised and arranged it, showing
in fact in these dissimulations a cleverness equal to but one
thing in the world, equal to her abjection: she would let it be
known for anything, for everything, but the truth of which it was
made. That was what, precisely, Charlotte Stant would be doing
now; that was the present motive and support, to a certainty, of
each of her looks and motions. She was the twentieth woman, she
was possessed by her doom, but her doom was also to arrange
appearances, and what now concerned him was to learn how she
proposed. He would help her, would arrange WITH her to any point
in reason; the only thing was to know what appearance could best
be produced and best be preserved. Produced and preserved on her
part of course; since on his own there had been luckily no folly
to cover up, nothing but a perfect accord between conduct and
obligation.

They stood there together, at all events, when the door had
closed behind their friend, with a conscious, strained smile and
very much as if each waited for the other to strike the note or
give the pitch. The young man held himself, in his silent
suspense--only not more afraid because he felt her own fear. She
was afraid of herself, however; whereas, to his gain of lucidity,
he was afraid only of her. Would she throw herself into his arms,
or would she be otherwise wonderful? She would see what he would
do--so their queer minute without words told him; and she would
act accordingly. But what could he do but just let her see that
he would make anything, everything, for her, as honourably easy
as possible? Even if she should throw herself into his arms he
would make that easy--easy, that is, to overlook, to ignore, not
to remember, and not, by the same token, either, to regret. This
was not what in fact happened, though it was also not at a single
touch, but by the finest gradations, that his tension subsided.
"It's too delightful to be back!" she said at last; and it was
all she definitely gave him--being moreover nothing but what
anyone else might have said. Yet with two or three other things
that, on his response, followed it, it quite pointed the path,
while the tone of it, and her whole attitude, were as far removed
as need have been from the truth of her situation. The abjection
that was present to him as of the essence quite failed to peep
out, and he soon enough saw that if she was arranging she could
be trusted to arrange. Good--it was all he asked; and all the
more that he could admire and like her for it,

The particular appearance she would, as they said, go in for was
that of having no account whatever to give him--it would be in
fact that of having none to give anybody--of reasons or of
motives, of comings or of goings. She was a charming young woman
who had met him before, but she was also a charming young woman
with a life of her own. She would take it high--up, up, up, ever
so high. Well then, he would do the same; no height would be too
great for them, not even the dizziest conceivable to a young
person so subtle. The dizziest seemed indeed attained when, after
another moment, she came as near as she was to come to an apology
for her abruptness.

"I've been thinking of Maggie, and at last I yearned for her. I
wanted to see her happy--and it doesn't strike me I find you too
shy to tell me I SHALL."

"Of course she's happy, thank God! Only it's almost terrible, you
know, the happiness of young, good, generous creatures. It rather
frightens one. But the Blessed Virgin and all the Saints," said
the Prince, "have her in their keeping."

"Certainly they have. She's the dearest of the dear. But I
needn't tell you," the girl added.

"Ah," he returned with gravity, "I feel that I've still much to
learn about her." To which he subjoined "She'll rejoice awfully
in your being with us."

"Oh, you don't need me!" Charlotte smiled. "It's her hour. It's a
great hour. One has seen often enough, with girls, what it is.
But that," she said, "is exactly why. Why I've wanted, I mean,
not to miss it."

