Nothing is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambassadors," which first appeared in twelve numbers of _The North American Review_ (1903) and was published as a whole the same year. The situation involved is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of Book Fifth, for the reader's benefit, into as few words as possible--planted or "sunk," stiffly and saliently, in the centre of the current, almost perhaps to the obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition of this sort have sprung straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion, and never can that grain, developed, overgrown and smothered, have yet lurked more in the mass as an independent particle. The whole case, in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible outbreak to little Bilham on the Sunday afternoon in Gloriani's garden, the candour with which he yields, for his young friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition of that crisis. The idea of the tale resides indeed in the very fact that an hour of such unprecedented ease should have been felt by him AS a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly as we could desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utterance contain the essence of "The Ambassadors," his fingers close, before he has done, round the stem of the full-blown flower; which, after that fashion, he continues officiously to present to us. "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? I'm too old--too old at any rate for what I see. What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. Still, we have the illusion of freedom; therefore don't, like me to-day, be without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it, and now I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like so long as you don't make it. For it WAS a mistake. Live, live!" Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the impressed youth, whom he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word "mistake" occurs several times, it will be seen, in the course of his remarks--which gives the measure of the signal warning he feels attached to his case. He has accordingly missed too much, though perhaps after all constitutionally qualified for a better part, and he wakes up to it in conditions that press the spring of a terrible question. WOULD there yet perhaps be time for reparation?--reparation, that is, for the injury done his character; for the affront, he is quite ready to say, so stupidly put upon it and in which he has even himself had so clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all events SEES; so that the business of my tale and the march of my action, not to say the precious moral of everything, is just my demonstration of this process of vision.
Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole fits
again into its germ. That had been given
me bodily, as usual, by the spoken word, for I was to take the image over
exactly as I happened to have met it. A
friend had repeated to me, with great appreciation, a thing or two said to him
by a man of distinction, much his senior, and to which a sense akin to that of
Strether's melancholy eloquence might be imputed--said as chance would have,
and so easily might, in Paris, and in a charming old garden attached to a house
of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer, many persons of great interest
being present. The observation there
listened to and gathered up had contained part of the "note" that I
was to recognise on the spot as to my purpose--had contained in fact the
greater part; the rest was in the place and the time and the scene they
sketched: these constituents clustered and combined to give me further support,
to give me what I may call the note absolute.
There it stands, accordingly, full in the tideway; driven in, with hard
taps, like some strong stake for the noose of a cable, the swirl of the current
roundabout it. What amplified the hint
to more than the bulk of hints in general was the gift
with it of the old
I recall then in this connexion no moment of subjective intermittence, never one of those alarms as for a suspected hollow beneath one's feet, a felt ingratitude in the scheme adopted, under which confidence fails and opportunity seems but to mock. If the motive of "The Wings of the Dove," as I have noted, was to worry me at moments by a sealing-up of its face--though without prejudice to its again, of a sudden, fairly grimacing with expression--so in this other business I had absolute conviction and constant clearness to deal with; it had been a frank proposition, the whole bunch of data, installed on my premises like a monotony of fine weather. (The order of composition, in these things, I may mention, was reversed by the order of publication; the earlier written of the two books having appeared as the later.) Even under the weight of my hero's years I could feel my postulate firm; even under the strain of the difference between those of Madame de Vionnet and those of Chad Newsome, a difference liable to be denounced as shocking, I could still feel it serene. Nothing resisted, nothing betrayed, I seem to make out, in this full and sound sense of the matter; it shed from any side I could turn it to the same golden glow. I rejoiced in the promise of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the more to bite into--since it's only into thickened motive and accumulated character, I think, that the painter of life bites more than a little. My poor friend should have accumulated character, certainly; or rather would be quite naturally and handsomely possessed of it, in the sense that he would have, and would always have felt he had, imagination galore, and that this yet wouldn't have wrecked him. It was immeasurable, the opportunity to "do" a man of imagination, for if THERE mightn't be a chance to "bite," where in the world might it be? This personage of course, so enriched, wouldn't give me, for his type, imagination in PREDOMINANCE or as his prime faculty, nor should I, in view of other matters, have found that convenient. So particular a luxury --some occasion, that is, for study of the high gift in SUPREME command of a case or of a career--would still doubtless come on the day I should be ready to pay for it; and till then might, as from far back, remain hung up well in view and just out of reach. The comparative case meanwhile would serve--it was only on the minor scale that I had treated myself even to comparative cases.
I was to hasten to add however that, happy stopgaps as the minor scale had thus yielded, the instance in hand should enjoy the advantage of the full range of the major; since most immediately to the point was the question of that SUPPLEMENT of situation logically involved in our gentleman's impulse to deliver himself in the Paris garden on the Sunday afternoon--or if not involved by strict logic then all ideally and enchantingly implied in it. (I say "ideally," because I need scarce mention that for development, for expression of its maximum, my glimmering story was, at the earliest stage, to have nipped the thread of connexion with the possibilities of the actual reported speaker. HE remains but the happiest of accidents; his actualities, all too definite, precluded any range of possibilities; it had only been his charming office to project upon that wide field of the artist's vision--which hangs there ever in place like the white sheet suspended for the figures of a child's magic-lantern--a more fantastic and more moveable shadow.) No privilege of the teller of tales and the handler of puppets is more delightful, or has more of the suspense and the thrill of a game of difficulty breathlessly played, than just this business of looking for the unseen and the occult, in a scheme half-grasped, by the light or, so to speak, by the clinging scent, of the gage already in hand. No dreadful old pursuit of the hidden slave with bloodhounds and the rag of association can ever, for "excitement," I judge, have bettered it at its best. For the dramatist always, by the very law of his genius, believes not only in a possible right issue from the rightly-conceived tight place; he does much more than this--he believes, irresistibly, in the necessary, the precious "tightness" of the place (whatever the issue) on the strength of any respectable hint. It being thus the respectable hint that I had with such avidity picked up, what would be the story to which it would most inevitably form the centre? It is part of the charm attendant on such questions that the "story," with the omens true, as I say, puts on from this stage the authenticity of concrete existence. It then is, essentially--it begins to be, though it may more or less obscurely lurk, so that the point is not in the least what to make of it, but only, very delightfully and very damnably, where to put one's hand on it.
In which truth resides surely much of the interest of that admirable mixture for salutary application which we know as art. Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute full-handed that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in the garden of life--which material elsewhere grown is stale and uneatable. But it has no sooner done this than it has to take account of a PROCESS--from which only when it's the basest of the servants of man, incurring ignominious dismissal with no "character," does it, and whether under some muddled pretext of morality or on any other, pusillanimously edge away. The process, that of the expression, the literal squeezing-out, of value is another affair--with which the happy luck of mere finding has little to do. The joys of finding, at this stage, are pretty well over; that quest of the subject as a whole by "matching," as the ladies say at the shops, the big piece with the snippet, having ended, we assume, with a capture. The subject is found, and if the problem is then transferred to the ground of what to do with it the field opens out for any amount of doing. This is precisely the infusion that, as I submit, completes the strong mixture. It is on the other hand the part of the business that can least be likened to the chase with horn and hound. It's all a sedentary part--involves as much ciphering, of sorts, as would merit the highest salary paid to a chief accountant. Not, however, that the chief accountant hasn't HIS gleams of bliss; for the felicity, or at least the equilibrium of the artist's state dwells less, surely, in the further delightful complications he can smuggle in than in those he succeeds in keeping out. He sows his seed at the risk of too thick a crop; wherefore yet again, like the gentlemen who audit ledgers, he must keep his head at any price. In consequence of all which, for the interest of the matter, I might seem here to have my choice of narrating my "hunt" for Lambert Strether, of describing the capture of the shadow projected by my friend's anecdote, or of reporting on the occurrences subsequent to that triumph. But I had probably best attempt a little to glance in each direction; since it comes to me again and again, over this licentious record, that one's bag of adventures, conceived or conceivable, has been only half-emptied by the mere telling of one's story. It depends so on what one means by that equivocal quantity. There is the story of one's hero, and then, thanks to the intimate connexion of things, the story of one's story itself. I blush to confess it, but if one's a dramatist one's a dramatist, and the latter imbroglio is liable on occasion to strike me as really the more objective of the two.
The philosophy imputed to him in that beautiful outbreak,
the hour there, amid such happy provision, striking for him, would have been
then, on behalf of my man of imagination, to be logically and, as the artless
craft of comedy has it, "led up" to; the probable course to such a
goal, the goal of so conscious a predicament, would have in short to be finely
calculated. Where has he come from and
why has he come, what is he doing (as we Anglo-Saxons, and we only, say, in our
foredoomed clutch of exotic aids to expression) in that galere? To answer these questions plausibly, to
answer them as under cross-examination in the witness-box by counsel for the
prosecution, in other words satisfactorily to account for Strether and for his
"peculiar tone," was to possess myself of the entire fabric. At the same time the clue to its whereabouts
would lie in a certain principle of probability: he wouldn't have indulged in
his peculiar tone without a reason; it would take a felt predicament or a false
position to give him so ironic an accent.
One hadn't been noting "tones" all one's life without
recognising when one heard it the voice of the false position. The dear man in the
All of which, again, is but to say that the STEPS, for my fable, placed themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional assurance--an air quite as of readiness to have dispensed with logic had I been in fact too stupid for my clue. Never, positively, none the less, as the links multiplied, had I felt less stupid than for the determination of poor Strether's errand and for the apprehension of his issue. These things continued to fall together, as by the neat action of their own weight and form, even while their commentator scratched his head about them; he easily sees now that they were always well in advance of him. As the case completed itself he had in fact, from a good way behind, to catch up with them, breathless and a little flurried, as he best could. THE false position, for our belated man of the world--belated because he had endeavoured so long to escape being one, and now at last had really to face his doom--the false position for him, I say, was obviously to have presented himself at the gate of that boundless menagerie primed with a moral scheme of the most approved pattern which was yet framed to break down on any approach to vivid facts; that is to any at all liberal appreciation of them. There would have been of course the case of the Strether prepared, wherever presenting himself, only to judge and to feel meanly; but HE would have moved for me, I confess, enveloped in no legend whatever. The actual man's note, from the first of our seeing it struck, is the note of discrimination, just as his drama is to become, under stress, the drama of discrimination. It would have been his blest imagination, we have seen, that had already helped him to discriminate; the element that was for so much of the pleasure of my cutting thick, as I have intimated, into his intellectual, into his moral substance. Yet here it was, at the same time, just here, that a shade for a moment fell across the scene.
There was the dreadful little old tradition, one of the
platitudes of the human comedy, that people's moral scheme DOES break down in
Paris; that nothing is more frequently observed; that hundreds of thousands of
more or less hypocritical or more or less cynical persons annually visit the
place for the sake of the probable catastrophe, and that I came late in the day
to work myself up about it. There was in
fine the TRIVIAL association, one of the vulgarest in the world; but which give
me pause no longer, I think, simply because its vulgarity is so
advertised. The revolution performed by
Strether under the influence of the most interesting of great cities was to
have nothing to do with any betise of the imputably "tempted" state;
he was to be thrown forward, rather, thrown quite with violence, upon his
lifelong trick of intense reflexion: which friendly test indeed was to bring
him out, through winding passages, through alternations of darkness and light,
very much IN Paris, but with the surrounding scene itself a minor matter, a
mere symbol for more things than had been dreamt of in the philosophy of
Woollett. Another surrounding scene
would have done as well for our show could it have represented a place in which
Strether's errand was likely to lie and his crisis to await him. The LIKELY place had the great merit of sparing
me preparations; there would have been too many involved--not at all
impossibilities, only rather worrying and delaying difficulties--in positing
elsewhere Chad Newsome's interesting relation, his so interesting complexity of
relations. Strether's appointed stage, in fine, could be but
"The Ambassadors" had been, all conveniently, "arranged for"; its first appearance was from month to month, in the _North American Review_ during 1903, and I had been open from far back to any pleasant provocation for ingenuity that might reside in one's actively adopting--so as to make it, in its way, a small compositional law--recurrent breaks and resumptions. I had made up my mind here regularly to exploit and enjoy these often rather rude jolts--having found, as I believed an admirable way to it; yet every question of form and pressure, I easily remember, paled in the light of the major propriety, recognised as soon as really weighed; that of employing but one centre and keeping it all within my hero's compass. The thing was to be so much this worthy's intimate adventure that even the projection of his consciousness upon it from beginning to end without intermission or deviation would probably still leave a part of its value for him, and a fortiori for ourselves, unexpressed. I might, however, express every grain of it that there would be room for--on condition of contriving a splendid particular economy. Other persons in no small number were to people the scene, and each with his or her axe to grind, his or her situation to treat, his or her coherency not to fail of, his or her relation to my leading motive, in a word, to establish and carry on. But Strether's sense of these things, and Strether's only, should avail me for showing them; I should know them but through his more or less groping knowledge of them, since his very gropings would figure among his most interesting motions, and a full observance of the rich rigour I speak of would give me more of the effect I should be most "after" than all other possible observances together. It would give me a large unity, and that in turn would crown me with the grace to which the enlightened story-teller will at any time, for his interest, sacrifice if need be all other graces whatever. I refer of course to the grace of intensity, which there are ways of signally achieving and ways of signally missing--as we see it, all round us, helplessly and woefully missed. Not that it isn't, on the other hand, a virtue eminently subject to appreciation--there being no strict, no absolute measure of it; so that one may hear it acclaimed where it has quite escaped one's perception, and see it unnoticed where one has gratefully hailed it. After all of which I am not sure, either, that the immense amusement of the whole cluster of difficulties so arrayed may not operate, for the fond fabulist, when judicious not less than fond, as his best of determinants. That charming principle is always there, at all events, to keep interest fresh: it is a principle, we remember, essentially ravenous, without scruple and without mercy, appeased with no cheap nor easy nourishment. It enjoys the costly sacrifice and rejoices thereby in the very odour of difficulty--even as ogres, with their "Fee-faw-fum!" rejoice in the smell of the blood of Englishmen.
Thus it was, at all events, that the ultimate, though after all so speedy, definition of my gentleman's job--his coming out, all solemnly appointed and deputed, to "save" Chad, and his then finding the young man so disobligingly and, at first, so bewilderingly not lost that a new issue altogether, in the connexion, prodigiously faces them, which has to be dealt with in a new light--promised as many calls on ingenuity and on the higher branches of the compositional art as one could possibly desire. Again and yet again, as, from book to book, I proceed with my survey, I find no source of interest equal to this verification after the fact, as I may call it, and the more in detail the better, of the scheme of consistency "gone in" for. As always--since the charm never fails--the retracing of the process from point to point brings back the old illusion. The old intentions bloom again and flower--in spite of all the blossoms they were to have dropped by the way. This is the charm, as I say, of adventure TRANSPOSED--the thrilling ups and downs, the intricate ins and outs of the compositional problem, made after such a fashion admirably objective, becoming the question at issue and keeping the author's heart in his mouth. Such an element, for instance, as his intention that Mrs. Newsome, away off with her finger on the pulse of Massachusetts, should yet be no less intensely than circuitously present through the whole thing, should be no less felt as to be reckoned with than the most direct exhibition, the finest portrayal at first hand could make her, such a sign of artistic good faith, I say, once it's unmistakeably there, takes on again an actuality not too much impaired by the comparative dimness of the particular success. Cherished intention too inevitably acts and operates, in the book, about fifty times as little as I had fondly dreamt it might; but that scarce spoils for me the pleasure of recognising the fifty ways in which I had sought to provide for it. The mere charm of seeing such an idea constituent, in its degree; the fineness of the measures taken--a real extension, if successful, of the very terms and possibilities of representation and figuration--such things alone were, after this fashion, inspiring, such things alone were a gage of the probable success of that dissimulated calculation with which the whole effort was to square. But oh the cares begotten, none the less, of that same "judicious" sacrifice to a particular form of interest! One's work should have composition, because composition alone is positive beauty; but all the while--apart from one's inevitable consciousness too of the dire paucity of readers ever recognising or ever missing positive beauty--how, as to the cheap and easy, at every turn, how, as to immediacy and facility, and even as to the commoner vivacity, positive beauty might have to be sweated for and paid for! Once achieved and installed it may always be trusted to make the poor seeker feel he would have blushed to the roots of his hair for failing of it; yet, how, as its virtue can be essentially but the virtue of the whole, the wayside traps set in the interest of muddlement and pleading but the cause of the moment, of the particular bit in itself, have to be kicked out of the path! All the sophistications in life, for example, might have appeared to muster on behalf of the menace--the menace to a bright variety--involved in Strether's having all the subjective "say," as it were, to himself.
Had I, meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, endowed him with the romantic privilege of the "first person"--the darkest abyss of romance this, inveterately, when enjoyed on the grand scale--variety, and many other queer matters as well, might have been smuggled in by a back door. Suffice it, to be brief, that the first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness and that looseness, never much my affair, had never been so little so as on this particular occasion. All of which reflexions flocked to the standard from the moment--a very early one--the question of how to keep my form amusing while sticking so close to my central figure and constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced. He arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of giving his creator "no end" to tell about him--before which rigorous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed. I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough to reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one substitute for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail to another. I couldn't, save by implication, make other persons tell EACH OTHER about him--blest resource, blest necessity, of the drama, which reaches its effects of unity, all remarkably, by paths absolutely opposite to the paths of the novel: with other persons, save as they were primarily HIS persons (not he primarily but one of theirs), I had simply nothing to do. I had relations for him none the less, by the mercy of Providence, quite as much as if my exhibition was to be a muddle; if I could only by implication and a show of consequence make other persons tell each other about him, I could at least make him tell THEM whatever in the world he must; and could so, by the same token--which was a further luxury thrown in--see straight into the deep differences between what that could do for me, or at all events for HIM, and the large ease of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to one's hero, one shouldn't make a single mouthful of "method," shouldn't throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap there as free as in "Gil Blas" or in "David Copperfield," equip him with the double privilege of subject and object--a course that has at least the merit of brushing away questions at a sweep. The answer to which is, I think, that one makes that surrender only if one is prepared NOT to make certain precious discriminations.
The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the author directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has to reckon with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely and vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a presumption of exposure to criticism. Strether, on the other hand, encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and more salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a word, that forbid the terrible FLUIDITY of self-revelation. I may seem not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, for my first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a confidant or two, to wave away with energy the custom of the seated mass of explanation after the fact, the inserted block of merely referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame of the modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but which seems simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, digestion. "Harking back to make up" took at any rate more doing, as the phrase is, not only than the reader of to-day demands, but than he will tolerate at any price any call upon him either to understand or remotely to measure; and for the beauty of the thing when done the current editorial mind in particular appears wholly without sense. It is not, however, primarily for either of these reasons, whatever their weight, that Strether's friend Waymarsh is so keenly clutched at, on the threshold of the book, or that no less a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey--without even the pretext, either, of HER being, in essence, Strether's friend. She is the reader's friend much rather--in consequence of dispositions that make him so eminently require one; and she acts in that capacity, and REALLY in that capacity alone, with exemplary devotion from beginning to and of the book. She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to lucidity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most unmitigated and abandoned of ficelles. Half the dramatist's art, as we well know--since if we don't it's not the fault of the proofs that lie scattered about us--is in the use of ficelles; by which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence on them. Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in the whole business, less to my subject than to my treatment of it; the interesting proof, in these connexions, being that one has but to take one's subject for the stuff of drama to interweave with enthusiasm as many Gostreys as need be.
The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in
this respect exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," published
just before it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; so that, availing
myself of the opportunity given me by this edition for some prefatory remarks
on the latter work, I had mainly to make on its behalf the point of its scenic
consistency. It disguises that virtue,
in the oddest way in the world, by just LOOKING, as we turn its pages, as
little scenic as possible; but it sharply divides itself, just as the
composition before us does, into the parts that prepare, that tend in fact to
over-prepare, for scenes, and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that
justify and crown the preparation. It
may definitely be said, I think, that everything in it that is not scene (not,
I of course mean, complete and functional scene, treating ALL the submitted
matter, as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is discriminated
preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of picture. These alternations propose
themselves all recogniseably, I think, from an early stage, as the very form
and figure of "The Ambassadors"; so that, to repeat, such an agent as
Miss Gostrey pre-engaged at a high salary, but waits in the draughty wing with
her shawl and her smelling-salts. Her
function speaks at once for itself, and by the time she has dined with Strether
The "ficelle" character of the subordinate party is as artfully dissimulated, throughout, as may be, and to that extent that, with the seams or joints of Maria Gostrey's ostensible connectedness taken particular care of, duly smoothed over, that is, and anxiously kept from showing as "pieced on;" this figure doubtless achieves, after a fashion, something of the dignity of a prime idea: which circumstance but shows us afresh how many quite incalculable but none the less clear sources of enjoyment for the infatuated artist, how many copious springs of our never-to-be-slighted "fun" for the reader and critic susceptible of contagion, may sound their incidental plash as soon as an artistic process begins to enjoy free development. Exquisite--in illustration of this--the mere interest and amusement of such at once "creative" and critical questions as how and where and why to make Miss Gostrey's false connexion carry itself, under a due high polish, as a real one. Nowhere is it more of an artful expedient for mere consistency of form, to mention a case, than in the last "scene" of the book, where its function is to give or to add nothing whatever, but only to express as vividly as possible certain things quite other than itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed measure. Since, however, all art is EXPRESSION, and is thereby vividness, one was to find the door open here to any amount of delightful dissimulation. These verily are the refinements and ecstasies of method--amid which, or certainly under the influence of any exhilarated demonstration of which, one must keep one's head and not lose one's way. To cultivate an adequate intelligence for them and to make that sense operative is positively to find a charm in any produced ambiguity of appearance that is not by the same stroke, and all helplessly, an ambiguity of sense. To project imaginatively, for my hero, a relation that has nothing to do with the matter (the matter of my subject) but has everything to do with the manner (the manner of my presentation of the same) and yet to treat it, at close quarters and for fully economic expression's possible sake, as if it were important and essential--to do that sort of thing and yet muddle nothing may easily become, as one goes, a signally attaching proposition; even though it all remains but part and parcel, I hasten to recognise, of the merely general and related question of expressional curiosity and expressional decency.
I am moved to add after so much insistence on the scenic
side of my labour that I have found the steps of re-perusal almost as much
waylaid here by quite another style of effort in the same signal interest--or
have in other words not failed to note how, even so associated and so
discriminated, the finest proprieties and charms of the non-scenic may, under
the right hand for them, still keep their intelligibility and assert their
office. Infinitely suggestive such an
observation as this last on the whole delightful head, where representation is
concerned, of possible variety, of effective expressional change and contrast. One would like, at such an hour as this, for
critical licence, to go into the matter of the noted inevitable deviation (from
too fond an original vision) that the exquisite treachery even of the
straightest execution may ever be trusted to inflict even on the most mature
plan--the case being that, though one's last reconsidered production always
seems to bristle with that particular evidence, "The Ambassadors"
would place a flood of such light at my service. I must attach to my final remark here a
different import; noting in the other connexion I just glanced at that such
passages as that of my hero's first encounter with Chad Newsome, absolute
attestations of the non-scenic form though they be, yet lay the firmest hand
too--so far at least as intention goes--on representational effect. To report at all closely and completely of
what "passes" on a given occasion is inevitably to become more or
less scenic; and yet in the instance I allude to, WITH the conveyance,
expressional curiosity and expressional decency are sought and arrived at under
quite another law. The true inwardness
of this may be at bottom but that one of the suffered treacheries has consisted
Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was
about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to
arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from him bespeaking a room
"only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the
office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at
Liverpool remained to that extent sound.
The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not
absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock, that had led him thus to
postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he
could still wait without disappointment.
They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old
Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to himself--there was little fear that
in the sequel they shouldn't see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as
operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly
instinctive--the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find
himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade's face, his
business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance
to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first "note," of
Europe. Mixed with everything was the
apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that it would, at best, throughout,
prove the note of
That note had been meanwhile--since the previous afternoon,
thanks to this happier device--such a consciousness of personal freedom as he
hadn't known for years; such a deep taste of change and of having above all for
the moment nobody and nothing to consider, as promised already, if headlong
hope were not too foolish, to colour his adventure with cool success. There were people on the ship with whom he
had easily consorted--so far as ease could up to now be imputed to him--and who
for the most part plunged straight into the current that set from the
landing-stage to London; there were others who had invited him to a tryst at
the inn and had even invoked his aid for a "look round" at the
beauties of Liverpool; but he had stolen away from every one alike, had kept no
appointment and renewed no acquaintance, had been indifferently aware of the
number of persons who esteemed themselves fortunate in being, unlike himself,
"met," and had even independently, unsociably, alone, without
encounter or relapse and by mere quiet evasion, given his afternoon and evening
to the immediate and the sensible. They
formed a qualified draught of Europe, an afternoon and an evening on the banks
After the young woman in the glass cage had held up to him
across her counter the pale-pink leaflet bearing his friend's name, which she
neatly pronounced, he turned away to find himself, in the hall, facing a lady
who met his eyes as with an intention suddenly determined, and whose
features--not freshly young, not markedly fine, but on happy terms with each
other--came back to him as from a recent vision. For a moment they stood confronted; then the
moment placed her: he had noticed her
the day before, noticed her at his previous inn, where--again in the hall--she
had been briefly engaged with some people of his own ship's company. Nothing had actually passed between them, and
he would as little have been able to say what had been the sign of her face for
him on the first occasion as to name the ground of his present recognition. Recognition
at any rate appeared to prevail on her own side as well--which would only have
added to the mystery. All she now began
by saying to him nevertheless was that, having chanced to catch his enquiry,
she was moved to ask, by his leave, if it were possibly a question of Mr.
Waymarsh of Milrose
"Oh yes," he replied, "my very well-known friend. He's to meet me here, coming up from Malvern, and I supposed he'd already have arrived. But he doesn't come till later, and I'm relieved not to have kept him. Do you know him?" Strether wound up.
It wasn't till after he had spoken that he became aware of
how much there had been in him of response; when the tone of her own rejoinder,
as well as the play of something more in her face--something more, that is,
than its apparently usual restless light--seemed to notify him. "I've met him at Milrose--where I used
sometimes, a good while ago, to stay; I had friends there who were friends of
his, and I've been at his house. I won't
answer for it that he would know me," Strether's new acquaintance pursued;
"but I should be delighted to see him.
Perhaps," she added, "I shall--for I'm staying
over." She paused while our friend
took in these things, and it was as if a good deal of talk had already passed.
They even vaguely smiled at it, and Strether presently observed that Mr.
Waymarsh would, no doubt, be easily to be seen.
This, however, appeared to affect the lady as if she might have advanced
too far. She appeared to have no
reserves about anything. "Oh,"
she said, "he won't care!"--and she immediately thereupon remarked
that she believed Strether knew the
But he didn't, it happened, know the
When in a quarter of an hour he came down, what his hostess
saw, what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the lean,
the slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and something more
perhaps than the middle age--a man of five-and-fifty, whose most immediate
signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face, a thick dark moustache, of
characteristically American cut, growing strong and falling low, a head of hair
still abundant but irregularly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold free
prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been called, of
which, had a certain effect of mitigation.
A perpetual pair of glasses astride of this fine ridge, and a line,
unusually deep and drawn, the prolonged pen-stroke of time, accompanying the
curve of the moustache from nostril to chin, did something to complete the facial
furniture that an attentive observer would have seen catalogued, on the spot,
in the vision of the other party to Strether's appointment. She waited for him in the garden, the other
party, drawing on a pair of singularly fresh soft and elastic light gloves and
presenting herself with a superficial readiness which, as he approached her
over the small smooth lawn and in the watery English sunshine, he might, with
his rougher preparation, have marked as the model for such an occasion. She had, this lady, a perfect plain
propriety, an expensive subdued suitability, that her companion was not free to
analyse, but that struck him, so that his consciousness of it was instantly
acute, as a quality quite new to him. Before
reaching her he stopped on the grass and went through the form of feeling for
something, possibly forgotten, in the light overcoat he carried on his arm; yet
the essence of the act was no more than the impulse to gain time. Nothing could have been odder than Strether's
sense of himself as at that moment launched in something of which the sense
would be quite disconnected from the sense of his past and which was literally
beginning there and then. It had begun in fact already upstairs and before the
dressing glass that struck him as blocking further, so strangely, the dimness
of the window of his dull bedroom; begun with a sharper survey of the elements
of Appearance than he had for a long time been moved to make. He had during those moments felt these
elements to be not so much to his hand as he should have liked, and then had
fallen back on the thought that they were precisely a matter as to which help
was supposed to come from what he was about to do. He was about to go up to
The amusement, at all events, of a civilisation intenser was what--familiar compatriot as she was, with the full tone of the compatriot and the rattling link not with mystery but only with dear dyspeptic Waymarsh--she appeared distinctly to promise. His pause while he felt in his overcoat was positively the pause of confidence, and it enabled his eyes to make out as much of a case for her, in proportion, as her own made out for himself. She affected him as almost insolently young; but an easily carried five-and-thirty could still do that. She was, however, like himself marked and wan; only it naturally couldn't have been known to him how much a spectator looking from one to the other might have discerned that they had in common. It wouldn't for such a spectator have been altogether insupposable that, each so finely brown and so sharply spare, each confessing so to dents of surface and aids to sight, to a disproportionate nose and a head delicately or grossly grizzled, they might have been brother and sister. On this ground indeed there would have been a residuum of difference; such a sister having surely known in respect to such a brother the extremity of separation, and such a brother now feeling in respect to such a sister the extremity of surprise. Surprise, it was true, was not on the other hand what the eyes of Strether's friend most showed him while she gave him, stroking her gloves smoother, the time he appreciated. They had taken hold of him straightway measuring him up and down as if they knew how; as if he were human material they had already in some sort handled. Their possessor was in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon-holed her fellow mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor scattering type. She was as equipped in this particular as Strether was the reverse, and it made an opposition between them which he might well have shrunk from submitting to if he had fully suspected it. So far as he did suspect it he was on the contrary, after a short shake of his consciousness, as pleasantly passive as might be. He really had a sort of sense of what she knew. He had quite the sense that she knew things he didn't, and though this was a concession that in general he found not easy to make to women, he made it now as good-humouredly as if it lifted a burden. His eyes were so quiet behind his eternal nippers that they might almost have been absent without changing his face, which took its expression mainly, and not least its stamp of sensibility, from other sources, surface and grain and form. He joined his guide in an instant, and then felt she had profited still better than he by his having been for the moments just mentioned, so at the disposal of her intelligence. She knew even intimate things about him that he hadn't yet told her and perhaps never would. He wasn't unaware that he had told her rather remarkably many for the time, but these were not the real ones. Some of the real ones, however, precisely, were what she knew.
They were to pass again through the hall of the inn to get into the street, and it was here she presently checked him with a question. "Have you looked up my name?"
He could only stop with a laugh. "Have you looked up mine?"
"Oh dear, yes--as soon as you left me. I went to the office and asked. Hadn't YOU better do the same?"
He wondered. "Find out who you are?--after the uplifted young woman there has seen us thus scrape acquaintance!"
She laughed on her side now at the shade of alarm in his amusement. "Isn't it a reason the more? If what you're afraid of is the injury for me--my being seen to walk off with a gentleman who has to ask who I am--l assure you I don't in the least mind. Here, however," she continued, "is my card, and as I find there's something else again I have to say at the office, you can just study it during the moment I leave you."
She left him after he had taken from her the small
pasteboard she had extracted from her pocket-book, and he had extracted another
from his own, to exchange with it, before she came back. He read thus the simple designation
"Maria Gostrey," to which was attached, in a corner of the card, with
a number, the name of a street, presumably in
Then he saw both that his way of marching with his own prepared tribute had affected her as a deviation in one of those directions he couldn't yet measure, and that she supposed this emblem to be still the one he had received from her. He accordingly handed her the card as if in restitution, but as soon as she had it she felt the difference and, with her eyes on it, stopped short for apology. "I like," she observed, "your name."
"Oh," he answered, "you won't have heard of it!" Yet he had his reasons for not being sure but that she perhaps might.
Ah it was but too visible! She read it over again as one who had never seen it. "'Mr. Lewis Lambert Strether'"--she sounded it almost as freely as for any stranger. She repeated however that she liked it--"particularly the Lewis Lambert. It's the name of a novel of Balzac's."
"Oh I know that!" said Strether.
"But the novel's an awfully bad one."
"I know that too," Strether smiled. To which he added with an irrelevance that
was only superficial: "I come from
"Oh I think it's a thing," he said, "that you must already have made out. I feel it so that I certainly must look it, speak it, and, as people say there, 'act' it. It sticks out of me, and you knew surely for yourself as soon as you looked at me."
"The worst, you mean?"
"Well, the fact of where I come from. There at any rate it IS; so that you won't be able, if anything happens, to say I've not been straight with you."
"I see"--and Miss Gostrey looked really interested in the point he had made. "But what do you think of as happening?"
Though he wasn't shy--which was rather anomalous--Strether gazed about without meeting her eyes; a motion that was frequent with him in talk, yet of which his words often seemed not at all the effect. "Why that you should find me too hopeless." With which they walked on again together while she answered, as they went, that the most "hopeless" of her countryfolk were in general precisely those she liked best. All sorts of other pleasant small things-small things that were yet large for him--flowered in the air of the occasion, but the bearing of the occasion itself on matters still remote concerns us too closely to permit us to multiply our illustrations. Two or three, however, in truth, we should perhaps regret to lose. The tortuous wall--girdle, long since snapped, of the little swollen city, half held in place by careful civic hands--wanders in narrow file between parapets smoothed by peaceful generations, pausing here and there for a dismantled gate or a bridged gap, with rises and drops, steps up and steps down, queer twists, queer contacts, peeps into homely streets and under the brows of gables, views of cathedral tower and waterside fields, of huddled English town and ordered English country. Too deep almost for words was the delight of these things to Strether; yet as deeply mixed with it were certain images of his inward picture. He had trod this walks in the far-off time, at twenty-five; but that, instead of spoiling it, only enriched it for present feeling and marked his renewal as a thing substantial enough to share. It was with Waymarsh he should have shared it. and he was now accordingly taking from him something that was his due. He looked repeatedly at his watch, and when he had done so for the fifth time Miss Gostrey took him up.
"You're doing something that you think not right."
It so touched the place that he quite changed colour and his laugh grew almost awkward. "Am I enjoying it as much as THAT?"
"You're not enjoying it, I think, so much as you ought."
"I see"--he appeared thoughtfully to agree. "Great is my privilege."
"Oh it's not your privilege! It has nothing to do with me. It has to do with yourself. Your failure's general."
"Ah there you are!" he laughed. "It's the failure of Woollett. THAT'S general."
"The failure to enjoy," Miss Gostrey explained, "is what I mean."
"Precisely. Woollett isn't sure it ought to enjoy. If it were it would. But it hasn't, poor thing," Strether continued, "any one to show it how. It's not like me. I have somebody."
They had stopped, in the afternoon sunshine--constantly pausing, in their stroll, for the sharper sense of what they saw--and Strether rested on one of the high sides of the old stony groove of the little rampart. He leaned back on this support with his face to the tower of the cathedral, now admirably commanded by their station, the high red-brown mass, square and subordinately spired and crocketed, retouched and restored, but charming to his long-sealed eyes and with the first swallows of the year weaving their flight all round it. Miss Gostrey lingered near him, full of an air, to which she more and more justified her right, of understanding the effect of things. She quite concurred. "You've indeed somebody." And she added: "I wish you WOULD let me show you how!"
"Oh I'm afraid of you!" he cheerfully pleaded.
She kept on him a moment, through her glasses and through his own, a certain pleasant pointedness. "Ah no, you're not! You're not in the least, thank goodness! If you had been we shouldn't so soon have found ourselves here together. I think," she comfortably concluded, "you trust me."
