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Chapter 7

Adam Verver, at Fawns, that autumn Sunday, might have been
observed to open the door of the billiard-room with a certain
freedom--might have been observed, that is, had there been a
spectator in the field. The justification of the push he had
applied, however, and of the push, equally sharp, that, to shut
himself in, he again applied--the ground of this energy was
precisely that he might here, however briefly, find himself
alone, alone with the handful of letters, newspapers and other
unopened missives, to which, during and since breakfast, he had
lacked opportunity to give an eye. The vast, square, clean
apartment was empty, and its large clear windows looked out into
spaces of terrace and garden, of park and woodland and shining
artificial lake, of richly-condensed horizon, all dark blue
upland and church-towered village and strong cloudshadow, which
were, together, a thing to create the sense, with everyone else
at church, of one's having the world to one's self. We share this
world, none the less, for the hour, with Mr. Verver; the very
fact of his striking, as he would have said, for solitude, the
fact of his quiet flight, almost on tiptoe, through tortuous
corridors, investing him with an interest that makes our
attention--tender indeed almost to compassion--qualify his
achieved isolation. For it may immediately be mentioned that this
amiable man bethought himself of his personal advantage, in
general, only when it might appear to him that other advantages,
those of other persons, had successfully put in their claim. It
may be mentioned also that he always figured other persons--such
was the law of his nature--as a numerous array, and that, though
conscious of but a single near tie, one affection, one duty
deepest-rooted in his life, it had never, for many minutes
together, been his portion not to feel himself surrounded and
committed, never quite been his refreshment to make out where the
many-coloured human appeal, represented by gradations of tint,
diminishing concentric zones of intensity, of importunity, really
faded to the blessed impersonal whiteness for which his vision
sometimes ached. It shaded off, the appeal--he would have
admitted that; but he had as yet noted no point at which it
positively stopped.

Thus had grown in him a little habit--his innermost secret, not
confided even to Maggie, though he felt she understood it, as she
understood, to his view, everything--thus had shaped itself the
innocent trick of occasionally making believe that he had no
conscience, or at least that blankness, in the field of duty, did
reign for an hour; a small game to which the few persons near
enough to have caught him playing it, and of whom Mrs. Assingham,
for instance, was one, attached indulgently that idea of
quaintness, quite in fact that charm of the pathetic, involved in
the preservation by an adult of one of childhood's toys. When he
took a rare moment "off," he did so with the touching, confessing
eyes of a man of forty-seven caught in the act of handling a
relic of infancy--sticking on the head of a broken soldier or
trying the lock of a wooden gun. It was essentially, in him, the
IMITATION of depravity--which, for amusement, as might have been,
he practised "keeping up." In spite of practice he was still
imperfect, for these so artlessly-artful interludes were
condemned, by the nature of the case, to brevity. He had fatally
stamped himself--it was his own fault--a man who could be
interrupted with impunity. The greatest of wonders, moreover, was
exactly in this, that so interrupted a man should ever have got,
as the phrase was, should above all have got so early, to where
he was. It argued a special genius; he was clearly a case of
that. The spark of fire, the point of light, sat somewhere in his
inward vagueness as a lamp before a shrine twinkles in the dark
perspective of a church; and while youth and early middle-age,
while the stiff American breeze of example and opportunity were
blowing upon it hard, had made of the chamber of his brain a
strange workshop of fortune. This establishment, mysterious and
almost anonymous, the windows of which, at hours of highest
pressure, never seemed, for starers and wonderers, perceptibly to
glow, must in fact have been during certain years the scene of an
unprecedented, a miraculous white-heat, the receipt for producing
which it was practically felt that the master of the forge could
not have communicated even with the best intentions.

