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Chapter 5

"Well, now I must tell you, for I want to be absolutely honest."
So Charlotte spoke, a little ominously, after they had got into
the Park. "I don't want to pretend, and I can't pretend a moment
longer. You may think of me what you will, but I don't care. I
knew I shouldn't and I find now how little. I came back for this.
Not really for anything else. For this," she repeated as, under
the influence of her tone, the Prince had already come to a
pause.

"For 'this'?" He spoke as if the particular thing she indicated
were vague to him--or were, rather, a quantity that couldn't, at
the most, be much.

It would be as much, however, as she should be able to make it.
"To have one hour alone with you." It had rained heavily in the
night, and though the pavements were now dry, thanks to a
cleansing breeze, the August morning, with its hovering,
thick-drifting clouds and freshened air, was cool and grey. The
multitudinous green of the Park had been deepened, and a
wholesome smell of irrigation, purging the place of dust and of
odours less acceptable, rose from the earth. Charlotte had looked
about her, with expression, from the first of their coming in,
quite as if for a deep greeting, for general recognition: the day
was, even in the heart of London, of a rich, low-browed,
weatherwashed English type. It was as if it had been waiting for
her, as if she knew it, placed it, loved it, as if it were in
fact a part of what she had come back for. So far as this was the
case the impression of course could only be lost on a mere vague
Italian; it was one of those for which you had to be, blessedly,
an American--as indeed you had to be, blessedly, an American for
all sorts of things: so long as you hadn't, blessedly or not, to
remain in America. The Prince had, by half-past ten--as also by
definite appointment--called in Cadogan Place for Mrs.
Assingham's visitor, and then, after brief delay, the two had
walked together up Sloane Street and got straight into the Park
from Knightsbridge. The understanding to this end had taken its
place, after a couple of days, as inevitably consequent on the
appeal made by the girl during those first moments in Mrs.
Assingham's drawing-room. It was an appeal the couple of days had
done nothing to invalidate--everything, much rather, to place in
a light, and as to which, obviously, it wouldn't have fitted that
anyone should raise an objection. Who was there, for that matter,
to raise one, from the moment Mrs. Assingham, informed and
apparently not disapproving, didn't intervene? This the young man
had asked himself--with a very sufficient sense of what would
have made him ridiculous. He wasn't going to begin--that at least
was certain--by showing a fear. Even had fear at first been sharp
in him, moreover, it would already, not a little, have dropped;
so happy, all round, so propitious, he quite might have called
it, had been the effect of this rapid interval.

The time had been taken up largely by his active reception of his
own wedding-guests and by Maggie's scarce less absorbed
entertainment of her friend, whom she had kept for hours together
in Portland Place; whom she had not, as wouldn't have been
convenient, invited altogether as yet to migrate, but who had
been present, with other persons, his contingent, at luncheon, at
tea, at dinner, at perpetual repasts--he had never in his life,
it struck him, had to reckon with so much eating--whenever he had
looked in. If he had not again, till this hour, save for a
minute, seen Charlotte alone, so, positively, all the while, he
had not seen even Maggie; and if, therefore, he had not seen even
Maggie, nothing was more natural than that he shouldn't have seen
Charlotte. The exceptional minute, a mere snatch, at the tail of
the others, on the huge Portland Place staircase had sufficiently
enabled the girl to remind him--so ready she assumed him to be--
of what they were to do. Time pressed if they were to do it at
all. Everyone had brought gifts; his relations had brought
wonders--how did they still have, where did they still find, such
treasures? She only had brought nothing, and she was ashamed; yet
even by the sight of the rest of the tribute she wouldn't be put
off. She would do what she could, and he was, unknown to Maggie,
he must remember, to give her his aid. He had prolonged the
minute so far as to take time to hesitate, for a reason, and then
to risk bringing his reason out. The risk was because he might
hurt her--hurt her pride, if she had that particular sort. But
she might as well be hurt one way as another; and, besides, that
particular sort of pride was just what she hadn't. So his slight
resistance, while they lingered, had been just easy enough not to
be impossible.