"I think I do!--but that's exactly what I'm afraid of. I shouldn't mind if I didn't. It's falling thus in twenty minutes so utterly into your hands. I dare say," Strether continued, "it's a sort of thing you're thoroughly familiar with; but nothing more extraordinary has ever happened to me."
She watched him with all her kindness. "That means simply that you've
recognised me--which IS rather beautiful and rare. You see what I am." As on this, however, he protested, with a
good-humoured headshake, a resignation of any such claim, she had a moment of
explanation. "If you'll only come
on further as you HAVE come you'll at any rate make out. My own fate has been too many for me, and
I've succumbed to it. I'm a general guide--to
Strether could only listen and wonder and weigh his chance. "And yet, affected as you are then to so many of your clients, you can scarcely be said to do it for love." He waited a moment. "How do we reward you?"
She had her own hesitation, but "You don't!" she finally returned, setting him again in motion. They went on, but in a few minutes, though while still thinking over what she had said, he once more took out his watch; mechanically, unconsciously and as if made nervous by the mere exhilaration of what struck him as her strange and cynical wit. He looked at the hour without seeing it, and then, on something again said by his companion, had another pause. "You're really in terror of him."
He smiled a smile that he almost felt to be sickly. "Now you can see why I'm afraid of you."
"Because I've such illuminations? Why they're all for your help! It's what I told you," she added, "just now. You feel as if this were wrong."
He fell back once more, settling himself against the parapet as if to hear more about it. "Then get me out!"
Her face fairly brightened for the joy of the appeal, but, as if it were a question of immediate action, she visibly considered. "Out of waiting for him?--of seeing him at all?"
"Oh no--not that," said poor Strether, looking grave. "I've got to wait for him--and I want very much to see him. But out of the terror. You did put your finger on it a few minutes ago. It's general, but it avails itself of particular occasions. That's what it's doing for me now. I'm always considering something else; something else, I mean, than the thing of the moment. The obsession of the other thing is the terror. I'm considering at present for instance something else than YOU."
She listened with charming earnestness. "Oh you oughtn't to do that!"
"It's what I admit. Make it then impossible."
She continued to think. "Is it really an 'order' from you?--that I shall take the job? WILL you give yourself up?"
Poor Strether heaved his sigh. "If I only could! But that's the deuce of it--that I never can. No--I can't."
She wasn't, however, discouraged. "But you want to at least?"
"Ah then, if you'll try!"--and she took over the job, as she had called it, on the spot. "Trust me!" she exclaimed, and the action of this, as they retraced their steps, was presently to make him pass his hand into her arm in the manner of a benign dependent paternal old person who wishes to be "nice" to a younger one. If he drew it out again indeed as they approached the inn this may have been because, after more talk had passed between them, the relation of age, or at least of experience--which, for that matter, had already played to and fro with some freedom--affected him as incurring a readjustment. It was at all events perhaps lucky that they arrived in sufficiently separate fashion within range of the hotel-door. The young lady they had left in the glass cage watched as if she had come to await them on the threshold. At her side stood a person equally interested, by his attitude, in their return, and the effect of the sight of whom was instantly to determine for Strether another of those responsive arrests that we have had so repeatedly to note. He left it to Miss Gostrey to name, with the fine full bravado as it almost struck him, of her "Mr. Waymarsh!" what was to have been, what--he more than ever felt as his short stare of suspended welcome took things in--would have been, but for herself, his doom. It was already upon him even at that distance--Mr. Waymarsh was for HIS part joyless.
He had none the less to confess to this friend that evening that he knew almost nothing about her, and it was a deficiency that Waymarsh, even with his memory refreshed by contact, by her own prompt and lucid allusions and enquiries, by their having publicly partaken of dinner in her company, and by another stroll, to which she was not a stranger, out into the town to look at the cathedral by moonlight--it was a blank that the resident of Milrose, though admitting acquaintance with the Munsters, professed himself unable to fill. He had no recollection of Miss Gostrey, and two or three questions that she put to him about those members of his circle had, to Strether's observation, the same effect he himself had already more directly felt--the effect of appearing to place all knowledge, for the time, on this original woman's side. It interested him indeed to mark the limits of any such relation for her with his friend as there could possibly be a question of, and it particularly struck him that they were to be marked altogether in Waymarsh's quarter. This added to his own sense of having gone far with her-gave him an early illustration of a much shorter course. There was a certitude he immediately grasped--a conviction that Waymarsh would quite fail, as it were, and on whatever degree of acquaintances to profit by her.
There had been after the first interchange among the three a talk of some five minutes in the hall, and then the two men had adjourned to the garden, Miss Gostrey for the time disappearing. Strether in due course accompanied his friend to the room he had bespoken and had, before going out, scrupulously visited; where at the end of another half-hour he had no less discreetly left him. On leaving him he repaired straight to his own room, but with the prompt effect of feeling the compass of that chamber resented by his condition. There he enjoyed at once the first consequence of their reunion. A place was too small for him after it that had seemed large enough before. He had awaited it with something he would have been sorry, have been almost ashamed not to recognise as emotion, yet with a tacit assumption at the same time that emotion would in the event find itself relieved. The actual oddity was that he was only more excited; and his excitement-to which indeed he would have found it difficult instantly to give a name--brought him once more downstairs and caused him for some minutes vaguely to wander. He went once more to the garden; he looked into the public room, found Miss Gostrey writing letters and backed out; he roamed, fidgeted and wasted time; but he was to have his more intimate session with his friend before the evening closed.
It was late--not till Strether had spent an hour upstairs with him--that this subject consented to betake himself to doubtful rest. Dinner and the subsequent stroll by moonlight--a dream, on Strether's part, of romantic effects rather prosaically merged in a mere missing of thicker coats--had measurably intervened, and this midnight conference was the result of Waymarsh's having (when they were free, as he put it, of their fashionable friend) found the smoking-room not quite what he wanted, and yet bed what he wanted less. His most frequent form of words was that he knew himself, and they were applied on this occasion to his certainty of not sleeping. He knew himself well enough to know that he should have a night of prowling unless he should succeed, as a preliminary, in getting prodigiously tired. If the effort directed to this end involved till a late hour the presence of Strether--consisted, that is, in the detention of the latter for full discourse--there was yet an impression of minor discipline involved for our friend in the picture Waymarsh made as he sat in trousers and shirt on the edge of his couch. With his long legs extended and his large back much bent, he nursed alternately, for an almost incredible time, his elbows and his beard. He struck his visitor as extremely, as almost wilfully uncomfortable; yet what had this been for Strether, from that first glimpse of him disconcerted in the porch of the hotel, but the predominant notes. The discomfort was in a manner contagious, as well as also in a manner inconsequent and unfounded; the visitor felt that unless he should get used to it--or unless Waymarsh himself should--it would constitute a menace for his own prepared, his own already confirmed, consciousness of the agreeable. On their first going up together to the room Strether had selected for him Waymarsh had looked it over in silence and with a sigh that represented for his companion, if not the habit of disapprobation, at least the despair of felicity; and this look had recurred to Strether as the key of much he had since observed. "Europe," he had begun to gather from these things, had up to now rather failed of its message to him; he hadn't got into tune with it and had at the end of three months almost renounced any such expectation.
He really appeared at present to insist on that by just
perching there with the gas in his eyes.
This of itself somehow conveyed the futility of single rectifications in
a multiform failure. He had a large
handsome head and a large sallow seamed face--a striking significant
physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great political brow, the
thick loose hair, the dark fuliginous eyes, recalled even to a generation whose
standard had dreadfully deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings
and busts, of some great national worthy of the earlier part of the
mid-century. He was of the personal type--and it was an element in the power
and promise that in their early time Strether had found in him--of the American
statesman, the statesman trained in "Congressional halls," of an
elder day. The legend had been in later
years that as the lower part of his face, which was weak, and slightly crooked,
spoiled the likeness, this was the real reason for the growth of his beard,
which might have seemed to spoil it for those not in the secret. He shook his mane; he fixed, with his
admirable eyes, his auditor or his observer; he wore no glasses and had a way,
partly formidable, yet also partly encouraging, as from a representative to a
constituent, of looking very hard at those who approached him. He met you as if
you had knocked and he had bidden you enter. Strether, who hadn't seen him for
so long an interval, apprehended him now with a freshness of taste, and had
perhaps never done him such ideal justice.
The head was bigger, the eyes finer, than they need have been for the
career; but that only meant, after all, that the career was itself
expressive. What it expressed at
midnight in the gas-glaring bedroom at Chester was that the subject of it had,
at the end of years, barely escaped, by flight in time, a general nervous
collapse. But this very proof of the
full life, as the full life was understood at Milrose, would have made to
Strether's imagination an element in which Waymarsh could have floated easily
had he only consented to float. Alas
nothing so little resembled floating as the rigour with which, on the edge of
his bed, he hugged his posture of prolonged impermanence. It suggested to his comrade something that
always, when kept up, worried him--a person established in a railway-coach with
a forward inclination. It represented
the angle at which poor Waymarsh was to sit through the ordeal of
Thanks to the stress of occupation, the strain of
professions, the absorption and embarrassment of each, they had not, at home,
during years before this sudden brief and almost bewildering reign of
comparative ease, found so much as a day for a meeting; a fact that was in some
degree an explanation of the sharpness with which most of his friend's features
stood out to Strether. Those he had lost
sight of since the early time came back to him; others that it was never
possible to forget struck him now as sitting, clustered and expectant, like a
somewhat defiant family-group, on the doorstep of their residence. The room was narrow for its length, and the
occupant of the bed thrust so far a pair of slippered feet that the visitor had
almost to step over them in his recurrent rebounds from his chair to fidget
back and forth. There were marks the
friends made on things to talk about, and on things not to, and one of the
latter in particular fell like the tap of chalk on the blackboard. Married at
thirty, Waymarsh had not lived with his wife for fifteen years, and it came up
vividly between them in the glare of the gas that Strether wasn't to ask about
her. He knew they were still separate
and that she lived at hotels, travelled in Europe, painted her face and wrote
her husband abusive letters, of not one of which, to a certainty, that sufferer
spared himself the perusal; but he respected without difficulty the cold
twilight that had settled on this side of his companion's life. It was a province in which mystery reigned
and as to which Waymarsh had never spoken the informing word. Strether, who wanted to do him the highest
justice wherever he COULD do it, singularly admired him for the dignity of this
reserve, and even counted it as one of the grounds--grounds all handled and
numbered--for ranking him, in the range of their acquaintance, as a success. He WAS a success, Waymarsh, in spite of
overwork, or prostration, of sensible shrinkage, of his wife's letters and of
his not liking
"I don't know as I quite see what you require it for. You don't appear sick to speak of." It was of Europe Waymarsh thus finally spoke.
"Well," said Strether, who fell as much as possible into step, "I guess I don't FEEL sick now that I've started. But I had pretty well run down before I did start."
Waymarsh raised his melancholy look. "Ain't you about up to your usual average?"
It was not quite pointedly sceptical, but it seemed somehow a plea for the purest veracity, and it thereby affected our friend as the very voice of Milrose. He had long since made a mental distinction--though never in truth daring to betray it--between the voice of Milrose and the voice even of Woollett. It was the former he felt, that was most in the real tradition. There had been occasions in his past when the sound of it had reduced him to temporary confusion, and the present, for some reason, suddenly became such another. It was nevertheless no light matter that the very effect of his confusion should be to make him again prevaricate. "That description hardly does justice to a man to whom it has done such a lot of good to see YOU."
Waymarsh fixed on his washing-stand the silent detached stare with which Milrose in person, as it were, might have marked the unexpectedness of a compliment from Woollett, and Strether for his part, felt once more like Woollett in person. "I mean," his friend presently continued, "that your appearance isn't as bad as I've seen it: it compares favourably with what it was when I last noticed it." On this appearance Waymarsh's eyes yet failed to rest; it was almost as if they obeyed an instinct of propriety, and the effect was still stronger when, always considering the basin and jug, he added: "You've filled out some since then."
"I'm afraid I have," Strether laughed: "one does fill out some with all one takes in, and I've taken in, I dare say, more than I've natural room for. I was dog-tired when I sailed." It had the oddest sound of cheerfulness.
"I was dog-tired," his companion returned, "when I arrived, and it's this wild hunt for rest that takes all the life out of me. The fact is, Strether--and it's a comfort to have you here at last to say it to; though I don't know, after all, that I've really waited; I've told it to people I've met in the cars--the fact is, such a country as this ain't my KIND of country anyway. There ain't a country I've seen over here that DOES seem my kind. Oh I don't say but what there are plenty of pretty places and remarkable old things; but the trouble is that I don't seem to feel anywhere in tune. That's one of the reasons why I suppose I've gained so little. I haven't had the first sign of that lift I was led to expect." With this he broke out more earnestly. "Look here--I want to go back."
His eyes were all attached to Strether's now, for he was one of the men who fully face you when they talk of themselves. This enabled his friend to look at him hard and immediately to appear to the highest advantage in his eyes by doing so. "That's a genial thing to say to a fellow who has come out on purpose to meet you!"
Nothing could have been finer, on this, than Waymarsh's sombre glow. "HAVE you come out on purpose?"
"I thought from the way you wrote there was something back of it."
Strether hesitated. "Back of my desire to be with you?"
"Back of your prostration."
Strether, with a smile made more dim by a certain consciousness, shook his head. "There are all the causes of it!"
"And no particular cause that seemed most to drive you?"
Our friend could at last conscientiously answer. "Yes. One. There IS a matter that has had much to do with my coming out."
Waymarsh waited a little. "Too private to mention?"
"No, not too private--for YOU. Only rather complicated."
"Well," said Waymarsh, who had waited again, "I MAY lose my mind over here, but I don't know as I've done so yet."
"Oh you shall have the whole thing. But not tonight."
Waymarsh seemed to sit stiffer and to hold his elbows tighter. "Why not--if I can't sleep?"
"Because, my dear man, I CAN!"
"Then where's your prostration?"
"Just in that--that I can put in eight hours." And Strether brought it out that if Waymarsh didn't "gain" it was because he didn't go to bed: the result of which was, in its order, that, to do the latter justice, he permitted his friend to insist on his really getting settled. Strether, with a kind coercive hand for it, assisted him to this consummation, and again found his own part in their relation auspiciously enlarged by the smaller touches of lowering the lamp and seeing to a sufficiency of blanket. It somehow ministered for him to indulgence to feel Waymarsh, who looked unnaturally big and black in bed, as much tucked in as a patient in a hospital and, with his covering up to his chin, as much simplified by it He hovered in vague pity, to be brief, while his companion challenged him out of the bedclothes. "Is she really after you? Is that what's behind?"
Strether felt an uneasiness at the direction taken by his companion's insight, but he played a little at uncertainty. "Behind my coming out?"
"Behind your prostration or whatever. It's generally felt, you know, that she follows you up pretty close."
Strether's candour was never very far off. "Oh it has occurred to you that I'm literally running away from Mrs. Newsome?"
"Well, I haven't KNOWN but what you are. You're a very attractive man, Strether. You've seen for yourself," said Waymarsh "what that lady downstairs makes of it. Unless indeed," he rambled on with an effect between the ironic and the anxious, "it's you who are after HER. IS Mrs. Newsome OVER here?" He spoke as with a droll dread of her.
It made his friend--though rather dimly--smile. "Dear no she's safe, thank goodness--as I think I more and more feel--at home. She thought of coming, but she gave it up. I've come in a manner instead of her; and come to that extent--for you're right in your inference--on her business. So you see there IS plenty of connexion."
Waymarsh continued to see at least all there was. "Involving accordingly the particular one I've referred to?"
Strether took another turn about the room, giving a twitch to his companion's blanket and finally gaining the door. His feeling was that of a nurse who had earned personal rest by having made everything straight. "Involving more things than I can think of breaking ground on now. But don't be afraid--you shall have them from me: you'll probably find yourself having quite as much of them as you can do with. I shall--if we keep together--very much depend on your impression of some of them."
Waymarsh's acknowledgement of this tribute was characteristically indirect. "You mean to say you don't believe we WILL keep together?"
"I only glance at the danger," Strether paternally said, "because when I hear you wail to go back I seem to see you open up such possibilities of folly."
Waymarsh took it--silent a little--like a large snubbed child "What are you going to do with me?"
It was the very question Strether himself had put to Miss
Gostrey, and he wondered if he had sounded like that. But HE at least could be more definite. "I'm going to take you right down to
"Oh I've been down to
"Well," said Strether, good-humouredly, "I guess you've some use for me."
"So I've got to go?"
"Oh you've got to go further yet."
"Well," Waymarsh sighed, "do your damnedest! Only you WILL tell me before you lead me on all the way--?"
Our friend had again so lost himself, both for amusement and for contrition, in the wonder of whether he had made, in his own challenge that afternoon, such another figure, that he for an instant missed the thread. "Tell you--?"
"Why what you've got on hand."
Strether hesitated. "Why it's such a matter as that even if I positively wanted I shouldn't be able to keep it from you."
Waymarsh gloomily gazed. "What does that mean then but that your trip is just FOR her?"
"For Mrs. Newsome? Oh it certainly is, as I say. Very much."
"Then why do you also say it's for me?"
Strether, in impatience, violently played with his latch. "It's simple enough. It's for both of you."
Waymarsh at last turned over with a groan. "Well, I won't marry you!"
"Neither, when it comes to that--!" But the visitor had already laughed and escaped.
He had told Miss Gostrey he should probably take, for departure
with Waymarsh, some afternoon train, and it thereupon in the morning appeared
that this lady had made her own plan for an earlier one. She had breakfasted when Strether came into
the coffee-room; but, Waymarsh not having yet emerged, he was in time to recall
her to the terms of their understanding and to pronounce her discretion
overdone. She was surely not to break
away at the very moment she had created a want.
He had met her as she rose from her little table in a window, where,
with the morning papers beside her, she reminded him, as he let her know, of
Major Pendennis breakfasting at his club--a compliment of which she professed a
deep appreciation; and he detained her as pleadingly as if he had already--and
notably under pressure of the visions of the night--learned to be unable to do
without her. She must teach him at all
events, before she went, to order breakfast as breakfast was ordered in
They had gone to wait together in the garden for the dressing of the meal, and Strether found her more suggestive than ever "Well, what?"
"Is to bring about for them such a complexity of relations-unless indeed we call it a simplicity!--that the situation HAS to wind itself up. They want to go back."
"And you want them to go!" Strether gaily concluded.
"I always want them to go, and I send them as fast as I can.'
"Oh I know--you take them to
"Any port will serve in a storm. I'm--with all my other functions--an agent for repatriation. I want to re-people our stricken country. What will become of it else? I want to discourage others."
The ordered English garden, in the freshness of the day, was delightful to Strether, who liked the sound, under his feet, of the tight fine gravel, packed with the chronic damp, and who had the idlest eye for the deep smoothness of turf and the clean curves of paths. "Other people?"
"Other countries. Other people--yes. I want to encourage our own."
Strether wondered. "Not to come? Why then do you 'meet' them--since it doesn't appear to be to stop them?"
"Oh that they shouldn't come is as yet too much to ask. What I attend to is that they come quickly and return still more so. I meet them to help it to be over as soon as possible, and though I don't stop them I've my way of putting them through. That's my little system; and, if you want to know," said Maria Gostrey, "it's my real secret, my innermost mission and use. I only seem, you see, to beguile and approve; but I've thought it all out and I'm working all the while underground. I can't perhaps quite give you my formula, but I think that practically I succeed. I send you back spent. So you stay back. Passed through my hands--"
"We don't turn up again?" The further she went the further he always saw himself able to follow. "I don't want your formula--I feel quite enough, as I hinted yesterday, your abysses. Spent!" he echoed. "If that's how you're arranging so subtly to send me I thank you for the warning."
For a minute, amid the pleasantness--poetry in tariffed items, but all the more, for guests already convicted, a challenge to consumption--they smiled at each other in confirmed fellowship. "Do you call it subtly? It's a plain poor tale. Besides, you're a special case."
"Oh special cases--that's weak!" She was weak enough, further still, to defer her journey and agree to accompany the gentlemen on their own, might a separate carriage mark her independence; though it was in spite of this to befall after luncheon that she went off alone and that, with a tryst taken for a day of her company in London, they lingered another night. She had, during the morning--spent in a way that he was to remember later on as the very climax of his foretaste, as warm with presentiments, with what he would have called collapses--had all sorts of things out with Strether; and among them the fact that though there was never a moment of her life when she wasn't "due" somewhere, there was yet scarce a perfidy to others of which she wasn't capable for his sake. She explained moreover that wherever she happened to be she found a dropped thread to pick up, a ragged edge to repair, some familiar appetite in ambush, jumping out as she approached, yet appeasable with a temporary biscuit. It became, on her taking the risk of the deviation imposed on him by her insidious arrangement of his morning meal, a point of honour for her not to fail with Waymarsh of the larger success too; and her subsequent boast to Strether was that she had made their friend fare--and quite without his knowing what was the matter--as Major Pendennis would have fared at the Megatherium. She had made him breakfast like a gentleman, and it was nothing, she forcibly asserted, to what she would yet make him do. She made him participate in the slow reiterated ramble with which, for Strether, the new day amply filled itself; and it was by her art that he somehow had the air, on the ramparts and in the Rows, of carrying a point of his own.
The three strolled and stared and gossiped, or at least the
two did; the case really yielding for their comrade, if analysed, but the
element of stricken silence. This
element indeed affected Strether as charged with audible rumblings, but he was
conscious of the care of taking it explicitly as a sign of pleasant peace. He wouldn't appeal too much, for that
provoked stiffness; yet he wouldn't be too freely tacit, for that suggested
giving up. Waymarsh himself adhered to an ambiguous dumbness that might have
represented either the growth of a perception or the despair of one; and at
times and in places--where the low-browed galleries were darkest, the opposite
gables queerest, the solicitations of every kind densest--the others caught him
fixing hard some object of minor interest, fixing even at moments nothing
discernible, as if he were indulging it with a truce. When he met Strether's eye on such occasions
he looked guilty and furtive, fell the next minute into some attitude of
retractation. Our friend couldn't show him
the right things for fear of provoking some total renouncement, and was tempted
even to show him the wrong in order to make him differ with triumph. There were moments when he himself felt shy
of professing the full sweetness of the taste of leisure, and there were others
when he found himself feeling as if his passages of interchange with the lady
at his side might fall upon the third member of their party very much as Mr.
Burchell, at Dr. Primrose's fireside, was influenced by the high flights of the
visitors from London. The smallest things
so arrested and amused him that he repeatedly almost apologised--brought up
afresh in explanation his plea of a previous grind. He was aware at the same time that his grind
had been as nothing to Waymarsh's, and he repeatedly confessed that, to cover
his frivolity, he was doing his best for his previous virtue. Do what he might, in any case, his previous
virtue was still there, and it seemed fairly to stare at him out of the windows
of shops that were not as the shops of Woollett, fairly to make him want things
that he shouldn't know what to do with.
It was by the oddest, the least admissible of laws demoralising him now;
and the way it boldly took was to make him want more wants. These first walks
Was what was happening to himself then, was what already HAD happened, really that a woman of fashion was floating him into society and that an old friend deserted on the brink was watching the force of the current? When the woman of fashion permitted Strether--as she permitted him at the most--the purchase of a pair of gloves, the terms she made about it, the prohibition of neckties and other items till she should be able to guide him through the Burlington Arcade, were such as to fall upon a sensitive ear as a challenge to just imputations. Miss Gostrey was such a woman of fashion as could make without a symptom of vulgar blinking an appointment for the Burlington Arcade. Mere discriminations about a pair of gloves could thus at any rate represent--always for such sensitive ears as were in question--possibilities of something that Strether could make a mark against only as the peril of apparent wantonness. He had quite the consciousness of his new friend, for their companion, that he might have had of a Jesuit in petticoats, a representative of the recruiting interests of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, for Waymarsh-that was to say the enemy, the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering groping tentacles--was exactly society, exactly the multiplication of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones, exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism; exactly in short Europe.
There was light for observation, however, in an incident that occurred just before they turned back to luncheon. Waymarsh had been for a quarter of an hour exceptionally mute and distant, and something, or other--Strether was never to make out exactly what--proved, as it were, too much for him after his comrades had stood for three minutes taking in, while they leaned on an old balustrade that guarded the edge of the Row, a particularly crooked and huddled street-view. "He thinks us sophisticated, he thinks us worldly, he thinks us wicked, he thinks us all sorts of queer things," Strether reflected; for wondrous were the vague quantities our friend had within a couple of short days acquired the habit of conveniently and conclusively lumping together. There seemed moreover a direct connexion between some such inference and a sudden grim dash taken by Waymarsh to the opposite side. This movement was startlingly sudden, and his companions at first supposed him to have espied, to be pursuing, the glimpse of an acquaintance. They next made out, however, that an open door had instantly received him, and they then recognised him as engulfed in the establishment of a jeweller, behind whose glittering front he was lost to view. The fact had somehow the note of a demonstration, and it left each of the others to show a face almost of fear. But Miss Gostrey broke into a laugh. "What's the matter with him?"
"Well," said Strether, "he can't stand it."
"But can't stand what?"
"Then how will that jeweller help him?"
Strether seemed to make it out, from their position, between the interstices of arrayed watches, of close-hung dangling gewgaws. "You'll see."
"Ah that's just what--if he buys anything--I'm afraid of: that I shall see something rather dreadful."
Strether studied the finer appearances. "He may buy everything."
"Then don't you think we ought to follow him?"
"Not for worlds. Besides we can't. We're paralysed. We exchange a long scared look, we publicly tremble. The thing is, you see, we 'realise.' He has struck for freedom."
She wondered but she laughed. "Ah what a price to pay! And I was preparing some for him so cheap."
"No, no," Strether went on, frankly amused now; "don't call it
that: the kind of freedom you deal in is dear." Then as to justify
himself: "Am I not in MY way trying it? It's this."
"Being here, you mean, with me?''
"Yes, and talking to you as I do. I've known you a few hours, and I've known HIM all my life; so that if the ease I thus take with you about him isn't magnificent"--and the thought of it held him a moment--"why it's rather base."
"It's magnificent!" said Miss Gostrey to make an end of it. "And you should hear," she added, "the ease I take--and I above all intend to take--with Mr. Waymarsh."
Strether thought. "About ME? Ah that's no equivalent. The equivalent would be Waymarsh's himself serving me up--his remorseless analysis of me. And he'll never do that"--he was sadly clear. "He'll never remorselessly analyse me." He quite held her with the authority of this. "He'll never say a word to you about me."
She took it in; she did it justice; yet after an instant her reason, her restless irony, disposed of it. "Of course he won't. For what do you take people, that they're able to say words about anything, able remorselessly to analyse? There are not many like you and me. It will be only because he's too stupid."
It stirred in her friend a sceptical echo which was at the same time the protest of the faith of years. "Waymarsh stupid?"
"Compared with you."
Strether had still his eyes on the jeweller's front, and he waited a moment to answer. "He's a success of a kind that I haven't approached."
"Do you mean he has made money?"
"He makes it--to my belief. And I," said Strether, "though with a back quite as bent, have never made anything. I'm a perfectly equipped failure."
He feared an instant she'd ask him if he meant he was poor; and he was glad she didn't, for he really didn't know to what the truth on this unpleasant point mightn't have prompted her. She only, however, confirmed his assertion. "Thank goodness you're a failure--it's why I so distinguish you! Anything else to-day is too hideous. Look about you--look at the successes. Would you BE one, on your honour? Look, moreover," she continued, "at me."
For a little accordingly their eyes met. "I see," Strether returned. "You too are out of it."
"The superiority you discern in me," she concurred, "announces my futility. If you knew," she sighed, "the dreams of my youth! But our realities are what has brought us together. We're beaten brothers in arms."
He smiled at her kindly enough, but he shook his head. "It doesn't alter the fact that you're expensive. You've cost me already--!"
But he had hung fire. "Cost you what?"
"Well, my past--in one great lump. But no matter," he laughed: "I'll pay with my last penny."
Her attention had unfortunately now been engaged by their comrade's return, for Waymarsh met their view as he came out of his shop. "I hope he hasn't paid," she said, "with HIS last; though I'm convinced he has been splendid, and has been so for you."
"Ah no--not that!"
"Then for me?"
"Quite as little." Waymarsh was by this time near enough to show signs his friend could read, though he seemed to look almost carefully at nothing in particular.
"Then for himself?"
"For nobody. For nothing. For freedom."
"But what has freedom to do with it?"
Strether's answer was indirect. "To be as good as you and me. But different."
She had had time to take in their companion's face; and with it, as such things were easy for her, she took in all. "Different--yes. But better!"
If Waymarsh was sombre he was also indeed almost sublime. He told them nothing, left his absence unexplained, and though they were convinced he had made some extraordinary purchase they were never to learn its nature. He only glowered grandly at the tops of the old gables. "It's the sacred rage," Strether had had further time to say; and this sacred rage was to become between them, for convenient comprehension, the description of one of his periodical necessities. It was Strether who eventually contended that it did make him better than they. But by that time Miss Gostrey was convinced that she didn't want to be better than Strether.
Those occasions on which Strether was, in association with the exile from Milrose, to see the sacred rage glimmer through would doubtless have their due periodicity; but our friend had meanwhile to find names for many other matters. On no evening of his life perhaps, as he reflected, had he had to supply so many as on the third of his short stay in London; an evening spent by Miss Gostrey's side at one of the theatres, to which he had found himself transported, without his own hand raised, on the mere expression of a conscientious wonder. She knew her theatre, she knew her play, as she had triumphantly known, three days running, everything else, and the moment filled to the brim, for her companion, that apprehension of the interesting which, whether or no the interesting happened to filter through his guide, strained now to its limits his brief opportunity. Waymarsh hadn't come with them; he had seen plays enough, he signified, before Strether had joined him--an affirmation that had its full force when his friend ascertained by questions that he had seen two and a circus. Questions as to what he had seen had on him indeed an effect only less favourable than questions as to what he hadn't. He liked the former to be discriminated; but how could it be done, Strether asked of their constant counsellor, without discriminating the latter?
Miss Gostrey had dined with him at his hotel, face to face over a small table on which the lighted candles had rose-coloured shades; and the rose-coloured shades and the small table and the soft fragrance of the lady--had anything to his mere sense ever been so soft?--were so many touches in he scarce knew what positive high picture. He had been to the theatre, even to the opera, in Boston, with Mrs. Newsome, more than once acting as her only escort; but there had been no little confronted dinner, no pink lights, no whiff of vague sweetness, as a preliminary: one of the results of which was that at present, mildly rueful, though with a sharpish accent, he actually asked himself WHY there hadn't. There was much the same difference in his impression of the noticed state of his companion, whose dress was "cut down," as he believed the term to be, in respect to shoulders and bosom, in a manner quite other than Mrs. Newsome's, and who wore round her throat a broad red velvet band with an antique jewel--he was rather complacently sure it was antique--attached to it in front. Mrs. Newsome's dress was never in any degree "cut down," and she never wore round her throat a broad red velvet band: if she had, moreover, would it ever have served so to carry on and complicate, as he now almost felt, his vision?
It would have been absurd of him to trace into ramifications the effect of the ribbon from which Miss Gostrey's trinket depended, had he not for the hour, at the best, been so given over to uncontrolled perceptions. What was it but an uncontrolled perception that his friend's velvet band somehow added, in her appearance, to the value of every other item--to that of her smile and of the way she carried her head, to that of her complexion, of her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her hair? What, certainly, had a man conscious of a man's work in the world to do with red velvet bands? He wouldn't for anything have so exposed himself as to tell Miss Gostrey how much he liked hers, yet he HAD none the less not only caught himself in the act--frivolous, no doubt, idiotic, and above all unexpected--of liking it: he had in addition taken it as a starting-point for fresh backward, fresh forward, fresh lateral flights. The manner in which Mrs. Newsome's throat WAS encircled suddenly represented for him, in an alien order, almost as many things as the manner in which Miss Gostrey's was. Mrs. Newsome wore, at operatic hours, a black silk dress--very handsome, he knew it was "handsome"--and an ornament that his memory was able further to identify as a ruche. He had his association indeed with the ruche, but it was rather imperfectly romantic. He had once said to the wearer--and it was as "free" a remark as he had ever made to her--that she looked, with her ruff and other matters, like Queen Elizabeth; and it had after this in truth been his fancy that, as a consequence of that tenderness and an acceptance of the idea, the form of this special tribute to the "frill" had grown slightly more marked. The connexion, as he sat there and let his imagination roam, was to strike him as vaguely pathetic; but there it all was, and pathetic was doubtless in the conditions the best thing it could possibly be. It had assuredly existed at any rate; for it seemed now to come over him that no gentleman of his age at Woollett could ever, to a lady of Mrs. Newsome's, which was not much less than his, have embarked on such a simile.
All sorts of things in fact now seemed to come over him, comparatively few of which his chronicler can hope for space to mention. It came over him for instance that Miss Gostrey looked perhaps like Mary Stuart: Lambert Strether had a candour of fancy which could rest for an instant gratified in such an antithesis. It came over him that never before--no, literally never--had a lady dined with him at a public place before going to the play. The publicity of the place was just, in the matter, for Strether, the rare strange thing; it affected him almost as the achievement of privacy might have affected a man of a different experience. He had married, in the far-away years, so young as to have missed the time natural in Boston for taking girls to the Museum; and it was absolutely true of hint that--even after the close of the period of conscious detachment occupying the centre of his life, the grey middle desert of the two deaths, that of his wife and that, ten years later, of his boy--he had never taken any one anywhere. It came over him in especial--though the monition had, as happened, already sounded, fitfully gleamed, in other forms--that the business he had come out on hadn't yet been so brought home to him as by the sight of the people about him. She gave him the impression, his friend, at first, more straight than he got it for himself--gave it simply by saying with off-hand illumination: "Oh yes, they're types!"--but after he had taken it he made to the full his own use of it; both while he kept silence for the four acts and while he talked in the intervals. It was an evening, it was a world of types, and this was a connexion above all in which the figures and faces in the stalls were interchangeable with those on the stage.
He felt as if the play itself penetrated him with the naked
elbow of his neighbour, a great stripped handsome red-haired lady who conversed
with a gentleman on her other side in stray dissyllables which had for his ear,
in the oddest way in the world, so much sound that he wondered they hadn't more
sense; and he recognised by the same law, beyond the footlights, what he was pleased
to take for the very flush of English life.
He had distracted drops in which he couldn't have said if it were actors
or auditors who were most true, and the upshot of which, each time, was the
consciousness of new contacts. However
he viewed his job it was "types" he should have to tackle. Those before him and around him were not as
the types of Woollett, where, for that matter, it had begun to seem to him that
there must only have been the male and the female. These made two exactly, even
with the individual varieties. Here, on
the other hand, apart from the personal and the sexual range--which might be
greater or less--a series of strong stamps had been applied, as it were, from
without; stamps that his observation played with as, before a glass case on a
table, it might have passed from medal to medal and from copper to gold. It befell that in the drama precisely there
was a bad woman in a yellow frock who made a pleasant weak good-looking young
man in perpetual evening dress do the most dreadful things. Strether felt himself on the whole not afraid
of the yellow frock, but he was vaguely anxious over a certain kindness into
which he found himself drifting for its victim.
He hadn't come out, he reminded himself, to be too kind, or indeed to be
kind at all, to Chadwick Newsome. Would
It came up for him with Miss Gostrey that there were things
of which she would really perhaps after all have heard, and she admitted when a
little pressed that she was never quite sure of what she heard as distinguished
from things such as, on occasions like the present, she only extravagantly
guessed. "I seem with this freedom,
you see, to have guessed Mr.
Something in his manner showed it as quite pulling him up. "Of course we are. Wouldn't YOU be?"
