The Golden Bowl Chapter 4

To talk of it thus appeared at last a positive relief to him. ‘Yes, there’ll be others. But you’ll see me through.’

She hesitated. ‘Do you mean if you give in?’

‘Oh no. Through my holding out.’

Maggie waited again, but when she spoke it had an effect of abruptness. ‘Why should you hold out for ever?’

He gave, none the less, no start – and this as from the habit of taking anything, taking everything, from her as harmonious. But it was quite written upon him too, for that matter, that holding out wouldn’t be so very completely his natural or at any rate his acquired form. His appearance would have testified that he might have to do so a long time – for a man so greatly beset. This appearance, that is, spoke but little, as yet, of short remainders and simplified senses – and all in spite of his being a small spare slightly stale person, deprived of the general prerogative of presence. It wasn’t by mass or weight or vulgar immediate quantity that he would in the future, any more than he had done in the past, insist or resist or prevail. There was even something in him that made his position, on any occasion, made his relation to any scene or to any group, a matter of the back of the stage, of an almost visibly conscious want of affinity with the footlights. He would have figured less than anything the stage-manager or the author of the play, who most occupy the foreground; he might be at the best the financial ‘backer’, watching his interests from the wing, but in rather confessed ignorance of the mysteries of mimicry. Barely taller than his daughter, he pressed at no point on the presumed propriety of his greater stoutness. He had lost early in life much of his crisp closely-curling hair, the fineness of which was repeated in a small neat beard, too compact to be called ‘full’, though worn equally, as for a mark where other marks were wanting, on lip and cheek and chin. His neat colourless face, provided with the merely indispensable features, suggested immediately, for a description, that it was clear, and in this manner somewhat resembled a small decent room, clean-swept and unencumbered with furniture, but drawing a particular advantage, as might presently be noted, from the outlook of a pair of ample and uncurtained windows. There was something in Adam Verver’s eyes that both admitted the morning and the evening in unusual quantities and gave the modest area the outward extension of a view that was ‘big’ even when restricted to the stars. Deeply and changeably blue, though not romantically large, they were yet youthfully, almost strangely beautiful, with their ambiguity of your scarce knowing if they most carried their possessor’s vision out or most opened themselves to your own. Whatever you might feel, they stamped the place with their importance, as the house-agents say; so that on one side or the other you were never out of their range, were moving about, for possible community, opportunity, the sight of you scarce knew what, either before them or behind them. If other importances, not to extend the question, kept themselves down, they were in no direction less obtruded than in that of our friend’s dress, adopted once for all as with a sort of sumptuary scruple. He wore every day of the year, whatever the occasion, the same little black ‘cutaway’ coat, of the fashion of his younger time; he wore the same cool-looking trousers, chequered in black and white – the proper harmony with which, he inveterately considered, was a white-dotted blue satin necktie; and, over his concave little stomach, quaintly indifferent to climates and seasons, a white duck waistcoat. ‘Should you really,’ he now asked, ‘like me to marry?’ He spoke as if, coming from his daughter herself, it might be an idea; which for that matter he would be ready to carry right straight out should she definitely say so.

Definite, however, just yet, she was not prepared to be, though it seemed to come to her with force, as she thought, that there was a truth in the connexion to utter. ‘What I feel is that there’s somehow something that used to be right and that I’ve made wrong. It used to be right that you hadn’t married and that you didn’t seem to want to. It used also’ – she continued to make out – ‘to seem easy for the question not to come up. That’s what I’ve made different. It does come up. It will come up.’

‘You don’t think I can keep it down?’ Mr Verver’s tone was cheerfully pensive.

‘Well, I’ve given you by my move all the trouble of having to.’

He liked the tenderness of her idea, and it made him, as she sat near him, pass his arm about her. ‘I guess I don’t feel as if you had “moved” very far. You’ve only moved next door.’

‘Well,’ she continued, ‘I don’t feel as if it were fair for me just to have given you a push and left you so. If I’ve made the difference for you I must think of the difference.’

