The Golden Bowl, by Henry James

XII

It was at Brighton, above all, that this difference came out; it was during the three wonderful days he spent there with Charlotte that he had acquainted himself further — though doubtless not even now quite completely — with the merits of his majestic scheme. And while, moreover, to begin with, he still but held his vision in place, steadying it fairly with his hands, as he had often steadied, for inspection, a precarious old pot or kept a glazed picture in its right relation to the light, the other, the outer presumptions in his favour, those independent of what he might himself contribute and that therefore, till he should “speak,” remained necessarily vague — that quantity, I say, struck him as positively multiplying, as putting on, in the fresh Brighton air and on the sunny Brighton front, a kind of tempting palpability. He liked, in this preliminary stage, to feel that he should be able to “speak” and that he would; the word itself being romantic, pressing for him the spring of association with stories and plays where handsome and ardent young men, in uniforms, tights, cloaks, high-boots, had it, in soliloquies, ever on their lips; and the sense on the first day that he should probably have taken the great step before the second was over conduced already to make him say to his companion that they must spend more than their mere night or two. At his ease on the ground of what was before him he at all events definitely desired to be, and it was strongly his impression that he was proceeding step by step. He was acting — it kept coming back to that — not in the dark, but in the high golden morning; not in precipitation, flurry, fever, dangers these of the path of passion properly so called, but with the deliberation of a plan, a plan that might be a thing of less joy than a passion, but that probably would, in compensation for that loss, be found to have the essential property, to wear even the decent dignity, of reaching further and of providing for more contingencies. The season was, in local parlance, “on,” the elements were assembled; the big windy hotel, the draughty social hall, swarmed with “types,” in Charlotte’s constant phrase, and resounded with a din in which the wild music of gilded and befrogged bands, Croatian, Dalmatian, Carpathian, violently exotic and nostalgic, was distinguished as struggling against the perpetual popping of corks. Much of this would decidedly have disconcerted our friends if it hadn’t all happened, more preponderantly, to give them the brighter surprise. The noble privacy of Fawns had left them — had left Mr. Verver at least — with a little accumulated sum of tolerance to spend on the high pitch and high colour of the public sphere. Fawns, as it had been for him, and as Maggie and Fanny Assingham had both attested, was out of the world, whereas the scene actually about him, with the very sea a mere big booming medium for excursions and aquariums, affected him as so plump in the conscious centre that nothing could have been more complete for representing that pulse of life which they had come to unanimity at home on the subject of their advisedly not hereafter forgetting. The pulse of life was what Charlotte, in her way, at home, had lately reproduced, and there were positively current hours when it might have been open to her companion to feel himself again indebted to her for introductions. He had “brought” her, to put it crudely, but it was almost as if she were herself, in her greater gaiety, her livelier curiosity and intensity, her readier, happier irony, taking him about and showing him the place. No one, really, when he came to think, had ever taken him about before — it had always been he, of old, who took others and who in particular took Maggie. This quickly fell into its relation with him as part of an experience — marking for him, no doubt, what people call, considerately, a time of life; a new and pleasant order, a flattered passive state, that might become — why shouldn’t it? — one of the comforts of the future.