"Oh I don't know. One never does--does one?--beforehand. One can only judge on the facts. Yours are quite new to me; I'm really not in the least, as you see, in possession of them: so it will be awfully interesting to have them from you. If you're satisfied, that's all that's required. I mean if you're sure you ARE sure: sure it won't do."
"That he should lead such a life? Rather!"
"Oh but I don't know, you see, about his life; you've not told me about his life. She may be charming--his life!"
"Charming?"--Strether stared before him. "She's base, venal-out of the streets."
"I see. And HE--?"
"Of what type and temper is he?" she went on as Strether had lapsed.
"Well--the obstinate." It was as if for a moment he had been going to say more and had then controlled himself.
That was scarce what she wished. "Do you like him?"
This time he was prompt. "No. How CAN I?"
"Do you mean because of your being so saddled with him?"
"I'm thinking of his mother," said Strether after a moment. "He has darkened her admirable life." He spoke with austerity. "He has worried her half to death."
"Oh that's of course odious." She had a pause as if for renewed emphasis of this truth, but it ended on another note. "Is her life very admirable?"
There was so much in the tone that Miss Gostrey had to devote
another pause to the appreciation of it.
"And has he only HER? I
don't mean the bad woman in
"He has also a sister, older than himself and married; and they're both remarkably fine women."
"Very handsome, you mean?"
This promptitude--almost, as he might have thought, this precipitation, gave him a brief drop; but he came up again. "Mrs. Newsome, I think, is handsome, though she's not of course, with a son of twenty-eight and a daughter of thirty, in her very first youth. She married, however, extremely young."
"And is wonderful," Miss Gostrey asked, "for her age?"
Strether seemed to feel with a certain disquiet the pressure of it. "I don't say she's wonderful. Or rather," he went on the next moment, "I do say it. It's exactly what she IS--wonderful. But I wasn't thinking of her appearance," he explained--"striking as that doubtless is. I was thinking--well, of many other things." He seemed to look at these as if to mention some of them; then took, pulling himself up, another turn. "About Mrs. Pocock people may differ."
"Is that the daughter's name--'Pocock'?"
"That's the daughter's name," Strether sturdily confessed.
"And people may differ, you mean, about HER beauty?"
"But YOU admire her?"
He gave his friend a glance as to show how he could bear this "I'm perhaps a little afraid of her."
"Oh," said Miss Gostrey, "I see her from here! You may say then I see very fast and very far, but I've already shown you I do. The young man and the two ladies," she went on, "are at any rate all the family?"
"Quite all. His father has been dead ten years, and there's no brother, nor any other sister. They'd do," said Strether, "anything in the world for him."
"And you'd do anything in the world for THEM?"
He shifted again; she had made it perhaps just a shade too affirmative for his nerves. "Oh I don't know!"
"You'd do at any rate this, and the 'anything' they'd do is represented by their MAKING you do it."
"Ah they couldn't have come--either of them. They're very busy people and Mrs. Newsome in particular has a large full life. She's moreover highly nervous--and not at all strong."
"You mean she's an American invalid?"
He carefully distinguished. "There's nothing she likes less than to be called one, but she would consent to be one of those things, I think," he laughed, "if it were the only way to be the other."
"Consent to be an American in order to be an invalid?"
"No," said Strether, "the other way round. She's at any rate delicate sensitive high-strung. She puts so much of herself into everything--"
Ah Maria knew these things! "That she has nothing left for anything else? Of course she hasn't. To whom do you say it? High-strung? Don't I spend my life, for them, jamming down the pedal? I see moreover how it has told on you."
Strether took this more lightly. "Oh I jam down the pedal too!"
"Well," she lucidly returned, "we must from this moment bear on it together with all our might." And she forged ahead. "Have they money?"
But it was as if, while her energetic image still held him, her enquiry fell short. "Mrs. Newsome," he wished further to explain, "hasn't moreover your courage on the question of contact. If she had come it would have been to see the person herself."
"The woman? Ah but that's courage."
"No--it's exaltation, which is a very different thing. Courage," he, however, accommodatingly threw out, "is what YOU have."
She shook her head. "You say that only to patch me up--to cover the nudity of my want of exaltation. I've neither the one nor the other. I've mere battered indifference. I see that what you mean," Miss Gostrey pursued, "is that if your friend HAD come she would take great views, and the great views, to put it simply, would be too much for her."
Strether looked amused at her notion of the simple, but he adopted her formula. "Everything's too much for her."
"Ah then such a service as this of yours--"
"Is more for her than anything else? Yes--far more. But so long as it isn't too much for
"Her condition doesn't matter? Surely not; we leave her condition out; we take it, that is, for granted. I see it, her condition, as behind and beneath you; yet at the same time I see it as bearing you up."
"Oh it does bear me up!" Strether laughed.
"Well then as yours bears ME nothing more's needed." With which she put again her question. "Has Mrs. Newsome money?"
This time he heeded.
"Oh plenty. That's the root
of the evil. There's money, to very large amounts, in the concern.
She had listened with all her interest. "And I hope to goodness you'll find yours!"
"He'll take up his definite material reward," said Strether without acknowledgement of this. "He's at the parting of the ways. He can come into the business now--he can't come later."
"Is there a business?"
"Lord, yes--a big brave bouncing business. A roaring trade."
"A great shop?"
"Yes--a workshop; a great production, a great industry. The concern's a manufacture--and a manufacture that, if it's only properly looked after, may well be on the way to become a monopoly. It's a little thing they make--make better, it appears, than other people can, or than other people, at any rate, do. Mr. Newsome, being a man of ideas, at least in that particular line," Strether explained, "put them on it with great effect, and gave the place altogether, in his time, an immense lift."
"It's a place in itself?"
"Well, quite a number of buildings; almost a little industrial colony. But above all it's a thing. The article produced."
"And what IS the article produced?"
Strether looked about him as in slight reluctance to say; then the curtain, which he saw about to rise, came to his aid. "I'll tell you next time." But when the next time came he only said he'd tell her later on--after they should have left the theatre; for she had immediately reverted to their topic, and even for himself the picture of the stage was now overlaid with another image. His postponements, however, made her wonder--wonder if the article referred to were anything bad. And she explained that she meant improper or ridiculous or wrong. But Strether, so far as that went, could satisfy her. "Unmentionable? Oh no, we constantly talk of it; we are quite familiar and brazen about it. Only, as a small, trivial, rather ridiculous object of the commonest domestic use, it's just wanting in-what shall I say? Well, dignity, or the least approach to distinction. Right here therefore, with everything about us so grand--!" In short he shrank.
"It's a false note?"
"Sadly. It's vulgar."
"But surely not vulgarer than this." Then on his wondering as she herself had done: "Than everything about us." She seemed a trifle irritated. "What do you take this for?"
"Why for--comparatively--divine! "
"Oh then," laughed Strether, "I DON'T really want to know!"
It made between them a pause, which she, however, still fascinated by the mystery of the production at Woollett, presently broke. "'Rather ridiculous'? Clothes-pins? Saleratus? Shoe-polish?"
It brought him round. "No--you don't even 'burn.' I don't think, you know, you'll guess it."
"How then can I judge how vulgar it is?"
"You'll judge when I do tell you"--and he persuaded her to patience. But it may even now frankly be mentioned that he in the sequel never WAS to tell her. He actually never did so, and it moreover oddly occurred that by the law, within her, of the incalculable, her desire for the information dropped and her attitude to the question converted itself into a positive cultivation of ignorance. In ignorance she could humour her fancy, and that proved a useful freedom. She could treat the little nameless object as indeed unnameable--she could make their abstention enormously definite. There might indeed have been for Strether the portent of this in what she next said.
"Is it perhaps then because it's so bad--because your industry as you call it, IS so vulgar--that Mr. Chad won't come back? Does he feel the taint? Is he staying away not to be mixed up in it?"
"Oh," Strether laughed, "it wouldn't appear--would it?--that he feels 'taints'! He's glad enough of the money from it, and the money's his whole basis. There's appreciation in that--I mean as to the allowance his mother has hitherto made him. She has of course the resource of cutting this allowance off; but even then he has unfortunately, and on no small scale, his independent supply--money left him by his grandfather, her own father."
"Wouldn't the fact you mention then," Miss Gostrey asked, "make it just more easy for him to be particular? Isn't he conceivable as fastidious about the source--the apparent and public source--of his income?"
Strether was able quite good-humouredly to entertain the proposition. "The source of his grandfather's wealth--and thereby of his own share in it--was not particularly noble."
"And what source was it?"
Strether cast about. "Well--practices."
"In business? Infamies? He was an old swindler?"
"Oh," he said with more emphasis than spirit, "I shan't describe HIM nor narrate his exploits."
"Lord, what abysses! And the late Mr. Newsome then?"
"Well, what about him?"
"Was he like the grandfather?"
"No--he was on the other side of the house. And he was different."
Miss Gostrey kept it up. "Better?"
Her friend for a moment hung fire. "No."
Her comment on his hesitation was scarce the less marked for being mute. "Thank you. NOW don't you see," she went on, "why the boy doesn't come home? He's drowning his shame."
"His shame? What shame?"
"What shame? Comment donc? THE shame."
"But where and when," Strether asked, "is 'THE shame'--where is any shame--to-day? The men I speak of--they did as every one does; and (besides being ancient history) it was all a matter of appreciation."
She showed how she understood. "Mrs. Newsome has appreciated?"
"Ah I can't speak for HER!"
"In the midst of such doings--and, as I understand you, profiting by them, she at least has remained exquisite?"
"Oh I can't talk of her!" Strether said.
"I thought she was just what you COULD talk of. You DON'T trust me," Miss Gostrey after a moment declared.
It had its effect. "Well, her money is spent, her life conceived and carried on with a large beneficence--"
"That's a kind of expiation of wrongs? Gracious," she added before he could speak, "how intensely you make me see her!"
"If you see her," Strether dropped, "it's all that's necessary."
She really seemed to have her. "I feel that. She IS, in spite of everything, handsome."
This at least enlivened him. "What do you mean by everything?"
"Well, I mean YOU." With which she had one of her swift changes of ground. "You say the concern needs looking after; but doesn't Mrs. Newsome look after it?"
"So far as possible. She's wonderfully able, but it's not her affair, and her life's a good deal overcharged. She has many, many things."
"And you also?"
"Oh yes--I've many too, if you will."
"I see. But what I mean is," Miss Gostrey amended, "do you also look after the business?"
"Oh no, I don't touch the business."
"Only everything else?"
"Well, yes--some things."
"As for instance--?"
Strether obligingly thought. "Well, the Review."
"The Review?--you have a Review?"
"Certainly. Woollett has a Review--which Mrs. Newsome, for the most part, magnificently pays for and which I, not at all magnificently, edit. My name's on the cover," Strether pursued, "and I'm really rather disappointed and hurt that you seem never to have heard of it."
She neglected for a moment this grievance. "And what kind of a Review is it?"
His serenity was now completely restored. "Well, it's green."
"Do you mean in political colour as they say here--in thought?"
"No; I mean the cover's green--of the most lovely shade."
"And with Mrs. Newsome's name on it too?"
He waited a little. "Oh as for that you must judge if she peeps out. She's behind the whole thing; but she's of a delicacy and a discretion--!"
Miss Gostrey took it all. "I'm sure. She WOULD be. I don't underrate her. She must be rather a swell."
"Oh yes, she's rather a swell!"
"A Woollett swell--bon! I like the idea of a Woollett swell. And you must be rather one too, to be so mixed up with her."
"Ah no," said Strether, "that's not the way it works."
But she had already taken him up. "The way it works--you needn't tell me!--is of course that you efface yourself."
"With my name on the cover?" he lucidly objected.
"Ah but you don't put it on for yourself."
"I beg your pardon--that's exactly what I do put it on for. It's exactly the thing that I'm reduced to doing for myself. It seems to rescue a little, you see, from the wreck of hopes and ambitions, the refuse-heap of disappointments and failures, my one presentable little scrap of an identity."
On this she looked at him as to say many things, but what she at last simply said was: "She likes to see it there. You're the bigger swell of the two," she immediately continued, "because you think you're not one. She thinks she IS one. However," Miss Gostrey added, "she thinks you're one too. You're at all events the biggest she can get hold of." She embroidered, she abounded. "I don't say it to interfere between you, but on the day she gets hold of a bigger one--!" Strether had thrown back his head as in silent mirth over something that struck him in her audacity or felicity, and her flight meanwhile was already higher. "Therefore close with her--!"
"Close with her?" he asked as she seemed to hang poised.
"Before you lose your chance."
Their eyes met over it. "What do you mean by closing?"
"And what do I mean by your chance? I'll tell you when you tell me all the things YOU don't. Is it her GREATEST fad?" she briskly pursued.
"The Review?" He seemed to wonder how he could best describe it. This resulted however but in a sketch. "It's her tribute to the ideal."
"I see. You go in for tremendous things."
"We go in for the unpopular side--that is so far as we dare."
"And how far DO you dare?"
"Well, she very far. I much less. I don't begin to have her faith. She provides," said Strether, "three fourths of that. And she provides, as I've confided to you, ALL the money."
It evoked somehow a vision of gold that held for a little Miss Gostrey's eyes, and she looked as if she heard the bright dollars shovelled in. "I hope then you make a good thing--"
"I NEVER made a good thing!" he at once returned.
She just waited. "Don't you call it a good thing to be loved?"
"Oh we're not loved. We're not even hated. We're only just sweetly ignored."
She had another pause. "You don't trust me!" she once more repeated.
"Don't I when I lift the last veil?--tell you the very secret of the prison-house?"
Again she met his eyes, but to the result that after an instant her own turned away with impatience. "You don't sell? Oh I'm glad of THAT!" After which however, and before he could protest, she was off again. "She's just a MORAL swell."
He accepted gaily enough the definition. "Yes--I really think that describes her."
But it had for his friend the oddest connexion. "How does she do her hair?"
He laughed out. "Beautifully!"
"Ah that doesn't tell me. However, it doesn't matter--I know. It's tremendously neat--a real reproach; quite remarkably thick and without, as yet, a single strand of white. There!"
He blushed for her realism, but gaped at her truth. "You're the very deuce."
"What else SHOULD I be? It was as the very deuce I pounced on you. But don't let it trouble you, for everything but the very deuce--at our age--is a bore and a delusion, and even he himself, after all, but half a joy." With which, on a single sweep of her wing, she resumed. "You assist her to expiate--which is rather hard when you've yourself not sinned."
"It's she who hasn't sinned," Strether replied. "I've sinned the most."
"Ah," Miss Gostrey cynically laughed, "what a picture of HER! Have you robbed the widow and the orphan?"
"I've sinned enough," said Strether.
"Enough for whom? Enough for what?"
"Well, to be where I am."
"Thank you!" They were disturbed at this moment by
the passage between their knees and the back of the seats before them of a
gentleman who had been absent during a part of the performance and who now
returned for the close; but the interruption left Miss Gostrey time, before the
subsequent hush, to express as a sharp finality her sense of the moral of all
their talk. "I knew you had
something up your sleeve!" This
finality, however, left them in its turn, at the end of the play, as disposed
to hang back as if they had still much to say; so that they easily agreed to
let every one go before them--they found an interest in waiting. They made out from the lobby that the night
had turned to rain; yet Miss Gostrey let her friend know that he wasn't to see
her home. He was simply to put her, by
herself, into a four-wheeler; she liked so in
It had almost, after the interval, startled him. "Oh I hope not! Why SHOULD he?"
"Why shouldn't he?" Miss Gostrey asked. "That you're coming down on him need have nothing to do with it."
"You see more in it," he presently returned, "than I."
"Of course I see you in it."
"Well then you see more in 'me'!"
"Than you see in yourself? Very likely. That's always one's right. What I was thinking of," she explained, "is the possible particular effect on him of his milieu."
"Oh his milieu--!" Strether really felt he could imagine it better now than three hours before.
"Do you mean it can only have been so lowering?"
"Why that's my very starting-point."
"Yes, but you start so far back. What do his letters say?"
"Nothing. He practically ignores us--or spares us. He doesn't write."
"I see. But there are all the same," she went on, "two quite distinct things that--given the wonderful place he's in--may have happened to him. One is that he may have got brutalised. The other is that he may have got refined."
Strether stared--this WAS a novelty. "Refined?"
"Oh," she said quietly, "there ARE refinements."
The way of it made him, after looking at her, break into a laugh. "YOU have them!"
"As one of the signs," she continued in the same tone, "they constitute perhaps the worst."
He thought it over and his gravity returned. "Is it a refinement not to answer his mother's letters?"
She appeared to have a scruple, but she brought it out. "Oh I should say the greatest of all."
"Well," said Strether, "I'M quite content to let it, as one of the signs, pass for the worst that I know he believes he can do what he likes with me."
This appeared to strike her. "How do you know it?"
"Oh I'm sure of it. I feel it in my bones."
"Feel he CAN do it?"
"Feel that he believes he can. It may come to the same thing!" Strether laughed.
She wouldn't, however, have this. "Nothing for you will ever come to the same thing as anything else." And she understood what she meant, it seemed, sufficiently to go straight on. "You say that if he does break he'll come in for things at home?"
"Quite positively. He'll come in for a particular chance--a chance that any properly constituted young man would jump at. The business has so developed that an opening scarcely apparent three years ago, but which his father's will took account of as in certain conditions possible and which, under that will, attaches to Chad's availing himself of it a large contingent advantage--this opening, the conditions having come about, now simply awaits him. His mother has kept it for him, holding out against strong pressure, till the last possible moment. It requires, naturally, as it carries with it a handsome 'part,' a large share in profits, his being on the spot and making a big effort for a big result. That's what I mean by his chance. If he misses it he comes in, as you say, for nothing. And to see that he doesn't miss it is, in a word, what I've come out for."
She let it all sink in. "What you've come out for then is simply to render him an immense service."
Well, poor Strether was willing to take it so. "Ah if you like."
"He stands, as they say, if you succeed with him, to gain--"
"Oh a lot of advantages." Strether had them clearly at his fingers' ends.
"By which you mean of course a lot of money."
"Well, not only. I'm acting with a sense for him of other things too. Consideration and comfort and security--the general safety of being anchored by a strong chain. He wants, as I see him, to be protected. Protected I mean from life."
"Ah voila!"--her thought fitted with a click. "From life. What you REALLY want to get him home for is to marry him."
"Well, that's about the size of it."
"Of course," she said, "it's rudimentary. But to any one in particular?"
He smiled at this, looking a little more conscious. "You get everything out."
For a moment again their eyes met. "You put everything in!"
He acknowledged the tribute by telling her. "To Mamie Pocock."
She wondered; then gravely, even exquisitely, as if to make the oddity also fit: "His own niece?"
"Oh you must yourself find a name for the relation. His brother-in-law's sister. Mrs. Jim's sister-in-law."
It seemed to have on Miss Gostrey a certain hardening effect. "And who in the world's Mrs. Jim?"
"Ah yes," she tacitly replied; but he had mentioned things--! Then, however, with all the sound it could have, "Who in the world's Jim Pocock?" she asked.
"Why Sally's husband. That's the only way we distinguish people at Woollett," he good-humoredly explained.
"And is it a great distinction--being Sally's husband?"
"I think there can be scarcely a greater--unless it may become one,
in the future, to be
"Then how do they distinguish YOU?"
"They DON'T--except, as I've told you, by the green cover."
Once more their eyes met on it, and she held him an instant. "The green cover won't--nor will ANY cover--avail you with ME. You're of a depth of duplicity!" Still, she could in her own large grasp of the real condone it. "Is Mamie a great parti?"
"Oh the greatest we have--our prettiest brightest girl."
Miss Gostrey seemed to fix the poor child. "I know what they CAN be. And with money?"
"Not perhaps with a great deal of that--but with so
much of everything else that we don't miss it.
We DON'T miss money much, you know," Strether added, "in
"No," she conceded; "but I know also what you do sometimes miss. And do you," she asked, "yourself admire her?"
It was a question, he indicated, that there might be several ways of taking; but he decided after an instant for the humorous. "Haven't I sufficiently showed you how I admire ANY pretty girl?';
Her interest in his problem was by this time such that it scarce left her freedom, and she kept close to the facts. "I supposed that at Woollett you wanted them--what shall I call it?--blameless. I mean your young men for your pretty girls."
"So did I!" Strether confessed. "But you strike there a curious
fact--the fact that Woollett too accommodates itself to the spirit of the age
and the increasing mildness of manners.
Everything changes, and I hold that our situation precisely marks a
date. We SHOULD prefer them blameless,
but we have to make the best of them as we find them. Since the spirit of the age and the
increasing mildness send them so much more to
"You've to take them back as they come. When they DO come. Bon!" Once more she embraced it all, but
she had a moment of thought. "Poor
"Ah," said Strether cheerfully "Mamie will save him!"
She was looking away, still in her vision, and she spoke with impatience and almost as if he hadn't understood her. "YOU'LL save him. That's who'll save him."
"Oh but with Mamie's aid. Unless indeed you mean," he added, "that I shall effect so much more with yours!"
It made her at last again look at him. "You'll do more--as you're so much better--than all of us put together."
"I think I'm only better since I've known YOU!" Strether bravely returned.
The depletion of the place, the shrinkage of the crowd and
now comparatively quiet withdrawal of its last elements had already brought
them nearer the door and put them in relation with a messenger of whom he
bespoke Miss Gostrey's cab. But this
left them a few minutes more, which she was clearly in no mood not to use. "You've spoken to me of what--by your
"Oh I've nothing more to gain," said Strether very simply.
She took it as even quite too simple. "You mean you've got it all 'down'? You've been paid in advance?"
"Ah don't talk about payment!" he groaned.
Something in the tone of it pulled her up, but as their messenger still delayed she had another chance and she put it in another way. "What--by failure--do you stand to lose?"
He still, however, wouldn't have it. "Nothing!" he exclaimed, and on the messenger's at this instant reappearing he was able to sink the subject in their responsive advance. When, a few steps up the street, under a lamp, he had put her into her four-wheeler and she had asked him if the man had called for him no second conveyance, he replied before the door was closed. "You won't take me with you?"
"Not for the world."
"Then I shall walk."
"In the rain?"
"I like the rain," said Strether. "Good-night!"
She kept him a moment, while his hand was on the door, by not answering; after which she answered by repeating her question. "What do you stand to lose?"
Why the question now affected him as other he couldn't have said; he could only this time meet it otherwise. "Everything."
"So I thought. Then you shall succeed. And to that end I'm yours--"
"Ah, dear lady!" he kindly breathed.
"Till death!" said Maria Gostrey. "Good-night."
Strether called, his second morning in
This morning there WERE letters--letters which had reached
London, apparently all together, the day of Strether's journey, and had taken
their time to follow him; so that, after a controlled impulse to go into them
in the reception-room of the bank, which, reminding him of the post-office at
Woollett, affected him as the abutment of some transatlantic bridge, he slipped
them into the pocket of his loose grey overcoat with a sense of the felicity of
carrying them off. Waymarsh, who had had
letters yesterday, had had them again to-day, and Waymarsh suggested in this
particular no controlled impulses. The
last one he was at all events likely to be observed to struggle with was
clearly that of bringing to a premature close any visit to the Rue Scribe. Strether had left him there yesterday; he
wanted to see the papers, and he had spent, by what his friend could make out,
a succession of hours with the papers.
He spoke of the establishment, with emphasis, as a post of superior
observation; just as he spoke generally of his actual damnable doom as a device
for hiding from him what was going on.
It all sprang at bottom from the beauty of Mrs. Newsome's desire that he should be worried with nothing that was not of the essence of his task; by insisting that he should thoroughly intermit and break she had so provided for his freedom that she would, as it were, have only herself to thank. Strether could not at this point indeed have completed his thought by the image of what she might have to thank herself FOR: the image, at best, of his own likeness-poor Lambert Strether washed up on the sunny strand by the waves of a single day, poor Lambert Strether thankful for breathing-time and stiffening himself while he gasped. There he was, and with nothing in his aspect or his posture to scandalise: it was only true that if he had seen Mrs. Newsome coming he would instinctively have jumped up to walk away a little. He would have come round and back to her bravely, but he would have had first to pull himself together. She abounded in news of the situation at home, proved to him how perfectly she was arranging for his absence, told him who would take up this and who take up that exactly where he had left it, gave him in fact chapter and verse for the moral that nothing would suffer. It filled for him, this tone of hers, all the air; yet it struck him at the same time as the hum of vain things. This latter effect was what he tried to justify--and with the success that, grave though the appearance, he at last lighted on a form that was happy. He arrived at it by the inevitable recognition of his having been a fortnight before one of the weariest of men. If ever a man had come off tired Lambert Strether was that man; and hadn't it been distinctly on the ground of his fatigue that his wonderful friend at home had so felt for him and so contrived? It seemed to him somehow at these instants that, could he only maintain with sufficient firmness his grasp of that truth, it might become in a manner his compass and his helm. What he wanted most was some idea that would simplify, and nothing would do this so much as the fact that he was done for and finished. If it had been in such a light that he had just detected in his cup the dregs of youth, that was a mere flaw of the surface of his scheme. He was so distinctly fagged-out that it must serve precisely as his convenience, and if he could but consistently be good for little enough he might do everything he wanted.
Everything he wanted was comprised moreover in a single boon--the common unattainable art of taking things as they came. He appeared to himself to have given his best years to an active appreciation of the way they didn't come; but perhaps--as they would seemingly here be things quite other--this long ache might at last drop to rest. He could easily see that from the moment he should accept the notion of his foredoomed collapse the last thing he would lack would be reasons and memories. Oh if he SHOULD do the sum no slate would hold the figures! The fact that he had failed, as he considered, in everything, in each relation and in half a dozen trades, as he liked luxuriously to put it, might have made, might still make, for an empty present; but it stood solidly for a crowded past. It had not been, so much achievement missed, a light yoke nor a short load.[sic] It was at present as if the backward picture had hung there, the long crooked course, grey in the shadow of his solitude. It had been a dreadful cheerful sociable solitude, a solitude of life or choice, of community; but though there had been people enough all round it there had been but three or four persons IN it. Waymarsh was one of these, and the fact struck him just now as marking the record. Mrs. Newsome was another, and Miss Gostrey had of a sudden shown signs of becoming a third. Beyond, behind them was the pale figure of his real youth, which held against its breast the two presences paler than itself--the young wife he had early lost and the young son he had stupidly sacrificed. He had again and again made out for himself that he might have kept his little boy, his little dull boy who had died at school of rapid diphtheria, if he had not in those years so insanely given himself to merely missing the mother. It was the soreness of his remorse that the child had in all likelihood not really been dull--had been dull, as he had been banished and neglected, mainly because the father had been unwittingly selfish. This was doubtless but the secret habit of sorrow, which had slowly given way to time; yet there remained an ache sharp enough to make the spirit, at the sight now and again of some fair young man just growing up, wince with the thought of an opportunity lost. Had ever a man, he had finally fallen into the way of asking himself, lost so much and even done so much for so little? There had been particular reasons why all yesterday, beyond other days, he should have had in one ear this cold enquiry. His name on the green cover, where he had put it for Mrs. Newsome, expressed him doubtless just enough to make the world--the world as distinguished, both for more and for less, from Woollett--ask who he was. He had incurred the ridicule of having to have his explanation explained. He was Lambert Strether because he was on the cover, whereas it should have been, for anything like glory, that he was on the cover because he was Lambert Strether. He would have done anything for Mrs. Newsome, have been still more ridiculous--as he might, for that matter, have occasion to be yet; which came to saying that this acceptance of fate was all he had to show at fifty-five.
He judged the quantity as small because it WAS small, and
all the more egregiously since it couldn't, as he saw the case, so much as
thinkably have been larger. He hadn't
had the gift of making the most of what he tried, and if he had tried and tried
again--no one but himself knew how often--it appeared to have been that he
might demonstrate what else, in default of that, COULD be made. Old ghosts of experiments came back to him,
old drudgeries and delusions, and disgusts, old recoveries with their relapses,
old fevers with their chills, broken moments of good faith, others of still
better doubt; adventures, for the most part, of the sort qualified as
lessons. The special spring that had
constantly played for him the day before was the recognition--frequent enough
to surprise him--of the promises to himself that he had after his other visit
never kept. The reminiscence to-day most
quickened for him was that of the vow taken in the course of the pilgrimage
that, newly-married, with the War just over, and helplessly young in spite of
it, he had recklessly made with the creature who was so much younger
still. It had been a bold dash, for
which they had taken money set apart for necessities, but kept sacred at the
moment in a hundred ways, and in none more so than by this private pledge of
his own to treat the occasion as a relation formed with the higher culture and
see that, as they said at Woollett, it should bear a good harvest. He had believed, sailing home again, that he
had gained something great, and his theory--with an elaborate innocent plan of
reading, digesting, coming back even, every few years--had then been to
preserve, cherish and extend it. As such plans as these had come to nothing,
however, in respect to acquisitions still more precious, it was doubtless
little enough of a marvel that he should have lost account of that handful of
seed. Buried for long years in dark
corners at any rate these few germs had sprouted again under forty-eight hours
There were instants at which he could ask whether, since
there had been fundamentally so little question of his keeping anything, the
fate after all decreed for him hadn't been only to BE kept. Kept for something, in that event, that he
didn't pretend, didn't possibly dare as yet to divine; something that made him
hover and wonder and laugh and sigh, made him advance and retreat, feeling half
ashamed of his impulse to plunge and more than half afraid of his impulse to
wait. He remembered for instance how he
had gone back in the sixties with lemon-coloured volumes in general on the
brain as well as with a dozen--selected for his wife too--in his trunk; and
nothing had at the moment shown more confidence than this invocation of the
finer taste. They were still somewhere
at home, the dozen--stale and soiled and never sent to the binder; but what had
become of the sharp initiation they represented? They represented now the mere sallow paint on
the door of the temple of taste that he had dreamed of raising up--a structure
he had practically never carried further.
Strether's present highest flights were perhaps those in which this
particular lapse figured to him as a symbol, a symbol of his long grind and his
want of odd moments, his want moreover of money, of opportunity, of positive
dignity. That the memory of the vow of
his youth should, in order to throb again, have had to wait for this last, as
he felt it, of all his accidents--that was surely proof enough of how his
conscience had been encumbered. If any
further proof were needed it would have been to be found in the fact that, as
he perfectly now saw, he had ceased even to measure his meagreness, a
meagreness that sprawled, in this retrospect, vague and comprehensive,
stretching back like some unmapped Hinterland from a rough
coast-settlement. His conscience had
been amusing itself for the forty-eight hours by forbidding him the purchase of
a book; he held off from that, held off from everything; from the moment he
didn't yet call on
This suggested the question of whether he could properly
have taken him to such a play, and what effect--it was a point that suddenly
rose--his peculiar responsibility might be held in general to have on his
choice of entertainment. It had
literally been present to him at the Gymnase--where one was held moreover
comparatively safe--that having his young friend at his side would have been an
odd feature of the work of redemption; and this quite in spite of the fact that
the picture presented might well, confronted with Chad's own private stage,
have seemed the pattern of propriety. He
clearly hadn't come out in the name of propriety but to visit unattended
equivocal performances; yet still less had he done so to undermine his
authority by sharing them with the graceless youth. Was he to renounce all amusement for the
sweet sake of that authority? and WOULD such renouncement give him for
It upset him a little none the less and after a while to
find himself at last remembering on what current of association he had been
floated so far. Old imaginations of the
Latin Quarter had played their part for him, and he had duly recalled its
having been with this scene of rather ominous legend that, like so many young
men in fiction as well as in fact, Chad had begun. He was now quite out of it, with his
"home," as Strether figured the place, in the Boulevard Malesherbes;
which was perhaps why, repairing, not to fail of justice either, to the elder
neighbourhood, our friend had felt he could allow for the element of the usual,
the immemorial, without courting perturbation.
He was not at least in danger of seeing the youth and the particular
Person flaunt by together; and yet he was in the very air of which--just to
feel what the early natural note must have been--he wished most to take
counsel. It became at once vivid to him
that he had originally had, for a few days, an almost envious vision of the
boy's romantic privilege. Melancholy
Murger, with Francine and Musette and Rodolphe, at home, in the company of the
tattered, one--if he not in his single self two or three--of the unbound, the
paper-covered dozen on the shelf; and when Chad had written, five years ago,
after a sojourn then already prolonged to six months, that he had decided to go
in for economy and the real thing, Strether's fancy had quite fondly
accompanied him in this migration, which was to convey him, as they somewhat
confusedly learned at Woollett, across the bridges and up the Montagne
Sainte-Genevieve. This was the region--
But the very next thing that happened had been a dark drop
of the curtain. The son and brother had
not browsed long on the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve--his effective little use of
the name of which, like his allusion to the best French, appeared to have been
but one of the notes of his rough cunning.
The light refreshment of these vain appearances had not accordingly
carried any of them very far. On the other
hand it had gained
He pulled himself then at last together for his own progress
back; not with the feeling that he had taken his walk in vain. He prolonged it a little, in the immediate
neighbourhood, after he had quitted his chair; and the upshot of the whole
morning for him was that his campaign had begun. He had wanted to put himself in relation, and
he would be hanged if he were NOT in relation.
He was that at no moment so much as while, under the old arches of the
Odeon, he lingered before the charming open-air array of literature classic and
casual. He found the effect of tone and
tint, in the long charged tables and shelves, delicate and appetising; the
impression--substituting one kind of low-priced consommation for another--might
have been that of one of the pleasant cafes that overlapped, under an awning,
to the pavement; but he edged along, grazing the tables, with his hands firmly
behind him. He wasn't there to dip, to
consume--he was there to reconstruct. He
wasn't there for his own profit--not, that is, the direct; he was there on some
chance of feeling the brush of the wing of the stray spirit of youth. He felt it in fact, he had it beside him; the
old arcade indeed, as his inner sense listened, gave out the faint sound, as
from far off, of the wild waving of wings.
They were folded now over the breasts of buried generations; but a
flutter or two lived again in the turned page of shock-headed slouch-hatted
loiterers whose young intensity of type, in the direction of pale acuteness,
deepened his vision, and even his appreciation, of racial differences, and
whose manipulation of the uncut volume was too often, however, but a listening
at closed doors. He reconstructed a
But his own actual business half an hour later was with a
third floor on the Boulevard Malesherbes--so much as that was definite; and the
fact of the enjoyment by the third-floor windows of a continuous balcony, to
which he was helped by this knowledge, had perhaps something to do with his
lingering for five minutes on the opposite side of the street. There were points as to which he had quite
made up his mind, and one of these bore precisely on the wisdom of the
abruptness to which events had finally committed him, a policy that he was
pleased to find not at all shaken as he now looked at his watch and wondered. He HAD announced himself--six months before;
had written out at least that
Many things came over him here, and one of them was that he
should doubtless presently know whether he had been shallow or sharp. Another
was that the balcony in question didn't somehow show as a convenience easy to
surrender. Poor Strether had at this
very moment to recognise the truth that wherever one paused in
This was interesting so far as it went, but the interest was
affected by the young man's not being
Strether told Waymarsh all about it that very evening, on their dining together at the hotel; which needn't have happened, he was all the while aware, hadn't he chosen to sacrifice to this occasion a rarer opportunity. The mention to his companion of the sacrifice was moreover exactly what introduced his recital--or, as he would have called it with more confidence in his interlocutor, his confession. His confession was that he had been captured and that one of the features of the affair had just failed to be his engaging himself on the spot to dinner. As by such a freedom Waymarsh would have lost him he had obeyed his scruple; and he had likewise obeyed another scruple--which bore on the question of his himself bringing a guest.
