He went late that evening to the Boulevard Malesherbes, having his impression that it would be vain to go early, and having also, more than once in the course of the day, made enquiries of the concierge. Chad hadn't come in and had left no intimation; he had affairs, apparently, at this juncture--as it occurred to Strether he so well might have--that kept him long abroad. Our friend asked once for him at the hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, but the only contribution offered there was the fact that every one was out. It was with the idea that he would have to come home to sleep that Strether went up to his rooms, from which however he was still absent, though, from the balcony, a few moments later, his visitor heard eleven o'clock strike. Chad's servant had by this time answered for his reappearance; he HAD, the visitor learned, come quickly in to dress for dinner and vanish again. Strether spent an hour in waiting for him--an hour full of strange suggestions, persuasions, recognitions; one of those that he was to recall, at the end of his adventure, as the particular handful that most had counted. The mellowest lamplight and the easiest chair had been placed at his disposal by Baptiste, subtlest of servants; the novel half-uncut, the novel lemon-coloured and tender, with the ivory knife athwart it like the dagger in a contadina's hair, had been pushed within the soft circle--a circle which, for some reason, affected Strether as softer still after the same Baptiste had remarked that in the absence of a further need of anything by Monsieur he would betake himself to bed. The night was hot and heavy and the single lamp sufficient; the great flare of the lighted city, rising high, spending itself afar, played up from the Boulevard and, through the vague vista of the successive rooms, brought objects into view and added to their dignity. Strether found himself in possession as he never yet had been; he had been there alone, had turned over books and prints, had invoked, in Chad's absence, the spirit of the place, but never at the witching hour and never with a relish quite so like a pang.
He spent a long time on the balcony; he hung over it as he had seen little Bilham hang the day of his first approach, as he had seen Mamie hang over her own the day little Bilham himself might have seen her from below; he passed back into the rooms, the three that occupied the front and that communicated by wide doors; and, while he circulated and rested, tried to recover the impression that they had made on him three months before, to catch again the voice in which they had seemed then to speak to him. That voice, he had to note, failed audibly to sound; which he took as the proof of all the change in himself. He had heard, of old, only what he COULD then hear; what he could do now was to think of three months ago as a point in the far past. All voices had grown thicker and meant more things; they crowded on him as he moved about--it was the way they sounded together that wouldn't let him be still. He felt, strangely, as sad as if he had come for some wrong, and yet as excited as if he had come for some freedom. But the freedom was what was most in the place and the hour, it was the freedom that most brought him round again to the youth of his own that he had long ago missed. He could have explained little enough to-day either why he had missed it or why, after years and years, he should care that he had; the main truth of the actual appeal of everything was none the less that everything represented the substance of his loss put it within reach, within touch, made it, to a degree it had never been, an affair of the senses. That was what it became for him at this singular time, the youth he had long ago missed--a queer concrete presence, full of mystery, yet full of reality, which he could handle, taste, smell, the deep breathing of which he could positively hear. It was in the outside air as well as within; it was in the long watch, from the balcony, in the summer night, of the wide late life of Paris, the unceasing soft quick rumble, below, of the little lighted carriages that, in the press, always suggested the gamblers he had seen of old at Monte Carlo pushing up to the tables. This image was before him when he at last became aware that Chad was behind.
"She tells me you put it all on ME"--he had arrived after this promptly enough at that information; which expressed the case however quite as the young man appeared willing for the moment to leave it. Other things, with this advantage of their virtually having the night before them, came up for them, and had, as well, the odd effect of making the occasion, instead of hurried and feverish, one of the largest, loosest and easiest to which Strether's whole adventure was to have treated him. He had been pursuing Chad from an early hour and had overtaken him only now; but now the delay was repaired by their being so exceptionally confronted. They had foregathered enough of course in all the various times; they had again and again, since that first night at the theatre, been face to face over their question; but they had never been so alone together as they were actually alone--their talk hadn't yet been so supremely for themselves. And if many things moreover passed before them, none passed more distinctly for Strether than that striking truth about Chad of which he had been so often moved to take note: the truth that everything came happily back with him to his knowing how to live. It had been seated in his pleased smile--a smile that pleased exactly in the right degree--as his visitor turned round, on the balcony, to greet his advent; his visitor in fact felt on the spot that there was nothing their meeting would so much do as bear witness to that facility. He surrendered himself accordingly to so approved a gift; for what was the meaning of the facility but that others DID surrender themselves? He didn't want, luckily, to prevent Chad from living; but he was quite aware that even if he had he would himself have thoroughly gone to pieces. It was in truth essentially by bringing down his personal life to a function all subsidiary to the young man's own that he held together. And the great point, above all, the sign of how completely Chad possessed the knowledge in question, was that one thus became, not only with a proper cheerfulness, but with wild native impulses, the feeder of his stream. Their talk had accordingly not lasted three minutes without Strether's feeling basis enough for the excitement in which he had waited. This overflow fairly deepened, wastefully abounded, as he observed the smallness of anything corresponding to it on the part of his friend. That was exactly this friend's happy case; he "put out" his excitement, or whatever other emotion the matter involved, as he put out his washing; than which no arrangement could make more for domestic order. It was quite for Strether himself in short to feel a personal analogy with the laundress bringing home the triumphs of the mangle.
When he had reported on Sarah's visit, which he did very fully, Chad answered his question with perfect candour. "I positively referred her to you--told her she must absolutely see you. This was last night, and it all took place in ten minutes. It was our first free talk--really the first time she had tackled me. She knew I also knew what her line had been with yourself; knew moreover how little you had been doing to make anything difficult for her. So I spoke for you frankly--assured her you were all at her service. I assured her I was too," the young man continued; "and I pointed out how she could perfectly, at any time, have got at me. Her difficulty has been simply her not finding the moment she fancied."
"Her difficulty," Strether returned, "has been simply that she finds she's afraid of you. She's not afraid of ME, Sarah, one little scrap; and it was just because she has seen how I can fidget when I give my mind to it that she has felt her best chance, rightly enough to be in making me as uneasy as possible. I think she's at bottom as pleased to HAVE you put it on me as you yourself can possibly be to put it."
"But what in the world, my dear man," Chad enquired in objection to this luminosity, "have I done to make Sally afraid?"
"You've been 'wonderful, wonderful,' as we say--we poor people who watch the play from the pit; and that's what has, admirably, made her. Made her all the more effectually that she could see you didn't set about it on purpose--I mean set about affecting her as with fear."
Chad cast a pleasant backward glance over his possibilities of motive. "I've only wanted to be kind and friendly, to be decent and attentive--and I still only want to be."
Strether smiled at his comfortable clearness. "Well, there can certainly be no way for it better than by my taking the onus. It reduces your personal friction and your personal offence to almost nothing."
Ah but Chad, with his completer conception of the friendly, wouldn't quite have this! They had remained on the balcony, where, after their day of great and premature heat, the midnight air was delicious; and they leaned back in turn against the balustrade, all in harmony with the chairs and the flower-pots, the cigarettes and the starlight. "The onus isn't REALLY yours--after our agreeing so to wait together and judge together. That was all my answer to Sally," Chad pursued-- "that we have been, that we are, just judging together."
"I'm not afraid of the burden," Strether explained; "I haven't come in the least that you should take it off me. I've come very much, it seems to me, to double up my fore legs in the manner of the camel when he gets down on his knees to make his back convenient. But I've supposed you all this while to have been doing a lot of special and private judging--about which I haven't troubled you; and I've only wished to have your conclusion first from you. I don't ask more than that; I'm quite ready to take it as it has come."
Chad turned up his face to the sky with a slow puff of his smoke. "Well, I've seen."
Strether waited a little. "I've left you wholly alone; haven't, I think I may say, since the first hour or two--when I merely preached patience--so much as breathed on you."
"Oh you've been awfully good!"
"We've both been good then--we've played the game. We've given them the most liberal conditions."
"Ah," said Chad, "splendid conditions! It was open to them, open to them"--he seemed to make it out, as he smoked, with his eyes still on the stars. He might in quiet sport have been reading their horoscope. Strether wondered meanwhile what had been open to them, and he finally let him have it. "It was open to them simply to let me alone; to have made up their minds, on really seeing me for themselves, that I could go on well enough as I was."
Strether assented to this proposition with full lucidity, his companion's plural pronoun, which stood all for Mrs. Newsome and her daughter, having no ambiguity for him. There was nothing, apparently, to stand for Mamie and Jim; and this added to our friend's sense of Chad's knowing what he thought. "But they've made up their minds to the opposite--that you CAN'T go on as you are."
"No," Chad continued in the same way; "they won't have it for a minute."
Strether on his side also reflectively smoked. It was as if their high place really represented some moral elevation from which they could look down on their recent past. "There never was the smallest chance, do you know, that they WOULD have it for a moment."
"Of course not--no real chance. But if they were willing to think there was--!"
"They weren't willing." Strether had worked it all out. "It wasn't for you they came out, but for me. It wasn't to see for themselves what you're doing, but what I'm doing. The first branch of their curiosity was inevitably destined, under my culpable delay, to give way to the second; and it's on the second that, if I may use the expression and you don't mind my marking the invidious fact, they've been of late exclusively perched. When Sarah sailed it was me, in other words, they were after."
Chad took it in both with intelligence and with indulgence. "It IS rather a business then--what I've let you in for!"
Strether had again a brief pause; which ended in a reply that seemed to dispose once for all of this element of compunction. Chad was to treat it, at any rate, so far as they were again together, as having done so. "I was 'in' when you found me."
"Ah but it was you," the young man laughed, "who found ME."
"I only found you out. It was you who found me in. It was all in the day's work for them, at all events, that they should come. And they've greatly enjoyed it," Strether declared.
"Well, I've tried to make them," said Chad.
His companion did himself presently the same justice. "So have I. I tried even this very morning--while Mrs. Pocock was with me. She enjoys for instance, almost as much as anything else, not being, as I've said, afraid of me; and I think I gave her help in that."
Chad took a deeper interest. "Was she very very nasty?"
Strether debated. "Well, she was the most important thing--she was definite. She was--at last--crystalline. And I felt no remorse. I saw that they must have come."
"Oh I wanted to see them for myself; so that if it were only for THAT--!" Chad's own remorse was as small.
This appeared almost all Strether wanted. "Isn't your having seen them for yourself then THE thing, beyond all others, that has come of their visit?"
Chad looked as if he thought it nice of his old friend to put it so. "Don't you count it as anything that you're dished--if you ARE dished? Are you, my dear man, dished?"
It sounded as if he were asking if he had caught cold or hurt his foot, and Strether for a minute but smoked and smoked. "I want to see her again. I must see her."
"Of course you must." Then Chad hesitated. "Do you mean--a--Mother herself?"
"Oh your mother--that will depend."
It was as if Mrs. Newsome had somehow been placed by the words very far off. Chad however endeavoured in spite of this to reach the place. "What do you mean it will depend on?"
Strether, for all answer, gave him a longish look. "I was speaking of Sarah. I must positively--though she quite cast me off--see HER again. I can't part with her that way."
"Then she was awfully unpleasant?"
Again Strether exhaled. "She was what she had to be. I mean that from the moment they're not delighted they can only be--well what I admit she was. We gave them," he went on, "their chance to be delighted, and they've walked up to it, and looked all round it, and not taken it."
"You can bring a horse to water--!" Chad suggested.
"Precisely. And the tune to which this morning Sarah wasn't delighted--the tune to which, to adopt your metaphor, she refused to drink--leaves us on that side nothing more to hope."
Chad had a pause, and then as if consolingly: "It was never of course really the least on the cards that they would be 'delighted.'"
"Well, I don't know, after all," Strether mused. "I've had to come as far round. However"--he shook it off--"it's doubtless MY performance that's absurd."
"There are certainly moments," said Chad, "when you seem to me too good to be true. Yet if you are true," he added, "that seems to be all that need concern me."
"I'm true, but I'm incredible. I'm fantastic and ridiculous-- I don't explain myself even TO myself. How can they then," Strether asked, "understand me? So I don't quarrel with them."
"I see. They quarrel," said Chad rather comfortably, "with US." Strether noted once more the comfort, but his young friend had already gone on. "I should feel greatly ashamed, all the same, if I didn't put it before you again that you ought to think, after all, tremendously well. I mean before giving up beyond recall--" With which insistence, as from a certain delicacy, dropped.
Ah but Strether wanted it. "Say it all, say it all."
"Well, at your age, and with what--when all's said and done-- Mother might do for you and be for you."
Chad had said it all, from his natural scruple, only to that extent; so that Strether after an instant himself took a hand. "My absence of an assured future. The little I have to show toward the power to take care of myself. The way, the wonderful way, she would certainly take care of me. Her fortune, her kindness, and the constant miracle of her having been disposed to go even so far. Of course, of course"--he summed it up. "There are those sharp facts."
Chad had meanwhile thought of another still. "And don't you really care--?"
His friend slowly turned round to him. "Will you go?"
"I'll go if you'll say you now consider I should. You know," he went on, "I was ready six weeks ago."
"Ah," said Strether, "that was when you didn't know I wasn't! You're ready at present because you do know it."
"That may be," Chad returned; "but all the same I'm sincere. You talk about taking the whole thing on your shoulders, but in what light do you regard me that you think me capable of letting you pay?" Strether patted his arm, as they stood together against the parapet, reassuringly--seeming to wish to contend that he HAD the wherewithal; but it was again round this question of purchase and price that the young man's sense of fairness continued to hover. "What it literally comes to for you, if you'll pardon my putting it so, is that you give up money. Possibly a good deal of money."
"Oh," Strether laughed, "if it were only just enough you'd still be justified in putting it so! But I've on my side to remind you too that YOU give up money; and more than 'possibly'--quite certainly, as I should suppose--a good deal."
"True enough; but I've got a certain quantity," Chad returned after a moment. "Whereas you, my dear man, you--"
"I can't be at all said"--Strether took him up--"to have a 'quantity' certain or uncertain? Very true. Still, I shan't starve."
"Oh you mustn't STARVE!" Chad pacifically emphasised; and so, in the pleasant conditions, they continued to talk; though there was, for that matter, a pause in which the younger companion might have been taken as weighing again the delicacy of his then and there promising the elder some provision against the possibility just mentioned. This, however, he presumably thought best not to do, for at the end of another minute they had moved in quite a different direction. Strether had broken in by returning to the subject of Chad's passage with Sarah and enquiring if they had arrived, in the event, at anything in the nature of a "scene." To this Chad replied that they had on the contrary kept tremendously polite; adding moreover that Sally was after all not the woman to have made the mistake of not being. "Her hands are a good deal tied, you see. I got so, from the first," he sagaciously observed, "the start of her."
"You mean she has taken so much from you?"
"Well, I couldn't of course in common decency give less: only she hadn't expected, I think, that I'd give her nearly so much. And she began to take it before she knew it."
"And she began to like it," said Strether, "as soon as she began to take it!"
"Yes, she has liked it--also more than she expected." After which Chad observed: "But she doesn't like ME. In fact she hates me."
Strether's interest grew. "Then why does she want you at home?"
"Because when you hate you want to triumph, and if she should get me neatly stuck there she WOULD triumph."
Strether followed afresh, but looking as he went. "Certainly--in a manner. But it would scarce be a triumph worth having if, once entangled, feeling her dislike and possibly conscious in time of a certain quantity of your own, you should on the spot make yourself unpleasant to her."
"Ah," said Chad, "she can bear ME--could bear me at least at home. It's my being there that would be her triumph. She hates me in Paris."
"She hates in other words--"
"Yes, THAT'S it!"--Chad had quickly understood this understanding; which formed on the part of each as near an approach as they had yet made to naming Madame de Vionnet. The limitations of their distinctness didn't, however, prevent its fairly lingering in the air that it was this lady Mrs. Pocock hated. It added one more touch moreover to their established recognition of the rare intimacy of Chad's association with her. He had never yet more twitched away the last light veil from this phenomenon than in presenting himself as confounded and submerged in the feeling she had created at Woollett. "And I'll tell you who hates me too," he immediately went on.
Strether knew as immediately whom he meant, but with as prompt a protest. "Ah no! Mamie doesn't hate--well," he caught himself in time--"anybody at all. Mamie's beautiful."
Chad shook his head. "That's just why I mind it. She certainly doesn't like me."
"How much do you mind it? What would you do for her?"
"Well, I'd like her if she'd like me. Really, really," Chad declared.
It gave his companion a moment's pause. "You asked me just now if I don't, as you said, 'care' about a certain person. You rather tempt me therefore to put the question in my turn. Don't YOU care about a certain other person?"
Chad looked at him hard in the lamplight of the window. "The difference is that I don't want to."
