The Golden Bowl, by Henry James

XIII

He had talked to her of their waiting in Paris, a week later, but on the spot there this period of patience suffered no great strain. He had written to his daughter, not indeed from Brighton, but directly after their return to Fawns, where they spent only forty-eight hours before resuming their journey; and Maggie’s reply to his news was a telegram from Rome, delivered to him at noon of their fourth day and which he brought out to Charlotte, who was seated at that moment in the court of the hotel, where they had agreed that he should join her for their proceeding together to the noontide meal. His letter, at Fawns — a letter of several pages and intended lucidly, unreservedly, in fact all but triumphantly, to inform — had proved, on his sitting down to it, and a little to his surprise, not quite so simple a document to frame as even his due consciousness of its weight of meaning had allowed him to assume: this doubtless, however, only for reasons naturally latent in the very wealth of that consciousness, which contributed to his message something of their own quality of impatience. The main result of their talk, for the time, had been a difference in his relation to his young friend, as well as a difference, equally sensible, in her relation to himself; and this in spite of his not having again renewed his undertaking to “speak” to her so far even as to tell her of the communication despatched to Rome. Delicacy, a delicacy more beautiful still, all the delicacy she should want, reigned between them — it being rudimentary, in their actual order, that she mustn’t be further worried until Maggie should have put her at her ease.

It was just the delicacy, however, that in Paris — which, suggestively, was Brighton at a hundredfold higher pitch — made, between him and his companion, the tension, made the suspense, made what he would have consented perhaps to call the provisional peculiarity, of present conditions. These elements acted in a manner of their own, imposing and involving, under one head, many abstentions and precautions, twenty anxieties and reminders — things, verily, he would scarce have known how to express; and yet creating for them at every step an acceptance of their reality. He was hanging back, with Charlotte, till another person should intervene for their assistance, and yet they had, by what had already occurred, been carried on to something it was out of the power of other persons to make either less or greater. Common conventions — that was what was odd — had to be on this basis more thought of; those common conventions that, previous to the passage by the Brighton strand, he had so enjoyed the sense of their overlooking. The explanation would have been, he supposed — or would have figured it with less of unrest — that Paris had, in its way, deeper voices and warnings, so that if you went at all “far” there it laid bristling traps, as they might have been viewed, all smothered in flowers, for your going further still. There were strange appearances in the air, and before you knew it you might be unmistakably matching them. Since he wished therefore to match no appearance but that of a gentleman playing with perfect fairness any game in life he might be called to, he found himself, on the receipt of Maggie’s missive, rejoicing with a certain inconsistency. The announcement made her from home had, in the act, cost some biting of his pen to sundry parts of him — his personal modesty, his imagination of her prepared state for so quick a jump, it didn’t much matter which — and yet he was more eager than not for the drop of delay and for the quicker transitions promised by the arrival of the imminent pair. There was after all a hint of offence to a man of his age in being taken, as they said at the shops, on approval. Maggie, certainly, would have been as far as Charlotte herself from positively desiring this, and Charlotte, on her side, as far as Maggie from holding him light as a real value. She made him fidget thus, poor girl, but from generous rigour of conscience.

These allowances of his spirit were, all the same, consistent with a great gladness at the sight of the term of his ordeal; for it was the end of his seeming to agree that questions and doubts had a place. The more he had inwardly turned the matter over the more it had struck him that they had in truth only an ugliness. What he could have best borne, as he now believed, would have been Charlotte’s simply saying to him that she didn’t like him enough. This he wouldn’t have enjoyed, but he would quite have understood it and been able ruefully to submit. She did like him enough — nothing to contradict that had come out for him; so that he was restless for her as well as for himself. She looked at him hard a moment when he handed her his telegram, and the look, for what he fancied a dim, shy fear in it, gave him perhaps his best moment of conviction that — as a man, so to speak — he properly pleased her. He said nothing — the words sufficiently did it for him, doing it again better still as Charlotte, who had left her chair at his approach, murmured them out. “We start to-night to bring you all our love and joy and sympathy.” There they were, the words, and what did she want more? She didn’t, however, as she gave him back the little unfolded leaf, say they were enough — though he saw, the next moment, that her silence was probably not disconnected from her having just visibly turned pale. Her extraordinarily fine eyes, as it was his present theory that he had always thought them, shone at him the more darkly out of this change of colour; and she had again, with it, her apparent way of subjecting herself, for explicit honesty and through her willingness to face him, to any view he might take, all at his ease, and even to wantonness, of the condition he produced in her. As soon as he perceived that emotion kept her soundless he knew himself deeply touched, since it proved that, little as she professed, she had been beautifully hoping. They stood there a minute while he took in from this sign that, yes then, certainly she liked him enough — liked him enough to make him, old as he was ready to brand himself, flush for the pleasure of it. The pleasure of it accordingly made him speak first. “Do you begin, a little, to be satisfied?”

