"The difficulty is," Strether said to Madame de Vionnet a couple of days later, "that I can't surprise them into the smallest sign of his not being the same old Chad they've been for the last three years glowering at across the sea. They simply won't give any, and as a policy, you know--what you call a parti pris, a deep game-- that's positively remarkable."
It was so remarkable that our friend had pulled up before his hostess with the vision of it; he had risen from his chair at the end of ten minutes and begun, as a help not to worry, to move about before her quite as he moved before Maria. He had kept his appointment with her to the minute and had been intensely impatient, though divided in truth between the sense of having everything to tell her and the sense of having nothing at all. The short interval had, in the face of their complication, multiplied his impressions--it being meanwhile to be noted, moreover, that he already frankly, already almost publicly, viewed the complication as common to them. If Madame de Vionnet, under Sarah's eyes, had pulled him into her boat, there was by this time no doubt whatever that he had remained in it and that what he had really most been conscious of for many hours together was the movement of the vessel itself. They were in it together this moment as they hadn't yet been, and he hadn't at present uttered the least of the words of alarm or remonstrance that had died on his lips at the hotel. He had other things to say to her than that she had put him in a position; so quickly had his position grown to affect him as quite excitingly, altogether richly, inevitable. That the outlook, however--given the point of exposure--hadn't cleared up half so much as he had reckoned was the first warning she received from him on his arrival. She had replied with indulgence that he was in too great a hurry, and had remarked soothingly that if she knew how to be patient surely HE might be. He felt her presence, on the spot, he felt her tone and everything about her, as an aid to that effort; and it was perhaps one of the proofs of her success with him that he seemed so much to take his ease while they talked. By the time he had explained to her why his impressions, though multiplied, still baffled him, it was as if he had been familiarly talking for hours. They baffled him because Sarah--well, Sarah was deep, deeper than she had ever yet had a chance to show herself. He didn't say that this was partly the effect of her opening so straight down, as it were, into her mother, and that, given Mrs. Newsome's profundity, the shaft thus sunk might well have a reach; but he wasn't without a resigned apprehension that, at such a rate of confidence between the two women, he was likely soon to be moved to show how already, at moments, it had been for him as if he were dealing directly with Mrs. Newsome. Sarah, to a certainty, would have begun herself to feel it in him--and this naturally put it in her power to torment him the more. From the moment she knew he COULD be tormented--!
"But WHY can you be?"--his companion was surprised at his use of the word.
"Because I'm made so--I think of everything."
"Ah one must never do that," she smiled. "One must think of as few things as possible."
"Then," he answered, "one must pick them out right. But all I mean is--for I express myself with violence--that she's in a position to watch me. There's an element of suspense for me, and she can see me wriggle. But my wriggling doesn't matter," he pursued. "I can bear it. Besides, I shall wriggle out."
The picture at any rate stirred in her an appreciation that he felt to be sincere. "I don't see how a man can be kinder to a woman than you are to me."
Well, kind was what he wanted to be; yet even while her charming eyes rested on him with the truth of this he none the less had his humour of honesty. "When I say suspense I mean, you know," he laughed, "suspense about my own case too!"
"Oh yes--about your own case too!" It diminished his magnanimity, but she only looked at him the more tenderly.
"Not, however," he went on, "that I want to talk to you about that. It's my own little affair, and I mentioned it simply as part of Mrs. Pocock's advantage." No, no; though there was a queer present temptation in it, and his suspense was so real that to fidget was a relief, he wouldn't talk to her about Mrs. Newsome, wouldn't work off on her the anxiety produced in him by Sarah's calculated omissions of reference. The effect she produced of representing her mother had been produced--and that was just the immense, the uncanny part of it--without her having so much as mentioned that lady. She had brought no message, had alluded to no question, had only answered his enquiries with hopeless limited propriety. She had invented a way of meeting them--as if he had been a polite perfunctory poor relation, of distant degree--that made them almost ridiculous in him. He couldn't moreover on his own side ask much without appearing to publish how he had lately lacked news; a circumstance of which it was Sarah's profound policy not to betray a suspicion. These things, all the same, he wouldn't breathe to Madame de Vionnet--much as they might make him walk up and down. And what he didn't say--as well as what SHE didn't, for she had also her high decencies--enhanced the effect of his being there with her at the end of ten minutes more intimately on the basis of saving her than he had yet had occasion to be. It ended in fact by being quite beautiful between them, the number of things they had a manifest consciousness of not saying. He would have liked to turn her, critically, to the subject of Mrs. Pocock, but he so stuck to the line he felt to be the point of honour and of delicacy that he scarce even asked her what her personal impression had been. He knew it, for that matter, without putting her to trouble: that she wondered how, with such elements, Sarah could still have no charm, was one of the principal things she held her tongue about. Strether would have been interested in her estimate of the elements-- indubitably there, some of them, and to be appraised according to taste--but he denied himself even the luxury of this diversion. The way Madame de Vionnet affected him to-day was in itself a kind of demonstration of the happy employment of gifts. How could a woman think Sarah had charm who struck one as having arrived at it herself by such different roads? On the other hand of course Sarah wasn't obliged to have it. He felt as if somehow Madame de Vionnet WAS. The great question meanwhile was what Chad thought of his sister; which was naturally ushered in by that of Sarah's apprehension of Chad. THAT they could talk of, and with a freedom purchased by their discretion in other senses. The difficulty however was that they were reduced as yet to conjecture. He had given them in the day or two as little of a lead as Sarah, and Madame de Vionnet mentioned that she hadn't seen him since his sister's arrival.
"And does that strike you as such an age?"
She met it in all honesty. "Oh I won't pretend I don't miss him. Sometimes I see him every day. Our friendship's like that. Make what you will of it!" she whimsically smiled; a little flicker of the kind, occasional in her, that had more than once moved him to wonder what he might best make of HER. "But he's perfectly right," she hastened to add, "and I wouldn't have him fail in any way at present for the world. I'd sooner not see him for three months. I begged him to be beautiful to them, and he fully feels it for himself."
Strether turned away under his quick perception; she was so odd a mixture of lucidity and mystery. She fell in at moments with the theory about her he most cherished, and she seemed at others to blow it into air. She spoke now as if her art were all an innocence, and then again as if her innocence were all an art. "Oh he's giving himself up, and he'll do so to the end. How can he but want, now that it's within reach, his full impression?--which is much more important, you know, than either yours or mine. But he's just soaking," Strether said as he came back; "he's going in conscientiously for a saturation. I'm bound to say he IS very good."
"Ah," she quietly replied, "to whom do you say it?" And then more quietly still: "He's capable of anything."
Strether more than reaffirmed--"Oh he's excellent. I more and more like," he insisted, "to see him with them;" though the oddity of this tone between them grew sharper for him even while they spoke. It placed the young man so before them as the result of her interest and the product of her genius, acknowledged so her part in the phenomenon and made the phenomenon so rare, that more than ever yet he might have been on the very point of asking her for some more detailed account of the whole business than he had yet received from her. The occasion almost forced upon him some question as to how she had managed and as to the appearance such miracles presented from her own singularly close place of survey. The moment in fact however passed, giving way to more present history, and he continued simply to mark his appreciation of the happy truth. "It's a tremendous comfort to feel how one can trust him." And then again while for a little she said nothing--as if after all to HER trust there might be a special limit: "I mean for making a good show to them."
"Yes," she thoughtfully returned--"but if they shut their eyes to it!"
Strether for an instant had his own thought. "Well perhaps that won't matter!"
"You mean because he probably--do what they will--won't like them?"
"Oh 'do what they will'--! They won't do much; especially if Sarah hasn't more--well, more than one has yet made out--to give."
Madame de Vionnet weighed it. "Ah she has all her grace!" It was a statement over which, for a little, they could look at each other sufficiently straight, and though it produced no protest from Strether the effect was somehow as if he had treated it as a joke. "She may be persuasive and caressing with him; she may be eloquent beyond words. She may get hold of him," she wound up--"well, as neither you nor I have."
"Yes, she MAY"--and now Strether smiled. "But he has spent all his time each day with Jim. He's still showing Jim round."
She visibly wondered. "Then how about Jim?"
Strether took a turn before he answered. "Hasn't he given you Jim? Hasn't he before this 'done' him for you?" He was a little at a loss. "Doesn't he tell you things?"
She hesitated. "No"--and their eyes once more gave and took. "Not as you do. You somehow make me see them--or at least feel them. And I haven't asked too much," she added; "I've of late wanted so not to worry him."
"Ah for that, so have I," he said with encouraging assent; so that-- as if she had answered everything--they were briefly sociable on it. It threw him back on his other thought, with which he took another turn; stopping again, however, presently with something of a glow. "You see Jim's really immense. I think it will be Jim who'll do it."
She wondered. "Get hold of him?"
"No--just the other thing. Counteract Sarah's spell." And he showed now, our friend, how far he had worked it out. "Jim's intensely cynical."
"Oh dear Jim!" Madame de Vionnet vaguely smiled.
"Yes, literally--dear Jim! He's awful. What HE wants, heaven forgive him, is to help us."
"You mean"--she was eager--"help ME?"
"Well, Chad and me in the first place. But he throws you in too, though without as yet seeing you much. Only, so far as he does see you--if you don't mind--he sees you as awful."
"'Awful'?"--she wanted it all.
"A regular bad one--though of course of a tremendously superior kind. Dreadful, delightful, irresistible."
"Ah dear Jim! I should like to know him. I MUST."
"Yes, naturally. But will it do? You may, you know," Strether suggested, "disappoint him."
She was droll and humble about it. "I can but try. But my wickedness then," she went on, "is my recommendation for him?"
"Your wickedness and the charms with which, in such a degree as yours, he associates it. He understands, you see, that Chad and I have above all wanted to have a good time, and his view is simple and sharp. Nothing will persuade him--in the light, that is, of my behaviour--that I really didn't, quite as much as Chad, come over to have one before it was too late. He wouldn't have expected it of me; but men of my age, at Woollett--and especially the least likely ones--have been noted as liable to strange outbreaks, belated uncanny clutches at the unusual, the ideal. It's an effect that a lifetime of Woollett has quite been observed as having; and I thus give it to you, in Jim's view, for what it's worth. Now his wife and his mother-in-law," Strether continued to explain, "have, as in honour bound, no patience with such phenomena, late or early--which puts Jim, as against his relatives, on the other side. Besides," he added, "I don't think he really wants Chad back. If Chad doesn't come--"
"He'll have"--Madame de Vionnet quite apprehended--"more of the free hand?"
"Well, Chad's the bigger man."
"So he'll work now, en dessous, to keep him quiet?"
"No--he won't 'work' at all, and he won't do anything en dessous. He's very decent and won't be a traitor in the camp. But he'll be amused with his own little view of our duplicity, he'll sniff up what he supposes to be Paris from morning till night, and he'll be, as to the rest, for Chad--well, just what he is."
She thought it over. "A warning?"
He met it almost with glee. "You ARE as wonderful as everybody says!" And then to explain all he meant: "I drove him about for his first hour, and do you know what--all beautifully unconscious--he most put before me? Why that something like THAT is at bottom, as an improvement to his present state, as in fact the real redemption of it, what they think it may not be too late to make of our friend." With which, as, taking it in, she seemed, in her recurrent alarm, bravely to gaze at the possibility, he completed his statement. "But it IS too late. Thanks to you!"
It drew from her again one of her indefinite reflexions. "Oh 'me'-- after all!"
He stood before her so exhilarated by his demonstration that he could fairly be jocular. "Everything's comparative. You're better than THAT."
"You"--she could but answer him--"are better than anything." But she had another thought. "WILL Mrs. Pocock come to me?"
"Oh yes--she'll do that. As soon, that is, as my friend Waymarsh-- HER friend now--leaves her leisure."
She showed an interest. "Is he so much her friend as that?"
"Why, didn't you see it all at the hotel?"
"Oh"--she was amused--"'all' is a good deal to say. I don't know-- I forget. I lost myself in HER."
"You were splendid," Strether returned--"but 'all' isn't a good deal to say: it's only a little. Yet it's charming so far as it goes. She wants a man to herself."
"And hasn't she got you?"
"Do you think she looked at me--or even at you--as if she had?" Strether easily dismissed that irony. "Every one, you see, must strike her as having somebody. You've got Chad--and Chad has got you."
"I see"--she made of it what she could. "And you've got Maria."
Well, he on his side accepted that. "I've got Maria. And Maria has got me. So it goes."
"But Mr. Jim--whom has he got?"
"Oh he has got--or it's as IF he had--the whole place."
"But for Mr. Waymarsh"--she recalled--"isn't Miss Barrace before any one else?"
He shook his head. "Miss Barrace is a raffinee, and her amusement won't lose by Mrs. Pocock. It will gain rather--especially if Sarah triumphs and she comes in for a view of it."
"How well you know us!" Madame de Vionnet, at this, frankly sighed.
"No--it seems to me it's we that I know. I know Sarah--it's perhaps on that ground only that my feet are firm. Waymarsh will take her round while Chad takes Jim--and I shall be, I assure you delighted for both of them. Sarah will have had what she requires--she will have paid her tribute to the ideal; and he will have done about the same. In Paris it's in the air--so what can one do less? If there's a point that, beyond any other, Sarah wants to make, it's that she didn't come out to be narrow. We shall feel at least that."
"Oh," she sighed, "the quantity we seem likely to 'feel'! But what becomes, in these conditions, of the girl?"
"Of Mamie--if we're all provided? Ah for that," said Strether, "you can trust Chad."
"To be, you mean, all right to her?"
"To pay her every attention as soon as he has polished off Jim. He wants what Jim can give him--and what Jim really won't--though he has had it all, and more than all, from me. He wants in short his own personal impression, and he'll get it--strong. But as soon as he has got it Mamie won't suffer."
"Oh Mamie mustn't SUFFER!" Madame de Vionnet soothingly emphasised.