"I hate to encourage you--and for such a purpose, after all--to
spend your money."

She had stood a stair or two below him; where, while she looked
up at him beneath the high, domed light of the hall, she rubbed
with her palm the polished mahogany of the balustrade, which was
mounted on fine ironwork, eighteenth-century English. "Because
you think I must have so little? I've enough, at any rate--enough
for us to take our hour. Enough," she had smiled, "is as good as
a feast! And then," she had said, "it isn't of course a question
of anything expensive, gorged with treasure as Maggie is; it
isn't a question of competing or outshining. What, naturally, in
the way of the priceless, hasn't she got? Mine is to be the
offering of the poor--something, precisely, that--no rich person
COULD ever give her, and that, being herself too rich ever to buy
it, she would therefore never have." Charlotte had spoken as if
after so much thought. "Only, as it can't be fine, it ought to be
funny--and that's the sort of thing to hunt for. Hunting in
London, besides, is amusing in itself."

He recalled even how he had been struck with her word. "'Funny'?"
"Oh, I don't mean a comic toy--I mean some little thing with a
charm. But absolutely RIGHT, in its comparative cheapness. That's
what I call funny," she had explained. "You used," she had also
added, "to help me to get things cheap in Rome. You were splendid
for beating down. I have them all still, I needn't say--the
little bargains I there owed you. There are bargains in London in
August."

"Ah, but I don't understand your English buying, and I confess I
find it dull." So much as that, while they turned to go up
together, he had objected. "I understood my poor dear Romans."

"It was they who understood you--that was your pull," she had
laughed. "Our amusement here is just that they don't understand
us. We can make it amusing. You'll see."

If he had hesitated again it was because the point permitted.
"The amusement surely will be to find our present."

"Certainly--as I say."

"Well, if they don't come down--?"

"Then we'll come up. There's always something to be done.
Besides, Prince," she had gone on, "I'm not, if you come to that,
absolutely a pauper. I'm too poor for some things," she had
said--yet, strange as she was, lightly enough; "but I'm not too
poor for others." And she had paused again at the top. "I've been
saving up."

He had really challenged it. "In America?"

"Yes, even there--with my motive. And we oughtn't, you know," she
had wound up, "to leave it beyond to-morrow."

That, definitely, with ten words more, was what had passed--he
feeling all the while how any sort of begging-off would only
magnify it. He might get on with things as they were, but he must
do anything rather than magnify. Besides which it was pitiful to
make her beg of him. He WAS making her--she had begged; and this,
for a special sensibility in him, didn't at all do. That was
accordingly, in fine, how they had come to where they were: he
was engaged, as hard as possible, in the policy of not
magnifying. He had kept this up even on her making a point--and
as if it were almost the whole point--that Maggie of course was
not to have an idea. Half the interest of the thing at least
would be that she shouldn't suspect; therefore he was completely
to keep it from her--as Charlotte on her side would--that they
had been anywhere at all together or had so much as seen each
other for five minutes alone. The absolute secrecy of their
little excursion was in short of the essence; she appealed to his
kindness to let her feel that he didn't betray her. There had
been something, frankly, a little disconcerting in such an appeal
at such an hour, on the very eve of his nuptials: it was one
thing to have met the girl casually at Mrs. Assingham's and
another to arrange with her thus for a morning practically as
private as their old mornings in Rome and practically not less
intimate. He had immediately told Maggie, the same evening, of
the minutes that had passed between them in Cadogan Place--though
not mentioning those of Mrs. Assingham's absence any more than he
mentioned the fact of what their friend had then, with such small
delay, proposed. But what had briefly checked his assent to any
present, to any positive making of mystery--what had made him,
while they stood at the top of the stairs, demur just long enough
for her to notice it--was the sense of the resemblance of the
little plan before him to occasions, of the past, from which he
was quite disconnected, from which he could only desire to be.
This was like beginning something over, which was the last thing
he wanted. The strength, the beauty of his actual position was in
its being wholly a fresh start, was that what it began would be
new altogether. These items of his consciousness had clustered so
quickly that by the time Charlotte read them in his face he was
in presence of what they amounted to. She had challenged them as
soon as read them, had met them with a "Do you want then to go
and tell her?" that had somehow made them ridiculous. It had made
him, promptly, fall back on minimizing it--that is on minimizing
"fuss." Apparent scruples were, obviously, fuss, and he had on
the spot clutched, in the light of this truth, at the happy
principle that would meet every case.