Mr. Gutermann–Seuss proved, on the second day — our friend had waited till then — a remarkably genial, a positively lustrous young man occupying a small neat house in a quarter of the place remote from the front and living, as immediate and striking signs testified, in the bosom of his family. Our visitors found themselves introduced, by the operation of close contiguity, to a numerous group of ladies and gentlemen older and younger, and of children larger and smaller, who mostly affected them as scarce less anointed for hospitality and who produced at first the impression of a birthday party, of some anniversary gregariously and religiously kept, though they subsequently fell into their places as members of one quiet domestic circle, preponderantly and directly indebted for their being, in fact, to Mr. Gutermann–Seuss. To the casual eye a mere smart and shining youth of less than thirty summers, faultlessly appointed in every particular, he yet stood among his progeny — eleven in all, as he confessed without a sigh, eleven little brown clear faces, yet with such impersonal old eyes astride of such impersonal old noses — while he entertained the great American collector whom he had so long hoped he might meet, and whose charming companion, the handsome, frank, familiar young lady, presumably Mrs. Verver, noticed the graduated offspring, noticed the fat, ear-ringed aunts and the glossy, cockneyfied, familiar uncles, inimitable of accent and assumption, and of an attitude of cruder intention than that of the head of the firm; noticed the place in short, noticed the treasure produced, noticed everything, as from the habit of a person finding her account at any time, according to a wisdom well learned of life, in almost any “funny” impression. It really came home to her friend on the spot that this free range of observation in her, picking out the frequent funny with extraordinary promptness, would verily henceforth make a different thing for him of such experiences, of the customary hunt for the possible prize, the inquisitive play of his accepted monomania; which different thing could probably be a lighter and perhaps thereby a somewhat more boisterously refreshing form of sport. Such omens struck him as vivid, in any case, when Mr. Gutermann–Seuss, with a sharpness of discrimination he had at first scarce seemed to promise, invited his eminent couple into another room, before the threshold of which the rest of the tribe, unanimously faltering, dropped out of the scene. The treasure itself here, the objects on behalf of which Mr. Verver’s interest had been booked, established quickly enough their claim to engage the latter’s attention; yet at what point of his past did our friend’s memory, looking back and back, catch him, in any such place, thinking so much less of wares artfully paraded than of some other and quite irrelevant presence? Such places were not strange to him when they took the form of bourgeois back-parlours, a trifle ominously grey and grim from their north light, at watering-places prevailingly homes of humbug, or even when they wore some aspect still less, if not perhaps still more, insidious. He had been everywhere, pried and prowled everywhere, going, on occasion, so far as to risk, he believed, life, health and the very bloom of honour; but where, while precious things, extracted one by one from thrice-locked yet often vulgar drawers and soft satchels of old oriental ilk, were impressively ranged before him, had he, till now, let himself, in consciousness, wander like one of the vague?

He didn’t betray it — ah THAT he knew; but two recognitions took place for him at once, and one of them suffered a little in sweetness by the confusion. Mr. Gutermann–Seuss had truly, for the crisis, the putting down of his cards, a rare manner; he was perfect master of what not to say to such a personage as Mr. Verver while the particular importance that dispenses with chatter was diffused by his movements themselves, his repeated act of passage between a featureless mahogany meuble and a table so virtuously disinterested as to look fairly smug under a cotton cloth of faded maroon and indigo, all redolent of patriarchal teas. The Damascene tiles, successively, and oh so tenderly, unmuffled and revealed, lay there at last in their full harmony and their venerable splendour, but the tribute of appreciation and decision was, while the spectator considered, simplified to a point that but just failed of representing levity on the part of a man who had always acknowledged without shame, in such affairs, the intrinsic charm of what was called discussion. The infinitely ancient, the immemorial amethystine blue of the glaze, scarcely more meant to be breathed upon, it would seem, than the cheek of royalty — this property of the ordered and matched array had inevitably all its determination for him, but his submission was, perhaps for the first time in his life, of the quick mind alone, the process really itself, in its way, as fine as the perfection perceived and admired: every inch of the rest of him being given to the foreknowledge that an hour or two later he should have “spoken.” The burning of his ships therefore waited too near to let him handle his opportunity with his usual firm and sentient fingers — waited somehow in the predominance of Charlotte’s very person, in her being there exactly as she was, capable, as Mr. Gutermann–Seuss himself was capable, of the right felicity of silence, but with an embracing ease, through it all, that made deferred criticism as fragrant as some joy promised a lover by his mistress, or as a big bridal bouquet held patiently behind her. He couldn’t otherwise have explained, surely, why he found himself thinking, to his enjoyment, of so many other matters than the felicity of his acquisition and the figure of his cheque, quite equally high; any more than why, later on, with their return to the room in which they had been received and the renewed encompassment of the tribe, he felt quite merged in the elated circle formed by the girl’s free response to the collective caress of all the shining eyes, and by her genial acceptance of the heavy cake and port wine that, as she was afterwards to note, added to their transaction, for a finish, the touch of some mystic rite of old Jewry.