But Strether could reassure her. "Don't fear. As soon as he has done with Jim, Jim will fall to me. And then you'll see."
It was as if in a moment she saw already; yet she still waited. Then "Is she really quite charming?" she asked.
He had got up with his last words and gathered in his hat and gloves. "I don't know; I'm watching. I'm studying the case, as it were-- and I dare say I shall be able to tell you."
She wondered. "Is it a case?"
"Yes--I think so. At any rate I shall see.'
"But haven't you known her before?"
"Yes," he smiled--"but somehow at home she wasn't a case. She has become one since." It was as if he made it out for himself. "She has become one here."
"So very very soon?"
He measured it, laughing. "Not sooner than I did."
"And you became one--?"
"Very very soon. The day I arrived."
Her intelligent eyes showed her thought of it. "Ah but the day you arrived you met Maria. Whom has Miss Pocock met?"
He paused again, but he brought it out. "Hasn't she met Chad?"
"Certainly--but not for the first time. He's an old friend." At which Strether had a slow amused significant headshake that made her go on: "You mean that for HER at least he's a new person-- that she sees him as different?"
"She sees him as different."
"And how does she see him?"
Strether gave it up. "How can one tell how a deep little girl sees a deep young man?"
"Is every one so deep? Is she too?"
"So it strikes me deeper than I thought. But wait a little--between us we'll make it out. You'll judge for that matter yourself."
Madame de Vionnet looked for the moment fairly bent on the chance. "Then she WILL come with her?--I mean Mamie with Mrs. Pocock?"
"Certainly. Her curiosity, if nothing else, will in any case work that. But leave it all to Chad."
"Ah," wailed Madame de Vionnet, turning away a little wearily, "the things I leave to Chad!"
The tone of it made him look at her with a kindness that showed his vision of her suspense. But he fell back on his confidence. "Oh well--trust him. Trust him all the way." He had indeed no sooner so spoken than the queer displacement of his point of view appeared again to come up for him in the very sound, which drew from him a short laugh, immediately checked. He became still more advisory. "When they do come give them plenty of Miss Jeanne. Let Mamie see her well."
She looked for a moment as if she placed them face to face. "For Mamie to hate her?"
He had another of his corrective headshakes. "Mamie won't. Trust THEM."
She looked at him hard, and then as if it were what she must always come back to: "It's you I trust. But I was sincere," she said, "at the hotel. I did, I do, want my child--"
"Well?"--Strether waited with deference while she appeared to hesitate as to how to put it.
"Well, to do what she can for me."
Strether for a little met her eyes on it; after which something that might have been unexpected to her came from him. "Poor little duck!"
Not more expected for himself indeed might well have been her echo of it. "Poor little duck! But she immensely wants herself," she said, "to see our friend's cousin."
"Is that what she thinks her?"
"It's what we call the young lady."
He thought again; then with a laugh: "Well, your daughter will help you."
And now at last he took leave of her, as he had been intending for five minutes. But she went part of the way with him, accompanying him out of the room and into the next and the next. Her noble old apartment offered a succession of three, the first two of which indeed, on entering, smaller than the last, but each with its faded and formal air, enlarged the office of the antechamber and enriched the sense of approach. Strether fancied them, liked them, and, passing through them with her more slowly now, met a sharp renewal of his original impression. He stopped, he looked back; the whole thing made a vista, which he found high melancholy and sweet--full, once more, of dim historic shades, of the faint faraway cannon-roar of the great Empire. It was doubtless half the projection of his mind, but his mind was a thing that, among old waxed parquets, pale shades of pink and green, pseudo-classic candelabra, he had always needfully to reckon with. They could easily make him irrelevant. The oddity, the originality, the poetry--he didn't know what to call it--of Chad's connexion reaffirmed for him its romantic side. "They ought to see this, you know. They MUST."
"The Pococks?"--she looked about in deprecation; she seemed to see gaps he didn't.
"Mamie and Sarah--Mamie in particular."
"My shabby old place? But THEIR things--!"
"Oh their things! You were talking of what will do something for you--"
"So that it strikes you," she broke in, "that my poor place may? Oh," she ruefully mused, "that WOULD be desperate!"
"Do you know what I wish?" he went on. "I wish Mrs. Newsome herself could have a look."
She stared, missing a little his logic. "It would make a difference?"
Her tone was so earnest that as he continued to look about he laughed. "It might!"
"But you've told her, you tell me--"
"All about you? Yes, a wonderful story. But there's all the indescribable--what one gets only on the spot."
"Thank you!" she charmingly and sadly smiled.
"It's all about me here," he freely continued. "Mrs. Newsome feels things."
But she seemed doomed always to come back to doubt. "No one feels so much as YOU. No--not any one."
"So much the worse then for every one. It's very easy."
They were by this time in the antechamber, still alone together, as she hadn't rung for a servant. The antechamber was high and square, grave and suggestive too, a little cold and slippery even in summer, and with a few old prints that were precious, Strether divined, on the walls. He stood in the middle, slightly lingering, vaguely directing his glasses, while, leaning against the door-post of the room, she gently pressed her cheek to the side of the recess. "YOU would have been a friend."
"I?"--it startled him a little.
"For the reason you say. You're not stupid." And then abruptly, as if bringing it out were somehow founded on that fact: "We're marrying Jeanne."
It affected him on the spot as a move in a game, and he was even then not without the sense that that wasn't the way Jeanne should be married. But he quickly showed his interest, though--as quickly afterwards struck him--with an absurd confusion of mind. "'You'? You and--a--not Chad?" Of course it was the child's father who made the 'we,' but to the child's father it would have cost him an effort to allude. Yet didn't it seem the next minute that Monsieur de Vionnet was after all not in question?--since she had gone on to say that it was indeed to Chad she referred and that he had been in the whole matter kindness itself.
"If I must tell you all, it is he himself who has put us in the way. I mean in the way of an opportunity that, so far as I can yet see, is all I could possibly have dreamed of. For all the trouble Monsieur de Vionnet will ever take!" It was the first time she had spoken to him of her husband, and he couldn't have expressed how much more intimate with her it suddenly made him feel. It wasn't much, in truth--there were other things in what she was saying that were far more; but it was as if, while they stood there together so easily in these cold chambers of the past, the single touch had shown the reach of her confidence. "But our friend," she asked, "hasn't then told you?"
"He has told me nothing."
"Well, it has come with rather a rush--all in a very few days; and hasn't moreover yet taken a form that permits an announcement. It's only for you--absolutely you alone--that I speak; I so want you to know." The sense he had so often had, since the first hour of his disembarkment, of being further and further "in," treated him again at this moment to another twinge; but in this wonderful way of her putting him in there continued to be something exquisitely remorseless. "Monsieur de Vionnet will accept what he MUST accept. He has proposed half a dozen things--each one more impossible than the other; and he wouldn't have found this if he lives to a hundred. Chad found it," she continued with her lighted, faintly flushed, her conscious confidential face, "in the quietest way in the world. Or rather it found HIM--for everything finds him; I mean finds him right. You'll think we do such things strangely--but at my age," she smiled, "one has to accept one's conditions. Our young man's people had seen her; one of his sisters, a charming woman--we know all about them--had observed her somewhere with me. She had spoken to her brother--turned him on; and we were again observed, poor Jeanne and I, without our in the least knowing it. It was at the beginning of the winter; it went on for some time; it outlasted our absence; it began again on our return; and it luckily seems all right. The young man had met Chad, and he got a friend to approach him--as having a decent interest in us. Mr. Newsome looked well before he leaped; he kept beautifully quiet and satisfied himself fully; then only he spoke. It's what has for some time past occupied us. It seems as if it were what would do; really, really all one could wish. There are only two or three points to be settled--they depend on her father. But this time I think we're safe."
Strether, consciously gaping a little, had fairly hung upon her lips. "I hope so with all my heart." And then he permitted himself: "Does nothing depend on HER?"
"Ah naturally; everything did. But she's pleased comme tout. She has been perfectly free; and he--our young friend--is really a combination. I quite adore him."
Strether just made sure. "You mean your future son-in-law?"
"Future if we all bring it off."
"Ah well," said Strether decorously, "I heartily hope you may." There seemed little else for him to say, though her communication had the oddest effect on him. Vaguely and confusedly he was troubled by it; feeling as if he had even himself been concerned in something deep and dim. He had allowed for depths, but these were greater: and it was as if, oppressively--indeed absurdly--he was responsible for what they had now thrown up to the surface. It was-- through something ancient and cold in it--what he would have called the real thing. In short his hostess's news, though he couldn't have explained why, was a sensible shock, and his oppression a weight he felt he must somehow or other immediately get rid of. There were too many connexions missing to make it tolerable he should do anything else. He was prepared to suffer-- before his own inner tribunal--for Chad; he was prepared to suffer even for Madame de Vionnet. But he wasn't prepared to suffer for the little girl So now having said the proper thing, he wanted to get away. She held him an instant, however, with another appeal.
"Do I seem to you very awful?"
"Awful? Why so?" But he called it to himself, even as he spoke, his biggest insincerity yet.
"Our arrangements are so different from yours."
"Mine?" Oh he could dismiss that too! "I haven't any arrangements."
"Then you must accept mine; all the more that they're excellent. They're founded on a vieille sagesse. There will be much more, if all goes well, for you to hear and to know, and everything, believe me, for you to like. Don't be afraid; you'll be satisfied." Thus she could talk to him of what, of her innermost life--for that was what it came to--he must "accept"; thus she could extraordinarily speak as if in such an affair his being satisfied had an importance. It was all a wonder and made the whole case larger. He had struck himself at the hotel, before Sarah and Waymarsh, as being in her boat; but where on earth was he now? This question was in the air till her own lips quenched it with another. "And do you suppose HE--who loves her so--would do anything reckless or cruel?"
He wondered what he supposed. "Do you mean your young man--?"
"I mean yours. I mean Mr. Newsome." It flashed for Strether the next moment a finer light, and the light deepened as she went on. "He takes, thank God, the truest tenderest interest in her."
It deepened indeed. "Oh I'm sure of that!"
"You were talking," she said, "about one's trusting him. You see then how I do."
He waited a moment--it all came. "I see--I see." He felt he really did see.
"He wouldn't hurt her for the world, nor--assuming she marries at all--risk anything that might make against her happiness. And-- willingly, at least--he would never hurt ME."
Her face, with what he had by this time grasped, told him more than her words; whether something had come into it, or whether he only read clearer, her whole story--what at least he then took for such--reached out to him from it. With the initiative she now attributed to Chad it all made a sense, and this sense--a light, a lead, was what had abruptly risen before him. He wanted, once more, to get off with these things; which was at last made easy, a servant having, for his assistance, on hearing voices in the hall, just come forward. All that Strether had made out was, while the man opened the door and impersonally waited, summed up in his last word. "I don't think, you know, Chad will tell me anything."
"No--perhaps not yet."
"And I won't as yet speak to him."
"Ah that's as you'll think best. You must judge."
She had finally given him her hand, which he held a moment. "How MUCH I have to judge!"
"Everything," said Madame de Vionnet: a remark that was indeed-- with the refined disguised suppressed passion of her face--what he most carried away.
So far as a direct approach was concerned Sarah had neglected him, for the week now about to end, with a civil consistency of chill that, giving him a higher idea of her social resource, threw him back on the general reflexion that a woman could always be amazing. It indeed helped a little to console him that he felt sure she had for the same period also left Chad's curiosity hanging; though on the other hand, for his personal relief, Chad could at least go through the various motions--and he made them extraordinarily numerous--of seeing she had a good time. There wasn't a motion on which, in her presence, poor Strether could so much as venture, and all he could do when he was out of it was to walk over for a talk with Maria. He walked over of course much less than usual, but he found a special compensation in a certain half-hour during which, toward the close of a crowded empty expensive day, his several companions seemed to him so disposed of as to give his forms and usages a rest. He had been with them in the morning and had nevertheless called on the Pococks in the afternoon; but their whole group, he then found, had dispersed after a fashion of which it would amuse Miss Gostrey to hear. He was sorry again, gratefully sorry she was so out of it--she who had really put him in; but she had fortunately always her appetite for news. The pure flame of the disinterested burned in her cave of treasures as a lamp in a Byzantine vault. It was just now, as happened, that for so fine a sense as hers a near view would have begun to pay. Within three days, precisely, the situation on which he was to report had shown signs of an equilibrium; the effect of his look in at the hotel was to confirm this appearance. If the equilibrium might only prevail! Sarah was out with Waymarsh, Mamie was out with Chad, and Jim was out alone. Later on indeed he himself was booked to Jim, was to take him that evening to the Varieties--which Strether was careful to pronounce as Jim pronounced them.
Miss Gostrey drank it in. "What then to-night do the others do?"
"Well, it has been arranged. Waymarsh takes Sarah to dine at Bignons.
She wondered. "And what do they do after? They can't come straight home."
"No, they can't come straight home--at least Sarah can't. It's their secret, but I think I've guessed it." Then as she waited: "The circus."
It made her stare a moment longer, then laugh almost to extravagance. "There's no one like you!"
"Like ME?"--he only wanted to understand.
"Like all of you together--like all of us: Woollett, Milrose and their products. We're abysmal--but may we never be less so! Mr. Newsome," she continued, "meanwhile takes Miss Pocock--?"
"Precisely--to the Francais: to see what you took Waymarsh and me to, a family-bill."
"Ah then may Mr. Chad enjoy it as I did!" But she saw so much in things. "Do they spend their evenings, your young people, like that, alone together?"
"Well, they're young people--but they're old friends."
"I see, I see. And do THEY dine--for a difference--at Brebant's?"
"Oh where they dine is their secret too. But I've my idea that it will be, very quietly, at Chad's own place."
"She'll come to him there alone?"
They looked at each other a moment. "He has known her from a child. Besides," said Strether with emphasis, "Mamie's remarkable. She's splendid."
