Her father had asked her, three days later, in an interval of calm, how she was affected, in the light of their reappearance and of their now perhaps richer fruition, by Dotty and Kitty, and by the once formidable Mrs. Rance; and the consequence of this inquiry had been, for the pair, just such another stroll together, away from the rest of the party and off into the park, as had asserted its need to them on the occasion of the previous visit of these anciently more agitating friends — that of their long talk, on a sequestered bench beneath one of the great trees, when the particular question had come up for them the then purblind discussion of which, at their enjoyed leisure, Maggie had formed the habit of regarding as the “first beginning” of their present situation. The whirligig of time had thus brought round for them again, on their finding themselves face to face while the others were gathering for tea on the terrace, the same odd impulse quietly to “slope”— so Adam Verver himself, as they went, familiarly expressed it — that had acted, in its way, of old; acted for the distant autumn afternoon and for the sharpness of their since so outlived crisis. It might have been funny to them now that the presence of Mrs. Rance and the Lutches — and with symptoms, too, at that time less developed — had once, for their anxiety and their prudence, constituted a crisis; it might have been funny that these ladies could ever have figured, to their imagination, as a symbol of dangers vivid enough to precipitate the need of a remedy. This amount of entertainment and assistance they were indeed disposed to extract from their actual impressions; they had been finding it, for months past, by Maggie’s view, a resource and a relief to talk, with an approach to intensity, when they met, of all the people they weren’t really thinking of and didn’t really care about, the people with whom their existence had begun almost to swarm; and they closed in at present round the spectres of their past, as they permitted themselves to describe the three ladies, with a better imitation of enjoying their theme than they had been able to achieve, certainly, during the stay, for instance, of the Castledeans. The Castledeans were a new joke, comparatively, and they had had — always to Maggie’s view — to teach themselves the way of it; whereas the Detroit, the Providence party, rebounding so from Providence, from Detroit, was an old and ample one, of which the most could be made and as to which a humorous insistence could be guarded.
Sharp and sudden, moreover, this afternoon, had been their well-nigh confessed desire just to rest together, a little, as from some strain long felt but never named; to rest, as who should say, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, each pair of eyes so yearningly — and indeed what could it be but so wearily? — closed as to render the collapse safe from detection by the other pair. It was positively as if, in short, the inward felicity of their being once more, perhaps only for half-an-hour, simply daughter and father had glimmered out for them, and they had picked up the pretext that would make it easiest. They were husband and wife — oh, so immensely! — as regards other persons; but after they had dropped again on their old bench, conscious that the party on the terrace, augmented, as in the past, by neighbours, would do beautifully without them, it was wonderfully like their having got together into some boat and paddled off from the shore where husbands and wives, luxuriant complications, made the air too tropical. In the boat they were father and daughter, and poor Dotty and Kitty supplied abundantly, for their situation, the oars or the sail. Why, into the bargain, for that matter — this came to Maggie — couldn’t they always live, so far as they lived together, in a boat? She felt in her face, with the question, the breath of a possibility that soothed her; they needed only KNOW each other, henceforth, in the unmarried relation. That other sweet evening, in the same place, he had been as unmarried as possible — which had kept down, so to speak, the quantity of change in their state. Well then, that other sweet evening was what the present sweet evening would resemble; with the quite calculable effect of an exquisite inward refreshment. They HAD, after all, whatever happened, always and ever each other; each other — that was the hidden treasure and the saving truth — to do exactly what they would with: a provision full of possibilities. Who could tell, as yet, what, thanks to it, they wouldn’t have done before the end?
They had meanwhile been tracing together, in the golden air that, toward six o’clock of a July afternoon, hung about the massed Kentish woods, several features of the social evolution of her old playmates, still beckoned on, it would seem, by unattainable ideals, still falling back, beyond the sea, to their native seats, for renewals of the moral, financial, conversational — one scarce knew what to call it — outfit, and again and for ever reappearing like a tribe of Wandering Jewesses. Our couple had finally exhausted, however, the study of these annals, and Maggie was to take up, after a drop, a different matter, or one at least with which the immediate connection was not at first apparent. “Were you amused at me just now — when I wondered what other people could wish to struggle for? Did you think me,” she asked with some earnestness —“well, fatuous?”