This characterisation came from her as they walked away — walked together, in the waning afternoon, back to the breezy sea and the bustling front, back to the nimble and the flutter and the shining shops that sharpened the grin of solicitation on the mask of night. They were walking thus, as he felt, nearer and nearer to where he should see his ships burn, and it was meanwhile for him quite as if this red glow would impart, at the harmonious hour, a lurid grandeur to his good faith. It was meanwhile too a sign of the kind of sensibility often playing up in him that — fabulous as this truth may sound — he found a sentimental link, an obligation of delicacy, or perhaps even one of the penalties of its opposite, in his having exposed her to the north light, the quite properly hard business-light, of the room in which they had been alone with the treasure and its master. She had listened to the name of the sum he was capable of looking in the face. Given the relation of intimacy with him she had already, beyond all retractation, accepted, the stir of the air produced at the other place by that high figure struck him as a thing that, from the moment she had exclaimed or protested as little as he himself had apologised, left him but one thing more to do. A man of decent feeling didn’t thrust his money, a huge lump of it, in such a way, under a poor girl’s nose — a girl whose poverty was, after a fashion, the very basis of her enjoyment of his hospitality — without seeing, logically, a responsibility attached. And this was to remain none the less true for the fact that twenty minutes later, after he had applied his torch, applied it with a sign or two of insistence, what might definitely result failed to be immediately clear. He had spoken — spoken as they sat together on the out-of-the-way bench observed during one of their walks and kept for the previous quarter of the present hour well in his memory’s eye; the particular spot to which, between intense pauses and intenser advances, he had all the while consistently led her. Below the great consolidated cliff, well on to where the city of stucco sat most architecturally perched, with the rumbling beach and the rising tide and the freshening stars in front and above, the safe sense of the whole place yet prevailed in lamps and seats and flagged walks, hovering also overhead in the close neighbourhood of a great replete community about to assist anew at the removal of dish-covers.

“We’ve had, as it seems to me, such quite beautiful days together, that I hope it won’t come to you too much as a shock when I ask if you think you could regard me with any satisfaction as a husband.” As if he had known she wouldn’t, she of course couldn’t, at all gracefully, and whether or no, reply with a rush, he had said a little more — quite as he had felt he must in thinking it out in advance. He had put the question on which there was no going back and which represented thereby the sacrifice of his vessels, and what he further said was to stand for the redoubled thrust of flame that would make combustion sure. “This isn’t sudden to me, and I’ve wondered at moments if you haven’t felt me coming to it. I’ve been coming ever since we left Fawns — I really started while we were there.” He spoke slowly, giving her, as he desired, time to think; all the more that it was making her look at him steadily, and making her also, in a remarkable degree, look “well” while she did so — a large and, so far, a happy, consequence. She wasn’t at all events shocked — which he had glanced at but for a handsome humility — and he would give her as many minutes as she liked. “You mustn’t think I’m forgetting that I’m not young.”

“Oh, that isn’t so. It’s I that am old. You ARE young.” This was what she had at first answered — and quite in the tone too of having taken her minutes. It had not been wholly to the point, but it had been kind — which was what he most wanted. And she kept, for her next words, to kindness, kept to her clear, lowered voice and unshrinking face. “To me too it thoroughly seems that these days have been beautiful. I shouldn’t be grateful to them if I couldn’t more or less have imagined their bringing us to this.” She affected him somehow as if she had advanced a step to meet him and yet were at the same time standing still. It only meant, however, doubtless, that she was, gravely and reasonably, thinking — as he exactly desired to make her. If she would but think enough she would probably think to suit him. “It seems to me,” she went on, “that it’s for YOU to be sure.”

“Ah, but I AM sure,” said Adam Verver. “On matters of importance I never speak when I’m not. So if you can yourself FACE such a union you needn’t in the least trouble.”

She had another pause, and she might have been felt as facing it while, through lamplight and dusk, through the breath of the mild, slightly damp southwest, she met his eyes without evasion. Yet she had at the end of another minute debated only to the extent of saying: “I won’t pretend I don’t think it would be good for me to marry. Good for me, I mean,” she pursued, “because I’m so awfully unattached. I should like to be a little less adrift. I should like to have a home. I should like to have an existence. I should like to have a motive for one thing more than another — a motive outside of myself. In fact,” she said, so sincerely that it almost showed pain, yet so lucidly that it almost showed humour, “in fact, you know, I want to BE married. It’s — well, it’s the condition.”

“The condition —?” He was just vague.

“It’s the state, I mean. I don’t like my own. ‘Miss,’ among us all, is too dreadful — except for a shopgirl. I don’t want to be a horrible English old-maid.”

“Oh, you want to be taken care of. Very well then, I’ll do it.”

“I dare say it’s very much that. Only I don’t see why, for what I speak of,” she smiled —“for a mere escape from my state — I need do quite so MUCH.”

“So much as marry me in particular?”

Her smile was as for true directness. “I might get what I want for less.”

“You think it so much for you to do?”