She wondered. "Do you mean she expects to bring it off?"
"Getting hold of him? No--I think not."
"She doesn't want him enough?--or doesn't believe in her power?" On which as he said nothing she continued: "She finds she doesn't care for him?"
"No--I think she finds she does. But that's what I mean by so describing her. It's IF she does that she's splendid. But we'll see," he wound up, "where she comes out."
"You seem to show me sufficiently," Miss Gostrey laughed, "where she goes in! But is her childhood's friend," she asked, "permitting himself recklessly to flirt with her?"
"No--not that. Chad's also splendid. They're ALL splendid!" he declared with a sudden strange sound of wistfulness and envy. "They're at least HAPPY."
"Happy?"--it appeared, with their various difficulties, to surprise her.
"Well--I seem to myself among them the only one who isn't."
She demurred. "With your constant tribute to the ideal?"
He had a laugh at his tribute to the ideal, but he explained after a moment his impression. "I mean they're living. They're rushing about. I've already had my rushing. I'm waiting."
"But aren't you," she asked by way of cheer, "waiting with ME?"
He looked at her in all kindness. "Yes--if it weren't for that!"
"And you help me to wait," she said. "However," she went on, "I've really something for you that will help you to wait and which you shall have in a minute. Only there's something more I want from you first. I revel in Sarah."
"So do I. If it weren't," he again amusedly sighed, "for THAT--!"
"Well, you owe more to women than any man I ever saw. We do seem to keep you going. Yet Sarah, as I see her, must be great,"
"She IS "Strether fully assented: "great! Whatever happens, she won't, with these unforgettable days, have lived in vain."
Miss Gostrey had a pause. "You mean she has fallen in love?"
"I mean she wonders if she hasn't--and it serves all her purpose."
"It has indeed," Maria laughed, "served women's purposes before!"
"Yes--for giving in. But I doubt if the idea--as an idea--has ever up to now answered so well for holding out. That's HER tribute to the ideal--we each have our own. It's her romance--and it seems to me better on the whole than mine. To have it in Paris too," he explained--"on this classic ground, in this charged infectious air, with so sudden an intensity: well, it's more than she expected. She has had in short to recognise the breaking out for her of a real affinity--and with everything to enhance the drama."
Miss Gostrey followed. "Jim for instance?"
"Jim. Jim hugely enhances. Jim was made to enhance. And then Mr. Waymarsh. It's the crowning touch--it supplies the colour. He's positively separated."
"And she herself unfortunately isn't--that supplies the colour too." Miss Gostrey was all there. But somehow--! "Is HE in love?"
Strether looked at her a long time; then looked all about the room; then came a little nearer. "Will you never tell any one in the world as long as ever you live?"
"Never." It was charming.
"He thinks Sarah really is. But he has no fear," Strether hastened to add.
"Of her being affected by it?"
"Of HIS being. He likes it, but he knows she can hold out. He's helping her, he's floating her over, by kindness."
Maria rather funnily considered it. "Floating her over in champagne? The kindness of dining her, nose to nose, at the hour when all Paris is crowding to profane delights, and in the--well, in the great temple, as one hears of it, of pleasure?"
"That's just IT, for both of them," Strether insisted--"and all of a supreme innocence. The Parisian place, the feverish hour, the
putting before her of a hundred francs' worth of food and drink, which they'll scarcely touch--all that's the dear man's own romance; the expensive kind, expensive in francs and centimes, in which he abounds. And the circus afterwards--which is cheaper, but which he'll find some means of making as dear as possible--that's also HIS tribute to the ideal. It does for him. He'll see her through. They won't talk of anything worse than you and me."
"Well, we're bad enough perhaps, thank heaven," she laughed. "to upset them! Mr. Waymarsh at any rate is a hideous old coquette." And the next moment she had dropped everything for a different pursuit. "What you don't appear to know is that Jeanne de Vionnet has become engaged. She's to marry--it has been definitely arranged--young Monsieur de Montbron."
He fairly blushed. "Then--if you know it--it's 'out'?"
"Don't I often know things that are NOT out? However," she said, "this will be out to-morrow. But I see I've counted too much on your possible ignorance. You've been before me, and I don't make you jump as I hoped."
He gave a gasp at her insight. "You never fail! I've HAD my jump. I had it when I first heard."
"Then if you knew why didn't you tell me as soon as you came in?"
"Because I had it from her as a thing not yet to be spoken of."
Miss Gostrey wondered. "From Madame de Vionnet herself?"
"As a probability--not quite a certainty: a good cause in which Chad has been working. So I've waited."
"You need wait no longer," she returned. "It reached me yesterday-- roundabout and accidental, but by a person who had had it from one of the young man's own people--as a thing quite settled. I was only keeping it for you."
"You thought Chad wouldn't have told me?"
She hesitated. "Well, if he hasn't--"
"He hasn't. And yet the thing appears to have been practically his doing. So there we are."
"There we are!" Maria candidly echoed.
"That's why I jumped. I jumped," he continued to explain, "because it means, this disposition of the daughter, that there's now nothing else: nothing else but him and the mother."
"It simplifies"--he fully concurred. "But that's precisely where we are. It marks a stage in his relation. The act is his answer to Mrs. Newsome's demonstration."
"It tells," Maria asked, "the worst?"
"But is the worst what he wants Sarah to know?"
"He doesn't care for Sarah."
At which Miss Gostrey's eyebrows went up. "You mean she has already dished herself?"
Strether took a turn about; he had thought it out again and again before this, to the end; but the vista seemed each time longer. "He wants his good friend to know the best. I mean the measure of his attachment. She asked for a sign, and he thought of that one. There it is."
"A concession to her jealousy?"
Strether pulled up. "Yes--call it that. Make it lurid--for that makes my problem richer."
"Certainly, let us have it lurid--for I quite agree with you that we want none of our problems poor. But let us also have it clear. Can he, in the midst of such a preoccupation, or on the heels of it, have seriously cared for Jeanne?--cared, I mean, as a young man at liberty would have cared?"
Well, Strether had mastered it. "I think he can have thought it would be charming if he COULD care. It would be nicer."
"Nicer than being tied up to Marie?"
"Yes--than the discomfort of an attachment to a person he can never hope, short of a catastrophe, to marry. And he was quite right," said Strether. "It would certainly have been nicer. Even when a thing's already nice there mostly is some other thing that would have been nicer--or as to which we wonder if it wouldn't. But his question was all the same a dream. He COULDn't care in that way. He IS tied up to Marie. The relation is too special and has gone too far. It's the very basis, and his recent lively contribution toward establishing Jeanne in life has been his definite and final acknowledgement to Madame de Vionnet that he has ceased squirming. I doubt meanwhile," he went on, "if Sarah has at all directly attacked him."
His companion brooded. "But won't he wish for his own satisfaction to make his ground good to her?"
"No--he'll leave it to me, he'll leave everything to me. I 'sort of' feel"--he worked it out--"that the whole thing will come upon me. Yes, I shall have every inch and every ounce of it. I shall be USED for it--!" And Strether lost himself in the prospect. Then he fancifully expressed the issue. "To the last drop of my blood."
Maria, however, roundly protested. "Ah you'll please keep a drop for ME. I shall have a use for it!"--which she didn't however follow up. She had come back the next moment to another matter. "Mrs. Pocock, with her brother, is trusting only to her general charm?"
"So it would seem."
"And the charm's not working?"
Well, Strether put it otherwise, "She's sounding the note of home-- which is the very best thing she can do."
"The best for Madame de Vionnet?"
"The best for home itself. The natural one; the right one."
"Right," Maria asked, "when it fails?"
Strether had a pause. "The difficulty's Jim. Jim's the note of home."
She debated. "Ah surely not the note of Mrs. Newsome."
But he had it all. "The note of the home for which Mrs. Newsome wants him--the home of the business. Jim stands, with his little legs apart, at the door of THAT tent; and Jim is, frankly speaking, extremely awful."
Maria stared. "And you in, you poor thing, for your evening with him?"
"Oh he's all right for ME!" Strether laughed. "Any one's good enough for ME. But Sarah shouldn't, all the same, have brought him. She doesn't appreciate him."
His friend was amused with this statement of it. "Doesn't know, you mean, how bad he is?"
Strether shook his head with decision. "Not really."
She wondered. "Then doesn't Mrs. Newsome?"
It made him frankly do the same. "Well, no--since you ask me."
Maria rubbed it in. "Not really either?"
"Not at all. She rates him rather high." With which indeed, immediately, he took himself up. "Well, he IS good too, in his way. It depends on what you want him for."
Miss Gostrey, however, wouldn't let it depend on anything--wouldn't have it, and wouldn't want him, at any price. "It suits my book," she said, "that he should be impossible; and it suits it still better," she more imaginatively added, "that Mrs. Newsome doesn't know he is."
Strether, in consequence, had to take it from her, but he fell back on something else. "I'll tell you who does really know."
"Mr. Waymarsh? Never!"
"Never indeed. I'm not ALWAYS thinking of Mr. Waymarsh; in fact I find now I never am." Then he mentioned the person as if there were a good deal in it. "Mamie."
"His own sister?" Oddly enough it but let her down. "What good will that do?"
"None perhaps. But there--as usual--we are!"
There they were yet again, accordingly, for two days more; when Strether, on being, at Mrs. Pocock's hotel, ushered into that lady's salon, found himself at first assuming a mistake on the part of the servant who had introduced him and retired. The occupants hadn't come in, for the room looked empty as only a room can look in Paris, of a fine afternoon when the faint murmur of the huge collective life, carried on out of doors, strays among scattered objects even as a summer air idles in a lonely garden. Our friend looked about and hesitated; observed, on the evidence of a table charged with purchases and other matters, that Sarah had become possessed--by no aid from HIM--of the last number of the salmon-coloured Revue; noted further that Mamie appeared to have received a present of Fromentin's "Maitres d'Autrefois" from Chad, who had written her name on the cover; and pulled up at the sight of a heavy letter addressed in a hand he knew. This letter, forwarded by a banker and arriving in Mrs. Pocock's absence, had been placed in evidence, and it drew from the fact of its being unopened a sudden queer power to intensify the reach of its author. It brought home to him the scale on which Mrs. Newsome--for she had been copious indeed this time--was writing to her daughter while she kept HIM in durance; and it had altogether such an effect upon him as made him for a few minutes stand still and breathe low. In his own room, at his own hotel, he had dozens of well-filled envelopes superscribed in that character; and there was actually something in the renewal of his interrupted vision of the character that played straight into the so frequent question of whether he weren't already disinherited beyond appeal. It was such an assurance as the sharp downstrokes of her pen hadn't yet had occasion to give him; but they somehow at the present crisis stood for a probable absoluteness in any decree of the writer. He looked at Sarah's name and address, in short, as if he had been looking hard into her mother's face, and then turned from it as if the face had declined to relax. But since it was in a manner as if Mrs. Newsome were thereby all the more, instead of the less, in the room, and were conscious, sharply and sorely conscious, of himself, so he felt both held and hushed, summoned to stay at least and take his punishment. By staying, accordingly, he took it--creeping softly and vaguely about and waiting for Sarah to come in. She WOULD come in if he stayed long enough, and he had now more than ever the sense of her success in leaving him a prey to anxiety. It wasn't to be denied that she had had a happy instinct, from the point of view of Woollett, in placing him thus at the mercy of her own initiative. It was very well to try to say he didn't care--that she might break ground when she would, might never break it at all if she wouldn't, and that he had no confession whatever to wait upon her with: he breathed from day to day an air that damnably required clearing, and there were moments when he quite ached to precipitate that process. He couldn't doubt that, should she only oblige him by surprising him just as he then was, a clarifying scene of some sort would result from the concussion.
He humbly circulated in this spirit till he suddenly had a fresh arrest. Both the windows of the room stood open to the balcony, but it was only now that, in the glass of the leaf of one of them, folded back, he caught a reflexion quickly recognised as the colour of a lady's dress. Somebody had been then all the while on the balcony, and the person, whoever it might be, was so placed between the windows as to be hidden from him; while on the other hand the many sounds of the street had covered his own entrance and movements. If the person were Sarah he might on the spot therefore be served to his taste. He might lead her by a move or two up to the remedy for his vain tension; as to which, should he get nothing else from it, he would at least have the relief of pulling down the roof on their heads. There was fortunately no one at hand to observe--in respect to his valour--that even on this completed reasoning he still hung fire. He had been waiting for Mrs. Pocock and the sound of the oracle; but he had to gird himself afresh-- which he did in the embrasure of the window, neither advancing nor retreating--before provoking the revelation. It was apparently for Sarah to come more into view; he was in that case there at her service. She did however, as meanwhile happened, come more into view; only she luckily came at the last minute as a contradiction of Sarah. The occupant of the balcony was after all quite another person, a person presented, on a second look, by a charming back and a slight shift of her position, as beautiful brilliant unconscious Mamie--Mamie alone at home, Mamie passing her time in her own innocent way, Mamie in short rather shabbily used, but Mamie absorbed interested and interesting. With her arms on the balustrade and her attention dropped to the street she allowed Strether to watch her, to consider several things, without her turning round.
But the oddity was that when he HAD so watched and considered he simply stepped back into the room without following up his advantage. He revolved there again for several minutes, quite as with something new to think of and as if the bearings of the possibility of Sarah had been superseded. For frankly, yes, it HAD bearings thus to find the girl in solitary possession. There was something in it that touched him to a point not to have been reckoned beforehand, something that softly but quite pressingly spoke to him, and that spoke the more each time he paused again at the edge of the balcony and saw her still unaware. Her companions were plainly scattered; Sarah would be off somewhere with Waymarsh and Chad off somewhere with Jim. Strether didn't at all mentally impute to Chad that he was with his "good friend"; he gave him the benefit of supposing him involved in appearances that, had he had to describe them--for instance to Maria--he would have conveniently qualified as more subtle. It came to him indeed the next thing that there was perhaps almost an excess of refinement in having left Mamie in such weather up there alone; however she might in fact have extemporised, under the charm of the Rue de Rivoli, a little makeshift Paris of wonder arid fancy. Our friend in any case now recognised--and it was as if at the recognition Mrs. Newsome's fixed intensity had suddenly, with a deep audible gasp, grown thin and vague--that day after day he had been conscious in respect to his young lady of something odd and ambiguous, yet something into which he could at last read a meaning. It had been at the most, this mystery, an obsession--oh an obsession agreeable; and it had just now fallen into its place as at the touch of a spring. It had represented the possibility between them of some communication baffled by accident and delay--the possibility even of some relation as yet unacknowledged.