Waymarsh looked gravely ardent, over the finished soup, at this array of scruples; Strether hadn't yet got quite used to being so unprepared for the consequences of the impression he produced. It was comparatively easy to explain, however, that he hadn't felt sure his guest would please. The person was a young man whose acquaintance he had made but that afternoon in the course of rather a hindered enquiry for another person--an enquiry his new friend had just prevented in fact from being vain. "Oh," said Strether, "I've all sorts of things to tell you!"--and he put it in a way that was a virtual hint to Waymarsh to help him to enjoy the telling. He waited for his fish, he drank of his wine, he wiped his long moustache, he leaned back in his chair, he took in the two English ladies who had just creaked past them and whom he would even have articulately greeted if they hadn't rather chilled the impulse; so that all he could do was--by way of doing something--to say "Merci, Francois!" out quite loud when his fish was brought. Everything was there that he wanted, everything that could make the moment an occasion, that would do beautifully--everything but what Waymarsh might give. The little waxed salle-a-manger was sallow and sociable; Francois, dancing over it, all smiles, was a man and a brother; the high-shouldered patronne, with her high-held, much-rubbed hands, seemed always assenting exuberantly to something unsaid; the Paris evening in short was, for Strether, in the very taste of the soup, in the goodness, as he was innocently pleased to think it, of the wine, in the pleasant coarse texture of the napkin and the crunch of the thick-crusted bread. These all were things congruous with his confession, and his confession was that he HAD--it would come out properly just there if Waymarsh would only take it properly--agreed to breakfast out, at twelve literally, the next day. He didn't quite know where; the delicacy of the case came straight up in the remembrance of his new friend's "We'll see; I'll take you somewhere!"--for it had required little more than that, after all, to let him right in. He was affected after a minute, face to face with his actual comrade, by the impulse to overcolour. There had already been things in respect to which he knew himself tempted by this perversity. If Waymarsh thought them bad he should at least have his reason for his discomfort; so Strether showed them as worse. Still, he was now, in his way, sincerely perplexed.
Waymarsh's face had shown his friend an attention apparently so remote that the latter was slightly surprised to find it at this point abreast with him. "Do you mean a smell? What of?"
"A charming scent. But I don't know."
Waymarsh gave an inferential grunt. "Does he live there with a woman?"
"I don't know."
Waymarsh waited an instant for more, then resumed. "Has he taken her off with him?"
"And will he bring her back?"--Strether fell into the enquiry. But he wound it up as before. "I don't know."
The way he wound it up, accompanied as this was with another drop back, another degustation of the Leoville, another wipe of his moustache and another good word for Francois, seemed to produce in his companion a slight irritation. "Then what the devil DO you know?"
"Well," said Strether almost gaily, "I guess
I don't know anything!" His gaiety might have been a tribute to the fact
that the state he had been reduced to did for him again what had been done by
his talk of the matter with Miss Gostrey at the
"But I thought you said you found out nothing."
"Nothing but that--that I don't know anything."
"And what good does that do you?"
"It's just," said Strether, "what I've come
to you to help me to discover. I mean
anything about anything over here. I
FELT that, up there. It regularly rose
before me in its might. The young man
"As good as told you you know nothing about anything?" Waymarsh appeared to look at some one who might have as good as told HIM. "How old is he?"
"Well, I guess not thirty."
"Yet you had to take that from him?"
"Oh I took a good deal more--since, as I tell you, I took an invitation to dejeuner."
"And are you GOING to that unholy meal?"
"If you'll come with me. He wants you too, you know. I told him about you. He gave me his card," Strether pursued, "and his name's rather funny. It's John Little Bilham, and he says his two surnames are, on account of his being small, inevitably used together."
"Well," Waymarsh asked with due detachment from these details, "what's he doing up there?"
"His account of himself is that he's 'only a little
artist-man.' That seemed to me perfectly to describe him. But he's yet in the phase of study; this, you
know, is the great art-school--to pass a certain number of years in which he
came over. And he's a great friend of
Waymarsh looked already rather sick of him. "Where is he from?"
"I don't know that, either.
But he's 'notoriously,' as he put it himself, not from
"Well," Waymarsh moralised from dry depths,
"every one can't notoriously be from
"Perhaps just for THAT--for one thing! But really," Strether added, "for everything. When you meet him you'll see."
"Oh I don't want to meet him," Waymarsh impatiently growled. "Why don't he go home?"
Strether hesitated. "Well, because he likes it over here."
This appeared in particular more than Waymarsh could bear. "He ought then to be ashamed of himself, and, as you admit that you think so too, why drag him in?"
Strether's reply again took time. "Perhaps I do think so myself--though I don't quite yet admit it. I'm not a bit sure--it's again one of the things I want to find out. I liked him, and CAN you like people--? But no matter." He pulled himself up. "There's no doubt I want you to come down on me and squash me."
Waymarsh helped himself to the next course, which, however proving not the dish he had just noted as supplied to the English ladies, had the effect of causing his imagination temporarily to wander. But it presently broke out at a softer spot. "Have they got a handsome place up there?"
"Oh a charming place; full of beautiful and valuable things. I never saw such a place"--and Strether's thought went back to it. "For a little artist-man--!" He could in fact scarce express it.
But his companion, who appeared now to have a view, insisted. "Well?"
"Well, life can hold nothing better. Besides, they're things of which he's in charge."
"So that he does doorkeeper for your precious pair? Can life," Waymarsh enquired, "hold nothing better than THAT?" Then as Strether, silent, seemed even yet to wonder, "Doesn't he know what SHE is?" he went on.
"I don't know. I didn't ask him. I couldn't. It was impossible. You wouldn't either. Besides I didn't want to. No more would you." Strether in short explained it at a stroke. "You can't make out over here what people do know."
"Then what did you come over for?"
"Well, I suppose exactly to see for myself--without their aid."
"Then what do you want mine for?"
"Oh," Strether laughed, "you're not one of THEM! I do know what you know."
As, however, this last assertion caused Waymarsh again to look at him hard--such being the latter's doubt of its implications--he felt his justification lame. Which was still more the case when Waymarsh presently said: "Look here, Strether. Quit this."
Our friend smiled with a doubt of his own. "Do you mean my tone?"
"No--damn your tone. I mean your nosing round. Quit the whole job. Let them stew in their juice. You're being used for a thing you ain't fit for. People don't take a fine-tooth comb to groom a horse."
"Am I a fine-tooth comb?" Strether laughed. "It's something I never called myself!"
"It's what you are, all the same. You ain't so young as you were, but you've kept your teeth."
He acknowledged his friend's humour. "Take care I don't get them into YOU! You'd like them, my friends at home, Waymarsh," he declared; "you'd really particularly like them. And I know"--it was slightly irrelevant, but he gave it sudden and singular force--"I know they'd like you!"
"Oh don't work them off on ME!" Waymarsh groaned.
Yet Strether still lingered with his hands in his
pockets. "It's really quite as
indispensable as I say that
"Indispensable to whom? To you?"
"Yes," Strether presently said.
"Because if you get him you also get Mrs. Newsome?"
Strether faced it. "Yes."
"And if you don't get him you don't get her?"
It might be merciless, but he continued not to flinch. "I think it might have some effect on
our personal understanding.
"And the business is of real importance to his mother's husband?"
"Well, I naturally want what my future wife wants. And the thing will be much better if we have our own man in it."
"If you have your own man in it, in other words," Waymarsh said, "you'll marry--you personally--more money. She's already rich, as I understand you, but she'll be richer still if the business can be made to boom on certain lines that you've laid down."
"I haven't laid them down," Strether promptly returned. "Mr. Newsome --who knew extraordinarily well what he was about--laid them down ten years ago."
Oh well, Waymarsh seemed to indicate with a shake of his mane, THAT didn't matter! "You're fierce for the boom anyway."
His friend weighed a moment in silence the justice of the charge. "I can scarcely be called fierce, I think, when I so freely take my chance of the possibility, the danger, of being influenced in a sense counter to Mrs. Newsome's own feelings."
Waymarsh gave this proposition a long hard look. "I see. You're afraid yourself of being squared. But you're a humbug," he added, all the same."
"Oh!" Strether quickly protested.
"Yes, you ask me for protection--which makes you very interesting; and then you won't take it. You say you want to be squashed--"
"Ah but not so easily! Don't you see," Strether demanded "where my interest, as already shown you, lies? It lies in my not being squared. If I'm squared where's my marriage? If I miss my errand I miss that; and if I miss that I miss everything--I'm nowhere."
Waymarsh--but all relentlessly--took this in. "What do I care where you are if you're spoiled?"
Their eyes met on it an instant. "Thank you awfully," Strether at last said. "But don't you think HER judgement of that--?"
"Ought to content me? No."
It kept them again face to face, and the end of this was that Strether again laughed. "You do her injustice. You really MUST know her. Good-night."
He breakfasted with Mr. Bilham on the morrow, and, as inconsequently befell, with Waymarsh massively of the party. The latter announced, at the eleventh hour and much to his friend's surprise, that, damn it, he would as soon join him as do anything else; on which they proceeded together, strolling in a state of detachment practically luxurious for them to the Boulevard Malesherbes, a couple engaged that day with the sharp spell of Paris as confessedly, it might have been seen, as any couple among the daily thousands so compromised. They walked, wandered, wondered and, a little, lost themselves; Strether hadn't had for years so rich a consciousness of time--a bag of gold into which he constantly dipped for a handful. It was present to him that when the little business with Mr. Bilham should be over he would still have shining hours to use absolutely as he liked. There was no great pulse of haste yet in this process of saving Chad; nor was that effect a bit more marked as he sat, half an hour later, with his legs under Chad's mahogany, with Mr. Bilham on one side, with a friend of Mr. Bilham's on the other, with Waymarsh stupendously opposite, and with the great hum of Paris coming up in softness, vagueness-for Strether himself indeed already positive sweetness--through the sunny windows toward which, the day before, his curiosity had raised its wings from below. The feeling strongest with him at that moment had borne fruit almost faster than he could taste it, and Strether literally felt at the present hour that there was a precipitation in his fate. He had known nothing and nobody as he stood in the street; but hadn't his view now taken a bound in the direction of every one and of every thing?
"What's he up to, what's he up to?"--something like that was at the back of his head all the while in respect to little Bilham; but meanwhile, till he should make out, every one and every thing were as good as represented for him by the combination of his host and the lady on his left. The lady on his left, the lady thus promptly and ingeniously invited to "meet" Mr. Strether and Mr. Waymarsh--it was the way she herself expressed her case--was a very marked person, a person who had much to do with our friend's asking himself if the occasion weren't in its essence the most baited, the most gilded of traps. Baited it could properly be called when the repast was of so wise a savour, and gilded surrounding objects seemed inevitably to need to be when Miss Barrace--which was the lady's name--looked at them with convex Parisian eyes and through a glass with a remarkably long tortoise-shell handle. Why Miss Barrace, mature meagre erect and eminently gay, highly adorned, perfectly familiar, freely contradictions and reminding him of some last-century portrait of a clever head without powder--why Miss Barrace should have been in particular the note of a "trap" Strether couldn't on the spot have explained; he blinked in the light of a conviction that he should know later on, and know well--as it came over him, for that matter, with force, that he should need to. He wondered what he was to think exactly of either of his new friends; since the young man, Chad's intimate and deputy, had, in thus constituting the scene, practised so much more subtly than he had been prepared for, and since in especial Miss Barrace, surrounded clearly by every consideration, hadn't scrupled to figure as a familiar object. It was interesting to him to feel that he was in the presence of new measures, other standards, a different scale of relations, and that evidently here were a happy pair who didn't think of things at all as he and Waymarsh thought. Nothing was less to have been calculated in the business than that it should now be for him as if he and Waymarsh were comparatively quite at one.
The latter was magnificent--this at least was an assurance
privately given him by Miss Barrace.
"Oh your friend's a type, the grand old American--what shall one
call it? The Hebrew prophet, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, who used when I was a little
girl in the Rue Montaigne to come to see my father and who was usually the
American Minister to the Tuileries or some other court. I haven't seen one these ever so many years;
the sight of it warms my poor old chilled heart; this specimen is wonderful; in
the right quarter, you know, he'll have a succes fou." Strether hadn't failed to ask what the right
quarter might be, much as he required his presence of mind to meet such a
change in their scheme. "Oh the
artist-quarter and that kind of thing; HERE already, for instance, as you
see." He had been on the point of
echoing "'Here'?--is THIS the artist-quarter?" but she had already
disposed of the question with a wave of all her tortoise-shell and an easy
"Bring him to ME!" He knew on
the spot how little he should be able to bring him, for the very air was by
this time, to his sense, thick and hot with poor Waymarsh's judgement of it. He
was in the trap still more than his companion and, unlike his companion, not
making the best of it; which was precisely what doubtless gave him his
admirable sombre glow. Little did Miss
Barrace know that what was behind it was his grave estimate of her own laxity.
The general assumption with which our two friends had arrived had been that of
finding Mr. Bilham ready to conduct them to one or other of those resorts of
the earnest, the aesthetic fraternity which were shown among the sights of
It was this lady's being there at all, however, that was the strange free thing; perhaps, since she WAS there, her smoking was
the least of her freedoms.
If Strether had been sure at each juncture of what--with Bilham in
especial--she talked about, he might have traced others and winced at them and
felt Waymarsh wince; but he was in fact so often at sea that his sense of the
range of reference was merely general and that he on several different
occasions guessed and interpreted only to doubt. He wondered what they meant, but there were
things he scarce thought they could be supposed to mean, and "Oh no--not
THAT!" was at the end of most of his ventures. This was the very beginning with him of a
condition as to which, later on, it will be seen, he found cause to pull
himself up; and he was to remember the moment duly as the first step in a
process. The central fact of the place
was neither more nor less, when analysed--and a pressure superficial
sufficed--than the fundamental impropriety of
It was the way the irregular life sat upon Bilham and Miss
Barrace that was the insidious, the delicate marvel. He was eager to concede that their relation
to it was all indirect, for anything else in him would have shown the grossness
of bad manners; but the indirectness was none the less consonant--THAT was
striking-with a grateful enjoyment of everything that was
When Miss Gostrey arrived, at the end of a week, she made
him a sign; he went immediately to see her, and it wasn't till then that he
could again close his grasp on the idea of a corrective. This idea however was
luckily all before him again from the moment he crossed the threshold of the
little entresol of the Quartier Marboeuf into which she had gathered, as she
said, picking them up in a thousand flights and funny little passionate
pounces, the makings of a final nest. He
recognised in an instant that there really, there only, he should find the boon
with the vision of which he had first mounted
"What do you mean?" she asked with an absence of alarm that, correcting him as if he had mistaken the "period" of one of her pieces, gave him afresh a sense of her easy movement through the maze he had but begun to tread. "What in the name of all the Pococks have you managed to do?"
"Why exactly the wrong thing. I've made a frantic friend of little Bilham."
"Ah that sort of thing was of the essence of your case
and to have been allowed for from the first." And it was only after this that, quite as a
minor matter, she asked who in the world little Bilham might be. When she learned that he was a friend of
"Oh the oftener the better: he's amusing--he's original."
"He doesn't shock you?" Miss Gostrey threw out.
"Never in the world! We escape that with a perfection--! I feel it to be largely, no doubt, because I don't half-understand him; but our modus vivendi isn't spoiled even by that. You must dine with me to meet him," Strether went on. "Then you'll see.'
"Are you giving dinners?"
"Yes--there I am. That's what I mean."
All her kindness wondered. "That you're spending too much money?"
"Dear no--they seem to cost so little. But that I do it to THEM. I ought to hold off."
She thought again--she laughed. "The money you must be spending to think it cheap! But I must be out of it--to the naked eye."
He looked for a moment as if she were really failing him. "Then you won't meet them?" It was almost as if she had developed an unexpected personal prudence.
She hesitated. "Who are they--first?"
"Why little Bilham to begin with." He kept back for the moment Miss
"When then does he come?"
"When Bilham has had time to write him, and hear from
him about me. Bilham, however," he
pursued, "will report favourably--favourably for
"Oh you'll do yourself for your bluff." She was perfectly easy. "At the rate you've gone I'm quiet."
"Ah but I haven't," said Strether, "made one protest."
She turned it over. "Haven't you been seeing what there's to protest about?"
He let her, with this, however ruefully, have the whole truth. "I haven't yet found a single thing."
"Isn't there any one WITH him then?"
"Of the sort I came out about?" Strether took a moment. "How do I know? And what do I care?"
"Oh oh!"--and her laughter spread. He was struck in fact by the effect on her of his joke. He saw now how he meant it as a joke. SHE saw, however, still other things, though in an instant she had hidden them. "You've got at no facts at all?"
He tried to muster them. "Well, he has a lovely home."
"Ah that, in
"Exactly. And it was on the scene of their doings then that Waymarsh and I sat guzzling."
"Oh if you forbore to guzzle here on scenes of doings," she replied, "you might easily die of starvation." With which she smiled at him. "You've worse before you."
"Ah I've EVERYTHING before me. But on our hypothesis, you know, they must be wonderful."
"They ARE!" said Miss Gostrey. "You're not therefore, you see," she added, "wholly without facts. They've BEEN, in effect, wonderful."
To have got at something comparatively definite appeared at last a little to help--a wave by which moreover, the next moment, recollection was washed. "My young man does admit furthermore that they're our friend's great interest."
"Is that the expression he uses?"
Strether more exactly recalled. "No--not quite."
"Something more vivid? Less?"
He had bent, with neared glasses, over a group of articles
on a small stand; and at this he came up.
"It was a mere allusion, but, on the lookout as I was, it struck
me. 'Awful, you know, as
"'Awful, you know'--? Oh!"--and Miss Gostrey turned them over. She seemed, however, satisfied. "Well, what more do you want?"
He glanced once more at a bibelot or two, and everything sent him back. "But it is all the same as if they wished to let me have it between the eyes."
She wondered. "Quoi donc?"
"Why what I speak of. The amenity. They can stun you with that as well as with anything else."
"Oh," she answered, "you'll come round! I
must see them each," she went on, "for myself. I mean Mr. Bilham and Mr. Newsome--Mr. Bilham
naturally first. Once only--once for
each; that will do. But face to face--for half an hour. What's Mr.
"Don't they?" Strether asked with an interest in decent men that amused her.
"No, elsewhere, but not to
"I haven't," Strether confessed in his weakness, "the least idea." There seemed much in what she said, but he was able after a little to help her to a nearer impression. The meeting with little Bilham took place, by easy arrangement, in the great gallery of the Louvre; and when, standing with his fellow visitor before one of the splendid Titians--the overwhelming portrait of the young man with the strangely-shaped glove and the blue-grey eyes--he turned to see the third member of their party advance from the end of the waxed and gilded vista, he had a sense of having at last taken hold. He had agreed with Miss Gostrey--it dated even from Chester--for a morning at the Louvre, and he had embraced independently the same idea as thrown out by little Bilham, whom he had already accompanied to the museum of the Luxembourg. The fusion of these schemes presented no difficulty, and it was to strike him again that in little Bilham's company contrarieties in general dropped.
"Oh he's all right--he's one of US!" Miss Gostrey, after the first exchange, soon found a chance to murmur to her companion; and Strether, as they proceeded and paused and while a quick unanimity between the two appeared to have phrased itself in half a dozen remarks--Strether knew that he knew almost immediately what she meant, and took it as still another sign that he had got his job in hand. This was the more grateful to him that he could think of the intelligence now serving him as an acquisition positively new. He wouldn't have known even the day before what she meant--that is if she meant, what he assumed, that they were intense Americans together. He had just worked round--and with a sharper turn of the screw than any yet--to the conception of an American intense as little Bilham was intense. The young man was his first specimen; the specimen had profoundly perplexed him; at present however there was light. It was by little Bilham's amazing serenity that he had at first been affected, but he had inevitably, in his circumspection, felt it as the trail of the serpent, the corruption, as he might conveniently have said, of Europe; whereas the promptness with which it came up for Miss Gostrey but as a special little form of the oldest thing they knew justified it at once to his own vision as well. He wanted to be able to like his specimen with a clear good conscience, and this fully permitted it. What had muddled him was precisely the small artist-man's way --it was so complete--of being more American than anybody. But it now for the time put Strether vastly at his ease to have this view of a new way.
The amiable youth then looked out, as it had first struck
Strether, at a world in respect to which he hadn't a prejudice. The one our
friend most instantly missed was the usual one in favour of an occupation
accepted. Little Bilham had an
occupation, but it was only an occupation declined; and it was by his general
exemption from alarm, anxiety or remorse on this score that the impression of
his serenity was made. He had come out
He liked the ingenuous compatriots--for two or three others soon gathered; he liked the delicate daubs and the free discriminations--involving references indeed, involving enthusiasms and execrations that made him, as they said, sit up; he liked above all the legend of good-humoured poverty, of mutual accommodation fairly raised to the romantic, that he soon read into the scene. The ingenuous compatriots showed a candour, he thought, surpassing even the candour of Woollett; they were red-haired and long-legged, they were quaint and queer and dear and droll; they made the place resound with the vernacular, which he had never known so marked as when figuring for the chosen language, he must suppose, of contemporary art. They twanged with a vengeance the aesthetic lyre--they drew from it wonderful airs. This aspect of their life had an admirable innocence; and he looked on occasion at Maria Gostrey to see to what extent that element reached her. She gave him however for the hour, as she had given him the previous day, no further sign than to show how she dealt with boys; meeting them with the air of old Parisian practice that she had for every one, for everything, in turn. Wonderful about the delicate daubs, masterful about the way to make tea, trustful about the legs of chairs and familiarly reminiscent of those, in the other time, the named, the numbered or the caricatured, who had flourished or failed, disappeared or arrived, she had accepted with the best grace her second course of little Bilham, and had said to Strether, the previous afternoon on his leaving them, that, since her impression was to be renewed, she would reserve judgement till after the new evidence.
The new evidence was to come, as it proved, in a day or two. He soon had from Maria a message to the effect that an excellent box at the Francais had been lent her for the following night; it seeming on such occasions not the least of her merits that she was subject to such approaches. The sense of how she was always paying for something in advance was equalled on Strether's part only by the sense of how she was always being paid; all of which made for his consciousness, in the larger air, of a lively bustling traffic, the exchange of such values as were not for him to handle. She hated, he knew, at the French play, anything but a box--just as she hated at the English anything but a stall; and a box was what he was already in this phase girding himself to press upon her. But she had for that matter her community with little Bilham: she too always, on the great issues, showed as having known in time. It made her constantly beforehand with him and gave him mainly the chance to ask himself how on the day of their settlement their account would stand. He endeavoured even now to keep it a little straight by arranging that if he accepted her invitation she should dine with him first; but the upshot of this scruple was that at eight o'clock on the morrow he awaited her with Waymarsh under the pillared portico. She hadn't dined with him, and it was characteristic of their relation that she had made him embrace her refusal without in the least understanding it. She ever caused her rearrangements to affect him as her tenderest touches. It was on that principle for instance that, giving him the opportunity to be amiable again to little Bilham, she had suggested his offering the young man a seat in their box. Strether had dispatched for this purpose a small blue missive to the Boulevard Malesherbes, but up to the moment of their passing into the theatre he had received no response to his message. He held, however, even after they had been for some time conveniently seated, that their friend, who knew his way about, would come in at his own right moment. His temporary absence moreover seemed, as never yet, to make the right moment for Miss Gostrey. Strether had been waiting till tonight to get back from her in some mirrored form her impressions and conclusions. She had elected, as they said, to see little Bilham once; but now she had seen him twice and had nevertheless not said more than a word.
Waymarsh meanwhile sat opposite him with their hostess between; and Miss Gostrey spoke of herself as an instructor of youth introducing her little charges to a work that was one of the glories of literature. The glory was happily unobjectionable, and the little charges were candid; for herself she had travelled that road and she merely waited on their innocence. But she referred in due time to their absent friend, whom it was clear they should have to give up. "He either won't have got your note," she said, "or you won't have got his: he has had some kind of hindrance, and, of course, for that matter, you know, a man never writes about coming to a box." She spoke as if, with her look, it might have been Waymarsh who had written to the youth, and the latter's face showed a mixture of austerity and anguish. She went on however as if to meet this. "He's far and away, you know, the best of them."
"The best of whom, ma'am?"
"Why of all the long procession--the boys, the girls, or the old men and old women as they sometimes really are; the hope, as one may say, of our country. They've all passed, year after year; but there has been no one in particular I've ever wanted to stop. I feel--don't YOU?--that I want to stop little Bilham; he's so exactly right as he is." She continued to talk to Waymarsh. "He's too delightful. If he'll only not spoil it! But they always WILL; they always do; they always have."
"I don't think Waymarsh knows," Strether said after a moment, "quite what it's open to Bilham to spoil."
"It can't be a good American," Waymarsh lucidly enough replied; "for it didn't strike me the young man had developed much in THAT shape."
"Ah," Miss Gostrey sighed, "the name of the good American is as easily given as taken away! What IS it, to begin with, to BE one, and what's the extraordinary hurry? Surely nothing that's so pressing was ever so little defined. It's such an order, really, that before we cook you the dish we must at least have your receipt. Besides the poor chicks have time! What I've seen so often spoiled," she pursued, "is the happy attitude itself, the state of faith and--what shall I call it?--the sense of beauty. You're right about him"--she now took in Strether; "little Bilham has them to a charm, we must keep little Bilham along." Then she was all again for Waymarsh. "The others have all wanted so dreadfully to do something, and they've gone and done it in too many cases indeed. It leaves them never the same afterwards; the charm's always somehow broken. Now HE, I think, you know, really won't. He won't do the least dreadful little thing. We shall continue to enjoy him just as he is. No--he's quite beautiful. He sees everything. He isn't a bit ashamed. He has every scrap of the courage of it that one could ask. Only think what he MIGHT do. One wants really--for fear of some accident--to keep him in view. At this very moment perhaps what mayn't he be up to? I've had my disappointments--the poor things are never really safe; or only at least when you have them under your eye. One can never completely trust them. One's uneasy, and I think that's why I most miss him now."
She had wound up with a laugh of enjoyment over her embroidery of her idea--an enjoyment that her face communicated to Strether, who almost wished none the less at this moment that she would let poor Waymarsh alone. HE knew more or less what she meant; but the fact wasn't a reason for her not pretending to Waymarsh that he didn't. It was craven of him perhaps, but he would, for the high amenity of the occasion, have liked Waymarsh not to be so sure of his wit. Her recognition of it gave him away and, before she had done with him or with that article, would give him worse. What was he, all the same, to do? He looked across the box at his friend; their eyes met; something queer and stiff, something that bore on the situation but that it was better not to touch, passed in silence between them. Well, the effect of it for Strether was an abrupt reaction, a final impatience of his own tendency to temporise. Where was that taking him anyway? It was one of the quiet instants that sometimes settle more matters than the outbreaks dear to the historic muse. The only qualification of the quietness was the synthetic "Oh hang it!" into which Strether's share of the silence soundlessly flowered. It represented, this mute ejaculation, a final impulse to burn his ships. These ships, to the historic muse, may seem of course mere cockles, but when he presently spoke to Miss Gostrey it was with the sense at least of applying the torch. "Is it then a conspiracy?"
"Between the two young men? Well, I don't pretend to be a seer or a prophetess," she presently replied; "but if I'm simply a woman of sense he's working for you to-night. I don't quite know how--but it's in my bones." And she looked at him at last as if, little material as she yet gave him, he'd really understand. "For an opinion THAT'S my opinion. He makes you out too well not to."
"Not to work for me to-night?" Strether wondered. "Then I hope he isn't doing anything very bad."
"They've got you," she portentously answered.
"Do you mean he IS--?"
"They've got you," she merely repeated. Though she disclaimed the prophetic vision she was at this instant the nearest approach he had ever met to the priestess of the oracle. The light was in her eyes. "You must face it now."
He faced it on the spot. "They HAD arranged--?"
"Every move in the game. And they've been arranging ever since. He has had every day his little telegram from
It made Strether open his eyes. "Do you KNOW that?"
"I do better. I see it. This was, before I met him, what I wondered whether I WAS to see. But as soon as I met him I ceased to wonder, and our second meeting made me sure. I took him all in. He was acting--he is still--on his daily instructions."
"Oh no--not the whole.
WE'VE done some of it. You and I
He sat massive. "A good bit of what, ma'am?"
"Why of the wonderful consciousness of our friend here. You've helped too in your way to float him to where he is."
"And where the devil IS he?"
She passed it on with a laugh. "Where the devil, Strether, are you?"
He spoke as if he had just been thinking it out. "Well, quite already in
"Well?" she asked while the image held him.
"Oh as much as you like! But the idea you speak of," she said, "won't have been his best. He'll have a better. It won't be all through little Bilham that he'll work it."
This already sounded almost like a hope destroyed. "Through whom else then?"
"That's what we shall see!" But quite as she spoke she turned, and
Strether turned; for the door of the box had opened, with the click of the
ouvreuse, from the lobby, and a
gentleman, a stranger to them, had come in with a quick step. The door closed behind him, and, though their
faces showed him his mistake, his air, which was striking, was all good
confidence. The curtain had just again
arisen, and, in the hush of the general attention, Strether's challenge was tacit,
as was also the greeting, with a quickly deprecating hand and smile, of the
unannounced visitor. He discreetly
signed that he would wait, would stand, and these things and his face, one look
from which she had caught, had suddenly worked for Miss Gostrey. She fitted to them all an answer for
Strether's last question. The solid
stranger was simply the answer--as she now, turning to her friend, indicated. She brought it straight out for him--it
presented the intruder. "Why,
through this gentleman!" The
gentleman indeed, at the same time, though sounding for Strether a very short
name, did practically as much to explain.
Strether gasped the name back--then only had he seen Miss Gostrey had
said more than she knew. They were in
Our friend was to go over it afterwards again and again--he
was going over it much of the time that they were together, and they were
together constantly for three or four days:
the note had been so strongly struck during that first half-hour that everything
happening since was comparatively a minor development. The fact was that his perception of the young
man's identity--so absolutely checked for a minute--had been quite one of the
sensations that count in life; he certainly had never known one that had acted,
as he might have said, with more of a crowded rush. And the rush though both vague and
multitudinous, had lasted a long time, protected, as it were, yet at the same
time aggravated, by the circumstance of its coinciding with a stretch of decorous
silence. They couldn't talk without disturbing the spectators in the part of
the balcony just below them; and it, for that matter, came to Strether--being a
thing of the sort that did come to him--that these were the accidents of a high
civilisation; the imposed tribute to propriety, the frequent exposure to
conditions, usually brilliant, in which relief has to await its time. Relief was never quite near at hand for
kings, queens, comedians and other such people, and though you might be
yourself not exactly one of those, you could yet, in leading the life of high
pressure, guess a little how they sometimes felt. It was truly the life of high pressure that
Strether had seemed to feel himself lead while he sat there, close to
He asked himself if, by any chance, before he should have in
some way to commit himself, he might feel his mind settled to the new vision,
might habituate it, so to speak, to the remarkable truth. But oh it was too remarkable,
the truth; for what could be more remarkable than this sharp rupture of an
identity? You could deal with a man as
himself--you couldn't deal with him as somebody else. It was a small source of peace moreover to be
reduced to wondering how little he might know in such an event what a sum he
was setting you. He couldn't absolutely
not know, for you couldn't absolutely not let him. It was a CASE then simply, a strong case, as
people nowadays called such things,' a case of transformation unsurpassed, and
the hope was but in the general law that strong cases were liable to control
from without. Perhaps he, Strether
himself, was the only person after all aware of it. Even Miss Gostrey, with all
her science, wouldn't be, would she? --and he had never seen any one less aware
of anything than Waymarsh as he glowered at
He had introduced
He was to know afterwards, in the watches of the night, that
nothing would have been more open to him than after a minute or two to propose
Here already then were abounding results; he had on the spot
and without the least trouble of intention taught Strether that even in so
small a thing as that there were different ways. He had done in the same line still more than
this; had by a mere shake or two of the head made his old friend observe that
the change in him was perhaps more than anything else, for the eye, a matter of
the marked streaks of grey, extraordinary at his age, in his thick black hair;
as well as that this new feature was curiously becoming to him, did something
for him, as characterisation, also even--of all things in the world--as
refinement, that had been a good deal wanted.
Strether felt, however, he would have had to confess, that it wouldn't
have been easy just now, on this and other counts, in the presence of what had
been supplied, to be quite clear as to what had been missed. A reflexion a candid critic might have made
of old, for instance, was that it would have been happier for the son to look
more like the mother; but this was a reflexion that at present would never
occur. The ground had quite fallen away
from it, yet no resemblance whatever to the mother had supervened. It would have been hard for a young man's
face and air to disconnect themselves more completely than
Again and again as the days passed he had had a sense of the
pertinence of communicating quickly with Woollett--communicating with a
quickness with which telegraphy alone would rhyme; the fruit really of a fine
fancy in him for keeping things straight, for the happy forestalment of
error. No one could explain better when
needful, nor put more conscience into an account or a report; which burden of
conscience is perhaps exactly the reason why his heart always sank when the
clouds of explanation gathered. His
highest ingenuity was in keeping the sky of life clear of them. Whether or no
he had a grand idea of the lucid, he held that nothing ever was in fact--for
any one else--explained. One went
through the vain motions, but it was mostly a waste of life. A personal relation was a relation only so
long as people either perfectly understood or, better still, didn't care if
they didn't. From the moment they cared
if they didn't it was living by the sweat of one's brow; and the sweat of one's
brow was just what one might buy one's self off from by keeping the ground free
of the wild weed of delusion. It easily
grew too fast, and the Atlantic cable now alone could race with it. That agency would each day have testified for
him to something that was not what Woollett had argued. He was not at this moment absolutely sure
that the effect of the morrow's--or rather of the night's--appreciation of the
crisis wouldn't be to determine some brief missive. "Have at last seen him, but oh
dear!"--some temporary relief of that sort seemed to hover before
him. It hovered somehow as preparing
them all--yet preparing them for what?
If he might do so more luminously and cheaply he would tick out in four
words: "Awfully old--grey
hair." To this particular item in
The question of Chadwick's true time of life was, doubtless,
what came up quickest after the adjournment of the two, when the play was over,
to a cafe in the Avenue de l'Opera. Miss
Gostrey had in due course been perfect for such a step; she had known exactly
what they wanted--to go straight somewhere and talk; and Strether had even felt
she had known what he wished to say and that he was arranging immediately to
begin. She hadn't pretended this, as she
HAD pretended on the other hand, to have divined Waymarsh's wish to extend to
her an independent protection homeward; but Strether nevertheless found how,
after he had Chad opposite to him at a small table in the brilliant halls that
his companion straightway selected, sharply and easily discriminated from
others, it was quite, to his mind, as if she heard him speak; as if, sitting
up, a mile away, in the little apartment he knew, she would listen hard enough
to catch. He found too that he liked
that idea, and he wished that, by the same token, Mrs. Newsome might have
caught as well. For what had above all
been determined in him as a necessity of the first order was not to lose
another hour, nor a fraction of one; was to advance, to overwhelm, with a rush. This was how he would anticipate--by a
night-attack, as might be--any forced maturity that a crammed consciousness of
"I've come, you know, to make you break with
everything, neither more nor less, and take you straight home; so you'll be so
good as immediately and favourably to consider it!"--Strether, face to
"Do I strike you as improved?" Strether was to recall that
He was likewise to recall--and it had to count for some time
as his greatest comfort--that it had been "given" him, as they said
at Woollett, to reply with some presence of mind: "I haven't the least idea." He was really for a while to like thinking he
had been positively hard. On the point
of conceding that
But in spite of all he had put the flag at the window. This was what he had done, and there was a
minute during which he affected himself as having shaken it hard, flapped it
with a mighty flutter, straight in front of his companion's nose. It gave him really almost the sense of having
already acted his part. The momentary
relief--as if from the knowledge that nothing of THAT at least could be
undone--sprang from a particular cause, the cause that had flashed into
operation, in Miss Gostrey's box, with direct apprehension, with amazed
recognition, and that had been concerned since then in every throb of his
consciousness. What it came to was that
with an absolutely new quantity to deal with one simply couldn't know. The new quantity was represented by the fact
Well, that was enough, Strether had felt while his answer hung fire. He had felt at the same time, however, that nothing could less become him than that it should hang fire too long. "Yes," he said brightly, "it was on the happy settlement of the question that I started. You see therefore to what tune I'm in your family. Moreover," he added, "I've been supposing you'd suppose it."