Strether wondered. "'Don't want' to?"
"I try not to--that is I HAVE tried. I've done my best. You can't be surprised," the young man easily went on, "when you yourself set me on it. I was indeed," he added, "already on it a little; but you set me harder. It was six weeks ago that I thought I had come out."
Strether took it well in. "But you haven't come out!"
"I don't know--it's what I WANT to know," said Chad. "And if I could have sufficiently wanted--by myself--to go back, I think I might have found out."
"Possibly"--Strether considered. "But all you were able to achieve was to want to want to! And even then," he pursued, "only till our friends there came. Do you want to want to still?" As with a sound half-dolorous, half-droll and all vague and equivocal, Chad buried his face for a little in his hands, rubbing it in a whimsical way that amounted to an evasion, he brought it out more sharply: "DO you?"
Chad kept for a time his attitude, but at last he looked up, and then abruptly, "Jim IS a damned dose!" he declared.
"Oh I don't ask you to abuse or describe or in any way pronounce on your relatives; I simply put it to you once more whether you're NOW ready. You say you've 'seen.' Is what you've seen that you can't resist?"
Chad gave him a strange smile--the nearest approach he had ever shown to a troubled one. "Can't you make me NOT resist?"
"What it comes to," Strether went on very gravely now and as if he hadn't heard him, "what it comes to is that more has been done for you, I think, than I've ever seen done--attempted perhaps, but never so successfully done--by one human being for another."
"Oh an immense deal certainly"--Chad did it full justice. "And you yourself are adding to it."
It was without heeding this either that his visitor continued. "And our friends there won't have it."
"No, they simply won't."
"They demand you on the basis, as it were, of repudiation and ingratitude; and what has been the matter with me," Strether went on, "is that I haven't seen my way to working with you for repudiation."
Chad appreciated this. "Then as you haven't seen yours you naturally haven't seen mine. There it is." After which he proceeded, with a certain abruptness, to a sharp interrogation. "NOW do you say she doesn't hate me?"
Strether hesitated. "'She'--?"
"Yes--Mother. We called it Sarah, but it comes to the same thing."
"Ah," Strether objected, "not to the same thing as her hating YOU."
On which--though as if for an instant it had hung fire--Chad remarkably replied: "Well, if they hate my good friend, THAT comes to the same thing." It had a note of inevitable truth that made Strether take it as enough, feel he wanted nothing more. The young man spoke in it for his "good friend" more than he had ever yet directly spoken, confessed to such deep identities between them as he might play with the idea of working free from, but which at a given moment could still draw him down like a whirlpool. And meanwhile he had gone on. "Their hating you too moreover--that also comes to a good deal."
"Ah," said Strether, "your mother doesn't."
Chad, however, loyally stuck to it--loyally, that is, to Strether. "She will if you don't look out."
"Well, I do look out. I am, after all, looking out. That's just why," our friend explained, "I want to see her again."
It drew from Chad again the same question. "To see Mother?"
"To see--for the present--Sarah."
"Ah then there you are! And what I don't for the life of me make out," Chad pursued with resigned perplexity, "is what you GAIN by it."
Oh it would have taken his companion too long to say! "That's because you have, I verily believe, no imagination. You've other qualities. But no imagination, don't you see? at all."
"I dare say. I do see." It was an idea in which Chad showed interest. "But haven't you yourself rather too much?"
"Oh RATHER--!" So that after an instant, under this reproach and as if it were at last a fact really to escape from, Strether made his move for departure.
One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock's visit was an hour spent, shortly before dinner, with Maria Gostrey, whom of late, in spite of so sustained a call on his attention from other quarters, he had by no means neglected. And that he was still not neglecting her will appear from the fact that he was with her again at the same hour on the very morrow--with no less fine a consciousness moreover of being able to hold her ear. It continued inveterately to occur, for that matter, that whenever he had taken one of his greater turns he came back to where she so faithfully awaited him. None of these excursions had on the whole been livelier than the pair of incidents--the fruit of the short interval since his previous visit--on which he had now to report to her. He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before, and he had had that morning, as a sequel to this conversation, a second interview with Sarah. "But they're all off," he said, "at last."
It puzzled her a moment. "All?--Mr. Newsome with them?"
"Ah not yet! Sarah and Jim and Mamie. But Waymarsh with them-- for Sarah. It's too beautiful," Strether continued; "I find I don't get over that--it's always a fresh joy. But it's a fresh joy too," he added, "that--well, what do you think? Little Bilham also goes. But he of course goes for Mamie."
Miss Gostrey wondered. "'For' her? Do you mean they're already engaged?"
"Well," said Strether, "say then for ME. He'll do anything for me; just as I will, for that matter--anything I can--for him. Or for Mamie either. SHE'LL do anything for me."
Miss Gostrey gave a comprehensive sigh. "The way you reduce people to subjection!"
"It's certainly, on one side, wonderful. But it's quite equalled, on another, by the way I don't. I haven't reduced Sarah, since yesterday; though I've succeeded in seeing her again, as I'll presently tell you. The others however are really all right. Mamie, by that blessed law of ours, absolutely must have a young man."
"But what must poor Mr. Bilham have? Do you mean they'll MARRY for you?"
"I mean that, by the same blessed law, it won't matter a grain if they don't--I shan't have in the least to worry."
She saw as usual what he meant. "And Mr. Jim?--who goes for him?"
"Oh," Strether had to admit, "I couldn't manage THAT. He's thrown, as usual, on the world; the world which, after all, by his account--for he has prodigious adventures--seems very good to him. He fortunately--'over here,' as he says--finds the world everywhere; and his most prodigious adventure of all," he went on, "has been of course of the last few days."
Miss Gostrey, already knowing, instantly made the connexion. "He has seen Marie de Vionnet again?"
"He went, all by himself, the day after Chad's party--didn't I tell you?--to tea with her. By her invitation--all alone."
"Quite like yourself!" Maria smiled.
"Oh but he's more wonderful about her than I am!" And then as his friend showed how she could believe it, filling it out, fitting it on to old memories of the wonderful woman: "What I should have liked to manage would have been HER going."
"To Switzerland with the party?"
"For Jim--and for symmetry. If it had been workable moreover for a fortnight she'd have gone. She's ready"--he followed up his renewed vision of her--"for anything."
Miss Gostrey went with him a minute. "She's too perfect!"
"She WILL, I think," he pursued, "go to-night to the station."
"To see him off?"
"With Chad--marvellously--as part of their general attention. And she does it"--it kept before him--"with a light, light grace, a free, free gaiety, that may well softly bewilder Mr. Pocock."
It kept her so before him that his companion had after an instant a friendly comment. "As in short it has softly bewildered a saner man. Are you really in love with her?" Maria threw off.
"It's of no importance I should know," he replied. "It matters so little--has nothing to do, practically, with either of us."
"All the same"--Maria continued to smile--"they go, the five, as I understand you, and you and Madame de Vionnet stay."
"Oh and Chad." To which Strether added: "And you."
"Ah 'me'!"--she gave a small impatient wail again, in which something of the unreconciled seemed suddenly to break out. "I don't stay, it somehow seems to me, much to my advantage. In the presence of all you cause to pass before me I've a tremendous sense of privation."
Strether hesitated. "But your privation, your keeping out of everything, has been--hasn't it?--by your own choice."
"Oh yes; it has been necessary--that is it has been better for you. What I mean is only that I seem to have ceased to serve you."
"How can you tell that?" he asked. "You don't know how you serve me. When you cease--"
"Well?" she said as he dropped.
"Well, I'll LET you know. Be quiet till then."
She thought a moment. "Then you positively like me to stay?"
"Don't I treat you as if I did?"
"You're certainly very kind to me. But that," said Maria, "is for myself. It's getting late, as you see, and Paris turning rather hot and dusty. People are scattering, and some of them, in other places want me. But if you want me here--!"
She had spoken as resigned to his word, but he had of a sudden a still sharper sense than he would have expected of desiring not to lose her. "I want you here."
She took it as if the words were all she had wished; as if they brought her, gave her something that was the compensation of her case. "Thank you," she simply answered. And then as he looked at her a little harder, "Thank you very much," she repeated.
It had broken as with a slight arrest into the current of their talk, and it held him a moment longer. "Why, two months, or whatever the time was, ago, did you so suddenly dash off? The reason you afterwards gave me for having kept away three weeks wasn't the real one."
She recalled. "I never supposed you believed it was. Yet," she continued, "if you didn't guess it that was just what helped you."
He looked away from her on this; he indulged, so far as space permitted, in one of his slow absences. "I've often thought of it, but never to feel that I could guess it. And you see the consideration with which I've treated you in never asking till now."
"Now then why DO you ask?"
"To show you how I miss you when you're not here, and what it does for me."
"It doesn't seem to have done," she laughed, "all it might! However," she added, "if you've really never guessed the truth I'll tell it you."
"I've never guessed it," Strether declared.
"Well then I dashed off, as you say, so as not to have the confusion of being there if Marie de Vionnet should tell you anything to my detriment."
He looked as if he considerably doubted. "You even then would have had to face it on your return."
"Oh if I had found reason to believe it something very bad I'd have left you altogether."
"So then," he continued, "it was only on guessing she had been on the whole merciful that you ventured back?"
Maria kept it together. "I owe her thanks. Whatever her temptation she didn't separate us. That's one of my reasons," she went on "for admiring her so."
"Let it pass then," said Strether, "for one of mine as well. But what would have been her temptation?"
"What are ever the temptations of women?"
He thought--but hadn't, naturally, to think too long. "Men?"
"She would have had you, with it, more for herself. But she saw she could have you without it."
"Oh 'have' me!" Strether a trifle ambiguously sighed. "YOU," he handsomely declared, "would have had me at any rate WITH it."
"Oh 'have' you!"--she echoed it as he had done. "I do have you, however," she less ironically said, "from the moment you express a wish."
He stopped before her, full of the disposition. "I'll express fifty."
Which indeed begot in her, with a certain inconsequence, a return of her small wail. "Ah there you are!"
There, if it were so, he continued for the rest of the time to be, and it was as if to show her how she could still serve him that, coming back to the departure of the Pococks, he gave her the view, vivid with a hundred more touches than we can reproduce, of what had happened for him that morning. He had had ten minutes with Sarah at her hotel, ten minutes reconquered, by irresistible pressure, from the time over which he had already described her to Miss Gostrey as having, at the end of their interview on his own premises, passed the great sponge of the future. He had caught her by not announcing himself, had found her in her sitting-room with a dressmaker and a lingere whose accounts she appeared to have been more or less ingenuously settling and who soon withdrew. Then he had explained to her how he had succeeded, late the night before, in keeping his promise of seeing Chad. "I told her I'd take it all."
"You'd 'take' it?"
"Why if he doesn't go."
Maria waited. "And who takes it if he does?" she enquired with a certain grimness of gaiety.
"Well," said Strether, "I think I take, in any event, everything."
"By which I suppose you mean," his companion brought out after a moment, "that you definitely understand you now lose everything."
He stood before her again. "It does come perhaps to the same thing. But Chad, now that he has seen, doesn't really want it."
She could believe that, but she made, as always, for clearness. "Still, what, after all, HAS he seen?"
"What they want of him. And it's enough."
"It contrasts so unfavourably with what Madame de Vionnet wants?"
"It contrasts--just so; all round, and tremendously."
"Therefore, perhaps, most of all with what YOU want?"
"Oh," said Strether, "what I want is a thing I've ceased to measure or even to understand."
But his friend none the less went on. "Do you want Mrs. Newsome-- after such a way of treating you?"
It was a straighter mode of dealing with this lady than they had as yet--such was their high form--permitted themselves; but it seemed not wholly for this that he delayed a moment. "I dare say it has been, after all, the only way she could have imagined."
"And does that make you want her any more?"
"I've tremendously disappointed her," Strether thought it worth while to mention.
"Of course you have. That's rudimentary; that was plain to us long ago. But isn't it almost as plain," Maria went on, "that you've even yet your straight remedy? Really drag him away, as I believe you still can, and you'd cease to have to count with her disappointment."
"Ah then," he laughed, "I should have to count with yours!"
But this barely struck her now. "What, in that case, should you call counting? You haven't come out where you are, I think, to please ME."
"Oh," he insisted, "that too, you know, has been part of it. I can't separate--it's all one; and that's perhaps why, as I say, I don't understand." But he was ready to declare again that this didn't in the least matter; all the more that, as he affirmed, he HADn't really as yet "come out." "She gives me after all, on its coming to the pinch, a last mercy, another chance. They don't sail, you see, for five or six weeks more, and they haven't--she admits that--expected Chad would take part in their tour. It's still open to him to join them, at the last, at Liverpool."
Miss Gostrey considered. "How in the world is it 'open' unless you open it? How can he join them at Liverpool if he but sinks deeper into his situation here?"
"He has given her--as I explained to you that she let me know yesterday--his word of honour to do as I say."
Maria stared. "But if you say nothing!"
Well, he as usual walked about on it. "I did say something this morning. I gave her my answer--the word I had promised her after hearing from himself what HE had promised. What she demanded of me yesterday, you'll remember, was the engagement then and there to make him take up this vow."
"Well then," Miss Gostrey enquired, "was the purpose of your visit to her only to decline?"
"No; it was to ask, odd as that may seem to you, for another delay."
"Ah that's weak!"
"Precisely!" She had spoken with impatience, but, so far as that at least, he knew where he was. "If I AM weak I want to find it out. If I don't find it out I shall have the comfort, the little glory, of thinking I'm strong."
"It's all the comfort, I judge," she returned, "that you WILL have!"
"At any rate," he said, "it will have been a month more. Paris may grow, from day to day, hot and dusty, as you say; but there are other things that are hotter and dustier. I'm not afraid to stay on; the summer here must be amusing in a wild--if it isn't a tame-- way of its own; the place at no time more picturesque. I think I shall like it. And then," he benevolently smiled for her, "there will be always you."
"Oh," she objected, "it won't be as a part of the picturesqueness that I shall stay, for I shall be the plainest thing about you. You may, you see, at any rate," she pursued, "have nobody else. Madame de Vionnet may very well be going off, mayn't she?--and Mr. Newsome by the same stroke: unless indeed you've had an assurance from them to the contrary. So that if your idea's to stay for them"-- it was her duty to suggest it--"you may be left in the lurch. Of course if they do stay"--she kept it up--"they would be part of the picturesqueness. Or else indeed you might join them somewhere."
Strether seemed to face it as if it were a happy thought; but the next moment he spoke more critically. "Do you mean that they'll probably go off together?"
She just considered. "I think it will be treating you quite without ceremony if they do; though after all," she added, "it would be difficult to see now quite what degree of ceremony properly meets your case."
"Of course," Strether conceded, "my attitude toward them is extraordinary."
"Just so; so that one may ask one's self what style of proceeding on their own part can altogether match it. The attitude of their own that won't pale in its light they've doubtless still to work out. The really handsome thing perhaps," she presently threw off, "WOULD be for them to withdraw into more secluded conditions, offering at the same time to share them with you." He looked at her, on this, as if some generous irritation--all in his interest-- had suddenly again flickered in her; and what she next said indeed half-explained it. "Don't really be afraid to tell me if what now holds you IS the pleasant prospect of the empty town, with plenty of seats in the shade, cool drinks, deserted museums, drives to the Bois in the evening, and our wonderful woman all to yourself." And she kept it up still more. "The handsomest thing of ALL, when one makes it out, would, I dare say, be that Mr. Chad should for a while go off by himself. It's a pity, from that point of view," she wound up, "that he doesn't pay his mother a visit. It would at least occupy your interval." The thought in fact held her a moment. "Why doesn't he pay his mother a visit? Even a week, at this good moment, would do."
"My dear lady," Strether replied--and he had it even to himself surprisingly ready--"my dear lady, his mother has paid HIM a visit. Mrs. Newsome has been with him, this month, with an intensity that I'm sure he has thoroughly felt; he has lavishly entertained her, and she has let him have her thanks. Do you suggest he shall go back for more of them?"
Well, she succeeded after a little in shaking it off. "I see. It's what you don't suggest--what you haven't suggested. And you know."
"So would you, my dear," he kindly said, "if you had so much as seen her."
"As seen Mrs. Newsome?"
"No, Sarah--which, both for Chad and for myself, has served all the purpose."
"And served it in a manner," she responsively mused, "so extraordinary!"
"Well, you see," he partly explained, "what it comes to is that she's all cold thought--which Sarah could serve to us cold without its really losing anything. So it is that we know what she thinks of us."
Maria had followed, but she had an arrest. "What I've never made out, if you come to that, is what you think--I mean you personally-- of HER. Don't you so much, when all's said, as care a little?"
