“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.”
“Still — it simplifies.”
“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.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10