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Chapter 41

A telegram, in Charlotte's name, arrived early--"We shall come
and ask you for tea at five, if convenient to you. Am wiring for
the Assinghams to lunch." This document, into which meanings were
to be read, Maggie promptly placed before her husband, adding the
remark that her father and his wife, who would have come up the
previous night or that morning, had evidently gone to an hotel.
The Prince was in his "own" room, where he often sat now alone;
half-a-dozen open newspapers, the "Figaro" notably, as well as
the "Times," were scattered about him; but, with a cigar in his
teeth and a visible cloud on his brow, he appeared actually to be
engaged in walking to and fro. Never yet, on thus approaching
him--for she had done it of late, under one necessity or another,
several times--had a particular impression so greeted her;
supremely strong, for some reason, as he turned quickly round on
her entrance. The reason was partly the look in his face--a
suffusion like the flush of fever, which brought back to her
Fanny Assingham's charge, recently uttered under that roof, of
her "thinking" too impenetrably. The word had remained with her
and made her think still more; so that, at first, as she stood
there, she felt responsible for provoking on his part an
irritation of suspense at which she had not aimed. She had been
going about him these three months, she perfectly knew, with a
maintained idea--of which she had never spoken to him; but what
had at last happened was that his way of looking at her, on
occasion, seemed a perception of the presence not of one idea,
but of fifty, variously prepared for uses with which he somehow
must reckon. She knew herself suddenly, almost strangely, glad to
be coming to him, at this hour, with nothing more abstract than a
telegram; but even after she had stepped into his prison under
her pretext, while her eyes took in his face and then embraced
the four walls that enclosed his restlessness, she recognised the
virtual identity of his condition with that aspect of Charlotte's
situation for which, early in the summer and in all the amplitude
of a great residence, she had found, with so little seeking, the
similitude of the locked cage. He struck her as caged, the man
who couldn't now without an instant effect on her sensibility
give an instinctive push to the door she had not completely
closed behind her. He had been turning twenty ways, for
impatiences all his own, and when she was once shut in with him
it was yet again as if she had come to him in his more than
monastic cell to offer him light or food. There was a difference
none the less, between his captivity and Charlotte's--the
difference, as it might be, of his lurking there by his own act
and his own choice; the admission of which had indeed virtually
been in his starting, on her entrance, as if even this were in
its degree an interference. That was what betrayed for her,
practically, his fear of her fifty ideas, and what had begun,
after a minute, to make her wish to repudiate or explain. It was
more wonderful than she could have told; it was for all the world
as if she was succeeding with him beyond her intention. She had,
for these instants, the sense that he exaggerated, that the
imputation of purpose had fairly risen too high in him. She had
begun, a year ago, by asking herself how she could make him think
more of her; but what was it, after all, he was thinking now? He
kept his eyes on her telegram; he read it more than once, easy as
it was, in spite of its conveyed deprecation, to understand;
during which she found herself almost awestruck with yearning,
almost on the point of marking somehow what she had marked in the
garden at Fawns with Charlotte--that she had truly come unarmed.
She didn't bristle with intentions--she scarce knew, as he at
this juncture affected her, what had become of the only intention
she had come with. She had nothing but her old idea, the old one
he knew; she hadn't the ghost of another. Presently in fact, when
four or five minutes had elapsed, it was as if she positively,
hadn't so much even as that one. He gave her back her paper,
asking with it if there were anything in particular she wished
him to do.

She stood there with her eyes on him, doubling the telegram
together as if it had been a precious thing and yet all the while
holding her breath. Of a sudden, somehow, and quite as by the
action of their merely having between them these few written
words, an extraordinary fact came up. He was with her as if he
were hers, hers in a degree and on a scale, with an intensity and
an intimacy, that were a new and a strange quantity, that were
like the irruption of a tide loosening them where they had stuck
and making them feel they floated. What was it that, with the
rush of this, just kept her from putting out her hands to him,
from catching at him as, in the other time, with the superficial
impetus he and Charlotte had privately conspired to impart, she
had so often, her breath failing her, known the impulse to catch
at her father? She did, however, just yet, nothing inconsequent--
though she couldn't immediately have said what saved her; and by
the time she had neatly folded her telegram she was doing
something merely needful. "I wanted you simply to know--so that
you mayn't by accident miss them. For it's the last," said
Maggie.