‘Then what, darling,’ he indulgently asked, ‘do you think?’

‘That’s just what I don’t yet know. But I must find out. We must think together – as we’ve always thought. What I mean,’ she went on after a moment, ‘is that it strikes me I ought to at least offer you some alternative. I ought to have worked one out for you.’

‘An alternative to what?’

‘Well, to your simply missing what you’ve lost – without anything being done about it.’

‘But what have I lost?’

She thought a minute, as if it were difficult to say, yet as if she more and more saw it. ‘Well, whatever it was that before kept us from thinking, and kept you, really, as you might say, in the market. It was as if you couldn’t be in the market when you were married to me. Or rather as if I kept people off, innocently, by being married to you. Now that I’m married to some one else you’re, as in consequence, married to nobody. Therefore you may be married to anybody, to everybody. People don’t see why you shouldn’t be married to them.’

‘Isn’t it enough of a reason,’ he mildly enquired, ‘that I don’t want to be?’

‘It’s enough of a reason, yes. But to be enough of a reason it has to be too much of a trouble. I mean for you. It has to be too much of a fight. You ask me what you’ve lost,’ Maggie continued to explain. ‘The not having to take the trouble and to make the fight – that’s what you’ve lost. The advantage, the happiness of being just as you were – because I was just as I was – that’s what you miss.’

‘So that you think,’ her father presently said, ‘that I had better get married just in order to be as I was before?’

The detached tone of it – detached as if innocently to amuse her by showing his desire to accommodate – was so far successful as to draw from her gravity a short light laugh. ‘Well, what I don’t want you to feel is that if you were to I shouldn’t understand. I should understand. That’s all,’ said the Princess gently.

Her companion turned it pleasantly over. ‘You don’t go so far as to wish me to take somebody I don’t like?’

‘Ah father,’ she sighed, ‘you know how far I go – how far I could go. But I only wish that if you ever should like anybody you may never doubt of my feeling how I’ve brought you to it. You’ll always know that I know it’s my fault.’

‘You mean,’ he went on in his contemplative way, ‘that it will be you who’ll take the consequences?’

Maggie just considered. ‘I’ll leave you all the good ones, but I’ll take the bad.’

‘Well, that’s handsome.’ He emphasised his sense of it by drawing her closer and holding her more tenderly. ‘It’s about all I could expect of you. So far as you’ve wronged me therefore we’ll call it square. I’ll let you know in time if I see a prospect of your having to take it up. But am I to understand meanwhile,’ he soon went on, ‘that, ready as you are to see me through my collapse, you’re not ready, or not so ready, to see me through my resistance? I’ve got to be a regular martyr before you’ll be inspired?’

She demurred at his way of putting it. ‘Why if you like it, you know, it won’t be a collapse.’

‘Then why talk about seeing me through at all? I shall only collapse if I do like it. But what I seem to feel is that I don’t want to like it. That is,’ he amended, ‘unless I feel surer I do than appears very probable. I don’t want to have to think I like it in a case when I really shan’t. I’ve had to do that in some cases,’ he confessed – ‘when it has been a question of other things. I don’t want,’ he wound up, ‘to be made to make a mistake.’

‘Ah but it’s too dreadful,’ she returned, ‘that you should even have to fear – or just nervously to dream – that you may be. What does that show, after all,’ she asked, ‘but that you do really, well within, feel a want? What does it show but that you’re truly susceptible?’

‘Well, it may show that’ – he defended himself against nothing. ‘But it shows also, I think, that charming women are, in the kind of life we’re leading now, numerous and formidable.’

Maggie entertained for a moment the proposition; under cover of which, however, she passed quickly from the general to the particular. ‘Do you feel Mrs Rance to be charming?’

‘Well, I feel her to be formidable. When they cast a spell it comes to the same thing. I think she’d do anything.’