"That," he answered with no loss of promptness, "is what even Chad himself asked me last night. He asked me if I don't mind the loss-- well, the loss of an opulent future. Which moreover," he hastened to add, "was a perfectly natural question."
"I call your attention, all the same," said Miss Gostrey, "to the fact that I don't ask it. What I venture to ask is whether it's to Mrs. Newsome herself that you're indifferent."
"I haven't been so"--he spoke with all assurance. "I've been the very opposite. I've been, from the first moment, preoccupied with the impression everything might be making on her--quite oppressed, haunted, tormented by it. I've been interested ONLY in her seeing what I've seen. And I've been as disappointed in her refusal to see it as she has been in what has appeared to her the perversity of my insistence."
"Do you mean that she has shocked you as you've shocked her?"
Strether weighed it. "I'm probably not so shockable. But on the other hand I've gone much further to meet her. She, on her side, hasn't budged an inch."
"So that you're now at last"--Maria pointed the moral--"in the sad stage of recriminations."
"No--it's only to you I speak. I've been like a lamb to Sarah. I've only put my back to the wall. It's to THAT one naturally staggers when one has been violently pushed there."
She watched him a moment. "Thrown over?"
"Well, as I feel I've landed somewhere I think I must have been thrown."
She turned it over, but as hoping to clarify much rather than to harmonise. "The thing is that I suppose you've been disappointing--"
"Quite from the very first of my arrival? I dare say. I admit I was surprising even to myself."
"And then of course," Maria went on, "I had much to do with it."
"With my being surprising--?"
"That will do," she laughed, "if you're too delicate to call it MY being! Naturally," she added, "you came over more or less for surprises."
"Naturally!"--he valued the reminder.
"But they were to have been all for you"--she continued to piece it out--"and none of them for HER."
Once more he stopped before her as if she had touched the point. "That's just her difficulty--that she doesn't admit surprises. It's a fact that, I think, describes and represents her; and it falls in with what I tell you--that she's all, as I've called it, fine cold thought. She had, to her own mind, worked the whole thing out in advance, and worked it out for me as well as for herself. Whenever she has done that, you see, there's no room left; no margin, as it were, for any alteration. She's filled as full, packed as tight, as she'll hold and if you wish to get anything more or different either out or in--"
"You've got to make over altogether the woman herself?"
"What it comes to," said Strether, "is that you've got morally and intellectually to get rid of her."
"Which would appear," Maria returned, "to be practically what you've done."
But her friend threw back his head. "I haven't touched her. She won't BE touched. I see it now as I've never done; and she hangs together with a perfection of her own," he went on, "that does suggest a kind of wrong in ANY change of her composition. It was at any rate," he wound up, "the woman herself, as you call her the whole moral and intellectual being or block, that Sarah brought me over to take or to leave."
It turned Miss Gostrey to deeper thought. "Fancy having to take at the point of the bayonet a whole moral and intellectual being or block!"
"It was in fact," said Strether, "what, at home, I HAD done. But somehow over there I didn't quite know it."
"One never does, I suppose," Miss Gostrey concurred, "realise in advance, in such a case, the size, as you may say, of the block. Little by little it looms up. It has been looming for you more and more till at last you see it all."
"I see it all," he absently echoed, while his eyes might have been fixing some particularly large iceberg in a cool blue northern sea. "It's magnificent!" he then rather oddly exclaimed.
But his friend, who was used to this kind of inconsequence in him, kept the thread. "There's nothing so magnificent--for making others feel you--as to have no imagination."
It brought him straight round. "Ah there you are! It's what I said last night to Chad. That he himself, I mean, has none."
"Then it would appear," Maria suggested, "that he has, after all, something in common with his mother."
"He has in common that he makes one, as you say, 'feel' him. And yet," he added, as if the question were interesting, "one feels others too, even when they have plenty."
Miss Gostrey continued suggestive. "Madame de Vionnet?"
"SHE has plenty."
"Certainly--she had quantities of old. But there are different ways of making one's self felt."
"Yes, it comes, no doubt, to that. You now--'
He was benevolently going on, but she wouldn't have it. "Oh I DON'T make myself felt; so my quantity needn't be settled. Yours, you know," she said, "is monstrous. No one has ever had so much."
It struck him for a moment. "That's what Chad also thinks."
"There YOU are then--though it isn't for him to complain of it!"
"Oh he doesn't complain of it," said Strether.
"That's all that would be wanting! But apropos of what," Maria went on, "did the question come up?"
"Well, of his asking me what it is I gain."
She had a pause. "Then as I've asked you too it settles my case. Oh you HAVE," she repeated, "treasures of imagination."
But he had been for an instant thinking away from this, and he came up in another place. "And yet Mrs. Newsome--it's a thing to remember--HAS imagined, did, that is, imagine, and apparently still does, horrors about what I should have found. I was booked, by her vision--extraordinarily intense, after all--to find them; and that I didn't, that I couldn't, that, as she evidently felt, I wouldn't-- this evidently didn't at all, as they say, 'suit' her book. It was more than she could bear. That was her disappointment."
"You mean you were to have found Chad himself horrible?"
"I was to have found the woman."
"Found her as she imagined her." And Strether paused as if for his own expression of it he could add no touch to that picture.
His companion had meanwhile thought. "She imagined stupidly--so it comes to the same thing."
"Stupidly? Oh!" said Strether.
But she insisted. "She imagined meanly."
He had it, however, better. "It couldn't but be ignorantly."
"Well, intensity with ignorance--what do you want worse?"
This question might have held him, but he let it pass. "Sarah isn't ignorant--now; she keeps up the theory of the horrible."
"Ah but she's intense--and that by itself will do sometimes as well. If it doesn't do, in this case, at any rate, to deny that Marie's charming, it will do at least to deny that she's good."
"What I claim is that she's good for Chad."
"You don't claim"--she seemed to like it clear--"that she's good for YOU."
But he continued without heeding. "That's what I wanted them to come out for--to see for themselves if she's bad for him."
"And now that they've done so they won't admit that she's good even for anything?"
"They do think," Strether presently admitted, "that she's on the whole about as bad for me. But they're consistent of course, inasmuch as they've their clear view of what's good for both of us."
"For you, to begin with"--Maria, all responsive, confined the question for the moment--"to eliminate from your existence and if possible even from your memory the dreadful creature that I must gruesomely shadow forth for them, even more than to eliminate the distincter evil--thereby a little less portentous--of the person whose confederate you've suffered yourself to become. However, that's comparatively simple. You can easily, at the worst, after all, give me up."
"I can easily at the worst, after all, give you up." The irony was so obvious that it needed no care. "I can easily at the worst, after all, even forget you."
"Call that then workable. But Mr. Newsome has much more to forget. How can HE do it?"
"Ah there again we are! That's just what I was to have made him do; just where I was to have worked with him and helped."
She took it in silence and without attenuation--as if perhaps from very familiarity with the facts; and her thought made a connexion without showing the links. "Do you remember how we used to talk at Chester and in London about my seeing you through?" She spoke as of far-off things and as if they had spent weeks at the places she named.
"It's just what you ARE doing."
"Ah but the worst--since you've left such a margin--may be still to come. You may yet break down."
"Yes, I may yet break down. But will you take me--?"
He had hesitated, and she waited. "Take you?"
"For as long as I can bear it."
She also debated "Mr. Newsome and Madame de Vionnet may, as we were saying, leave town. How long do you think you can bear it without them?"
Strether's reply to this was at first another question. "Do you mean in order to get away from me?"
Her answer had an abruptness. "Don't find me rude if I say I should think they'd want to!"
He looked at her hard again--seemed even for an instant to have an intensity of thought under which his colour changed. But he smiled. "You mean after what they've done to me?"
"After what SHE has."
At this, however, with a laugh, he was all right again. "Ah but she hasn't done it yet!"
He had taken the train a few days after this from a station-- as well as to a station--selected almost at random; such days, whatever should happen, were numbered, and he had gone forth under the impulse--artless enough, no doubt--to give the whole of one of them to that French ruralism, with its cool special green, into which he had hitherto looked only through the little oblong window of the picture-frame. It had been as yet for the most part but a land of fancy for him--the background of fiction, the medium of art, the nursery of letters; practically as distant as Greece, but practically also well-nigh as consecrated. Romance could weave itself, for Strether's sense, out of elements mild enough; and even after what he had, as he felt, lately "been through," he could thrill a little at the chance of seeing something somewhere that would remind him of a certain small Lambinet that had charmed him, long years before, at a Boston dealer's and that he had quite absurdly never forgotten. It had been offered, he remembered, at a price he had been instructed to believe the lowest ever named for a Lambinet, a price he had never felt so poor as on having to recognise, all the same, as beyond a dream of possibility. He had dreamed-- had turned and twisted possibilities for an hour: it had been the only adventure of his life in connexion with the purchase of a work of art. The adventure, it will be perceived, was modest; but the memory, beyond all reason and by some accident of association, was sweet. The little Lambinet abode with him as the picture he WOULD have bought--the particular production that had made him for the moment overstep the modesty of nature. He was quite aware that if he were to see it again he should perhaps have a drop or a shock, and he never found himself wishing that the wheel of time would turn it up again, just as he had seen it in the maroon-coloured, sky-lighted inner shrine of Tremont Street. It would be a different thing, however, to see the remembered mixture resolved back into its elements--to assist at the restoration to nature of the whole far-away hour: the dusty day in Boston, the background of the Fitchburg Depot, of the maroon-coloured sanctum, the special-green vision, the ridiculous price, the poplars, the willows, the rushes, the river, the sunny silvery sky, the shady woody horizon.
He observed in respect to his train almost no condition save that it should stop a few times after getting out of the banlieue; he threw himself on the general amiability of the day for the hint of where to alight. His theory of his excursion was that he could alight anywhere--not nearer Paris than an hour's run--on catching a suggestion of the particular note required. It made its sign, the suggestion--weather, air, light, colour and his mood all favouring-- at the end of some eighty minutes; the train pulled up just at the right spot, and he found himself getting out as securely as if to keep an appointment. It will be felt of him that he could amuse himself, at his age, with very small things if it be again noted that his appointment was only with a superseded Boston fashion. He hadn't gone far without the quick confidence that it would be quite sufficiently kept. The oblong gilt frame disposed its enclosing lines; the poplars and willows, the reeds and river-- a river of which he didn't know, and didn't want to know, the name-- fell into a composition, full of felicity, within them; the sky was silver and turquoise and varnish; the village on the left was white and the church on the right was grey; it was all there, in short--it was what he wanted: it was Tremont Street, it was France, it was Lambinet. Moreover he was freely walking about in it. He did this last, for an hour, to his heart's content, making for the shady woody horizon and boring so deep into his impression and his idleness that he might fairly have got through them again and reached the maroon-coloured wall. It was a wonder, no doubt, that the taste of idleness for him shouldn't need more time to sweeten; but it had in fact taken the few previous days; it had been sweetening in truth ever since the retreat of the Pococks. He walked and walked as if to show himself how little he had now to do; he had nothing to do but turn off to some hillside where he might stretch himself and hear the poplars rustle, and whence--in the course of an afternoon so spent, an afternoon richly suffused too with the sense of a book in his pocket--he should sufficiently command the scene to be able to pick out just the right little rustic inn for an experiment in respect to dinner. There was a train back to Paris at 9.20, and he saw himself partaking, at the close of the day, with the enhancements of a coarse white cloth and a sanded door, of something fried and felicitous, washed down with authentic wine; after which he might, as he liked, either stroll back to his station in the gloaming or propose for the local carriole and converse with his driver, a driver who naturally wouldn't fail of a stiff clean blouse, of a knitted nightcap and of the genius of response--who, in fine, would sit on the shafts, tell him what the French people were thinking, and remind him, as indeed the whole episode would incidentally do, of Maupassant. Strether heard his lips, for the first time in French air, as this vision assumed consistency, emit sounds of expressive intention without fear of his company. He had been afraid of Chad and of Maria and of Madame de Vionnet; he had been most of all afraid of Waymarsh, in whose presence, so far as they had mixed together in the light of the town, he had never without somehow paying for it aired either his vocabulary or his accent. He usually paid for it by meeting immediately afterwards Waymarsh's eye.
Such were the liberties with which his fancy played after he had turned off to the hillside that did really and truly, as well as most amiably, await him beneath the poplars, the hillside that made him feel, for a murmurous couple of hours, how happy had been his thought. He had the sense of success, of a finer harmony in things; nothing but what had turned out as yet according to his plan. It most of all came home to him, as he lay on his back on the grass, that Sarah had really gone, that his tension was really relaxed; the peace diffused in these ideas might be delusive, but it hung about him none the less for the time. It fairly, for half an hour, sent him to sleep; he pulled his straw hat over his eyes-- he had bought it the day before with a reminiscence of Waymarsh's-- and lost himself anew in Lambinet. It was as if he had found out he was tired--tired not from his walk, but from that inward exercise which had known, on the whole, for three months, so little intermission. That was it--when once they were off he had dropped; this moreover was what he had dropped to, and now he was touching bottom. He was kept luxuriously quiet, soothed and amused by the consciousness of what he had found at the end of his descent. It was very much what he had told Maria Gostrey he should like to stay on for, the hugely-distributed Paris of summer, alternately dazzling and dusky, with a weight lifted for him off its columns and cornices and with shade and air in the flutter of awnings as wide as avenues. It was present to him without attenuation that, reaching out, the day after making the remark, for some proof of his freedom, he had gone that very afternoon to see Madame de Vionnet. He had gone again the next day but one, and the effect of the two visits, the after-sense of the couple of hours spent with her, was almost that of fulness and frequency. The brave intention of frequency, so great with him from the moment of his finding himself unjustly suspected at Woollett, had remained rather theoretic, and one of the things he could muse about under his poplars was the source of the special shyness that had still made him careful. He had surely got rid of it now, this special shyness; what had become of it if it hadn't precisely, within the week, rubbed off?
It struck him now in fact as sufficiently plain that if he had still been careful he had been so for a reason. He had really feared, in his behaviour, a lapse from good faith; if there was a danger of one's liking such a woman too much one's best safety was in waiting at least till one had the right to do so. In the light of the last few days the danger was fairly vivid; so that it was proportionately fortunate that the right was likewise established. It seemed to our friend that he had on each occasion profited to the utmost by the latter: how could he have done so more, he at all events asked himself, than in having immediately let her know that, if it was all the same to her, he preferred not to talk about anything tiresome? He had never in his life so sacrificed an armful of high interests as in that remark; he had never so prepared the way for the comparatively frivolous as in addressing it to Madame de Vionnet's intelligence. It hadn't been till later that he quite recalled how in conjuring away everything but the pleasant he had conjured away almost all they had hitherto talked about; it was not till later even that he remembered how, with their new tone, they hadn't so much as mentioned the name of Chad himself. One of the things that most lingered with him on his hillside was this delightful facility, with such a woman, of arriving at a new tone; he thought, as he lay on his back, of all the tones she might make possible if one were to try her, and at any rate of the probability that one could trust her to fit them to occasions. He had wanted her to feel that, as he was disinterested now, so she herself should be, and she had showed she felt it, and he had showed he was grateful, and it had been for all the world as if he were calling for the first time. They had had other, but irrelevant, meetings; it was quite as if, had they sooner known how much they REALLY had in common, there were quantities of comparatively dull matters they might have skipped. Well, they were skipping them now, even to graceful gratitude, even to handsome "Don't mention it!"-- and it was amazing what could still come up without reference to what had been going on between them. It might have been, on analysis, nothing more than Shakespeare and the musical glasses; but it had served all the purpose of his appearing to have said to her: "Don't like me, if it's a question of liking me, for anything obvious and clumsy that I've, as they call it, 'done' for you: like me-- well, like me, hang it, for anything else you choose. So, by the same propriety, don't be for me simply the person I've come to know through my awkward connexion with Chad--was ever anything, by the way, MORE awkward? Be for me, please, with all your admirable tact and trust, just whatever I may show you it's a present pleasure to me to think you." It had been a large indication to meet; but if she hadn't met it what HAD she done, and how had their time together slipped along so smoothly, mild but not slow, and melting, liquefying, into his happy illusion of idleness? He could recognise on the other hand that he had probably not been without reason, in his prior, his restricted state, for keeping an eye on his liability to lapse from good faith.