"The last?"

"I take it as their good-bye." And she smiled as she could always
smile. "They come in state--to take formal leave. They do
everything that's proper. Tomorrow," she said, "they go to
Southampton."

"If they do everything that's proper," the Prince presently
asked, "why don't they at least come to dine?"

She hesitated, yet she lightly enough provided her answer. "That
we must certainly ask them. It will be easy for you. But of
course they're immensely taken--!"

He wondered. "So immensely taken that they can't--that your
father can't--give you his last evening in England?"

This, for Maggie, was more difficult to meet; yet she was still
not without her stop-gap. "That may be what they'll propose--that
we shall go somewhere together, the four of us, for a
celebration--except that, to round it thoroughly off, we ought
also to have Fanny and the Colonel. They don't WANT them at tea,
she quite sufficiently expresses; they polish them off, poor
dears, they get rid of them, beforehand. They want only us
together; and if they cut us down to tea," she continued, "as
they cut Fanny and the Colonel down to luncheon, perhaps it's for
the fancy, after all, of their keeping their last night in London
for each other."

She said these things as they came to her; she was unable to keep
them back, even though, as she heard herself, she might have been
throwing everything to the winds. But wasn't that the right way--
for sharing his last day of captivity with the man one adored? It
was every moment more and more for her as if she were waiting
with him in his prison--waiting with some gleam of remembrance of
how noble captives in the French Revolution, the darkness of the
Terror, used to make a feast, or a high discourse, of their last
poor resources. If she had broken with everything now, every
observance of all the past months, she must simply then take it
so--take it that what she had worked for was too near, at last,
to let her keep her head. She might have been losing her head
verily in her husband's eyes--since he didn't know, all the
while, that the sudden freedom of her words was but the diverted
intensity of her disposition personally to seize him. He didn't
know, either, that this was her manner--now she was with him--of
beguiling audaciously the supremacy of suspense. For the people
of the French Revolution, assuredly, there wasn't suspense; the
scaffold, for those she was thinking of, was certain--whereas
what Charlotte's telegram announced was, short of some
incalculable error, clear liberation. Just the point, however,
was in its being clearer to herself than to him; her clearnesses,
clearances--those she had so all but abjectly laboured for--
threatened to crowd upon her in the form of one of the clusters
of angelic heads, the peopled shafts of light beating down
through iron bars, that regale, on occasion, precisely, the
fevered vision of those who are in chains. She was going to know,
she felt, later on--was going to know with compunction,
doubtless, on the very morrow, how thumpingly her heart had
beaten at this foretaste of their being left together: she should
judge at leisure the surrender she was making to the
consciousness of complications about to be bodily lifted. She
should judge at leisure even that avidity for an issue which was
making so little of any complication but the unextinguished
presence of the others; and indeed that she was already
simplifying so much more than her husband came out for her next
in the face with which he listened. He might certainly well be
puzzled, in respect to his father-in-law and Mrs. Verver, by her
glance at their possible preference for a concentrated evening.
"But it isn't--is it?" he asked--"as if they were leaving each
other?"

"Oh no; it isn't as if they were leaving each other. They're only
bringing to a close--without knowing when it may open again--a
time that has been, naturally, awfully interesting to them." Yes,
she could talk so of their "time"--she was somehow sustained; she
was sustained even to affirm more intensely her present
possession of her ground. "They have their reasons--many things
to think of; how can one tell? But there's always, also, the
chance of his proposing to me that we shall have our last hours
together; I mean that he and I shall. He may wish to take me off
to dine with him somewhere alone--and to do it in memory of old
days. I mean," the Princess went on, "the real old days; before
my grand husband was invented and, much more, before his grand
wife was: the wonderful times of his first great interest in what
he has since done, his first great plans and opportunities,
discoveries and bargains. The way we've sat together late, ever
so late, in foreign restaurants, which he used to like; the way
that, in every city in Europe, we've stayed on and on, with our
elbows on the table and most of the lights put out, to talk over
things he had that day seen or heard of or made his offer for,
the things he had secured or refused or lost! There were places
he took me to--you wouldn't believe!--for often he could only
have left me with servants. If he should carry me off with him
to-night, for old sake's sake, to the Earl's Court Exhibition, it
will be a little--just a very, very little--like our young
adventures." After which while Amerigo watched her, and in fact
quite because of it, she had an inspiration, to which she
presently yielded. If he was wondering what she would say next
she had found exactly the thing. "In that case he will leave you
Charlotte to take care of in our absence. You'll have to carry
her off somewhere for your last evening; unless you may prefer to
spend it with her here. I shall then see that you dine, that you
have everything, quite beautifully. You'll be able to do as you
like."

