The Ambassadors, by Henry James

Book Twelfth

I

Strether couldn’t have said he had during the previous hours definitely expected it; yet when. later on, that morning — though no later indeed than for his coming forth at ten o’clock — he saw the concierge produce, on his approach, a petit bleu delivered since his letters had been sent up, he recognised the appearance as the first symptom of a sequel. He then knew he had been thinking of some early sign from Chad as more likely, after all, than not; and this would be precisely the early sign. He took it so for granted that he opened the petit bleu just where he had stopped, in the pleasant cool draught of the porte-cochere — only curious to see where the young man would, at such a juncture, break out. His curiosity, however, was more than gratified; the small missive, whose gummed edge he had detached without attention to the address, not being from the young man at all, but from the person whom the case gave him on the spot as still more worth while. Worth while or not, he went round to the nearest telegraph-office, the big one on the Boulevard, with a directness that almost confessed to a fear of the danger of delay. He might have been thinking that if he didn’t go before he could think he wouldn’t perhaps go at all. He at any rate kept, in the lower side-pocket of his morning coat, a very deliberate hand on his blue missive, crumpling it up rather tenderly than harshly. He wrote a reply, on the Boulevard, also in the form of a petit bleu — which was quickly done, under pressure of the place, inasmuch as, like Madame de Vionnet’s own communication, it consisted of the fewest words. She had asked him if he could do her the very great kindness of coming to see her that evening at half-past nine, and he answered, as if nothing were easier, that he would present himself at the hour she named. She had added a line of postscript, to the effect that she would come to him elsewhere and at his own hour if he preferred; but he took no notice of this, feeling that if he saw her at all half the value of it would be in seeing her where he had already seen her best. He mightn’t see her at all; that was one of the reflexions he made after writing and before he dropped his closed card into the box; he mightn’t see any one at all any more at all; he might make an end as well now as ever, leaving things as they were, since he was doubtless not to leave them better, and taking his way home so far as should appear that a home remained to him. This alternative was for a few minutes so sharp that if he at last did deposit his missive it was perhaps because the pressure of the place had an effect.

There was none other, however, than the common and constant pressure, familiar to our friend under the rubric of Postes et Telegraphes — the something in the air of these establishments; the vibration of the vast strange life of the town, the influence of the types, the performers concocting their messages; the little prompt Paris women, arranging, pretexting goodness knew what, driving the dreadful needle-pointed public pen at the dreadful sand-strewn public table: implements that symbolised for Strether’s too interpretative innocence something more acute in manners, more sinister in morals, more fierce in the national life. After he had put in his paper he had ranged himself, he was really amused to think, on the side of the fierce, the sinister, the acute. He was carrying on a correspondence, across the great city, quite in the key of the Postes et Telegraphes in general; and it was fairly as if the acceptance of that fact had come from something in his state that sorted with the occupation of his neighbours. He was mixed up with the typical tale of Paris, and so were they, poor things — how could they all together help being? They were no worse than he, in short, and he no worse than they — if, queerly enough, no better; and at all events he had settled his hash, so that he went out to begin, from that moment, his day of waiting. The great settlement was, as he felt, in his preference for seeing his correspondent in her own best conditions. THAT was part of the typical tale, the part most significant in respect to himself. He liked the place she lived in, the picture that each time squared itself, large and high and clear, around her: every occasion of seeing it was a pleasure of a different shade. Yet what precisely was he doing with shades of pleasure now, and why hadn’t he properly and logically compelled her to commit herself to whatever of disadvantage and penalty the situation might throw up? He might have proposed, as for Sarah Pocock, the cold hospitality of his own salon de lecture, in which the chill of Sarah’s visit seemed still to abide and shades of pleasure were dim; he might have suggested a stone bench in the dusty Tuileries or a penny chair at the back part of the Champs Elysees. These things would have been a trifle stern, and sternness alone now wouldn’t be sinister. An instinct in him cast about for some form of discipline in which they might meet — some awkwardness they would suffer from, some danger, or at least some grave inconvenience, they would incur. This would give a sense — which the spirit required, rather ached and sighed in the absence of — that somebody was paying something somewhere and somehow, that they were at least not all floating together on the silver stream of impunity. Just instead of that to go and see her late in the evening, as if, for all the world — well, as if he were as much in the swim as anybody else: this had as little as possible in common with the penal form.

Even when he had felt that objection melt away, however, the practical difference was small; the long stretch of his interval took the colour it would, and if he lived on thus with the sinister from hour to hour it proved an easier thing than one might have supposed in advance. He reverted in thought to his old tradition, the one he had been brought up on and which even so many years of life had but little worn away; the notion that the state of the wrongdoer, or at least this person’s happiness, presented some special difficulty. What struck him now rather was the ease of it — for nothing in truth appeared easier. It was an ease he himself fairly tasted of for the rest of the day; giving himself quite up; not so much as trying to dress it out, in any particular whatever, as a difficulty; not after all going to see Maria — which would have been in a manner a result of such dressing; only idling, lounging, smoking, sitting in the shade, drinking lemonade and consuming ices. The day had turned to heat and eventual thunder, and he now and again went back to his hotel to find that Chad hadn’t been there. He hadn’t yet struck himself, since leaving Woollett, so much as a loafer, though there had been times when he believed himself touching bottom. This was a deeper depth than any, and with no foresight, scarcely with a care, as to what he should bring up. He almost wondered if he didn’t LOOK demoralised and disreputable; he had the fanciful vision, as he sat and smoked, of some accidental, some motived, return of the Pococks, who would be passing along the Boulevard and would catch this view of him. They would have distinctly, on his appearance, every ground for scandal. But fate failed to administer even that sternness; the Pococks never passed and Chad made no sign. Strether meanwhile continued to hold off from Miss Gostrey, keeping her till to-morrow; so that by evening his irresponsibility, his impunity, his luxury, had become — there was no other word for them — immense.

Between nine and ten, at last, in the high clear picture — he was moving in these days, as in a gallery, from clever canvas to clever canvas — he drew a long breath: it was so presented to him from the first that the spell of his luxury wouldn’t be broken. He wouldn’t have, that is, to become responsible — this was admirably in the air: she had sent for him precisely to let him feel it, so that he might go on with the comfort (comfort already established, hadn’t it been?) of regarding his ordeal, the ordeal of the weeks of Sarah’s stay and of their climax, as safely traversed and left behind him. Didn’t she just wish to assure him that SHE now took it all and so kept it; that he was absolutely not to worry any more, was only to rest on his laurels and continue generously to help her? The light in her beautiful formal room was dim, though it would do, as everything would always do; the hot night had kept out lamps, but there was a pair of clusters of candles that glimmered over the chimney-piece like the tall tapers of an altar. The windows were all open, their redundant hangings swaying a little, and he heard once more, from the empty court, the small plash of the fountain. From beyond this, and as from a great distance — beyond the court, beyond the corps de logis forming the front — came, as if excited and exciting, the vague voice of Paris. Strether had all along been subject to sudden gusts of fancy in connexion with such matters as these — odd starts of the historic sense, suppositions and divinations with no warrant but their intensity. Thus and so, on the eve of the great recorded dates, the days and nights of revolution, the sounds had come in, the omens, the beginnings broken out. They were the smell of revolution, the smell of the public temper — or perhaps simply the smell of blood.

It was at present queer beyond words, “subtle,” he would have risked saying, that such suggestions should keep crossing the scene; but it was doubtless the effect of the thunder in the air, which had hung about all day without release. His hostess was dressed as for thunderous times, and it fell in with the kind of imagination we have just attributed to him that she should be in simplest coolest white, of a character so old-fashioned, if he were not mistaken, that Madame Roland must on the scaffold have worn something like it. This effect was enhanced by a small black fichu or scarf, of crape or gauze, disposed quaintly round her bosom and now completing as by a mystic touch the pathetic, the noble analogy. Poor Strether in fact scarce knew what analogy was evoked for him as the charming woman, receiving him and making him, as she could do such things, at once familiarly and gravely welcome, moved over her great room with her image almost repeated in its polished floor, which had been fully bared for summer. The associations of the place, all felt again; the gleam here and there, in the subdued light, of glass and gilt and parquet, with the quietness of her own note as the centre — these things were at first as delicate as if they had been ghostly, and he was sure in a moment that, whatever he should find he had come for, it wouldn’t be for an impression that had previously failed him. That conviction held him from the outset, and, seeming singularly to simplify, certified to him that the objects about would help him, would really help them both. No, he might never see them again — this was only too probably the last time; and he should certainly see nothing in the least degree like them. He should soon be going to where such things were not, and it would be a small mercy for memory, for fancy, to have, in that stress, a loaf on the shelf. He knew in advance he should look back on the perception actually sharpest with him as on the view of something old, old, old, the oldest thing he had ever personally touched; and he also knew, even while he took his companion in as the feature among features, that memory and fancy couldn’t help being enlisted for her. She might intend what she would, but this was beyond anything she could intend, with things from far back — tyrannies of history, facts of type, values, as the painters said, of expression — all working for her and giving her the supreme chance, the chance of the happy, the really luxurious few, the chance, on a great occasion, to be natural and simple. She had never, with him, been more so; or if it was the perfection of art it would never — and that came to the same thing — be proved against her.