"Oh I've been supposing it for a long time, and what
you tell me helps me to understand that you should want to do something. To do something, I mean," said
He was altogether easy about it, and this made Strether now
see how at bottom, and in spite of the shade of shyness that really cost him
nothing, he had from the first moment been easy about everything. The shade of shyness was mere good
taste. People with manners formed could
apparently have, as one of their best cards, the shade of shyness too. He had leaned a little forward to speak; his
elbows were on the table; and the inscrutable new face that he had got
somewhere and somehow was brought by the movement nearer to his critics There
was a fascination for that critic in its not being, this ripe physiognomy, the
face that, under observation at least, he had originally carried away from
Woollett. Strether found a certain
freedom on his own side in defining it as that of a man of the world--a formula
that indeed seemed to come now in some degree to his relief; that of a man to
whom things had happened and were variously known. In gleams, in glances, the past did perhaps
peep out of it; but such lights were faint and instantly merged.
"Oh yes--easily. I'm here to answer everything. I think I can even tell you things, of the greatest interest to you, that you won't know enough to ask me. We'll take as many days to it as you like. But I want," Strether wound up, "to go to bed now."
The young man seemed to consider. "Oh I haven't put you through much--yet."
"Do you mean there's so much more to come?" Strether laughed. "All the more reason then that I should gird myself." And as if to mark what he felt he could by this time count on he was already on his feet.
The tone was, as who should say, everything Strether could
have desired; and quite as good the expression of face with which the speaker
had looked up at him and kindly held him.
All these things lacked was their not showing quite so much as the fruit
of experience. Yes, experience was what
He had stopped, leaving his friend to wonder a little what point he wished to make; and this it was that enabled Strether meanwhile to make one. "Oh we've never pretended to go into detail. We weren't in the least bound to THAT. It was 'filling out' enough to miss you as we did."
It affected Strether: horrors were so little--superficially at least--in this robust and reasoning image. But he was none the less there to be veracious. "Yes, I dare say we HAVE imagined horrors. But where's the harm if we haven't been wrong?"
"Do you mean," the latter asked as they approached the door, "that there isn't any woman with you now?"
"But pray what has that to do with it?"
"Why it's the whole question."
"Of my going home?"
"To keep you"--Strether took him straight up--"from carrying out your wish? Well, our idea has been that somebody has hitherto--or a good many persons perhaps--kept you pretty well from 'wanting.' That's what--if you're in anybody's hands--may again happen. You don't answer my question"--he kept it up; "but if you aren't in anybody's hands so much the better. There's nothing then but what makes for your going."
The upshot was indeed to make our friend marvel. "Oh if THAT'S all that's the matter with you--!" It was HE who almost showed resentment.
Strether hesitated, but it came out. "Not enough for your mother!"
Spoken, however, it sounded a trifle odd--the effect of which was that
This appeared to open for
"And at great length?"
Strether had become a little impatient. "I hope it's not found too great."
"Oh I'm sure not. And you hear as often?"
Again Strether paused. "As often as I deserve."
"Mother writes," said
Strether, before the closed porte-cochere, fixed him a moment. "It's more, my boy, than YOU do! But our suppositions don't matter," he added, "if you're actually not entangled."
"Then what are you here for? What has kept you," Strether asked, "if you HAVE been able to leave?"
It so fell in, unhappily for Strether, with that reflexion
of his own prompted in him by the pleasant air of the Boulevard Malesherbes,
that its disconcerting force was rather unfairly great. It was a dig that, administered by himself--and
administered even to poor Mrs. Newsome--was no more than salutary; but
It really looked true moreover from the way
He had always had a notion that this last was the grand
style of fighting; the greater therefore the reason for it, as he couldn't
remember that he had ever before fought in the grand style. Every one, according to this, knew Miss
Gostrey: how came it
That seemed at the end of ten days the upshot of the
abundant, the recurrent talk through which Strether poured into him all it
concerned him to know, put him in full possession of facts and figures. Never cutting these colloquies short by a
He couldn't quite yet force it upon Woollett that such a career, such a perverted young life, showed after all a certain plausible side, DID in the case before them flaunt something like an impunity for the social man; but he could at least treat himself to the statement that would prepare him for the sharpest echo. This echo--as distinct over there in the dry thin air as some shrill "heading" above a column of print--seemed to reach him even as he wrote. "He says there's no woman," he could hear Mrs. Newsome report, in capitals almost of newspaper size, to Mrs. Pocock; and he could focus in Mrs. Pocock the response of the reader of the journal. He could see in the younger lady's face the earnestness of her attention and catch the full scepticism of her but slightly delayed "What is there then?" Just so he could again as little miss the mother's clear decision: "There's plenty of disposition, no doubt, to pretend there isn't." Strether had, after posting his letter, the whole scene out; and it was a scene during which, coming and going, as befell, he kept his eye not least upon the daughter. He had his fine sense of the conviction Mrs. Pocock would take occasion to reaffirm--a conviction bearing, as he had from the first deeply divined it to bear, on Mr. Strether's essential inaptitude. She had looked him in his conscious eyes even before he sailed, and that she didn't believe HE would find the woman had been written in her book. [sic] Hadn't she at the best but a scant faith in his ability to find women? It wasn't even as if he had found her mother--so much more, to her discrimination, had her mother performed the finding. Her mother had, in a case her private judgement of which remained educative of Mrs. Pocock's critical sense, found the man. The man owed his unchallenged state, in general, to the fact that Mrs. Newsome's discoveries were accepted at Woollett; but he knew in his bones, our friend did, how almost irresistibly Mrs. Pocock would now be moved to show what she thought of his own. Give HER a free hand, would be the moral, and the woman would soon be found.
His impression of Miss Gostrey after her introduction to
His fancy seemed to please her. "Whose then?"
"Well, the party responsible is, I suppose, the fate that waits for one, the dark doom that rides. What I mean is that with such elements one can't count. I've but my poor individual, my modest human means. It isn't playing the game to turn on the uncanny. All one's energy goes to facing it, to tracking it. One wants, confound it, don't you see?" he confessed with a queer face--"one wants to enjoy anything so rare. Call it then life"--he puzzled it out--"call it poor dear old life simply that springs the surprise. Nothing alters the fact that the surprise is paralysing, or at any rate engrossing--all, practically, hang it, that one sees, that one CAN see."
Her silences were never barren, nor even dull. "Is that what you've written home?"
He tossed it off. "Oh dear, yes!"
She had another pause while, across her carpets, he had another walk. "If you don't look out you'll have them straight over."
"Oh but I've said he'll go back."
"And WILL he?" Miss Gostrey asked.
The special tone of it made him, pulling up, look at her long. "What's that but just the question I've spent treasures of patience and ingenuity in giving you, by the sight of him--after everything had led up--every facility to answer? What is it but just the thing I came here to-day to get out of you? Will he?"
"No--he won't," she said at last. "He's not free."
The air of it held him. "Then you've all the while known--?"
"I've known nothing but what I've seen; and I wonder," she declared with some impatience, that you didn't see as much. It was enough to be with him there--"
"In the box? Yes," he rather blankly urged.
"Well--to feel sure."
"Sure of what?"
She got up from her chair, at this, with a nearer approach than she had ever yet shown to dismay at his dimness. She even, fairly pausing for it, spoke with a shade of pity. "Guess!"
It was a shade, fairly, that brought a flush into his face; so that for a moment, as they waited together, their difference was between them. "You mean that just your hour with him told you so much of his story? Very good; I'm not such a fool, on my side, as that I don't understand you, or as that I didn't in some degree understand HIM. That he has done what he liked most isn't, among any of us, a matter the least in dispute. There's equally little question at this time of day of what it is he does like most. But I'm not talking," he reasonably explained, "of any mere wretch he may still pick up. I'm talking of some person who in his present situation may have held her own, may really have counted."
"That's exactly what I am!" said Miss Gostrey. But she as quickly made her point. "I thought you thought--or that they think at Woollett--that that's what mere wretches necessarily do. Mere wretches necessarily DON'T!" she declared with spirit. "There must, behind every appearance to the contrary, still be somebody--somebody who's not a mere wretch, since we accept the miracle. What else but such a somebody can such a miracle be?"
He took it in. "Because the fact itself IS the woman?"
"A woman. Some woman or other. It's one of the things that HAVE to be."
"But you mean then at least a good one."
"A good woman?" She threw up her arms with a laugh. "I should call her excellent!"
"Then why does he deny her?"
Miss Gostrey thought a moment. "Because she's too good to admit! Don't you see," she went on, "how she accounts for him?"
Strether clearly, more and more, did see; yet it made him also see other things. "But isn't what we want that he shall account for HER?"
"Well, he does.
What you have before you is his way.
You must forgive him if it isn't quite outspoken. In
Strether could imagine; but still--! "Even when the woman's good?"
Again she laughed out. "Yes, and even when the man is! There's always a caution in such cases," she more seriously explained--"for what it may seem to show. There's nothing that's taken as showing so much here as sudden unnatural goodness."
"Ah then you're speaking now," Strether said, "of people who are NOT nice."
"I delight," she replied, "in your
classifications. But do you want
me," she asked, "to give you in the matter, on this ground, the
wisest advice I'm capable of? Don't
consider her, don't judge her at all in herself. Consider her and judge her only in
He had the courage at least of his companion's logic. "Because then I shall like her?" He almost looked, with his quick imagination as if he already did, though seeing at once also the full extent of how little it would suit his book. "But is that what I came out for?"
She had to confess indeed that it wasn't. But there was something else. "Don't make up your mind. There are all sorts of things. You haven't seen him all."
This on his side Strether recognised; but his acuteness none the less showed him the danger. "Yes, but if the more I see the better he seems?"
Well, she found something. "That may be--but his disavowal of her isn't, all the same, pure consideration. There's a hitch." She made it out. "It's the effort to sink her."
Strether winced at the image. "To 'sink'--?"
"Well, I mean there's a struggle, and a part of it is just what he hides. Take time--that's the only way not to make some mistake that you'll regret. Then you'll see. He does really want to shake her off."
Our friend had by this time so got into the vision that he almost gasped. "After all she has done for him?"
Miss Gostrey gave him a look which broke the next moment into a wonderful smile. "He's not so good as you think!"
They remained with him, these words, promising him, in their
character of warning, considerable help; but the support he tried to draw from
them found itself on each renewal of contact with
The strolls over Paris to see something or call somewhere were accordingly inevitable and natural, and the late sessions in the wondrous troisieme, the lovely home, when men dropped in and the picture composed more suggestively through the haze of tobacco, of music more or less good and of talk more or less polyglot, were on a principle not to be distinguished from that of the mornings and the afternoons. Nothing, Strether had to recognise as he leaned back and smoked, could well less resemble a scene of violence than even the liveliest of these occasions. They were occasions of discussion, none the less, and Strether had never in his life heard so many opinions on so many subjects. There were opinions at Woollett, but only on three or four. The differences were there to match; if they were doubtless deep, though few, they were quiet--they were, as might be said, almost as shy as if people had been ashamed of them. People showed little diffidence about such things, on the other hand, in the Boulevard Malesherbes, and were so far from being ashamed of them--or indeed of anything else--that they often seemed to have invented them to avert those agreements that destroy the taste of talk. No one had ever done that at Woollett, though Strether could remember times when he himself had been tempted to it without quite knowing why. He saw why at present --he had but wanted to promote intercourse.
These, however, were but parenthetic memories, and the turn
taken by his affair on the whole was positively that if his nerves were on the
stretch it was because he missed violence.
When he asked himself if none would then, in connexion with it, ever come
at all, he might almost have passed as wondering how to provoke it. It would be
too absurd if such a vision as THAT should have to be invoked for relief; it
was already marked enough as absurd that he should actually have begun with
flutters and dignities on the score of a single accepted meal. What sort of a brute had he expected
"What game under the sun is he playing?" He signified the next moment that his allusion was not to the fat gentleman immersed in dominoes on whom his eyes had begun by resting, but to their host of the previous hour, as to whom, there on the velvet bench, with a final collapse of all consistency, he treated himself to the comfort of indiscretion. "Where do you see him come out?"
Little Bilham, in meditation, looked at him with a kindness almost paternal. "Don't you like it over here?"
Strether laughed out--for the tone was indeed droll; he let himself go. "What has that to do with it? The only thing I've any business to like is to feel that I'm moving him. That's why I ask you whether you believe I AM? Is the creature"--and he did his best to show that he simply wished to ascertain--"honest?"
His companion looked responsible, but looked it through a small dim smile. "What creature do you mean?"
It was on this that they did have for a little a mute interchange. "Is it untrue that he's free? How then," Strether asked wondering "does he arrange his life?"
"Is the creature you mean
Strether here, with a rising hope, just thought, "We must take one of them at a time." But his coherence lapsed. "IS there some woman? Of whom he's really afraid of course I mean--or who does with him what she likes."
"It's awfully charming of you," Bilham presently remarked, "not to have asked me that before."
"Oh I'm not fit for my job!"
The exclamation had escaped our friend, but it made little
Bilham more deliberate. "
"Then you see it too?"
"The way he has improved? Oh yes--I think every one must see it. But I'm not sure," said little Bilham, "that I didn't like him about as well in his other state."
"Then this IS really a new state altogether?"
"Well," the young man after a moment returned,
"I'm not sure he was really meant by nature to be quite so good. It's like the new edition of an old book that
one has been fond of--revised and amended, brought up to date, but not quite
the thing one knew and loved. However
that may be at all events," he pursued, "I don't think, you know,
that he's really playing, as you call it, any game. I believe he really wants to go back and take
up a career. He's capable of one, you know, that will improve and enlarge him
still more. He won't then," little
Bilham continued to remark, "be my pleasant well-rubbed old-fashioned
volume at all. But of course I'm beastly
immoral. I'm afraid it would be a funny
world altogether--a world with things the way I like them. I ought, I dare say, to go home and go into
business myself. Only I'd simply rather
die--simply. And I've not the least
difficulty in making up my mind not to, and in knowing exactly why, and in
defending my ground against all comers.
All the same," he wound up, "I assure you I don't say a word
against it--for himself, I mean--to
"DO I?"--Strether stared. "I've been supposing I see just the opposite--an extraordinary case of the equilibrium arrived at and assured."
"Oh there's a lot behind it."
"Ah there you are!" Strether exclaimed. "That's just what I want to get at. You speak of your familiar volume altered out of recognition. Well, who's the editor?"
Little Bilham looked before him a minute in silence. "He ought to get married. THAT would do it. And he wants to."
"Wants to marry her?"
Again little Bilham waited, and, with a sense that he had information, Strether scarce knew what was coming. "He wants to be free. He isn't used, you see," the young man explained in his lucid way, "to being so good."
Strether hesitated. "Then I may take it from you that he IS good?"
His companion matched his pause, but making it up with a quiet fulness. "DO take it from me."
"Well then why isn't he free? He swears to me he is, but meanwhile does nothing--except of course that he's so kind to me--to prove it; and couldn't really act much otherwise if he weren't. My question to you just now was exactly on this queer impression of his diplomacy: as if instead of really giving ground his line were to keep me on here and set me a bad example."
As the half-hour meanwhile had ebbed Strether paid his score, and the waiter was presently in the act of counting out change. Our friend pushed back to him a fraction of it, with which, after an emphatic recognition, the personage in question retreated. "You give too much," little Bilham permitted himself benevolently to observe.
"Oh I always give too much!" Strether helplessly sighed. "But you don't," he went on as if to get quickly away from the contemplation of that doom, "answer my question. Why isn't he free?"
Little Bilham had got up as if the transaction with the waiter had been a signal, and had already edged out between the table and the divan. The effect of this was that a minute later they had quitted the place, the gratified waiter alert again at the open door. Strether had found himself deferring to his companion's abruptness as to a hint that he should be answered as soon as they were more isolated. This happened when after a few steps in the outer air they had turned the next comer. There our friend had kept it up. "Why isn't he free if he's good?"
Little Bilham looked him full in the face. "Because it's a virtuous attachment."
This had settled the question so effectually for the time--that is for the next few days--that it had given Strether almost a new lease of life. It must be added however that, thanks to his constant habit of shaking the bottle in which life handed him the wine of experience, he presently found the taste of the lees rising as usual into his draught. His imagination had in other words already dealt with his young friend's assertion; of which it had made something that sufficiently came out on the very next occasion of his seeing Maria Gostrey. This occasion moreover had been determined promptly by a new circumstance--a circumstance he was the last man to leave her for a day in ignorance of. "When I said to him last night," he immediately began, "that without some definite word from him now that will enable me to speak to them over there of our sailing--or at least of mine, giving them some sort of date--my responsibility becomes uncomfortable and my situation awkward; when I said that to him what do you think was his reply?" And then as she this time gave it up: "Why that he has two particular friends, two ladies, mother and daughter, about to arrive in Paris--coming back from an absence; and that he wants me so furiously to meet them, know them and like them, that I shall oblige him by kindly not bringing our business to a crisis till he has had a chance to see them again himself. Is that," Strether enquired, "the way he's going to try to get off? These are the people," he explained, "that he must have gone down to see before I arrived. They're the best friends he has in the world, and they take more interest than any one else in what concerns him. As I'm his next best he sees a thousand reasons why we should comfortably meet. He hasn't broached the question sooner because their return was uncertain--seemed in fact for the present impossible. But he more than intimates that--if you can believe it--their desire to make my acquaintance has had to do with their surmounting difficulties."
"They're dying to see you?" Miss Gostrey asked.
"Dying. Of course," said Strether, "they're the virtuous attachment." He had already told her about that--had seen her the day after his talk with little Bilham; and they had then threshed out together the bearing of the revelation. She had helped him to put into it the logic in which little Bilham had left it slightly deficient Strether hadn't pressed him as to the object of the preference so unexpectedly described; feeling in the presence of it, with one of his irrepressible scruples, a delicacy from which he had in the quest of the quite other article worked himself sufficiently free. He had held off, as on a small principle of pride, from permitting his young friend to mention a name; wishing to make with this the great point that Chad's virtuous attachments were none of his business. He had wanted from the first not to think too much of his dignity, but that was no reason for not allowing it any little benefit that might turn up. He had often enough wondered to what degree his interference might pass for interested; so that there was no want of luxury in letting it be seen whenever he could that he didn't interfere. That had of course at the same time not deprived him of the further luxury of much private astonishment; which however he had reduced to some order before communicating his knowledge. When he had done this at last it was with the remark that, surprised as Miss Gostrey might, like himself, at first be, she would probably agree with him on reflexion that such an account of the matter did after all fit the confirmed appearances. Nothing certainly, on all the indications, could have been a greater change for him than a virtuous attachment, and since they had been in search of the "word" as the French called it, of that change, little Bilham's announcement--though so long and so oddly delayed--would serve as well as another. She had assured Strether in fact after a pause that the more she thought of it the more it did serve; and yet her assurance hadn't so weighed with him as that before they parted he hadn't ventured to challenge her sincerity. Didn't she believe the attachment was virtuous?--he had made sure of her again with the aid of that question. The tidings he brought her on this second occasion were moreover such as would help him to make surer still.
She showed at first none the less as only amused. "You say there are two? An attachment to them both then would, I suppose, almost necessarily be innocent."
Our friend took the point, but he had his clue. "Mayn't he be still in the stage of not quite knowing which of them, mother or daughter, he likes best?"
She gave it more thought. "Oh it must be the daughter--at his age."
"Possibly. Yet what do we know," Strether asked, "about hers? She may be old enough."
"Old enough for what?"
"Why to marry
It was always the case for him in these counsels that each of his remarks, as it came, seemed to drop into a deeper well. He had at all events to wait a moment to hear the slight splash of this one. "I don't see why if Mr. Newsome wants to marry the young lady he hasn't already done it or hasn't been prepared with some statement to you about it. And if he both wants to marry her and is on good terms with them why isn't he 'free'?"
Strether, responsively, wondered indeed. "Perhaps the girl herself doesn't like him."
"Then why does he speak of them to you as he does?"
Strether's mind echoed the question, but also again met it. "Perhaps it's with the mother he's on good terms."
"As against the daughter?"
"Well, if she's trying to persuade the daughter to consent to him, what could make him like the mother more? Only," Strether threw out, "why shouldn't the daughter consent to him?"
"Oh," said Miss Gostrey, "mayn't it be that every one else isn't quite so struck with him as you?"
"Doesn't regard him you mean as such an 'eligible' young man? Is that what I've come to?" he audibly and rather gravely sought to know. "However," he went on, "his marriage is what his mother most desires--that is if it will help. And oughtn't ANY marriage to help? They must want him"--he had already worked it out--"to be better off. Almost any girl he may marry will have a direct interest in his taking up his chances. It won't suit HER at least that he shall miss them."
Miss Gostrey cast about. "No--you reason well! But of course on the other hand there's always dear old Woollett itself."
"Oh yes," he mused--"there's always dear old Woollett itself."
She waited a moment. "The young lady mayn't find herself able to swallow THAT quantity. She may think it's paying too much; she may weigh one thing against another."
Strether, ever restless in such debates, took a vague turn "It will all depend on who she is. That of course--the proved ability to deal with dear old Woollett, since I'm sure she does deal with it--is what makes so strongly for Mamie."
He stopped short, at her tone, before her; then, though seeing that it represented not vagueness, but a momentary embarrassed fulness, let his exclamation come. "You surely haven't forgotten about Mamie!"
"No, I haven't forgotten about Mamie," she smiled. "There's no doubt whatever that there's ever so much to be said for her. Mamie's MY girl!" she roundly declared.
Strether resumed for a minute his walk. "She's really perfectly lovely, you know. Far prettier than any girl I've seen over here yet."
"That's precisely on what I perhaps most build." And she mused a moment in her friend's way. "I should positively like to take her in hand!"
He humoured the fancy, though indeed finally to deprecate it. "Oh but don't, in your zeal, go over to her! I need you most and can't, you know, be left."
But she kept it up. "I wish they'd send her out to me!"
"If they knew you," he returned, "they would "
"Ah but don't they?--after all that, as I've understood you you've told them about me?"
He had paused before her again, but he continued his course "They WILL--before, as you say, I've done." Then he came out with the point he had wished after all most to make. "It seems to give away now his game. This is what he has been doing--keeping me along for. He has been waiting for them."
Miss Gostrey drew in her lips. "You see a good deal in it!"
"I doubt if I see as much as you. Do you pretend," he went on, "that you don't see--?"
"Well, what?"--she pressed him as he paused.
"Why that there must be a lot between them--and that it has been going on from the first; even from before I came."
She took a minute to answer. "Who are they then--if it's so grave?"
"It mayn't be grave--it may be gay. But at any rate it's marked. Only I don't know," Strether had to confess, "anything about them. Their name for instance was a thing that, after little Bilham's information, I found it a kind of refreshment not to feel obliged to follow up."
"Oh," she returned, "if you think you've got off--!"
Her laugh produced in him a momentary gloom. "I don't think I've got off. I only think I'm breathing for about five minutes. I dare say I SHALL have, at the best, still to get on." A look, over it all, passed between them, and the next minute he had come back to good humour. "I don't meanwhile take the smallest interest in their name."
"Nor in their nationality?--American, French, English, Polish?"
"I don't care the least little 'hang,'" he smiled, "for their nationality. It would be nice if they're Polish!" he almost immediately added.
"Very nice indeed." The transition kept up her spirits. "So you see you do care."
He did this contention a modified justice. "I think I should if they WERE Polish. Yes," he thought--"there might be joy in THAT."
"Let us then hope for it." But she came after this nearer to the question. "If the girl's of the right age of course the mother can't be. I mean for the virtuous attachment. If the girl's twenty--and she can't be less--the mother must be at least forty. So it puts the mother out. SHE'S too old for him."
Strether, arrested again, considered and demurred. "Do you think so? Do you think any one would be too old for
him? I'M eighty, and I'm too young. But perhaps the girl," he continued,
"ISn't twenty. Perhaps she's only ten--but such a little dear that
Miss Gostrey entertained the suggestion. "She IS a widow then?"
"I haven't the least idea!" They once more, in spite of this vagueness, exchanged a look--a look that was perhaps the longest yet. It seemed in fact, the next thing, to require to explain itself; which it did as it could. "I only feel what I've told you --that he has some reason."
Miss Gostrey's imagination had taken its own flight. "Perhaps she's NOT a widow."
Strether seemed to accept the possibility with reserve. Still he accepted it. "Then that's why the attachment--if it's to her--is virtuous."
But she looked as if she scarce followed. "Why is it virtuous if--since she's free--there's nothing to impose on it any condition?"
He laughed at her question. "Oh I perhaps don't mean as virtuous as THAT! Your idea is that it can be virtuous--in any sense worthy of the name--only if she's NOT free? But what does it become then," he asked, "for HER?"
"Ah that's another matter." He said nothing for a moment, and she soon went on. "I dare say you're right, at any rate, about Mr. Newsome's little plan. He HAS been trying you--has been reporting on you to these friends."
Strether meanwhile had had time to think more. "Then where's his straightness?"
"Well, as we say, it's struggling up, breaking out, asserting itself as it can. We can be on the side, you see, of his straightness. We can help him. But he has made out," said Miss Gostrey, "that you'll do."
"Do for what?"
"Why, for THEM--for ces dames. He has watched you, studied you, liked you--and recognised that THEY must. It's a great compliment to you, my dear man; for I'm sure they're particular. You came out for a success. Well," she gaily declared, "you're having it!"
He took it from her with momentary patience and then turned abruptly away. It was always convenient to him that there were so many fine things in her room to look at. But the examination of two or three of them appeared soon to have determined a speech that had little to do with them. "You don't believe in it!"
"In the character of the attachment. In its innocence."
But she defended herself. "I don't pretend to know anything about it. Everything's possible. We must see."
"See?" he echoed with a groan. "Haven't we seen enough?"
"I haven't," she smiled.
"But do you suppose then little Bilham has lied?"
"You must find out."
It made him almost turn pale. "Find out any MORE?"
He had dropped on a sofa for dismay; but she seemed, as she stood over him, to have the last word. "Wasn't what you came out for to find out ALL?"
The Sunday of the next week was a wonderful day, and Chad Newsome
had let his friend know in advance that he had provided for it. There had
already been a question of his taking him to see the great Gloriani, who was at
home on Sunday afternoons and at whose house, for the most part, fewer bores
were to be met than elsewhere; but the project, through some accident, had not
had instant effect, and now revived in happier conditions.
He had known beforehand that Madame de Vionnet and her
daughter would probably be on view, an intimation to that effect having
constituted the only reference again made by
The place itself was a great impression--a small pavilion, clear-faced and sequestered, an effect of polished parquet, of fine white panel and spare sallow gilt, of decoration delicate and rare, in the heart of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and on the edge of a cluster of gardens attached to old noble houses. Far back from streets and unsuspected by crowds, reached by a long passage and a quiet court, it was as striking to the unprepared mind, he immediately saw, as a treasure dug up; giving him too, more than anything yet, the note of the range of the immeasurable town and sweeping away, as by a last brave brush, his usual landmarks and terms. It was in the garden, a spacious cherished remnant, out of which a dozen persons had already passed, that Chad's host presently met them while the tall bird-haunted trees, all of a twitter with the spring and the weather, and the high party-walls, on the other side of which grave hotels stood off for privacy, spoke of survival, transmission, association, a strong indifferent persistent order. The day was so soft that the little party had practically adjourned to the open air but the open air was in such conditions all a chamber of state. Strether had presently the sense of a great convent, a convent of missions, famous for he scarce knew what, a nursery of young priests, of scattered shade, of straight alleys and chapel-bells, that spread its mass in one quarter; he had the sense of names in the air, of ghosts at the windows, of signs and tokens, a whole range of expression, all about him, too thick for prompt discrimination.
This assault of images became for a moment, in the address
of the distinguished sculptor, almost formidable: Gloriani showed him, in such perfect
"Oh they're every one--all sorts and sizes; of course I mean within limits, though limits down perhaps rather more than limits up. There are always artists--he's beautiful and inimitable to the cher confrere; and then gros bonnets of many kinds--ambassadors, cabinet ministers, bankers, generals, what do I know? even Jews. Above all always some awfully nice women--and not too many; sometimes an actress, an artist, a great performer--but only when they're not monsters; and in particular the right femmes du monde. You can fancy his history on that side--I believe it's fabulous: they NEVER give him up. Yet he keeps them down: no one knows how he manages; it's too beautiful and bland. Never too many--and a mighty good thing too; just a perfect choice. But there are not in any way many bores; it has always been so; he has some secret. It's extraordinary. And you don't find it out. He's the same to every one. He doesn't ask questions.'
"Ah doesn't he?" Strether laughed.
Bilham met it with all his candour. "How then should I be here?
"Oh for what you tell me. You're part of the perfect choice."
Well, the young man took in the scene. "It seems rather good to-day."
Strether followed the direction of his eyes. "Are they all, this time, femmes du monde?"
Little Bilham showed his competence. "Pretty well."
This was a category our friend had a feeling for; a light, romantic and mysterious, on the feminine element, in which he enjoyed for a little watching it. "Are there any Poles?"
His companion considered. "I think I make out a 'Portuguee.' But I've seen Turks."
Strether wondered, desiring justice. "They seem--all the women--very harmonious."
"Oh in closer quarters they come out!" And then, while Strether was aware of fearing closer quarters, though giving himself again to the harmonies, "Well," little Bilham went on, "it IS at the worst rather good, you know. If you like it, you feel it, this way, that shows you're not in the least out But you always know things," he handsomely added, "immediately."
Strether liked it and felt it only too much; so "I say, don't lay traps for me!" he rather helplessly murmured.
"Well," his companion returned, "he's wonderfully kind to us."
"To us Americans you mean?"
"Oh no--he doesn't know anything about THAT. That's half the battle here--that you can never hear politics. We don't talk them. I mean to poor young wretches of all sorts. And yet it's always as charming as this; it's as if, by something in the air, our squalor didn't show. It puts us all back--into the last century."
"I'm afraid," Strether said, amused, "that it puts me rather forward: oh ever so far!"
"Into the next? But isn't that only," little Bilham asked, "because you're really of the century before?"
"The century before the last? Thank you!" Strether laughed. "If I ask you about some of the ladies it can't be then that I may hope, as such a specimen of the rococo, to please them."
"On the contrary they adore--we all adore here--the rococo, and where is there a better setting for it than the whole thing, the pavilion and the garden, together? There are lots of people with collections," little Bilham smiled as he glanced round. "You'll be secured!"
It made Strether for a moment give himself again to contemplation. There were faces he scarce knew what to make of. Were they charming or were they only strange? He mightn't talk politics, yet he suspected a Pole or two. The upshot was the question at the back of his head from the moment his friend had joined him. "Have Madame de Vionnet and her daughter arrived?"
"I haven't seen them yet, but Miss Gostrey has come. She's in the pavilion looking at objects. One can see SHE'S a collector," little Bilham added without offence.
"Oh yes, she's a collector, and I knew she was to come. Is Madame de Vionnet a collector?" Strether went on.
"Rather, I believe; almost celebrated." The young man met, on it, a little, his
friend's eyes. "I happen to
Strether, very quickly, turned these things over. "
"But did you ask him?"
Strether did him the justice. "I dare say not."
"Well," said little Bilham, "you're not a person to whom it's easy to tell things you don't want to know. Though it is easy, I admit--it's quite beautiful," he benevolently added, "when you do want to."
Strether looked at him with an indulgence that matched his intelligence. "Is that the deep reasoning on which--about these ladies--you've been yourself so silent?"
Little Bilham considered the depth of his reasoning. "I haven't been silent. I spoke of them to you the other day, the day
we sat together after
Strether came round to it. "They then are the virtuous attachment?"
"I can only tell you that it's what they pass for. But isn't that enough? What more than a vain appearance does the wisest of us know? I commend you," the young man declared with a pleasant emphasis, "the vain appearance."
Strether looked more widely round, and what he saw, from face to face, deepened the effect of his young friend's words. "Is it so good?"
Strether had a pause. "The husband's dead?"
"Dear no. Alive."
"Oh!" said Strether. After which, as his companion laughed: "How then can it be so good?"
"You'll see for yourself. One does see."
"That's what I mean."
Strether wondered. "Then where's the difficulty?"
"Why, aren't you and I--with our grander bolder ideas?"
"Oh mine--!" Strether said rather strangely. But then as if to attenuate: "You mean they won't hear of Woollett?"
Little Bilham smiled. "Isn't that just what you must see about?"
It had brought them, as she caught the last words, into relation with Miss Barrace, whom Strether had already observed--as he had never before seen a lady at a party--moving about alone. Coming within sound of them she had already spoken, and she took again, through her long-handled glass, all her amused and amusing possession. "How much, poor Mr. Strether, you seem to have to see about! But you can't say," she gaily declared, "that I don't do what I can to help you. Mr. Waymarsh is placed. I've left him in the house with Miss Gostrey."
"The way," little Bilham exclaimed, "Mr. Strether gets the ladies to work for him! He's just preparing to draw in another; to pounce--don't you see him?--on Madame de Vionnet."
"Madame de Vionnet? Oh, oh, oh!" Miss Barrace cried in a wonderful crescendo. There was more in it, our friend made out, than met the ear. Was it after all a joke that he should be serious about anything? He envied Miss Barrace at any rate her power of not being. She seemed, with little cries and protests and quick recognitions, movements like the darts of some fine high-feathered free-pecking bird, to stand before life as before some full shop-window. You could fairly hear, as she selected and pointed, the tap of her tortoise-shell against the glass. "It's certain that we do need seeing about; only I'm glad it's not I who have to do it. One does, no doubt, begin that way; then suddenly one finds that one has given it up. It's too much, it's too difficult. You're wonderful, you people," she continued to Strether, "for not feeling those things--by which I mean impossibilities. You never feel them. You face them with a fortitude that makes it a lesson to watch you."
"Ah but"--little Bilham put it with discouragement--"what do we achieve after all? We see about you and report--when we even go so far as reporting. But nothing's done."
"Oh you, Mr. Bilham," she replied as with an impatient rap on the glass, "you're not worth sixpence! You come over to convert the savages--for I know you verily did, I remember you--and the savages simply convert YOU."
"Not even!" the young man woefully confessed: "they haven't gone through that form. They've simply--the cannibals!--eaten me; converted me if you like, but converted me into food. I'm but the bleached bones of a Christian."
"Well then there we are! Only"--and Miss Barrace appealed again to Strether--"don't let it discourage you. You'll break down soon enough, but you'll meanwhile have had your moments. Il faut en avoir. I always like to see you while you last. And I'll tell you who WILL last."
"Waymarsh?"--he had already taken her up.
She laughed out as at the alarm of it. "He'll resist even Miss Gostrey: so grand is it not to understand. He's wonderful."
"He is indeed," Strether conceded. "He wouldn't tell me of this affair--only said he had an engagement; but with such a gloom, you must let me insist, as if it had been an engagement to be hanged. Then silently and secretly he turns up here with you. Do you call THAT 'lasting'?"
"Oh I hope it's lasting!" Miss Barrace said. "But he only, at the best, bears with me. He doesn't understand--not one little scrap. He's delightful. He's wonderful," she repeated.
"Michelangelesque!"--little Bilham completed her meaning. "He IS a success. Moses, on the ceiling, brought down to the floor; overwhelming, colossal, but somehow portable."