There was always their old relation, the fruit of the Woollett years; but that--and it was what was strangest--had nothing whatever in common with what was now in the air. As a child, as a "bud," and then again as a flower of expansion, Mamie had bloomed for him, freely, in the almost incessantly open doorways of home; where he remembered her as first very forward, as then very backward--for he had carried on at one period, in Mrs. Newsome's parlours (oh Mrs. Newsome's phases and his own!) a course of English Literature re-enforced by exams and teas--and once more, finally, as very much in advance. But he had kept no great sense of points of contact; it not being in the nature of things at Woollett that the freshest of the buds should find herself in the same basket with the most withered of the winter apples. The child had given sharpness, above all, to his sense of the flight of time; it was but the day before yesterday that he had tripped up on her hoop, yet his experience of remarkable women--destined, it would seem, remarkably to grow--felt itself ready this afternoon, quite braced itself, to include her. She had in fine more to say to him than he had ever dreamed the pretty girl of the moment COULD have; and the proof of the circumstance was that, visibly, unmistakeably, she had been able to say it to no one else. It was something she could mention neither to her brother, to her sister-in-law nor to Chad; though he could just imagine that had she still been at home she might have brought it out, as a supreme tribute to age, authority and attitude, for Mrs. Newsome. It was moreover something in which they all took an interest; the strength of their interest was in truth just the reason of her prudence. All this then, for five minutes, was vivid to Strether, and it put before him that, poor child, she had now but her prudence to amuse her. That, for a pretty girl in Paris, struck him, with a rush, as a sorry state; so that under the impression he went out to her with a step as hypocritically alert, he was well aware, as if he had just come into the room. She turned with a start at his voice; preoccupied with him though she might be, she was just a scrap disappointed. "Oh I thought you were Mr. Bilham!"
The remark had been at first surprising and our friend's private thought, under the influence of it, temporarily blighted; yet we are able to add that he presently recovered his inward tone and that many a fresh flower of fancy was to bloom in the same air. Little Bilham--since little Bilham was, somewhat incongruously, expected--appeared behindhand; a circumstance by which Strether was to profit. They came back into the room together after a little, the couple on the balcony, and amid its crimson-and-gold elegance, with the others still absent, Strether passed forty minutes that he appraised even at the time as far, in the whole queer connexion, from his idlest. Yes indeed, since he had the other day so agreed with Maria about the inspiration of the lurid, here was something for his problem that surely didn't make it shrink and that was floated in upon him as part of a sudden flood. He was doubtless not to know till afterwards, on turning them over in thought, of how many elements his impression was composed; but he none the less felt, as he sat with the charming girl, the signal growth of a confidence. For she WAS charming, when all was said--and none the less so for the visible habit and practice of freedom and fluency. She was charming, he was aware, in spite of the fact that if he hadn't found her so he would have found her something he should have been in peril of expressing as "funny." Yes, she was funny, wonderful Mamie, and without dreaming it; she was bland, she was bridal--with never, that he could make out as yet, a bridegroom to support it; she was handsome and portly and easy and chatty, soft and sweet and almost disconcertingly reassuring. She was dressed, if we might so far discriminate, less as a young lady than as an old one--had an old one been supposable to Strether as so committed to vanity; the complexities of her hair missed moreover also the looseness of youth; and she had a mature manner of bending a little, as to encourage and reward, while she held neatly together in front of her a pair of strikingly polished hands: the combination of all of which kept up about her the glamour of her "receiving," placed her again perpetually between the windows and within sound of the ice-cream plates, suggested the enumeration of all the names, all the Mr. Brookses and Mr. Snookses, gregarious specimens of a single type. she was happy to "meet." But if all this was where she was funny, and if what was funnier than the rest was the contrast between her beautiful benevolent patronage--such a hint of the polysyllabic as might make her something of a bore toward middle age--and her rather flat little voice, the voice, naturally, unaffectedly yet, of a girl of fifteen; so Strether, none the less, at the end of ten minutes, felt in her a quiet dignity that pulled things bravely together. If quiet dignity, almost more than matronly, with voluminous, too voluminous clothes, was the effect she proposed to produce, that was an ideal one could like in her when once one had got into relation. The great thing now for her visitor was that this was exactly what he had done; it made so extraordinary a mixture of the brief and crowded hour. It was the mark of a relation that he had begun so quickly to find himself sure she was, of all people, as might have been said, on the side and of the party of Mrs. Newsome's original ambassador. She was in HIS interest and not in Sarah's, and some sign of that was precisely what he had been feeling in her, these last days, as imminent. Finally placed, in Paris, in immediate presence of the situation and of the hero of it--by whom Strether was incapable of meaning any one but Chad--she had accomplished, and really in a manner all unexpected to herself, a change of base; deep still things had come to pass within her, and by the time she had grown sure of them Strether had become aware of the little drama. When she knew where she was, in short, he had made it out; and he made it out at present still better; though with never a direct word passing between them all the while on the subject of his own predicament. There had been at first, as he sat there with her, a moment during which he wondered if she meant to break ground in respect to his prime undertaking. That door stood so strangely ajar that he was half-prepared to be conscious, at any juncture, of her having, of any one's having, quite bounced in. But, friendly, familiar, light of touch and happy of tact, she exquisitely stayed out; so that it was for all the world as if to show she could deal with him without being reduced to--well, scarcely anything.
It fully came up for them then, by means of their talking of everything BUT Chad, that Mamie, unlike Sarah, unlike Jim, knew perfectly what had become of him. It fully came up that she had taken to the last fraction of an inch the measure of the change in him, and that she wanted Strether to know what a secret she proposed to make of it. They talked most conveniently--as if they had had no chance yet--about Woollett; and that had virtually the effect of their keeping the secret more close. The hour took on for Strether, little by little, a queer sad sweetness of quality, he had such a revulsion in Mamie's favour and on behalf of her social value as might have come from remorse at some early injustice. She made him, as under the breath of some vague western whiff, homesick and freshly restless; he could really for the time have fancied himself stranded with her on a far shore, during an ominous calm, in a quaint community of shipwreck. Their little interview was like a picnic on a coral strand; they passed each other, with melancholy smiles and looks sufficiently allusive, such cupfuls of water as they had saved. Especially sharp in Strether meanwhile was the conviction that his companion really knew, as we have hinted, where she had come out. It was at a very particular place--only THAT she would never tell him; it would be above all what he should have to puzzle for himself. This was what he hoped for, because his interest in the girl wouldn't be complete without it. No more would the appreciation to which she was entitled--so assured was he that the more he saw of her process the more he should see of her pride. She saw, herself, everything; but she knew what she didn't want, and that it was that had helped her. What didn't she want?--there was a pleasure lost for her old friend in not yet knowing, as there would doubtless be a thrill in getting a glimpse. Gently and sociably she kept that dark to him, and it was as if she soothed and beguiled him in other ways to make up for it. She came out with her impression of Madame de Vionnet--of whom she had "heard so much"; she came out with her impression of Jeanne, whom she had been "dying to see": she brought it out with a blandness by which her auditor was really stirred that she had been with Sarah early that very afternoon, and after dreadful delays caused by all sorts of things, mainly, eternally, by the purchase of clothes--clothes that unfortunately wouldn't be themselves eternal--to call in the Rue de Bellechasse.
At the sound of these names Strether almost blushed to feel that he couldn't have sounded them first--and yet couldn't either have justified his squeamishness. Mamie made them easy as he couldn't have begun to do, and yet it could only have cost her more than he should ever have had to spend. It was as friends of Chad's, friends special, distinguished, desirable, enviable, that she spoke of them, and she beautifully carried it off that much as she had heard of them--though she didn't say how or where, which was a touch of her own--she had found them beyond her supposition. She abounded in praise of them, and after the manner of Woollett--which made the manner of Woollett a loveable thing again to Strether. He had never so felt the true inwardness of it as when his blooming companion pronounced the elder of the ladies of the Rue de Bellechasse too fascinating for words and declared of the younger that she was perfectly ideal, a real little monster of charm. "Nothing," she said of Jeanne, "ought ever to happen to her--she's so awfully right as she is. Another touch will spoil her--so she oughtn't to BE touched."
"Ah but things, here in Paris," Strether observed, "do happen to little girls." And then for the joke's and the occasion's sake: "Haven't you found that yourself?"
"That things happen--? Oh I'm not a little girl. I'm a big battered blowsy one. I don't care," Mamie laughed, "WHAT happens."
Strether had a pause while he wondered if it mightn't happen that he should give her the pleasure of learning that he found her nicer than he had really dreamed--a pause that ended when he had said to himself that, so far as it at all mattered for her, she had in fact perhaps already made this out. He risked accordingly a different question--though conscious, as soon as he had spoken, that he seemed to place it in relation to her last speech. "But that Mademoiselle de Vionnet is to be married--I suppose you've heard of THAT." For all, he then found, he need fear! "Dear, yes; the gentleman was there: Monsieur de Montbron, whom Madame de Vionnet presented to us."
"And was he nice?"
Mamie bloomed and bridled with her best reception manner. "Any man's nice when he's in love."
It made Strether laugh. "But is Monsieur de Montbron in love-- already--with YOU?"
"Oh that's not necessary--it's so much better he should be so with HER: which, thank goodness, I lost no time in discovering for myself. He's perfectly gone--and I couldn't have borne it for her if he hadn't been. She's just too sweet."
Strether hesitated. "And through being in love too?"
On which with a smile that struck him as wonderful Mamie had a wonderful answer. "She doesn't know if she is or not."
It made him again laugh out. "Oh but YOU do!"
She was willing to take it that way. "Oh yes, I know everything." And as she sat there rubbing her polished hands and making the best of it--only holding her elbows perhaps a little too much out--the momentary effect for Strether was that every one else, in all their affair, seemed stupid.
"Know that poor little Jeanne doesn't know what's the matter with her?"
It was as near as they came to saying that she was probably in love with Chad; but it was quite near enough for what Strether wanted; which was to be confirmed in his certitude that, whether in love or not, she appealed to something large and easy in the girl before him. Mamie would be fat, too fat, at thirty; but she would always be the person who, at the present sharp hour, had been disinterestedly tender. "If I see a little more of her, as I hope I shall, I think she'll like me enough--for she seemed to like me to-day--to want me to tell her."
"And SHALL you?"
"Perfectly. I shall tell her the matter with her is that she wants only too much to do right. To do right for her, naturally," said Mamie, "is to please."
"Her mother, do you mean?"
"Her mother first."
Strether waited. "And then?"
"Well, 'then'--Mr. Newsome."
There was something really grand for him in the serenity of this reference. "And last only Monsieur de Montbron?"
"Last only"--she good-humouredly kept it up.
Strether considered. "So that every one after all then will be suited?"
She had one of her few hesitations, but it was a question only of a moment; and it was her nearest approach to being explicit with him about what was between them. "I think I can speak for myself. I shall be."
It said indeed so much, told such a story of her being ready to help him, so committed to him that truth, in short, for such use as he might make of it toward those ends of his own with which, patiently and trustfully, she had nothing to do--it so fully achieved all this that he appeared to himself simply to meet it in its own spirit by the last frankness of admiration. Admiration was of itself almost accusatory, but nothing less would serve to show her how nearly he understood. He put out his hand for good-bye with a "Splendid, splendid, splendid!" And he left her, in her splendour, still waiting for little Bilham.
Strether occupied beside little Bilham, three evenings after his interview with Mamie Pocock, the same deep divan they had enjoyed together on the first occasion of our friend's meeting Madame de Vionnet and her daughter in the apartment of the Boulevard Malesherbes, where his position affirmed itself again as ministering to an easy exchange of impressions. The present evening had a different stamp; if the company was much more numerous, so, inevitably, were the ideas set in motion. It was on the other hand, however, now strongly marked that the talkers moved, in respect to such matters, round an inner, a protected circle. They knew at any rate what really concerned them to-night, and Strether had begun by keeping his companion close to it. Only a few of Chad's guests had dined--that is fifteen or twenty, a few compared with the large concourse offered to sight by eleven o'clock; but number and mass, quantity and quality, light, fragrance, sound, the overflow of hospitality meeting the high tide of response, had all from the first pressed upon Strether's consciousness, and he felt himself somehow part and parcel of the most festive scene, as the term was, in which he had ever in his life been engaged. He had perhaps seen, on Fourths of July and on dear old domestic Commencements, more people assembled, but he had never seen so many in proportion to the space, or had at all events never known so great a promiscuity to show so markedly as picked. Numerous as was the company, it had still been made so by selection, and what was above all rare for Strether was that, by no fault of his own, he was in the secret of the principle that had worked. He hadn't enquired, he had averted his head, but Chad had put him a pair of questions that themselves smoothed the ground. He hadn't answered the questions, he had replied that they were the young man's own affair; and he had then seen perfectly that the latter's direction was already settled.