What was truly wonderful was her way of differing so from time to time without detriment to her simplicity. Caprices, he was sure she felt, were before anything else bad manners, and that judgement in her was by itself a thing making more for safety of intercourse than anything that in his various own past intercourses he had had to reckon on. If therefore her presence was now quite other than the one she had shown him the night before, there was nothing of violence in the change — it was all harmony and reason. It gave him a mild deep person, whereas he had had on the occasion to which their interview was a direct reference a person committed to movement and surface and abounding in them; but she was in either character more remarkable for nothing than for her bridging of intervals, and this now fell in with what he understood he was to leave to her. The only thing was that, if he was to leave it ALL to her, why exactly had she sent for him? He had had, vaguely, in advance, his explanation, his view of the probability of her wishing to set something right, to deal in some way with the fraud so lately practised on his presumed credulity. Would she attempt to carry it further or would she blot it out? Would she throw over it some more or less happy colour; or would she do nothing about it at all? He perceived soon enough at least that, however reasonable she might be, she wasn’t vulgarly confused, and it herewith pressed upon him that their eminent “lie,” Chad’s and hers, was simply after all such an inevitable tribute to good taste as he couldn’t have wished them not to render. Away from them, during his vigil, he had seemed to wince at the amount of comedy involved; whereas in his present posture he could only ask himself how he should enjoy any attempt from her to take the comedy back. He shouldn’t enjoy it at all; but, once more and yet once more, he could trust her. That is he could trust her to make deception right. As she presented things the ugliness — goodness knew why — went out of them; none the less too that she could present them, with an art of her own, by not so much as touching them. She let the matter, at all events, lie where it was — where the previous twenty-four hours had placed it; appearing merely to circle about it respectfully, tenderly, almost piously, while she took up another question.

She knew she hadn’t really thrown dust in his eyes; this, the previous night, before they separated, had practically passed between them; and, as she had sent for him to see what the difference thus made for him might amount to, so he was conscious at the end of five minutes that he had been tried and tested. She had settled with Chad after he left them that she would, for her satisfaction, assure herself of this quantity, and Chad had, as usual, let her have her way. Chad was always letting people have their way when he felt that it would somehow turn his wheel for him; it somehow always did turn his wheel. Strether felt, oddly enough, before these facts, freshly and consentingly passive; they again so rubbed it into him that the couple thus fixing his attention were intimate, that his intervention had absolutely aided and intensified their intimacy, and that in fine he must accept the consequence of that. He had absolutely become, himself, with his perceptions and his mistakes, his concessions and his reserves, the droll mixture, as it must seem to them, of his braveries and his fears, the general spectacle of his art and his innocence, almost an added link and certainly a common priceless ground for them to meet upon. It was as if he had been hearing their very tone when she brought out a reference that was comparatively straight. “The last twice that you’ve been here, you know, I never asked you,” she said with an abrupt transition — they had been pretending before this to talk simply of the charm of yesterday and of the interest of the country they had seen. The effort was confessedly vain; not for such talk had she invited him; and her impatient reminder was of their having done for it all the needful on his coming to her after Sarah’s flight. What she hadn’t asked him then was to state to her where and how he stood for her; she had been resting on Chad’s report of their midnight hour together in the Boulevard Malesherbes. The thing therefore she at present desired was ushered in by this recall of the two occasions on which, disinterested and merciful, she hadn’t worried him. To-night truly she WOULD worry him, and this was her appeal to him to let her risk it. He wasn’t to mind if she bored him a little: she had behaved, after all — hadn’t she? — so awfully, awfully well.

II

“Oh, you’re all right, you’re all right,” he almost impatiently declared; his impatience being moreover not for her pressure, but for her scruple. More and more distinct to him was the tune to which she would have had the matter out with Chad: more and more vivid for him the idea that she had been nervous as to what he might be able to “stand.” Yes, it had been a question if he had “stood” what the scene on the river had given him, and, though the young man had doubtless opined in favour of his recuperation, her own last word must have been that she should feel easier in seeing for herself. That was it, unmistakeably; she WAS seeing for herself. What he could stand was thus, in these moments, in the balance for Strether, who reflected, as he became fully aware of it, that he must properly brace himself. He wanted fully to appear to stand all he might; and there was a certain command of the situation for him in this very wish not to look too much at sea. She was ready with everything, but so, sufficiently, was he; that is he was at one point the more prepared of the two, inasmuch as, for all her cleverness, she couldn’t produce on the spot — and it was surprising — an account of the motive of her note. He had the advantage that his pronouncing her “all right” gave him for an enquiry. “May I ask, delighted as I’ve been to come, if you’ve wished to say something special?” He spoke as if she might have seen he had been waiting for it — not indeed with discomfort, but with natural interest. Then he saw that she was a little taken aback, was even surprised herself at the detail she had neglected — the only one ever yet; having somehow assumed he would know, would recognise, would leave some things not to be said. She looked at him, however, an instant as if to convey that if he wanted them ALL—!

“Selfish and vulgar — that’s what I must seem to you. You’ve done everything for me, and here I am as if I were asking for more. But it isn’t,” she went on, “because I’m afraid — though I AM of course afraid, as a woman in my position always is. I mean it isn’t because one lives in terror — it isn’t because of that one is selfish, for I’m ready to give you my word to-night that I don’t care; don’t care what still may happen and what I may lose. I don’t ask you to raise your little finger for me again, nor do I wish so much as to mention to you what we’ve talked of before, either my danger or my safety, or his mother, or his sister, or the girl he may marry, or the fortune he may make or miss, or the right or the wrong, of any kind, he may do. If after the help one has had from you one can’t either take care of one’s self or simply hold one’s tongue, one must renounce all claim to be an object of interest. It’s in the name of what I DO care about that I’ve tried still to keep hold of you. How can I be indifferent,” she asked, “to how I appear to you?” And as he found himself unable immediately to say: “Why, if you’re going, NEED you, after all? Is it impossible you should stay on — so that one mayn’t lose you?”

“Impossible I should live with you here instead of going home?”

“Not ‘with’ us, if you object to that, but near enough to us, somewhere, for us to see you — well,” she beautifully brought out, “when we feel we MUST. How shall we not sometimes feel it? I’ve wanted to see you often when I couldn’t,” she pursued, “all these last weeks. How shan’t I then miss you now, with the sense of your being gone forever?” Then as if the straightness of this appeal, taking him unprepared, had visibly left him wondering: “Where IS your ‘home’ moreover now — what has become of it? I’ve made a change in your life, I know I have; I’ve upset everything in your mind as well; in your sense of — what shall I call it? — all the decencies and possibilities. It gives me a kind of detestation —” She pulled up short.

Oh but he wanted to hear. “Detestation of what?”

“Of everything — of life.”

“Ah that’s too much,” he laughed —“or too little!”

“Too little, precisely”— she was eager. “What I hate is myself — when I think that one has to take so much, to be happy, out of the lives of others, and that one isn’t happy even then. One does it to cheat one’s self and to stop one’s mouth — but that’s only at the best for a little. The wretched self is always there, always making one somehow a fresh anxiety. What it comes to is that it’s not, that it’s never, a happiness, any happiness at all, to TAKE. The only safe thing is to give. It’s what plays you least false.” Interesting, touching, strikingly sincere as she let these things come from her, she yet puzzled and troubled him — so fine was the quaver of her quietness. He felt what he had felt before with her, that there was always more behind what she showed, and more and more again behind that. “You know so, at least,” she added, “where you are!”

“YOU ought to know it indeed then; for isn’t what you’ve been giving exactly what has brought us together this way? You’ve been making, as I’ve so fully let you know I’ve felt,” Strether said, “the most precious present I’ve ever seen made, and if you can’t sit down peacefully on that performance you ARE, no doubt, born to torment yourself. But you ought,” he wound up, “to be easy.”