Still, however, she had to think. “We’ve hurried them, you see. Why so breathless a start?”

“Because they want to congratulate us. They want,” said Adam Verver, “to SEE our happiness.”

She wondered again — and this time also, for him, as publicly as possible. “So much as that?”

“Do you think it’s too much?”

She continued to think plainly. “They weren’t to have started for another week.”

“Well, what then? Isn’t our situation worth the little sacrifice? We’ll go back to Rome as soon as you like WITH them.”

This seemed to hold her — as he had previously seen her held, just a trifle inscrutably, by his allusions to what they would do together on a certain contingency. “Worth it, the little sacrifice, for whom? For us, naturally — yes,” she said. “We want to see them — for our reasons. That is,” she rather dimly smiled, “YOU do.”

“And you do, my dear, too!” he bravely declared. “Yes then — I do too,” she after an instant ungrudging enough acknowledged. “For us, however, something depends on it.”

“Rather! But does nothing depend on it for them?”

“What CAN— from the moment that, as appears, they don’t want to nip us in the bud? I can imagine their rushing up to prevent us. But an enthusiasm for us that can wait so very little — such intense eagerness, I confess,” she went on, “more than a little puzzles me. You may think me,” she also added, “ungracious and suspicious, but the Prince can’t at all want to come back so soon. He wanted quite too intensely to get away.”

Mr. Verver considered. “Well, hasn’t he been away?”

“Yes, just long enough to see how he likes it. Besides,” said Charlotte, “he may not be able to join in the rosy view of our case that you impute to her. It can’t in the least have appeared to him hitherto a matter of course that you should give his wife a bouncing stepmother.”

Adam Verver, at this, looked grave. “I’m afraid then he’ll just have to accept from us whatever his wife accepts; and accept it — if he can imagine no better reason — just because she does. That,” he declared, “will have to do for him.”

His tone made her for a moment meet his face; after which, “Let me,” she abruptly said, “see it again”— taking from him the folded leaf that she had given back and he had kept in his hand. “Isn’t the whole thing,” she asked when she had read it over, “perhaps but a way like another for their gaining time?”

He again stood staring; but the next minute, with that upward spring of his shoulders and that downward pressure of his pockets which she had already, more than once, at disconcerted moments, determined in him, he turned sharply away and wandered from her in silence. He looked about in his small despair; he crossed the hotel court, which, overarched and glazed, muffled against loud sounds and guarded against crude sights, heated, gilded, draped, almost carpeted, with exotic trees in tubs, exotic ladies in chairs, the general exotic accent and presence suspended, as with wings folded or feebly fluttering, in the superior, the supreme, the inexorably enveloping Parisian medium, resembled some critical apartment of large capacity, some “dental,” medical, surgical waiting-room, a scene of mixed anxiety and desire, preparatory, for gathered barbarians, to the due amputation or extraction of excrescences and redundancies of barbarism. He went as far as the porte-cochere, took counsel afresh of his usual optimism, sharpened even, somehow, just here, by the very air he tasted, and then came back smiling to Charlotte. “It is incredible to you that when a man is still as much in love as Amerigo his most natural impulse should be to feel what his wife feels, to believe what she believes, to want what she wants? — in the absence, that is, of special impediments to his so doing.” The manner of it operated — she acknowledged with no great delay this natural possibility. “No — nothing is incredible to me of people immensely in love.”

“Well, isn’t Amerigo immensely in love?”

She hesitated but as for the right expression of her sense of the degree — but she after all adopted Mr. Verver’s. “Immensely.”

“Then there you are!”

She had another smile, however — she wasn’t there quite yet. “That isn’t all that’s wanted.”

“But what more?”

“Why that his wife shall have made him really believe that SHE really believes.” With which Charlotte became still more lucidly logical. “The reality of his belief will depend in such a case on the reality of hers. The Prince may for instance now,” she went on, “have made out to his satisfaction that Maggie may mainly desire to abound in your sense, whatever it is you do. He may remember that he has never seen her do anything else.”