Chad had applied for counsel only by way of intimating that he knew what to do; and he had clearly never known it better than in now presenting to his sister the whole circle of his society. This was all in the sense and the spirit of the note struck by him on that lady's arrival; he had taken at the station itself a line that led him without a break, and that enabled him to lead the Pococks-- though dazed a little, no doubt, breathless, no doubt, and bewildered--to the uttermost end of the passage accepted by them perforce as pleasant. He had made it for them violently pleasant and mercilessly full; the upshot of which was, to Strether's vision, that they had come all the way without discovering it to be really no passage at all. It was a brave blind alley, where to pass was impossible and where, unless they stuck fast, they would have--which was always awkward--publicly to back out. They were touching bottom assuredly tonight; the whole scene represented the terminus of the cul-de-sac. So could things go when there was a hand to keep them consistent--a hand that pulled the wire with a skill at which the elder man more and more marvelled. The elder man felt responsible, but he also felt successful, since what had taken place was simply the issue of his own contention, six weeks before, that they properly should wait to see what their friends would have really to say. He had determined Chad to wait, he had determined him to see; he was therefore not to quarrel with the time given up to the business. As much as ever, accordingly, now that a fortnight had elapsed, the situation created for Sarah, and against which she had raised no protest, was that of her having accommodated herself to her adventure as to a pleasure-party surrendered perhaps even somewhat in excess to bustle and to "pace." If her brother had been at any point the least bit open to criticism it might have been on the ground of his spicing the draught too highly and pouring the cup too full. Frankly treating the whole occasion of the presence of his relatives as an opportunity for amusement, he left it, no doubt, but scant margin as an opportunity for anything else. He suggested, invented, abounded--yet all the while with the loosest easiest rein. Strether, during his own weeks, had gained a sense of knowing Paris; but he saw it afresh, and with fresh emotion, in the form of the knowledge offered to his colleague.
A thousand unuttered thoughts hummed for him in the air of these observations; not the least frequent of which was that Sarah might well of a truth not quite know whither she was drifting. She was in no position not to appear to expect that Chad should treat her handsomely; yet she struck our friend as privately stiffening a little each time she missed the chance of marking the great nuance. The great nuance was in brief that of course her brother must treat her handsomely--she should like to see him not; but that treating her handsomely, none the less, wasn't all in all--treating her handsomely buttered no parsnips; and that in fine there were moments when she felt the fixed eyes of their admirable absent mother fairly screw into the flat of her back. Strether, watching, after his habit, and overscoring with thought, positively had moments of his own in which he found himself sorry for her-- occasions on which she affected him as a person seated in a runaway vehicle and turning over the question of a possible jump. WOULD she jump, could she, would THAT be a safe placed--this question, at such instants, sat for him in her lapse into pallor, her tight lips, her conscious eyes. It came back to the main point at issue: would she be, after all, to be squared? He believed on the whole she would jump; yet his alternations on this subject were the more especial stuff of his suspense. One thing remained well before him--a conviction that was in fact to gain sharpness from the impressions of this evening: that if she SHOULD gather in her skirts, close her eyes and quit the carriage while in motion, he would promptly enough become aware. She would alight from her headlong course more or less directly upon him; it would be appointed to him, unquestionably, to receive her entire weight. Signs and portents of the experience thus in reserve for him had as it happened, multiplied even through the dazzle of Chad's party. It was partly under the nervous consciousness of such a prospect that, leaving almost every one in the two other rooms, leaving those of the guests already known to him as well as a mass of brilliant strangers of both sexes and of several varieties of speech, he had desired five quiet minutes with little Bilham, whom he always found soothing and even a little inspiring, and to whom he had actually moreover something distinct and important to say.
He had felt of old--for it already seemed long ago--rather humiliated at discovering he could learn in talk with a personage so much his junior the lesson of a certain moral ease; but he had now got used to that--whether or no the mixture of the fact with other humiliations had made it indistinct, whether or no directly from little Bilham's example, the example of his being contentedly just the obscure and acute little Bilham he was. It worked so for him, Strether seemed to see; and our friend had at private hours a wan smile over the fact that he himself, after so many more years, was still in search of something that would work. However, as we have said, it worked just now for them equally to have found a corner a little apart. What particularly kept it apart was the circumstance that the music in the salon was admirable, with two or three such singers as it was a privilege to hear in private. Their presence gave a distinction to Chad's entertainment, and the interest of calculating their effect on Sarah was actually so sharp as to be almost painful. Unmistakeably, in her single person, the motive of the composition and dressed in a splendour of crimson which affected Strether as the sound of a fall through a skylight, she would now be in the forefront of the listening circle and committed by it up to her eyes. Those eyes during the wonderful dinner itself he hadn't once met; having confessedly--perhaps a little pusillanimously--arranged with Chad that he should be on the same side of the table. But there was no use in having arrived now with little Bilham at an unprecedented point of intimacy unless he could pitch everything into the pot. "You who sat where you could see her, what does she make of it all? By which I mean on what terms does she take it?"
"Oh she takes it, I judge, as proving that the claim of his family is more than ever justified "
"She isn't then pleased with what he has to show?"
"On the contrary; she's pleased with it as with his capacity to do this kind of thing--more than she has been pleased with anything for a long time. But she wants him to show it THERE. He has no right to waste it on the likes of us."
Strether wondered. "She wants him to move the whole thing over?"
"The whole thing--with an important exception. Everything he has 'picked up'--and the way he knows how. She sees no difficulty in that. She'd run the show herself, and she'll make the handsome concession that Woollett would be on the whole in some ways the better for it. Not that it wouldn't be also in some ways the better for Woollett. The people there are just as good."
"Just as good as you and these others? Ah that may be. But such an occasion as this, whether or no," Strether said, "isn't the people. It's what has made the people possible."
"Well then," his friend replied, "there you are; I give you my impression for what it's worth. Mrs. Pocock has SEEN, and that's to-night how she sits there. If you were to have a glimpse of her face you'd understand me. She has made up her mind--to the sound of expensive music."
Strether took it freely in. "Ah then I shall have news of her."
"I don't want to frighten you, but I think that likely. However,"
little Bilham continued, "if I'm of the least use to you to hold on by--!"
"You're not of the least!"--and Strether laid an appreciative hand on him to say it. "No one's of the least." With which, to mark how gaily he could take it, he patted his companion's knee. "I must meet my fate alone, and I SHALL--oh you'll see! And yet," he pursued the next moment, "you CAN help me too. You once said to me"--he followed this further--"that you held Chad should marry. I didn't see then so well as I know now that you meant he should marry Miss Pocock. Do you still consider that he should? Because if you do"--he kept it up--"I want you immediately to change your mind. You can help me that way."
"Help you by thinking he should NOT marry?"
"Not marry at all events Mamie."
"And who then?"
"Ah," Strether returned, "that I'm not obliged to say. But Madame de Vionnet--I suggest--when he can.'
"Oh!" said little Bilham with some sharpness.
"Oh precisely! But he needn't marry at all--I'm at any rate not obliged to provide for it. Whereas in your case I rather feel that I AM."
Little Bilham was amused. "Obliged to provide for my marrying?"
"Yes--after all I've done to you!"
The young man weighed it. "Have you done as much as that?"
"Well," said Strether, thus challenged, "of course I must remember what you've also done to ME. We may perhaps call it square. But all the same," he went on, "I wish awfully you'd marry Mamie Pocock yourself."
Little Bilham laughed out. "Why it was only the other night, in this very place, that you were proposing to me a different union altogether."
''Mademoiselle de Vionnet?" Well, Strether easily confessed it. "That, I admit, was a vain image. THIS is practical politics. I want to do something good for both of you--I wish you each so well; and you can see in a moment the trouble it will save me to polish you off by the same stroke. She likes you, you know. You console her. And she's splendid."
Little Bilham stared as a delicate appetite stares at an overheaped plate. "What do I console her for?"
It just made his friend impatient. "Oh come, you knows"
"And what proves for you that she likes me?"
"Why the fact that I found her three days ago stopping at home alone all the golden afternoon on the mere chance that you'd come to her, and hanging over her balcony on that of seeing your cab drive up. I don't know what you want more."
Little Bilham after a moment found it. "Only just to know what proves to you that I like HER."
"Oh if what I've just mentioned isn't enough to make you do it, you're a stony-hearted little fiend. Besides"--Strether encouraged his fancy's flight--"you showed your inclination in the way you kept her waiting, kept her on purpose to see if she cared enough for you."
His companion paid his ingenuity the deference of a pause. "I didn't keep her waiting. I came at the hour. I wouldn't have kept her waiting for the world," the young man honourably declared.
"Better still--then there you are!" And Strether, charmed, held him the faster. "Even if you didn't do her justice, moreover," he continued, "I should insist on your immediately coming round to it. I want awfully to have worked it. I want"--and our friend spoke now with a yearning that was really earnest--"at least to have done THAT."
"To have married me off--without a penny?"
"Well, I shan't live long; and I give you my word, now and here, that I'll leave you every penny of my own. I haven't many, unfortunately, but you shall have them all. And Miss Pocock, I think, has a few. I want," Strether went on, "to have been at least to that extent constructive even expiatory. I've been sacrificing so to strange gods that I feel I want to put on record, somehow, my fidelity--fundamentally unchanged after all--to our own. I feel as if my hands were embrued with the blood of monstrous alien altars--of another faith altogether. There it is-- it's done." And then he further explained. "It took hold of me because the idea of getting her quite out of the way for Chad helps to clear my ground."
The young man, at this, bounced about, and it brought them face to face in admitted amusement. "You want me to marry as a convenience to Chad?"
"No," Strether debated--"HE doesn't care whether you marry or not. It's as a convenience simply to my own plan FOR him."
"'Simply'!"--and little Bilham's concurrence was in itself a lively comment. "Thank you. But I thought," he continued, "you had exactly NO plan 'for' him."
"Well then call it my plan for myself--which may be well, as you say, to have none. His situation, don't you see? is reduced now to the bare facts one has to recognise. Mamie doesn't want him, and he doesn't want Mamie: so much as that these days have made clear. It's a thread we can wind up and tuck in."
But little Bilham still questioned. "YOU can--since you seem so much to want to. But why should I?"
Poor Strether thought it over, but was obliged of course to admit that his demonstration did superficially fail. "Seriously, there is no reason. It's my affair--I must do it alone. I've only my fantastic need of making my dose stiff."
Little Bilham wondered. "What do you call your dose?"
"Why what I have to swallow. I want my conditions unmitigated."
He had spoken in the tone of talk for talk's sake, and yet with an obscure truth lurking in the loose folds; a circumstance presently not without its effect on his young friend. Little Bilham's eyes rested on him a moment with some intensity; then suddenly, as if everything had cleared up, he gave a happy laugh. It seemed to say that if pretending, or even trying, or still even hoping, to be able to care for Mamie would be of use, he was all there for the job. "I'll do anything in the world for you!"
"Well," Strether smiled, "anything in the world is all I want. I don't know anything that pleased me in her more," he went on, "than the way that, on my finding her up there all alone, coming on her unawares and feeling greatly for her being so out of it, she knocked down my tall house of cards with her instant and cheerful allusion to the next young man. It was somehow so the note I needed--her staying at home to receive him."
"It was Chad of course," said little Bilham, "who asked the next young man--I like your name for me!--to call."
"So I supposed--all of which, thank God, is in our innocent and natural manners. But do you know," Strether asked, "if Chad knows--?" And then as this interlocutor seemed at a loss: "Why where she has come out."
Little Bilham, at this, met his face with a conscious look--it was as if, more than anything yet, the allusion had penetrated. "Do you know yourself?"
Strether lightly shook his head. "There I stop. Oh, odd as it may appear to you, there ARE things I don't know. I only got the sense from her of something very sharp, and yet very deep down, that she was keeping all to herself. That is I had begun with the belief that she HAD kept it to herself; but face to face with her there I soon made out that there was a person with whom she would have shared it. I had thought she possibly might with ME--but I saw then that I was only half in her confidence. When, turning to me to greet me--for she was on the balcony and I had come in without her knowing it--she showed me she had been expecting YOU and was proportionately disappointed, I got hold of the tail of my conviction. Half an hour later I was in possession of all the rest of it. You know what has happened." He looked at his young friend hard--then he felt sure. "For all you say, you're up to your eyes. So there you are."
Little Bilham after an instant pulled half round. "I assure you she hasn't told me anything."
"Of course she hasn't. For what do you suggest that I suppose her to take you? But you've been with her every day, you've seen her freely, you've liked her greatly--I stick to that--and you've made your profit of it. You know what she has been through as well as you know that she has dined here to-night--which must have put her, by the way, through a good deal more."
The young man faced this blast; after which he pulled round the rest of the way. "I haven't in the least said she hasn't been nice to me. But she's proud."
"And quite properly. But not too proud for that."
"It's just her pride that has made her. Chad," little Bilham loyally went on, "has really been as kind to her as possible. It's awkward for a man when a girl's in love with him."
"Ah but she isn't--now."
Little Bilham sat staring before him; then he sprang up as if his friend's penetration, recurrent and insistent, made him really after all too nervous. "No--she isn't now. It isn't in the least," he went on, "Chad's fault. He's really all right. I mean he would have been willing. But she came over with ideas. Those she had got at home. They had been her motive and support in joining her brother and his wife. She was to SAVE our friend."
"Ah like me, poor thing?" Strether also got to his feet.
"Exactly--she had a bad moment. It was very soon distinct to her, to pull her up, to let her down, that, alas, he was, he IS, saved. There's nothing left for her to do."
"Not even to love him?"
"She would have loved him better as she originally believed him."
Strether wondered "Of course one asks one's self what notion a little girl forms, where a young man's in question, of such a history and such a state."
"Well, this little girl saw them, no doubt, as obscure, but she saw them practically as wrong. The wrong for her WAS the obscure. Chad turns out at any rate right and good and disconcerting, while what she was all prepared for, primed and girded and wound up for, was to deal with him as the general opposite."
"Yet wasn't her whole point"--Strether weighed it--"that he was to be, that he COULD be, made better, redeemed?"
Little Bilham fixed it all a moment, and then with a small headshake that diffused a tenderness: "She's too late. Too late for the miracle."
"Yes"--his companion saw enough. "Still, if the worst fault of his condition is that it may be all there for her to profit by--?"