“‘Fatuous’?”— he seemed at a loss.
“I mean sublime in OUR happiness — as if looking down from a height. Or, rather, sublime in our general position — that’s what I mean.” She spoke as from the habit of her anxious conscience something that disposed her frequently to assure herself, for her human commerce, of the state of the “books” of the spirit. “Because I don’t at all want,” she explained, “to be blinded, or made ‘sniffy,’ by any sense of a social situation.” Her father listened to this declaration as if the precautions of her general mercy could still, as they betrayed themselves, have surprises for him — to say nothing of a charm of delicacy and beauty; he might have been wishing to see how far she could go and where she would, all touchingly to him, arrive. But she waited a little — as if made nervous, precisely, by feeling him depend too much on what she said. They were avoiding the serious, standing off, anxiously, from the real, and they fell, again and again, as if to disguise their precaution itself, into the tone of the time that came back to them from their other talk, when they had shared together this same refuge. “Don’t you remember,” she went on, “how, when they were here before, I broke it to you that I wasn’t so very sure we, ourselves had the thing itself?”
He did his best to do so. “Had, you mean a social situation?”
“Yes — after Fanny Assingham had first broken it to me that, at the rate we were going, we should never have one.”
“Which was what put us on Charlotte?” Oh yes, they had had it over quite often enough for him easily to remember.
Maggie had another pause — taking it from him that he now could both affirm and admit without wincing that they had been, at their critical moment, “put on” Charlotte. It was as if this recognition had been threshed out between them as fundamental to the honest view of their success. “Well,” she continued, “I recall how I felt, about Kitty and Dotty, that even if we had already then been more ‘placed,’ or whatever you may call what we are now, it still wouldn’t have been an excuse for wondering why others couldn’t obligingly leave me more exalted by having, themselves, smaller ideas. For those,” she said, “were the feelings we used to have.”
“Oh yes,” he responded philosophically —“I remember the feelings we used to have.”
Maggie appeared to wish to plead for them a little, in tender retrospect — as if they had been also respectable. “It was bad enough, I thought, to have no sympathy in your heart when you HAD a position. But it was worse to be sublime about it — as I was so afraid, as I’m in fact still afraid of being — when it wasn’t even there to support one.” And she put forth again the earnestness she might have been taking herself as having outlived; became for it — which was doubtless too often even now her danger — almost sententious. “One must always, whether or no, have some imagination of the states of others — of what they may feel deprived of. However,” she added, “Kitty and Dotty couldn’t imagine we were deprived of anything. And now, and now —!” But she stopped as for indulgence to their wonder and envy.
“And now they see, still more, that we can have got everything, and kept everything, and yet not be proud.”
“No, we’re not proud,” she answered after a moment. “I’m not sure that we’re quite proud enough.” Yet she changed the next instant that subject too. She could only do so, however, by harking back — as if it had been a fascination. She might have been wishing, under this renewed, this still more suggestive visitation, to keep him with her for remounting the stream of time and dipping again, for the softness of the water, into the contracted basin of the past. “We talked about it — we talked about it; you don’t remember so well as I. You too didn’t know — and it was beautiful of you; like Kitty and Dotty you too thought we had a position, and were surprised when I thought we ought to have told them we weren’t doing for them what they supposed. In fact,” Maggie pursued, “we’re not doing it now. We’re not, you see, really introducing them. I mean not to the people they want.”
“Then what do you call the people with whom they’re now having tea?”
It made her quite spring round. “That’s just what you asked me the other time — one of the days there was somebody. And I told you I didn’t call anybody anything.”
“I remember — that such people, the people we made so welcome, didn’t ‘count’; that Fanny Assingham knew they didn’t.” She had awakened, his daughter, the echo; and on the bench there, as before, he nodded his head amusedly, he kept nervously shaking his foot. “Yes, they were only good enough — the people who came — for US. I remember,” he said again: “that was the way it all happened.”