“And not trouble you any more, no doubt — not thrust on you even the wonder and the beauty of what I’ve done; only let you regard our business as over, and well over, and see you depart in a peace that matches my own? No doubt, no doubt, no doubt,” she nervously repeated —“all the more that I don’t really pretend I believe you couldn’t, for yourself, NOT have done what you have. I don’t pretend you feel yourself victimised, for this evidently is the way you live, and it’s what — we’re agreed — is the best way. Yes, as you say,” she continued after a moment, “I ought to be easy and rest on my work. Well then here am I doing so. I AM easy. You’ll have it for your last impression. When is it you say you go?” she asked with a quick change.

He took some time to reply — his last impression was more and more so mixed a one. It produced in him a vague disappointment, a drop that was deeper even than the fall of his elation the previous night. The good of what he had done, if he had done so much, wasn’t there to enliven him quite to the point that would have been ideal for a grand gay finale. Women were thus endlessly absorbent, and to deal with them was to walk on water. What was at bottom the matter with her, embroider as she might and disclaim as she might — what was at bottom the matter with her was simply Chad himself. It was of Chad she was after all renewedly afraid; the strange strength of her passion was the very strength of her fear; she clung to HIM, Lambert Strether, as to a source of safety she had tested, and, generous graceful truthful as she might try to be, exquisite as she was, she dreaded the term of his being within reach. With this sharpest perception yet, it was like a chill in the air to him, it was almost appalling, that a creature so fine could be, by mysterious forces, a creature so exploited. For at the end of all things they WERE mysterious: she had but made Chad what he was — so why could she think she had made him infinite? She had made him better, she had made him best, she had made him anything one would; but it came to our friend with supreme queerness that he was none the less only Chad. Strether had the sense that HE, a little, had made him too; his high appreciation had as it were, consecrated her work The work, however admirable, was nevertheless of the strict human order, and in short it was marvellous that the companion of mere earthly joys, of comforts, aberrations (however one classed them) within the common experience should be so transcendently prized. It might have made Strether hot or shy, as such secrets of others brought home sometimes do make us; but he was held there by something so hard that it was fairly grim. This was not the discomposure of last night; that had quite passed — such discomposures were a detail; the real coercion was to see a man ineffably adored. There it was again — it took women, it took women; if to deal with them was to walk on water what wonder that the water rose? And it had never surely risen higher than round this woman. He presently found himself taking a long look from her, and the next thing he knew he had uttered all his thought. “You’re afraid for your life!”

It drew out her long look, and he soon enough saw why. A spasm came into her face, the tears she had already been unable to hide overflowed at first in silence, and then, as the sound suddenly comes from a child, quickened to gasps, to sobs. She sat and covered her face with her hands, giving up all attempt at a manner. “It’s how you see me, it’s how you see me”— she caught her breath with it —“and it’s as I AM, and as I must take myself, and of course it’s no matter.” Her emotion was at first so incoherent that he could only stand there at a loss, stand with his sense of having upset her, though of having done it by the truth. He had to listen to her in a silence that he made no immediate effort to attenuate, feeling her doubly woeful amid all her dim diffused elegance; consenting to it as he had consented to the rest, and even conscious of some vague inward irony in the presence of such a fine free range of bliss and bale. He couldn’t say it was NOT no matter; for he was serving her to the end, he now knew, anyway — quite as if what he thought of her had nothing to do with it. It was actually moreover as if he didn’t think of her at all, as if he could think of nothing but the passion, mature, abysmal, pitiful, she represented, and the possibilities she betrayed. She was older for him to-night, visibly less exempt from the touch of time; but she was as much as ever the finest and subtlest creature, the happiest apparition, it had been given him, in all his years, to meet; and yet he could see her there as vulgarly troubled, in very truth, as a maidservant crying for her young man. The only thing was that she judged herself as the maidservant wouldn’t; the weakness of which wisdom too, the dishonour of which judgement, seemed but to sink her lower. Her collapse, however, no doubt, was briefer and she had in a manner recovered herself before he intervened. “Of course I’m afraid for my life. But that’s nothing. It isn’t that.”

He was silent a little longer, as if thinking what it might be. “There’s something I have in mind that I can still do.”

But she threw off at last, with a sharp sad headshake, drying her eyes, what he could still do. “I don’t care for that. Of course, as I’ve said, you’re acting, in your wonderful way, for yourself; and what’s for yourself is no more my business — though I may reach out unholy hands so clumsily to touch it — than if it were something in Timbuctoo. It’s only that you don’t snub me, as you’ve had fifty chances to do — it’s only your beautiful patience that makes one forget one’s manners. In spite of your patience, all the same,” she went on, “you’d do anything rather than be with us here, even if that were possible. You’d do everything for us but be mixed up with us — which is a statement you can easily answer to the advantage of your own manners. You can say ‘What’s the use of talking of things that at the best are impossible?’ What IS of course the use? It’s only my little madness. You’d talk if you were tormented. And I don’t mean now about HIM. Oh for him —!” Positively, strangely, bitterly, as it seemed to Strether, she gave “him,” for the moment, away. “You don’t care what I think of you; but I happen to care what you think of me. And what you MIGHT,” she added. “What you perhaps even did.”

He gained time. “What I did —?”

“Did think before. Before this. DIDn’t you think —?”

But he had already stopped her. “I didn’t think anything. I never think a step further than I’m obliged to.”

“That’s perfectly false, I believe,” she returned —“except that you may, no doubt, often pull up when things become TOO ugly; or even, I’ll say, to save you a protest, too beautiful. At any rate, even so far as it’s true, we’ve thrust on you appearances that you’ve had to take in and that have therefore made your obligation. Ugly or beautiful — it doesn’t matter what we call them — you were getting on without them, and that’s where we’re detestable. We bore you — that’s where we are. And we may well — for what we’ve cost you. All you can do NOW is not to think at all. And I who should have liked to seem to you — well, sublime!”

He could only after a moment re-echo Miss Barrace. “You’re wonderful!”

“I’m old and abject and hideous”— she went on as without hearing him. “Abject above all. Or old above all. It’s when one’s old that it’s worst. I don’t care what becomes of it — let what WILL; there it is. It’s a doom — I know it; you can’t see it more than I do myself. Things have to happen as they will.” With which she came back again to what, face to face with him, had so quite broken down. “Of course you wouldn’t, even if possible, and no matter what may happen to you, be near us. But think of me, think of me —!” She exhaled it into air.

He took refuge in repeating something he had already said and that she had made nothing of. “There’s something I believe I can still do.” And he put his hand out for good-bye.

She again made nothing of it; she went on with her insistence. “That won’t help you. There’s nothing to help you.”

“Well, it may help YOU,” he said.

She shook her head. “There’s not a grain of certainty in my future — for the only certainty is that I shall be the loser in the end.”

She hadn’t taken his hand, but she moved with him to the door. “That’s cheerful,” he laughed, “for your benefactor!”

“What’s cheerful for ME,” she replied, “is that we might, you and I, have been friends. That’s it — that’s it. You see how, as I say, I want everything. I’ve wanted you too.”

“Ah but you’ve HAD me!” he declared, at the door, with an emphasis that made an end.

III

His purpose had been to see Chad the next day, and he had prefigured seeing him by an early call; having in general never stood on ceremony in respect to visits at the Boulevard Malesherbes. It had been more often natural for him to go there than for Chad to come to the small hotel, the attractions of which were scant; yet it nevertheless, just now, at the eleventh hour, did suggest itself to Strether to begin by giving the young man a chance. It struck him that, in the inevitable course, Chad would be “round,” as Waymarsh used to say — Waymarsh who already, somehow, seemed long ago. He hadn’t come the day before, because it had been arranged between them that Madame de Vionnet should see their friend first; but now that this passage had taken place he would present himself, and their friend wouldn’t have long to wait. Strether assumed, he became aware, on this reasoning, that the interesting parties to the arrangement would have met betimes, and that the more interesting of the two — as she was after all — would have communicated to the other the issue of her appeal. Chad would know without delay that his mother’s messenger had been with her, and, though it was perhaps not quite easy to see how she could qualify what had occurred, he would at least have been sufficiently advised to feel he could go on. The day, however, brought, early or late, no word from him, and Strether felt, as a result of this, that a change had practically come over their intercourse. It was perhaps a premature judgement; or it only meant perhaps — how could he tell? — that the wonderful pair he protected had taken up again together the excursion he had accidentally checked. They might have gone back to the country, and gone back but with a long breath drawn; that indeed would best mark Chad’s sense that reprobation hadn’t rewarded Madame de Vionnet’s request for an interview. At the end of the twenty-four hours, at the end of the forty-eight, there was still no overture; so that Strether filled up the time, as he had so often filled it before, by going to see Miss Gostrey.