"Oh she doesn't want to 'profit,' in that flat way. She doesn't want to profit by another woman's work--she wants the miracle to have been her own miracle. THAT'S what she's too late for."
Strether quite felt how it all fitted, yet there seemed one loose piece. "I'm bound to say, you know, that she strikes one, on these lines, as fastidious--what you call here difficile."
Little Bilham tossed up his chin. "Of course she's difficile--on any lines! What else in the world ARE our Mamies--the real, the right ones?"
"I see, I see," our friend repeated, charmed by the responsive wisdom he had ended by so richly extracting. "Mamie is one of the real and the right."
"The very thing itself."
"And what it comes to then," Strether went on, "is that poor awful Chad is simply too good for her."
"Ah too good was what he was after all to be; but it was she herself, and she herself only, who was to have made him so."
It hung beautifully together, but with still a loose end. "Wouldn't he do for her even if he should after all break--"
"With his actual influence?" Oh little Bilham had for this enquiry the sharpest of all his controls. "How can he 'do'--on any terms whatever--when he's flagrantly spoiled?"
Strether could only meet the question with his passive, his receptive pleasure. "Well, thank goodness, YOU'RE not! You remain for her to save, and I come back, on so beautiful and full a demonstration, to my contention of just now--that of your showing distinct signs of her having already begun."
The most he could further say to himself--as his young friend turned away--was that the charge encountered for the moment no renewed denial. Little Bilham, taking his course back to the music, only shook his good-natured ears an instant, in the manner of a terrier who has got wet; while Strether relapsed into the sense--which had for him in these days most of comfort--that he was free to believe in anything that from hour to hour kept him going. He had positively motions and flutters of this conscious hour-to-hour kind, temporary surrenders to irony, to fancy, frequent instinctive snatches at the growing rose of observation, constantly stronger for him, as he felt, in scent and colour, and in which he could bury his nose even to wantonness. This last resource was offered him, for that matter, in the very form of his next clear perception--the vision of a prompt meeting, in the doorway of the room, between little Bilham and brilliant Miss Barrace, who was entering as Bilham withdrew. She had apparently put him a question, to which he had replied by turning to indicate his late interlocutor; toward whom, after an interrogation further aided by a resort to that optical machinery which seemed, like her other ornaments, curious and archaic, the genial lady, suggesting more than ever for her fellow guest the old French print, the historic portrait, directed herself with an intention that Strether instantly met. He knew in advance the first note she would sound, and took in as she approached all her need of sounding it. Nothing yet had been so "wonderful" between them as the present occasion; and it was her special sense of this quality in occasions that she was there, as she was in most places, to feed. That sense had already been so well fed by the situation about them that she had quitted the other room, forsaken the music, dropped out of the play, abandoned, in a word, the stage itself, that she might stand a minute behind the scenes with Strether and so perhaps figure as one of the famous augurs replying, behind the oracle, to the wink of the other. Seated near him presently where little Bilham had sat, she replied in truth to many things; beginning as soon as he had said to her--what he hoped he said without fatuity--"All you ladies are extraordinarily kind to me."
She played her long handle, which shifted her observation; she saw in an instant all the absences that left them free. "How can we be anything else? But isn't that exactly your plight? 'We ladies'-- oh we're nice, and you must be having enough of us! As one of us, you know, I don't pretend I'm crazy about us. But Miss Gostrey at least to-night has left you alone, hasn't she?" With which she again looked about as if Maria might still lurk.
"Oh yes," said Strether; "she's only sitting up for me at home." And then as this elicited from his companion her gay "Oh, oh, oh!" he explained that he meant sitting up in suspense and prayer. "We thought it on the whole better she shouldn't be present; and either way of course it's a terrible worry for her." He abounded in the sense of his appeal to the ladies, and they might take their choice of his doing so from humility or from pride. "Yet she inclines to believe I shall come out."
"Oh I incline to believe too you'll come out!"--Miss Barrace, with her laugh, was not to be behind. "Only the question's about WHERE, isn't it? However," she happily continued, "if it's anywhere at all it must be very far on, mustn't it? To do us justice, I think, you know," she laughed, "we do, among us all, want you rather far on. Yes, yes," she repeated in her quick droll way; "we want you very, VERY far on!" After which she wished to know why he had thought it better Maria shouldn't be present.
"Oh," he replied, "it was really her own idea. I should have wished it. But she dreads responsibility."
"And isn't that a new thing for her?"
"To dread it? No doubt--no doubt. But her nerve has given way."
Miss Barrace looked at him a moment. "She has too much at stake." Then less gravely: "Mine, luckily for me, holds out."
"Luckily for me too"--Strether came back to that. "My own isn't so firm, MY appetite for responsibility isn't so sharp, as that I haven't felt the very principle of this occasion to be 'the more the merrier.' If we ARE so merry it's because Chad has understood so well."
"He has understood amazingly," said Miss Barrace.
"It's wonderful--Strether anticipated for her.
"It's wonderful!" she, to meet it, intensified; so that, face to face over it, they largely and recklessly laughed. But she presently added: "Oh I see the principle. If one didn't one would be lost. But when once one has got hold of it--"
"It's as simple as twice two! From the moment he had to do something--"
"A crowd"--she took him straight up--"was the only thing? Rather, rather: a rumpus of sound," she laughed, "or nothing. Mrs. Pocock's built in, or built out--whichever you call it; she's packed so tight she can't move. She's in splendid isolation"-- Miss Barrace embroidered the theme.
Strether followed, but scrupulous of justice. "Yet with every one in the place successively introduced to her."
"Wonderfully--but just so that it does build her out. She's bricked up, she's buried alive!"
Strether seemed for a moment to look at it; but it brought him to a sigh. "Oh but she's not dead! It will take more than this to kill her."
His companion had a pause that might have been for pity. "No, I can't pretend I think she's finished--or that it's for more than to-night." She remained pensive as if with the same compunction. "It's only up to her chin." Then again for the fun of it: "She can breathe."
"She can breathe!"--he echoed it in the same spirit. "And do you know," he went on, "what's really all this time happening to me?-- through the beauty of music, the gaiety of voices, the uproar in short of our revel and the felicity of your wit? The sound of Mrs. Pocock's respiration drowns for me, I assure you, every other. It's literally all I hear."
She focussed him with her clink of chains. "Well--!" she breathed ever so kindly.
"She IS free from her chin up," she mused; "and that WILL be enough for her."
"It will be enough for me!" Strether ruefully laughed. "Waymarsh has really," he then asked, "brought her to see you?"
"Yes--but that's the worst of it. I could do you no good. And yet I tried hard."
Strether wondered. "And how did you try?"
"Why I didn't speak of you."
"I see. That was better."
"Then what would have been worse? For speaking or silent," she lightly wailed, "I somehow 'compromise.' And it has never been any one but you."
"That shows"--he was magnanimous--"that it's something not in you, but in one's self. It's MY fault."
She was silent a little. "No, it's Mr. Waymarsh's. It's the fault of his having brought her."
"Ah then," said Strether good-naturedly, "why DID he bring her?"
"He couldn't afford not to."
"Oh you were a trophy--one of the spoils of conquest? But why in that case, since you do 'compromise'--"
"Don't I compromise HIM as well? I do compromise him as well," Miss Barrace smiled. "I compromise him as hard as I can. But for Mr. Waymarsh it isn't fatal. It's--so far as his wonderful relation with Mrs. Pocock is concerned--favourable." And then, as he still seemed slightly at sea: "The man who had succeeded with ME, don't you see? For her to get him from me was such an added incentive."
Strether saw, but as if his path was still strewn with surprises. "It's 'from' you then that she has got him?"
She was amused at his momentary muddle. "You can fancy my fight! She believes in her triumph. I think it has been part of her joy.
"Oh her joy!" Strether sceptically murmured.
"Well, she thinks she has had her own way. And what's to-night for her but a kind of apotheosis? Her frock's really good."
"Good enough to go to heaven in? For after a real apotheosis," Strether went on, "there's nothing BUT heaven. For Sarah there's only to-morrow."
"And you mean that she won't find to-morrow heavenly?"
"Well, I mean that I somehow feel to-night--on her behalf--too good to be true. She has had her cake; that is she's in the act now of having it, of swallowing the largest and sweetest piece. There won't be another left for her. Certainly I haven't one. It can only, at the best, be Chad." He continued to make it out as for their common entertainment. "He may have one, as it were. up his sleeve; yet it's borne in upon me that if he had--"
"He wouldn't"--she quite understood--"have taken all THIS trouble? I dare say not, and, if I may be quite free and dreadful, I very much hope he won't take any more. Of course I won't pretend now," she added, "not to know what it's a question of."
"Oh every one must know now," poor Strether thoughtfully admitted; "and it's strange enough and funny enough that one should feel everybody here at this very moment to be knowing and watching and waiting."
"Yes--isn't it indeed funny?" Miss Barrace quite rose to it. "That's the way we ARE in Paris." She was always pleased with a new contribution to that queerness. "It's wonderful! But, you know," she declared, "it all depends on you. I don't want to turn the knife in your vitals, but that's naturally what you just now meant by our all being on top of you. We know you as the hero of the drama, and we're gathered to see what you'll do."
Strether looked at her a moment with a light perhaps slightly obscured. "I think that must be why the hero has taken refuge in this corner. He's scared at his heroism--he shrinks from his part."
"Ah but we nevertheless believe he'll play it. That's why," Miss Barrace kindly went on, "we take such an interest in you. We feel you'll come up to the scratch." And then as he seemed perhaps not quite to take fire: "Don't let him do it."
"Don't let Chad go?"
"Yes, keep hold of him. With all this"--and she indicated the general tribute--"he has done enough. We love him here-- he's charming."
"It's beautiful," said Strether, "the way you all can simplify when you will."
But she gave it to him back. "It's nothing to the way you will when you must."
He winced at it as at the very voice of prophecy, and it kept him a moment quiet. He detained her, however, on her appearing about to leave him alone in the rather cold clearance their talk had made. "There positively isn't a sign of a hero to-night; the hero's dodging and shirking, the hero's ashamed. Therefore, you know, I think, what you must all REALLY be occupied with is the heroine."
Miss Barrace took a minute. "The heroine?"
"The heroine. I've treated her," said Strether, "not a bit like a hero. Oh," he sighed, "I don't do it well!"
She eased him off. "You do it as you can." And then after another hesitation: "I think she's satisfied."
But he remained compunctious. "I haven't been near her. I haven't looked at her."
"Ah then you've lost a good deal!"
He showed he knew it. "She's more wonderful than ever?"
"Than ever. With Mr. Pocock."
Strether wondered. "Madame de Vionnet--with Jim?"
"Madame de Vionnet--with 'Jim.' " Miss Barrace was historic.
"And what's she doing with him?"
"Ah you must ask HIM!"
Strether's face lighted again at the prospect. "It WILL be amusing to do so." Yet he continued to wonder. "But she must have some idea."
"Of course she has--she has twenty ideas. She has in the first place," said Miss Barrace, swinging a little her tortoise-shell, "that of doing her part. Her part is to help YOU."
It came out as nothing had come yet; links were missing and connexions unnamed, but it was suddenly as if they were at the heart of their subject. "Yes; how much more she does it," Strether gravely reflected, "than I help HER!" It all came over him as with the near presence of the beauty, the grace, the intense, dissimulated spirit with which he had, as he said, been putting off contact. "SHE has courage."
"Ah she has courage!" Miss Barrace quite agreed; and it was as if for a moment they saw the quantity in each other's face.
But indeed the whole thing was present. "How much she must care!"
"Ah there it is. She does care. But it isn't, is it," Miss Barrace considerately added, "as if you had ever had any doubt of that?"
Strether seemed suddenly to like to feel that he really never had. "Why of course it's the whole point."
"Voila!" Miss Barrace smiled.
"It's why one came out," Strether went on. "And it's why one has stayed so long. And it's also"--he abounded--"why one's going home. It's why, it's why--"
"It's why everything!" she concurred. "It's why she might be to-night--for all she looks and shows, and for all your friend 'Jim' does--about twenty years old. That's another of her ideas; to be for him, and to be quite easily and charmingly, as young as a little girl."
Strether assisted at his distance. "'For him'? For Chad--?"
"For Chad, in a manner, naturally, always. But in particular to-night for Mr. Pocock." And then as her friend still stared: "Yes, it IS of a bravery But that's what she has: her high sense of duty." It was more than sufficiently before them. "When Mr. Newsome has his hands so embarrassed with his sister--"
"It's quite the least"--Strether filled it out--"that she should take his sister's husband? Certainly--quite the least. So she has taken him."
"She has taken him." It was all Miss Barrace had meant.
Still it remained enough. "It must be funny."
"Oh it IS funny." That of course essentially went with it.
But it brought them back. "How indeed then she must cared In answer to which Strether's entertainer dropped a comprehensive "Ah!" expressive perhaps of some impatience for the time he took to get used to it. She herself had got used to it long before.
When one morning within the week he perceived the whole thing to be really at last upon him Strether's immediate feeling was all relief. He had known this morning that something was about to happen--known it, in a moment, by Waymarsh's manner when Waymarsh appeared before him during his brief consumption of coffee and a roll in the small slippery salle-a-manger so associated with rich rumination. Strether had taken there of late various lonely and absent-minded meals; he communed there, even at the end of June, with a suspected chill, the air of old shivers mixed with old savours, the air in which so many of his impressions had perversely matured; the place meanwhile renewing its message to him by the very circumstance of his single state. He now sat there, for the most part, to sigh softly, while he vaguely tilted his carafe, over the vision of how much better Waymarsh was occupied. That was really his success by the common measure--to have led this companion so on and on. He remembered how at first there had been scarce a squatting-place he could beguile him into passing; the actual outcome of which at last was that there was scarce one that could arrest him in his rush. His rush--as Strether vividly and amusedly figured it--continued to be all with Sarah, and contained perhaps moreover the word of the whole enigma, whipping up in its fine full-flavoured froth the very principle, for good or for ill, of his own, of Strether's destiny. It might after all, to the end, only be that they had united to save him, and indeed, so far as Waymarsh was concerned, that HAD to be the spring of action. Strether was glad at all events, in connexion with the case, that the saving he required was not more scant; so constituted a luxury was it in certain lights just to lurk there out of the full glare. He had moments of quite seriously wondering whether Waymarsh wouldn't in fact, thanks to old friendship and a conceivable indulgence, make about as good terms for him as he might make for himself. They wouldn't be the same terms of course; but they might have the advantage that he himself probably should be able to make none at all.