“That was the way — that was the way. And you asked me,” Maggie added, “if I didn’t think we ought to tell them. Tell Mrs. Rance, in particular, I mean, that we had been entertaining her up to then under false pretences.”
“Precisely — but you said she wouldn’t have understood.”
“To which you replied that in that case you were like her. YOU didn’t understand.”
“No, no — but I remember how, about our having, in our benighted innocence, no position, you quite crushed me with your explanation.”
“Well then,” said Maggie with every appearance of delight, “I’ll crush you again. I told you that you by yourself had one — there was no doubt of that. You were different from me — you had the same one you always had.”
“And THEN I asked you,” her father concurred, “why in that case you hadn’t the same.”
“Then indeed you did.” He had brought her face round to him before, and this held it, covering him with its kindled brightness, the result of the attested truth of their being able thus, in talk, to live again together. “What I replied was that I had lost my position by my marriage. THAT one — I know how I saw it — would never come back. I had done something TO it — I didn’t quite know what; given it away, somehow, and yet not, as then appeared, really got my return. I had been assured — always by dear Fanny — that I COULD get it, only I must wake up. So I was trying, you see, to wake up — trying very hard.”
“Yes — and to a certain extent you succeeded; as also in waking me. But you made much,” he said, “of your difficulty.” To which he added: “It’s the only case I remember, Mag, of you ever making ANYTHING of a difficulty.”
She kept her eyes on him a moment. “That I was so happy as I was?”
“That you were so happy as you were.”
“Well, you admitted”— Maggie kept it up —“that that was a good difficulty. You confessed that our life did seem to be beautiful.”
He thought a moment. “Yes — I may very well have confessed it, for so it did seem to me.” But he guarded himself with his dim, his easier smile. “What do you want to put on me now?”
“Only that we used to wonder — that we were wondering then — if our life wasn’t perhaps a little selfish.” This also for a time, much at his leisure, Adam Verver retrospectively fixed. “Because Fanny Assingham thought so?”
“Oh no; she never thought, she couldn’t think, if she would, anything of that sort. She only thinks people are sometimes fools,” Maggie developed; “she doesn’t seem to think so much about their being wrong — wrong, that is, in the sense of being wicked. She doesn’t,” the Princess further adventured, “quite so much mind their being wicked.”
“I see — I see.” And yet it might have been for his daughter that he didn’t so very vividly see. “Then she only thought US fools?”
“Oh no — I don’t say that. I’m speaking of our being selfish.”
“And that comes under the head of the wickedness Fanny condones?”
“Oh, I don’t say she CONDONES—!” A scruple in Maggie raised its crest. “Besides, I’m speaking of what was.”
Her father showed, however, after a little, that he had not been reached by this discrimination; his thoughts were resting for the moment where they had settled. “Look here, Mag,” he said reflectively —“I ain’t selfish. I’ll be blowed if I’m selfish.”
Well, Maggie, if he WOULD talk of that, could also pronounce. “Then, father, I am.”
“Oh shucks!” said Adam Verver, to whom the vernacular, in moments of deepest sincerity, could thus come back. “I’ll believe it,” he presently added, “when Amerigo complains of you.”
“Ah, it’s just he who’s my selfishness. I’m selfish, so to speak, FOR him. I mean,” she continued, “that he’s my motive — in everything.”
Well, her father could, from experience, fancy what she meant. “But hasn’t a girl a right to be selfish about her husband?”
“What I DON’T mean,” she observed without answering, “is that I’m jealous of him. But that’s his merit — it’s not mine.”
Her father again seemed amused at her. “You COULD be-otherwise?”
“Oh, how can I talk,” she asked, “of otherwise? It ISN’T, luckily for me, otherwise. If everything were different”— she further presented her thought —“of course everything WOULD be.” And then again, as if that were but half: “My idea is this, that when you only love a little you’re naturally not jealous — or are only jealous also a little, so that it doesn’t matter. But when you love in a deeper and intenser way, then you are, in the same proportion, jealous; your jealousy has intensity and, no doubt, ferocity. When, however, you love in the most abysmal and unutterable way of all — why then you’re beyond everything, and nothing can pull you down.”