The essential pulse of the flame, the very action of the cerebral
temperature, brought to the highest point, yet extraordinarily
contained--these facts themselves were the immensity of the
result; they were one with perfection of machinery, they had
constituted the kind of acquisitive power engendered and applied,
the necessary triumph of all operations. A dim explanation of
phenomena once vivid must at all events for the moment suffice
us; it being obviously no account of the matter to throw on our
friend's amiability alone the weight of the demonstration of his
economic history. Amiability, of a truth, is an aid to success;
it has even been known to be the principle of large
accumulations; but the link, for the mind, is none the less
fatally missing between proof, on such a scale, of continuity, if
of nothing more insolent, in one field, and accessibility to
distraction in every other. Variety of imagination--what is that
but fatal, in the world of affairs, unless so disciplined as not
to be distinguished from monotony? Mr. Verver then, for a fresh,
full period, a period betraying, extraordinarily, no wasted year,
had been inscrutably monotonous behind an iridescent cloud. The
cloud was his native envelope--the soft looseness, so to say, of
his temper and tone, not directly expressive enough, no doubt, to
figure an amplitude of folds, but of a quality unmistakable for
sensitive feelers. He was still reduced, in fine, to getting his
rare moments with himself by feigning a cynicism. His real
inability to maintain the pretence, however, had perhaps not
often been better instanced than by his acceptance of the
inevitable to-day--his acceptance of it on the arrival, at the
end of a quarter-of-an hour, of that element of obligation with
which he had all the while known he must reckon. A quarter-of-an-
hour of egoism was about as much as he, taking one situation with
another, usually got. Mrs. Rance opened the door--more
tentatively indeed than he himself had just done; but on the
other hand, as if to make up for this, she pushed forward even
more briskly on seeing him than he had been moved to do on seeing
nobody. Then, with force, it came home to him that he had,
definitely, a week before, established a precedent. He did her at
least that justice--it was a kind of justice he was always doing
someone. He had on the previous Sunday liked to stop at home, and
he had exposed himself thereby to be caught in the act. To make
this possible, that is, Mrs. Rance had only had to like to do the
same--the trick was so easily played. It had not occurred to him
to plan in any way for her absence--which would have destroyed,
somehow, in principle, the propriety of his own presence. If
persons under his roof hadn't a right not to go to church, what
became, for a fair mind, of his own right? His subtlest manoeuvre
had been simply to change from the library to the billiard-room,
it being in the library that his guest, or his daughter's, or the
guest of the Miss Lutches--he scarce knew in which light to
regard her--had then, and not unnaturally, of course, joined him.
It was urged on him by his memory of the duration of the visit
she had that time, as it were, paid him, that the law of
recurrence would already have got itself enacted. She had spent
the whole morning with him, was still there, in the library, when
the others came back--thanks to her having been tepid about their
taking, Mr. Verver and she, a turn outside. It had been as if she
looked on that as a kind of subterfuge--almost as a form of
disloyalty. Yet what was it she had in mind, what did she wish to
make of him beyond what she had already made, a patient,
punctilious host, mindful that she had originally arrived much as
a stranger, arrived not at all deliberately or yearningly
invited?--so that one positively had her possible
susceptibilities the MORE on one's conscience. The Miss Lutches,
the sisters from the middle West, were there as friends of
Maggie's, friends of the earlier time; but Mrs. Rance was there--
or at least had primarily appeared--only as a friend of the Miss
Lutches.

This lady herself was not of the middle West--she rather insisted
on it--but of New Jersey, Rhode Island or Delaware, one of the
smallest and most intimate States: he couldn't remember which,
though she insisted too on that. It was not in him--we may say it
for him--to go so far as to wonder if their group were next to be
recruited by some friend of her own; and this partly because she
had struck him, verily, rather as wanting to get the Miss Lutches
themselves away than to extend the actual circle, and partly, as
well as more essentially, because such connection as he enjoyed
with the ironic question in general resided substantially less in
a personal use of it than in the habit of seeing it as easy to
others. He was so framed by nature as to be able to keep his
inconveniences separate from his resentments; though indeed if
the sum of these latter had at the most always been small, that
was doubtless in some degree a consequence of the fewness of the
former. His greatest inconvenience, he would have admitted, had
he analyzed, was in finding it so taken for granted that, as he
had money, he had force. It pressed upon him hard, and all round,
assuredly, this attribution of power. Everyone had need of one's
power, whereas one's own need, at the best, would have seemed to
be but some trick for not communicating it. The effect of a
reserve so merely, so meanly defensive would in most cases,
beyond question, sufficiently discredit the cause; wherefore,
though it was complicating to be perpetually treated as an
infinite agent, the outrage was not the greatest of which a brave
man might complain. Complaint, besides, was a luxury, and he
dreaded the imputation of greed. The other, the constant
imputation, that of being able to "do," would have no ground if
he hadn't been, to start with--this was the point--provably
luxurious. His lips, somehow, were closed--and by a spring
connected moreover with the action of his eyes themselves. The
latter showed him what he had done, showed him where he had come
out; quite at the top of his hill of difficulty, the tall sharp
spiral round which he had begun to wind his ascent at the age of
twenty, and the apex of which was a platform looking down, if one
would, on the kingdoms of the earth and with standing-room for
but half-a-dozen others.