"Certainly, if you mean by portable," she
returned, "looking so well in one's carriage. He's too funny beside me in his comer; he
looks like somebody, somebody foreign and famous, en exil; so that people
wonder--it's very amusing--whom I'm taking about. I show him
It presented him none the less, in truth, to her actual friends, who looked at each other in intelligence, with frank amusement on Bilham's part and a shade of sadness on Strether's. Strether's sadness sprang--for the image had its grandeur--from his thinking how little he himself was wrapt in his blanket, how little, in marble halls, all too oblivious of the Great Father, he resembled a really majestic aboriginal. But he had also another reflexion. "You've all of you here so much visual sense that you've somehow all 'run' to it. There are moments when it strikes one that you haven't any other."
"Any moral," little Bilham explained, watching serenely, across the garden, the several femmes du monde. "But Miss Barrace has a moral distinction," he kindly continued; speaking as if for Strether's benefit not less than for her own.
"HAVE you?" Strether, scarce knowing what he was about, asked of her almost eagerly.
"Oh not a distinction"--she was mightily amused at
his tone--"Mr. Bilham's too good.
But I think I may say a sufficiency.
Yes, a sufficiency. Have you supposed strange things of me?"--and
she fixed him again, through all her tortoise-shell, with the droll interest of
it. "You ARE all indeed wonderful.
I should awfully disappoint you. I do take my stand on my
sufficiency. But I know, I
confess," she went on, "strange people. I don't know how it happens; I don't do it on
purpose; it seems to be my doom--as if I were always one of their habits: it's wonderful! I dare say moreover,"
she pursued with an interested gravity, "that I do, that we all do here,
run too much to mere eye. But how can it
be helped? We're all looking at each other--and in the light of
"Everything, every one shows," Miss Barrace went on.
"But for what they really are?" Strether asked.
"Oh I like your
Her answer was prompt. "She's charming. She's perfect."
"Then why did you a minute ago say 'Oh, oh, oh!' at her name?"
She easily remembered. "Why just because--! She's wonderful."
"Ah she too?"--Strether had almost a groan.
But Miss Barrace had meanwhile perceived relief. "Why not put your question straight to the person who can answer it best?"
"No," said little Bilham; "don't put any question; wait, rather--it will be much more fun--to judge for yourself. He has come to take you to her."
On which Strether saw that
Later on he was to feel many more of them, but by that time
he was to feel other things besides. She
was dressed in black, but in black that struck him as light and transparent;
she was exceedingly fair, and, though she was as markedly slim, her face had a
roundness, with eyes far apart and a little strange. Her smile was natural and
dim; her hat not extravagant; he had only perhaps a sense of the clink, beneath
her fine black sleeves, of more gold bracelets and bangles than he had ever
seen a lady wear.
The evidence as yet in truth was meagre; which, for that
matter, was perhaps a little why his expectation had had a drop. There was somehow not quite a wealth in her;
and a wealth was all that, in his simplicity, he had definitely
prefigured. Still, it was too much to be
sure already that there was but a poverty.
They moved away from the house, and, with eyes on a bench at some
distance, he proposed that they should sit down. "I've heard a great deal about
you," she said as they went; but he had an answer to it that made her stop
short. "Well, about YOU, Madame de
Vionnet, I've heard, I'm bound to say, almost nothing"--those struck him
as the only words he himself could utter with any lucidity; conscious as he
was, and as with more reason, of the determination to be in respect to the rest
of his business perfectly plain and go perfectly straight. It hadn't at any rate been in the least his
idea to spy on
"Hasn't Miss Gostrey," she asked, "said a good word for me?"
What had struck him first was the way he was bracketed with
that lady; and he wondered what account
"Well, now she'll tell you all. I'm so glad you're in relation with her."
This was one of the things--the "all" Miss Gostrey would now tell him--that, with every deference to present preoccupation, was uppermost for Strether after they had taken their seat. One of the others was, at the end of five minutes, that she--oh incontestably, yes--DIFFERED less; differed, that is, scarcely at all--well, superficially speaking, from Mrs. Newsome or even from Mrs. Pocock. She was ever so much younger than the one and not so young as the other; but what WAS there in her, if anything, that would have made it impossible he should meet her at Woollett? And wherein was her talk during their moments on the bench together not the same as would have been found adequate for a Woollett garden-party?--unless perhaps truly in not being quite so bright. She observed to him that Mr. Newsome had, to her knowledge, taken extraordinary pleasure in his visit; but there was no good lady at Woollett who wouldn't have been at least up to that. Was there in Chad, by chance, after all, deep down, a principle of aboriginal loyalty that had made him, for sentimental ends, attach himself to elements, happily encountered, that would remind him most of the old air and the old soil? Why accordingly be in a flutter--Strether could even put it that way--about this unfamiliar phenomenon of the femme du monde? On these terms Mrs. Newsome herself was as much of one. Little Bilham verily had testified that they came out, the ladies of the type, in close quarters; but it was just in these quarters--now comparatively close--that he felt Madame de Vionnet's common humanity. She did come out, and certainly to his relief, but she came out as the usual thing. There might be motives behind, but so could there often be even at Woollett. The only thing was that if she showed him she wished to like him--as the motives behind might conceivably prompt--it would possibly have been more thrilling for him that she should have shown as more vividly alien. Ah she was neither Turk nor Pole!--which would be indeed flat once more for Mrs. Newsome and Mrs. Pocock. A lady and two gentlemen had meanwhile, however, approached their bench, and this accident stayed for the time further developments.
They presently addressed his companion, the brilliant strangers; she rose to speak to them, and Strether noted how the escorted lady, though mature and by no means beautiful, had more of the bold high look, the range of expensive reference, that he had, as might have been said, made his plans for. Madame de Vionnet greeted her as "Duchesse" and was greeted in turn, while talk started in French, as "Ma toute-belle"; little facts that had their due, their vivid interest for Strether. Madame de Vionnet didn't, none the less, introduce him--a note he was conscious of as false to the Woollett scale and the Woollett humanity; though it didn't prevent the Duchess, who struck him as confident and free, very much what he had obscurely supposed duchesses, from looking at him as straight and as hard--for it WAS hard--as if she would have liked, all the same, to know him. "Oh yes, my dear, it's all right, it's ME; and who are YOU, with your interesting wrinkles and your most effective (is it the handsomest, is it the ugliest?) of noses?"--some such loose handful of bright flowers she seemed, fragrantly enough, to fling at him. Strether almost wondered--at such a pace was he going--if some divination of the influence of either party were what determined Madame de Vionnet's abstention. One of the gentlemen, in any case, succeeded in placing himself in close relation with our friend's companion; a gentleman rather stout and importantly short, in a hat with a wonderful wide curl to its brim and a frock coat buttoned with an effect of superlative decision. His French had quickly turned to equal English, and it occurred to Strether that he might well be one of the ambassadors. His design was evidently to assert a claim to Madame de Vionnet's undivided countenance, and he made it good in the course of a minute--led her away with a trick of three words; a trick played with a social art of which Strether, looking after them as the four, whose backs were now all turned, moved off, felt himself no master.
He sank again upon his bench and, while his eyes followed
the party, reflected, as he had done before, on
"Oh dear, yes."
"Ah then what?"
Strether had after all to think. "Well, I'm sorry for them." But it didn't for the moment matter more than that. He assured his young friend he was quite content. They wouldn't stir; were all right as they were. He didn't want to be introduced; had been introduced already about as far as he could go. He had seen moreover an immensity; liked Gloriani, who, as Miss Barrace kept saying, was wonderful; had made out, he was sure, the half-dozen other 'men who were distinguished, the artists, the critics and oh the great dramatist--HIM it was easy to spot; but wanted--no, thanks, really--to talk with none of them; having nothing at all to say and finding it would do beautifully as it was; do beautifully because what it was--well, was just simply too late. And when after this little Bilham, submissive and responsive, but with an eye to the consolation nearest, easily threw off some "Better late than never!" all he got in return for it was a sharp "Better early than late!" This note indeed the next thing overflowed for Strether into a quiet stream of demonstration that as soon as he had let himself go he felt as the real relief. It had consciously gathered to a head, but the reservoir had filled sooner than he knew, and his companion's touch was to make the waters spread. There were some things that had to come in time if they were to come at all. If they didn't come in time they were lost for ever. It was the general sense of them that had overwhelmed him with its long slow rush.
"It's not too late for YOU, on any side, and you don't strike me as in danger of missing the train; besides which people can be in general pretty well trusted, of course--with the clock of their freedom ticking as loud as it seems to do here--to keep an eye on the fleeting hour. All the same don't forget that you're young--blessedly young; be glad of it on the contrary and live up to it. Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? This place and these impressions--mild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my impressions of Chad and of people I've seen at HIS place--well, have had their abundant message for me, have just dropped THAT into my mind. I see it now. I haven't done so enough before--and now I'm old; too old at any rate for what I see. Oh I DO see, at least; and more than you'd believe or I can express. It's too late. And it's as if the train had fairly waited at the station for me without my having had the gumption to know it was there. Now I hear its faint receding whistle miles and miles down the line. What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. The affair--I mean the affair of life--couldn't, no doubt, have been different for me; for it's at the best a tin mould, either fluted and embossed, with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain, into which, a helpless jelly, one's consciousness is poured--so that one 'takes' the form as the great cook says, and is more or less compactly held by it: one lives in fine as one can. Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don't be, like me, without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don't quite know which. Of course at present I'm a case of reaction against the mistake; and the voice of reaction should, no doubt, always be taken with an allowance. But that doesn't affect the point that the right time is now yours. The right time is ANY time that one is still so lucky as to have. You've plenty; that's the great thing; you're, as I say, damn you, so happily and hatefully young. Don't at any rate miss things out of stupidity. Of course I don't take you for a fool, or I shouldn't be addressing you thus awfully. Do what you like so long as you don't make MY mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!" . . . Slowly and sociably, with full pauses and straight dashes, Strether had so delivered himself; holding little Bilham from step to step deeply and gravely attentive. The end of all was that the young man had turned quite solemn, and that this was a contradiction of the innocent gaiety the speaker had wished to promote. He watched for a moment the consequence of his words, and then, laying a hand on his listener's knee and as if to end with the proper joke: "And now for the eye I shall keep on you!"
"Oh but I don't know that I want to be, at your age, too different from you!"
"Ah prepare while you're about it," said Strether, "to be more amusing."
Little Bilham continued to think, but at last had a smile. "Well, you ARE amusing--to ME."
"Impayable, as you say, no doubt. But what am I to myself?" Strether had risen with this, giving his attention now to an encounter that, in the middle of the garden, was in the act of taking place between their host and the lady at whose side Madame de Vionnet had quitted him. This lady, who appeared within a few minutes to have left her friends, awaited Gloriani's eager approach with words on her lips that Strether couldn't catch, but of which her interesting witty face seemed to give him the echo. He was sure she was prompt and fine, but also that she had met her match, and he liked--in the light of what he was quite sure was the Duchess's latent insolence--the good humour with which the great artist asserted equal resources. Were they, this pair, of the "great world"?--and was he himself, for the moment and thus related to them by his observation, IN it? Then there was something in the great world covertly tigerish, which came to him across the lawn and in the charming air as a waft from the jungle. Yet it made him admire most of the two, made him envy, the glossy male tiger, magnificently marked. These absurdities of the stirred sense, fruits of suggestion ripening on the instant, were all reflected in his next words to little Bilham. "I know--if we talk of that--whom I should enjoy being like!"
Little Bilham followed his eyes; but then as with a shade of knowing surprise: "Gloriani?"
Our friend had in fact already hesitated, though not on the
hint of his companion's doubt, in which there were depths of critical
reserve. He had just made out, in the
now full picture, something and somebody else; another impression had been
superimposed. A young girl in a white
dress and a softly plumed white hat had suddenly come into view, and what was
presently clear was that her course was toward them. What was clearer still was that the handsome
young man at her side was Chad Newsome, and what was clearest of all was that
she was therefore Mademoiselle de Vionnet, that she was unmistakeably
pretty--bright gentle shy happy wonderful--and that Chad now, with a consummate
calculation of effect, was about to present her to his old friend's vision.
What was clearest of all indeed was something much more than this, something at
the single stroke of which--and wasn't it simply juxtaposition?--all vagueness
vanished. It was the click of a
spring--he saw the truth. He had by this
time also met
She stood there quite pink, a little frightened, prettier and prettier and not a bit like her mother. There was in this last particular no resemblance but that of youth to youth; and here was in fact suddenly Strether's sharpest impression. It went wondering, dazed, embarrassed, back to the woman he had just been talking with; it was a revelation in the light of which he already saw she would become more interesting. So slim and fresh and fair, she had yet put forth this perfection; so that for really believing it of her, for seeing her to any such developed degree as a mother, comparison would be urgent. Well, what was it now but fairly thrust upon him? "Mamma wishes me to tell you before we go," the girl said, "that she hopes very much you'll come to see us very soon. She has something important to say to you."
"She quite reproaches herself,"
"Ah don't mention it!" Strether murmured, looking kindly from one to the other and wondering at many things.
"And I'm to ask you for myself," Jeanne continued with her hands clasped together as if in some small learnt prayer--"I'm to ask you for myself if you won't positively come."
"Leave it to me, dear--I'll take care of it!"
The waste of wonder might be proscribed; but Strether, characteristically, was even by this time in the immensity of space. "By which you mean that you know where SHE is?"
She just hesitated. "I mean that if she comes to see me I shall--now that I've pulled myself round a bit after the shock--not be at home."
Strether hung poised. "You call it--your recognition--a shock?"
She gave one of her rare flickers of impatience. "It was a surprise, an emotion. Don't be so literal. I wash my hands of her."
Poor Strether's face lengthened. "She's impossible--?"
"She's even more charming than I remembered her."
"Then what's the matter?"
She had to think how to put it. "Well, I'M impossible. It's impossible. Everything's impossible."
He looked at her an instant. "I see where you're coming out. Everything's possible." Their eyes had on it in fact an exchange of some duration; after which he pursued: "Isn't it that beautiful child?" Then as she still said nothing: "Why don't you mean to receive her?"
Her answer in an instant rang clear. "Because I wish to keep out of the business."
It provoked in him a weak wail. "You're going to abandon me NOW?"
"No, I'm only going to abandon HER. She'll want me to help her with you. And I won't."
"You'll only help me with her? Well then--!" Most of the persons previously gathered had, in the interest of tea, passed into the house, and they had the gardens mainly to themselves. The shadows were long, the last call of the birds, who had made a home of their own in the noble interspaced quarter, sounded from the high trees in the other gardens as well, those of the old convent and of the old hotels; it was as if our friends had waited for the full charm to come out. Strether's impressions were still present; it was as if something had happened that "nailed" them, made them more intense; but he was to ask himself soon afterwards, that evening, what really HAD happened--conscious as he could after all remain that for a gentleman taken, and taken the first time, into the "great world," the world of ambassadors and duchesses, the items made a meagre total. It was nothing new to him, however, as we know, that a man might have--at all events such a man as he--an amount of experience out of any proportion to his adventures; so that, though it was doubtless no great adventure to sit on there with Miss Gostrey and hear about Madame de Vionnet, the hour, the picture, the immediate, the recent, the possible--as well as the communication itself, not a note of which failed to reverberate--only gave the moments more of the taste of history.
It was history, to begin with, that Jeanne's mother had been
three-and-twenty years before, at Geneva, schoolmate and good girlfriend to
Maria Gostrey, who had moreover enjoyed since then, though interruptedly and
above all with a long recent drop, other glimpses of her. Twenty-three years put them both on, no
doubt; and Madame de Vionnet--though she had married straight after
school--couldn't be today an hour less than thirty-eight. This made her ten
years older than
It was still history for Strether that the Comte de Vionnet--it being also history that the lady in question was a Countess--should now, under Miss Gostrey's sharp touch, rise before him as a high distinguished polished impertinent reprobate, the product of a mysterious order; it was history, further, that the charming girl so freely sketched by his companion should have been married out of hand by a mother, another figure of striking outline, full of dark personal motive; it was perhaps history most of all that this company was, as a matter of course, governed by such considerations as put divorce out of the question. "Ces gens-la don't divorce, you know, any more than they emigrate or abjure--they think it impious and vulgar"; a fact in the light of which they seemed but the more richly special. It was all special; it was all, for Strether's imagination, more or less rich. The girl at the Genevese school, an isolated interesting attaching creature, then both sensitive and violent, audacious but always forgiven, was the daughter of a French father and an English mother who, early left a widow, had married again--tried afresh with a foreigner; in her career with whom she had apparently given her child no example of comfort. All these people--the people of the English mother's side--had been of condition more or less eminent; yet with oddities and disparities that had often since made Maria, thinking them over, wonder what they really quite rhymed to. It was in any case her belief that the mother, interested and prone to adventure, had been without conscience, had only thought of ridding herself most quickly of a possible, an actual encumbrance. The father, by her impression, a Frenchman with a name one knew, had been a different matter, leaving his child, she clearly recalled, a memory all fondness, as well as an assured little fortune which was unluckily to make her more or less of a prey later on. She had been in particular, at school, dazzlingly, though quite booklessly, clever; as polyglot as a little Jewess (which she wasn't, oh no!) and chattering French, English, German, Italian, anything one would, in a way that made a clean sweep, if not of prizes and parchments, at least of every "part," whether memorised or improvised, in the curtained costumed school repertory, and in especial of all mysteries of race and vagueness of reference, all swagger about "home," among their variegated mates.
It would doubtless be difficult to-day, as between French
and English, to name her and place her; she would certainly show, on knowledge,
Miss Gostrey felt, as one of those convenient types who don't keep you
explaining--minds with doors as numerous as the many-tongued cluster of
confessionals at Saint Peter's. You might
confess to her with confidence in Roumelian, and even Roumelian sins. Therefore--! But Strether's narrator covered
her implication with a laugh; a laugh by which his betrayal of a sense of the
lurid in the picture was also perhaps sufficiently protected. He had a moment of wondering, while his
friend went on, what sins might be especially Roumelian. She went on at all events to the mention of
her having met the young thing--again by some Swiss lake--in her first married
state, which had appeared for the few intermediate years not at least violently
disturbed. She had been lovely at that
moment, delightful to HER, full of responsive emotion, of amused recognitions
and amusing reminders, and then once more, much later, after a long interval,
equally but differently charming--touching and rather mystifying for the five
minutes of an encounter at a railway-station en province, during which it had
come out that her life was all changed.
Miss Gostrey had understood enough to see, essentially, what had happened,
and yet had beautifully dreamed that she was herself faultless. There were doubtless depths in her, but she
was all right; Strether would see if she wasn't. She was another person however--that had been
promptly marked--from the small child of nature at the
"Oh no--not anybody like her!" Strether laughed. "But you mean," he as promptly went on, "that she has had such an influence on him?"
Miss Gostrey was on her feet; it was time for them to go. "She has brought him up for her daughter."
Their eyes, as so often, in candid conference, through their settled glasses, met over it long; after which Strether's again took in the whole place. They were quite alone there now. "Mustn't she rather--in the time then--have rushed it?"
"Ah she won't of course have lost an hour. But that's just the good mother--the good French one. You must remember that of her--that as a mother she's French, and that for them there's a special providence. It precisely however--that she mayn't have been able to begin as far back as she'd have liked--makes her grateful for aid."
Strether took this in as they slowly moved to the house on their way out. "She counts on me then to put the thing through?"
"Yes--she counts on you. Oh and first of all of course," Miss Gostrey added, "on her--well, convincing you."
"Ah," her friend returned, "she caught
"Yes, but there are women who are for all your 'times of life.' They're the most wonderful sort."
She had laughed the words out, but they brought her companion, the next thing, to a stand. "Is what you mean that she'll try to make a fool of me?"
"Well, I'm wondering what she WILL--with an opportunity--make."
"What do you call," Strether asked, "an opportunity? My going to see her?"
"Ah you must go to see her"--Miss Gostrey was a trifle evasive. "You can't not do that. You'd have gone to see the other woman. I mean if there had been one--a different sort. It's what you came out for."
It might be; but Strether distinguished. "I didn't come out to see THIS sort."
She had a wonderful look at him now. "Are you disappointed she isn't worse?"
He for a moment entertained the question, then found for it the frankest of answers. "Yes. If she were worse she'd be better for our purpose. It would be simpler."
"Perhaps," she admitted. "But won't this be pleasanter?"
"Ah you know," he promptly replied, "I didn't come out--wasn't that just what you originally reproached me with?--for the pleasant."
"Precisely. Therefore I say again what I said at first. You must take things as they come. Besides," Miss Gostrey added, "I'm not afraid for myself."
"Of your seeing her. I trust her. There's nothing she'll say about me. In fact there's nothing she CAN."
Strether wondered--little as he had thought of this. Then he broke out. "Oh you women!"
There was something in it at which she flushed. "Yes--there we are. We're abysses." At last she smiled. "But I risk her!"
He gave himself a shake.
"Well then so do I!"
But he added as they passed into the house that he would see
This was the next day the more easily effected that the
young man, as it happened, even before he was down, turned up at his hotel. Strether
took his coffee, by habit, in the public room; but on his descending for this
"Then where's the hitch?"
"Do you mean why I haven't already started with
"Well, without my arranging somehow or other the damnable terms of my sacrifice."
"It WILL be a sacrifice then?"
"It will be the greatest loss I ever suffered. I owe her so much."
It was beautiful, the way
There was finally something in his felicity almost embarrassing and oppressive--Strether had begun to fidget under it for the open air and the erect posture. He had signed to the waiter that he wished to pay, and this transaction took some moments, during which he thoroughly felt, while he put down money and pretended--it was quite hollow--to estimate change, that Chad's higher spirit, his youth, his practice, his paganism, his felicity, his assurance, his impudence, whatever it might be, had consciously scored a success. Well, that was all right so far as it went; his sense of the thing in question covered our friend for a minute like a veil through which--as if he had been muffled--he heard his interlocutor ask him if he mightn't take him over about five. "Over" was over the river, and over the river was where Madame de Vionnet lived, and five was that very afternoon. They got at last out of the place--got out before he answered. He lighted, in the street, a cigarette, which again gave him more time. But it was already sharp for him that there was no use in time. "What does she propose to do to me?" he had presently demanded.
"Oh immensely. Don't you see it?"
"It's just of that I'm afraid."
"Then it's not fair to me."
Strether cast about. "It's fair to your mother."
"Scarcely less. Or perhaps even more. But is this lady against your interests at home?" Strether went on.
"Not directly, no doubt; but she's greatly in favour of them here."
"And what--'here'--does she consider them to be?"
"Well, good relations!"
"And what is it that makes them so good?"
"What? Well, that's exactly what you'll make out if you'll only go, as I'm supplicating you, to see her."
Strether stared at him with a little of the wanness, no doubt, that the vision of more to "make out" could scarce help producing. "I mean HOW good are they?"
"Oh awfully good."
Again Strether had faltered, but it was brief. It was all very well, but there was nothing now he wouldn't risk. "Excuse me, but I must really--as I began by telling you--know where I am. Is she bad?"
"When relations are good?" Strether felt a little silly, and was even conscious of a foolish laugh, at having it imposed on him to have appeared to speak so. What indeed was he talking about? His stare had relaxed; he looked now all round him. But something in him brought him back, though he still didn't know quite how to turn it. The two or three ways he thought of, and one of them in particular, were, even with scruples dismissed, too ugly. He none the less at last found something. "Is her life without reproach?"
It struck him, directly he had found it, as pompous and
priggish; so much so that he was thankful to
These last words were, in the liberality of their confidence, so imperative that Strether went through no form of assent; but before they separated it had been confirmed that he should be picked up at a quarter to five.
It was quite by half-past five--after the two men had been together in Madame de Vionnet's drawing-room not more than a dozen minutes--that Chad, with a look at his watch and then another at their hostess, said genially, gaily: "I've an engagement, and I know you won't complain if I leave him with you. He'll interest you immensely; and as for her," he declared to Strether, "I assure you, if you're at all nervous, she's perfectly safe."
He had left them to be embarrassed or not by this guarantee, as they could best manage, and embarrassment was a thing that Strether wasn't at first sure Madame de Vionnet escaped. He escaped it himself, to his surprise; but he had grown used by this time to thinking of himself as brazen. She occupied, his hostess, in the Rue de Bellechasse, the first floor of an old house to which our visitors had had access from an old clean court. The court was large and open, full of revelations, for our friend, of the habit of privacy, the peace of intervals, the dignity of distances and approaches; the house, to his restless sense, was in the high homely style of an elder day, and the ancient Paris that he was always looking for--sometimes intensely felt, sometimes more acutely missed--was in the immemorial polish of the wide waxed staircase and in the fine boiseries, the medallions, mouldings, mirrors, great clear spaces, of the greyish-white salon into which he had been shown. He seemed at the very outset to see her in the midst of possessions not vulgarly numerous, but hereditary cherished charming. While his eyes turned after a little from those of his hostess and Chad freely talked--not in the least about HIM, but about other people, people he didn't know, and quite as if he did know them--he found himself making out, as a background of the occupant, some glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some Napoleonic glamour, some dim lustre of the great legend; elements clinging still to all the consular chairs and mythological brasses and sphinxes' heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with alternate silk.
The place itself went further back--that he guessed, and how old Paris continued in a manner to echo there; but the post-revolutionary period, the world he vaguely thought of as the world of Chateaubriand, of Madame de Stael, even of the young Lamartine, had left its stamp of harps and urns and torches, a stamp impressed on sundry small objects, ornaments and relics. He had never before, to his knowledge, had present to him relics, of any special dignity, of a private order--little old miniatures, medallions, pictures, books; books in leather bindings, pinkish and greenish, with gilt garlands on the back, ranged, together with other promiscuous properties, under the glass of brass-mounted cabinets. His attention took them all tenderly into account. They were among the matters that marked Madame de Vionnet's apartment as something quite different from Miss Gostrey's little museum of bargains and from Chad's lovely home; he recognised it as founded much more on old accumulations that had possibly from time to time shrunken than on any contemporary method of acquisition or form of curiosity. Chad and Miss Gostrey had rummaged and purchased and picked up and exchanged, sifting, selecting, comparing; whereas the mistress of the scene before him, beautifully passive under the spell of transmission--transmission from her father's line, he quite made up his mind--had only received, accepted and been quiet. When she hadn't been quiet she had been moved at the most to some occult charity for some fallen fortune. There had been objects she or her predecessors might even conceivably have parted with under need, but Strether couldn't suspect them of having sold old pieces to get "better" ones. They would have felt no difference as to better or worse. He could but imagine their having felt--perhaps in emigration, in proscription, for his sketch was slight and confused--the pressure of want or the obligation of sacrifice.
The pressure of want--whatever might be the case with the other
force--was, however, presumably not active now, for the tokens of a chastened
ease still abounded after all, many marks of a taste whose discriminations
might perhaps have been called eccentric.
He guessed at intense little preferences and sharp little exclusions, a
deep suspicion of the vulgar and a personal view of the right. The general
result of this was something for which he had no name on the spot quite ready,
but something he would have come nearest to naming in speaking of it as the air
of supreme respectability, the consciousness, small, still, reserved, but none
the less distinct and diffused, of private honour. The air of supreme respectability--that was a
strange blank wall for his adventure to have brought him to break his nose
against. It had in fact, as he was now
aware, filled all the approaches, hovered in the court as he passed, hung on
the staircase as he mounted, sounded in the grave rumble of the old bell, as
little electric as possible, of which Chad, at the door, had pulled the ancient
but neatly-kept tassel; it formed in short the clearest medium of its
particular kind that he had ever breathed.
He would have answered for it at the end of a quarter of an hour that
some of the glass cases contained swords and epaulettes of ancient colonels and
generals; medals and orders once pinned over hearts that had long since ceased
to beat; snuff-boxes bestowed on ministers and envoys; copies of works
presented, with inscriptions, by authors now classic. At bottom of it all for him was the sense of
her rare unlikeness to the women he had known.
This sense had grown, since the day before, the more he recalled her,
and had been above all singularly fed by his talk with
She was seated, near the fire, on a small stuffed and fringed chair one of the few modern articles in the room, and she leaned back in it with her hands clasped in her lap and no movement, in all her person, but the fine prompt play of her deep young face. The fire, under the low white marble, undraped and academic, had burnt down to the silver ashes of light wood, one of the windows, at a distance, stood open to the mildness and stillness, out of which, in the short pauses, came the faint sound, pleasant and homely, almost rustic, of a plash and a clatter of sabots from some coach-house on the other side of the court. Madame de Vionnet, while Strether sat there, wasn't to shift her posture by an inch. "I don't think you seriously believe in what you're doing," she said; "but all the same, you know, I'm going to treat you quite as if I did."
"By which you mean," Strether directly replied, "quite as if you didn't! I assure you it won't make the least difference with me how you treat me."
"Well," she said, taking that menace bravely and philosophically enough, "the only thing that really matters is that you shall get on with me."
"Ah but I don't!" he immediately returned.
It gave her another pause; which, however, she happily enough shook off. "Will you consent to go on with me a little--provisionally--as if you did?"
Then it was that he saw how she had decidedly come all the way; and there accompanied it an extraordinary sense of her raising from somewhere below him her beautiful suppliant eyes. He might have been perched at his door-step or at his window and she standing in the road. For a moment he let her stand and couldn't moreover have spoken. It had been sad, of a sudden, with a sadness that was like a cold breath in his face. "What can I do," he finally asked, "but listen to you as I promised Chadwick?"
"Ah but what I'm asking you," she quickly said, "isn't what Mr. Newsome had in mind." She spoke at present, he saw, as if to take courageously ALL her risk. "This is my own idea and a different thing."
It gave poor Strether in truth--uneasy as it made him too--something of the thrill of a bold perception justified. "Well," he answered kindly enough, "I was sure a moment since that some idea of your own had come to you."
She seemed still to look up at him, but now more serenely. "I made out you were sure--and that helped it to come. So you see," she continued, "we do get on."
"Oh but it appears to me I don't at all meet your request. How can I when I don't understand it?"
"It isn't at all necessary you should understand; it will do quite well enough if you simply remember it. Only feel I trust you--and for nothing so tremendous after all. Just," she said with a wonderful smile, "for common civility."
Strether had a long pause while they sat again face to face, as they had sat, scarce less conscious, before the poor lady had crossed the stream. She was the poor lady for Strether now because clearly she had some trouble, and her appeal to him could only mean that her trouble was deep. He couldn't help it; it wasn't his fault; he had done nothing; but by a turn of the hand she had somehow made their encounter a relation. And the relation profited by a mass of things that were not strictly in it or of it; by the very air in which they sat, by the high cold delicate room, by the world outside and the little plash in the court, by the First Empire and the relics in the stiff cabinets, by matters as far off as those and by others as near as the unbroken clasp of her hands in her lap and the look her expression had of being most natural when her eyes were most fixed. "You count upon me of course for something really much greater than it sounds."
"Oh it sounds great enough too!" she laughed at this.
He found himself in time on the point of telling her that
she was, as Miss Barrace called it, wonderful; but, catching himself up, he
said something else instead. "What was
"Ah his idea was simply what a man's idea always is--to put every effort off on the woman."
"The 'woman'--?" Strether slowly echoed.
"The woman he likes--and just in proportion as he likes her. In proportion too--for shifting the trouble--as she likes HIM."
Strether followed it; then with an abruptness of his own:
"How much do you like
"Just as much as THAT--to take all, with you, on myself." But she got at once again away from this. "I've been trembling as if we were to stand or fall by what you may think of me; and I'm even now," she went on wonderfully, "drawing a long breath--and, yes, truly taking a great courage--from the hope that I don't in fact strike you as impossible."
"That's at all events, clearly," he observed after an instant, "the way I don't strike YOU."
"Well," she so far assented, "as you haven't yet said you WON'T have the little patience with me I ask for--"
"You draw splendid conclusions? Perfectly. But I don't understand them," Strether pursued. "You seem to me to ask for much more than you need. What, at the worst for you, what at the best for myself, can I after all do? I can use no pressure that I haven't used. You come really late with your request. I've already done all that for myself the case admits of. I've said my say, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are, fortunately!" Madame de Vionnet laughed. "Mrs. Newsome," she added in another tone, "didn't think you can do so little."
He had an hesitation, but he brought the words out. "Well, she thinks so now."
"Do you mean by that--?" But she also hung fire.
"Do I mean what?"
She still rather faltered. "Pardon me if I touch on it, but if I'm saying extraordinary things, why, perhaps, mayn't I? Besides, doesn't it properly concern us to know?"
"To know what?" he insisted as after thus beating about the bush she had again dropped.
She made the effort. "Has she given you up?"
He was amazed afterwards to think how simply and quietly he
had met it. "Not yet." It was
almost as if he were a trifle disappointed--had expected still more of her
freedom. But he went straight on.
"Is that what
She was evidently charmed with the way he took it. "If you mean if we've talked of it--most certainly. And the question's not what has had least to do with my wishing to see you."
"To judge if I'm the sort of man a woman CAN--?"
"Precisely," she exclaimed--"you wonderful gentleman! I do judge--I HAVE judged. A woman can't. You're safe--with every right to be. You'd be much happier if you'd only believe it."
Strether was silent a little; then he found himself speaking with a cynicism of confidence of which even at the moment the sources were strange to him. "I try to believe it. But it's a marvel," he exclaimed, "how YOU already get at it!"
Oh she was able to say. "Remember how much I was on the way to it through Mr. Newsome--before I saw you. He thinks everything of your strength."
"Well, I can bear almost anything!" our friend
briskly interrupted. Deep and beautiful on this her smile came back, and with
the effect of making him hear what he had said just as she had heard it. He easily enough felt that it gave him away,
but what in truth had everything done but that?
It had been all very well to think at moments that he was holding her
nose down and that he had coerced her:
what had he by this time done but let her practically see that he
accepted their relation? What was their
relation moreover--though light and brief enough in form as yet--but whatever
she might choose to make it? Nothing
could prevent her--certainly he couldn't--from making it pleasant. At the back of his head, behind everything,
was the sense that she was--there, before him, close to him, in vivid
imperative form--one of the rare women he had so often heard of, read of,
thought of, but never met, whose very presence, look, voice, the mere
contemporaneous FACT of whom, from the moment it was at all presented, made a
relation of mere recognition. That was
not the kind of woman he had ever found Mrs. Newsome, a contemporaneous fact
who had been distinctly slow to establish herself; and at present, confronted
with Madame de Vionnet, he felt the simplicity of his original impression of
Miss Gostrey. She certainly had been a
fact of rapid growth; but the world was wide, each day was more and more a new
lesson. There were at any rate even among
the stranger ones relations and relations. "Of course I suit
She seemed to deny a little, on the young man's behalf, by the rise of her eyebrows, an intention of any process at all inconsiderate. "You must know how grieved he'd be if you were to lose anything. He believes you can keep his mother patient."
Strether wondered with his eyes on her. "I see. THAT'S then what you really want of me. And how am I to do it? Perhaps you'll tell me that."
"Simply tell her the truth."
"And what do you call the truth?"
"Well, any truth--about us all--that you see yourself. I leave it to you."
"Thank you very much. I like," Strether laughed with a slight harshness, "the way you leave things!"
But she insisted kindly, gently, as if it wasn't so bad. "Be perfectly honest. Tell her all."
"All?" he oddly echoed.
"Tell her the simple truth," Madame de Vionnet again pleaded.
"But what is the simple truth? The simple truth is exactly what I'm trying to discover."
She looked about a while, but presently she came back to him. "Tell her, fully and clearly, about US."
Strether meanwhile had been staring. "You and your daughter?"
"Yes--little Jeanne and me. Tell her," she just slightly quavered, "you like us."
"And what good will that do me? Or rather"--he caught himself up--"what good will it do YOU?"
She looked graver. "None, you believe, really?"
Strether debated. "She didn't send me out to 'like' you."