“Well,” said Adam Verver, “what kind of a warning will he have found in that? To what catastrophe will he have observed such a disposition in her to lead?”

“Just to THIS one!” With which she struck him as rising straighter and clearer before him than she had done even yet.

“Our little question itself?” Her appearance had in fact, at the moment, such an effect on him that he could answer but in marvelling mildness. “Hadn’t we better wait a while till we call it a catastrophe?”

Her rejoinder to this was to wait — though by no means as long as he meant. When at the end of her minute she spoke, however, it was mildly too. “What would you like, dear friend, to wait for?” It lingered between them in the air, this demand, and they exchanged for the time a look which might have made each of them seem to have been watching in the other the signs of its overt irony. These were indeed immediately so visible in Mr. Verver’s face that, as if a little ashamed of having so markedly produced them — and as if also to bring out at last, under pressure, something she had all the while been keeping back — she took a jump to pure plain reason. “You haven’t noticed for yourself, but I can’t quite help noticing, that in spite of what you assume — WE assume, if you like — Maggie wires her joy only to you. She makes no sign of its overflow to me.”

It was a point — and, staring a moment, he took account of it. But he had, as before, his presence of mind — to say nothing of his kindly humour. “Why, you complain of the very thing that’s most charmingly conclusive! She treats us already as ONE.”

Clearly now, for the girl, in spite of lucidity and logic, there was something in the way he said things —! She faced him in all her desire to please him, and then her word quite simply and definitely showed it. “I do like you, you know.”

Well, what could this do but stimulate his humour? “I see what’s the matter with you. You won’t be quiet till you’ve heard from the Prince himself. I think,” the happy man added, “that I’ll go and secretly wire to him that you’d like, reply paid, a few words for yourself.”

It could apparently but encourage her further to smile. “Reply paid for him, you mean — or for me?”

“Oh, I’ll pay, with pleasure, anything back for you — as many words as you like.” And he went on, to keep it up. “Not requiring either to see your message.”

She could take it, visibly, as he meant it. “Should you require to see the Prince’s?”

“Not a bit. You can keep that also to yourself.”

On his speaking, however, as if his transmitting the hint were a real question, she appeared to consider — and almost as if for good taste — that the joke had gone far enough. “It doesn’t matter. Unless he speaks of his own movement —! And why should it be,” she asked, “a thing that WOULD occur to him?”

“I really think,” Mr. Verver concurred, “that it naturally wouldn’t. HE doesn’t know you’re morbid.”

She just wondered — but she agreed. “No — he hasn’t yet found it out. Perhaps he will, but he hasn’t yet; and I’m willing to give him meanwhile the benefit of the doubt.” So with this the situation, to her view, would appear to have cleared had she not too quickly had one of her restless relapses. “Maggie, however, does know I’m morbid. SHE hasn’t the benefit.”

“Well,” said Adam Verver a little wearily at last, “I think I feel that you’ll hear from her yet.” It had even fairly come over him, under recurrent suggestion, that his daughter’s omission WAS surprising. And Maggie had never in her life been wrong for more than three minutes.

“Oh, it isn’t that I hold that I’ve a RIGHT to it,” Charlotte the next instant rather oddly qualified — and the observation itself gave him a further push.

“Very well — I shall like it myself.”

At this then, as if moved by his way of constantly — and more or less against his own contention — coming round to her, she showed how she could also always, and not less gently, come half way. “I speak of it only as the missing GRACE— the grace that’s in everything that Maggie does. It isn’t my due”— she kept it up — “but, taking from you that we may still expect it, it will have the touch. It will be beautiful.”

“Then come out to breakfast.” Mr. Verver had looked at his watch. “It will be here when we get back.”

“If it isn’t”— and Charlotte smiled as she looked about for a feather boa that she had laid down on descending from her room — “if it isn’t it will have had but THAT slight fault.”

He saw her boa on the arm of the chair from which she had moved to meet him, and, after he had fetched it, raising it to make its charming softness brush his face — for it was a wondrous product of Paris, purchased under his direct auspices the day before — he held it there a minute before giving it up. “Will you promise me then to be at peace?”

She looked, while she debated, at his admirable present. “I promise you.”

“Quite for ever?”

“Quite for ever.”

“Remember,” he went on, to justify his demand, “remember that in wiring you she’ll naturally speak even more for her husband than she has done in wiring me.”

It was only at a word that Charlotte had a demur. “‘Naturally’—?”