She couldn't have been sure beforehand, and had really not been;
but the most immediate result of this speech was his letting her
see that he took it for no cheap extravagance either of irony or
of oblivion. Nothing in the world, of a truth, had ever been so
sweet to her, as his look of trying to be serious enough to make
no mistake about it. She troubled him--which hadn't been at all
her purpose; she mystified him--which she couldn't help and,
comparatively, didn't mind; then it came over her that he had,
after all, a simplicity, very considerable, on which she had
never dared to presume. It was a discovery--not like the other
discovery she had once made, but giving out a freshness; and she
recognised again in the light of it the number of the ideas of
which he thought her capable. They were all, apparently, queer
for him, but she had at least, with the lapse of the months,
created the perception that there might be something in them;
whereby he stared there, beautiful and sombre, at what she was at
present providing him with. There was something of his own in his
mind, to which, she was sure, he referred everything for a
measure and a meaning; he had never let go of it, from the
evening, weeks before, when, in her room, after his encounter
with the Bloomsbury cup, she had planted it there by flinging it
at him, on the question of her father's view of him, her
determined "Find out for yourself!" She had been aware, during
the months, that he had been trying to find out, and had been
seeking, above all, to avoid the appearance of any evasions of
such a form of knowledge as might reach him, with violence or
with a penetration more insidious, from any other source.
Nothing, however, had reached him; nothing he could at all
conveniently reckon with had disengaged itself for him even from
the announcement, sufficiently sudden, of the final secession of
their companions. Charlotte was in pain, Charlotte was in
torment, but he himself had given her reason enough for that;
and, in respect to the rest of the whole matter of her obligation
to follow her husband, that personage and she, Maggie, had so
shuffled away every link between consequence and cause, that the
intention remained, like some famous poetic line in a dead
language, subject to varieties of interpretation. What renewed
the obscurity was her strange image of their common offer to him,
her father's and her own, of an opportunity to separate from Mrs.
Verver with the due amount of form--and all the more that he was,
in so pathetic a way, unable to treat himself to a quarrel with
it on the score of taste. Taste, in him, as a touchstone, was now
all at sea; for who could say but that one of her fifty ideas, or
perhaps forty-nine of them, wouldn't be, exactly, that taste by
itself, the taste he had always conformed to, had no importance
whatever? If meanwhile, at all events, he felt her as serious,
this made the greater reason for her profiting by it as she
perhaps might never be able to profit again. She was invoking
that reflection at the very moment he brought out, in reply to
her last words, a remark which, though perfectly relevant and
perfectly just, affected her at first as a high oddity. "They're
doing the wisest thing, you know. For if they were ever to
go--!" And he looked down at her over his cigar.

If they were ever to go, in short, it was high time, with her
father's age, Charlotte's need of initiation, and the general
magnitude of the job of their getting settled and seasoned, their
learning to "live into" their queer future--it was high time that
they should take up their courage. This was eminent sense, but it
didn't arrest the Princess, who, the next moment, had found a
form for her challenge. "But shan't you then so much as miss her
a little? She's wonderful and beautiful, and I feel somehow as if
she were dying. Not really, not physically," Maggie went on--
"she's so far, naturally, splendid as she is, from having done
with life. But dying for us--for you and me; and making us feel
it by the very fact of there being so much of her left."

The Prince smoked hard a minute. "As you say, she's splendid, but
there is--there always will be--much of her left. Only, as you
also say, for others."

"And yet I think," the Princess returned, "that it isn't as if we
had wholly done with her. How can we not always think of her?
It's as if her unhappiness had been necessary to us--as if we had
needed her, at her own cost, to build us up and start us."