He really continued in the picture--that being for himself his situation--all the rest of this rambling day; so that the charm was still, was indeed more than ever upon him when, toward six o'clock he found himself amicably engaged with a stout white-capped deep-voiced woman at the door of the auberge of the biggest village, a village that affected him as a thing of whiteness, blueness and crookedness, set in coppery green, and that had the river flowing behind or before it--one couldn't say which; at the bottom, in particular, of the inn-garden. He had had other adventures before this; had kept along the height, after shaking off slumber; had admired, had almost coveted, another small old church, all steep roof and dim slate-colour without and all whitewash and paper flowers within; had lost his way and had found it again; had conversed with rustics who struck him perhaps a little more as men of the world than he had expected; had acquired at a bound a fearless facility in French; had had, as the afternoon waned, a watery bock, all pale and Parisian, in the cafe of the furthest village, which was not the biggest; and had meanwhile not once overstepped the oblong gilt frame. The frame had drawn itself out for him, as much as you please; but that was just his luck. He had finally come down again to the valley, to keep within touch of stations and trains, turning his face to the quarter from which he had started; and thus it was that he had at last pulled up before the hostess of the Cheval Blanc, who met him, with a rough readiness that was like the clatter of sabots over stones, on their common ground of a cotelette de veau a l'oseille and a subsequent lift. He had walked many miles and didn't know he was tired; but he still knew he was amused, and even that, though he had been alone all day, he had never yet so struck himself as engaged with others and in midstream of his drama. It might have passed for finished his drama, with its catastrophe all but reached: it had, however, none the less been vivid again for him as he thus gave it its fuller chance. He had only had to be at last well out of it to feel it, oddly enough, still going on.
For this had been all day at bottom the spell of the picture--that it was essentially more than anything else a scene and a stage, that the very air of the play was in the rustle of the willows and the tone of the sky. The play and the characters had, without his knowing it till now, peopled all his space for him, and it seemed somehow quite happy that they should offer themselves, in the conditions so supplied, with a kind of inevitability. It was as if the conditions made them not only inevitable, but so much more nearly natural and right as that they were at least easier, pleasanter, to put up with. The conditions had nowhere so asserted their difference from those of Woollett as they appeared to him to assert it in the little court of the Cheval Blanc while he arranged with his hostess for a comfortable climax. They were few and simple, scant and humble, but they were THE THING, as he would have called it, even to a greater degree than Madame de Vionnet's old high salon where the ghost of the Empire walked. "The" thing was the thing that implied the greatest number of other things of the sort he had had to tackle; and it was queer of course, but so it was--the implication here was complete. Not a single one of his observations but somehow fell into a place in it; not a breath of the cooler evening that wasn't somehow a syllable of the text. The text was simply, when condensed, that in THESE places such things were, and that if it was in them one elected to move about one had to make one's account with what one lighted on. Meanwhile at all events it was enough that they did affect one--so far as the village aspect was concerned--as whiteness, crookedness and blueness set in coppery green; there being positively, for that matter, an outer wall of the White Horse that was painted the most improbable shade. That was part of the amusement--as if to show that the fun was harmless; just as it was enough, further, that the picture and the play seemed supremely to melt together in the good woman's broad sketch of what she could do for her visitor's appetite. He felt in short a confidence, and it was general, and it was all he wanted to feel. It suffered no shock even on her mentioning that she had in fact just laid the cloth for two persons who, unlike Monsieur, had arrived by the river--in a boat of their own; who had asked her, half an hour before, what she could do for them, and had then paddled away to look at something a little further up--from which promenade they would presently return. Monsieur might meanwhile, if he liked, pass into the garden, such as it was, where she would serve him, should he wish it--for there were tables and benches in plenty--a "bitter" before his repast. Here she would also report to him on the possibility of a conveyance to his station, and here at any rate he would have the agrement of the river .
It may be mentioned without delay that Monsieur had the agrement of everything, and in particular, for the next twenty minutes, of a small and primitive pavilion that, at the garden's edge, almost overhung the water, testifying, in its somewhat battered state, to much fond frequentation. It consisted of little more than a platform, slightly raised, with a couple of benches and a table, a protecting rail and a projecting roof; but it raked the full grey-blue stream, which, taking a turn a short distance above, passed out of sight to reappear much higher up; and it was clearly in esteemed requisition for Sundays and other feasts. Strether sat there and, though hungry, felt at peace; the confidence that had so gathered for him deepened with the lap of the water, the ripple of the surface, the rustle of the reeds on the opposite bank, the faint diffused coolness and the slight rock of a couple of small boats attached to a rough landing-place hard by. The valley on the further side was all copper-green level and glazed pearly sky, a sky hatched across with screens of trimmed trees, which looked flat, like espaliers; and though the rest of the village straggled away in the near quarter the view had an emptiness that made one of the boats suggestive. Such a river set one afloat almost before one could take up the oars--the idle play of which would be moreover the aid to the full impression. This perception went so far as to bring him to his feet; but that movement, in turn, made him feel afresh that he was tired, and while he leaned against a post and continued to look out he saw something that gave him a sharper arrest.
What he saw was exactly the right thing--a boat advancing round the bend and containing a man who held the paddles and a lady, at the stern, with a pink parasol. It was suddenly as if these figures, or something like them, had been wanted in the picture, had been wanted more or less all day, and had now drifted into sight, with the slow current, on purpose to fill up the measure. They came slowly, floating down, evidently directed to the landing-place near their spectator and presenting themselves to him not less clearly as the two persons for whom his hostess was already preparing a meal. For two very happy persons he found himself straightway taking them--a young man in shirt-sleeves, a young woman easy and fair, who had pulled pleasantly up from some other place and, being acquainted with the neighbourhood, had known what this particular retreat could offer them. The air quite thickened, at their approach, with further intimations; the intimation that they were expert, familiar, frequent--that this wouldn't at all events be the first time. They knew how to do it, he vaguely felt--and it made them but the more idyllic, though at the very moment of the impression, as happened, their boat seemed to have begun to drift wide, the oarsman letting it go. It had by this time none the less come much nearer--near enough for Strether to dream the lady in the stern had for some reason taken account of his being there to watch them. She had remarked on it sharply, yet her companion hadn't turned round; it was in fact almost as if our friend had felt her bid him keep still. She had taken in something as a result of which their course had wavered, and it continued to waver while they just stood off. This little effect was sudden and rapid, so rapid that Strether's sense of it was separate only for an instant from a sharp start of his own. He too had within the minute taken in something, taken in that he knew the lady whose parasol, shifting as if to hide her face, made so fine a pink point in the shining scene. It was too prodigious, a chance in a million, but, if he knew the lady, the gentleman, who still presented his back and kept off, the gentleman, the coatless hero of the idyll, who had responded to her start, was, to match the marvel, none other than Chad.
Chad and Madame de Vionnet were then like himself taking a day in the country--though it was as queer as fiction, as farce, that their country could happen to be exactly his; and she had been the first at recognition, the first to feel, across the water, the shock-- for it appeared to come to that--of their wonderful accident. Strether became aware, with this, of what was taking place-- that her recognition had been even stranger for the pair in the boat, that her immediate impulse had been to control it, and that she was quickly and intensely debating with Chad the risk of betrayal. He saw they would show nothing if they could feel sure he hadn't made them out; so that he had before him for a few seconds his own hesitation. It was a sharp fantastic crisis that had popped up as if in a dream, and it had had only to last the few seconds to make him feel it as quite horrible. They were thus, on either side, TRYING the other side, and all for some reason that broke the stillness like some unprovoked harsh note. It seemed to him again, within the limit, that he had but one thing to do--to settle their common question by some sign of surprise and joy. He hereupon gave large play to these things, agitating his hat and his stick and loudly calling out-- a demonstration that brought him relief as soon as he had seen it answered. The boat, in mid-stream, still went a little wild-- which seemed natural, however, while Chad turned round, half springing up; and his good friend, after blankness and wonder, began gaily to wave her parasol. Chad dropped afresh to his paddles and the boat headed round, amazement and pleasantry filling the air meanwhile, and relief, as Strether continued to fancy, superseding mere violence. Our friend went down to the water under this odd impression as of violence averted--the violence of their having "cut" him, out there in the eye of nature, on the assumption that he wouldn't know it. He awaited them with a face from which he was conscious of not being able quite to banish this idea that they would have gone on, not seeing and not knowing, missing their dinner and disappointing their hostess, had he himself taken a line to match. That at least was what darkened his vision for the moment. Afterwards, after they had bumped at the landing-place and he had assisted their getting ashore, everything found itself sponged over by the mere miracle of the encounter.
They could so much better at last, on either side, treat it as a wild extravagance of hazard, that the situation was made elastic by the amount of explanation called into play. Why indeed--apart from oddity--the situation should have been really stiff was a question naturally not practical at the moment, and in fact, so far as we are concerned, a question tackled, later on and in private, only by Strether himself. He was to reflect later on and in private that it was mainly HE who had explained--as he had had moreover comparatively little difficulty in doing. He was to have at all events meanwhile the worrying thought of their perhaps secretly suspecting him of having plotted this coincidence, taking such pains as might be to give it the semblance of an accident. That possibility--as their imputation--didn't of course bear looking into for an instant; yet the whole incident was so manifestly, arrange it as they would, an awkward one, that he could scarce keep disclaimers in respect to his own presence from rising to his lips. Disclaimers of intention would have been as tactless as his presence was practically gross; and the narrowest escape they either of them had was his lucky escape, in the event, from making any. Nothing of the sort, so far as surface and sound were involved, was even in question; surface and sound all made for their common ridiculous good fortune, for the general invraisemblance of the occasion, for the charming chance that they had, the others, in passing, ordered some food to be ready, the charming chance that he had himself not eaten, the charming chance, even more, that their little plans, their hours, their train, in short, from la-bas, would all match for their return together to Paris. The chance that was most charming of all, the chance that drew from Madame de Vionnet her clearest, gayest "Comme cela se trouve!" was the announcement made to Strether after they were seated at table, the word given him by their hostess in respect to his carriage for the station, on which he might now count. It settled the matter for his friends as well; the conveyance-- it WAS all too lucky!--would serve for them; and nothing was more delightful than his being in a position to make the train so definite. It might have been, for themselves--to hear Madame de Vionnet-- almost unnaturally vague, a detail left to be fixed; though Strether indeed was afterwards to remember that Chad had promptly enough intervened to forestall this appearance, laughing at his companion's flightiness and making the point that he had after all, in spite of the bedazzlement of a day out with her, known what he was about.
Strether was to remember afterwards further that this had had for him the effect of forming Chad's almost sole intervention; and indeed he was to remember further still, in subsequent meditation, many things that, as it were, fitted together. Another of them was for instance that the wonderful woman's overflow of surprise and amusement was wholly into French, which she struck him as speaking with an unprecedented command of idiomatic turns, but in which she got, as he might have said, somewhat away from him, taking all at once little brilliant jumps that he could but lamely match. The question of his own French had never come up for them; it was the one thing she wouldn't have permitted--it belonged, for a person who had been through much, to mere boredom; but the present result was odd, fairly veiling her identity, shifting her back into a mere voluble class or race to the intense audibility of which he was by this time inured. When she spoke the charming slightly strange English he best knew her by he seemed to feel her as a creature, among all the millions, with a language quite to herself, the real monopoly of a special shade of speech, beautifully easy for her, yet of a colour and a cadence that were both inimitable and matters of accident. She came back to these things after they had shaken down in the inn-parlour and knew, as it were, what was to become of them; it was inevitable that loud ejaculation over the prodigy of their convergence should at last wear itself out. Then it was that his impression took fuller form--the impression, destined only to deepen, to complete itself, that they had something to put a face upon, to carry off and make the best of, and that it was she who, admirably on the whole, was doing this. It was familiar to him of course that they had something to put a face upon; their friendship, their connexion, took any amount of explaining--that would have been made familiar by his twenty minutes with Mrs. Pocock if it hadn't already been so. Yet his theory, as we know, had bountifully been that the facts were specifically none of his business, and were, over and above, so far as one had to do with them, intrinsically beautiful; and this might have prepared him for anything, as well as rendered him proof against mystification. When he reached home that night, however, he knew he had been, at bottom, neither prepared nor proof; and since we have spoken of what he was, after his return, to recall and interpret, it may as well immediately be said that his real experience of these few hours put on, in that belated vision--for he scarce went to bed till morning--the aspect that is most to our purpose.
He then knew more or less how he had been affected--he but half knew at the time. There had been plenty to affect him even after, as has been said, they had shaken down; for his consciousness, though muffled, had its sharpest moments during this passage, a marked drop into innocent friendly Bohemia. They then had put their elbows on the table, deploring the premature end of their two or three dishes; which they had tried to make up with another bottle while Chad joked a little spasmodically, perhaps even a little irrelevantly, with the hostess. What it all came to had been that fiction and fable WERE, inevitably, in the air, and not as a simple term of comparison, but as a result of things said; also that they were blinking it, all round, and that they yet needn't, so much as that, have blinked it--though indeed if they hadn't Strether didn't quite see what else they could have done. Strether didn't quite see THAT even at an hour or two past midnight, even when he had, at his hotel, for a long time, without a light and without undressing, sat back on his bedroom sofa and stared straight before him. He was, at that point of vantage, in full possession, to make of it all what he could. He kept making of it that there had been simply a LIE in the charming affair--a lie on which one could now, detached and deliberate, perfectly put one's finger. It was with the lie that they had eaten and drunk and talked and laughed, that they had waited for their carriole rather impatiently, and had then got into the vehicle and, sensibly subsiding, driven their three or four miles through the darkening summer night. The eating and drinking, which had been a resource, had had the effect of having served its turn; the talk and laughter had done as much; and it was during their somewhat tedious progress to the station, during the waits there, the further delays, their submission to fatigue, their silences in the dim compartment of the much-stopping train, that he prepared himself for reflexions to come. It had been a performance, Madame de Vionnet's manner, and though it had to that degree faltered toward the end, as through her ceasing to believe in it, as if she had asked herself, or Chad had found a moment surreptitiously to ask her, what after all was the use, a performance it had none the less quite handsomely remained, with the final fact about it that it was on the whole easier to keep up than to abandon.
From the point of view of presence of mind it had been very wonderful indeed, wonderful for readiness, for beautiful assurance, for the way her decision was taken on the spot, without time to confer with Chad, without time for anything. Their only conference could have been the brief instants in the boat before they confessed to recognising the spectator on the bank, for they hadn't been alone together a moment since and must have communicated all in silence. It was a part of the deep impression for Strether, and not the least of the deep interest, that they COULD so communicate--that Chad in particular could let her know he left it to her. He habitually left things to others, as Strether was so well aware, and it in fact came over our friend in these meditations that there had been as yet no such vivid illustration of his famous knowing how to live. It was as if he had humoured her to the extent of letting her lie without correction--almost as if, really, he would be coming round in the morning to set the matter, as between Strether and himself, right. Of course he couldn't quite come; it was a case in which a man was obliged to accept the woman's version, even when fantastic; if she had, with more flurry than she cared to show, elected, as the phrase was, to represent that they had left Paris that morning, and with no design but of getting back within the day--if she had so sized-up, in the Woollett phrase, their necessity, she knew best her own measure. There were things, all the same, it was impossible to blink and which made this measure an odd one--the too evident fact for instance that she hadn't started out for the day dressed and hatted and shod, and even, for that matter, pink parasol'd, as she had been in the boat. From what did the drop in her assurance proceed as the tension increased--from what did this slightly baffled ingenuity spring but from her consciousness of not presenting, as night closed in, with not so much as a shawl to wrap her round, an appearance that matched her story? She admitted that she was cold, but only to blame her imprudence which Chad suffered her to give such account of as she might. Her shawl and Chad's overcoat and her other garments, and his, those they had each worn the day before, were at the place, best known to themselves--a quiet retreat enough, no doubt--at which they had been spending the twenty-four hours, to which they had fully meant to return that evening, from which they had so remarkably swum into Strether's ken, and the tacit repudiation of which had been thus the essence of her comedy. Strether saw how she had perceived in a flash that they couldn't quite look to going back there under his nose; though, honestly, as he gouged deeper into the matter, he was somewhat surprised, as Chad likewise had perhaps been, at the uprising of this scruple. He seemed even to divine that she had entertained it rather for Chad than for herself, and that, as the young man had lacked the chance to enlighten her, she had had to go on with it, he meanwhile mistaking her motive.
