Strether and Waymarsh are in conversation. It appears that Strether has little knowledge of how things are, and so Waymarsh assists his friend in sorting out the information. Chad Newsome is in Cannes, a principal resort town on the Riviera. It is unknown whether Chad is there with a woman, but it seems not impossible. Maria Gostrey has not yet arrived in Paris, and this fact adds to Strether's insecurity. In the meantime, Strether does some investigating on his own. He meets a friend of Chad's, a young man named John Little Bilham. He is a short, small, American young man who is in Paris because he is an artist. While Chad is away, he is having Bilham watch his apartment.
Strether is more impressed with the city of Paris and with Chad's friend Bilham, than Waymarsh is. In fact, Waymarsh suggests that Strether quit the job and avoid getting "spoiled." Strether wants to marry Mrs. Newsome, however, and he does not see this happening if he cannot first get Chad back to the United States. Also, he sees his own financial prospects as better off if Chad is in the family business. Bilham accompanies Strether and Waymarsh to meet Miss Barrace, another friend of Chad. Both Bilham and Barrace testify to how good Paris has been for Chad and how much Chad has changed. Neither sees anything serious or problematic in Chad's present arrangement.
Maria Gostrey arrives in Paris and she settles into her place in Le Quartier Marboeuf, a fashionable modern enclave on the Right Bank of the Seine River. Her apartment is an 'empire of things' that leaves Strether in awe. Strether is concerned that he might have befriended Bilham too quickly and too resolutely. Perhaps, he has lost some leverage in negotiation. Maria Gostrey will see Bilham and judge the scenario for herself. Strether tries to get Maria Gostrey current, but it is clear that he has no facts to announce save that Chad is in Cannes. Maria Gostrey states that Cannes "is best," and that Chad has gone to Cannes alone, to spend time with Society. Gostrey is certain that she is not with him, alluding to the as yet unidentified woman keeping Chad in France.
The next day, Strether, Bilham, and Maria Gostrey meet at the Louvre. Later, Strether and Maria Gostrey invite Bilham to see a play. Maria Gostrey has access to a theatre box at Le ThÃâtre de ComÃdie FranÃ?aise. Bilham neither sends a note nor shows up to the evening performance. Maria Gostrey worries that Paris is spoiling Bilham, and Waymarsh holds a similar opinion. Just as Maria Gostrey touches on the idea that Bilham and Chad are conspiring, Chad enters the theatre box - in Bilham's place, apparently. Strether is shocked by how aged Chad now looks; Strether also admires Chad's grace and smooth entry. Little is said, but Strether cannot pay attention to the play. He thinks about what telegraph to send to Mrs. Newsome: "Awfully old-grey hair." After the play, Strether and Maria Gostrey share an unspoken understanding that Strether must go somewhere to have a talk with Chad immediately.
Strether's romanticism of Paris appears "in the very taste of the soup." The glorification of Paris is part of Strether's disconnect with reality. We learn repeatedly that Strether knows very little and has few strategies worth implementing. The dynamic between Bilham and Chad Newsome suggests that Strether may need even more help than Waymarsh and Gostrey can supply. Bilham is a comical character who plays the foil of Chad Newsome. Bilham occupies Chad's apartment and he is amiable and easygoing. Chad, on the other hand, is grave: Paris has aged him. In narrative terms, Chad's entry into the story comes by means of Bilham's declined invitation: Chad has taken Bilham's place at the theatre, just as Bilham has been occupying Chad's place all along. Strether's blind romanticism interferes with his ability to detect these subtleties.
The older Americans are the new arrivals on the Parisian scene; the younger Americans have been in Paris for the last few years. What might have been a story about travel has become a story complicated by concerns with expatriation and repatriation. Viewing the budding community of bohemian Americans, the older Americans wonder whether 'specimens' like Bilham and Chad can be put to good use at home. This reinforces the idea of 'types' that was initiated in Book First. Waymarsh consistently argues that Strether is "not one of them," i.e. a person like the Newsomes. Their values, manners, and practices are different. Already, Strether is proven ill-equipped to maneuver. Book Third ends with suspense. How has Chad changed? What 'type' has he become - has he been "ruined"? The dominant plot-line involves the potential ruin, destruction, and pollution of youth. Young Americans have come to Paris and older Americans have arrived as a rescue party. The subtle and minor plot-line involves Strether's own risks. He will need to be careful not to become 'ruined' himself.