His eyes, in any case, now saw Mrs. Rance approach with an
instant failure to attach to the fact any grossness of avidity of
Mrs. Rance's own--or at least to descry any triumphant use even
for the luridest impression of her intensity. What was virtually
supreme would be her vision of his having attempted, by his
desertion of the library, to mislead her--which in point of fact
barely escaped being what he had designed. It was not easy for
him, in spite of accumulations fondly and funnily regarded as of
systematic practice, not now to be ashamed; the one thing
comparatively easy would be to gloss over his course. The
billiard-room was NOT, at the particular crisis, either a natural
or a graceful place for the nominally main occupant of so large a
house to retire to--and this without prejudice, either, to the
fact that his visitor wouldn't, as he apprehended, explicitly
make him a scene. Should she frankly denounce him for a sneak he
would simply go to pieces; but he was, after an instant, not
afraid of that. Wouldn't she rather, as emphasising their
communion, accept and in a manner exploit the anomaly, treat it
perhaps as romantic or possibly even as comic?--show at least
that they needn't mind even though the vast table, draped in
brown holland, thrust itself between them as an expanse of desert
sand. She couldn't cross the desert, but she could, and did,
beautifully get round it; so that for him to convert it into an
obstacle he would have had to cause himself, as in some childish
game or unbecoming romp, to be pursued, to be genially hunted.
This last was a turn he was well aware the occasion should on no
account take; and there loomed before him--for the mere moment--
the prospect of her fairly proposing that they should knock about
the balls. That danger certainly, it struck him, he should manage
in some way to deal with. Why too, for that matter, had he need
of defences, material or other?--how was it a question of dangers
really to be called such? The deep danger, the only one that made
him, as an idea, positively turn cold, would have been the
possibility of her seeking him in marriage, of her bringing up
between them that terrible issue. Here, fortunately, she was
powerless, it being apparently so provable against her that she
had a husband in undiminished existence.

She had him, it was true, only in America, only in Texas, in
Nebraska, in Arizona or somewhere--somewhere that, at old Fawns
House, in the county of Kent, scarcely counted as a definite
place at all; it showed somehow, from afar, as so lost, so
indistinct and illusory, in the great alkali desert of cheap
Divorce. She had him even in bondage, poor man, had him in
contempt, had him in remembrance so imperfect as barely to assert
itself, but she had him, none the less, in existence unimpeached:
the Miss Lutches had seen him in the flesh--as they had appeared
eager to mention; though when they were separately questioned
their descriptions failed to tally. He would be at the worst,
should it come to the worst, Mrs. Rance's difficulty, and he
served therefore quite enough as the stout bulwark of anyone
else. This was in truth logic without a flaw, yet it gave Mr.
Verver less comfort than it ought. He feared not only danger--he
feared the idea of danger, or in other words feared, hauntedly,
himself. It was above all as a symbol that Mrs. Rance actually
rose before him--a symbol of the supreme effort that he should
have sooner or later, as he felt, to make. This effort would be
to say No--he lived in terror of having to. He should be proposed
to at a given moment--it was only a question of time--and then he
should have to do a thing that would be extremely disagreeable.
He almost wished, on occasion, that he wasn't so sure he WOULD do
it. He knew himself, however, well enough not to doubt: he knew
coldly, quite bleakly, where he would, at the crisis, draw the
line. It was Maggie's marriage and Maggie's finer happiness--
happy as he had supposed her before--that had made the
difference; he hadn't in the other time, it now seemed to him,
had to think of such things. They hadn't come up for him, and it
was as if she, positively, had herself kept them down. She had
only been his child--which she was indeed as much as ever; but
there were sides on which she had protected him as if she were
more than a daughter. She had done for him more than he knew--
much, and blissfully, as he always HAD known. If she did at
present more than ever, through having what she called the change
in his life to make up to him for, his situation still, all the
same, kept pace with her activity--his situation being simply
that there was more than ever to be done.