He was rather glad, none the less, that they had in point of fact not parted at the Cheval Blanc, that he hadn't been reduced to giving them his blessing for an idyllic retreat down the river. He had had in the actual case to make-believe more than he liked, but this was nothing, it struck him, to what the other event would have required. Could he, literally, quite have faced the other event? Would he have been capable of making the best of it with them? This was what he was trying to do now; but with the advantage of his being able to give more time to it a good deal counteracted by his sense of what, over and above the central fact itself, he had to swallow. It was the quantity of make-believe involved and so vividly exemplified that most disagreed with his spiritual stomach. He moved, however, from the consideration of that quantity--to say nothing of the consciousness of that organ-- back to the other feature of the show, the deep, deep truth of the intimacy revealed. That was what, in his vain vigil, he oftenest reverted to: intimacy, at such a point, was LIKE that--and what in the world else would one have wished it to be like? It was all very well for him to feel the pity of its being so much like lying; he almost blushed, in the dark, for the way he had dressed the possibility in vagueness, as a little girl might have dressed her doll. He had made them--and by no fault of their own--momentarily pull it for him, the possibility, out of this vagueness; and must he not therefore take it now as they had had simply, with whatever thin attenuations, to give it to him? The very question, it may be added, made him feel lonely and cold. There was the element of the awkward all round, but Chad and Madame de Vionnet had at least the comfort that they could talk it over together. With whom could HE talk of such things?--unless indeed always, at almost any stage, with Maria? He foresaw that Miss Gostrey would come again into requisition on the morrow; though it wasn't to be denied that he was already a little afraid of her "What on earth--that's what I want to know now--had you then supposed?" He recognised at last that he had really been trying all along to suppose nothing. Verily, verily, his labour had been lost. He found himself supposing innumerable and wonderful things.
Strether couldn't have said he had during the previous hours definitely expected it; yet when. later on, that morning--though no later indeed than for his coming forth at ten o'clock--he saw the concierge produce, on his approach, a petit bleu delivered since his letters had been sent up, he recognised the appearance as the first symptom of a sequel. He then knew he had been thinking of some early sign from Chad as more likely, after all, than not; and this would be precisely the early sign. He took it so for granted that he opened the petit bleu just where he had stopped, in the pleasant cool draught of the porte-cochere--only curious to see where the young man would, at such a juncture, break out. His curiosity, however, was more than gratified; the small missive, whose gummed edge he had detached without attention to the address, not being from the young man at all, but from the person whom the case gave him on the spot as still more worth while. Worth while or not, he went round to the nearest telegraph-office, the big one on the Boulevard, with a directness that almost confessed to a fear of the danger of delay. He might have been thinking that if he didn't go before he could think he wouldn't perhaps go at all. He at any rate kept, in the lower side-pocket of his morning coat, a very deliberate hand on his blue missive, crumpling it up rather tenderly than harshly. He wrote a reply, on the Boulevard, also in the form of a petit bleu--which was quickly done, under pressure of the place, inasmuch as, like Madame de Vionnet's own communication, it consisted of the fewest words. She had asked him if he could do her the very great kindness of coming to see her that evening at half-past nine, and he answered, as if nothing were easier, that he would present himself at the hour she named. She had added a line of postscript, to the effect that she would come to him elsewhere and at his own hour if he preferred; but he took no notice of this, feeling that if he saw her at all half the value of it would be in seeing her where he had already seen her best. He mightn't see her at all; that was one of the reflexions he made after writing and before he dropped his closed card into the box; he mightn't see any one at all any more at all; he might make an end as well now as ever, leaving things as they were, since he was doubtless not to leave them better, and taking his way home so far as should appear that a home remained to him. This alternative was for a few minutes so sharp that if he at last did deposit his missive it was perhaps because the pressure of the place had an effect.
There was none other, however, than the common and constant pressure, familiar to our friend under the rubric of Postes et Telegraphes-- the something in the air of these establishments; the vibration of the vast strange life of the town, the influence of the types, the performers concocting their messages; the little prompt Paris women, arranging, pretexting goodness knew what, driving the dreadful needle-pointed public pen at the dreadful sand-strewn public table: implements that symbolised for Strether's too interpretative innocence something more acute in manners, more sinister in morals, more fierce in the national life. After he had put in his paper he had ranged himself, he was really amused to think, on the side of the fierce, the sinister, the acute. He was carrying on a correspondence, across the great city, quite in the key of the Postes et Telegraphes in general; and it was fairly as if the acceptance of that fact had come from something in his state that sorted with the occupation of his neighbours. He was mixed up with the typical tale of Paris, and so were they, poor things--how could they all together help being? They were no worse than he, in short, and he no worse than they-- if, queerly enough, no better; and at all events he had settled his hash, so that he went out to begin, from that moment, his day of waiting. The great settlement was, as he felt, in his preference for seeing his correspondent in her own best conditions. THAT was part of the typical tale, the part most significant in respect to himself. He liked the place she lived in, the picture that each time squared itself, large and high and clear, around her: every occasion of seeing it was a pleasure of a different shade. Yet what precisely was he doing with shades of pleasure now, and why hadn't he properly and logically compelled her to commit herself to whatever of disadvantage and penalty the situation might throw up? He might have proposed, as for Sarah Pocock, the cold hospitality of his own salon de lecture, in which the chill of Sarah's visit seemed still to abide and shades of pleasure were dim; he might have suggested a stone bench in the dusty Tuileries or a penny chair at the back part of the Champs Elysees. These things would have been a trifle stern, and sternness alone now wouldn't be sinister. An instinct in him cast about for some form of discipline in which they might meet--some awkwardness they would suffer from, some danger, or at least some grave inconvenience, they would incur. This would give a sense--which the spirit required, rather ached and sighed in the absence of--that somebody was paying something somewhere and somehow, that they were at least not all floating together on the silver stream of impunity. Just instead of that to go and see her late in the evening, as if, for all the world--well, as if he were as much in the swim as anybody else: this had as little as possible in common with the penal form.
Even when he had felt that objection melt away, however, the practical difference was small; the long stretch of his interval took the colour it would, and if he lived on thus with the sinister from hour to hour it proved an easier thing than one might have supposed in advance. He reverted in thought to his old tradition, the one he had been brought up on and which even so many years of life had but little worn away; the notion that the state of the wrongdoer, or at least this person's happiness, presented some special difficulty. What struck him now rather was the ease of it-- for nothing in truth appeared easier. It was an ease he himself fairly tasted of for the rest of the day; giving himself quite up; not so much as trying to dress it out, in any particular whatever, as a difficulty; not after all going to see Maria--which would have been in a manner a result of such dressing; only idling, lounging, smoking, sitting in the shade, drinking lemonade and consuming ices. The day had turned to heat and eventual thunder, and he now and again went back to his hotel to find that Chad hadn't been there. He hadn't yet struck himself, since leaving Woollett, so much as a loafer, though there had been times when he believed himself touching bottom. This was a deeper depth than any, and with no foresight, scarcely with a care, as to what he should bring up. He almost wondered if he didn't LOOK demoralised and disreputable; he had the fanciful vision, as he sat and smoked, of some accidental, some motived, return of the Pococks, who would be passing along the Boulevard and would catch this view of him. They would have distinctly, on his appearance, every ground for scandal. But fate failed to administer even that sternness; the Pococks never passed and Chad made no sign. Strether meanwhile continued to hold off from Miss Gostrey, keeping her till to-morrow; so that by evening his irresponsibility, his impunity, his luxury, had become--there was no other word for them--immense.
Between nine and ten, at last, in the high clear picture--he was moving in these days, as in a gallery, from clever canvas to clever canvas--he drew a long breath: it was so presented to him from the first that the spell of his luxury wouldn't be broken. He wouldn't have, that is, to become responsible--this was admirably in the air: she had sent for him precisely to let him feel it, so that he might go on with the comfort (comfort already established, hadn't it been?) of regarding his ordeal, the ordeal of the weeks of Sarah's stay and of their climax, as safely traversed and left behind him. Didn't she just wish to assure him that SHE now took it all and so kept it; that he was absolutely not to worry any more, was only to rest on his laurels and continue generously to help her? The light in her beautiful formal room was dim, though it would do, as everything would always do; the hot night had kept out lamps, but there was a pair of clusters of candles that glimmered over the chimney-piece like the tall tapers of an altar. The windows were all open, their redundant hangings swaying a little, and he heard once more, from the empty court, the small plash of the fountain. From beyond this, and as from a great distance--beyond the court, beyond the corps de logis forming the front--came, as if excited and exciting, the vague voice of Paris. Strether had all along been subject to sudden gusts of fancy in connexion with such matters as these--odd starts of the historic sense, suppositions and divinations with no warrant but their intensity. Thus and so, on the eve of the great recorded dates, the days and nights of revolution, the sounds had come in, the omens, the beginnings broken out. They were the smell of revolution, the smell of the public temper--or perhaps simply the smell of blood.
It was at present queer beyond words, "subtle," he would have risked saying, that such suggestions should keep crossing the scene; but it was doubtless the effect of the thunder in the air, which had hung about all day without release. His hostess was dressed as for thunderous times, and it fell in with the kind of imagination we have just attributed to him that she should be in simplest coolest white, of a character so old-fashioned, if he were not mistaken, that Madame Roland must on the scaffold have worn something like it. This effect was enhanced by a small black fichu or scarf, of crape or gauze, disposed quaintly round her bosom and now completing as by a mystic touch the pathetic, the noble analogy. Poor Strether in fact scarce knew what analogy was evoked for him as the charming woman, receiving him and making him, as she could do such things, at once familiarly and gravely welcome, moved over her great room with her image almost repeated in its polished floor, which had been fully bared for summer. The associations of the place, all felt again; the gleam here and there, in the subdued light, of glass and gilt and parquet, with the quietness of her own note as the centre--these things were at first as delicate as if they had been ghostly, and he was sure in a moment that, whatever he should find he had come for, it wouldn't be for an impression that had previously failed him. That conviction held him from the outset, and, seeming singularly to simplify, certified to him that the objects about would help him, would really help them both. No, he might never see them again--this was only too probably the last time; and he should certainly see nothing in the least degree like them. He should soon be going to where such things were not, and it would be a small mercy for memory, for fancy, to have, in that stress, a loaf on the shelf. He knew in advance he should look back on the perception actually sharpest with him as on the view of something old, old, old, the oldest thing he had ever personally touched; and he also knew, even while he took his companion in as the feature among features, that memory and fancy couldn't help being enlisted for her. She might intend what she would, but this was beyond anything she could intend, with things from far back--tyrannies of history, facts of type, values, as the painters said, of expression-- all working for her and giving her the supreme chance, the chance of the happy, the really luxurious few, the chance, on a great occasion, to be natural and simple. She had never, with him, been more so; or if it was the perfection of art it would never-- and that came to the same thing--be proved against her.
What was truly wonderful was her way of differing so from time to time without detriment to her simplicity. Caprices, he was sure she felt, were before anything else bad manners, and that judgement in her was by itself a thing making more for safety of intercourse than anything that in his various own past intercourses he had had to reckon on. If therefore her presence was now quite other than the one she had shown him the night before, there was nothing of violence in the change--it was all harmony and reason. It gave him a mild deep person, whereas he had had on the occasion to which their interview was a direct reference a person committed to movement and surface and abounding in them; but she was in either character more remarkable for nothing than for her bridging of intervals, and this now fell in with what he understood he was to leave to her. The only thing was that, if he was to leave it ALL to her, why exactly had she sent for him? He had had, vaguely, in advance, his explanation, his view of the probability of her wishing to set something right, to deal in some way with the fraud so lately practised on his presumed credulity. Would she attempt to carry it further or would she blot it out? Would she throw over it some more or less happy colour; or would she do nothing about it at all? He perceived soon enough at least that, however reasonable she might be, she wasn't vulgarly confused, and it herewith pressed upon him that their eminent "lie," Chad's and hers, was simply after all such an inevitable tribute to good taste as he couldn't have wished them not to render. Away from them, during his vigil, he had seemed to wince at the amount of comedy involved; whereas in his present posture he could only ask himself how he should enjoy any attempt from her to take the comedy back. He shouldn't enjoy it at all; but, once more and yet once more, he could trust her. That is he could trust her to make deception right. As she presented things the ugliness--goodness knew why-- went out of them; none the less too that she could present them, with an art of her own, by not so much as touching them. She let the matter, at all events, lie where it was--where the previous twenty-four hours had placed it; appearing merely to circle about it respectfully, tenderly, almost piously, while she took up another question.
She knew she hadn't really thrown dust in his eyes; this, the previous night, before they separated, had practically passed between them; and, as she had sent for him to see what the difference thus made for him might amount to, so he was conscious at the end of five minutes that he had been tried and tested. She had settled with Chad after he left them that she would, for her satisfaction, assure herself of this quantity, and Chad had, as usual, let her have her way. Chad was always letting people have their way when he felt that it would somehow turn his wheel for him; it somehow always did turn his wheel. Strether felt, oddly enough, before these facts, freshly and consentingly passive; they again so rubbed it into him that the couple thus fixing his attention were intimate, that his intervention had absolutely aided and intensified their intimacy, and that in fine he must accept the consequence of that. He had absolutely become, himself, with his perceptions and his mistakes, his concessions and his reserves, the droll mixture, as it must seem to them, of his braveries and his fears, the general spectacle of his art and his innocence, almost an added link and certainly a common priceless ground for them to meet upon. It was as if he had been hearing their very tone when she brought out a reference that was comparatively straight. "The last twice that you've been here, you know, I never asked you," she said with an abrupt transition--they had been pretending before this to talk simply of the charm of yesterday and of the interest of the country they had seen. The effort was confessedly vain; not for such talk had she invited him; and her impatient reminder was of their having done for it all the needful on his coming to her after Sarah's flight. What she hadn't asked him then was to state to her where and how he stood for her; she had been resting on Chad's report of their midnight hour together in the Boulevard Malesherbes. The thing therefore she at present desired was ushered in by this recall of the two occasions on which, disinterested and merciful, she hadn't worried him. To-night truly she WOULD worry him, and this was her appeal to him to let her risk it. He wasn't to mind if she bored him a little: she had behaved, after all--hadn't she?--so awfully, awfully well.
"Oh, you're all right, you're all right," he almost impatiently declared; his impatience being moreover not for her pressure, but for her scruple. More and more distinct to him was the tune to which she would have had the matter out with Chad: more and more vivid for him the idea that she had been nervous as to what he might be able to "stand." Yes, it had been a question if he had "stood" what the scene on the river had given him, and, though the young man had doubtless opined in favour of his recuperation, her own last word must have been that she should feel easier in seeing for herself. That was it, unmistakeably; she WAS seeing for herself. What he could stand was thus, in these moments, in the balance for Strether, who reflected, as he became fully aware of it, that he must properly brace himself. He wanted fully to appear to stand all he might; and there was a certain command of the situation for him in this very wish not to look too much at sea. She was ready with everything, but so, sufficiently, was he; that is he was at one point the more prepared of the two, inasmuch as, for all her cleverness, she couldn't produce on the spot--and it was surprising--an account of the motive of her note. He had the advantage that his pronouncing her "all right" gave him for an enquiry. "May I ask, delighted as I've been to come, if you've wished to say something special?" He spoke as if she might have seen he had been waiting for it--not indeed with discomfort, but with natural interest. Then he saw that she was a little taken aback, was even surprised herself at the detail she had neglected-- the only one ever yet; having somehow assumed he would know, would recognise, would leave some things not to be said. She looked at him, however, an instant as if to convey that if he wanted them ALL--!
"Selfish and vulgar--that's what I must seem to you. You've done everything for me, and here I am as if I were asking for more. But it isn't," she went on, "because I'm afraid--though I AM of course afraid, as a woman in my position always is. I mean it isn't because one lives in terror--it isn't because of that one is selfish, for I'm ready to give you my word to-night that I don't care; don't care what still may happen and what I may lose. I don't ask you to raise your little finger for me again, nor do I wish so much as to mention to you what we've talked of before, either my danger or my safety, or his mother, or his sister, or the girl he may marry, or the fortune he may make or miss, or the right or the wrong, of any kind, he may do. If after the help one has had from you one can't either take care of one's self or simply hold one's tongue, one must renounce all claim to be an object of interest. It's in the name of what I DO care about that I've tried still to keep hold of you. How can I be indifferent," she asked, "to how I appear to you?" And as he found himself unable immediately to say: "Why, if you're going, NEED you, after all? Is it impossible you should stay on--so that one mayn't lose you?"
"Impossible I should live with you here instead of going home?"
"Not 'with' us, if you object to that, but near enough to us, somewhere, for us to see you--well," she beautifully brought out, "when we feel we MUST. How shall we not sometimes feel it? I've wanted to see you often when I couldn't," she pursued, "all these last weeks. How shan't I then miss you now, with the sense of your being gone forever?" Then as if the straightness of this appeal, taking him unprepared, had visibly left him wondering: "Where IS your 'home' moreover now--what has become of it? I've made a change in your life, I know I have; I've upset everything in your mind as well; in your sense of--what shall I call it?--all the decencies and possibilities. It gives me a kind of detestation--" She pulled up short.
Oh but he wanted to hear. "Detestation of what?"