He was never in the morning very late, but Waymarsh had already been out, and, after a peep into the dim refectory, he presented himself with much less than usual of his large looseness. He had made sure, through the expanse of glass exposed to the court, that they would be alone; and there was now in fact that about him that pretty well took up the room. He was dressed in the garments of summer; and save that his white waistcoat was redundant and bulging these things favoured, they determined, his expression. He wore a straw hat such as his friend hadn't yet seen in Paris, and he showed a buttonhole freshly adorned with a magnificent rose. Strether read on the instant his story--how, astir for the previous hour, the sprinkled newness of the day, so pleasant at that season in Paris, he was fairly panting with the pulse of adventure and had been with Mrs. Pocock, unmistakeably, to the Marche aux Fleurs. Strether really knew in this vision of him a joy that was akin to envy; so reversed as he stood there did their old positions seem; so comparatively doleful now showed, by the sharp turn of the wheel, the posture of the pilgrim from Woollett. He wondered, this pilgrim, if he had originally looked to Waymarsh so brave and well, so remarkably launched, as it was at present the latter's privilege to appear. He recalled that his friend had remarked to him even at Chester that his aspect belied his plea of prostration; but there certainly couldn't have been, for an issue, an aspect less concerned than Waymarsh's with the menace of decay. Strether had at any rate never resembled a Southern planter of the great days-- which was the image picturesquely suggested by the happy relation between the fuliginous face and the wide panama of his visitor. This type, it further amused him to guess, had been, on Waymarsh's part, the object of Sarah's care; he was convinced that her taste had not been a stranger to the conception and purchase of the hat, any more than her fine fingers had been guiltless of the bestowal of the rose. It came to him in the current of thought, as things so oddly did come, that HE had never risen with the lark to attend a brilliant woman to the Marche aux Fleurs; this could be fastened on him in connexion neither with Miss Gostrey nor with Madame de Vionnet; the practice of getting up early for adventures could indeed in no manner be fastened on him. It came to him in fact that just here was his usual case: he was for ever missing things through his general genius for missing them, while others were for ever picking them up through a contrary bent. And it was others who looked abstemious and he who looked greedy; it was he somehow who finally paid, and it was others who mainly partook. Yes, he should go to the scaffold yet for he wouldn't know quite whom. He almost, for that matter, felt on the scaffold now and really quite enjoying it. It worked out as BECAUSE he was anxious there--it worked out as for this reason that Waymarsh was so blooming. It was HIS trip for health, for a change, that proved the success-- which was just what Strether, planning and exerting himself, had desired it should be. That truth already sat full-blown on his companion's lips; benevolence breathed from them as with the warmth of active exercise, and also a little as with the bustle of haste.
"Mrs. Pocock, whom I left a quarter of an hour ago at her hotel, has asked me to mention to you that she would like to find you at home here in about another hour. She wants to see you; she has something to say--or considers, I believe, that you may have: so that I asked her myself why she shouldn't come right round. She hasn't BEEN round yet--to see our place; and I took upon myself to say that I was sure you'd be glad to have her. The thing's therefore, you see, to keep right here till she comes."
The announcement was sociably, even though, after Waymarsh's wont, somewhat solemnly made; but Strether quickly felt other things in it than these light features. It was the first approach, from that quarter, to admitted consciousness; it quickened his pulse; it simply meant at last that he should have but himself to thank if he didn't know where he was. He had finished his breakfast; he pushed it away and was on his feet. There were plenty of elements of surprise, but only one of doubt. "The thing's for YOU to keep here too?" Waymarsh had been slightly ambiguous.
He wasn't ambiguous, however, after this enquiry; and Strether's understanding had probably never before opened so wide and effective a mouth as it was to open during the next five minutes. It was no part of his friend's wish, as appeared, to help to receive Mrs. Pocock; he quite understood the spirit in which she was to present herself, but his connexion with her visit was limited to his having--well, as he might say--perhaps a little promoted it. He had thought, and had let her know it, that Strether possibly would think she might have been round before. At any rate, as turned out, she had been wanting herself, quite a while, to come. "I told her," said Waymarsh, "that it would have been a bright idea if she had only carried it out before."
Strether pronounced it so bright as to be almost dazzling. "But why HASn't she carried it out before? She has seen me every day-- she had only to name her hour. I've been waiting and waiting."
"Well, I told her you had. And she has been waiting too." It was, in the oddest way in the world, on the showing of this tone, a genial new pressing coaxing Waymarsh; a Waymarsh conscious with a different consciousness from any he had yet betrayed, and actually rendered by it almost insinuating. He lacked only time for full persuasion, and Strether was to see in a moment why. Meantime, however, our friend perceived, he was announcing a step of some magnanimity on Mrs. Pocock's part, so that he could deprecate a sharp question. It was his own high purpose in fact to have smoothed sharp questions to rest. He looked his old comrade very straight in the eyes, and he had never conveyed to him in so mute a manner so much kind confidence and so much good advice. Everything that was between them was again in his face, but matured and shelved and finally disposed of. "At any rate," he added, "she's coming now."
Considering how many pieces had to fit themselves, it all fell, in Strether's brain, into a close rapid order. He saw on the spot what had happened, and what probably would yet; and it was all funny enough. It was perhaps just this freedom of appreciation that wound him up to his flare of high spirits. "What is she coming FOR?--to kill me?"
"She's coming to be very VERY kind to you, and you must let me say that I greatly hope you'll not be less so to herself."
This was spoken by Waymarsh with much gravity of admonition, and as Strether stood there he knew he had but to make a movement to take the attitude of a man gracefully receiving a present. The present was that of the opportunity dear old Waymarsh had flattered himself he had divined in him the slight soreness of not having yet thoroughly enjoyed; so he had brought it to him thus, as on a little silver breakfast-tray, familiarly though delicately--without oppressive pomp; and he was to bend and smile and acknowledge, was to take and use and be grateful. He was not--that was the beauty of it--to be asked to deflect too much from his dignity. No wonder the old boy bloomed in this bland air of his own distillation. Strether felt for a moment as if Sarah were actually walking up and down outside. Wasn't she hanging about the porte-cochere while her friend thus summarily opened a way? Strether would meet her but to take it, and everything would be for the best in the best of possible worlds. He had never so much known what any one meant as, in the light of this demonstration, he knew what Mrs. Newsome did. It had reached Waymarsh from Sarah, but it had reached Sarah from her mother, and there was no break in the chain by which it reached HIM. "Has anything particular happened," he asked after a minute-- "so suddenly to determine her? Has she heard anything unexpected from home?"
Waymarsh, on this, it seemed to him, looked at him harder than ever. "'Unexpected'?" He had a brief hesitation; then, however, he was firm. "We're leaving Paris."
"Leaving? That IS sudden."
Waymarsh showed a different opinion. "Less so than it may seem. The purpose of Mrs. Pocock's visit is to explain to you in fact that it's NOT."
Strether didn't at all know if he had really an advantage-- anything that would practically count as one; but he enjoyed for the moment--as for the first time in his life--the sense of so carrying it off. He wondered--it was amusing--if he felt as the impudent feel. "I shall take great pleasure, I assure you, in any explanation. I shall be delighted to receive Sarah."
The sombre glow just darkened in his comrade's eyes; but he was struck with the way it died out again. It was too mixed with another consciousness--it was too smothered, as might be said, in flowers. He really for the time regretted it--poor dear old sombre glow! Something straight and simple, something heavy and empty, had been eclipsed in its company; something by which he had best known his friend. Waymarsh wouldn't BE his friend, somehow, without the occasional ornament of the sacred rage, and the right to the sacred rage--inestimably precious for Strether's charity--he also seemed in a manner, and at Mrs. Pocock's elbow, to have forfeited. Strether remembered the occasion early in their stay when on that very spot he had come out with his earnest, his ominous "Quit it!"-- and, so remembering, felt it hang by a hair that he didn't himself now utter the same note. Waymarsh was having a good time-- this was the truth that was embarrassing for him, and he was having it then and there, he was having it in Europe, he was having it under the very protection of circumstances of which he didn't in the least approve; all of which placed him in a false position, with no issue possible--none at least by the grand manner. It was practically in the manner of any one--it was all but in poor Strether's own--that instead of taking anything up he merely made the most of having to be himself explanatory. "I'm not leaving for the United States direct. Mr. and Mrs. Pocock and Miss Mamie are thinking of a little trip before their own return, and we've been talking for some days past of our joining forces. We've settled it that we do join and that we sail together the end of next month. But we start to-morrow for Switzerland. Mrs. Pocock wants some scenery. She hasn't had much yet."
He was brave in his way too, keeping nothing back, confessing all there was, and only leaving Strether to make certain connexions. "Is what Mrs. Newsome had cabled her daughter an injunction to break off short?"
The grand manner indeed at this just raised its head a little. "I know nothing about Mrs. Newsome's cables."
Their eyes met on it with some intensity--during the few seconds of which something happened quite out of proportion to the time. It happened that Strether, looking thus at his friend, didn't take his answer for truth--and that something more again occurred in consequence of THAT. Yes--Waymarsh just DID know about Mrs. Newsome's cables: to what other end than that had they dined together at Bignon's? Strether almost felt for the instant that it was to Mrs. Newsome herself the dinner had been given; and, for that matter, quite felt how she must have known about it and, as he might think, protected and consecrated it. He had a quick blurred view of daily cables, questions, answers, signals: clear enough was his vision of the expense that, when so wound up, the lady at home was prepared to incur. Vivid not less was his memory of what, during his long observation of her, some of her attainments of that high pitch had cost her. Distinctly she was at the highest now, and Waymarsh, who imagined himself an independent performer, was really, forcing his fine old natural voice, an overstrained accompanist. The whole reference of his errand seemed to mark her for Strether as by this time consentingly familiar to him, and nothing yet had so despoiled her of a special shade of consideration. "You don't know," he asked, "whether Sarah has been directed from home to try me on the matter of my also going to Switzerland?"
"I know," said Waymarsh as manfully as possible, "nothing whatever about her private affairs; though I believe her to be acting in conformity with things that have my highest respect." It was as manful as possible, but it was still the false note--as it had to be to convey so sorry a statement. He knew everything, Strether more and more felt, that he thus disclaimed, and his little punishment was just in this doom to a second fib. What falser position--given the man--could the most vindictive mind impose? He ended by squeezing through a passage in which three months before he would certainly have stuck fast. "Mrs Pocock will probably be ready herself to answer any enquiry you may put to her. But," he continued, "BUT--!" He faltered on it.
"But what? Don't put her too many?"
Waymarsh looked large, but the harm was done; he couldn't, do what he would, help looking rosy. "Don't do anything you'll be sorry for."
It was an attenuation, Strether guessed, of something else that had been on his lips; it was a sudden drop to directness, and was thereby the voice of sincerity. He had fallen to the supplicating note, and that immediately, for our friend, made a difference and reinstated him. They were in communication as they had been, that first morning, in Sarah's salon and in her presence and Madame de Vionnet's; and the same recognition of a great good will was again, after all, possible. Only the amount of response Waymarsh had then taken for granted was doubled, decupled now. This came out when he presently said: "Of course I needn't assure you I hope you'll come with us." Then it was that his implications and expectations loomed up for Strether as almost pathetically gross.
The latter patted his shoulder while he thanked him, giving the go-by to the question of joining the Pococks; he expressed the joy he felt at seeing him go forth again so brave and free, and he in fact almost took leave of him on the spot. "I shall see you again of course before you go; but I'm meanwhile much obliged to you for arranging so conveniently for what you've told me. I shall walk up and down in the court there--dear little old court which we've each bepaced so, this last couple of months, to the tune of our flights and our drops, our hesitations and our plunges: I shall hang about there, all impatience and excitement, please let Sarah know, till she graciously presents herself. Leave me with her without fear," he laughed; "I assure you I shan't hurt her. I don't think either she'll hurt ME: I'm in a situation in which damage was some time ago discounted. Besides, THAT isn't what worries you--but don't, don't explain! We're all right as we are: which was the degree of success our adventure was pledged to for each of us. We weren't, it seemed, all right as we were before; and we've got over the ground, all things considered, quickly. I hope you'll have a lovely time in the Alps."
Waymarsh fairly looked up at him as from the foot of them. "I don't know as I OUGHT really to go."
It was the conscience of Milrose in the very voice of Milrose, but, oh it was feeble and flat! Strether suddenly felt quite ashamed for him; he breathed a greater boldness. "LET yourself, on the contrary, go--in all agreeable directions. These are precious hours--at our age they mayn't recur. Don't have it to say to yourself at Milrose, next winter, that you hadn't courage for them." And then as his comrade queerly stared: "Live up to Mrs. Pocock."
"Live up to her?"
"You're a great help to her."
Waymarsh looked at it as at one of the uncomfortable things that were certainly true and that it was yet ironical to say. "It's more then than you are."
"That's exactly your own chance and advantage. Besides," said Strether, "I do in my way contribute. I know what I'm about."
Waymarsh had kept on his great panama, and, as he now stood nearer the door, his last look beneath the shade of it had turned again to darkness and warning. "So do I! See here, Strether."
"I know what you're going to say. 'Quit this'?"
"Quit this!" But it lacked its old intensity; nothing of it remained; it went out of the room with him.