Mr. Verver listened as if he had nothing, on these high lines, to oppose. “And that’s the way YOU love?”
For a minute she failed to speak, but at last she answered: “It wasn’t to talk about that. I do FEEL, however, beyond everything — and as a consequence of that, I dare say,” she added with a turn to gaiety, “seem often not to know quite WHERE I am.”
The mere fine pulse of passion in it, the suggestion as of a creature consciously floating and shining in a warm summer sea, some element of dazzling sapphire and silver, a creature cradled upon depths, buoyant among dangers, in which fear or folly, or sinking otherwise than in play, was impossible — something of all this might have been making once more present to him, with his discreet, his half shy assent to it, her probable enjoyment of a rapture that he, in his day, had presumably convinced no great number of persons either of his giving or of his receiving. He sat awhile as if he knew himself hushed, almost admonished, and not for the first time; yet it was an effect that might have brought before him rather what she had gained than what he had missed.
Besides, who but himself really knew what he, after all, hadn’t, or even had, gained? The beauty of her condition was keeping him, at any rate, as he might feel, in sight of the sea, where, though his personal dips were over, the whole thing could shine at him, and the air and the plash and the play become for him too a sensation. That couldn’t be fixed upon him as missing; since if it wasn’t personally floating, if it wasn’t even sitting in the sand, it could yet pass very well for breathing the bliss, in a communicated irresistible way — for tasting the balm. It could pass, further, for knowing — for knowing that without him nothing might have been: which would have been missing least of all.
“I guess I’ve never been jealous,” he finally remarked. And it said more to her, he had occasion next to perceive, than he was intending; for it made her, as by the pressure of a spring, give him a look that seemed to tell of things she couldn’t speak.
But she at last tried for one of them. “Oh, it’s you, father, who are what I call beyond everything. Nothing can pull YOU down.”
He returned the look as with the sociability of their easy communion, though inevitably throwing in this time a shade of solemnity. He might have been seeing things to say, and others, whether of a type presumptuous or not, doubtless better kept back. So he settled on the merely obvious. “Well then, we make a pair. We’re all right.”
“Oh, we’re all right!” A declaration launched not only with all her discriminating emphasis, but confirmed by her rising with decision and standing there as if the object of their small excursion required accordingly no further pursuit. At this juncture, however — with the act of their crossing the bar, to get, as might be, into port — there occurred the only approach to a betrayal of their having had to beat against the wind. Her father kept his place, and it was as if she had got over first and were pausing for her consort to follow. If they were all right; they were all right; yet he seemed to hesitate and wait for some word beyond. His eyes met her own, suggestively, and it was only after she had contented herself with simply smiling at him, smiling ever so fixedly, that he spoke, for the remaining importance of it, from the bench; where he leaned back, raising his face to her, his legs thrust out a trifle wearily and his hands grasping either side of the seat. They had beaten against the wind, and she was still fresh; they had beaten against the wind, and he, as at the best the more battered vessel, perhaps just vaguely drooped. But the effect of their silence was that she appeared to beckon him on, and he might have been fairly alongside of her when, at the end of another minute, he found their word. “The only thing is that, as for ever putting up again with your pretending that you’re selfish —!”
At this she helped him out with it. “You won’t take it from me?”
“I won’t take it from you.”
“Well, of course you won’t, for that’s your way. It doesn’t matter, and it only proves —! But it doesn’t matter, either, what it proves. I’m at this very moment,” she declared, “frozen stiff with selfishness.”
He faced her awhile longer in the same way; it was, strangely, as if, by this sudden arrest, by their having, in their acceptance of the unsaid, or at least their reference to it, practically given up pretending — it was as if they were “in” for it, for something they had been ineffably avoiding, but the dread of which was itself, in a manner, a seduction, just as any confession of the dread was by so much an allusion. Then she seemed to see him let himself go. “When a person’s of the nature you speak of there are always other persons to suffer. But you’ve just been describing to me what you’d take, if you had once a good chance, from your husband.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about my husband!”