Lambert tells Chad that he has come to Paris to take the young man home. Chad replies that he has "improved." Chad also appears supportive of Lambert's engagement to Chad's mother, Mrs. Newsome. When Lambert returns to the subject of Chad's return home, Chad becomes defensive, saying: "you all imagined horrors." Chad's argument is that Woollett's small-town "low-mind" mentality has simply assumed the worst without considering the possibility of something else having occurred. Chad insists that no woman is keeping him in Europe; Paris is keeping him. Strether's estimation of Chad rises considerably.
Lambert writes to Mrs. Newsome and though he considers his struggle to be akin to a war, he insists that Chad is friendly. He is sure that success will be his ultimately, noting that Chad "did treat everything as tacitly concluded." It is only a matter of when Chad will return home - not whether he will return. Still, Lambert is worried that he is being fooled by Chad. He is convinced that Mrs. Newsome would not be so easily fooled. Lambert consoles himself with the fact that Maria Gostrey will be able to find everything out.
When Lambert sees Gostrey, she insists that there is a woman in the background, adding that Chad is likely seeking an honorable way to disconnect himself from her. Chad hosts a tea where Strether, Bilham, Barrace, Gostrey and Waymarsh are all present, among others. Chad's "virtuous attachment" is mentioned: a euphemism for the woman in the background who has apparently been the cause of Chad's improvement. There are two ladies, a mother and daughter, who appear to be from a noble family. Chad has brought them in the hopes that they would meet Lambert's approval, and perhaps Lambert might help Chad advocate his position. Lambert is unclear on which of the two women is the "virtuous attachment," but he says that he does not want to know anything more about Chad's Parisian lifestyle. Gostrey replies to Strether: "Wasn't what you came out for to find out all?"
Chad's 'improvement' is a central element within the motif of Paris as a romantic and romanticized city. The larger theme of youth vs. age is also complicated here. Strether sees Chad's "confounded grey hair" and wonders whether the transformation has been natural, or perhaps even miraculous. Chad half-heartedly argues that Paris alone keeps him and Paris has changed him. Even when Chad's argument becomes transparent, Paris still figures as an active force. The woman in the background is simply an extension of Paris and Parisian-ness. What remains to be seen is whether this "virtuous attachment" will withstand the challenge from Woollett.
The novel is named The Ambassadors. Strether and Waymarsh are the first ambassadors, though it is Strether who has been assigned by Mrs. Newsome to his ambassadorial task. Mrs. Newsome remains offstage, but Strether's language hints at the future arrival of more "ambassadors" should Chad not prove to be an easy conquest. The Ambassadors becomes a novel of strategy by Book Fourth, with the characters quickly arranging themselves into factions with interests to defend.
Strether is weak in areas of strategy, though he has Waymarsh and Gostrey to assist him. On the other hand, Chad has Bilham and Barrace on his side. Moreover, Chad's hospitality in Paris threatens to become a trap for his opponents. In accepting the invitation to tea, Strether is now confronted with the prospect of meeting Chad's "attachment." Strether had no previous intention of such a meeting. Even worse, Chad has seized upon Strether's agreeable personality: the young Mr. Newsome hopes to pull a coup in convincing Strether to let himself become charmed by Chad's attachment.
Strether will struggle to balance his instinctual desire to please Chad, his spiritual connection with romanticized Paris, and his need to successfully perform for Mrs. Newsome. Chad soon offers Strether the opportunity to become a double-agent, the precise opposite of his ambassadorial role. This should not be a surprise to the reader, though. Chad, Bilham and Barrace have already been dishonest in their dealings with Strether. The theme of strategy focuses on information gathering and duplicity. Gostrey pushes Strether to gather information, so that he might have more leverage and negotiating power. But Strether has not yet learned how to read information. He fails to distinguish among lies, illusions, and truth. In essence, Strether too readily accepts 'beauty' as truth. Unfortunately, Chad and his friends take their cues from the city itself; within their promises of hospitality, there is a whole host of beautiful lies. Chad and his partners do not intend to harm Strether. They simply seek their collective interest.