He bent on her a kind, comprehending face. "You mustn't miss
anything." He had got it, the pitch, and he could keep it now,
for all he had needed was to have it given him. The pitch was the
happiness of his wife that was to be--the sight of that happiness
as a joy for an old friend. It was, yes, magnificent, and not the
less so for its coming to him, suddenly, as sincere, as nobly
exalted. Something in Charlotte's eyes seemed to tell him this,
seemed to plead with him in advance as to what he was to find in
it. He was eager--and he tried to show her that too--to find what
she liked; mindful as he easily could be of what the friendship
had been for Maggie. It had been armed with the wings of young
imagination, young generosity; it had been, he believed--always
counting out her intense devotion to her father--the liveliest
emotion she had known before the dawn of the sentiment inspired
by himself. She had not, to his knowledge, invited the object of
it to their wedding, had not thought of proposing to her, for a
matter of a couple of hours, an arduous and expensive journey.
But she had kept her connected and informed, from week to week,
in spite of preparations and absorptions. "Oh, I've been writing
to Charlotte--I wish you knew her better:" he could still hear,
from recent weeks, this record of the fact, just as he could
still be conscious, not otherwise than queerly, of the gratuitous
element in Maggie's wish, which he had failed as yet to indicate
to her. Older and perhaps more intelligent, at any rate, why
shouldn't Charlotte respond--and be quite FREE to respond--to
such fidelities with something more than mere formal good
manners? The relations of women with each other were of the
strangest, it was true, and he probably wouldn't have trusted
here a young person of his own race. He was proceeding throughout
on the ground of the immense difference--difficult indeed as it
might have been to disembroil in this young person HER race-
quality. Nothing in her definitely placed her; she was a rare, a
special product. Her singleness, her solitude, her want of means,
that is her want of ramifications and other advantages,
contributed to enrich her somehow with an odd, precious
neutrality, to constitute for her, so detached yet so aware, a
sort of small social capital. It was the only one she had--it was
the only one a lonely, gregarious girl COULD have, since few,
surely, had in anything like the same degree arrived at it, and
since this one indeed had compassed it but through the play of
some gift of nature to which you could scarce give a definite
name.

It wasn't a question of her strange sense for tongues, with which
she juggled as a conjuror at a show juggled with balls or hoops
or lighted brands--it wasn't at least entirely that, for he had
known people almost as polyglot whom their accomplishment had
quite failed to make interesting. He was polyglot himself, for
that matter--as was the case too with so many of his friends and
relations; for none of whom, more than for himself, was it
anything but a common convenience. The point was that in this
young woman it was a beauty in itself, and almost a mystery: so,
certainly, he had more than once felt in noting, on her lips,
that rarest, among the Barbarians, of all civil graces, a perfect
felicity in the use of Italian. He had known strangers--a few,
and mostly men--who spoke his own language agreeably; but he had
known neither man nor woman who showed for it Charlotte's almost
mystifying instinct. He remembered how, from the first of their
acquaintance, she had made no display of it, quite as if English,
between them, his English so matching with hers, were their
inevitable medium. He had perceived all by accident--by hearing
her talk before him to somebody else that they had an alternative
as good; an alternative in fact as much better as the amusement
for him was greater in watching her for the slips that never
came. Her account of the mystery didn't suffice: her recall of
her birth in Florence and Florentine childhood; her parents, from
the great country, but themselves already of a corrupt
generation, demoralised, falsified, polyglot well before her,
with the Tuscan balia who was her first remembrance; the servants
of the villa, the dear contadini of the poder, the little girls
and the other peasants of the next podere, all the rather shabby
but still ever so pretty human furniture of her early time,
including the good sisters of the poor convent of the Tuscan
hills, the convent shabbier than almost anything else, but
prettier too, in which she had been kept at school till the
subsequent phase, the phase of the much grander institution in
Paris at which Maggie was to arrive, terribly frightened, and as
a smaller girl, three years before her own ending of her period
of five. Such reminiscences, naturally, gave a ground, but they
had not prevented him from insisting that some strictly civil
ancestor--generations back, and from the Tuscan hills if she
would-made himself felt, ineffaceably, in her blood and in her
tone. She knew nothing of the ancestor, but she had taken his
theory from him, gracefully enough, as one of the little presents
that make friendship flourish. These matters, however, all melted
together now, though a sense of them was doubtless concerned, not
unnaturally, in the next thing, of the nature of a surmise, that
his discretion let him articulate. "You haven't, I rather
gather, particularly liked your country?" They would stick, for
the time, to their English.