Almost the first thing, strangely enough, that, about an hour later, Strether found himself doing in Sarah's presence was to remark articulately on this failure, in their friend, of what had been superficially his great distinction. It was as if--he alluded of course to the grand manner--the dear man had sacrificed it to some other advantage; which would be of course only for himself to measure. It might be simply that he was physically so much more sound than on his first coming out; this was all prosaic, comparatively cheerful and vulgar. And fortunately, if one came to that, his improvement in health was really itself grander than any manner it could be conceived as having cost him. "You yourself alone, dear Sarah"--Strether took the plunge--"have done him, it strikes me, in these three weeks, as much good as all the rest of his time together."
It was a plunge because somehow the range of reference was, in the conditions, "funny," and made funnier still by Sarah's attitude, by the turn the occasion had, with her appearance, so sensibly taken. Her appearance was really indeed funnier than anything else--the spirit in which he felt her to be there as soon as she was there, the shade of obscurity that cleared up for him as soon as he was seated with her in the small salon de lecture that had, for the most part, in all the weeks, witnessed the wane of his early vivacity of discussion with Waymarsh. It was an immense thing, quite a tremendous thing, for her to have come: this truth opened out to him in spite of his having already arrived for himself at a fairly vivid view of it. He had done exactly what he had given Waymarsh his word for--had walked and re-walked the court while he awaited her advent; acquiring in this exercise an amount of light that affected him at the time as flooding the scene. She had decided upon the step in order to give him the benefit of a doubt, in order to be able to say to her mother that she had, even to abjectness, smoothed the way for him. The doubt had been as to whether he mightn't take her as not having smoothed it--and the admonition had possibly come from Waymarsh's more detached spirit. Waymarsh had at any rate, certainly, thrown his weight into the scale--he had pointed to the importance of depriving their friend of a grievance. She had done justice to the plea, and it was to set herself right with a high ideal that she actually sat there in her state. Her calculation was sharp in the immobility with which she held her tall parasol-stick upright and at arm's length, quite as if she had struck the place to plant her flag; in the separate precautions she took not to show as nervous; in the aggressive repose in which she did quite nothing but wait for him. Doubt ceased to be possible from the moment he had taken in that she had arrived with no proposal whatever; that her concern was simply to show what she had come to receive. She had come to receive his submission, and Waymarsh was to have made it plain to him that she would expect nothing less. He saw fifty things, her host, at this convenient stage; but one of those he most saw was that their anxious friend hadn't quite had the hand required of him. Waymarsh HAD, however, uttered the request that she might find him mild, and while hanging about the court before her arrival he had turned over with zeal the different ways in which he could be so. The difficulty was that if he was mild he wasn't, for her purpose, conscious. If she wished him conscious--as everything about her cried aloud that she did--she must accordingly be at costs to make him so. Conscious he was, for himself--but only of too many things; so she must choose the one she required.
Practically, however, it at last got itself named, and when once that had happened they were quite at the centre of their situation. One thing had really done as well as another; when Strether had spoken of Waymarsh's leaving him, and that had necessarily brought on a reference to Mrs. Pocock's similar intention, the jump was but short to supreme lucidity. Light became indeed after that so intense that Strether would doubtless have but half made out, in the prodigious glare, by which of the two the issue had been in fact precipitated. It was, in their contracted quarters, as much there between them as if it had been something suddenly spilled with a crash and a splash on the floor. The form of his submission was to be an engagement to acquit himself within the twenty-four hours. "He'll go in a moment if you give him the word--he assures me on his honour he'll do that": this came in its order, out of its order, in respect to Chad, after the crash had occurred. It came repeatedly during the time taken by Strether to feel that he was even more fixed in his rigour than he had supposed--the time he was not above adding to a little by telling her that such a way of putting it on her brother's part left him sufficiently surprised. She wasn't at all funny at last--she was really fine; and he felt easily where she was strong--strong for herself. It hadn't yet so come home to him that she was nobly and appointedly officious. She was acting in interests grander and clearer than that of her poor little personal, poor little Parisian equilibrium, and all his consciousness of her mother's moral pressure profited by this proof of its sustaining force. She would be held up; she would be strengthened; he needn't in the least be anxious for her. What would once more have been distinct to him had he tried to make it so was that, as Mrs. Newsome was essentially all moral pressure, the presence of this element was almost identical with her own presence. It wasn't perhaps that he felt he was dealing with her straight, but it was certainly as if she had been dealing straight with HIM. She was reaching him somehow by the lengthened arm of the spirit, and he was having to that extent to take her into account; but he wasn't reaching her in turn, not making her take HIM; he was only reaching Sarah, who appeared to take so little of him. "Something has clearly passed between you and Chad," he presently said, "that I think I ought to know something more about. Does he put it all," he smiled, "on me?"
"Did you come out," she asked, "to put it all on HIM?"
But he replied to this no further than, after an instant, by saying: "Oh it's all right. Chad I mean's all right in having said to you--well anything he may have said. I'll TAKE it all-- what he does put on me. Only I must see him before I see you again."
She hesitated, but she brought it out. "Is it absolutely necessary you should see me again?"
"Certainly, if I'm to give you any definite word about anything."
"Is it your idea then," she returned, "that I shall keep on meeting you only to be exposed to fresh humiliation?"
He fixed her a longer time. "Are your instructions from Mrs. Newsome that you shall, even at the worst, absolutely and irretrievably break with me?"
"My instructions from Mrs. Newsome are, if you please, my affair. You know perfectly what your own were, and you can judge for yourself of what it can do for you to have made what you have of them. You can perfectly see, at any rate, I'll go so far as to say, that if I wish not to expose myself I must wish still less to expose HER." She had already said more than she had quite expected; but, though she had also pulled up, the colour in her face showed him he should from one moment to the other have it all. He now indeed felt the high importance of his having it. "What is your conduct," she broke out as if to explain--"what is your conduct but an outrage to women like US? I mean your acting as if there can be a doubt--as between us and such another--of his duty?"
He thought a moment. It was rather much to deal with at once; not only the question itself, but the sore abysses it revealed. "Of course they're totally different kinds of duty."
"And do you pretend that he has any at all--to such another?"
"Do you mean to Madame de Vionnet?" He uttered the name not to affront her, but yet again to gain time--time that he needed for taking in something still other and larger than her demand of a moment before. It wasn't at once that he could see all that was in her actual challenge; but when he did he found himself just checking a low vague sound, a sound which was perhaps the nearest approach his vocal chords had ever known to a growl. Everything Mrs. Pocock had failed to give a sign of recognising in Chad as a particular part of a transformation--everything that had lent intention to this particular failure--affected him as gathered into a large loose bundle and thrown, in her words, into his face. The missile made him to that extent catch his breath; which however he presently recovered. "Why when a woman's at once so charming and so beneficent--"
"You can sacrifice mothers and sisters to her without a blush and can make them cross the ocean on purpose to feel the more and take from you the straighter, HOW you do it?"
Yes, she had taken him up as short and as sharply as that, but he tried not to flounder in her grasp. "I don't think there's anything I've done in any such calculated way as you describe. Everything has come as a sort of indistinguishable part of everything else. Your coming out belonged closely to my having come before you, and my having come was a result of our general state of mind. Our general state of mind had proceeded, on its side, from our queer ignorance, our queer misconceptions and confusions--from which, since then, an inexorable tide of light seems to have floated us into our perhaps still queerer knowledge. Don't you LIKE your brother as he is," he went on, "and haven't you given your mother an intelligible account of all that that comes to?"
It put to her also, doubtless, his own tone, too many things, this at least would have been the case hadn't his final challenge directly helped her. Everything, at the stage they had reached, directly helped her, because everything betrayed in him such a basis of intention. He saw--the odd way things came out!--that he would have been held less monstrous had he only been a little wilder. What exposed him was just his poor old trick of quiet inwardness, what exposed him was his THINKING such offence. He hadn't in the least however the desire to irritate that Sarah imputed to him, and he could only at last temporise, for the moment, with her indignant view. She was altogether more inflamed than he had expected, and he would probably understand this better when he should learn what had occurred for her with Chad. Till then her view of his particular blackness, her clear surprise at his not clutching the pole she held out, must pass as extravagant. "I leave you to flatter yourself," she returned, "that what you speak of is what YOU'VE beautifully done. When a thing has been already described in such a lovely way--!" But she caught herself up, and her comment on his description rang out sufficiently loud. "Do you consider her even an apology for a decent woman?"
Ah there it was at last! She put the matter more crudely than, for his own mixed purposes, he had yet had to do; but essentially it was all one matter. It was so much--so much; and she treated it, poor lady, as so little. He grew conscious, as he was now apt to do, of a strange smile, and the next moment he found himself talking like Miss Barrace. "She has struck me from the first as wonderful. I've been thinking too moreover that, after all, she would probably have represented even for yourself something rather new and rather good."
He was to have given Mrs. Pocock with this, however, but her best opportunity for a sound of derision. "Rather new? I hope so with all my heart!"
"I mean," he explained, "that she might have affected you by her exquisite amiability--a real revelation, it has seemed to myself; her high rarity, her distinction of every sort."
He had been, with these words, consciously a little "precious"; but he had had to be--he couldn't give her the truth of the case without them; and it seemed to him moreover now that he didn't care. He had at all events not served his cause, for she sprang at its exposed side. "A 'revelation'--to ME: I've come to such a woman for a revelation? You talk to me about 'distinction'-- YOU, you who've had your privilege?--when the most distinguished woman we shall either of us have seen in this world sits there insulted, in her loneliness, by your incredible comparison!"
Strether forbore, with an effort, from straying; but he looked all about him. "Does your mother herself make the point that she sits insulted?"
Sarah's answer came so straight, so "pat," as might have been said, that he felt on the instant its origin. "She has confided to my judgement and my tenderness the expression of her personal sense of everything, and the assertion of her personal dignity."
They were the very words of the lady of Woollett--he would have known them in a thousand; her parting charge to her child. Mrs. Pocock accordingly spoke to this extent by book, and the fact immensely moved him. "If she does really feel as you say it's of course very very dreadful. I've given sufficient proof, one would have thought," he added, "of my deep admiration for Mrs. Newsome."
"And pray what proof would one have thought you'd CALL sufficient? That of thinking this person here so far superior to her?"
He wondered again; he waited. "Ah dear Sarah, you must LEAVE me this person here!"
In his desire to avoid all vulgar retorts, to show how, even perversely, he clung to his rag of reason, he had softly almost wailed this plea. Yet he knew it to be perhaps the most positive declaration he had ever made in his life, and his visitor's reception of it virtually gave it that importance. "That's exactly what I'm delighted to do. God knows WE don't want her! You take good care not to meet," she observed in a still higher key, "my question about their life. If you do consider it a thing one can even SPEAK of, I congratulate you on your taste!"
The life she alluded to was of course Chad's and Madame de Vionnet's, which she thus bracketed together in a way that made him wince a little; there being nothing for him but to take home her full intention. It was none the less his inconsequence that while he had himself been enjoying for weeks the view of the brilliant woman's specific action, he just suffered from any characterisation of it by other lips. "I think tremendously well of her, at the same time that I seem to feel her 'life' to be really none of my business. It's my business, that is, only so far as Chad's own life is affected by it; and what has happened, don't you see? is that Chad's has been affected so beautifully. The proof of the pudding's in the eating"--he tried, with no great success, to help it out with a touch of pleasantry, while she let him go on as if to sink and sink. He went on however well enough, as well as he could do without fresh counsel; he indeed shouldn't stand quite firm, he felt, till he should have re-established his communications with Chad. Still, he could always speak for the woman he had so definitely promised to "save." This wasn't quite for her the air of salvation; but as that chill fairly deepened what did it become but a reminder that one might at the worst perish WITH her? And it was simple enough--it was rudimentary: not, not to give her away. "I find in her more merits than you would probably have patience with my counting over. And do you know," he enquired, "the effect you produce on me by alluding to her in such terms? It's as if you had some motive in not recognising all she has done for your brother, and so shut your eyes to each side of the matter, in order, whichever side comes up, to get rid of the other. I don't, you must allow me to say, see how you can with any pretence to candour get rid of the side nearest you."
"Near me--THAT sort of thing?" And Sarah gave a jerk back of her head that well might have nullified any active proximity.
It kept her friend himself at his distance, and he respected for a moment the interval. Then with a last persuasive effort he bridged it. "You don't, on your honour, appreciate Chad's fortunate development?"
"Fortunate?" she echoed again. And indeed she was prepared. "I call it hideous."
Her departure had been for some minutes marked as imminent, and she was already at the door that stood open to the court, from the threshold of which she delivered herself of this judgement. It rang out so loud as to produce for the time the hush of everything else. Strether quite, as an effect of it, breathed less bravely; he could acknowledge it, but simply enough. "Oh if you think THAT--!"
"Then all's at an end? So much the better. I do think that!" She passed out as she spoke and took her way straight across the court, beyond which, separated from them by the deep arch of the porte-cochere the low victoria that had conveyed her from her own hotel was drawn up. She made for it with decision, and the manner of her break, the sharp shaft of her rejoinder, had an intensity by which Strether was at first kept in arrest. She had let fly at him as from a stretched cord, and it took him a minute to recover from the sense of being pierced. It was not the penetration of surprise; it was that, much more, of certainty; his case being put for him as he had as yet only put it to himself. She was away at any rate; she had distanced him--with rather a grand spring, an effect of pride and ease, after all; she had got into her carriage before he could overtake her, and the vehicle was already in motion. He stopped halfway; he stood there in the court only seeing her go and noting that she gave him no other look. The way he had put it to himself was that all quite MIGHT be at an end. Each of her movements, in this resolute rupture, reaffirmed, re-enforced that idea. Sarah passed out of sight in the sunny street while, planted there in the centre of the comparatively grey court, he continued merely to look before him. It probably WAS all at an end.