“Why, our marriage puts him for you, you see — or puts you for him — into a new relation, whereas it leaves his relation to me unchanged. It therefore gives him more to say to you about it.”

“About its making me his stepmother-inlaw — or whatever I SHOULD become?” Over which, for a little, she not undivertedly mused. “Yes, there may easily be enough for a gentleman to say to a young woman about that.”

“Well, Amerigo can always be, according to the case, either as funny or as serious as you like; and whichever he may be for you, in sending you a message, he’ll be it ALL.” And then as the girl, with one of her so deeply and oddly, yet so tenderly, critical looks at him, failed to take up the remark, he found himself moved, as by a vague anxiety, to add a question. “Don’t you think he’s charming?”

“Oh, charming,” said Charlotte Stant. “If he weren’t I shouldn’t mind.”

“No more should I!” her friend harmoniously returned.

“Ah, but you DON’T mind. You don’t have to. You don’t have to, I mean, as I have. It’s the last folly ever to care, in an anxious way, the least particle more than one is absolutely forced. If I were you,” she went on —“if I had in my life, for happiness and power and peace, even a small fraction of what you have, it would take a great deal to make me waste my worry. I don’t know,” she said, “what in the world — that didn’t touch my luck — I should trouble my head about.”

“I quite understand you — yet doesn’t it just depend,” Mr. Verver asked, “on what you call one’s luck? It’s exactly my luck that I’m talking about. I shall be as sublime as you like when you’ve made me all right. It’s only when one is right that one really has the things you speak of. It isn’t they,” he explained, “that make one so: it’s the something else I want that makes THEM right. If you’ll give me what I ask, you’ll see.”

She had taken her boa and thrown it over her shoulders, and her eyes, while she still delayed, had turned from him, engaged by another interest, though the court was by this time, the hour of dispersal for luncheon, so forsaken that they would have had it, for free talk, should they have been moved to loudness, quite to themselves. She was ready for their adjournment, but she was also aware of a pedestrian youth, in uniform, a visible emissary of the Postes et Telegraphes, who had approached, from the street, the small stronghold of the concierge and who presented there a missive taken from the little cartridge-box slung over his shoulder. The portress, meeting him on the threshold, met equally, across the court, Charlotte’s marked attention to his visit, so that, within the minute, she had advanced to our friends with her cap-streamers flying and her smile of announcement as ample as her broad white apron. She raised aloft a telegraphic message and, as she delivered it, sociably discriminated. “Cette fois-ci pour madame!”— with which she as genially retreated, leaving Charlotte in possession. Charlotte, taking it, held it at first unopened. Her eyes had come back to her companion, who had immediately and triumphantly greeted it. “Ah, there you are!”

She broke the envelope then in silence, and for a minute, as with the message he himself had put before her, studied its contents without a sign. He watched her without a question, and at last she looked up. “I’ll give you,” she simply said, “what you ask.”

The expression of her face was strange — but since when had a woman’s at moments of supreme surrender not a right to be? He took it in with his own long look and his grateful silence — so that nothing more, for some instants, passed between them. Their understanding sealed itself — he already felt that she had made him right. But he was in presence too of the fact that Maggie had made HER so; and always, therefore, without Maggie, where, in fine, would he be? She united them, brought them together as with the click of a silver spring, and, on the spot, with the vision of it, his eyes filled, Charlotte facing him meanwhile with her expression made still stranger by the blur of his gratitude. Through it all, however, he smiled. “What my child does for me —!”

Through it all as well, that is still through the blur, he saw Charlotte, rather than heard her, reply. She held her paper wide open, but her eyes were all for his. “It isn’t Maggie. It’s the Prince.”

“I SAY!”— he gaily rang out. “Then it’s best of all.”

“It’s enough.”

“Thank you for thinking so!” To which he added “It’s enough for our question, but it isn’t — is it? quite enough for our breakfast? Dejeunons.”

She stood there, however, in spite of this appeal, her document always before them. “Don’t you want to read it?”

He thought. “Not if it satisfies you. I don’t require it.”

But she gave him, as for her conscience, another chance. “You can if you like.”

He hesitated afresh, but as for amiability, not for curiosity. “Is it funny?”

Thus, finally, she again dropped her eyes on it, drawing in her lips a little. “No — I call it grave.”

“Ah, then, I don’t want it.”

“Very grave,” said Charlotte Stant.

“Well, what did I tell you of him?” he asked, rejoicing, as they started: a question for all answer to which, before she took his arm, the girl thrust her paper, crumpled, into the pocket of her coat.

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