"Oh," she charmingly contended, "she sent you out to face the facts."
He admitted after an instant that there was something in that. "But how can I face them till I know what they are? Do you want him," he then braced himself to ask, "to marry your daughter?"
She gave a headshake as noble as it was prompt. "No--not that."
"And he really doesn't want to himself?"
She repeated the movement, but now with a strange light in her face. "He likes her too much."
"To be willing to consider, you mean, the question of taking her to
"To be willing to do anything with her but be immensely kind and nice--really tender of her. We watch over her, and you must help us. You must see her again."
Strether felt awkward. "Ah with pleasure--she's so remarkably attractive."
The mother's eagerness with which Madame de Vionnet jumped at this was to come back to him later as beautiful in its grace. "The dear thing DID please you?" Then as he met it with the largest "Oh!" of enthusiasm: "She's perfect. She's my joy."
"Well, I'm sure that--if one were near her and saw more of her--she'd be mine."
"Then," said Madame de Vionnet, "tell Mrs. Newsome that!"
He wondered the more. "What good will that do you?" As she appeared unable at once to say, however, he brought out something else. "Is your daughter in love with our friend?"
"Ah," she rather startlingly answered, "I wish you'd find out!"
He showed his surprise. "I? A stranger?"
"Oh you won't be a stranger--presently. You shall see her quite, I assure you, as if you weren't."
It remained for him none the less an extraordinary notion. "It seems to me surely that if her mother can't--"
"Ah little girls and their mothers to-day!" she rather inconsequently broke in. But she checked herself with something she seemed to give out as after all more to the point. "Tell her I've been good for him. Don't you think I have?"
It had its effect on him--more than at the moment he quite measured. Yet he was consciously enough touched. "Oh if it's all you--!"
"Well, it may not be 'all,'" she interrupted, "but it's to a great extent. Really and truly," she added in a tone that was to take its place with him among things remembered.
"Then it's very wonderful." He smiled at her from a face that he felt as strained, and her own face for a moment kept him so. At last she also got up. "Well, don't you think that for that--"
"I ought to save you?" So it was that the way to meet her--and the way, as well, in a manner, to get off--came over him. He heard himself use the exorbitant word, the very sound of which helped to determine his flight. "I'll save you if I can."
In Chad's lovely home, however, one evening ten days later,
he felt himself present at the collapse of the question of Jeanne de Vionnet's
shy secret. He had been dining there in
the company of that young lady and her mother, as well as of other persons, and
he had gone into the petit salon, at
Strether knew well enough with what
Certain it is at any rate that he now often brought himself
balm by the question, with the rich consciousness of yesterday's letter,
"Well, what can I do more than that--what can I do more than tell her
everything?" To persuade himself
that he did tell her, had told her, everything, he used to try to think of particular
things he hadn't told her. When at rare
moments and in the watches of the night he pounced on one it generally showed
itself to be--to a deeper scrutiny--not quite truly of the essence. When anything new struck him as coming up, or
anything already noted as reappearing, he always immediately wrote, as if for
fear that if he didn't he would miss something; and also that he might be able
to say to himself from time to time "She knows it NOW--even while I
worry." It was a great comfort to him in general not to have left past
things to be dragged to light and explained; not to have to produce at so late
a stage anything not produced, or anything even veiled and attenuated, at the
moment. She knew it now: that was what he said to himself to-night in
relation to the fresh fact of
"Oh but I'm not a little foreign girl; I'm just as English as I can be," Jeanne de Vionnet had said to him as soon as, in the petit salon, he sank, shyly enough on his own side, into the place near her vacated by Madame Gloriani at his approach. Madame Gloriani, who was in black velvet, with white lace and powdered hair, and whose somewhat massive majesty melted, at any contact, into the graciousness of some incomprehensible tongue, moved away to make room for the vague gentleman, after benevolent greetings to him which embodied, as he believed, in baffling accents, some recognition of his face from a couple of Sundays before. Then he had remarked--making the most of the advantage of his years--that it frightened him quite enough to find himself dedicated to the entertainment of a little foreign girl. There were girls he wasn't afraid of--he was quite bold with little Americans. Thus it was that she had defended herself to the end--"Oh but I'm almost American too. That's what mamma has wanted me to be--I mean LIKE that; for she has wanted me to have lots of freedom. She has known such good results from it."
She was fairly beautiful to him--a faint pastel in an oval frame: he thought of her already as of some lurking image in a long gallery, the portrait of a small old-time princess of whom nothing was known but that she had died young. Little Jeanne wasn't, doubtless, to die young, but one couldn't, all the same, bear on her lightly enough. It was bearing hard, it was bearing as HE, in any case, wouldn't bear, to concern himself, in relation to her, with the question of a young man. Odious really the question of a young man; one didn't treat such a person as a maid-servant suspected of a "follower." And then young men, young men--well, the thing was their business simply, or was at all events hers. She was fluttered, fairly fevered--to the point of a little glitter that came and went in her eyes and a pair of pink spots that stayed in her cheeks--with the great adventure of dining out and with the greater one still, possibly, of finding a gentleman whom she must think of as very, very old, a gentleman with eye-glasses, wrinkles, a long grizzled moustache. She spoke the prettiest English, our friend thought, that he had ever heard spoken, just as he had believed her a few minutes before to be speaking the prettiest French. He wondered almost wistfully if such a sweep of the lyre didn't react on the spirit itself; and his fancy had in fact, before he knew it, begun so to stray and embroider that he finally found himself, absent and extravagant, sitting with the child in a friendly silence. Only by this time he felt her flutter to have fortunately dropped and that she was more at her ease. She trusted him, liked him, and it was to come back to him afterwards that she had told him things. She had dipped into the waiting medium at last and found neither surge nor chill--nothing but the small splash she could herself make in the pleasant warmth, nothing but the safety of dipping and dipping again. At the end of the ten minutes he was to spend with her his impression--with all it had thrown off and all it had taken in--was complete. She had been free, as she knew freedom, partly to show him that, unlike other little persons she knew, she had imbibed that ideal. She was delightfully quaint about herself, but the vision of what she had imbibed was what most held him. It really consisted, he was soon enough to feel, in just one great little matter, the fact that, whatever her nature, she was thoroughly--he had to cast about for the word, but it came--bred. He couldn't of course on so short an acquaintance speak for her nature, but the idea of breeding was what she had meanwhile dropped into his mind. He had never yet known it so sharply presented. Her mother gave it, no doubt; but her mother, to make that less sensible, gave so much else besides, and on neither of the two previous occasions, extraordinary woman, Strether felt, anything like what she was giving tonight. Little Jeanne was a case, an exquisite case of education; whereas the Countess, whom it so amused him to think of by that denomination, was a case, also exquisite, of--well, he didn't know what.
"He has wonderful taste, notre jeune homme": this was what Gloriani said to him on turning away from the inspection of a small picture suspended near the door of the room. The high celebrity in question had just come in, apparently in search of Mademoiselle de Vionnet, but while Strether had got up from beside her their fellow guest, with his eye sharply caught, had paused for a long look. The thing was a landscape, of no size, but of the French school, as our friend was glad to feel he knew, and also of a quality--which he liked to think he should also have guessed; its frame was large out of proportion to the canvas, and he had never seen a person look at anything, he thought, just as Gloriani, with his nose very near and quick movements of the head from side to side and bottom to top, examined this feature of Chad's collection. The artist used that word the next moment smiling courteously, wiping his nippers and looking round him further--paying the place in short by the very manner of his presence and by something Strether fancied he could make out in this particular glance, such a tribute as, to the latter's sense, settled many things once for all. Strether was conscious at this instant, for that matter, as he hadn't yet been, of how, round about him, quite without him, they WERE consistently settled. Gloriani's smile, deeply Italian, he considered, and finely inscrutable, had had for him, during dinner, at which they were not neighbours, an indefinite greeting; but the quality in it was gone that had appeared on the other occasion to turn him inside out; it was as if even the momentary link supplied by the doubt between them had snapped. He was conscious now of the final reality, which was that there wasn't so much a doubt as a difference altogether; all the more that over the difference the famous sculptor seemed to signal almost condolingly, yet oh how vacantly! as across some great flat sheet of water. He threw out the bridge of a charming hollow civility on which Strether wouldn't have trusted his own full weight a moment. That idea, even though but transient and perhaps belated, had performed the office of putting Strether more at his ease, and the blurred picture had already dropped--dropped with the sound of something else said and with his becoming aware, by another quick turn, that Gloriani was now on the sofa talking with Jeanne, while he himself had in his ears again the familiar friendliness and the elusive meaning of the "Oh, oh, oh!" that had made him, a fortnight before, challenge Miss Barrace in vain. She had always the air, this picturesque and original lady, who struck him, so oddly, as both antique and modern--she had always the air of taking up some joke that one had already had out with her. The point itself, no doubt, was what was antique, and the use she made of it what was modern. He felt just now that her good-natured irony did bear on something, and it troubled him a little that she wouldn't be more explicit only assuring him, with the pleasure of observation so visible in her, that she wouldn't tell him more for the world. He could take refuge but in asking her what she had done with Waymarsh, though it must be added that he felt himself a little on the way to a clue after she had answered that this personage was, in the other room, engaged in conversation with Madame de Vionnet. He stared a moment at the image of such a conjunction; then, for Miss Barrace's benefit, he wondered. "Is she too then under the charm--?"
"No, not a bit"--Miss Barrace was prompt. "She makes nothing of him. She's bored. She won't help you with him."
"Oh," Strether laughed, "she can't do everything.
"Of course not--wonderful as she is. Besides, he makes nothing of HER. She won't take him from me--though she wouldn't, no doubt, having other affairs in hand, even if she could. I've never," said Miss Barrace, "seen her fail with any one before. And to-night, when she's so magnificent, it would seem to her strange--if she minded. So at any rate I have him all. Je suis tranquille!''
Strether understood, so far as that went; but he was feeling for his clue. "She strikes you to-night as particularly magnificent?"
"Surely. Almost as I've never seen her. Doesn't she you? Why it's FOR you."
He persisted in his candour. "'For' me--?"
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Miss Barrace, who persisted in the opposite of that quality.
"Well," he acutely admitted, "she IS different. She's gay. "
"She's gay!" Miss Barrace laughed. "And she has beautiful shoulders--though there's nothing different in that."
"No," said Strether, "one was sure of her shoulders. It isn't her shoulders."
His companion, with renewed mirth and the finest sense, between the puffs of her cigarette, of the drollery of things, appeared to find their conversation highly delightful. "Yes, it isn't her shoulders ."
"What then is it?" Strether earnestly enquired.
"Why, it's SHE--simply. It's her mood. It's her charm."
"Of course it's her charm, but we're speaking of the difference." "Well," Miss Barrace explained, "she's just brilliant, as we used to say. That's all. She's various. She's fifty women."
"Ah but only one"--Strether kept it clear--"at a time."
"Perhaps. But in fifty times--!"
"Oh we shan't come to that," our friend declared; and the next moment he had moved in another direction. "Will you answer me a plain question? Will she ever divorce?"
Miss Barrace looked at him through all her tortoise-shell. "Why should she?"
It wasn't what he had asked for, he signified; but he met it
well enough. "To marry
"Why should she marry
"Because I'm convinced she's very fond of him. She has done wonders for him."
"Well then, how could she do more? Marrying a man, or woman either," Miss Barrace sagely went on, "is never the wonder for any Jack and Jill can bring THAT off. The wonder is their doing such things without marrying."
Strether considered a moment this proposition. "You mean it's so beautiful for our friends simply to go on so?"
But whatever he said made her laugh. "Beautiful."
He nevertheless insisted. "And THAT because it's disinterested?"
She was now, however, suddenly tired of the question. "Yes then--call it that. Besides, she'll never divorce. Don't, moreover," she added, "believe everything you hear about her husband."
He's not then," Strether asked, "a wretch?"
"Oh yes. But charming."
"Do you know him?"
"I've met him. He's bien aimable."
"To every one but his wife?"
"Oh for all I know, to her too--to any, to every woman. I hope you at any rate," she pursued with a quick change, "appreciate the care I take of Mr. Waymarsh."
"Oh immensely." But Strether was not yet in line. "At all events," he roundly brought out, "the attachment's an innocent one."
"Mine and his? Ah," she laughed, "don't rob it of ALL interest!"
"I mean our friend's here--to the lady we've been speaking of." That was what he had settled to as an indirect but none the less closely involved consequence of his impression of Jeanne. That was where he meant to stay. "It's innocent," he repeated--"I see the whole thing."
Mystified by his abrupt declaration, she had glanced over at Gloriani as at the unnamed subject of his allusion, but the next moment she had understood; though indeed not before Strether had noticed her momentary mistake and wondered what might possibly be behind that too. He already knew that the sculptor admired Madame de Vionnet; but did this admiration also represent an attachment of which the innocence was discussable? He was moving verily in a strange air and on ground not of the firmest. He looked hard for an instant at Miss Barrace, but she had already gone on. "All right with Mr. Newsome? Why of course she is!"--and she got gaily back to the question of her own good friend. "I dare say you're surprised that I'm not worn out with all I see--it being so much!--of Sitting Bull. But I'm not, you know--I don't mind him; I bear up, and we get on beautifully. I'm very strange; I'm like that; and often I can't explain. There are people who are supposed interesting or remarkable or whatever, and who bore me to death; and then there are others as to whom nobody can understand what anybody sees in them--in whom I see no end of things." Then after she had smoked a moment, "He's touching, you know," she said.
"'Know'?" Strether echoed--"don't I, indeed? We must move you almost to tears."
"Oh but I don't mean YOU!" she laughed.
"You ought to then, for the worst sign of all--as I must have it for you--is that you can't help me. That's when a woman pities."
"Ah but I do help you!" she cheerfully insisted.
Again he looked at her hard, and then after a pause: "No you don't!"
Her tortoise-shell, on its long chain, rattled down. "I help you with Sitting Bull. That's a good deal."
"Oh that, yes." But Strether hesitated. "Do you mean he talks of me?"
"So that I have to defend you? No, never.'
"I see," Strether mused. "It's too deep."
"That's his only fault," she returned--"that everything, with him, is too deep. He has depths of silence--which he breaks only at the longest intervals by a remark. And when the remark comes it's always something he has seen or felt for himself--never a bit banal THAT would be what one might have feared and what would kill me But never." She smoked again as she thus, with amused complacency, appreciated her acquisition. "And never about you. We keep clear of you. We're wonderful. But I'll tell you what he does do," she continued: "he tries to make me presents."
"Presents?" poor Strether echoed, conscious with a pang that HE hadn't yet tried that in any quarter.
"Why you see," she explained, "he's as fine as ever in the victoria; so that when I leave him, as I often do almost for hours --he likes it so--at the doors of shops, the sight of him there helps me, when I come out, to know my carriage away off in the rank. But sometimes, for a change, he goes with me into the shops, and then I've all I can do to prevent his buying me things."
"He wants to 'treat' you?" Strether almost gasped at all he himself hadn't thought of. He had a sense of admiration. "Oh he's much more in the real tradition than I. Yes," he mused, "it's the sacred rage."
"The sacred rage, exactly!"--and Miss Barrace, who hadn't before heard this term applied, recognised its bearing with a clap of her gemmed hands. "Now I do know why he's not banal. But I do prevent him all the same--and if you saw what he sometimes selects--from buying. I save him hundreds and hundreds. I only take flowers."
"Flowers?" Strether echoed again with a rueful reflexion. How many nosegays had her present converser sent?
"Innocent flowers," she pursued, "as much as he likes. And he sends me splendours; he knows all the best places--he has found them for himself; he's wonderful."
"He hasn't told them to me," her friend smiled, "he has a life of his own." But Strether had swung back to the consciousness that for himself after all it never would have done. Waymarsh hadn't Mrs. Waymarsh in the least to consider, whereas Lambert Strether had constantly, in the inmost honour of his thoughts, to consider Mrs. Newsome. He liked moreover to feel how much his friend was in the real tradition. Yet he had his conclusion. "WHAT a rage it is!" He had worked it out. "It's an opposition."
She followed, but at a distance. "That's what I feel. Yet to what?"
"Well, he thinks, you know, that I'VE a life of my own. And I haven't!"
"You haven't?" She showed doubt, and her laugh confirmed it. "Oh, oh, oh!"
"No--not for myself. I seem to have a life only for other people."
"Ah for them and WITH them! Just now for instance with--"
"Well, with whom?" he asked before she had had time to say.
His tone had the effect of making her hesitate and even, as he guessed, speak with a difference. "Say with Miss Gostrey. What do you do for HER?" It really made him wonder. "Nothing at all!"
Madame de Vionnet, having meanwhile come in, was at present
close to them, and Miss Barrace hereupon, instead of risking a rejoinder,
became again with a look that measured her from top to toe all mere
long-handled appreciative tortoise-shell.
She had struck our friend, from the first of her appearing, as dressed
for a great occasion, and she met still more than on either of the others the
conception reawakened in him at their garden-party, the idea of the femme du
monde in her habit as she lived. Her
bare shoulders and arms were white and beautiful; the materials of her dress, a
mixture, as he supposed, of silk and crape, were of a silvery grey so artfully
composed as to give an impression of warm splendour; and round her neck she
wore a collar of large old emeralds, the green note of which was more dimly
repeated, at other points of her apparel, in embroidery, in enamel, in satin,
in substances and textures vaguely rich.
Her head, extremely fair and exquisitely festal, was like a happy fancy,
a notion of the antique, on an old precious medal, some silver coin of the
Renaissance; while her slim lightness and brightness, her gaiety, her
expression, her decision, contributed to an effect that might have been felt by
a poet as half mythological and half conventional. He could have compared her
to a goddess still partly engaged in a morning cloud, or to a sea-nymph
waist-high in the summer surge. Above all she suggested to him the reflexion
that the femme du monde--in these finest developments of the type--was, like
Cleopatra in the play, indeed various and multifold. She had aspects, characters, days, nights--or
had them at least, showed them by a mysterious law of her own, when in addition
to everything she happened also to be a woman of genius. She was an obscure person, a muffled person
one day, and a showy person, an uncovered person the next. He thought of Madame de Vionnet to-night as
showy and uncovered, though he felt the formula rough, because, thanks to one
of the short-cuts of genius she had taken all his categories by surprise. Twice during dinner he had met
"Are you capable of the very great kindness of going to relieve Newsome, for a few minutes, of the rather crushing responsibility of Madame Gloriani, while I say a word, if he'll allow me, to Mr. Strether, of whom I've a question to ask? Our host ought to talk a bit to those other ladies, and I'll come back in a minute to your rescue." She made this proposal to Miss Barrace as if her consciousness of a special duty had just flickered-up, but that lady's recognition of Strether's little start at it--as at a betrayal on the speaker's part of a domesticated state--was as mute as his own comment; and after an instant, when their fellow guest had good-naturedly left them, he had been given something else to think of. "Why has Maria so suddenly gone? Do you know?" That was the question Madame de Vionnet had brought with her.
"I'm afraid I've no reason to give you but the simple reason I've had from her in a note--the sudden obligation to join in the south a sick friend who has got worse."
"Ah then she has been writing you?"
"Not since she went--I had only a brief explanatory word before she started. I went to see her," Strether explained--"it was the day after I called on you--but she was already on her way, and her concierge told me that in case of my coming I was to be informed she had written to me. I found her note when I got home."
Madame de Vionnet listened with interest and with her eyes on Strether's face; then her delicately decorated head had a small melancholy motion. "She didn't write to ME. I went to see her," she added, "almost immediately after I had seen you, and as I assured her I would do when I met her at Gloriani's. She hadn't then told me she was to be absent, and I felt at her door as if I understood. She's absent--with all respect to her sick friend, though I know indeed she has plenty--so that I may not see her. She doesn't want to meet me again. Well," she continued with a beautiful conscious mildness, "I liked and admired her beyond every one in the old time, and she knew it--perhaps that's precisely what has made her go--and I dare say I haven't lost her for ever." Strether still said nothing; he had a horror, as he now thought of himself, of being in question between women--was in fact already quite enough on his way to that, and there was moreover, as it came to him, perceptibly, something behind these allusions and professions that, should he take it in, would square but ill with his present resolve to simplify. It was as if, for him, all the same, her softness and sadness were sincere. He felt that not less when she soon went on: "I'm extremely glad of her happiness." But it also left him mute--sharp and fine though the imputation it conveyed. What it conveyed was that HE was Maria Gostrey's happiness, and for the least little instant he had the impulse to challenge the thought. He could have done so however only by saying "What then do you suppose to be between us?" and he was wonderfully glad a moment later not to have spoken. He would rather seem stupid any day than fatuous, and he drew back as well, with a smothered inward shudder, from the consideration of what women--of highly-developed type in particular--might think of each other. Whatever he had come out for he hadn't come to go into that; so that he absolutely took up nothing his interlocutress had now let drop. Yet, though he had kept away from her for days, had laid wholly on herself the burden of their meeting again, she hadn't a gleam of irritation to show him. "Well, about Jeanne now?" she smiled--it had the gaiety with which she had originally come in. He felt it on the instant to represent her motive and real errand. But he had been schooling her of a truth to say much in proportion to his little. "Do you make out that she has a sentiment? I mean for Mr. Newsome."
Almost resentful, Strether could at last be prompt. "How can I make out such things?"
She remained perfectly good-natured. "Ah but they're beautiful little things, and you make out--don't pretend--everything in the world. Haven't you," she asked, "been talking with her?"
"Yes, but not about
"Oh you don't require 'much'!" she reassuringly declared. But she immediately changed her ground. "I hope you remember your promise of the other day."
"To 'save' you, as you called it?"
"I call it so still. You WILL?" she insisted. "You haven't repented?"
He wondered. "No--but I've been thinking what I meant."
She kept it up. "And not, a little, what I did?"
"No--that's not necessary. It will be enough if I know what I meant myself."
"And don't you know," she asked, "by this time?"
Again he had a pause. "I think you ought to leave it to me. But how long," he added, "do you give me?"
"It seems to me much more a question of how long you give ME. Doesn't our friend here himself, at any rate," she went on, "perpetually make me present to you?"
"Not," Strether replied, "by ever speaking of you to me."
"He never does that?"
She considered, and, if the fact was disconcerting to her, effectually concealed it. The next minute indeed she had recovered. "No, he wouldn't. But do you NEED that?"
Her emphasis was wonderful, and though his eyes had been wandering he looked at her longer now. "I see what you mean."
"Of course you see what I mean."
Her triumph was gentle, and she really had tones to make justice weep. "I've before me what he owes you."
"Admit then that that's something," she said, yet still with the same discretion in her pride.
He took in this note but went straight on. "You've made of him what I see, but what I don't see is how in the world you've done it."
"Ah that's another question!" she smiled. "The point is of what use is your declining to know me when to know Mr. Newsome--as you do me the honour to find him--IS just to know me."
"I see," he mused, still with his eyes on her. "I shouldn't have met you to-night."
She raised and dropped her linked hands. "It doesn't matter. If I trust you why can't you a little trust me too? And why can't you also," she asked in another tone, "trust yourself?" But she gave him no time to reply. "Oh I shall be so easy for you! And I'm glad at any rate you've seen my child."
"I'm glad too," he said; "but she does you no good."
"No good?"--Madame de Vionnet had a clear stare. "Why she's an angel of light."
"That's precisely the reason. Leave her alone. Don't try to find out. I mean," he explained, "about what you spoke to me of--the way she feels."
His companion wondered. "Because one really won't?"
"Well, because I ask you, as a favour to myself, not to. She's the most charming creature I've ever seen. Therefore don't touch her. Don't know--don't want to know. And moreover--yes--you won't."
It was an appeal, of a sudden, and she took it in. "As a favour to you?"
"Well--since you ask me."
"Anything, everything you ask," she smiled. "I shan't know then--never. Thank you," she added with peculiar gentleness as she turned away.
The sound of it lingered with him, making him fairly feel as if he had been tripped up and had a fall. In the very act of arranging with her for his independence he had, under pressure from a particular perception, inconsistently, quite stupidly, committed himself, and, with her subtlety sensitive on the spot to an advantage, she had driven in by a single word a little golden nail, the sharp intention of which he signally felt. He hadn't detached, he had more closely connected himself, and his eyes, as he considered with some intensity this circumstance, met another pair which had just come within their range and which struck him as reflecting his sense of what he had done. He recognised them at the same moment as those of little Bilham, who had apparently drawn near on purpose to speak to him, and little Bilham wasn't, in the conditions, the person to whom his heart would be most closed. They were seated together a minute later at the angle of the room obliquely opposite the corner in which Gloriani was still engaged with Jeanne de Vionnet, to whom at first and in silence their attention had been benevolently given. "I can't see for my life," Strether had then observed, "how a young fellow of any spirit--such a one as you for instance--can be admitted to the sight of that young lady without being hard hit. Why don't you go in, little Bilham?" He remembered the tone into which he had been betrayed on the garden-bench at the sculptor's reception, and this might make up for that by being much more the right sort of thing to say to a young man worthy of any advice at all. "There WOULD be some reason."
"Some reason for what?"
"Why for hanging on here."
"To offer my hand and fortune to Mademoiselle de Vionnet?"
"Well," Strether asked, "to what lovelier apparition COULD you offer them? She's the sweetest little thing I've ever seen."
"She's certainly immense. I mean she's the real thing. I believe the pale pink petals are folded up there for some wondrous efflorescence in time; to open, that is, to some great golden sun. I'M unfortunately but a small farthing candle. What chance in such a field for a poor little painter-man?"
"Oh you're good enough," Strether threw out.
"Certainly I'm good enough. We're good enough, I consider, nous autres, for anything. But she's TOO good. There's the difference. They wouldn't look at me."
Strether, lounging on his divan and still charmed by the young girl, whose eyes had consciously strayed to him, he fancied, with a vague smile--Strether, enjoying the whole occasion as with dormant pulses at last awake and in spite of new material thrust upon him, thought over his companion's words. "Whom do you mean by 'they'? She and her mother?"
"She and her mother.
And she has a father too, who, whatever else he may be, certainly can't
be indifferent to the possibilities she represents. Besides, there's
Strether was silent a little. "Ah but he doesn't care for her--not, I mean, it appears, after all, in the sense I'm speaking of. He's NOT in love with her."
"No--but he's her best friend; after her mother. He's very fond of her. He has his ideas about what can be done for her."
"Well, it's very strange!" Strether presently remarked with a sighing sense of fulness.
"Very strange indeed. That's just the beauty of it. Isn't it very much the kind of beauty you had in mind," little Bilham went on, "when you were so wonderful and so inspiring to me the other day? Didn't you adjure me, in accents I shall never forget, to see, while I've a chance, everything I can?--and REALLY to see, for it must have been that only you meant. Well, you did me no end of good, and I'm doing my best. I DO make it out a situation."
"So do I!" Strether went on after a moment. But he had the next minute an inconsequent
question. "How comes
"Ah, ah, ah!"--and little Bilham fell back on his cushions.
It reminded our friend of Miss Barrace, and he felt again the
brush of his sense of moving in a maze of mystic closed allusions. Yet he kept hold of his thread. "Of course I understand really; only the
general transformation makes me occasionally gasp.
"Yes, but that's only because he's rich and because there's a possibility of his being richer. They won't think of anything but a great name or a great fortune."
"Well," said Strether, "he'll have no great fortune on THESE lines. He must stir his stumps."
"Is that," little Bilham enquired, "what you were saying to Madame de Vionnet?"
"No--I don't say much to her. Of course, however," Strether continued, "he can make sacrifices if he likes."
Little Bilham had a pause. "Oh he's not keen for sacrifices; or thinks, that is, possibly, that he has made enough."
"Well, it IS virtuous," his companion observed with some decision.
"That's exactly," the young man dropped after a moment, "what I mean."
It kept Strether himself silent a little. "I've made it out for myself," he
then went on; "I've really, within the last half-hour, got hold of
it. I understand it in short at last;
which at first--when you originally spoke to me--I didn't. Nor when
"Oh," said little Bilham, "I don't think that at that time you believed me."
"Yes--I did; and I believed
The young man cast about. "What interest have I?"
"Yes. Chad MIGHT have. But you?"
"Ah, ah, ah!" little Bilham exclaimed.
It might, on repetition, as a mystification, have irritated our friend a little, but he knew, once more, as we have seen, where he was, and his being proof against everything was only another attestation that he meant to stay there. "I couldn't, without my own impression, realise. She's a tremendously clever brilliant capable woman, and with an extraordinary charm on top of it all--the charm we surely all of us this evening know what to think of. It isn't every clever brilliant capable woman that has it. In fact it's rare with any woman. So there you are," Strether proceeded as if not for little Bilham's benefit alone. "I understand what a relation with such a woman--what such a high fine friendship--may be. It can't be vulgar or coarse, anyway--and that's the point."
"Yes, that's the point," said little Bilham. "It can't be vulgar or coarse. And, bless us and save us, it ISn't! It's, upon my word, the very finest thing I ever saw in my life, and the most distinguished."
Strether, from beside him and leaning back with him as he leaned, dropped on him a momentary look which filled a short interval and of which he took no notice. He only gazed before him with intent participation. "Of course what it has done for him," Strether at all events presently pursued, "of course what it has done for him--that is as to HOW it has so wonderfully worked--isn't a thing I pretend to understand. I've to take it as I find it. There he is."
"There he is!" little Bilham echoed. "And it's really and truly she. I don't understand either, even with my longer and closer opportunity. But I'm like you," he added; "I can admire and rejoice even when I'm a little in the dark. You see I've watched it for some three years, and especially for this last. He wasn't so bad before it as I seem to have made out that you think--"
"Oh I don't think anything now!" Strether impatiently broke in: "that is but what I DO think! I mean that originally, for her to have cared for him--"
"There must have been stuff in him? Oh yes, there was stuff indeed, and much more of it than ever showed, I dare say, at home. Still, you know," the young man in all fairness developed, "there was room for her, and that's where she came in. She saw her chance and took it. That's what strikes me as having been so fine. But of course," he wound up, "he liked her first."
"Naturally," said Strether.
"I mean that they first met somehow and somewhere--I believe in some American house--and she, without in the least then intending it, made her impression. Then with time and opportunity he made his; and after THAT she was as bad as he."
Strether vaguely took it up. "As 'bad'?"
"She began, that is, to care--to care very much. Alone, and in her horrid position, she found it, when once she had started, an interest. It was, it is, an interest, and it did--it continues to do--a lot for herself as well. So she still cares. She cares in fact," said little Bilham thoughtfully "more."
Strether's theory that it was none of his business was somehow not damaged by the way he took this. "More, you mean, than he?" On which his companion looked round at him, and now for an instant their eyes met. "More than he?" he repeated.
Little Bilham, for as long, hung fire. "Will you never tell any one?"
Strether thought. "Whom should I tell?"
"Why I supposed you reported regularly--"
"To people at home?"--Strether took him up. "Well, I won't tell them this."
The young man at last looked away. "Then she does now care more than he."
"Oh!" Strether oddly exclaimed.
But his companion immediately met it. "Haven't you after all had your impression of it? That's how you've got hold of him."
"Ah but I haven't got hold of him!"
"Oh I say!" But it was all little Bilham said.
"It's at any rate none of my business. I mean," Strether explained, "nothing else than getting hold of him is." It appeared, however, to strike him as his business to add: "The fact remains nevertheless that she has saved him."
Little Bilham just waited. "I thought that was what you were to do."
But Strether had his answer ready. "I'm speaking--in connexion with her--of his manners and morals, his character and life. I'm speaking of him as a person to deal with and talk with and live with--speaking of him as a social animal."
"And isn't it as a social animal that you also want him?"
"Certainly; so that it's as if she had saved him FOR us."
"It strikes you accordingly then," the young man threw out, "as for you all to save HER?"
"Oh for us 'all'--!" Strether could but laugh at that. It brought him back, however, to the point he had really wished to make. "They've accepted their situation--hard as it is. They're not free --at least she's not; but they take what's left to them. It's a friendship, of a beautiful sort; and that's what makes them so strong. They're straight, they feel; and they keep each other up. It's doubtless she, however, who, as you yourself have hinted, feels it most."
Little Bilham appeared to wonder what he had hinted. "Feels most that they're straight?"
"Well, feels that SHE is, and the strength that comes from it. She keeps HIM up--she keeps the whole thing up. When people are able to it's fine. She's wonderful, wonderful, as Miss Barrace says; and he is, in his way, too; however, as a mere man, he may sometimes rebel and not feel that he finds his account in it. She has simply given him an immense moral lift, and what that can explain is prodigious. That's why I speak of it as a situation. It IS one, if there ever was." And Strether, with his head back and his eyes on the ceiling, seemed to lose himself in the vision of it.
His companion attended deeply. "You state it much better than I could." "Oh you see it doesn't concern you."
Little Bilham considered. "I thought you said just now that it doesn't concern you either."
"Well, it doesn't a bit as Madame de Vionnet's affair. But as we were again saying just now, what did I come out for but to save him?"
"Yes--to remove him."
"To save him by removal; to win him over to HIMSELF thinking it best he shall take up business--thinking he must immediately do therefore what's necessary to that end."
"Well," said little Bilham after a moment, "you HAVE won him over. He does think it best. He has within a day or two again said to me as much."
"And that," Strether asked, "is why you consider that he cares less than she?"
"Cares less for her than she for him? Yes, that's one of the reasons. But other
things too have given me the impression.
A man, don't you think?" little Bilham presently pursued, "CAN'T,
in such conditions, care so much as a woman.
It takes different conditions to make him, and then perhaps he cares
"Are you speaking of his business future?"
"No--on the contrary; of the other, the future of what you so justly call their situation. M. de Vionnet may live for ever."
"So that they can't marry?"
The young man waited a moment. "Not being able to marry is all they've with any confidence to look forward to. A woman--a particular woman--may stand that strain. But can a man?" he propounded.
Strether's answer was as prompt as if he had already, for
himself, worked it out. "Not
without a very high ideal of conduct.
But that's just what we're attributing to
"Out of sight out of mind!" his companion
laughed. Then more bravely:
"Wouldn't distance lessen the torment?" But before Strether could reply, "The
thing is, you see,
Strether, for a little, appeared to think of it. "If you talk of torments you don't diminish mine!" he then broke out. The next moment he was on his feet with a question. "He ought to marry whom?"
Little Bilham rose more slowly. "Well, some one he CAN--some thoroughly nice girl "
Strether's eyes, as they stood together, turned again to Jeanne. "Do you mean HER?"
His friend made a sudden strange face. "After being in love with her mother? No."
"But isn't it exactly your idea that he ISn't in love with her mother?"
His friend once more had a pause. "Well, he isn't at any rate in love with Jeanne."
"I dare say not."
"How CAN he be with any other woman?"
"Oh that I admit. But being in love isn't, you know, here"--little Bilham spoke in friendly reminder--"thought necessary, in strictness, for marriage."
"And what torment--to call a torment--can there ever possibly be with a woman like that?" As if from the interest of his own question Strether had gone on without hearing. "Is it for her to have turned a man out so wonderfully, too, only for somebody else?" He appeared to make a point of this, and little Bilham looked at him now. "When it's for each other that people give things up they don't miss them." Then he threw off as with an extravagance of which he was conscious: "Let them face the future together!"
Little Bilham looked at him indeed. "You mean that after all he shouldn't go back?"
"I mean that if he gives her up--!"
"Well, he ought to be ashamed of himself." But Strether spoke with a sound that might have passed for a laugh.