“Then whom, ARE you talking about?”
Both the retort and the rejoinder had come quicker than anything previously exchanged, and they were followed, on Maggie’s part, by a momentary drop. But she was not to fall away, and while her companion kept his eyes on her, while she wondered if he weren’t expecting her to name his wife then, with high hypocrisy, as paying for his daughter’s bliss, she produced something that she felt to be much better. “I’m talking about YOU.”
“Do you mean I’ve been your victim?”
“Of course you’ve been my victim. What have you done, ever done, that hasn’t been FOR me?”
“Many things; more than I can tell you — things you’ve only to think of for yourself. What do you make of all that I’ve done for myself?”
“‘Yourself’? —” She brightened out with derision.
“What do you make of what I’ve done for American City?”
It took her but a moment to say. “I’m not talking of you as a public character — I’m talking of you on your personal side.”
“Well, American City — if ‘personalities’ can do it — has given me a pretty personal side. What do you make,” he went on, “of what I’ve done for my reputation?”
“Your reputation THERE? You’ve given it up to them, the awful people, for less than nothing; you’ve given it up to them to tear to pieces, to make their horrible vulgar jokes against you with.”
“Ah, my dear, I don’t care for their horrible vulgar jokes,” Adam Verver almost artlessly urged.
“Then there, exactly, you are!” she triumphed. “Everything that touches you, everything that surrounds you, goes on — by your splendid indifference and your incredible permission — at your expense.”
Just as he had been sitting he looked at her an instant longer; then he slowly rose, while his hands stole into his pockets, and stood there before her. “Of course, my dear, YOU go on at my expense: it has never been my idea,” he smiled, “that you should work for your living. I wouldn’t have liked to see it.” With which, for a little again, they remained face to face. “Say therefore I HAVE had the feelings of a father. How have they made me a victim?”
“Because I sacrifice you.”
“But to what in the world?”
At this it hung before her that she should have had as never yet her opportunity to say, and it held her for a minute as in a vise, her impression of his now, with his strained smile, which touched her to deepest depths, sounding her in his secret unrest. This was the moment, in the whole process of their mutual vigilance, in which it decidedly most hung by a hair that their thin wall might be pierced by the lightest wrong touch. It shook between them, this transparency, with their very breath; it was an exquisite tissue, but stretched on a frame, and would give way the next instant if either so much as breathed too hard. She held her breath, for she knew by his eyes, the light at the heart of which he couldn’t blind, that he was, by his intention, making sure — sure whether or no her certainty was like his. The intensity of his dependence on it at that moment — this itself was what absolutely convinced her so that, as if perched up before him on her vertiginous point and in the very glare of his observation, she balanced for thirty seconds, she almost rocked: she might have been for the time, in all her conscious person, the very form of the equilibrium they were, in their different ways, equally trying to save. And they were saving it — yes, they were, or at least she was: that was still the workable issue, she could say, as she felt her dizziness drop. She held herself hard; the thing was to be done, once for all, by her acting, now, where she stood. So much was crowded into so short a space that she knew already she was keeping her head. She had kept it by the warning of his eyes; she shouldn’t lose it again; she knew how and why, and if she had turned cold this was precisely what helped her. He had said to himself “She’ll break down and name Amerigo; she’ll say it’s to him she’s sacrificing me; and its by what that will give me — with so many other things too — that my suspicion will be clinched.” He was watching her lips, spying for the symptoms of the sound; whereby these symptoms had only to fail and he would have got nothing that she didn’t measure out to him as she gave it. She had presently in fact so recovered herself that she seemed to know she could more easily have made him name his wife than he have made her name her husband. It was there before her that if she should so much as force him just NOT consciously to avoid saying “Charlotte, Charlotte” he would have given himself away. But to be sure of this was enough for her, and she saw more clearly with each lapsing instant what they were both doing. He was doing what he had steadily been coming to; he was practically OFFERING himself, pressing himself upon her, as a sacrifice — he had read his way so into her best possibility; and where had she already, for weeks and days past, planted her feet if not on her acceptance of the offer? Cold indeed, colder and colder she turned, as she felt herself suffer this close personal vision of his attitude still not to make her weaken. That was her very certitude, the intensity of his pressure; for if something dreadful hadn’t happened there wouldn’t, for either of them, be these dreadful things to do. She had meanwhile, as well, the immense advantage that she could have named Charlotte without exposing herself — as, for that matter, she was the next minute showing him.