There had not yet been quite so much, on all the showing, as
since their return from their twenty months in America, as since
their settlement again in England, experimental though it was,
and the consequent sense, now quite established for him, of a
domestic air that had cleared and lightened, producing the
effect, for their common personal life, of wider perspectives and
large waiting spaces. It was as if his son-in-law's presence,
even from before his becoming his son-in-law, had somehow filled
the scene and blocked the future--very richly and handsomely,
when all was said, not at all inconveniently or in ways not to
have been desired: inasmuch as though the Prince, his measure now
practically taken, was still pretty much the same "big fact," the
sky had lifted, the horizon receded, the very foreground itself
expanded, quite to match him, quite to keep everything in
comfortable scale. At first, certainly, their decent little
old-time union, Maggie's and his own, had resembled a good deal
some pleasant public square, in the heart of an old city, into
which a great Palladian church, say--something with a grand
architectural front--had suddenly been dropped; so that the rest
of the place, the space in front, the way round, outside, to the
east end, the margin of street and passage, the quantity of
over-arching heaven, had been temporarily compromised. Not even
then, of a truth, in a manner disconcerting--given, that is, for
the critical, or at least the intelligent, eye, the great style
of the facade and its high place in its class. The phenomenon
that had since occurred, whether originally to have been
pronounced calculable or not, had not, naturally, been the
miracle of a night, but had taken place so gradually, quietly,
easily, that from this vantage of wide, wooded Fawns, with its
eighty rooms, as they said, with its spreading park, with its
acres and acres of garden and its majesty of artificial lake--
though that, for a person so familiar with the "great" ones,
might be rather ridiculous--no visibility of transition showed,
no violence of adjustment, in retrospect, emerged. The Palladian
church was always there, but the piazza took care of itself. The
sun stared down in his fulness, the air circulated, and the
public not less; the limit stood off, the way round was easy, the
east end was as fine, in its fashion, as the west, and there were
also side doors for entrance, between the two--large, monumental,
ornamental, in their style--as for all proper great churches. By
some such process, in fine, had the Prince, for his father-in-
law, while remaining solidly a feature, ceased to be, at all
ominously, a block.

Mr. Verver, it may further be mentioned, had taken at no moment
sufficient alarm to have kept in detail the record of his
reassurance; but he would none the less not have been unable, not
really have been indisposed, to impart in confidence to the right
person his notion of the history of the matter. The right
person--it is equally distinct--had not, for this illumination,
been wanting, but had been encountered in the form of Fanny
Assingham, not for the first time indeed admitted to his
counsels, and who would have doubtless at present, in any case,
from plenitude of interest and with equal guarantees, repeated
his secret. It all came then, the great clearance, from the one
prime fact that the Prince, by good fortune, hadn't proved
angular. He clung to that description of his daughter's husband
as he often did to terms and phrases, in the human, the social
connection, that he had found for himself: it was his way to have
times of using these constantly, as if they just then lighted the
world, or his own path in it, for him--even when for some of his
interlocutors they covered less ground. It was true that with
Mrs. Assingham he never felt quite sure of the ground anything
covered; she disputed with him so little, agreed with him so
much, surrounded him with such systematic consideration, such
predetermined tenderness, that it was almost--which he had once
told her in irritation as if she were nursing a sick baby. He
had accused her of not taking him seriously, and she had
replied--as from her it couldn't frighten him--that she took him
religiously, adoringly. She had laughed again, as she had laughed
before, on his producing for her that good right word about the
happy issue of his connection with the Prince--with an effect the
more odd perhaps as she had not contested its value. She couldn't
of course, however, be, at the best, as much in love with his
discovery as he was himself. He was so much so that he fairly
worked it--to his own comfort; came in fact sometimes near
publicly pointing the moral of what might have occurred if
friction, so to speak, had occurred. He pointed it frankly one
day to the personage in question, mentioned to the Prince the
particular justice he did him, was even explicit as to the danger
that, in their remarkable relation, they had thus escaped. Oh,
if he HAD been angular!--who could say what might THEN have
happened? He spoke--and it was the way he had spoken to Mrs.
Assingham too--as if he grasped the facts, without exception, for
which angularity stood.