‘Oh well, I’d help you,’ the Princess said with decision, ‘as against her – if that’s all you require. It’s too funny,’ she went on before he again spoke, ‘that Mrs Rance should be here at all. But if you talk of the life we lead much of it’s altogether, I’m bound to say, too funny. The thing is,’ Maggie developed under this impression, ‘that I don’t think we lead, as regards other people, any life at all. We don’t at any rate, it seems to me, lead half the life we might. And so it seems, I think, to Amerigo. So it seems also, I’m sure, to Fanny Assingham.’

Mr Verver – as if from due regard for these persons – considered a little. ‘What life would they like us to lead?’

‘Oh it’s not a question, I think, on which they quite feel together. She thinks, dear Fanny, that we ought to be greater.’

‘Greater –?’ He echoed it vaguely. ‘And Amerigo too, you say?’

‘Ah yes’ – her reply was prompt – ‘but Amerigo doesn’t mind. He doesn’t care, I mean, what we do. It’s for us, he considers, to see things exactly as we wish. Fanny herself,’ Maggie pursued, ‘thinks he’s magnificent. Magnificent, I mean, for taking everything as it is, for accepting the “social limitations” of our life, for not missing what we don’t give him.’

Mr Verver attended. ‘Then if he doesn’t miss it his magnificence is easy.’

‘It is easy – that’s exactly what I think. If there were things he did miss, and if in spite of them he were always sweet, then, no doubt, he would be a more or less unappreciated hero. He could be a hero – he will be one if it’s ever necessary. But it will be about something better than our dreariness. I know,’ the Princess declared, ‘where he’s magnificent.’ And she rested a minute on that. She ended, however, as she had begun. ‘We’re not, all the same, committed to anything stupid. If we ought to be grander, as Fanny thinks, we can be grander. There’s nothing to prevent.’

‘Is it a strict moral obligation?’ Adam Verver enquired.

‘No – it’s for the amusement.’

‘For whose? For Fanny’s own?’

‘For everyone’s – though I dare say Fanny’s would be a large part.’ She paused; she had now, it might have appeared, something more to bring out, which she finally produced. ‘For yours in particular, say – if you go into the question.’ She even bravely followed it up. ‘I haven’t really, after all, had to think much to see that much more can be done for you than is done.’

Mr Verver uttered an odd vague sound. ‘Don’t you think a good deal’s done when you come out and talk to me this way?’

‘Ah,’ said his daughter, smiling at him, ‘we make too much of that!’ And then to explain: ‘That’s good, and it’s natural – but it isn’t great. We forget that we’re as free as air.’

‘Well, that’s great,’ Mr Verver pleaded.

‘Great if we act on it. Not if we don’t.’

She continued to smile, and he took her smile; wondering again a little by this time, however; struck more and more by an intensity in it that belied a light tone. ‘What do you want,’ he demanded, ‘to do to me?’ And he added, as she didn’t say, ‘You’ve got something in your mind.’ It had come to him within the minute that from the beginning of their session there she had been keeping something back, and that an impression of this had more than once, in spite of his general theoretic respect for her present right to personal reserves and mysteries, almost ceased to be vague in him. There had been from the first something in her anxious eyes, in the way she occasionally lost herself, that it would pefectly explain. He was therefore now quite sure. ‘You’ve got something up your sleeve.’

She had a silence that made him right. ‘Well, when I tell you you’ll understand. It’s only up my sleeve in the sense of being in a letter I got this morning. All day, yes – it has been in my mind. I’ve been asking myself if it were quite the right moment, or in any way fair, to ask you if you could stand just now another woman.’

It relieved him a little, yet the beautiful consideration of her manner made it in a degree portentous. ‘ “Stand” one –?’

‘Well, mind her coming.’

He stared – then he laughed. ‘It depends on who she is.’

‘There – you see! I’ve at all events been thinking whether you’d take this particular person but as a worry the more. Whether, that is, you’d go so far with her in your notion of having to be kind.’

He gave at this the quickest shake to his foot. ‘How far would she go in her notion of it?’