This principle was simply to be, with the girl, always simple--
and with the very last simplicity. That would cover everything.
It had covered, then and there, certainly, his immediate
submission to the sight of what was clearest. This was, really,
that what she asked was little compared to what she gave. What
she gave touched him, as she faced him, for it was the full tune
of her renouncing. She really renounced--renounced everything,
and without even insisting now on what it had all been for her.
Her only insistence was her insistence on the small matter of
their keeping their appointment to themselves. That, in exchange
for "everything," everything she gave up, was verily but a
trifle. He let himself accordingly be guided; he so soon
assented, for enlightened indulgence, to any particular turn she
might wish the occasion to take, that the stamp of her preference
had been well applied to it even while they were still in the
Park. The application in fact presently required that they should
sit down a little, really to see where they were; in obedience to
which propriety they had some ten minutes, of a quality quite
distinct, in a couple of penny-chairs under one of the larger
trees. They had taken, for their walk, to the cropped,
rain-freshened grass, after finding it already dry; and the
chairs, turned away from the broad alley, the main drive and the
aspect of Park Lane, looked across the wide reaches of green
which seemed in a manner to refine upon their freedom. They
helped Charlotte thus to make her position--her temporary
position--still more clear, and it was for this purpose,
obviously, that, abruptly, on seeing her opportunity, she sat
down. He stood for a little before her, as if to mark the
importance of not wasting time, the importance she herself had
previously insisted on; but after she had said a few words it was
impossible for him not to resort again to good-nature. He marked
as he could, by this concession, that if he had finally met her
first proposal for what would be "amusing" in it, so any idea she
might have would contribute to that effect. He had consequently--
in all consistency--to treat it as amusing that she reaffirmed,
and reaffirmed again, the truth that was HER truth.

"I don't care what you make of it, and I don't ask anything
whatever of you--anything but this. I want to have said it--
that's all; I want not to have failed to say it. To see you once
and be with you, to be as we are now and as we used to be, for
one small hour--or say for two--that's what I have had for weeks
in my head. I mean, of course, to get it BEFORE--before what
you're going to do. So, all the while, you see," she went on with
her eyes on him, "it was a question for me if I should be able to
manage it in time. If I couldn't have come now I probably
shouldn't have come at all--perhaps even ever. Now that I'm here
I shall stay, but there were moments, over there, when I
despaired. It wasn't easy--there were reasons; but it was either
this or nothing. So I didn't struggle, you see, in vain. AFTER--
oh, I didn't want that! I don't mean," she smiled, "that it
wouldn't have been delightful to see you even then--to see you at
any time; but I would never have come for it. This is different.
This is what I wanted. This is what I've got. This is what I
shall always have. This is what I should have missed, of course,"
she pursued, "if you had chosen to make me miss it. If you had
thought me horrid, had refused to come, I should, naturally, have
been immensely 'sold.' I had to take the risk. Well, you're all I
could have hoped. That's what I was to have said. I didn't want
simply to get my time with you, but I wanted you to know. I
wanted you"--she kept it up, slowly, softly, with a small tremor
of voice, but without the least failure of sense or sequence--"I
wanted you to understand. I wanted you, that is, to hear. I don't
care, I think, whether you understand or not. If I ask nothing of
you I don't--I mayn't--ask even so much as that. What you may
think of me--that doesn't in the least matter. What I want is
that it shall always be with you--so that you'll never be able
quite to get rid of it--that I DID. I won't say that you did--you
may make as little of that as you like. But that I was here with
you where we are and as we are--I just saying this. Giving
myself, in other words, away--and perfectly willing to do it for
nothing. That's all."