He proposed amusements to her; he felt expert now in proposing amusements; and he had thus, for several days, an odd sense of leading her about Paris, of driving her in the Bois, of showing her the penny steamboats — those from which the breeze of the Seine was to be best enjoyed — that might have belonged to a kindly uncle doing the honours of the capital to an Intelligent niece from the country. He found means even to take her to shops she didn’t know, or that she pretended she didn’t; while she, on her side, was, like the country maiden, all passive modest and grateful — going in fact so far as to emulate rusticity in occasional fatigues and bewilderments. Strether described these vague proceedings to himself, described them even to her, as a happy interlude; the sign of which was that the companions said for the time no further word about the matter they had talked of to satiety. He proclaimed satiety at the outset, and she quickly took the hint; as docile both in this and in everything else as the intelligent obedient niece. He told her as yet nothing of his late adventure — for as an adventure it now ranked with him; he pushed the whole business temporarily aside and found his interest in the fact of her beautiful assent. She left questions unasked — she who for so long had been all questions; she gave herself up to him with an understanding of which mere mute gentleness might have seemed the sufficient expression. She knew his sense of his situation had taken still another step — of that he was quite aware; but she conveyed that, whatever had thus happened for him, it was thrown into the shade by what was happening for herself. This — though it mightn’t to a detached spirit have seemed much — was the major interest, and she met it with a new directness of response, measuring it from hour to hour with her grave hush of acceptance. Touched as he had so often been by her before, he was, for his part too, touched afresh; all the more that though he could be duly aware of the principle of his own mood he couldn’t be equally so of the principle of hers. He knew, that is, in a manner — knew roughly and resignedly — what he himself was hatching; whereas he had to take the chance of what he called to himself Maria’s calculations. It was all he needed that she liked him enough for what they were doing, and even should they do a good deal more would still like him enough for that; the essential freshness of a relation so simple was a cool bath to the soreness produced by other relations. These others appeared to him now horribly complex; they bristled with fine points, points all unimaginable beforehand, points that pricked and drew blood; a fact that gave to an hour with his present friend on a bateau-mouche, or in the afternoon shade of the Champs Elysees, something of the innocent pleasure of handling rounded ivory. His relation with Chad personally — from the moment he had got his point of view — had been of the simplest; yet this also struck him as bristling, after a third and a fourth blank day had passed. It was as if at last however his care for such indications had dropped; there came a fifth blank day and he ceased to enquire or to heed.

They now took on to his fancy, Miss Gostrey and he, the image of the Babes in the Wood; they could trust the merciful elements to let them continue at peace. He had been great already, as he knew, at postponements; but he had only to get afresh into the rhythm of one to feel its fine attraction. It amused him to say to himself that he might for all the world have been going to die — die resignedly; the scene was filled for him with so deep a death-bed hush, so melancholy a charm. That meant the postponement of everything else — which made so for the quiet lapse of life; and the postponement in especial of the reckoning to come — unless indeed the reckoning to come were to be one and the same thing with extinction. It faced him, the reckoning, over the shoulder of much interposing experience — which also faced him; and one would float to it doubtless duly through these caverns of Kubla Khan. It was really behind everything; it hadn’t merged in what he had done; his final appreciation of what he had done — his appreciation on the spot — would provide it with its main sharpness. The spot so focussed was of course Woollett, and he was to see, at the best, what Woollett would be with everything there changed for him. Wouldn’t THAT revelation practically amount to the wind-up of his career? Well, the summer’s end would show; his suspense had meanwhile exactly the sweetness of vain delay; and he had with it, we should mention, other pastimes than Maria’s company — plenty of separate musings in which his luxury failed him but at one point. He was well in port, the outer sea behind him, and it was only a matter of getting ashore. There was a question that came and went for him, however, as he rested against the side of his ship, and it was a little to get rid of the obsession that he prolonged his hours with Miss Gostrey. It was a question about himself, but it could only be settled by seeing Chad again; it was indeed his principal reason for wanting to see Chad. After that it wouldn’t signify — it was a ghost that certain words would easily lay to rest. Only the young man must be there to take the words. Once they were taken he wouldn’t have a question left; none, that is, in connexion with this particular affair. It wouldn’t then matter even to himself that he might now have been guilty of speaking BECAUSE of what he had forfeited. That was the refinement of his supreme scruple — he wished so to leave what he had forfeited out of account. He wished not to do anything because he had missed something else, because he was sore or sorry or impoverished, because he was maltreated or desperate; he wished to do everything because he was lucid and quiet, just the same for himself on all essential points as he had ever been. Thus it was that while he virtually hung about for Chad he kept mutely putting it: “You’ve been chucked, old boy; but what has that to do with it?” It would have sickened him to feel vindictive.

These tints of feeling indeed were doubtless but the iridescence of his idleness, and they were presently lost in a new light from Maria. She had a fresh fact for him before the week was out, and she practically met him with it on his appearing one night. He hadn’t on this day seen her, but had planned presenting himself in due course to ask her to dine with him somewhere out of doors, on one of the terraces, in one of the gardens, of which the Paris of summer was profuse. It had then come on to rain, so that, disconcerted, he changed his mind; dining alone at home, a little stuffily and stupidly, and waiting on her afterwards to make up his loss. He was sure within a minute that something had happened; it was so in the air of the rich little room that he had scarcely to name his thought. Softly lighted, the whole colour of the place, with its vague values, was in cool fusion — an effect that made the visitor stand for a little agaze. It was as if in doing so now he had felt a recent presence — his recognition of the passage of which his hostess in turn divined. She had scarcely to say it —“Yes, she has been here, and this time I received her.” It wasn’t till a minute later that she added: “There being, as I understand you, no reason NOW—!”

“None for your refusing?”

“No — if you’ve done what you’ve had to do.”

“I’ve certainly so far done it,” Strether said, “as that you needn’t fear the effect, or the appearance of coming between us. There’s nothing between us now but what we ourselves have put there, and not an inch of room for anything else whatever. Therefore you’re only beautifully WITH us as always — though doubtless now, if she has talked to you, rather more with us than less. Of course if she came,” he added, “it was to talk to you.”

“It was to talk to me,” Maria returned; on which he was further sure that she was practically in possession of what he himself hadn’t yet told her. He was even sure she was in possession of things he himself couldn’t have told; for the consciousness of them was now all in her face and accompanied there with a shade of sadness that marked in her the close of all uncertainties. It came out for him more than ever yet that she had had from the first a knowledge she believed him not to have had, a knowledge the sharp acquisition of which might be destined to make a difference for him. The difference for him might not inconceivably be an arrest of his independence and a change in his attitude — in other words a revulsion in favour of the principles of Woollett. She had really prefigured the possibility of a shock that would send him swinging back to Mrs. Newsome. He hadn’t, it was true, week after week, shown signs of receiving it, but the possibility had been none the less in the air. What Maria accordingly had had now to take in was that the shock had descended and that he hadn’t, all the same, swung back. He had grown clear, in a flash, on a point long since settled for herself; but no reapproximation to Mrs. Newsome had occurred in consequence. Madame de Vionnet had by her visit held up the torch to these truths, and what now lingered in poor Maria’s face was the somewhat smoky light of the scene between them. If the light however wasn’t, as we have hinted, the glow of joy, the reasons for this also were perhaps discernible to Strether even through the blur cast over them by his natural modesty. She had held herself for months with a firm hand; she hadn’t interfered on any chance — and chances were specious enough — that she might interfere to her profit. She had turned her back on the dream that Mrs. Newsome’s rupture, their friend’s forfeiture — the engagement the relation itself, broken beyond all mending — might furnish forth her advantage; and, to stay her hand from promoting these things, she had on private, difficult, but rigid, lines, played strictly fair. She couldn’t therefore but feel that, though, as the end of all, the facts in question had been stoutly confirmed, her ground for personal, for what might have been called interested, elation remained rather vague. Strether might easily have made out that she had been asking herself, in the hours she had just sat through, if there were still for her, or were only not, a fair shade of uncertainty. Let us hasten to add, however, that what he at first made out on this occasion he also at first kept to himself. He only asked what in particular Madame de Vionnet had come for, and as to this his companion was ready.