“Why, I sacrifice you, simply, to everything and to every one. I take the consequences of your marriage as perfectly natural.”
He threw back his head a little, settling with one hand his eyeglass. “What do you call, my dear, the consequences?”
“Your life as your marriage has made it.”
“Well, hasn’t it made it exactly what we wanted?” She just hesitated, then felt herself steady — oh, beyond what she had dreamed. “Exactly what I wanted — yes.”
His eyes, through his straightened glasses, were still on hers, and he might, with his intenser fixed smile, have been knowing she was, for herself, rightly inspired. “What do you make then of what I wanted?”
“I don’t make anything, any more than of what you’ve got. That’s exactly the point. I don’t put myself out to do so — I never have; I take from you all I can get, all you’ve provided for me, and I leave you to make of your own side of the matter what you can. There you are — the rest is your own affair. I don’t even pretend to concern myself —!”
“To concern yourself —?” He watched her as she faintly faltered, looking about her now so as not to keep always meeting his face.
“With what may have REALLY become of you. It’s as if we had agreed from the first not to go into that — such an arrangement being of course charming for ME. You can’t say, you know, that I haven’t stuck to it.”
He didn’t say so then — even with the opportunity given him of her stopping once more to catch her breath. He said instead: “Oh, my dear — oh, oh!”
But it made no difference, know as she might what a past — still so recent and yet so distant — it alluded to; she repeated her denial, warning him off, on her side, from spoiling the truth of her contention. “I never went into anything, and you see I don’t; I’ve continued to adore you — but what’s that, from a decent daughter to such a father? what but a question of convenient arrangement, our having two houses, three houses, instead of one (you would have arranged for fifty if I had wished!) and my making it easy for you to see the child? You don’t claim, I suppose, that my natural course, once you had set up for yourself, would have been to ship you back to American City?”
These were direct inquiries, they quite rang out, in the soft, wooded air; so that Adam Verver, for a minute, appeared to meet them with reflection. She saw reflection, however, quickly enough show him what to do with them. “Do you know, Mag, what you make me wish when you talk that way?” And he waited again, while she further got from him the sense of something that had been behind, deeply in the shade, coming cautiously to the front and just feeling its way before presenting itself. “You regularly make me wish that I had shipped back to American City. When you go on as you do —” But he really had to hold himself to say it.
“Well, when I go on —?”
“Why, you make me quite want to ship back myself. You make me quite feel as if American City would be the best place for us.”
It made her all too finely vibrate. “For ‘us’—?”
“For me and Charlotte. Do you know that if we should ship, it would serve you quite right?” With which he smiled — oh he smiled! “And if you say much more we WILL ship.”
Ah, then it was that the cup of her conviction, full to the brim, overflowed at a touch! THERE was his idea, the clearness of which for an instant almost dazzled her. It was a blur of light, in the midst of which she saw Charlotte like some object marked, by contrast, in blackness, saw her waver in the field of vision, saw her removed, transported, doomed. And he had named Charlotte, named her again, and she had MADE him — which was all she had needed more: it was as if she had held a blank letter to the fire and the writing had come out still larger than she hoped. The recognition of it took her some seconds, but she might when she spoke have been folding up these precious lines and restoring them to her pocket. “Well, I shall be as much as ever then the cause of what you do. I haven’t the least doubt of your being up to that if you should think I might get anything out of it; even the little pleasure,” she laughed, “of having said, as you call it, ‘more.’ Let my enjoyment of this therefore, at any price, continue to represent for you what I call sacrificing you.”