She paused as if her demonstration was complete--yet, for the
moment, without moving; as if in fact to give it a few minutes to
sink in; into the listening air, into the watching space, into
the conscious hospitality of nature, so far as nature was, all
Londonised, all vulgarised, with them there; or even, for that
matter, into her own open ears, rather than into the attention of
her passive and prudent friend. His attention had done all that
attention could do; his handsome, slightly anxious, yet still
more definitely "amused" face sufficiently played its part. He
clutched, however, at what he could best clutch at--the fact that
she let him off, definitely let him off. She let him off, it
seemed, even from so much as answering; so that while he smiled
back at her in return for her information he felt his lips remain
closed to the successive vaguenesses of rejoinder, of objection,
that rose for him from within. Charlotte herself spoke again at
last--"You may want to know what I get by it. But that's my own
affair." He really didn't want to know even this--or continued,
for the safest plan, quite to behave as if he didn't; which
prolonged the mere dumbness of diversion in which he had taken
refuge. He was glad when, finally--the point she had wished to
make seeming established to her satisfaction--they brought to
what might pass for a close the moment of his life at which he
had had least to say. Movement and progress, after this, with
more impersonal talk, were naturally a relief; so that he was not
again, during their excursion, at a loss for the right word. The
air had been, as it were, cleared; they had their errand itself
to discuss, and the opportunities of London, the sense of the
wonderful place, the pleasures of prowling there, the question of
shops, of possibilities, of particular objects, noticed by each
in previous prowls. Each professed surprise at the extent of the
other's knowledge; the Prince in especial wondered at his
friend's possession of her London. He had rather prized his own
possession, the guidance he could really often give a cabman; it
was a whim of his own, a part of his Anglomania, and congruous
with that feature, which had, after all, so much more surface
than depth. When his companion, with the memory of other visits
and other rambles, spoke of places he hadn't seen and things he
didn't know, he actually felt again--as half the effect--just a
shade humiliated. He might even have felt a trifle annoyed--if it
hadn't been, on this spot, for his being, even more, interested.
It was a fresh light on Charlotte and on her curious
world-quality, of which, in Rome, he had had his due sense, but
which clearly would show larger on the big London stage. Rome
was, in comparison, a village, a family-party, a little old-world
spinnet for the fingers of one hand. By the time they reached the
Marble Arch it was almost as if she were showing him a new side,
and that, in fact, gave amusement a new and a firmer basis. The
right tone would be easy for putting himself in her hands. Should
they disagree a little--frankly and fairly--about directions and
chances, values and authenticities, the situation would be quite
gloriously saved. They were none the less, as happened, much of
one mind on the article of their keeping clear of resorts with
which Maggie would be acquainted. Charlotte recalled it as a
matter of course, named it in time as a condition--they would
keep away from any place to which he had already been with
Maggie.

This made indeed a scant difference, for though he had during the
last month done few things so much as attend his future wife on
her making of purchases, the antiquarii, as he called them with
Charlotte, had not been the great affair. Except in Bond Street,
really, Maggie had had no use for them: her situation indeed, in
connection with that order of traffic, was full of consequences
produced by her father's. Mr. Verver, one of the great collectors
of the world, hadn't left his daughter to prowl for herself; he
had little to do with shops, and was mostly, as a purchaser,
approached privately and from afar. Great people, all over
Europe, sought introductions to him; high personages, incredibly
high, and more of them than would ever be known, solemnly sworn
as everyone was, in such cases, to discretion, high personages
made up to him as the one man on the short authentic list likely
to give the price. It had therefore been easy to settle, as they
walked, that the tracks of the Ververs, daughter's as well as
father's, were to be avoided; the importance only was that their
talk about it led for a moment to the first words they had as yet
exchanged on the subject of Maggie. Charlotte, still in the Park,
proceeded to them--for it was she who began--with a serenity of