“She wants tidings of Mr. Newsome, whom she appears not to have seen for some days.”

“Then she hasn’t been away with him again?”

“She seemed to think,” Maria answered, “that he might have gone away with YOU.”

“And did you tell her I know nothing of him?”

She had her indulgent headshake. “I’ve known nothing of what you know. I could only tell her I’d ask you.”

“Then I’ve not seen him for a week — and of course I’ve wondered.” His wonderment showed at this moment as sharper, but he presently went on. “Still, I dare say I can put my hand on him. Did she strike you,” he asked, “as anxious?”

“She’s always anxious.”

“After all I’ve done for her?” And he had one of the last flickers of his occasional mild mirth. “To think that was just what I came out to prevent!”

She took it up but to reply. “You don’t regard him then as safe?”

“I was just going to ask you how in that respect you regard Madame de Vionnet.”

She looked at him a little. “What woman was EVER safe? She told me,” she added — and it was as if at the touch of the connexion — “of your extraordinary meeting in the country. After that a quoi se fier?”

“It was, as an accident, in all the possible or impossible chapter,” Strether conceded, “amazing enough. But still, but still —!”

“But still she didn’t mind?”

“She doesn’t mind anything.”

“Well, then, as you don’t either, we may all sink to rest!”

He appeared to agree with her, but he had his reservation. “I do mind Chad’s disappearance.”

“Oh you’ll get him back. But now you know,” she said, “why I went to Mentone.” He had sufficiently let her see that he had by this time gathered things together, but there was nature in her wish to make them clearer still. “I didn’t want you to put it to me.”

“To put it to you —?”

“The question of what you were at last — a week ago — to see for yourself. I didn’t want to have to lie for her. I felt that to be too much for me. A man of course is always expected to do it — to do it, I mean, for a woman; but not a woman for another woman; unless perhaps on the tit-for-tat principle, as an indirect way of protecting herself. I don’t need protection, so that I was free to ‘funk’ you — simply to dodge your test. The responsibility was too much for me. I gained time, and when I came back the need of a test had blown over.”

Strether thought of it serenely. “Yes; when you came back little Bilham had shown me what’s expected of a gentleman. Little Bilham had lied like one.”

“And like what you believed him?”

“Well,” said Strether, “it was but a technical lie — he classed the attachment as virtuous. That was a view for which there was much to be said — and the virtue came out for me hugely There was of course a great deal of it. I got it full in the face, and I haven’t, you see, done with it yet.”

“What I see, what I saw,” Maria returned, “is that you dressed up even the virtue. You were wonderful — you were beautiful, as I’ve had the honour of telling you before; but, if you wish really to know,” she sadly confessed, “I never quite knew WHERE you were. There were moments,” she explained, “when you struck me as grandly cynical; there were others when you struck me as grandly vague.”

Her friend considered. “I had phases. I had flights.”

“Yes, but things must have a basis.”

“A basis seemed to me just what her beauty supplied.”

“Her beauty of person?”

“Well, her beauty of everything. The impression she makes. She has such variety and yet such harmony.”

She considered him with one of her deep returns of indulgence — returns out of all proportion to the irritations they flooded over. “You’re complete.”

“You’re always too personal,” he good-humouredly said; “but that’s precisely how I wondered and wandered.”

“If you mean,” she went on, “that she was from the first for you the most charming woman in the world, nothing’s more simple. Only that was an odd foundation.”

“For what I reared on it?”

“For what you didn’t!”

“Well, it was all not a fixed quantity. And it had for me — it has still — such elements of strangeness. Her greater age than his, her different world, traditions, association; her other opportunities, liabilities, standards.”

His friend listened with respect to his enumeration of these disparities; then she disposed of them at a stroke. “Those things are nothing when a woman’s hit. It’s very awful. She was hit.”

Strether, on his side, did justice to that plea. “Oh of course I saw she was hit. That she was hit was what we were busy with; that she was hit was our great affair. But somehow I couldn’t think of her as down in the dust. And as put there by OUR little Chad!”

“Yet wasn’t ‘your’ little Chad just your miracle?”

Strether admitted it. “Of course I moved among miracles. It was all phantasmagoric. But the great fact was that so much of it was none of my business — as I saw my business. It isn’t even now.”

His companion turned away on this, and it might well have been yet again with the sharpness of a fear of how little his philosophy could bring her personally. “I wish SHE could hear you!”

“Mrs. Newsome?”

“No — not Mrs. Newsome; since I understand you that it doesn’t matter now what Mrs. Newsome hears. Hasn’t she heard everything?”

“Practically — yes.” He had thought a moment, but he went on. “You wish Madame de Vionnet could hear me?”

“Madame de Vionnet.” She had come back to him. “She thinks just the contrary of what you say. That you distinctly judge her.”

He turned over the scene as the two women thus placed together for him seemed to give it. “She might have known —!”

“Might have known you don’t?” Miss Gostrey asked as he let it drop. “She was sure of it at first,” she pursued as he said nothing; “she took it for granted, at least, as any woman in her position would. But after that she changed her mind; she believed you believed —”

“Well?”— he was curious.

“Why in her sublimity. And that belief had remained with her, I make out, till the accident of the other day opened your eyes. For that it did,” said Maria, “open them —”

“She can’t help”— he had taken it up —“being aware? No,” he mused; “I suppose she thinks of that even yet.”

“Then they WERE closed? There you are! However, if you see her as the most charming woman in the world it comes to the same thing. And if you’d like me to tell her that you do still so see her —!” Miss Gostrey, in short, offered herself for service to the end.

It was an offer he could temporarily entertain; but he decided. “She knows perfectly how I see her.”

“Not favourably enough, she mentioned to me, to wish ever to see her again. She told me you had taken a final leave of her. She says you’ve done with her.”

“So I have.”

Maria had a pause; then she spoke as if for conscience. “She wouldn’t have done with YOU. She feels she has lost you — yet that she might have been better for you.”

“Oh she has been quite good enough!” Strether laughed.

“She thinks you and she might at any rate have been friends.”

“We might certainly. That’s just”— he continued to laugh — “why I’m going.”

It was as if Maria could feel with this then at last that she had done her best for each. But she had still an idea. “Shall I tell her that?”

“No. Tell her nothing.”

“Very well then.” To which in the next breath Miss Gostrey added: “Poor dear thing!”

Her friend wondered; then with raised eyebrows: “Me?”

“Oh no. Marie de Vionnet.”

He accepted the correction, but he wondered still. “Are you so sorry for her as that?”

It made her think a moment — made her even speak with a smile. But she didn’t really retract. “I’m sorry for us all!”

IV

He was to delay no longer to re-establish communication with Chad, and we have just seen that he had spoken to Miss Gostrey of this intention on hearing from her of the young man’s absence. It was not moreover only the assurance so given that prompted him; it was the need of causing his conduct to square with another profession still — the motive he had described to her as his sharpest for now getting away. If he was to get away because of some of the relations involved in staying, the cold attitude toward them might look pedantic in the light of lingering on. He must do both things; he must see Chad, but he must go. The more he thought of the former of these duties the more he felt himself make a subject of insistence of the latter. They were alike intensely present to him as he sat in front of a quiet little cafe into which he had dropped on quitting Maria’s entresol. The rain that had spoiled his evening with her was over; for it was still to him as if his evening HAD been spoiled — though it mightn’t have been wholly the rain. It was late when he left the cafe, yet not too late; he couldn’t in any case go straight to bed, and he would walk round by the Boulevard Malesherbes — rather far round — on his way home. Present enough always was the small circumstance that had originally pressed for him the spring of so big a difference — the accident of little Bilham’s appearance on the balcony of the mystic troisieme at the moment of his first visit, and the effect of it on his sense of what was then before him. He recalled his watch, his wait, and the recognition that had proceeded from the young stranger, that had played frankly into the air and had presently brought him up — things smoothing the way for his first straight step. He had since had occasion, a few times, to pass the house without going in; but he had never passed it without again feeling how it had then spoken to him. He stopped short to-night on coming to sight of it: it was as if his last day were oddly copying his first. The windows of Chad’s apartment were open to the balcony — a pair of them lighted; and a figure that had come out and taken up little Bilham’s attitude, a figure whose cigarette-spark he could see leaned on the rail and looked down at him. It denoted however no reappearance of his younger friend; it quickly defined itself in the tempered darkness as Chad’s more solid shape; so that Chad’s was the attention that after he had stepped forward into the street and signalled, he easily engaged; Chad’s was the voice that, sounding into the night with promptness and seemingly with joy, greeted him and called him up.