‘Well,’ his daughter returned, ‘you know how far, in a general way, Charlotte Stant goes.’

‘Charlotte? Is she coming?’

‘She writes me, practically, that she’d like to if we’re so good as to ask her.’

Mr Verver continued to gaze, but rather as if waiting for more. Then as everything appeared to have come his expression had a drop. If this was all it was simple. ‘Then why in the world not?’

Maggie’s face lighted anew, but it was now another light. ‘It isn’t a want of tact?’

‘To ask her?’

‘To propose it to you.’

‘That I should ask her?’

He put the question as an effect of his remnant of vagueness, but this had also its own effect. Maggie wondered an instant; after which, as with a flush of recognition, she took it up. ‘It would be too beautiful if you would!’

This, clearly, had not been her first idea – the chance of his words had prompted it. ‘Do you mean write to her myself?’

‘Yes – it would be kind. It would be quite beautiful of you. That is of course,’ said Maggie, ‘if you sincerely can.’

He appeared to wonder an instant why he sincerely shouldn’t, and indeed, for that matter, where the question of sincerity came in. This virtue between him and his daughter’s friend had surely been taken for granted. ‘My dear child,’ he returned, ‘I don’t think I’m afraid of Charlotte.’

‘Well, that’s just what it’s lovely to have from you. From the moment you’re not – the least little bit – I’ll immediately invite her.’

‘But where in the world is she?’ He spoke as if he hadn’t thought of Charlotte, nor so much as heard her name pronounced, for a very long time. He quite in fact amicably, almost amusedly, woke up to her.

‘She’s in Brittany, at a little bathing-place, with some people I don’t know. She’s always with people, poor dear – she rather has to be; even when, as is sometimes the case, they’re people she doesn’t immensely like.’

‘Well, I guess she likes us,’ said Adam Verver.

‘Yes – fortunately she likes us. And if I wasn’t afraid of spoiling it for you,’ Maggie added, ‘I’d even mention that you’re not the one of our number she likes least.’

‘Why should that spoil it for me?’

‘Oh my dear, you know. What else have we been talking about? It costs you so much to be liked. That’s why I hesitated to tell you of my letter.’

He stared a moment – as if the subject had suddenly grown out of recognition. ‘But Charlotte – on other visits – never used to cost me anything.’

‘No – only her “keep”,’ Maggie smiled.

‘Then I don’t think I mind her keep – if that’s all.’

The Princess, however, it was clear, wished to be thoroughly conscientious. ‘Well, it may not be quite all. If I think of its being pleasant to have her, it’s because she will make a difference.’

‘Well, what’s the harm in that if it’s but a difference for the better?’

‘Ah then – there you are!’ And the Princess showed in her smile her small triumphant wisdom. ‘If you acknowledge a possible difference for the better we’re not, after all, so tremendously right as we are. I mean we’re not – as a family – so intensely satisfied and amused. We do see there are ways of being grander.’

‘But will Charlotte Stant,’ her father asked with surprise, ‘make us grander?’

Maggie, on this, looking at him well, had a remarkable reply. ‘Yes, I think. Really grander.’

He thought; for if here was a sudden opening he wished but the more to meet it. ‘Because she’s so handsome?’

‘No, father.’ And the Princess was almost solemn. ‘Because she’s so great.’

‘ “Great” –?’

‘Great in nature, in character, in spirit. Great in life.’

‘So?’ Mr Verver echoed. ‘What has she done – in life?’

‘Well, she has been brave and bright,’ said Maggie. ‘That mayn’t sound like much, but she has been so in the face of things that might well have made it too difficult for many other girls. She hasn’t a creature in the world really – that is nearly – belonging to her. Only acquaintances who, in all sorts of ways, make use of her, and distant relations who are so afraid she’ll make use of them that they seldom let her look at them.’

Mr Verver was struck – and, as usual, to some purpose. ‘If we get her here to improve us don’t we too then make use of her?’