It figured for him, clearly, as a final idea, a conception of the
last vividness. He might have been signifying by it the sharp
corners and hard edges, all the stony pointedness, the grand
right geometry of his spreading Palladian church. Just so, he was
insensible to no feature of the felicity of a contact that,
beguilingly, almost confoundingly, was a contact but with
practically yielding lines and curved surfaces. "You're round, my
boy," he had said--"you're ALL, you're variously and
inexhaustibly round, when you might, by all the chances, have
been abominably square. I'm not sure, for that matter," he had
added, "that you're not square in the general mass--whether
abominably or not. The abomination isn't a question, for you're
inveterately round--that's what I mean--in the detail. It's the
sort of thing, in you, that one feels--or at least I do--with
one's hand. Say you had been formed, all over, in a lot of little
pyramidal lozenges like that wonderful side of the Ducal Palace
in Venice--so lovely in a building, but so damnable, for rubbing
against, in a man, and especially in a near relation. I can see
them all from here--each of them sticking out by itself--all the
architectural cut diamonds that would have scratched one's softer
sides. One would have been scratched by diamonds--doubtless the
neatest way if one was to be scratched at all--but one would have
been more or less reduced to a hash. As it is, for living with,
you're a pure and perfect crystal. I give you my idea--I think
you ought to have it--just as it has come to me." The Prince had
taken the idea, in his way, for he was well accustomed, by this
time, to taking; and nothing perhaps even could more have
confirmed Mr. Verver's account of his surface than the manner in
which these golden drops evenly flowed over it. They caught in no
interstice, they gathered in no concavity; the uniform smoothness
betrayed the dew but by showing for the moment a richer tone. The
young man, in other words, unconfusedly smiled--though indeed as
if assenting, from principle and habit, to more than he
understood. He liked all signs that things were well, but he
cared rather less WHY they were.

In regard to the people among whom he had since his marriage been
living, the reasons they so frequently gave--so much oftener than
he had ever heard reasons given before--remained on the whole the
element by which he most differed from them; and his father-in-
law and his wife were, after all, only first among the people
among whom he had been living. He was never even yet sure of how,
at this, that or the other point, he would strike them; they felt
remarkably, so often, things he hadn't meant, and missed not less
remarkably, and not less often, things he had. He had fallen
back on his general explanation--"We haven't the same values;" by
which he understood the same measure of importance. His "curves"
apparently were important because they had been unexpected, or,
still more, unconceived; whereas when one had always, as in his
relegated old world, taken curves, and in much greater quantities
too, for granted, one was no more surprised at the resulting
feasibility of intercourse than one was surprised at being
upstairs in a house that had a staircase. He had in fact on this
occasion disposed alertly enough of the subject of Mr. Verver's
approbation. The promptitude of his answer, we may in fact well
surmise, had sprung not a little from a particular kindled
remembrance; this had given his acknowledgment its easiest turn.
"Oh, if I'm a crystal I'm delighted that I'm a perfect one, for I
believe that they sometimes have cracks and flaws--in which case
they're to be had very cheap!" He had stopped short of the
emphasis it would have given his joke to add that there had been
certainly no having HIM cheap; and it was doubtless a mark of the
good taste practically reigning between them that Mr. Verver had
not, on his side either, taken up the opportunity. It is the
latter's relation to such aspects, however, that now most
concerns us, and the bearing of his pleased view of this absence
of friction upon Amerigo's character as a representative precious
object. Representative precious objects, great ancient pictures
and other works of art, fine eminent "pieces" in gold, in silver,
in enamel, majolica, ivory, bronze, had for a number of years so
multiplied themselves round him and, as a general challenge to
acquisition and appreciation, so engaged all the faculties of his
mind, that the instinct, the particular sharpened appetite of the
collector, had fairly served as a basis for his acceptance of the
Prince's suit.