"It doesn't, I fear, seem particularly mine. And it doesn't in
the least matter, over there, whether one likes it or not--that
is to anyone but one's self. But I didn't like it," said
Charlotte Stant.

"That's not encouraging then to me, is it?" the Prince went on.

"Do you mean because you're going?"

"Oh yes, of course we're going. I've wanted immensely to go."
She hesitated. "But now?--immediately?"

"In a month or two--it seems to be the new idea." On which there
was something in her face--as he imagined--that made him say:
"Didn't Maggie write to you?"

"Not of your going at once. But of course you must go. And of
course you must stay"--Charlotte was easily clear--"as long as
possible."

"Is that what you did?" he laughed. "You stayed as long as
possible?"

"Well, it seemed to me so--but I hadn't 'interests.' You'll have
them--on a great scale. It's the country for interests," said
Charlotte. "If I had only had a few I doubtless wouldn't have
left it."

He waited an instant; they were still on their feet. "Yours then
are rather here?"

"Oh, mine!"--the girl smiled. "They take up little room, wherever
they are."

It determined in him, the way this came from her and what it
somehow did for her-it determined in him a speech that would have
seemed a few minutes before precarious and in questionable taste.
The lead she had given him made the difference, and he felt it as
really a lift on finding an honest and natural word rise, by its
license, to his lips. Nothing surely could be, for both of them,
more in the note of a high bravery. "I've been thinking it all
the while so probable, you know, that you would have seen your
way to marrying."

She looked at him an instant, and, just for these seconds, he
feared for what he might have spoiled. "To marrying whom?"

"Why, some good, kind, clever, rich American."

Again his security hung in the balance--then she was, as he felt,
admirable.

"I tried everyone I came across. I did my best. I showed I had
come, quite publicly, FOR that. Perhaps I showed it too much. At
any rate it was no use. I had to recognise it. No one would have
me." Then she seemed to show as sorry for his having to hear of
her anything so disconcerting. She pitied his feeling about it;
if he was disappointed she would cheer him up. "Existence, you
know, all the same, doesn't depend on that. I mean," she smiled,
"on having caught a husband."

"Oh--existence!" the Prince vaguely commented. "You think I ought
to argue for more than mere existence?" she asked. "I don't see
why MY existence--even reduced as much as you like to being
merely mine--should be so impossible. There are things, of sorts,
I should be able to have--things I should be able to be. The
position of a single woman to-day is very favourable, you know."

"Favourable to what?"

"Why, just TO existence--which may contain, after all, in one way
and another, so much. It may contain, at the worst, even
affections; affections in fact quite particularly; fixed, that
is, on one's friends. I'm extremely fond of Maggie, for instance
--I quite adore her. How could I adore her more if I were married
to one of the people you speak of?"

The Prince gave a laugh. "You might adore HIM more--!"

"Ah, but it isn't, is it?" she asked, "a question of that."

"My dear friend," he returned, "it's always a question of doing
the best for one's self one can--without injury to others." He
felt by this time that they were indeed on an excellent basis; so
he went on again, as if to show frankly his sense of its
firmness. "I venture therefore to repeat my hope that you'll
marry some capital fellow; and also to repeat my belief that such
a marriage will be more favourable to you, as you call it, than
even the spirit of the age."

She looked at him at first only for answer, and would have
appeared to take it with meekness had she not perhaps appeared a
little more to take it with gaiety. "Thank you very much," she
simply said; but at that moment their friend was with them again.
It was undeniable that, as she came in, Mrs. Assingham looked,
with a certain smiling sharpness, from one of them to the other;
the perception of which was perhaps what led Charlotte, for
reassurance, to pass the question on. "The Prince hopes so much I
shall still marry some good person."