That the young man had been visible there just in this position expressed somehow for Strether that, as Maria Gostrey had reported, he had been absent and silent; and our friend drew breath on each landing — the lift, at that hour, having ceased to work — before the implications of the fact. He had been for a week intensely away, away to a distance and alone; but he was more back than ever, and the attitude in which Strether had surprised him was something more than a return — it was clearly a conscious surrender. He had arrived but an hour before, from London, from Lucerne, from Homburg, from no matter where — though the visitor’s fancy, on the staircase, liked to fill it out; and after a bath, a talk with Baptiste and a supper of light cold clever French things, which one could see the remains of there in the circle of the lamp, pretty and ultra-Parisian, he had come into the air again for a smoke, was occupied at the moment of Strether’s approach in what might have been called taking up his life afresh. His life, his life! — Strether paused anew, on the last flight, at this final rather breathless sense of what Chad’s life was doing with Chad’s mother’s emissary. It was dragging him, at strange hours, up the staircases of the rich; it was keeping him out of bed at the end of long hot days; it was transforming beyond recognition the simple, subtle, conveniently uniform thing that had anciently passed with him for a life of his own. Why should it concern him that Chad was to be fortified in the pleasant practice of smoking on balconies, of supping on salads, of feeling his special conditions agreeably reaffirm themselves, of finding reassurance in comparisons and contrasts? There was no answer to such a question but that he was still practically committed — he had perhaps never yet so much known it. It made him feel old, and he would buy his railway-ticket — feeling, no doubt, older — the next day; but he had meanwhile come up four flights, counting the entresol, at midnight and without a lift, for Chad’s life. The young man, hearing him by this time, and with Baptiste sent to rest, was already at the door; so that Strether had before him in full visibility the cause in which he was labouring and even, with the troisieme fairly gained, panting a little.

Chad offered him, as always, a welcome in which the cordial and the formal — so far as the formal was the respectful — handsomely met; and after he had expressed a hope that he would let him put him up for the night Strether was in full possession of the key, as it might have been called, to what had lately happened. If he had just thought of himself as old Chad was at sight of him thinking of him as older: he wanted to put him up for the night just because he was ancient and weary. It could never be said the tenant of these quarters wasn’t nice to him; a tenant who, if he might indeed now keep him, was probably prepared to work it all still more thoroughly. Our friend had in fact the impression that with the minimum of encouragement Chad would propose to keep him indefinitely; an impression in the lap of which one of his own possibilities seemed to sit. Madame de Vionnet had wished him to stay — so why didn’t that happily fit? He could enshrine himself for the rest of his days in his young host’s chambre d’ami and draw out these days at his young host’s expense: there could scarce be greater logical expression of the countenance he had been moved to give. There was literally a minute — it was strange enough — during which he grasped the idea that as he WAS acting, as he could only act, he was inconsistent. The sign that the inward forces he had obeyed really hung together would be that — in default always of another career — he should promote the good cause by mounting guard on it. These things, during his first minutes, came and went; but they were after all practically disposed of as soon as he had mentioned his errand. He had come to say good-bye — yet that was only a part; so that from the moment Chad accepted his farewell the question of a more ideal affirmation gave way to something else. He proceeded with the rest of his business. “You’ll be a brute, you know — you’ll be guilty of the last infamy — if you ever forsake her.”

That, uttered there at the solemn hour, uttered in the place that was full of her influence, was the rest of his business; and when once he had heard himself say it he felt that his message had never before been spoken. It placed his present call immediately on solid ground, and the effect of it was to enable him quite to play with what we have called the key. Chad showed no shade of embarrassment, but had none the less been troubled for him after their meeting in the country; had had fears and doubts on the subject of his comfort. He was disturbed, as it were, only FOR him, and had positively gone away to ease him off, to let him down — if it wasn’t indeed rather to screw him up — the more gently. Seeing him now fairly jaded he had come, with characteristic good humour, all the way to meet him, and what Strether thereupon supremely made out was that he would abound for him to the end in conscientious assurances. This was what was between them while the visitor remained; so far from having to go over old ground he found his entertainer keen to agree to everything. It couldn’t be put too strongly for him that he’d be a brute. “Oh rather! — if I should do anything of THAT sort. I hope you believe I really feel it.”

“I want it,” said Strether, “to be my last word of all to you. I can’t say more, you know; and I don’t see how I can do more, in every way, than I’ve done.”

Chad took this, almost artlessly, as a direct allusion. “You’ve seen her?”

“Oh yes — to say good-bye. And if I had doubted the truth of what I tell you —”

“She’d have cleared up your doubt?” Chad understood —“rather”— again! It even kept him briefly silent. But he made that up. “She must have been wonderful.”

“She WAS,” Strether candidly admitted — all of which practically told as a reference to the conditions created by the accident of the previous week.

They appeared for a little to be looking back at it; and that came out still more in what Chad next said. “I don’t know what you’ve really thought, all along; I never did know — for anything, with you, seemed to be possible. But of course — of course —” Without confusion, quite with nothing but indulgence, he broke down, he pulled up. “After all, you understand. I spoke to you originally only as I HAD to speak. There’s only one way — isn’t there? — about such things. However,” he smiled with a final philosophy, “I see it’s all right.”

Strether met his eyes with a sense of multiplying thoughts. What was it that made him at present, late at night and after journeys, so renewedly, so substantially young? Strether saw in a moment what it was — it was that he was younger again than Madame de Vionnet. He himself said immediately none of the things that he was thinking; he said something quite different. “You HAVE really been to a distance?”

“I’ve been to England.” Chad spoke cheerfully and promptly, but gave no further account of it than to say: “One must sometimes get off.”

Strether wanted no more facts — he only wanted to justify, as it were, his question. “Of course you do as you’re free to do. But I hope, this time, that you didn’t go for ME.”

“For very shame at bothering you really too much? My dear man,” Chad laughed, “what WOULDn’t I do for you?”

Strether’s easy answer for this was that it was a disposition he had exactly come to profit by. “Even at the risk of being in your way I’ve waited on, you know, for a definite reason.”

Chad took it in. “Oh yes — for us to make if possible a still better impression.” And he stood there happily exhaling his full general consciousness. “I’m delighted to gather that you feel we’ve made it.”

There was a pleasant irony in the words, which his guest, preoccupied and keeping to the point, didn’t take up. “If I had my sense of wanting the rest of the time — the time of their being still on this side,” he continued to explain —“I know now why I wanted it.”

He was as grave, as distinct, as a demonstrator before a blackboard, and Chad continued to face him like an intelligent pupil. “You wanted to have been put through the whole thing.”

Strether again, for a moment, said nothing; he turned his eyes away, and they lost themselves, through the open window, in the dusky outer air. “I shall learn from the Bank here where they’re now having their letters, and my last word, which I shall write in the morning and which they’re expecting as my ultimatum, will so immediately reach them.” The light of his plural pronoun was sufficiently reflected in his companion’s face as he again met it; and he completed his demonstration. He pursued indeed as if for himself. “Of course I’ve first to justify what I shall do.”

“You’re justifying it beautifully!” Chad declared.

“It’s not a question of advising you not to go,” Strether said, “but of absolutely preventing you, if possible, from so much as thinking of it. Let me accordingly appeal to you by all you hold sacred.”

Chad showed a surprise. “What makes you think me capable —?”

“You’d not only be, as I say, a brute; you’d be,” his companion went on in the same way, “a criminal of the deepest dye.”

Chad gave a sharper look, as if to gauge a possible suspicion. “I don’t know what should make you think I’m tired of her.”

Strether didn’t quite know either, and such impressions, for the imaginative mind, were always too fine, too floating, to produce on the spot their warrant. There was none the less for him, in the very manner of his host’s allusion to satiety as a thinkable motive, a slight breath of the ominous. “I feel how much more she can do for you. She hasn’t done it all yet. Stay with her at least till she has.”

“And leave her THEN?”

Chad had kept smiling, but its effect in Strether was a shade of dryness. “Don’t leave her BEFORE. When you’ve got all that can be got — I don’t say,” he added a trifle grimly. “That will be the proper time. But as, for you, from such a woman, there will always be something to be got, my remark’s not a wrong to her.” Chad let him go on, showing every decent deference, showing perhaps also a candid curiosity for this sharper accent. “I remember you, you know, as you were.”

“An awful ass, wasn’t I?”