"Of everything--of life."
"Ah that's too much," he laughed--"or too little!"
"Too little, precisely"--she was eager. "What I hate is myself-- when I think that one has to take so much, to be happy, out of the lives of others, and that one isn't happy even then. One does it to cheat one's self and to stop one's mouth--but that's only at the best for a little. The wretched self is always there, always making one somehow a fresh anxiety. What it comes to is that it's not, that it's never, a happiness, any happiness at all, to TAKE. The only safe thing is to give. It's what plays you least false." Interesting, touching, strikingly sincere as she let these things come from her, she yet puzzled and troubled him--so fine was the quaver of her quietness. He felt what he had felt before with her, that there was always more behind what she showed, and more and more again behind that. "You know so, at least," she added, "where you are!"
"YOU ought to know it indeed then; for isn't what you've been giving exactly what has brought us together this way? You've been making, as I've so fully let you know I've felt," Strether said, "the most precious present I've ever seen made, and if you can't sit down peacefully on that performance you ARE, no doubt, born to torment yourself. But you ought," he wound up, "to be easy."
"And not trouble you any more, no doubt--not thrust on you even the wonder and the beauty of what I've done; only let you regard our business as over, and well over, and see you depart in a peace that matches my own? No doubt, no doubt, no doubt," she nervously repeated--"all the more that I don't really pretend I believe you couldn't, for yourself, NOT have done what you have. I don't pretend you feel yourself victimised, for this evidently is the way you live, and it's what--we're agreed--is the best way. Yes, as you say," she continued after a moment, "I ought to be easy and rest on my work. Well then here am I doing so. I AM easy. You'll have it for your last impression. When is it you say you go?" she asked with a quick change.
He took some time to reply--his last impression was more and more so mixed a one. It produced in him a vague disappointment, a drop that was deeper even than the fall of his elation the previous night. The good of what he had done, if he had done so much, wasn't there to enliven him quite to the point that would have been ideal for a grand gay finale. Women were thus endlessly absorbent, and to deal with them was to walk on water. What was at bottom the matter with her, embroider as she might and disclaim as she might-- what was at bottom the matter with her was simply Chad himself. It was of Chad she was after all renewedly afraid; the strange strength of her passion was the very strength of her fear; she clung to HIM, Lambert Strether, as to a source of safety she had tested, and, generous graceful truthful as she might try to be, exquisite as she was, she dreaded the term of his being within reach. With this sharpest perception yet, it was like a chill in the air to him, it was almost appalling, that a creature so fine could be, by mysterious forces, a creature so exploited. For at the end of all things they WERE mysterious: she had but made Chad what he was--so why could she think she had made him infinite? She had made him better, she had made him best, she had made him anything one would; but it came to our friend with supreme queerness that he was none the less only Chad. Strether had the sense that HE, a little, had made him too; his high appreciation had as it were, consecrated her work The work, however admirable, was nevertheless of the strict human order, and in short it was marvellous that the companion of mere earthly joys, of comforts, aberrations (however one classed them) within the common experience should be so transcendently prized. It might have made Strether hot or shy, as such secrets of others brought home sometimes do make us; but he was held there by something so hard that it was fairly grim. This was not the discomposure of last night; that had quite passed--such discomposures were a detail; the real coercion was to see a man ineffably adored. There it was again--it took women, it took women; if to deal with them was to walk on water what wonder that the water rose? And it had never surely risen higher than round this woman. He presently found himself taking a long look from her, and the next thing he knew he had uttered all his thought. "You're afraid for your life!"
It drew out her long look, and he soon enough saw why. A spasm came into her face, the tears she had already been unable to hide overflowed at first in silence, and then, as the sound suddenly comes from a child, quickened to gasps, to sobs. She sat and covered her face with her hands, giving up all attempt at a manner. "It's how you see me, it's how you see me"--she caught her breath with it--"and it's as I AM, and as I must take myself, and of course it's no matter." Her emotion was at first so incoherent that he could only stand there at a loss, stand with his sense of having upset her, though of having done it by the truth. He had to listen to her in a silence that he made no immediate effort to attenuate, feeling her doubly woeful amid all her dim diffused elegance; consenting to it as he had consented to the rest, and even conscious of some vague inward irony in the presence of such a fine free range of bliss and bale. He couldn't say it was NOT no matter; for he was serving her to the end, he now knew, anyway-- quite as if what he thought of her had nothing to do with it. It was actually moreover as if he didn't think of her at all, as if he could think of nothing but the passion, mature, abysmal, pitiful, she represented, and the possibilities she betrayed. She was older for him to-night, visibly less exempt from the touch of time; but she was as much as ever the finest and subtlest creature, the happiest apparition, it had been given him, in all his years, to meet; and yet he could see her there as vulgarly troubled, in very truth, as a maidservant crying for her young man. The only thing was that she judged herself as the maidservant wouldn't; the weakness of which wisdom too, the dishonour of which judgement, seemed but to sink her lower. Her collapse, however, no doubt, was briefer and she had in a manner recovered herself before he intervened. "Of course I'm afraid for my life. But that's nothing. It isn't that."
He was silent a little longer, as if thinking what it might be. "There's something I have in mind that I can still do."
But she threw off at last, with a sharp sad headshake, drying her eyes, what he could still do. "I don't care for that. Of course, as I've said, you're acting, in your wonderful way, for yourself; and what's for yourself is no more my business--though I may reach out unholy hands so clumsily to touch it--than if it were something in Timbuctoo. It's only that you don't snub me, as you've had fifty chances to do--it's only your beautiful patience that makes one forget one's manners. In spite of your patience, all the same," she went on, "you'd do anything rather than be with us here, even if that were possible. You'd do everything for us but be mixed up with us--which is a statement you can easily answer to the advantage of your own manners. You can say 'What's the use of talking of things that at the best are impossible?' What IS of course the use? It's only my little madness. You'd talk if you were tormented. And I don't mean now about HIM. Oh for him--!" Positively, strangely, bitterly, as it seemed to Strether, she gave "him," for the moment, away. "You don't care what I think of you; but I happen to care what you think of me. And what you MIGHT," she added. "What you perhaps even did."
He gained time. "What I did--?"
"Did think before. Before this. DIDn't you think--?"
But he had already stopped her. "I didn't think anything. I never think a step further than I'm obliged to."
"That's perfectly false, I believe," she returned--"except that you may, no doubt, often pull up when things become TOO ugly; or even, I'll say, to save you a protest, too beautiful. At any rate, even so far as it's true, we've thrust on you appearances that you've had to take in and that have therefore made your obligation. Ugly or beautiful--it doesn't matter what we call them--you were getting on without them, and that's where we're detestable. We bore you--that's where we are. And we may well--for what we've cost you. All you can do NOW is not to think at all. And I who should have liked to seem to you--well, sublime!"
He could only after a moment re-echo Miss Barrace. "You're wonderful!"
"I'm old and abject and hideous"--she went on as without hearing him. "Abject above all. Or old above all. It's when one's old that it's worst. I don't care what becomes of it--let what WILL; there it is. It's a doom--I know it; you can't see it more than I do myself. Things have to happen as they will." With which she came back again to what, face to face with him, had so quite broken down. "Of course you wouldn't, even if possible, and no matter what may happen to you, be near us. But think of me, think of me--!" She exhaled it into air.
He took refuge in repeating something he had already said and that she had made nothing of. "There's something I believe I can still do." And he put his hand out for good-bye.
She again made nothing of it; she went on with her insistence. "That won't help you. There's nothing to help you."
"Well, it may help YOU," he said.
She shook her head. "There's not a grain of certainty in my future--for the only certainty is that I shall be the loser in the end."
She hadn't taken his hand, but she moved with him to the door. "That's cheerful," he laughed, "for your benefactor!"
"What's cheerful for ME," she replied, "is that we might, you and I, have been friends. That's it--that's it. You see how, as I say, I want everything. I've wanted you too."
"Ah but you've HAD me!" he declared, at the door, with an emphasis that made an end.
His purpose had been to see Chad the next day, and he had prefigured seeing him by an early call; having in general never stood on ceremony in respect to visits at the Boulevard Malesherbes. It had been more often natural for him to go there than for Chad to come to the small hotel, the attractions of which were scant; yet it nevertheless, just now, at the eleventh hour, did suggest itself to Strether to begin by giving the young man a chance. It struck him that, in the inevitable course, Chad would be "round," as Waymarsh used to say-- Waymarsh who already, somehow, seemed long ago. He hadn't come the day before, because it had been arranged between them that Madame de Vionnet should see their friend first; but now that this passage had taken place he would present himself, and their friend wouldn't have long to wait. Strether assumed, he became aware, on this reasoning, that the interesting parties to the arrangement would have met betimes, and that the more interesting of the two--as she was after all--would have communicated to the other the issue of her appeal. Chad would know without delay that his mother's messenger had been with her, and, though it was perhaps not quite easy to see how she could qualify what had occurred, he would at least have been sufficiently advised to feel he could go on. The day, however, brought, early or late, no word from him, and Strether felt, as a result of this, that a change had practically come over their intercourse. It was perhaps a premature judgement; or it only meant perhaps--how could he tell?--that the wonderful pair he protected had taken up again together the excursion he had accidentally checked. They might have gone back to the country, and gone back but with a long breath drawn; that indeed would best mark Chad's sense that reprobation hadn't rewarded Madame de Vionnet's request for an interview. At the end of the twenty-four hours, at the end of the forty-eight, there was still no overture; so that Strether filled up the time, as he had so often filled it before, by going to see Miss Gostrey.
He proposed amusements to her; he felt expert now in proposing amusements; and he had thus, for several days, an odd sense of leading her about Paris, of driving her in the Bois, of showing her the penny steamboats--those from which the breeze of the Seine was to be best enjoyed--that might have belonged to a kindly uncle doing the honours of the capital to an Intelligent niece from the country. He found means even to take her to shops she didn't know, or that she pretended she didn't; while she, on her side, was, like the country maiden, all passive modest and grateful-- going in fact so far as to emulate rusticity in occasional fatigues and bewilderments. Strether described these vague proceedings to himself, described them even to her, as a happy interlude; the sign of which was that the companions said for the time no further word about the matter they had talked of to satiety. He proclaimed satiety at the outset, and she quickly took the hint; as docile both in this and in everything else as the intelligent obedient niece. He told her as yet nothing of his late adventure--for as an adventure it now ranked with him; he pushed the whole business temporarily aside and found his interest in the fact of her beautiful assent. She left questions unasked--she who for so long had been all questions; she gave herself up to him with an understanding of which mere mute gentleness might have seemed the sufficient expression. She knew his sense of his situation had taken still another step--of that he was quite aware; but she conveyed that, whatever had thus happened for him, it was thrown into the shade by what was happening for herself. This--though it mightn't to a detached spirit have seemed much--was the major interest, and she met it with a new directness of response, measuring it from hour to hour with her grave hush of acceptance. Touched as he had so often been by her before, he was, for his part too, touched afresh; all the more that though he could be duly aware of the principle of his own mood he couldn't be equally so of the principle of hers. He knew, that is, in a manner--knew roughly and resignedly--what he himself was hatching; whereas he had to take the chance of what he called to himself Maria's calculations. It was all he needed that she liked him enough for what they were doing, and even should they do a good deal more would still like him enough for that; the essential freshness of a relation so simple was a cool bath to the soreness produced by other relations. These others appeared to him now horribly complex; they bristled with fine points, points all unimaginable beforehand, points that pricked and drew blood; a fact that gave to an hour with his present friend on a bateau-mouche, or in the afternoon shade of the Champs Elysees, something of the innocent pleasure of handling rounded ivory. His relation with Chad personally--from the moment he had got his point of view--had been of the simplest; yet this also struck him as bristling, after a third and a fourth blank day had passed. It was as if at last however his care for such indications had dropped; there came a fifth blank day and he ceased to enquire or to heed.
They now took on to his fancy, Miss Gostrey and he, the image of the Babes in the Wood; they could trust the merciful elements to let them continue at peace. He had been great already, as he knew, at postponements; but he had only to get afresh into the rhythm of one to feel its fine attraction. It amused him to say to himself that he might for all the world have been going to die--die resignedly; the scene was filled for him with so deep a death-bed hush, so melancholy a charm. That meant the postponement of everything else-- which made so for the quiet lapse of life; and the postponement in especial of the reckoning to come--unless indeed the reckoning to come were to be one and the same thing with extinction. It faced him, the reckoning, over the shoulder of much interposing experience-- which also faced him; and one would float to it doubtless duly through these caverns of Kubla Khan. It was really behind everything; it hadn't merged in what he had done; his final appreciation of what he had done--his appreciation on the spot--would provide it with its main sharpness. The spot so focussed was of course Woollett, and he was to see, at the best, what Woollett would be with everything there changed for him. Wouldn't THAT revelation practically amount to the wind-up of his career? Well, the summer's end would show; his suspense had meanwhile exactly the sweetness of vain delay; and he had with it, we should mention, other pastimes than Maria's company--plenty of separate musings in which his luxury failed him but at one point. He was well in port, the outer sea behind him, and it was only a matter of getting ashore. There was a question that came and went for him, however, as he rested against the side of his ship, and it was a little to get rid of the obsession that he prolonged his hours with Miss Gostrey. It was a question about himself, but it could only be settled by seeing Chad again; it was indeed his principal reason for wanting to see Chad. After that it wouldn't signify--it was a ghost that certain words would easily lay to rest. Only the young man must be there to take the words. Once they were taken he wouldn't have a question left; none, that is, in connexion with this particular affair. It wouldn't then matter even to himself that he might now have been guilty of speaking BECAUSE of what he had forfeited. That was the refinement of his supreme scruple--he wished so to leave what he had forfeited out of account. He wished not to do anything because he had missed something else, because he was sore or sorry or impoverished, because he was maltreated or desperate; he wished to do everything because he was lucid and quiet, just the same for himself on all essential points as he had ever been. Thus it was that while he virtually hung about for Chad he kept mutely putting it: "You've been chucked, old boy; but what has that to do with it?" It would have sickened him to feel vindictive.
These tints of feeling indeed were doubtless but the iridescence of his idleness, and they were presently lost in a new light from Maria. She had a fresh fact for him before the week was out, and she practically met him with it on his appearing one night. He hadn't on this day seen her, but had planned presenting himself in due course to ask her to dine with him somewhere out of doors, on one of the terraces, in one of the gardens, of which the Paris of summer was profuse. It had then come on to rain, so that, disconcerted, he changed his mind; dining alone at home, a little stuffily and stupidly, and waiting on her afterwards to make up his loss. He was sure within a minute that something had happened; it was so in the air of the rich little room that he had scarcely to name his thought. Softly lighted, the whole colour of the place, with its vague values, was in cool fusion--an effect that made the visitor stand for a little agaze. It was as if in doing so now he had felt a recent presence--his recognition of the passage of which his hostess in turn divined. She had scarcely to say it--"Yes, she has been here, and this time I received her." It wasn't till a minute later that she added: "There being, as I understand you, no reason NOW--!"
"None for your refusing?"
"No--if you've done what you've had to do."
"I've certainly so far done it," Strether said, "as that you needn't fear the effect, or the appearance of coming between us. There's nothing between us now but what we ourselves have put there, and not an inch of room for anything else whatever. Therefore you're only beautifully WITH us as always--though doubtless now, if she has talked to you, rather more with us than less. Of course if she came," he added, "it was to talk to you."
"It was to talk to me," Maria returned; on which he was further sure that she was practically in possession of what he himself hadn't yet told her. He was even sure she was in possession of things he himself couldn't have told; for the consciousness of them was now all in her face and accompanied there with a shade of sadness that marked in her the close of all uncertainties. It came out for him more than ever yet that she had had from the first a knowledge she believed him not to have had, a knowledge the sharp acquisition of which might be destined to make a difference for him. The difference for him might not inconceivably be an arrest of his independence and a change in his attitude--in other words a revulsion in favour of the principles of Woollett. She had really prefigured the possibility of a shock that would send him swinging back to Mrs. Newsome. He hadn't, it was true, week after week, shown signs of receiving it, but the possibility had been none the less in the air. What Maria accordingly had had now to take in was that the shock had descended and that he hadn't, all the same, swung back. He had grown clear, in a flash, on a point long since settled for herself; but no reapproximation to Mrs. Newsome had occurred in consequence. Madame de Vionnet had by her visit held up the torch to these truths, and what now lingered in poor Maria's face was the somewhat smoky light of the scene between them. If the light however wasn't, as we have hinted, the glow of joy, the reasons for this also were perhaps discernible to Strether even through the blur cast over them by his natural modesty. She had held herself for months with a firm hand; she hadn't interfered on any chance--and chances were specious enough--that she might interfere to her profit. She had turned her back on the dream that Mrs. Newsome's rupture, their friend's forfeiture--the engagement the relation itself, broken beyond all mending--might furnish forth her advantage; and, to stay her hand from promoting these things, she had on private, difficult, but rigid, lines, played strictly fair. She couldn't therefore but feel that, though, as the end of all, the facts in question had been stoutly confirmed, her ground for personal, for what might have been called interested, elation remained rather vague. Strether might easily have made out that she had been asking herself, in the hours she had just sat through, if there were still for her, or were only not, a fair shade of uncertainty. Let us hasten to add, however, that what he at first made out on this occasion he also at first kept to himself. He only asked what in particular Madame de Vionnet had come for, and as to this his companion was ready.