He took it in with consideration, but he met it with a lucid
inquiry. "Why do you speak of the unhappiness of your father's
wife?"

They exchanged a long look--the time that it took her to find her
reply. "Because not to--!"

"Well, not to--?"

"Would make me have to speak of him. And I can't," said Maggie,
"speak of him."

"You 'can't'--?"

"I can't." She said it as for definite notice, not to be
repeated. "There are too many things," she nevertheless added.
"He's too great."

The Prince looked at his cigar-tip, and then as he put back the
weed: "Too great for whom?" Upon which as she hesitated, "Not, my
dear, too great for you," he declared. "For me--oh, as much as
you like."

"Too great for me is what I mean. I know why I think it," Maggie
said. "That's enough."

He looked at her yet again as if she but fanned his wonder; he
was on the very point, she judged, of asking her why she thought
it. But her own eyes maintained their warning, and at the end of
a minute he had uttered other words. "What's of importance is
that you're his daughter. That at least we've got. And I suppose
that, if I may say nothing else, I may say at least that I value
it."

"Oh yes, you may say that you value it. I myself make the most of
it."

This again he took in, letting it presently put forth for him a
striking connection. "She ought to have known you. That's what's
present to me. She ought to have understood you better."

"Better than you did?"

"Yes," he gravely maintained, "better than I did. And she didn't
really know you at all. She doesn't know you now."

"Ah, yes she does!" said Maggie.

But he shook his head--he knew what he meant. "She not only
doesn't understand you more than I, she understands you ever so
much less. Though even I--!"

"Well, even you?" Maggie pressed as he paused. "Even I, even I
even yet--!" Again he paused and the silence held them.

But Maggie at last broke it. "If Charlotte doesn't understand me,
it is that I've prevented her. I've chosen to deceive her and to
lie to her."

The Prince kept his eyes on her. "I know what you've chosen to
do. But I've chosen to do the same."

"Yes," said Maggie after an instant--"my choice was made when I
had guessed yours. But you mean," she asked, "that she
understands YOU?"

"It presents small difficulty!"

"Are you so sure?" Maggie went on.

"Sure enough. But it doesn't matter." He waited an instant; then
looking up through the fumes of his smoke, "She's stupid," he
abruptly opined.

"O--oh!" Maggie protested in a long wail.

It had made him in fact quickly change colour. "What I mean is
that she's not, as you pronounce her, unhappy." And he recovered,
with this, all his logic. "Why is she unhappy if she doesn't
know?"

"Doesn't know--?" She tried to make his logic difficult.

"Doesn't know that YOU know."

It came from him in such a way that she was conscious, instantly,
of three or four things to answer. But what she said first was:
"Do you think that's all it need take?" And before he could
reply, "She knows, she knows!" Maggie proclaimed.

"Well then, what?"

But she threw back her head, she turned impatiently away from
him. "Oh, I needn't tell you! She knows enough. Besides," she
went on, "she doesn't believe us."

It made the Prince stare a little. "Ah, she asks too much!" That
drew, however, from his wife another moan of objection, which
determined in him a judgment. "She won't let you take her for
unhappy."

"Oh, I know better than any one else what she won't let me take
her for!"

"Very well," said Amerigo, "you'll see."

"I shall see wonders, I know. I've already seen them, and I'm
prepared for them." Maggie recalled--she had memories enough.
"It's terrible"--her memories prompted her to speak. "I see it's
ALWAYS terrible for women."

The Prince looked down in his gravity. "Everything's terrible,
cara, in the heart of man. She's making her life," he said.
"She'll make it."

His wife turned back upon him; she had wandered to a table,
vaguely setting objects straight. "A little by the way then too,
while she's about it, she's making ours." At this he raised his
eyes, which met her own, and she held him while she delivered
herself of some thing that had been with her these last minutes.

"You spoke just now of Charlotte's not having learned from you
that I 'know.' Am I to take from you then that you accept and
recognise my knowledge?"

He did the inquiry all the honours--visibly weighed its
importance and weighed his response. "You think I might have been
showing you that a little more handsomely?"

"It isn't a question of any beauty," said Maggie; "it's only a
question of the quantity of truth."