“Yes,” she presently said, “I think it’s a great deal.”

Then it was that, though she was so gentle, so quite perfect with him, and he felt he had come on far — then it was that of a sudden something seemed to fail and he didn’t quite know where they were. There rose for him, with this, the fact, to be sure, of their disparity, deny it as mercifully and perversely as she would. He might have been her father. “Of course, yes — that’s my disadvantage: I’m not the natural, I’m so far from being the ideal match to your youth and your beauty. I’ve the drawback that you’ve seen me always, so inevitably, in such another light.”

But she gave a slow headshake that made contradiction soft — made it almost sad, in fact, as from having to be so complete; and he had already, before she spoke, the dim vision of some objection in her mind beside which the one he had named was light, and which therefore must be strangely deep. “You don’t understand me. It’s of all that it is for YOU to do — it’s of that I’m thinking.”

Oh, with this, for him, the thing was clearer! “Then you needn’t think. I know enough what it is for me to do.”

But she shook her head again. “I doubt if you know. I doubt if you CAN.”

“And why not, please — when I’ve had you so before me? That I’m old has at least THAT fact about it to the good — that I’ve known you long and from far back.”

“Do you think you’ve ‘known’ me?” asked Charlotte Stant. He hesitated — for the tone of it, and her look with it might have made him doubt. Just these things in themselves, however, with all the rest, with his fixed purpose now, his committed deed, the fine pink glow, projected forward, of his ships, behind him, definitely blazing and crackling — this quantity was to push him harder than any word of her own could warn him. All that she was herself, moreover, was so lighted, to its advantage, by the pink glow. He wasn’t rabid, but he wasn’t either, as a man of a proper spirit, to be frightened. “What is that then — if I accept it — but as strong a reason as I can want for just LEARNING to know you?”

She faced him always — kept it up as for honesty, and yet at the same time, in her odd way, as for mercy. “How can you tell whether if you did you would?”

It was ambiguous for an instant, as she showed she felt. “I mean when it’s a question of learning, one learns sometimes too late.”

“I think it’s a question,” he promptly enough made answer, “of liking you the more just for your saying these things. You should make something,” he added, “of my liking you.”

“I make everything. But are you sure of having exhausted all other ways?”

This, of a truth, enlarged his gaze. “But what other ways?”

“Why, you’ve more ways of being kind than anyone I ever knew.”

“Take it then,” he answered, “that I’m simply putting them all together for you.” She looked at him, on this, long again — still as if it shouldn’t be said she hadn’t given him time or had withdrawn from his view, so to speak, a single inch of her surface. This at least she was fully to have exposed. It represented her as oddly conscientious, and he scarce knew in what sense it affected him. On the whole, however, with admiration. “You’re very, very honourable.”

“It’s just what I want to be. I don’t see,” she added, “why you’re not right, I don’t see why you’re not happy, as you are. I can not ask myself, I can not ask YOU,” she went on, “if you’re really as much at liberty as your universal generosity leads you to assume. Oughtn’t we,” she asked, “to think a little of others? Oughtn’t I, at least, in loyalty — at any rate in delicacy — to think of Maggie?” With which, intensely gentle, so as not to appear too much to teach him his duty, she explained. “She’s everything to you — she has always been. Are you so certain that there’s room in your life —?”

“For another daughter? — is that what you mean?” She had not hung upon it long, but he had quickly taken her up.

He had not, however, disconcerted her. “For another young woman — very much of her age, and whose relation to her has always been so different from what our marrying would make it. For another companion,” said Charlotte Stant.

“Can’t a man be, all his life then,” he almost fiercely asked, “anything but a father?” But he went on before she could answer. “You talk about differences, but they’ve been already made — as no one knows better than Maggie. She feels the one she made herself by her own marriage — made, I mean, for me. She constantly thinks of it — it allows her no rest. To put her at peace is therefore,” he explained, “what I’m trying, with you, to do. I can’t do it alone, but I can do it with your help. You can make her,” he said, “positively happy about me.”

“About you?” she thoughtfully echoed. “But what can I make her about herself?”

“Oh, if she’s at ease about me the rest will take care of itself. The case,” he declared, “is in your hands. You’ll effectually put out of her mind that I feel she has abandoned me.”

Interest certainly now was what he had kindled in her face, but it was all the more honourable to her, as he had just called it that she should want to see each of the steps of his conviction. “If you’ve been driven to the ‘likes’ of me, mayn’t it show that you’ve felt truly forsaken?”