"She wants tidings of Mr. Newsome, whom she appears not to have seen for some days."
"Then she hasn't been away with him again?"
"She seemed to think," Maria answered, "that he might have gone away with YOU."
"And did you tell her I know nothing of him?"
She had her indulgent headshake. "I've known nothing of what you know. I could only tell her I'd ask you."
"Then I've not seen him for a week--and of course I've wondered." His wonderment showed at this moment as sharper, but he presently went on. "Still, I dare say I can put my hand on him. Did she strike you," he asked, "as anxious?"
"She's always anxious."
"After all I've done for her?" And he had one of the last flickers of his occasional mild mirth. "To think that was just what I came out to prevent!"
She took it up but to reply. "You don't regard him then as safe?"
"I was just going to ask you how in that respect you regard Madame de Vionnet."
She looked at him a little. "What woman was EVER safe? She told me," she added--and it was as if at the touch of the connexion-- "of your extraordinary meeting in the country. After that a quoi se fier?"
"It was, as an accident, in all the possible or impossible chapter," Strether conceded, "amazing enough. But still, but still--!"
"But still she didn't mind?"
"She doesn't mind anything."
"Well, then, as you don't either, we may all sink to rest!"
He appeared to agree with her, but he had his reservation. "I do mind Chad's disappearance."
"Oh you'll get him back. But now you know," she said, "why I went to Mentone." He had sufficiently let her see that he had by this time gathered things together, but there was nature in her wish to make them clearer still. "I didn't want you to put it to me."
"To put it to you--?"
"The question of what you were at last--a week ago--to see for yourself. I didn't want to have to lie for her. I felt that to be too much for me. A man of course is always expected to do it-- to do it, I mean, for a woman; but not a woman for another woman; unless perhaps on the tit-for-tat principle, as an indirect way of protecting herself. I don't need protection, so that I was free to 'funk' you--simply to dodge your test. The responsibility was too much for me. I gained time, and when I came back the need of a test had blown over."
Strether thought of it serenely. "Yes; when you came back little Bilham had shown me what's expected of a gentleman. Little Bilham had lied like one."
"And like what you believed him?"
"Well," said Strether, "it was but a technical lie--he classed the attachment as virtuous. That was a view for which there was much to be said--and the virtue came out for me hugely There was of course a great deal of it. I got it full in the face, and I haven't, you see, done with it yet."
"What I see, what I saw," Maria returned, "is that you dressed up even the virtue. You were wonderful--you were beautiful, as I've had the honour of telling you before; but, if you wish really to know," she sadly confessed, "I never quite knew WHERE you were. There were moments," she explained, "when you struck me as grandly cynical; there were others when you struck me as grandly vague."
Her friend considered. "I had phases. I had flights."
"Yes, but things must have a basis."
"A basis seemed to me just what her beauty supplied."
"Her beauty of person?"
"Well, her beauty of everything. The impression she makes. She has such variety and yet such harmony."
She considered him with one of her deep returns of indulgence-- returns out of all proportion to the irritations they flooded over. "You're complete."
"You're always too personal," he good-humouredly said; "but that's precisely how I wondered and wandered."
"If you mean," she went on, "that she was from the first for you the most charming woman in the world, nothing's more simple. Only that was an odd foundation."
"For what I reared on it?"
"For what you didn't!"
"Well, it was all not a fixed quantity. And it had for me--it has still--such elements of strangeness. Her greater age than his, her different world, traditions, association; her other opportunities, liabilities, standards."
His friend listened with respect to his enumeration of these disparities; then she disposed of them at a stroke. "Those things are nothing when a woman's hit. It's very awful. She was hit."
Strether, on his side, did justice to that plea. "Oh of course I saw she was hit. That she was hit was what we were busy with; that she was hit was our great affair. But somehow I couldn't think of her as down in the dust. And as put there by OUR little Chad!"
"Yet wasn't 'your' little Chad just your miracle?"
Strether admitted it. "Of course I moved among miracles. It was all phantasmagoric. But the great fact was that so much of it was none of my business--as I saw my business. It isn't even now."
His companion turned away on this, and it might well have been yet again with the sharpness of a fear of how little his philosophy could bring her personally. "I wish SHE could hear you!"
"No--not Mrs. Newsome; since I understand you that it doesn't matter now what Mrs. Newsome hears. Hasn't she heard everything?"
"Practically--yes." He had thought a moment, but he went on. "You wish Madame de Vionnet could hear me?"
"Madame de Vionnet." She had come back to him. "She thinks just the contrary of what you say. That you distinctly judge her."
He turned over the scene as the two women thus placed together for him seemed to give it. "She might have known--!"
"Might have known you don't?" Miss Gostrey asked as he let it drop. "She was sure of it at first," she pursued as he said nothing; "she took it for granted, at least, as any woman in her position would. But after that she changed her mind; she believed you believed--"
"Well?"--he was curious.
"Why in her sublimity. And that belief had remained with her, I make out, till the accident of the other day opened your eyes. For that it did," said Maria, "open them--"
"She can't help"--he had taken it up--"being aware? No," he mused; "I suppose she thinks of that even yet."
"Then they WERE closed? There you are! However, if you see her as the most charming woman in the world it comes to the same thing. And if you'd like me to tell her that you do still so see her--!" Miss Gostrey, in short, offered herself for service to the end.
It was an offer he could temporarily entertain; but he decided. "She knows perfectly how I see her."
"Not favourably enough, she mentioned to me, to wish ever to see her again. She told me you had taken a final leave of her. She says you've done with her."
"So I have."
Maria had a pause; then she spoke as if for conscience. "She wouldn't have done with YOU. She feels she has lost you-- yet that she might have been better for you."
"Oh she has been quite good enough!" Strether laughed.
"She thinks you and she might at any rate have been friends."
"We might certainly. That's just"--he continued to laugh-- "why I'm going."
It was as if Maria could feel with this then at last that she had done her best for each. But she had still an idea. "Shall I tell her that?"
"No. Tell her nothing."
"Very well then." To which in the next breath Miss Gostrey added: "Poor dear thing!"
Her friend wondered; then with raised eyebrows: "Me?"
"Oh no. Marie de Vionnet."
He accepted the correction, but he wondered still. "Are you so sorry for her as that?"
It made her think a moment--made her even speak with a smile. But she didn't really retract. "I'm sorry for us all!"
He was to delay no longer to re-establish communication with Chad, and we have just seen that he had spoken to Miss Gostrey of this intention on hearing from her of the young man's absence. It was not moreover only the assurance so given that prompted him; it was the need of causing his conduct to square with another profession still--the motive he had described to her as his sharpest for now getting away. If he was to get away because of some of the relations involved in staying, the cold attitude toward them might look pedantic in the light of lingering on. He must do both things; he must see Chad, but he must go. The more he thought of the former of these duties the more he felt himself make a subject of insistence of the latter. They were alike intensely present to him as he sat in front of a quiet little cafe into which he had dropped on quitting Maria's entresol. The rain that had spoiled his evening with her was over; for it was still to him as if his evening HAD been spoiled--though it mightn't have been wholly the rain. It was late when he left the cafe, yet not too late; he couldn't in any case go straight to bed, and he would walk round by the Boulevard Malesherbes--rather far round--on his way home. Present enough always was the small circumstance that had originally pressed for him the spring of so big a difference--the accident of little Bilham's appearance on the balcony of the mystic troisieme at the moment of his first visit, and the effect of it on his sense of what was then before him. He recalled his watch, his wait, and the recognition that had proceeded from the young stranger, that had played frankly into the air and had presently brought him up--things smoothing the way for his first straight step. He had since had occasion, a few times, to pass the house without going in; but he had never passed it without again feeling how it had then spoken to him. He stopped short to-night on coming to sight of it: it was as if his last day were oddly copying his first. The windows of Chad's apartment were open to the balcony-- a pair of them lighted; and a figure that had come out and taken up little Bilham's attitude, a figure whose cigarette-spark he could see leaned on the rail and looked down at him. It denoted however no reappearance of his younger friend; it quickly defined itself in the tempered darkness as Chad's more solid shape; so that Chad's was the attention that after he had stepped forward into the street and signalled, he easily engaged; Chad's was the voice that, sounding into the night with promptness and seemingly with joy, greeted him and called him up.
That the young man had been visible there just in this position expressed somehow for Strether that, as Maria Gostrey had reported, he had been absent and silent; and our friend drew breath on each landing--the lift, at that hour, having ceased to work--before the implications of the fact. He had been for a week intensely away, away to a distance and alone; but he was more back than ever, and the attitude in which Strether had surprised him was something more than a return--it was clearly a conscious surrender. He had arrived but an hour before, from London, from Lucerne, from Homburg, from no matter where--though the visitor's fancy, on the staircase, liked to fill it out; and after a bath, a talk with Baptiste and a supper of light cold clever French things, which one could see the remains of there in the circle of the lamp, pretty and ultra-Parisian, he had come into the air again for a smoke, was occupied at the moment of Strether's approach in what might have been called taking up his life afresh. His life, his life!--Strether paused anew, on the last flight, at this final rather breathless sense of what Chad's life was doing with Chad's mother's emissary. It was dragging him, at strange hours, up the staircases of the rich; it was keeping him out of bed at the end of long hot days; it was transforming beyond recognition the simple, subtle, conveniently uniform thing that had anciently passed with him for a life of his own. Why should it concern him that Chad was to be fortified in the pleasant practice of smoking on balconies, of supping on salads, of feeling his special conditions agreeably reaffirm themselves, of finding reassurance in comparisons and contrasts? There was no answer to such a question but that he was still practically committed--he had perhaps never yet so much known it. It made him feel old, and he would buy his railway-ticket--feeling, no doubt, older--the next day; but he had meanwhile come up four flights, counting the entresol, at midnight and without a lift, for Chad's life. The young man, hearing him by this time, and with Baptiste sent to rest, was already at the door; so that Strether had before him in full visibility the cause in which he was labouring and even, with the troisieme fairly gained, panting a little.
Chad offered him, as always, a welcome in which the cordial and the formal--so far as the formal was the respectful--handsomely met; and after he had expressed a hope that he would let him put him up for the night Strether was in full possession of the key, as it might have been called, to what had lately happened. If he had just thought of himself as old Chad was at sight of him thinking of him as older: he wanted to put him up for the night just because he was ancient and weary. It could never be said the tenant of these quarters wasn't nice to him; a tenant who, if he might indeed now keep him, was probably prepared to work it all still more thoroughly. Our friend had in fact the impression that with the minimum of encouragement Chad would propose to keep him indefinitely; an impression in the lap of which one of his own possibilities seemed to sit. Madame de Vionnet had wished him to stay--so why didn't that happily fit? He could enshrine himself for the rest of his days in his young host's chambre d'ami and draw out these days at his young host's expense: there could scarce be greater logical expression of the countenance he had been moved to give. There was literally a minute--it was strange enough--during which he grasped the idea that as he WAS acting, as he could only act, he was inconsistent. The sign that the inward forces he had obeyed really hung together would be that--in default always of another career--he should promote the good cause by mounting guard on it. These things, during his first minutes, came and went; but they were after all practically disposed of as soon as he had mentioned his errand. He had come to say good-bye--yet that was only a part; so that from the moment Chad accepted his farewell the question of a more ideal affirmation gave way to something else. He proceeded with the rest of his business. "You'll be a brute, you know--you'll be guilty of the last infamy--if you ever forsake her."
That, uttered there at the solemn hour, uttered in the place that was full of her influence, was the rest of his business; and when once he had heard himself say it he felt that his message had never before been spoken. It placed his present call immediately on solid ground, and the effect of it was to enable him quite to play with what we have called the key. Chad showed no shade of embarrassment, but had none the less been troubled for him after their meeting in the country; had had fears and doubts on the subject of his comfort. He was disturbed, as it were, only FOR him, and had positively gone away to ease him off, to let him down-- if it wasn't indeed rather to screw him up--the more gently. Seeing him now fairly jaded he had come, with characteristic good humour, all the way to meet him, and what Strether thereupon supremely made out was that he would abound for him to the end in conscientious assurances. This was what was between them while the visitor remained; so far from having to go over old ground he found his entertainer keen to agree to everything. It couldn't be put too strongly for him that he'd be a brute. "Oh rather!--if I should do anything of THAT sort. I hope you believe I really feel it."
"I want it," said Strether, "to be my last word of all to you. I can't say more, you know; and I don't see how I can do more, in every way, than I've done."
Chad took this, almost artlessly, as a direct allusion. "You've seen her?"
"Oh yes--to say good-bye. And if I had doubted the truth of what I tell you--"
"She'd have cleared up your doubt?" Chad understood--"rather"-- again! It even kept him briefly silent. But he made that up. "She must have been wonderful."
"She WAS," Strether candidly admitted--all of which practically told as a reference to the conditions created by the accident of the previous week.
They appeared for a little to be looking back at it; and that came out still more in what Chad next said. "I don't know what you've really thought, all along; I never did know--for anything, with you, seemed to be possible. But of course--of course--" Without confusion, quite with nothing but indulgence, he broke down, he pulled up. "After all, you understand. I spoke to you originally only as I HAD to speak. There's only one way--isn't there?--about such things. However," he smiled with a final philosophy, "I see it's all right."
Strether met his eyes with a sense of multiplying thoughts. What was it that made him at present, late at night and after journeys, so renewedly, so substantially young? Strether saw in a moment what it was--it was that he was younger again than Madame de Vionnet. He himself said immediately none of the things that he was thinking; he said something quite different. "You HAVE really been to a distance?"
"I've been to England." Chad spoke cheerfully and promptly, but gave no further account of it than to say: "One must sometimes get off."
Strether wanted no more facts--he only wanted to justify, as it were, his question. "Of course you do as you're free to do. But I hope, this time, that you didn't go for ME."
"For very shame at bothering you really too much? My dear man," Chad laughed, "what WOULDn't I do for you?"
Strether's easy answer for this was that it was a disposition he had exactly come to profit by. "Even at the risk of being in your way I've waited on, you know, for a definite reason."
Chad took it in. "Oh yes--for us to make if possible a still better impression." And he stood there happily exhaling his full general consciousness. "I'm delighted to gather that you feel we've made it."
There was a pleasant irony in the words, which his guest, preoccupied and keeping to the point, didn't take up. "If I had my sense of wanting the rest of the time--the time of their being still on this side," he continued to explain--"I know now why I wanted it."
He was as grave, as distinct, as a demonstrator before a blackboard, and Chad continued to face him like an intelligent pupil. "You wanted to have been put through the whole thing."
Strether again, for a moment, said nothing; he turned his eyes away, and they lost themselves, through the open window, in the dusky outer air. "I shall learn from the Bank here where they're now having their letters, and my last word, which I shall write in the morning and which they're expecting as my ultimatum, will so immediately reach them." The light of his plural pronoun was sufficiently reflected in his companion's face as he again met it; and he completed his demonstration. He pursued indeed as if for himself. "Of course I've first to justify what I shall do."
"You're justifying it beautifully!" Chad declared.
"It's not a question of advising you not to go," Strether said, "but of absolutely preventing you, if possible, from so much as thinking of it. Let me accordingly appeal to you by all you hold sacred."
Chad showed a surprise. "What makes you think me capable--?"
"You'd not only be, as I say, a brute; you'd be," his companion went on in the same way, "a criminal of the deepest dye."
Chad gave a sharper look, as if to gauge a possible suspicion. "I don't know what should make you think I'm tired of her."
Strether didn't quite know either, and such impressions, for the imaginative mind, were always too fine, too floating, to produce on the spot their warrant. There was none the less for him, in the very manner of his host's allusion to satiety as a thinkable motive, a slight breath of the ominous. "I feel how much more she can do for you. She hasn't done it all yet. Stay with her at least till she has."
"And leave her THEN?"