It pulled the Princess up, however, but an instant. ‘We’re old, old friends – we do her good too. I should always, even at the worst – speaking for myself – admire her still more than I used her.’

‘I see. That always does good.’

Maggie seemed to consider his way of putting it. ‘Certainly then – she knows it. She knows, I mean, how great I think her courage and her cleverness. She’s not afraid – not of anything; and yet she no more ever takes a liberty with you than if she trembled for her life. And then she’s interesting – which plenty of other people with plenty of other merits never are a bit.’ In which fine flicker of vision the truth widened to the Princess’s view. ‘I myself of course don’t take liberties, but then I do always by nature tremble for my life. That’s the way I live.’

‘Oh I say, love!’ her father vaguely murmured.

‘Yes, I live in terror,’ she insisted. ‘I’m a small creeping thing.’

‘You’ll not persuade me that you’re not so good as Charlotte Stant,’ he still placidly enough remarked.

‘I may be as good, but I’m not so great – and that’s what we’re talking about. She has a great imagination. She has, in every way, a great attitude. She has above all a great conscience.’ More perhaps than ever in her life before Maggie addressed her father at this moment with a shade of the absolute in her tone. She had never come so near telling him what he should take it from her to believe. ‘She has only twopence in the world – but that has nothing to do with it. Or rather indeed’ – she quickly corrected herself – ‘it has everything. For she doesn’t care. I never saw her do anything but laugh at her poverty. Her life has been harder than any one knows.’

It was moreover as if, thus unprecedentedly positive, his child had an effect upon him that Mr Verver really felt as a new thing. ‘Why then haven’t you told me about her before?’

‘Well, haven’t we always known –?’

‘I should have thought,’ he submitted, ‘that we had already pretty well sized her up.’

‘Certainly – we long ago quite took her for granted. But things change with time, and I seem to know that after this interval I’m going to like her better than ever. I’ve lived more myself, I’m older, and one judges better. Yes, I’m going to see in Charlotte,’ said the Princess – and speaking now as with high and free expectation – ‘more than I’ve ever seen.’

‘Then I’ll try to do so too. She was’ – it came back to Mr Verver more – ‘the one of your friends I thought the best for you.’

His companion, however, was so launched in her permitted liberty of appreciation that she for the moment scarce heard him. She was lost in the case she made out, the vision of the different ways in which Charlotte had distinguished herself. ‘She’d have liked for instance – I’m sure she’d have liked extremely – to marry; and nothing in general is more ridiculous, even when it has been pathetic, than a woman who has tried and hasn’t been able.’

It had all Mr Verver’s attention. ‘She has “tried” –?’

‘She has seen cases where she would have liked to.’

‘But she hasn’t been able?’

‘Well, there are more cases, in Europe, in which it doesn’t come to girls who are poor than in which it does come to them. Especially,’ said Maggie with her continued competence, ‘when they’re Americans.’

Well, her father now met her, and met her cheerfully, on all sides. ‘Unless you mean,’ he suggested, ‘that when the girls are American there are more cases in which it comes to the rich than to the poor.’

She looked at him good-humouredly. ‘That may be – but I’m not going to be smothered in my case. It ought to make me – if I were in danger of being a fool – all the nicer to people like Charlotte. It’s not hard for me,’ she shrewdly explained, ‘not to be ridiculous – unless in a very different way. I might easily be ridiculous, I suppose, by behaving as if I thought I had done a great thing. Charlotte at any rate has done nothing, and any one can see it, and see also that it’s rather strange; and yet no one – no one not awfully presumptuous or offensive – would like, or would dare, to treat her, just as she is, as anything but quite right. That’s what it is to have something about you that carries things off.’

Mr Verver’s silence on this could only be a sign that she had caused her story to interest him; though the sign when he spoke was perhaps even sharper. ‘And is it also what you mean by Charlotte’s being “great”?’

‘Well,’ said Maggie, ‘it’s one of her ways. But she has many.’

Again for a little her father considered. ‘And who is it she has tried to marry?’