She had drawn a long breath; she had made him do it ALL for her, and had lighted the way to it without his naming her husband. That silence had been as distinct as the sharp, the inevitable sound, and something now, in him, followed it up, a sudden air as of confessing at last fully to where she was and of begging the particular question. “Don’t you think then I can take care of myself?”
“Ah, it’s exactly what I’ve gone upon. If it wasn’t for that —!”
But she broke off, and they remained only another moment face to face. “I’ll let you know, my dear, the day I feel you’ve begun to sacrifice me.”
“‘Begun’?” she extravagantly echoed.
“Well, it will be, for me, the day you’ve ceased to believe in me.”
With which, his glasses still fixed on her, his hands in his pockets, his hat pushed back, his legs a little apart, he seemed to plant or to square himself for a kind of assurance it had occurred to him he might as well treat her to, in default of other things, before they changed their subject. It had the effect, for her, of a reminder — a reminder of all he was, of all he had done, of all, above and beyond his being her perfect little father, she might take him as representing, take him as having, quite eminently, in the eyes of two hemispheres, been capable of, and as therefore wishing, not — was it? — illegitimately, to call her attention to. The “successful,” beneficent person, the beautiful, bountiful, original, dauntlessly wilful great citizen, the consummate collector and infallible high authority he had been and still was — these things struck her, on the spot, as making up for him, in a wonderful way, a character she must take into account in dealing with him either for pity or for envy. He positively, under the impression, seemed to loom larger than life for her, so that she saw him during these moments in a light of recognition which had had its brightness for her at many an hour of the past, but which had never been so intense and so almost admonitory. His very quietness was part of it now, as always part of everything, of his success, his originality, his modesty, his exquisite public perversity, his inscrutable, incalculable energy; and this quality perhaps it might be-all the more too as the result, for the present occasion, of an admirable, traceable effort — that placed him in her eyes as no precious a work of art probably had ever been placed in his own. There was a long moment, absolutely, during which her impression rose and rose, even as that of the typical charmed gazer, in the still museum, before the named and dated object, the pride of the catalogue, that time has polished and consecrated. Extraordinary, in particular, was the number of the different ways in which he thus affected her as showing. He was strong — that was the great thing. He was sure — sure for himself, always, whatever his idea: the expression of that in him had somehow never appeared more identical with his proved taste for the rare and the true. But what stood out beyond everything was that he was always, marvellously, young — which couldn’t but crown, at this juncture, his whole appeal to her imagination. Before she knew it she was lifted aloft by the consciousness that he was simply a great and deep and high little man, and that to love him with tenderness was not to be distinguished, a whit, from loving him with pride. It came to her, all strangely, as a sudden, an immense relief. The sense that he wasn’t a failure, and could never be, purged their predicament of every meanness — made it as if they had really emerged, in their transmuted union, to smile almost without pain. It was like a new confidence, and after another instant she knew even still better why. Wasn’t it because now, also, on his side, he was thinking of her as his daughter, was TRYING her, during these mute seconds, as the child of his blood? Oh then, if she wasn’t with her little conscious passion, the child of any weakness, what was she but strong enough too? It swelled in her, fairly; it raised her higher, higher: she wasn’t in that case a failure either — hadn’t been, but the contrary; his strength was her strength, her pride was his, and they were decent and competent together. This was all in the answer she finally made him.
“I believe in you more than any one.”
“Than any one at all?”
She hesitated, for all it might mean; but there was — oh a thousand times! — no doubt of it. “Than any one at all.” She kept nothing of it back now, met his eyes over it, let him have the whole of it; after which she went on: “And that’s the way, I think, you believe in me.”
He looked at her a minute longer, but his tone at last was right. “About the way — yes.”
“Well then —?” She spoke as for the end and for other matters — for anything, everything, else there might be. They would never return to it.
“Well then —!” His hands came out, and while her own took them he drew her to his breast and held her. He held her hard and kept her long, and she let herself go; but it was an embrace that, august and almost stern, produced, for all its intimacy, no revulsion and broke into no inconsequence of tears.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10