The response was as prompt as if he had pressed a spring; it had a ready abundance at which he even winced; so that he took a moment to meet it. “You certainly then wouldn’t have seemed worth all you’ve let me in for. You’ve defined yourself better. Your value has quintupled.”

“Well then, wouldn’t that be enough —?”

Chad had risked it jocosely, but Strether remained blank. “Enough?”

“If one SHOULD wish to live on one’s accumulations?” After which, however, as his friend appeared cold to the joke, the young man as easily dropped it. “Of course I really never forget, night or day, what I owe her. I owe her everything. I give you my word of honour,” he frankly rang out, “that I’m not a bit tired of her.” Strether at this only gave him a stare: the way youth could express itself was again and again a wonder. He meant no harm, though he might after all be capable of much; yet he spoke of being “tired” of her almost as he might have spoken of being tired of roast mutton for dinner. “She has never for a moment yet bored me — never been wanting, as the cleverest women sometimes are, in tact. She has never talked about her tact — as even they too sometimes talk; but she has always had it. She has never had it more”— he handsomely made the point —“than just lately.” And he scrupulously went further. “She has never been anything I could call a burden.”

Strether for a moment said nothing; then he spoke gravely, with his shade of dryness deepened. “Oh if you didn’t do her justice —!”

“I SHOULD be a beast, eh?”

Strether devoted no time to saying what he would be; THAT, visibly, would take them far. If there was nothing for it but to repeat, however, repetition was no mistake. “You owe her everything — very much more than she can ever owe you. You’ve in other words duties to her, of the most positive sort; and I don’t see what other duties — as the others are presented to you — can be held to go before them.”

Chad looked at him with a smile. “And you know of course about the others, eh? — since it’s you yourself who have done the presenting.”

“Much of it — yes — and to the best of my ability. But not all — from the moment your sister took my place.”

“She didn’t,” Chad returned. “Sally took a place, certainly; but it was never, I saw from the first moment, to be yours. No one — with us — will ever take yours. It wouldn’t be possible.”

“Ah of course,” sighed Strether, “I knew it. I believe you’re right. No one in the world, I imagine, was ever so portentously solemn. There I am,” he added with another sigh, as if weary enough, on occasion, of this truth. “I was made so.”

Chad appeared for a little to consider the way he was made; he might for this purpose have measured him up and down. His conclusion favoured the fact. “YOU have never needed any one to make you better. There has never been any one good enough. They couldn’t,” the young man declared.

His friend hesitated. “I beg your pardon. They HAVE.”

Chad showed, not without amusement, his doubt. “Who then?”

Strether — though a little dimly — smiled at him. “Women — too.”

“‘Two’?”— Chad stared and laughed. “Oh I don’t believe, for such work, in any more than one! So you’re proving too much. And what IS beastly, at all events,” he added, “is losing you.”

Strether had set himself in motion for departure, but at this he paused. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid —?”

“Of doing wrong. I mean away from my eye.” Before Chad could speak, however, he had taken himself up. “I AM, certainly,” he laughed, “prodigious.”

“Yes, you spoil us for all the stupid —!” This might have been, on Chad’s part, in its extreme emphasis, almost too freely extravagant; but it was full, plainly enough, of the intention of comfort, it carried with it a protest against doubt and a promise, positively, of performance. Picking up a hat in the vestibule he came out with his friend, came downstairs, took his arm, affectionately, as to help and guide him, treating him if not exactly as aged and infirm, yet as a noble eccentric who appealed to tenderness, and keeping on with him, while they walked, to the next corner and the next. “You needn’t tell me, you needn’t tell me!”— this again as they proceeded, he wished to make Strether feel. What he needn’t tell him was now at last, in the geniality of separation, anything at all it concerned him to know. He knew, up to the hilt — that really came over Chad; he understood, felt, recorded his vow; and they lingered on it as they had lingered in their walk to Strether’s hotel the night of their first meeting. The latter took, at this hour, all he could get; he had given all he had had to give; he was as depleted as if he had spent his last sou. But there was just one thing for which, before they broke off, Chad seemed disposed slightly to bargain. His companion needn’t, as he said, tell him, but he might himself mention that he had been getting some news of the art of advertisement. He came out quite suddenly with this announcement while Strether wondered if his revived interest were what had taken him, with strange inconsequence, over to London. He appeared at all events to have been looking into the question and had encountered a revelation. Advertising scientifically worked presented itself thus as the great new force. “It really does the thing, you know.”

They were face to face under the street-lamp as they had been the first night, and Strether, no doubt, looked blank. “Affects, you mean, the sale of the object advertised?”

“Yes — but affects it extraordinarily; really beyond what one had supposed. I mean of course when it’s done as one makes out that in our roaring age, it CAN be done. I’ve been finding out a little, though it doubtless doesn’t amount to much more than what you originally, so awfully vividly — and all, very nearly, that first night — put before me. It’s an art like another, and infinite like all the arts.” He went on as if for the joke of it — almost as if his friend’s face amused him. “In the hands, naturally, of a master. The right man must take hold. With the right man to work it c’est un monde.”

Strether had watched him quite as if, there on the pavement without a pretext, he had begun to dance a fancy step. “Is what you’re thinking of that you yourself, in the case you have in mind, would be the right man?”

Chad had thrown back his light coat and thrust each of his thumbs into an armhole of his waistcoat; in which position his fingers played up and down. “Why, what is he but what you yourself, as I say, took me for when you first came out?”

Strether felt a little faint, but he coerced his attention. “Oh yes, and there’s no doubt that, with your natural parts, you’d have much in common with him. Advertising is clearly at this time of day the secret of trade. It’s quite possible it will be open to you — giving the whole of your mind to it — to make the whole place hum with you. Your mother’s appeal is to the whole of your mind, and that’s exactly the strength of her case.”

Chad’s fingers continued to twiddle, but he had something of a drop. “Ah we’ve been through my mother’s case!”

“So I thought. Why then do you speak of the matter?”

“Only because it was part of our original discussion. To wind up where we began, my interest’s purely platonic. There at any rate the fact is — the fact of the possible. I mean the money in it.”

“Oh damn the money in it!” said Strether. And then as the young man’s fixed smile seemed to shine out more strange: “Shall you give your friend up for the money in it?”

Chad preserved his handsome grimace as well as the rest of his attitude. “You’re not altogether — in your so great ‘solemnity’— kind. Haven’t I been drinking you in — showing you all I feel you’re worth to me? What have I done, what am I doing, but cleave to her to the death? The only thing is,” he good-humouredly explained, “that one can’t but have it before one, in the cleaving — the point where the death comes in. Don’t be afraid for THAT. It’s pleasant to a fellow’s feelings,” he developed, “to ‘size-up’ the bribe he applies his foot to.”

“Oh then if all you want’s a kickable surface the bribe’s enormous.”

“Good. Then there it goes!” Chad administered his kick with fantastic force and sent an imaginary object flying. It was accordingly as if they were once more rid of the question and could come back to what really concerned him. “Of course I shall see you tomorrow.”

But Strether scarce heeded the plan proposed for this; he had still the impression — not the slighter for the simulated kick — of an irrelevant hornpipe or jig. “You’re restless.”

“Ah,” returned Chad as they parted, “you’re exciting.”

V

He had, however, within two days, another separation to face. He had sent Maria Gostrey a word early, by hand, to ask if he might come to breakfast; in consequence of which, at noon, she awaited him in the cool shade of her little Dutch-looking dining-room. This retreat was at the back of the house, with a view of a scrap of old garden that had been saved from modern ravage; and though he had on more than one other occasion had his legs under its small and peculiarly polished table of hospitality, the place had never before struck him as so sacred to pleasant knowledge, to intimate charm, to antique order, to a neatness that was almost august. To sit there was, as he had told his hostess before, to see life reflected for the time in ideally kept pewter; which was somehow becoming, improving to life, so that one’s eyes were held and comforted. Strether’s were comforted at all events now — and the more that it was the last time — with the charming effect, on the board bare of a cloth and proud of its perfect surface, of the small old crockery and old silver, matched by the more substantial pieces happily disposed about the room. The specimens of vivid Delf, in particular had the dignity of family portraits; and it was in the midst of them that our friend resignedly expressed himself. He spoke even with a certain philosophic humour. “There’s nothing more to wait for; I seem to have done a good day’s work. I’ve let them have it all round. I’ve seen Chad, who has been to London and come back. He tells me I’m ‘exciting,’ and I seem indeed pretty well to have upset every one. I’ve at any rate excited HIM. He’s distinctly restless.”