“Well, I’m willing to suggest that, if I can show at the same time that I feel consoled.”

“But HAVE you,” she demanded, “really felt so?” He hesitated.

“Consoled?”

“Forsaken.”

“No — I haven’t. But if it’s her idea —!” If it was her idea, in short, that was enough. This enunciation of motive, the next moment, however, sounded to him perhaps slightly thin, so that he gave it another touch. “That is if it’s my idea. I happen, you see, to like my idea.”

“Well, it’s beautiful and wonderful. But isn’t it, possibly,” Charlotte asked, “not quite enough to marry me for?”

“Why so, my dear child? Isn’t a man’s idea usually what he does marry for?”

Charlotte, considering, looked as if this might perhaps be a large question, or at all events something of an extension of one they were immediately concerned with. “Doesn’t that a good deal depend on the sort of thing it may be?” She suggested that, about marriage, ideas, as he called them, might differ; with which, however, giving no more time to it, she sounded another question. “Don’t you appear rather to put it to me that I may accept your offer for Maggie’s sake? Somehow”— she turned it over —“I don’t so clearly SEE her quite so much finding reassurance, or even quite so much needing it.”

“Do you then make nothing at all of her having been so ready to leave us?”

Ah, Charlotte on the contrary made much! “She was ready to leave us because she had to be. From the moment the Prince wanted it she could only go with him.”

“Perfectly — so that, if you see your way, she will be able to ‘go with him’ in future as much as she likes.”

Charlotte appeared to examine for a minute, in Maggie’s interest, this privilege — the result of which was a limited concession. “You’ve certainly worked it out!”

“Of course I’ve worked it out — that’s exactly what I HAVE done. She hadn’t for a long time been so happy about anything as at your being there with me.”

“I was to be with you,” said Charlotte, “for her security.”

“Well,” Adam Verver rang out, “this IS her security. You’ve only, if you can’t see it, to ask her.”

“‘Ask’ her?”— the girl echoed it in wonder. “Certainly — in so many words. Telling her you don’t believe me.”

Still she debated. “Do you mean write it to her?”

“Quite so. Immediately. To-morrow.”

“Oh, I don’t think I can write it,” said Charlotte Stant. “When I write to her”— and she looked amused for so different a shade — “it’s about the Principino’s appetite and Dr. Brady’s visits.”

“Very good then — put it to her face to face. We’ll go straight to Paris to meet them.”

Charlotte, at this, rose with a movement that was like a small cry; but her unspoken sense lost itself while she stood with her eyes on him — he keeping his seat as for the help it gave him, a little, to make his appeal go up. Presently, however, a new sense had come to her, and she covered him, kindly, with the expression of it. “I do think, you know, you must rather ‘like’ me.”

“Thank you,” said Adam Verver. “You WILL put it to her yourself then?”

She had another hesitation. “We go over, you say, to meet them?”

“As soon as we can get back to Fawns. And wait there for them, if necessary, till they come.”

“Wait — a — at Fawns?”

“Wait in Paris. That will be charming in itself.”

“You take me to pleasant places.” She turned it over. “You propose to me beautiful things.”

“It rests but with you to make them beautiful and pleasant. You’ve made Brighton —!”

“Ah!”— she almost tenderly protested. “With what I’m doing now?”

“You’re promising me now what I want. Aren’t you promising me,” he pressed, getting up, “aren’t you promising me to abide by what Maggie says?”

Oh, she wanted to be sure she was. “Do you mean she’ll ASK it of me?”

It gave him indeed, as by communication, a sense of the propriety of being himself certain. Yet what was he but certain? “She’ll speak to you. She’ll speak to you FOR me.”

This at last then seemed to satisfy her. “Very good. May we wait again to talk of it till she has done so?” He showed, with his hands down in his pockets and his shoulders expressively up, a certain disappointment. Soon enough, none the less, his gentleness was all back and his patience once more exemplary. “Of course I give you time. Especially,” he smiled, “as it’s time that I shall be spending with you. Our keeping on together will help you perhaps to see. To see, I mean, how I need you.”

“I already see,” said Charlotte, “how you’ve persuaded yourself you do.” But she had to repeat it. “That isn’t, unfortunately, all.”

“Well then, how you’ll make Maggie right.”

“‘Right’?” She echoed it as if the word went far. And “O— oh!” she still critically murmured as they moved together away.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38