"Oh, the quantity of truth!" the Prince richly, though
ambiguously, murmured.

"That's a thing by itself, yes. But there are also such things,
all the same, as questions of good faith."

"Of course there are!" the Prince hastened to reply. After which
he brought up more slowly: "If ever a man, since the beginning of
time, acted in good faith!" But he dropped it, offering it simply
for that.

For that then, when it had had time somewhat to settle, like some
handful of gold-dust thrown into the air--for that then Maggie
showed herself, as deeply and strangely taking it. "I see." And
she even wished this form to be as complete as she could make it.
"I see."

The completeness, clearly, after an instant, had struck him as
divine. "Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear--!" It was all he could
say.

She wasn't talking, however, at large. "You've kept up for so
long a silence--!"

"Yes, yes, I know what I've kept up. But will you do," he asked,
"still one thing more for me?"

It was as if, for an instant, with her new exposure, it had made
her turn pale. "Is there even one thing left?"

"Ah, my dear, my dear, my dear!"--it had pressed again in him the
fine spring of the unspeakable. There was nothing, however, that
the Princess herself couldn't say. "I'll do anything, if you'll
tell me what."

"Then wait." And his raised Italian hand, with its play of
admonitory fingers, had never made gesture more expressive. His
voice itself dropped to a tone--! "Wait," he repeated. "Wait."

She understood, but it was as if she wished to have it from him.
"Till they've been here, you mean?"

"Yes, till they've gone. Till they're away."

She kept it up. "Till they've left the country?" She had her eyes
on him for clearness; these were the conditions of a promise--so
that he put the promise, practically, into his response. "Till
we've ceased to see them--for as long as God may grant! Till
we're really alone."

"Oh, if it's only that--!" When she had drawn from him thus then,
as she could feel, the thick breath of the definite--which was
the intimate, the immediate, the familiar, as she hadn't had them
for so long--she turned away again, she put her hand on the knob
of the door. But her hand rested at first without a grasp; she
had another effort to make, the effort of leaving him, of which
everything that had just passed between them, his presence,
irresistible, overcharged with it, doubled the difficulty. There
was something--she couldn't have told what; it was as if, shut in
together, they had come too far--too far for where they were; so
that the mere act of her quitting him was like the attempt to
recover the lost and gone. She had taken in with her something
that, within the ten minutes, and especially within the last
three or four, had slipped away from her--which it was vain now,
wasn't it? to try to appear to clutch or to pick up. That
consciousness in fact had a pang, and she balanced, intensely,
for the lingering moment, almost with a terror of her endless
power of surrender. He had only to press, really, for her to
yield inch by inch, and she fairly knew at present, while she
looked at him through her cloud, that the confession of this
precious secret sat there for him to pluck. The sensation, for
the few seconds, was extraordinary; her weakness, her desire, so
long as she was yet not saving herself, flowered in her face like
a light or a darkness. She sought for some word that would cover
this up; she reverted to the question of tea, speaking as if they
shouldn't meet sooner. "Then about five. I count on you."

On him too, however, something had descended; as to which this
exactly gave him his chance. "Ah, but I shall see you--! No?" he
said, coming nearer.

She had, with her hand still on the knob, her back against the
door, so that her retreat, under his approach must be less than a
step, and yet she couldn't for her life, with the other hand,
have pushed him away. He was so near now that she could touch
him, taste him, smell him, kiss him, hold him; he almost pressed
upon her, and the warmth of his face--frowning, smiling, she
mightn't know which; only beautiful and strange--was bent upon
her with the largeness with which objects loom in dreams. She
closed her eyes to it, and so, the next instant, against her
purpose, she had put out her hand, which had met his own and
which he held. Then it was that, from behind her closed eyes, the
right word came. "Wait!" It was the word of his own distress and
entreaty, the word for both of them, all they had left, their
plank now on the great sea. Their hands were locked, and thus she
said it again. "Wait. Wait." She kept her eyes shut, but her
hand, she knew, helped her meaning--which after a minute she was
aware his own had absorbed. He let her go--he turned away with
this message, and when she saw him again his back was presented,
as he had left her, and his face staring out of the window. She
had saved herself and she got off.

Henry James

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