Whether it worked for Mrs. Assingham or not, the Prince was
himself, at this, more than ever reassured. He was SAFE, in a
word--that was what it all meant; and he had required to be safe.
He was really safe enough for almost any joke. "It's only," he
explained to their hostess, "because of what Miss Stant has been
telling me. Don't we want to keep up her courage?" If the joke
was broad he had at least not begun it--not, that is, AS a joke;
which was what his companion's address to their friend made of
it. "She has been trying in America, she says, but hasn't brought
it off."

The tone was somehow not what Mrs. Assingham had expected, but
she made the best of it. "Well then," she replied to the young
man, "if you take such an interest you must bring it off."

"And you must help, dear," Charlotte said unperturbed--"as you've
helped, so beautifully, in such things before." With which,
before Mrs. Assingham could meet the appeal, she had addressed
herself to the Prince on a matter much nearer to him. "YOUR mar-
riage is on Friday?--on Saturday?"

"Oh, on Friday, no! For what do you take us? There's not a vulgar
omen we're neglecting. On Saturday, please, at the Oratory, at
three o'clock--before twelve assistants exactly."

"Twelve including ME?"

It struck him--he laughed. "You'll make the thirteenth. It won't
do!"

"Not," said Charlotte, "if you're going in for 'omens.' Should
you like me to stay away?"

"Dear no--we'll manage. We'll make the round number--we'll have
in some old woman. They must keep them there for that, don't
they?"

Mrs. Assingham's return had at last indicated for him his
departure; he had possessed himself again of his hat and
approached her to take leave. But he had another word for
Charlotte. "I dine to-night with Mr. Verver. Have you any
message?"

The girl seemed to wonder a little. "For Mr. Verver?"

"For Maggie--about her seeing you early. That, I know, is what
she'll like."

"Then I'll come early--thanks."

"I daresay," he went on, "she'll send for you. I mean send a
carriage."

"Oh, I don't require that, thanks. I can go, for a penny, can't
I?" she asked of Mrs. Assingham, "in an omnibus."

"Oh, I say!" said the Prince while Mrs. Assingham looked at her
blandly.

"Yes, love--and I'll give you the penny. She shall get there,"
the good lady added to their friend.

But Charlotte, as the latter took leave of her, thought of
something else. "There's a great favour, Prince, that I want to
ask of you. I want, between this and Saturday, to make Maggie a
marriage-present."

"Oh, I say!" the young man again soothingly exclaimed.

"Ah, but I MUST," she went on. "It's really almost for that I
came back. It was impossible to get in America what I wanted."

Mrs. Assingham showed anxiety. "What is it then, dear, you want?"

But the girl looked only at their companion. "That's what the
Prince, if he'll be so good, must help me to decide."

"Can't _I_," Mrs. Assingham asked, "help you to decide?"

"Certainly, darling, we must talk it well over." And she kept her
eyes on the Prince. "But I want him, if he kindly will, to go with
me to look. I want him to judge with me and choose. That, if you
can spare the hour," she said, "is the great favour I mean."

He raised his eyebrows at her--he wonderfully smiled. "What you
came back from America to ask? Ah, certainly then, I must find
the hour!" He wonderfully smiled, but it was rather more, after
all, than he had been reckoning with. It went somehow so little
with the rest that, directly, for him, it wasn't the note of
safety; it preserved this character, at the best, but by being
the note of publicity. Quickly, quickly, however, the note of
publicity struck him as better than any other. In another moment
even it seemed positively what he wanted; for what so much as
publicity put their relation on the right footing? By this appeal
to Mrs. Assingham it was established as right, and she
immediately showed that such was her own understanding.

"Certainly, Prince," she laughed, "you must find the hour!" And
it was really so express a license from her, as representing
friendly judgment, public opinion, the moral law, the margin
allowed a husband about to be, or whatever, that, after observing
to Charlotte that, should she come to Portland Place in the morn-
ing, he would make a point of being there to see her and so,
easily, arrange with her about a time, he took his departure with
the absolutely confirmed impression of knowing, as he put it to
himself, where he was. Which was what he had prolonged his visit
for. He was where he could stay.

Henry James

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