“You’ve excited ME,” Miss Gostrey smiled. “I’M distinctly restless.”

“Oh you were that when I found you. It seems to me I’ve rather got you out of it. What’s this,” he asked as he looked about him, “but a haunt of ancient peace?”

“I wish with all my heart,” she presently replied, “I could make you treat it as a haven of rest.” On which they fronted each other, across the table, as if things unuttered were in the air.

Strether seemed, in his way, when he next spoke, to take some of them up. “It wouldn’t give me — that would be the trouble — what it will, no doubt, still give you. I’m not,” he explained, leaning back in his chair, but with his eyes on a small ripe round melon — “in real harmony with what surrounds me. You ARE. I take it too hard. You DON’T. It makes — that’s what it comes to in the end — a fool of me.” Then at a tangent, “What has he been doing in London?” he demanded.

“Ah one may go to London,” Maria laughed. “You know I did.”

Yes — he took the reminder. “And you brought ME back.” He brooded there opposite to her, but without gloom. “Whom has Chad brought? He’s full of ideas. And I wrote to Sarah,” he added, “the first thing this morning. So I’m square. I’m ready for them.”

She neglected certain parts of this speech in the interest of others. “Marie said to me the other day that she felt him to have the makings of an immense man of business.”

“There it is. He’s the son of his father!”

“But SUCH a father!”

“Ah just the right one from that point of view! But it isn’t his father in him,” Strether added, “that troubles me.”

“What is it then?” He came back to his breakfast; he partook presently of the charming melon, which she liberally cut for him; and it was only after this that he met her question. Then moreover it was but to remark that he’d answer her presently. She waited, she watched, she served him and amused him, and it was perhaps with this last idea that she soon reminded him of his having never even yet named to her the article produced at Woollett. “Do you remember our talking of it in London — that night at the play?” Before he could say yes, however, she had put it to him for other matters. Did he remember, did he remember — this and that of their first days? He remembered everything, bringing up with humour even things of which she professed no recollection, things she vehemently denied; and falling back above all on the great interest of their early time, the curiosity felt by both of them as to where he would “come out.” They had so assumed it was to be in some wonderful place — they had thought of it as so very MUCH out. Well, that was doubtless what it had been — since he had come out just there. He was out, in truth, as far as it was possible to be, and must now rather bethink himself of getting in again. He found on the spot the image of his recent history; he was like one of the figures of the old clock at Berne. THEY came out, on one side, at their hour, jigged along their little course in the public eye, and went in on the other side. He too had jigged his little course — him too a modest retreat awaited. He offered now, should she really like to know, to name the great product of Woollett. It would be a great commentary on everything. At this she stopped him off; she not only had no wish to know, but she wouldn’t know for the world. She had done with the products of Woollett — for all the good she had got from them. She desired no further news of them, and she mentioned that Madame de Vionnet herself had, to her knowledge, lived exempt from the information he was ready to supply. She had never consented to receive it, though she would have taken it, under stress, from Mrs. Pocock. But it was a matter about which Mrs. Pocock appeared to have had little to say — never sounding the word — and it didn’t signify now. There was nothing clearly for Maria Gostrey that signified now — save one sharp point, that is, to which she came in time. “I don’t know whether it’s before you as a possibility that, left to himself, Mr. Chad may after all go back. I judge that it IS more or less so before you, from what you just now said of him.”

Her guest had his eyes on her, kindly but attentively, as if foreseeing what was to follow this. “I don’t think it will be for the money.” And then as she seemed uncertain: “I mean I don’t believe it will be for that he’ll give her up.”

“Then he WILL give her up?”

Strether waited a moment, rather slow and deliberate now, drawing out a little this last soft stage, pleading with her in various suggestive and unspoken ways for patience and understanding. “What were you just about to ask me?”

“Is there anything he can do that would make you patch it up?”

“With Mrs. Newsome?”

Her assent, as if she had had a delicacy about sounding the name, was only in her face; but she added with it: “Or is there anything he can do that would make HER try it?”

“To patch it up with me?” His answer came at last in a conclusive headshake. “There’s nothing any one can do. It’s over. Over for both of us.”

Maria wondered, seemed a little to doubt. “Are you so sure for her?”

“Oh yes — sure now. Too much has happened. I’m different for her.”

She took it in then, drawing a deeper breath. “I see. So that as she’s different for YOU—”

“Ah but,” he interrupted, “she’s not.” And as Miss Gostrey wondered again: “She’s the same. She’s more than ever the same. But I do what I didn’t before — I SEE her.”

He spoke gravely and as if responsibly — since he had to pronounce; and the effect of it was slightly solemn, so that she simply exclaimed “Oh!” Satisfied and grateful, however, she showed in her own next words an acceptance of his statement. “What then do you go home to?”

He had pushed his plate a little away, occupied with another side of the matter; taking refuge verily in that side and feeling so moved that he soon found himself on his feet. He was affected in advance by what he believed might come from her, and he would have liked to forestall it and deal with it tenderly; yet in the presence of it he wished still more to be — though as smoothly as possible — deterrent and conclusive. He put her question by for the moment; he told her more about Chad. “It would have been impossible to meet me more than he did last night on the question of the infamy of not sticking to her.”

“Is that what you called it for him —‘infamy’?”

“Oh rather! I described to him in detail the base creature he’d be, and he quite agrees with me about it.”

“So that it’s really as if you had nailed him?”

“Quite really as if —! I told him I should curse him.”

“Oh,” she smiled, “you HAVE done it.” And then having thought again: “You CAN’T after that propose —!” Yet she scanned his face.

“Propose again to Mrs. Newsome?”

She hesitated afresh, but she brought it out. “I’ve never believed, you know, that you did propose. I always believed it was really she — and, so far as that goes, I can understand it. What I mean is,” she explained, “that with such a spirit — the spirit of curses! — your breach is past mending. She has only to know what you’ve done to him never again to raise a finger.”

“I’ve done,” said Strether, “what I could — one can’t do more. He protests his devotion and his horror. But I’m not sure I’ve saved him. He protests too much. He asks how one can dream of his being tired. But he has all life before him.”

Maria saw what he meant. “He’s formed to please.”

“And it’s our friend who has formed him.” Strether felt in it the strange irony.

“So it’s scarcely his fault!”

“It’s at any rate his danger. I mean,” said Strether, “it’s hers. But she knows it.”

“Yes, she knows it. And is your idea,” Miss Gostrey asked, “that there was some other woman in London?”

“Yes. No. That is I HAVE no ideas. I’m afraid of them. I’ve done with them.” And he put out his hand to her. “Good-bye.”

It brought her back to her unanswered question. “To what do you go home?”

“I don’t know. There will always be something.”

“To a great difference,” she said as she kept his hand.

“A great difference — no doubt. Yet I shall see what I can make of it.”

“Shall you make anything so good —?” But, as if remembering what Mrs. Newsome had done, it was as far as she went.

He had sufficiently understood. “So good as this place at this moment? So good as what YOU make of everything you touch?” He took a moment to say, for, really and truly, what stood about him there in her offer — which was as the offer of exquisite service, of lightened care, for the rest of his days — might well have tempted. It built him softly round, it roofed him warmly over, it rested, all so firm, on selection. And what ruled selection was beauty and knowledge. It was awkward, it was almost stupid, not to seem to prize such things; yet, none the less, so far as they made his opportunity they made it only for a moment. She’d moreover understand — she always understood.

That indeed might be, but meanwhile she was going on. “There’s nothing, you know, I wouldn’t do for you.”

“Oh yes — I know.”

“There’s nothing,” she repeated, “in all the world.”

“I know. I know. But all the same I must go.” He had got it at last. “To be right.”

“To be right?”

She had echoed it in vague deprecation, but he felt it already clear for her. “That, you see, is my only logic. Not, out of the whole affair, to have got anything for myself.”

She thought. “But with your wonderful impressions you’ll have got a great deal.”

“A great deal”— he agreed. “But nothing like YOU. It’s you who would make me wrong!”

Honest and fine, she couldn’t greatly pretend she didn’t see it. Still she could pretend just a little. “But why should you be so dreadfully right?”

“That’s the way that — if I must go — you yourself would be the first to want me. And I can’t do anything else.”

So then she had to take it, though still with her defeated protest. “It isn’t so much your BEING ‘right’— it’s your horrible sharp eye for what makes you so.”

“Oh but you’re just as bad yourself. You can’t resist me when I point that out.”

She sighed it at last all comically, all tragically, away. “I can’t indeed resist you.”

“Then there we are!” said Strether.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38