Maggie, on her side as well, waited as if to bring it out with effect; but she after a minute either renounced or encountered an obstacle. ‘I’m afraid I’m not sure.’

‘Then how do you know?’

‘Well, I don’t know’ – and, qualifying again, she was earnestly emphatic. ‘I only make it out for myself.’

‘But you must make it out about some one in particular.’

She had another pause. ‘I don’t think I want even for myself to put names and times, to pull away any veil. I’ve an idea there has been, more than once, somebody I’m not acquainted with – and needn’t be or want to be. In any case it’s all over, and, beyond giving her credit for everything, it’s none of my business.’

Mr Verver deferred, yet he discriminated. ‘I don’t see how you can give credit without knowing the facts.’

‘Can’t I give it – generally – for dignity? Dignity, I mean, in misfortune.’

‘You’ve got to postulate the misfortune first.’

‘Well,’ said Maggie, ‘I can do that. Isn’t it always a misfortune to be – when you’re so fine – so wasted? And yet,’ she went on, ‘not to wail about it, not to look even as if you knew it?’

Mr Verver seemed at first to face this as a large question, and then, after a little, solicited by another view, to let the appeal drop. ‘Well, she mustn’t be wasted. We won’t at least have waste.’

It produced in Maggie’s face another gratitude. ‘Then, dear sir, that’s all I want.’

And it would apparently have settled their question and ended their talk if her father hadn’t, after a little, shown the disposition to revert. ‘How many times are you supposing she has tried?’

Once more, at this, and as if she hadn’t been, couldn’t be, hated to be, in such delicate matters, literal, she was moved to attenuate. ‘Oh I don’t say she absolutely ever tried –!’

He looked perplexed. ‘But if she has so absolutely failed, what then has she done?’

‘She has suffered – she has done that.’ And the Princess added: ‘She has loved – and she has lost.’

Mr Verver, however, still wondered. ‘But how many times?’

Maggie hesitated, but it cleared up. ‘Once is enough. Enough, that is, for one to be kind to her.’

Her father listened, yet not challenging – only as with a need of some basis on which, under these new lights, his bounty could be firm. ‘But has she told you nothing?’

‘Ah thank goodness, no!’

He stared. ‘Then don’t young women tell?’

‘Because, you mean, it’s just what they’re supposed to do?’ She looked at him, flushed again now; with which, after another hesitation, ‘Do young men tell?’ she asked.

He gave a short laugh. ‘How do I know, my dear, what young men do?’

‘Then how do I know, father, what vulgar girls do?’

‘I see – I see,’ he quickly returned.

But she spoke the next moment as if she might, odiously, have been sharp. ‘What happens at least is that where there’s a great deal of pride there’s a great deal of silence. I don’t know, I admit, what I should do if I were lonely and sore – for what sorrow, to speak of, have I ever had in my life? I don’t know even if I’m proud – it seems to me the question has never come up for me.’

‘Oh I guess you’re proud, Mag,’ her father cheerfully interposed. ‘I mean I guess you’re proud enough.’

‘Well then I hope I’m humble enough too. I might at all events, for all I know, be abject under a blow. How can I tell? Do you realise, father, that I’ve never had the least blow?’

He gave her a long quiet look. ‘Who should realise if I don’t?’

‘Well, you’ll realise when I have one!’ she exclaimed with a short laugh that resembled, as for good reasons, his own of a minute before. ‘I wouldn’t in any case have let her tell me what would have been dreadful to me. For such wounds and shames are dreadful: at least,’ she added, catching herself up, ‘I suppose they are; for what, as I say, do I know of them? I don’t want to know!’ – she spoke quite with vehemence. ‘There are things that are sacred – whether they’re joys or pains. But one can always, for safety, be kind,’ she kept on; ‘one feels when that’s right.’