Over and above the signal fact of the impression made on Maggie
herself, the aspirant to his daughter's hand showed somehow the
great marks and signs, stood before him with the high
authenticities, he had learned to look for in pieces of the first
order. Adam Verver knew, by this time, knew thoroughly; no man in
Europe or in America, he privately believed, was less capable, in
such estimates, of vulgar mistakes. He had never spoken of
himself as infallible--it was not his way; but, apart from the
natural affections, he had acquainted himself with no greater
joy, of the intimately personal type, than the joy of his
originally coming to feel, and all so unexpectedly, that he had
in him the spirit of the connoisseur. He had, like many other
persons, in the course of his reading, been struck with Keats's
sonnet about stout Cortez in the presence of the Pacific; but few
persons, probably, had so devoutly fitted the poet's grand image
to a fact of experience. It consorted so with Mr. Verver's
consciousness of the way in which, at a given moment, he had
stared at HIS Pacific, that a couple of perusals of the immortal
lines had sufficed to stamp them in his memory. His "peak in
Darien" was the sudden hour that had transformed his life, the
hour of his perceiving with a mute inward gasp akin to the low
moan of apprehensive passion, that a world was left him to
conquer and that he might conquer it if he tried. It had been a
turning of the page of the book of life--as if a leaf long inert
had moved at a touch and, eagerly reversed, had made such a stir
of the air as sent up into his face the very breath of the Golden
Isles. To rifle the Golden Isles had, on the spot, become the
business of his future, and with the sweetness of it--what was
most wondrous of all--still more even in the thought than in the
act. The thought was that of the affinity of Genius, or at least
of Taste, with something in himself--with the dormant
intelligence of which he had thus almost violently become aware
and that affected him as changing by a mere revolution of the
screw his whole intellectual plane. He was equal, somehow, with
the great seers, the invokers and encouragers of beauty--and he
didn't after all perhaps dangle so far below the great producers
and creators. He had been nothing of that kind before-too
decidedly, too dreadfully not; but now he saw why he had been
what he had, why he had failed and fallen short even in huge
success; now he read into his career, in one single magnificent
night, the immense meaning it had waited for.

It was during his first visit to Europe after the death of his
wife, when his daughter was ten years old, that the light, in his
mind, had so broken--and he had even made out at that time why,
on an earlier occasion, the journey of his honeymoon year, it had
still been closely covered. He had "bought" then, so far as he
had been able, but he had bought almost wholly for the frail,
fluttered creature at his side, who had had her fancies,
decidedly, but all for the art, then wonderful to both of them,
of the Rue de la Paix, the costly authenticities of dressmakers
and jewellers. Her flutter--pale disconcerted ghost as she
actually was, a broken white flower tied round, almost
grotesquely for his present sense, with a huge satin "bow" of the
Boulevard--her flutter had been mainly that of ribbons, frills
and fine fabrics; all funny, pathetic evidence, for memory, of
the bewilderments overtaking them as a bridal pair confronted
with opportunity. He could wince, fairly, still, as he remembered
the sense in which the poor girl's pressure had, under his fond
encouragement indeed, been exerted in favour of purchase and
curiosity. These were wandering images, out of the earlier dusk,
that threw her back, for his pity, into a past more remote than
he liked their common past, their young affection, to appear.
It would have had to be admitted, to an insistent criticism, that
Maggie's mother, all too strangely, had not so much failed of
faith as of the right application of it; since she had exercised
it eagerly and restlessly, made it a pretext for innocent
perversities in respect to which philosophic time was at, last to
reduce all groans to gentleness. And they had loved each other so
that his own intelligence, on the higher line, had temporarily
paid for it. The futilities, the enormities, the depravities, of
decoration and ingenuity, that, before his sense was unsealed,
she had made him think lovely! Musing, reconsidering little man
that he was, and addicted to silent pleasures--as he was
accessible to silent pains--he even sometimes wondered what would
have become of his intelligence, in the sphere in which it was to
learn more and more exclusively to play, if his wife's influence
upon it had not been, in the strange scheme of things, so
promptly removed. Would she have led him altogether, attached as
he was to her, into the wilderness of mere mistakes? Would she
have prevented him from ever scaling his vertiginous Peak?--or
would she, otherwise, have been able to accompany him to that
eminence, where he might have pointed out to her, as Cortez to
HIS companions, the revelation vouchsafed? No companion of Cortez
had presumably been a real lady: Mr. Verver allowed that historic
fact to determine his inference.

Henry James

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