Chad had kept smiling, but its effect in Strether was a shade of dryness. "Don't leave her BEFORE. When you've got all that can be got--I don't say," he added a trifle grimly. "That will be the proper time. But as, for you, from such a woman, there will always be something to be got, my remark's not a wrong to her." Chad let him go on, showing every decent deference, showing perhaps also a candid curiosity for this sharper accent. "I remember you, you know, as you were."
"An awful ass, wasn't I?"
The response was as prompt as if he had pressed a spring; it had a ready abundance at which he even winced; so that he took a moment to meet it. "You certainly then wouldn't have seemed worth all you've let me in for. You've defined yourself better. Your value has quintupled."
"Well then, wouldn't that be enough--?"
Chad had risked it jocosely, but Strether remained blank. "Enough?"
"If one SHOULD wish to live on one's accumulations?" After which, however, as his friend appeared cold to the joke, the young man as easily dropped it. "Of course I really never forget, night or day, what I owe her. I owe her everything. I give you my word of honour," he frankly rang out, "that I'm not a bit tired of her." Strether at this only gave him a stare: the way youth could express itself was again and again a wonder. He meant no harm, though he might after all be capable of much; yet he spoke of being "tired" of her almost as he might have spoken of being tired of roast mutton for dinner. "She has never for a moment yet bored me-- never been wanting, as the cleverest women sometimes are, in tact. She has never talked about her tact--as even they too sometimes talk; but she has always had it. She has never had it more"--he handsomely made the point--"than just lately." And he scrupulously went further. "She has never been anything I could call a burden."
Strether for a moment said nothing; then he spoke gravely, with his shade of dryness deepened. "Oh if you didn't do her justice--!"
"I SHOULD be a beast, eh?"
Strether devoted no time to saying what he would be; THAT, visibly, would take them far. If there was nothing for it but to repeat, however, repetition was no mistake. "You owe her everything--very much more than she can ever owe you. You've in other words duties to her, of the most positive sort; and I don't see what other duties--as the others are presented to you--can be held to go before them."
Chad looked at him with a smile. "And you know of course about the others, eh?--since it's you yourself who have done the presenting."
"Much of it--yes--and to the best of my ability. But not all--from the moment your sister took my place."
"She didn't," Chad returned. "Sally took a place, certainly; but it was never, I saw from the first moment, to be yours. No one-- with us--will ever take yours. It wouldn't be possible."
"Ah of course," sighed Strether, "I knew it. I believe you're right. No one in the world, I imagine, was ever so portentously solemn. There I am," he added with another sigh, as if weary enough, on occasion, of this truth. "I was made so."
Chad appeared for a little to consider the way he was made; he might for this purpose have measured him up and down. His conclusion favoured the fact. "YOU have never needed any one to make you better. There has never been any one good enough. They couldn't," the young man declared.
His friend hesitated. "I beg your pardon. They HAVE."
Chad showed, not without amusement, his doubt. "Who then?"
Strether--though a little dimly--smiled at him. "Women--too."
"'Two'?"--Chad stared and laughed. "Oh I don't believe, for such work, in any more than one! So you're proving too much. And what IS beastly, at all events," he added, "is losing you."
Strether had set himself in motion for departure, but at this he paused. "Are you afraid?"
"Of doing wrong. I mean away from my eye." Before Chad could speak, however, he had taken himself up. "I AM, certainly," he laughed, "prodigious."
"Yes, you spoil us for all the stupid--!" This might have been, on Chad's part, in its extreme emphasis, almost too freely extravagant; but it was full, plainly enough, of the intention of comfort, it carried with it a protest against doubt and a promise, positively, of performance. Picking up a hat in the vestibule he came out with his friend, came downstairs, took his arm, affectionately, as to help and guide him, treating him if not exactly as aged and infirm, yet as a noble eccentric who appealed to tenderness, and keeping on with him, while they walked, to the next corner and the next. "You needn't tell me, you needn't tell me!"--this again as they proceeded, he wished to make Strether feel. What he needn't tell him was now at last, in the geniality of separation, anything at all it concerned him to know. He knew, up to the hilt--that really came over Chad; he understood, felt, recorded his vow; and they lingered on it as they had lingered in their walk to Strether's hotel the night of their first meeting. The latter took, at this hour, all he could get; he had given all he had had to give; he was as depleted as if he had spent his last sou. But there was just one thing for which, before they broke off, Chad seemed disposed slightly to bargain. His companion needn't, as he said, tell him, but he might himself mention that he had been getting some news of the art of advertisement. He came out quite suddenly with this announcement while Strether wondered if his revived interest were what had taken him, with strange inconsequence, over to London. He appeared at all events to have been looking into the question and had encountered a revelation. Advertising scientifically worked presented itself thus as the great new force. "It really does the thing, you know."
They were face to face under the street-lamp as they had been the first night, and Strether, no doubt, looked blank. "Affects, you mean, the sale of the object advertised?"
"Yes--but affects it extraordinarily; really beyond what one had supposed. I mean of course when it's done as one makes out that in our roaring age, it CAN be done. I've been finding out a little, though it doubtless doesn't amount to much more than what you originally, so awfully vividly--and all, very nearly, that first night--put before me. It's an art like another, and infinite like all the arts." He went on as if for the joke of it--almost as if his friend's face amused him. "In the hands, naturally, of a master. The right man must take hold. With the right man to work it c'est un monde."
Strether had watched him quite as if, there on the pavement without a pretext, he had begun to dance a fancy step. "Is what you're thinking of that you yourself, in the case you have in mind, would be the right man?"
Chad had thrown back his light coat and thrust each of his thumbs into an armhole of his waistcoat; in which position his fingers played up and down. "Why, what is he but what you yourself, as I say, took me for when you first came out?"
Strether felt a little faint, but he coerced his attention. "Oh yes, and there's no doubt that, with your natural parts, you'd have much in common with him. Advertising is clearly at this time of day the secret of trade. It's quite possible it will be open to you-- giving the whole of your mind to it--to make the whole place hum with you. Your mother's appeal is to the whole of your mind, and that's exactly the strength of her case."
Chad's fingers continued to twiddle, but he had something of a drop. "Ah we've been through my mother's case!"
"So I thought. Why then do you speak of the matter?"
"Only because it was part of our original discussion. To wind up where we began, my interest's purely platonic. There at any rate the fact is--the fact of the possible. I mean the money in it."
"Oh damn the money in it!" said Strether. And then as the young man's fixed smile seemed to shine out more strange: "Shall you give your friend up for the money in it?"
Chad preserved his handsome grimace as well as the rest of his attitude. "You're not altogether--in your so great 'solemnity'-- kind. Haven't I been drinking you in--showing you all I feel you're worth to me? What have I done, what am I doing, but cleave to her to the death? The only thing is," he good-humouredly explained, "that one can't but have it before one, in the cleaving-- the point where the death comes in. Don't be afraid for THAT. It's pleasant to a fellow's feelings," he developed, "to 'size-up' the bribe he applies his foot to."
"Oh then if all you want's a kickable surface the bribe's enormous."
"Good. Then there it goes!" Chad administered his kick with fantastic force and sent an imaginary object flying. It was accordingly as if they were once more rid of the question and could come back to what really concerned him. "Of course I shall see you tomorrow."
But Strether scarce heeded the plan proposed for this; he had still the impression--not the slighter for the simulated kick--of an irrelevant hornpipe or jig. "You're restless."
"Ah," returned Chad as they parted, "you're exciting."
He had, however, within two days, another separation to face. He had sent Maria Gostrey a word early, by hand, to ask if he might come to breakfast; in consequence of which, at noon, she awaited him in the cool shade of her little Dutch-looking dining-room. This retreat was at the back of the house, with a view of a scrap of old garden that had been saved from modern ravage; and though he had on more than one other occasion had his legs under its small and peculiarly polished table of hospitality, the place had never before struck him as so sacred to pleasant knowledge, to intimate charm, to antique order, to a neatness that was almost august. To sit there was, as he had told his hostess before, to see life reflected for the time in ideally kept pewter; which was somehow becoming, improving to life, so that one's eyes were held and comforted. Strether's were comforted at all events now--and the more that it was the last time--with the charming effect, on the board bare of a cloth and proud of its perfect surface, of the small old crockery and old silver, matched by the more substantial pieces happily disposed about the room. The specimens of vivid Delf, in particular had the dignity of family portraits; and it was in the midst of them that our friend resignedly expressed himself. He spoke even with a certain philosophic humour. "There's nothing more to wait for; I seem to have done a good day's work. I've let them have it all round. I've seen Chad, who has been to London and come back. He tells me I'm 'exciting,' and I seem indeed pretty well to have upset every one. I've at any rate excited HIM. He's distinctly restless."
"You've excited ME," Miss Gostrey smiled. "I'M distinctly restless."
"Oh you were that when I found you. It seems to me I've rather got you out of it. What's this," he asked as he looked about him, "but a haunt of ancient peace?"
"I wish with all my heart," she presently replied, "I could make you treat it as a haven of rest." On which they fronted each other, across the table, as if things unuttered were in the air.
Strether seemed, in his way, when he next spoke, to take some of them up. "It wouldn't give me--that would be the trouble--what it will, no doubt, still give you. I'm not," he explained, leaning back in his chair, but with his eyes on a small ripe round melon-- "in real harmony with what surrounds me. You ARE. I take it too hard. You DON'T. It makes--that's what it comes to in the end--a fool of me." Then at a tangent, "What has he been doing in London?" he demanded.
"Ah one may go to London," Maria laughed. "You know I did."
Yes--he took the reminder. "And you brought ME back." He brooded there opposite to her, but without gloom. "Whom has Chad brought? He's full of ideas. And I wrote to Sarah," he added, "the first thing this morning. So I'm square. I'm ready for them."
She neglected certain parts of this speech in the interest of others. "Marie said to me the other day that she felt him to have the makings of an immense man of business."
"There it is. He's the son of his father!"
"But SUCH a father!"
"Ah just the right one from that point of view! But it isn't his father in him," Strether added, "that troubles me."
"What is it then?" He came back to his breakfast; he partook presently of the charming melon, which she liberally cut for him; and it was only after this that he met her question. Then moreover it was but to remark that he'd answer her presently. She waited, she watched, she served him and amused him, and it was perhaps with this last idea that she soon reminded him of his having never even yet named to her the article produced at Woollett. "Do you remember our talking of it in London--that night at the play?" Before he could say yes, however, she had put it to him for other matters. Did he remember, did he remember--this and that of their first days? He remembered everything, bringing up with humour even things of which she professed no recollection, things she vehemently denied; and falling back above all on the great interest of their early time, the curiosity felt by both of them as to where he would "come out." They had so assumed it was to be in some wonderful place--they had thought of it as so very MUCH out. Well, that was doubtless what it had been--since he had come out just there. He was out, in truth, as far as it was possible to be, and must now rather bethink himself of getting in again. He found on the spot the image of his recent history; he was like one of the figures of the old clock at Berne. THEY came out, on one side, at their hour, jigged along their little course in the public eye, and went in on the other side. He too had jigged his little course--him too a modest retreat awaited. He offered now, should she really like to know, to name the great product of Woollett. It would be a great commentary on everything. At this she stopped him off; she not only had no wish to know, but she wouldn't know for the world. She had done with the products of Woollett--for all the good she had got from them. She desired no further news of them, and she mentioned that Madame de Vionnet herself had, to her knowledge, lived exempt from the information he was ready to supply. She had never consented to receive it, though she would have taken it, under stress, from Mrs. Pocock. But it was a matter about which Mrs. Pocock appeared to have had little to say--never sounding the word--and it didn't signify now. There was nothing clearly for Maria Gostrey that signified now--save one sharp point, that is, to which she came in time. "I don't know whether it's before you as a possibility that, left to himself, Mr. Chad may after all go back. I judge that it IS more or less so before you, from what you just now said of him."
Her guest had his eyes on her, kindly but attentively, as if foreseeing what was to follow this. "I don't think it will be for the money." And then as she seemed uncertain: "I mean I don't believe it will be for that he'll give her up."
"Then he WILL give her up?"
Strether waited a moment, rather slow and deliberate now, drawing out a little this last soft stage, pleading with her in various suggestive and unspoken ways for patience and understanding. "What were you just about to ask me?"
"Is there anything he can do that would make you patch it up?"
"With Mrs. Newsome?"
Her assent, as if she had had a delicacy about sounding the name, was only in her face; but she added with it: "Or is there anything he can do that would make HER try it?"
"To patch it up with me?" His answer came at last in a conclusive headshake. "There's nothing any one can do. It's over. Over for both of us."
Maria wondered, seemed a little to doubt. "Are you so sure for her?"
"Oh yes--sure now. Too much has happened. I'm different for her."
She took it in then, drawing a deeper breath. "I see. So that as she's different for YOU--"
"Ah but," he interrupted, "she's not." And as Miss Gostrey wondered again: "She's the same. She's more than ever the same. But I do what I didn't before--I SEE her."
He spoke gravely and as if responsibly--since he had to pronounce; and the effect of it was slightly solemn, so that she simply exclaimed "Oh!" Satisfied and grateful, however, she showed in her own next words an acceptance of his statement. "What then do you go home to?"
He had pushed his plate a little away, occupied with another side of the matter; taking refuge verily in that side and feeling so moved that he soon found himself on his feet. He was affected in advance by what he believed might come from her, and he would have liked to forestall it and deal with it tenderly; yet in the presence of it he wished still more to be--though as smoothly as possible--deterrent and conclusive. He put her question by for the moment; he told her more about Chad. "It would have been impossible to meet me more than he did last night on the question of the infamy of not sticking to her."
"Is that what you called it for him--'infamy'?"
"Oh rather! I described to him in detail the base creature he'd be, and he quite agrees with me about it."
"So that it's really as if you had nailed him?"
"Quite really as if--! I told him I should curse him."
"Oh," she smiled, "you HAVE done it." And then having thought again: "You CAN'T after that propose--!" Yet she scanned his face.
"Propose again to Mrs. Newsome?"
She hesitated afresh, but she brought it out. "I've never believed, you know, that you did propose. I always believed it was really she-- and, so far as that goes, I can understand it. What I mean is," she explained, "that with such a spirit--the spirit of curses!-- your breach is past mending. She has only to know what you've done to him never again to raise a finger."
"I've done," said Strether, "what I could--one can't do more. He protests his devotion and his horror. But I'm not sure I've saved him. He protests too much. He asks how one can dream of his being tired. But he has all life before him."
Maria saw what he meant. "He's formed to please."
"And it's our friend who has formed him." Strether felt in it the strange irony.
"So it's scarcely his fault!"
"It's at any rate his danger. I mean," said Strether, "it's hers. But she knows it."
"Yes, she knows it. And is your idea," Miss Gostrey asked, "that there was some other woman in London?"
"Yes. No. That is I HAVE no ideas. I'm afraid of them. I've done with them." And he put out his hand to her. "Good-bye."
It brought her back to her unanswered question. "To what do you go home?"
"I don't know. There will always be something."
"To a great difference," she said as she kept his hand.
"A great difference--no doubt. Yet I shall see what I can make of it."
"Shall you make anything so good--?" But, as if remembering what Mrs. Newsome had done, it was as far as she went.
He had sufficiently understood. "So good as this place at this moment? So good as what YOU make of everything you touch?" He took a moment to say, for, really and truly, what stood about him there in her offer--which was as the offer of exquisite service, of lightened care, for the rest of his days--might well have tempted. It built him softly round, it roofed him warmly over, it rested, all so firm, on selection. And what ruled selection was beauty and knowledge. It was awkward, it was almost stupid, not to seem to prize such things; yet, none the less, so far as they made his opportunity they made it only for a moment. She'd moreover understand--she always understood.
That indeed might be, but meanwhile she was going on. "There's nothing, you know, I wouldn't do for you."
"Oh yes--I know."
"There's nothing," she repeated, "in all the world."
"I know. I know. But all the same I must go." He had got it at last. "To be right."
"To be right?"
She had echoed it in vague deprecation, but he felt it already clear for her. "That, you see, is my only logic. Not, out of the whole affair, to have got anything for myself."
She thought. "But with your wonderful impressions you'll have got a great deal."
"A great deal"--he agreed. "But nothing like YOU. It's you who would make me wrong!"
Honest and fine, she couldn't greatly pretend she didn't see it. Still she could pretend just a little. "But why should you be so dreadfully right?"
"That's the way that--if I must go--you yourself would be the first to want me. And I can't do anything else."
So then she had to take it, though still with her defeated protest. "It isn't so much your BEING 'right'--it's your horrible sharp eye for what makes you so."
"Oh but you're just as bad yourself. You can't resist me when I point that out."
She sighed it at last all comically, all tragically, away. "I can't indeed resist you."
"Then there we are!" said Strether.