She had got up with these last words; she stood there before him with that particular suggestion in her aspect to which even the long habit of their life together hadn’t closed his sense, kept sharp, year after year, by the collation of types and signs, the comparison of fine object with fine object, of one degree of finish, of one form of the exquisite with another – the appearance of some slight slim draped ‘antique’ of Vatican or Capitoline1 halls, late and refined, rare as a note and immortal as a link, set in motion by the miraculous infusion of a modern impulse and yet, for all the sudden freedom of folds and footsteps forsaken after centuries by their pedestal, keeping still the quality, the perfect felicity, of the statue; the blurred absent eyes, the smoothed elegant nameless head, the impersonal flit of a creature lost in an alien age and passing as an image in worn relief round and round a precious vase. She had always had odd moments of striking him, daughter of his very own though she was, as a figure thus simplified, ‘generalised’ in its grace, a figure with which his human connexion was fairly interrupted by some vague analogy of turn and attitude, something shyly mythological and nymph-like. The trick, he wasn’t uncomplacently aware, was mainly of his own mind; it came from his caring for precious vases only less than for precious daughters. And what was more to the point still, it often operated while he was quite at the same time conscious that Maggie had been described, even in her prettiness, as ‘prim’ – Mrs Rance herself had enthusiastically used the word for her; while he remembered that when once she had been told before him familiarly that she resembled a nun she had replied that she was delighted to hear it and would certainly try to; while also, finally, it was present to him that, discreetly heedless, through her long association with nobleness in art, to the leaps and bounds of fashion, she brought her hair down very straight and flat over her temples, in the constant manner of her mother, who hadn’t been a bit mythological. Nymphs and nuns were certainly separate types, but Mr Verver, when he really amused himself, let consistency go. The play of vision was at all events so rooted in him that he could receive impressions of sense even while positively thinking. He was positively thinking while Maggie stood there, and it led for him to yet another question – which in its turn led to others still. ‘Do you regard the condition as hers then that you spoke of a minute ago?’

‘The condition –?’

‘Why that of having loved so intensely that she’s, as you say, “beyond everything”?’

Maggie had scarcely to reflect – her answer was so prompt. ‘Oh no. She’s beyond nothing. For she has had nothing.’

‘I see. You must have had things to be beyond them. It’s a kind of law of perspective.’

Maggie didn’t know about the law, but continued definite. ‘She’s not, for example, beyond help.’

‘Oh well then she shall have all we can give her. I’ll write to her,’ he said, ‘with pleasure.’

‘Angel!’ she answered as she gaily and tenderly looked at him.

True as this might be, however, there was one thing more – he was an angel with a human curiosity. ‘Has she told you she likes me much?’

‘Certainly she has told me – but I won’t pamper you. Let it be enough for you it has always been one of my reasons for liking her.’

‘Then she’s indeed not beyond everything,’ Mr Verver more or less humorously observed.

‘Oh it isn’t, thank goodness, that she’s in love with you. It’s not, as I told you at first, the sort of thing for you to fear.’

He had spoken with cheer, but it appeared to drop before this reassurance, as if the latter overdid his alarm, and that should be corrected. ‘Oh my dear, I’ve always thought of her as a little girl.’

‘Ah she’s not a little girl,’ said the Princess.

‘Then I’ll write to her as a brilliant woman.’

‘It’s exactly what she is.’

Mr Verver had got up as he spoke, and for a little, before retracing their steps, they stood looking at each other as if they had really arranged something. They had come out together for themselves, but it had produced something more. What it had produced was in fact expressed by the words with which he met his companion’s last emphasis. ‘Well, she has a famous friend in you, Princess.’

Maggie took this in – it was too plain for a protest. ‘Do you know what I’m really thinking of?’ she asked.

He wondered, with her eyes on him – eyes of contentment at her freedom now to talk; and he wasn’t such a fool, he presently showed, as not, suddenly, to arrive at it. ‘Why of your finding her at last yourself a husband.’

‘Good for you!’ Maggie smiled. ‘But it will take,’ she added, ‘some looking.’

‘Then let me look right here with you,’ her father said as they walked on.