appreciation that was odd, certainly, as a sequel to her words of
ten minutes before. This was another note on her--what he would
have called another light--for her companion, who, though without
giving a sign, admired, for what it was, the simplicity of her
transition, a transition that took no trouble either to trace or
to explain itself. She paused again an instant, on the grass, to
make it; she stopped before him with a sudden "Anything of
course, dear as she is, will do for her. I mean if I were to give
her a pin-cushion from the Baker-Street Bazaar."

"That's exactly what _I_ meant"--the Prince laughed out this
allusion to their snatch of talk in Portland Place. "It's just
what I suggested."

She took, however, no notice of the reminder; she went on in her
own way. "But it isn't a reason. In that case one would never do
anything for her. I mean," Charlotte explained, "if one took
advantage of her character."

"Of her character?"

"We mustn't take advantage of her character," the girl, again
unheeding, pursued. "One mustn't, if not for HER, at least for
one's self. She saves one such trouble."

She had spoken thoughtfully, with her eyes on her friend's; she
might have been talking, preoccupied and practical, of someone
with whom he was comparatively unconnected. "She certainly GIVES
one no trouble," said the Prince. And then as if this were
perhaps ambiguous or inadequate: "She's not selfish--God forgive
her!--enough."

"That's what I mean," Charlotte instantly said. "She's not
selfish enough. There's nothing, absolutely, that one NEED do for
her. She's so modest," she developed--"she doesn't miss things. I
mean if you love her--or, rather, I should say, if she loves you.
She lets it go."

The Prince frowned a little--as a tribute, after all, to
seriousness. "She lets what--?"

"Anything--anything that you might do and that you don't. She
lets everything go but her own disposition to be kind to you.
It's of herself that she asks efforts--so far as she ever HAS to
ask them. She hasn't, much. She does everything herself. And
that's terrible."

The Prince had listened; but, always with propriety, he didn't
commit himself. "Terrible?"

"Well, unless one is almost as good as she. It makes too easy
terms for one. It takes stuff, within one, so far as one's
decency is concerned, to stand it. And nobody," Charlotte
continued in the same manner, "is decent enough, good enough, to
stand it--not without help from religion, or something of that
kind. Not without prayer and fasting--that is without taking
great care. Certainly," she said, "such people as you and I are
not."

The Prince, obligingly, thought an instant. "Not good enough to
stand it?"

"Well, not good enough not rather to feel the strain. We happen
each, I think, to be of the kind that are easily spoiled."

Her friend, again, for propriety, followed the argument. "Oh, I
don't know. May not one's affection for her do something more for
one's decency, as you call it, than her own generosity--her own
affection, HER 'decency'--has the unfortunate virtue to undo?"

"Ah, of course it must be all in that."

But she had made her question, all the same, interesting to him.
"What it comes to--one can see what you mean--is the way she
believes in one. That is if she believes at all."

"Yes, that's what it comes to," said Charlotte Stant.

"And why," he asked, almost soothingly, "should it be terrible?"
He couldn't, at the worst, see that.

"Because it's always so--the idea of having to pity people."

"Not when there's also, with it, the idea of helping them."

"Yes, but if we can't help them?"

"We CAN--we always can. That is," he competently added, "if we
care for them. And that's what we're talking about."

"Yes"--she on the whole assented. "It comes back then to our
absolutely refusing to be spoiled."

"Certainly. But everything," the Prince laughed as they went on--
"all your 'decency,' I mean--comes back to that."

She walked beside him a moment. "It's just what _I_ meant," she
then reasonably said.

Henry James

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