It wasn't the first time Strether had sat alone in the great dim church--still less was it the first of his giving himself up, so far as conditions permitted, to its beneficent action on his nerves. He had been to Notre Dame with Waymarsh, he had been there with Miss Gostrey, he had been there with Chad Newsome, and had found the place, even in company, such a refuge from the obsession of his problem that, with renewed pressure from that source, he had not unnaturally recurred to a remedy meeting the case, for the moment, so indirectly, no doubt, but so relievingly. He was conscious enough that it was only for the moment, but good moments--if he could call them good--still had their value for a man who by this time struck himself as living almost disgracefully from hand to mouth. Having so well learnt the way, he had lately made the pilgrimage more than once by himself--had quite stolen off, taking an unnoticed chance and making no point of speaking of the adventure when restored to his friends.
His great friend, for that matter, was still absent, as well
as remarkably silent; even at the end of three weeks Miss Gostrey hadn't come
back. She wrote to him from Mentone,
admitting that he must judge her grossly inconsequent--perhaps in fact for the
time odiously faithless; but asking for patience, for a deferred sentence,
throwing herself in short on his generosity.
For her too, she could assure him, life was complicated--more
complicated than he could have guessed; she had moreover made certain of
him--certain of not wholly missing him on her return--before her disappearance. If furthermore she didn't burden him with
letters it was frankly because of her sense of the other great commerce he had
to carry on. He himself, at the end of a
fortnight, had written twice, to show how his generosity could be trusted; but
he reminded himself in each case of Mrs. Newsome's epistolary manner at the
times when Mrs. Newsome kept off delicate ground. He sank his problem, he talked of Waymarsh
and Miss Barrace, of little Bilham and the set over the river, with whom he had
again had tea, and he was easy, for convenience, about
This small struggle sprang not a little, in its way, from the same impulse that had now carried him across to Notre Dame; the impulse to let things be, to give them time to justify themselves or at least to pass. He was aware of having no errand in such a place but the desire not to be, for the hour, in certain other places; a sense of safety, of simplification, which each time he yielded to it he amused himself by thinking of as a private concession to cowardice. The great church had no altar for his worship, no direct voice for his soul; but it was none the less soothing even to sanctity; for he could feel while there what he couldn't elsewhere, that he was a plain tired man taking the holiday he had earned. He was tired, but he wasn't plain--that was the pity and the trouble of it; he was able, however, to drop his problem at the door very much as if it had been the copper piece that he deposited, on the threshold, in the receptacle of the inveterate blind beggar. He trod the long dim nave, sat in the splendid choir, paused before the cluttered chapels of the east end, and the mighty monument laid upon him its spell. He might have been a student under the charm of a museum--which was exactly what, in a foreign town, in the afternoon of life, he would have liked to be free to be. This form of sacrifice did at any rate for the occasion as well as another; it made him quite sufficiently understand how, within the precinct, for the real refugee, the things of the world could fall into abeyance. That was the cowardice, probably--to dodge them, to beg the question, not to deal with it in the hard outer light; but his own oblivions were too brief, too vain, to hurt any one but himself, and he had a vague and fanciful kindness for certain persons whom he met, figures of mystery and anxiety, and whom, with observation for his pastime, he ranked as those who were fleeing from justice. Justice was outside, in the hard light, and injustice too; but one was as absent as the other from the air of the long aisles and the brightness of the many altars.
Thus it was at all events that, one morning some dozen days after the dinner in the Boulevard Malesherbes at which Madame de Vionnet had been present with her daughter, he was called upon to play his part in an encounter that deeply stirred his imagination. He had the habit, in these contemplations, of watching a fellow visitant, here and there, from a respectable distance, remarking some note of behaviour, of penitence, of prostration, of the absolved, relieved state; this was the manner in which his vague tenderness took its course, the degree of demonstration to which it naturally had to confine itself. It hadn't indeed so felt its responsibility as when on this occasion he suddenly measured the suggestive effect of a lady whose supreme stillness, in the shade of one of the chapels, he had two or three times noticed as he made, and made once more, his slow circuit. She wasn't prostrate--not in any degree bowed, but she was strangely fixed, and her prolonged immobility showed her, while he passed and paused, as wholly given up to the need, whatever it was, that had brought her there. She only sat and gazed before her, as he himself often sat; but she had placed herself, as he never did, within the focus of the shrine, and she had lost herself, he could easily see, as he would only have liked to do. She was not a wandering alien, keeping back more than she gave, but one of the familiar, the intimate, the fortunate, for whom these dealings had a method and a meaning. She reminded our friend--since it was the way of nine tenths of his current impressions to act as recalls of things imagined--of some fine firm concentrated heroine of an old story, something he had heard, read, something that, had he had a hand for drama, he might himself have written, renewing her courage, renewing her clearness, in splendidly-protected meditation. Her back, as she sat, was turned to him, but his impression absolutely required that she should be young and interesting, and she carried her head moreover, even in the sacred shade, with a discernible faith in herself, a kind of implied conviction of consistency, security, impunity. But what had such a woman come for if she hadn't come to pray? Strether's reading of such matters was, it must be owned, confused; but he wondered if her attitude were some congruous fruit of absolution, of "indulgence." He knew but dimly what indulgence, in such a place, might mean; yet he had, as with a soft sweep, a vision of how it might indeed add to the zest of active rites. All this was a good deal to have been denoted by a mere lurking figure who was nothing to him; but, the last thing before leaving the church, he had the surprise of a still deeper quickening.
He had dropped upon a seat halfway down the nave and, again in the museum mood, was trying with head thrown back and eyes aloft, to reconstitute a past, to reduce it in fact to the convenient terms of Victor Hugo, whom, a few days before, giving the rein for once in a way to the joy of life, he had purchased in seventy bound volumes, a miracle of cheapness, parted with, he was assured by the shopman, at the price of the red-and-gold alone. He looked, doubtless, while he played his eternal nippers over Gothic glooms, sufficiently rapt in reverence; but what his thought had finally bumped against was the question of where, among packed accumulations, so multiform a wedge would be able to enter. Were seventy volumes in red-and-gold to be perhaps what he should most substantially have to show at Woollett as the fruit of his mission? It was a possibility that held him a minute--held him till he happened to feel that some one, unnoticed, had approached him and paused. Turning, he saw that a lady stood there as for a greeting, and he sprang up as he next took her, securely, for Madame de Vionnet, who appeared to have recognised him as she passed near him on her way to the door. She checked, quickly and gaily, a certain confusion in him, came to meet it, turned it back, by an art of her own; the confusion having threatened him as he knew her for the person he had lately been observing. She was the lurking figure of the dim chapel; she had occupied him more than she guessed; but it came to him in time, luckily, that he needn't tell her and that no harm, after all, had been done. She herself, for that matter, straightway showing she felt their encounter as the happiest of accidents, had for him a "You come here too?" that despoiled surprise of every awkwardness.
"I come often," she said. "I love this place, but I'm terrible, in general, for churches. The old women who live in them all know me; in fact I'm already myself one of the old women. It's like that, at all events, that I foresee I shall end." Looking about for a chair, so that he instantly pulled one nearer, she sat down with him again to the sound of an "Oh, I like so much your also being fond--!"
He confessed the extent of his feeling, though she left the object vague; and he was struck with the tact, the taste of her vagueness, which simply took for granted in him a sense of beautiful things. He was conscious of how much it was affected, this sense, by something subdued and discreet in the way she had arranged herself for her special object and her morning walk--he believed her to have come on foot; the way her slightly thicker veil was drawn--a mere touch, but everything; the composed gravity of her dress, in which, here and there, a dull wine-colour seemed to gleam faintly through black; the charming discretion of her small compact head; the quiet note, as she sat, of her folded, grey-gloved hands. It was, to Strether's mind, as if she sat on her own ground, the light honours of which, at an open gate, she thus easily did him, while all the vastness and mystery of the domain stretched off behind. When people were so completely in possession they could be extraordinarily civil; and our friend had indeed at this hour a kind of revelation of her heritage. She was romantic for him far beyond what she could have guessed, and again he found his small comfort in the conviction that, subtle though she was, his impression must remain a secret from her. The thing that, once more, made him uneasy for secrets in general was this particular patience she could have with his own want of colour; albeit that on the other hand his uneasiness pretty well dropped after he had been for ten minutes as colourless as possible and at the same time as responsive.
The moments had already, for that matter, drawn their
deepest tinge from the special interest excited in him by his vision of his
companion's identity with the person whose attitude before the glimmering altar
had so impressed him. This attitude
fitted admirably into the stand he had privately taken about her connexion with
"Out of proportion to what?"
"Well, to any other plunge." Yet he felt even as he spoke how at that instant he was plunging. He had made up his mind and was impatient to get into the air; for his purpose was a purpose to be uttered outside, and he had a fear that it might with delay still slip away from him. She however took her time; she drew out their quiet gossip as if she had wished to profit by their meeting, and this confirmed precisely an interpretation of her manner, of her mystery. While she rose, as he would have called it, to the question of Victor Hugo, her voice itself, the light low quaver of her deference to the solemnity about them, seemed to make her words mean something that they didn't mean openly. Help, strength, peace, a sublime support--she hadn't found so much of these things as that the amount wouldn't be sensibly greater for any scrap his appearance of faith in her might enable her to feel in her hand. Every little, in a long strain, helped, and if he happened to affect her as a firm object she could hold on by, he wouldn't jerk himself out of her reach. People in difficulties held on by what was nearest, and he was perhaps after all not further off than sources of comfort more abstract. It was as to this he had made up his mind; he had made it up, that is, to give her a sign. The sign would be that--though it was her own affair--he understood; the sign would be that--though it was her own affair--she was free to clutch. Since she took him for a firm object--much as he might to his own sense appear at times to rock--he would do his best to BE one.
The end of it was that half an hour later they were seated
together for an early luncheon at a wonderful, a delightful house of
entertainment on the left bank--a place of pilgrimage for the knowing, they
were both aware, the knowing who came, for its great renown, the homage of
restless days, from the other end of the town.
Strether had already been there three times--first with Miss Gostrey,
then with Chad, then with Chad again and with Waymarsh and little Bilham, all
of whom he had himself sagaciously entertained; and his pleasure was deep now
on learning that Madame de Vionnet hadn't yet been initiated. When he had said as they strolled round the
church, by the river, acting at last on what, within, he had made up his mind
to, "Will you, if you have time, come to dejeuner with me somewhere? For instance, if you know it, over there on
the other side, which is so easy a walk"--and then had named the place;
when he had done this she stopped short as for quick intensity, and yet deep
difficulty, of response. She took in the
proposal as if it were almost too charming to be true; and there had perhaps
never yet been for her companion so unexpected a moment of pride--so fine, so
odd a case, at any rate, as his finding himself thus able to offer to a person
in such universal possession a new, a rare amusement. She had heard of the happy spot, but she
asked him in reply to a further question how in the world he could suppose her
to have been there. He supposed himself
to have supposed that
"Ah, let me explain," she smiled, "that I
don't go about with him in public; I never have such chances--not having them
otherwise--and it's just the sort of thing that, as a quiet creature living in
my hole, I adore." It was more than
kind of him to have thought of it--though, frankly, if he asked whether she had
time she hadn't a single minute. That
however made no difference--she'd throw everything over. Every duty at home, domestic, maternal,
social, awaited her; but it was a case for a high line. Her affairs would go to smash, but hadn't one
a right to one's snatch of scandal when one was prepared to pay? It was on this pleasant basis of costly
disorder, consequently, that they eventually seated themselves, on either side
of a small table, at a window adjusted to the busy quay and the shining
Their human questions became many before they had done--many more, as one after the other came up, than our friend's free fancy had at all foreseen. The sense he had had before, the sense he had had repeatedly, the sense that the situation was running away with him, had never been so sharp as now; and all the more that he could perfectly put his finger on the moment it had taken the bit in its teeth. That accident had definitely occurred, the other evening, after Chad's dinner; it had occurred, as he fully knew, at the moment when he interposed between this lady and her child, when he suffered himself so to discuss with her a matter closely concerning them that her own subtlety, marked by its significant "Thank you!" instantly sealed the occasion in her favour. Again he had held off for ten days, but the situation had continued out of hand in spite of that; the fact that it was running so fast being indeed just WHY he had held off. What had come over him as he recognised her in the nave of the church was that holding off could be but a losing game from the instant she was worked for not only by her subtlety, but by the hand of fate itself. If all the accidents were to fight on her side--and by the actual showing they loomed large--he could only give himself up. This was what he had done in privately deciding then and there to propose she should breakfast with him. What did the success of his proposal in fact resemble but the smash in which a regular runaway properly ends? The smash was their walk, their dejeuner, their omelette, the Chablis, the place, the view, their present talk and his present pleasure in it--to say nothing, wonder of wonders, of her own. To this tune and nothing less, accordingly, was his surrender made good. It sufficiently lighted up at least the folly of holding off. Ancient proverbs sounded, for his memory, in the tone of their words and the clink of their glasses, in the hum of the town and the plash of the river. It WAS clearly better to suffer as a sheep than as a lamb. One might as well perish by the sword as by famine.
"Maria's still away?"--that was the first thing she had asked him; and when he had found the frankness to be cheerful about it in spite of the meaning he knew her to attach to Miss Gostrey's absence, she had gone on to enquire if he didn't tremendously miss her. There were reasons that made him by no means sure, yet he nevertheless answered "Tremendously"; which she took in as if it were all she had wished to prove. Then, "A man in trouble MUST be possessed somehow of a woman," she said; "if she doesn't come in one way she comes in another."
"Why do you call me a man in trouble?"
"Ah because that's the way you strike me." She spoke ever so gently and as if with all fear of wounding him while she sat partaking of his bounty. "AREn't you in trouble?"
He felt himself colour at the question, and then hated
that--hated to pass for anything so idiotic as woundable. Woundable by
"Well, I'm always so. But that you sufficiently know." She was a woman who, between courses, could be graceful with her elbows on the table. It was a posture unknown to Mrs. Newsome, but it was easy for a femme du monde. "Yes--I am 'now'!"
"There was a question you put to me," he presently
returned, "the night of
She was instantly all there. "Of course I know what you allude to. I asked you what you had meant by saying, the day you came to see me, just before you left me, that you'd save me. And you then said --at our friend's--that you'd have really to wait to see, for yourself, what you did mean."
"Yes, I asked for time," said Strether. "And it sounds now, as you put it, like a very ridiculous speech."
"Oh!" she murmured--she was full of attenuation. But she had another thought. "If it does sound ridiculous why do you deny that you're in trouble?"
"Ah if I were," he replied, "it wouldn't be the trouble of fearing ridicule. I don't fear it."
"What then do you?"
"Nothing--now." And he leaned back in his chair.
"I like your 'now'!" she laughed across at him.
"Well, it's precisely that it fully comes to me at
present that I've kept you long enough.
I know by this time, at any rate, what I meant by my speech; and I
really knew it the night of
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
"Because it was difficult at the moment. I had already at that moment done something for you, in the sense of what I had said the day I went to see you; but I wasn't then sure of the importance I might represent this as having."
She was all eagerness. "And you're sure now?"
"Yes; I see that, practically, I've done for you--had done for you when you put me your question--all that it's as yet possible to me to do. I feel now," he went on, "that it may go further than I thought. What I did after my visit to you," he explained, "was to write straight off to Mrs. Newsome about you, and I'm at last, from one day to the other, expecting her answer. It's this answer that will represent, as I believe, the consequences."
Patient and beautiful was her interest. "I see--the consequences of your speaking for me." And she waited as if not to hustle him.
He acknowledged it by immediately going on. "The question, you understand, was HOW I should save you. Well, I'm trying it by thus letting her know that I consider you worth saving."
"I see--I see." Her eagerness broke through.
"How can I thank you enough?" He couldn't tell her that, however, and she quickly pursued. "You do really, for yourself, consider it?"
His only answer at first was to help her to the dish that had been freshly put before them. "I've written to her again since then--I've left her in no doubt of what I think. I've told her all about you."
"Thanks--not so much. 'All about' me," she went on--"yes."
"All it seems to me you've done for him."
"Ah and you might have added all it seems to ME!" She laughed again, while she took up her knife and fork, as in the cheer of these assurances. "But you're not sure how she'll take it."
"No, I'll not pretend I'm sure."
"Voila." And she waited a moment. "I wish you'd tell me about her."
"Oh," said Strether with a slightly strained smile, "all that need concern you about her is that she's really a grand person."
Madame de Vionnet seemed to demur. "Is that all that need concern me about her?"
But Strether neglected the question. "Hasn't
"Of his mother? Yes, a great deal--immensely. But not from your point of view."
"He can't," our friend returned, "have said any ill of her."
"Not the least bit. He has given me, like you, the assurance that she's really grand. But her being really grand is somehow just what hasn't seemed to simplify our case. Nothing," she continued, "is further from me than to wish to say a word against her; but of course I feel how little she can like being told of her owing me anything. No woman ever enjoys such an obligation to another woman."
This was a proposition Strether couldn't contradict. "And yet what other way could I have expressed to her what I felt? It's what there was most to say about you."
"Do you mean then that she WILL be good to me?"
"It's what I'm waiting to see. But I've little doubt she would," he added, "if she could comfortably see you."
It seemed to strike her as a happy, a beneficent thought. "Oh then couldn't that be managed? Wouldn't she come out? Wouldn't she if you so put it to her? DID you by any possibility?" she faintly quavered.
"Oh no"--he was prompt. "Not that. It would be, much more, to give an account of you that--since there's no question of YOUR paying the visit--I should go home first."
It instantly made her graver. "And are you thinking of that?"
"Oh all the while, naturally."
"Stay with us--stay with us!" she exclaimed on this. "That's your only way to make sure."
"To make sure of what?"
"Why that he doesn't break up. You didn't come out to do that to him."
"Doesn't it depend," Strether returned after a moment, "on what you mean by breaking up?"
"Oh you know well enough what I mean!"
His silence seemed again for a little to denote an understanding. "You take for granted remarkable things."
"Yes, I do--to the extent that I don't take for granted vulgar ones. You're perfectly capable of seeing that what you came out for wasn't really at all to do what you'd now have to do."
"Ah it's perfectly simple," Strether
good-humouredly pleaded. "I've had
but one thing to do--to put our case before him. To put it as it could only be put here on the
spot--by personal pressure. My dear
lady," he lucidly pursued, "my work, you see, is really done, and my
reasons for staying on even another day are none of the best.
She shook her head with a finer deeper wisdom. "You're not ready. If you're ready why did you write to Mrs. Newsome in the sense you've mentioned to me?"
Strether considered. "I shan't go before I hear from her. You're too much afraid of her," he added.
It produced between them a long look from which neither shrank. "I don't think you believe that--believe I've not really reason to fear her."
"She's capable of great generosity," Strether presently stated.
"Well then let her trust me a little. That's all I ask. Let her recognise in spite of everything what I've done."
"Ah remember," our friend replied, "that she
can't effectually recognise it without seeing it for herself. Let
She measured the depth of this suggestion. "Do you give me your word of honour that if she once has him there she won't do her best to marry him?"
It made her companion, this enquiry, look again a while out at the view; after which he spoke without sharpness. "When she sees for herself what he is--"
But she had already broken in. "It's when she sees for herself what he is that she'll want to marry him most."
Strether's attitude, that of due deference to what she said, permitted him to attend for a minute to his luncheon. "I doubt if that will come off. It won't be easy to make it."
"It will be easy if he remains there--and he'll remain for the money. The money appears to be, as a probability, so hideously much."
"Well," Strether presently concluded, "nothing COULD really hurt you but his marrying."
She gave a strange light laugh. "Putting aside what may really hurt HIM."
But her friend looked at her as if he had thought of that too. "The question will come up, of course, of the future that you yourself offer him."
She was leaning back now, but she fully faced him. "Well, let it come up!"
"The point is that it's for
"If he IS proof, yes"--she accepted the proposition. "But for myself," she added, "the question is what YOU make."
"Ah I make nothing. It's not my affair."
"I beg your pardon. It's just there that, since you've taken it up and are committed to it, it most intensely becomes yours. You're not saving me, I take it, for your interest in myself, but for your interest in our friend. The one's at any rate wholly dependent on the other. You can't in honour not see me through," she wound up, "because you can't in honour not see HIM."
Strange and beautiful to him was her quiet soft acuteness. The thing that most moved him was really that she was so deeply serious. She had none of the portentous forms of it, but he had never come in contact, it struck him, with a force brought to so fine a head. Mrs. Newsome, goodness knew, was serious; but it was nothing to this. He took it all in, he saw it all together. "No," he mused, "I can't in honour not see him."
Her face affected him as with an exquisite light. "You WILL then?"
At this she pushed back her chair and was the next moment on
her feet. "Thank you!" she
said with her hand held out to him across the table and with no less a meaning
in the words than her lips had so particularly given them after
He received three days after this a communication from
America, in the form of a scrap of blue paper folded and gummed, not reaching him
through his bankers, but delivered at his hotel by a small boy in uniform, who,
under instructions from the concierge, approached him as he slowly paced the
little court. It was the evening hour,
but daylight was long now and
He read his telegram in the court, standing still a long time where he had opened it and giving five minutes afterwards to the renewed study of it. At last, quickly, he crumpled it up as if to get it out of the way; in spite of which, however, he kept it there--still kept it when, at the end of another turn, he had dropped into a chair placed near a small table. Here, with his scrap of paper compressed in his fist and further concealed by his folding his arms tight, he sat for some time in thought, gazed before him so straight that Waymarsh appeared and approached him without catching his eye. The latter in fact, struck with his appearance, looked at him hard for a single instant and then, as if determined to that course by some special vividness in it, dropped back into the salon de lecture without addressing him. But the pilgrim from Milrose permitted himself still to observe the scene from behind the clear glass plate of that retreat. Strether ended, as he sat, by a fresh scrutiny of his compressed missive, which he smoothed out carefully again as he placed it on his table. There it remained for some minutes, until, at last looking up, he saw Waymarsh watching him from within. It was on this that their eyes met--met for a moment during which neither moved. But Strether then got up, folding his telegram more carefully and putting it into his waistcoat pocket
A few minutes later the friends were seated together at dinner; but Strether had meanwhile said nothing about it, and they eventually parted, after coffee in the court, with nothing said on either side. Our friend had moreover the consciousness that even less than usual was on this occasion said between them, so that it was almost as if each had been waiting for something from the other. Waymarsh had always more or less the air of sitting at the door of his tent, and silence, after so many weeks, had come to play its part in their concert. This note indeed, to Strether's sense, had lately taken a fuller tone, and it was his fancy to-night that they had never quite so drawn it out. Yet it befell, none the less that he closed the door to confidence when his companion finally asked him if there were anything particular the matter with him. "Nothing," he replied, "more than usual."
On the morrow, however, at an early hour, he found occasion
to give an answer more in consonance with the facts. What was the matter had continued to be so
all the previous evening, the first hours of which, after dinner, in his room,
he had devoted to the copious composition of a letter. He had quitted Waymarsh for this purpose,
leaving him to his own resources with less ceremony than their wont, but
finally coming down again with his letter unconcluded and going forth into the
streets without enquiry for his comrade.
He had taken a long vague walk, and one o'clock had struck before his
return and his re-ascent to his room by the aid of the glimmering candle-end
left for him on the shelf outside the porter's lodge. He had possessed himself, on closing his
door, of the numerous loose sheets of his unfinished composition, and then,
without reading them over, had torn them into small pieces. He had thereupon slept--as if it had been in
some measure thanks to that sacrifice--the sleep of the just, and had prolonged
his rest considerably beyond his custom.
Thus it was that when, between nine and ten, the tap of the knob of a
walking-stick sounded on his door, he had not yet made himself altogether
presentable. Chad Newsome's bright deep
voice determined quickly enough none the less the admission of the
visitor. The little blue paper of the
evening before, plainly an object the more precious for its escape from
premature destruction, now lay on the sill of the open window, smoothed out
afresh and kept from blowing away by the superincumbent weight of his watch.
Strether paused in the act of pinning his necktie. "Then you know--? You've had one too?"
"No, I've had nothing, and I only know what I see. I see that thing and I guess. Well," he added, "it comes as pat as in a play, for I've precisely turned up this morning--as I would have done yesterday, but it was impossible--to take you."
"To take me?" Strether had turned again to his glass.
"Back, at last, as I promised. I'm ready--I've really been ready this month. I've only been waiting for you--as was perfectly right. But you're better now; you're safe--I see that for myself; you've got all your good. You're looking, this morning, as fit as a flea."
Strether, at his glass, finished dressing; consulting that
witness moreover on this last opinion.
WAS he looking preternaturally fit? There was something in it perhaps
"I dare say, my dear man. I hope she's well."
Strether hesitated. "No--she's not well, I'm sorry to have to tell you."
Strether had now got together hat, gloves and stick, but
"Oh by one of next week's boats. Everything at this season goes out so light that berths will be easy anywhere."
Strether had in his hand his telegram, which he had kept there
after attaching his watch, and he now offered it to
But when Strether presently spoke it wasn't in answer. "It's not, I gather, that your mother's physically ill; her health, on the whole, this spring, seems to have been better than usual. But she's worried, she's anxious, and it appears to have risen within the last few days to a climax. We've tired out, between us, her patience."
"Oh it isn't YOU!"
"I beg your pardon--it IS me." Strether was mild and melancholy, but firm. He saw it far away and over his companion's head. "It's very particularly me."
"Well then all the more reason. Marchons, marchons!" said the young man gaily. His host, however, at this, but continued to stand agaze; and he had the next thing repeated his question of a moment before. "Has Miss Gostrey come back?"
"Yes, two days ago."
"Then you've seen her?"
"No--I'm to see her to-day." But Strether wouldn't linger now on Miss Gostrey. "Your mother sends me an ultimatum. If I can't bring you I'm to leave you; I'm to come at any rate myself."
"Ah but you CAN bring me now,"
Strether had a pause. "I don't think I understand you. Why was it that, more than a month ago, you put it to me so urgently to let Madame de Vionnet speak for you?"
"Well," said Strether, "the way she has spoken for you, all the same--so far as I've given her a chance--has only made me feel how much she wishes to keep you. If you make nothing of that I don't see why you wanted me to listen to her."
"Why my dear man,"
"I doubt only because you come to me this morning with your signal to start."
Strether debated; he took another turn. "This last month I've been awaiting, I think, more than anything else, the message I have here."
"You mean you've been afraid of it?"
"Well, I was doing my business in my own way. And I suppose your present announcement," Strether went on, "isn't merely the result of your sense of what I've expected. Otherwise you wouldn't have put me in relation--" But he paused, pulling up.
He had met again his companion's sufficiently searching look. "Are you tired of her?"
It had immediately, on Strether's imagination, so deep and soft an effect that our friend could only for the moment keep it before him. "Never?"
It made his companion take several more steps. "Then YOU'RE not afraid."
"Afraid to go?"
Strether pulled up again. "Afraid to stay."
The young man looked brightly amazed. "You want me now to 'stay'?"
"If I don't immediately sail the Pococks will immediately come out. That's what I mean," said Strether, "by your mother's ultimatum ."
Strether joined him for an instant in the vision. "Oh and you may be sure Mamie. THAT'S whom she's turning on."
"Ah," said Strether, "she's very charming."
"So you've already more than once told me. I should like to see her."
Something happy and easy, something above all unconscious, in the way he said this, brought home again to his companion the facility of his attitude and the enviability of his state. "See her then by all means. And consider too," Strether went on, "that you really give your sister a lift in letting her come to you. You give her a couple of months of Paris, which she hasn't seen, if I'm not mistaken, since just after she was married, and which I'm sure she wants but the pretext to visit."
"Do you mean YOU?" Strether after an instant enquired.
"Certainly--the lone exile. And whom do you mean?" said
"Oh I mean ME. I'm her pretext. That is--for it comes to the same thing--I'm your mother's."
His friend gave him a long look. "Should you like her to?" And as he for the moment said nothing: "It's perfectly open to you to cable for her."
"Quite possibly. But try, and you'll see."
"Why don't YOU try?"
"Because I don't want to."
Strether faced the question, and his answer was the more emphatic. "Don't put it off, my dear boy, on ME!"
"Well--I see what you mean. I'm sure you'd behave beautifully but you DON'T want to see her. So I won't play you that trick.'
"Ah," Strether declared, "I shouldn't call it a trick. You've a perfect right, and it would be perfectly straight of you." Then he added in a different tone: "You'd have moreover, in the person of Madame de Vionnet, a very interesting relation prepared for her."
Their eyes, on this proposition, continued to meet, but
Strether thought a moment, affected by this, but finally turning away. "She couldn't!"
"You're quite sure?"
"Well, risk it if you like!"
Strether, who uttered this with serenity, had urged a plea for their now getting into the air; but the young man still waited. "Have you sent your answer?"
"No, I've done nothing yet."
"Were you waiting to see me?"
"No, not that."
"No--not even Miss Gostrey. I wasn't waiting to see any one. I had only waited, till now, to make up my mind--in complete solitude; and, since I of course absolutely owe you the information, was on the point of going out with it quite made up. Have therefore a little more patience with me. Remember," Strether went on, "that that's what you originally asked ME to have. I've had it, you see, and you see what has come of it. Stay on with me."
"Well, till I make you a sign. I can't myself, you know, at the best, or at the worst, stay for ever. Let the Pococks come," Strether repeated.
"Because it gains you time?"
"Yes--it gains me time."
"Not just yet. I'm not ready."
"Immensely." Strether faced it. "You've helped me so to feel it that that surely needn't surprise you."
"No, it doesn't surprise me, and I'm delighted. But what, my dear man,"
The change of position and of relation, for each, was so
oddly betrayed in the question that
"Well, we should have been over there by now."
"Ah but you wouldn't have had your fun!"
"I should have had a month of it; and I'm having now, if you want to know," Strether continued, "enough to last me for the rest of my days."
"Left me?"--Strether remained blank.
"Only for a month or two--time to go and come. Madame de Vionnet,"
"To go back by yourself, I remaining here?" Again for an instant their eyes had the question out; after which Strether said: "Grotesque!"
"But I want to see Mother,"
"Long indeed; and that's exactly why I was originally so keen for moving you. Hadn't you shown us enough how beautifully you could do without it?"
"Oh but," said
There was an easy triumph in it that made his friend laugh out again. "Oh if you were worse I SHOULD know what to do with you. In that case I believe I'd have you gagged and strapped down, carried on board resisting, kicking. How MUCH," Strether asked, "do you want to see Mother?"
"Why as much as you've made me. I'd give anything to see her. And you've left me,"
Strether thought a minute. "Well then if those things are really your motive catch the French steamer and sail to-morrow. Of course, when it comes to that, you're absolutely free to do as you choose. From the moment you can't hold yourself I can only accept your flight."
"I'll fly in a minute then," said
"I'll stay here till the next steamer--then I'll follow you."
"And do you call that,"
"Certainly--it's the only thing to call it. The only way to keep me here, accordingly," Strether explained, "is by staying yourself."
"Dished me?" Strether echoed as inexpressively as possible.
"Why if she sends out the Pococks it will be that she doesn't trust you, and if she doesn't trust you, that bears upon--well, you know what."
Strether decided after a moment that he did know what, and in consonance with this he spoke. "You see then all the more what you owe me."
"Well, if I do see, how can I pay?"
"By not deserting me. By standing by me."
"Oh I say--!"
At four o'clock that afternoon he had still not seen him, but he was then, as to make up for this, engaged in talk about him with Miss Gostrey. Strether had kept away from home all day, given himself up to the town and to his thoughts, wandered and mused, been at once restless and absorbed--and all with the present climax of a rich little welcome in the Quartier Marboeuf. "Waymarsh has been, 'unbeknown' to me, I'm convinced"--for Miss Gostrey had enquired--"in communication with Woollett: the consequence of which was, last night, the loudest possible call for me."
"Do you mean a letter to bring you home?"
"No--a cable, which I have at this moment in my pocket: a 'Come back by the first ship.'"
Strether's hostess, it might have been made out, just escaped changing colour. Reflexion arrived but in time and established a provisional serenity. It was perhaps exactly this that enabled her to say with duplicity: "And you're going--?"
"You almost deserve it when you abandon me so."
She shook her head as if this were not worth taking up. "My absence has helped you--as I've only to look at you to see. It was my calculation, and I'm justified. You're not where you were. And the thing," she smiled, "was for me not to be there either. You can go of yourself."
"Oh but I feel to-day," he comfortably declared, "that I shall want you yet."
She took him all in again. "Well, I promise you not again to leave you, but it will only be to follow you. You've got your momentum and can toddle alone."
He intelligently accepted it. "Yes--I suppose I can toddle. It's the sight of that in fact that has upset Waymarsh. He can bear it--the way I strike him as going--no longer. That's only the climax of his original feeling. He wants me to quit; and he must have written to Woollett that I'm in peril of perdition."
"Ah good!" she murmured. "But is it only your supposition?"
"I make it out--it explains."
"Then he denies?--or you haven't asked him?"
"I've not had time," Strether said; "I made it out but last night, putting various things together, and I've not been since then face to face with him."
She wondered. "Because you're too disgusted? You can't trust yourself?"
He settled his glasses on his nose. "Do I look in a great rage?"
"You look divine!"
"There's nothing," he went on, "to be angry about. He has done me on the contrary a service."
She made it out. "By bringing things to a head?"
"How well you understand!" he almost groaned. "Waymarsh won't in the least, at any rate, when I have it out with him, deny or extenuate. He has acted from the deepest conviction, with the best conscience and after wakeful nights. He'll recognise that he's fully responsible, and will consider that he has been highly successful; so that any discussion we may have will bring us quite together again--bridge the dark stream that has kept us so thoroughly apart. We shall have at last, in the consequences of his act, something we can definitely talk about."
She was silent a little. "How wonderfully you take it! But you're always wonderful."
He had a pause that matched her own; then he had, with an adequate spirit, a complete admission. "It's quite true. I'm extremely wonderful just now. I dare say in fact I'm quite fantastic, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if I were mad."
"Then tell me!" she earnestly pressed. As he, however, for the time answered nothing, only returning the look with which she watched him, she presented herself where it was easier to meet her. "What will Mr. Waymarsh exactly have done?"
"Simply have written a letter. One will have been quite enough. He has told them I want looking after."
"And DO you?"--she was all interest.
"Immensely. And I shall get it."
"By which you mean you don't budge?"
"I don't budge."
"That you decline to come?"
"That HE declines. We had it out this morning and I brought him round. He had come in, before I was down, to tell me he was ready--ready, I mean, to return. And he went off, after ten minutes with me, to say he wouldn't."
Miss Gostrey followed with intensity. "Then you've STOPPED him?"
Strether settled himself afresh in his chair. "I've stopped him. That is for the time. That"--he gave it to her more vividly--"is where I am."
"I see, I see. But where's Mr. Newsome? He was ready," she asked, "to go?"
"And sincerely--believing YOU'D be?"
"Perfectly, I think; so that he was amazed to find the hand I had laid on him to pull him over suddenly converted into an engine for keeping him still."
It was an account of the matter Miss Gostrey could weigh. "Does he think the conversion sudden?"
"Well," said Strether, "I'm not altogether sure what he thinks. I'm not sure of anything that concerns him, except that the more I've seen of him the less I've found him what I originally expected. He's obscure, and that's why I'm waiting."
She wondered. "But for what in particular?"
"For the answer to his cable."
"And what was his cable?"
"I don't know," Strether replied; "it was to be, when he left me, according to his own taste. I simply said to him: 'I want to stay, and the only way for me to do so is for you to.' That I wanted to stay seemed to interest him, and he acted on that."
Miss Gostrey turned it over. "He wants then himself to stay."
"He half wants it. That is he half wants to go. My original appeal has to that extent worked in him. Nevertheless," Strether pursued, "he won't go. Not, at least, so long as I'm here."
"But you can't," his companion suggested, "stay here always. I wish you could."
"By no means. Still, I want to see him a little further. He's not in the least the case I supposed, he's quite another case. And it's as such that he interests me." It was almost as if for his own intelligence that, deliberate and lucid, our friend thus expressed the matter. "I don't want to give him up."
Miss Gostrey but desired to help his lucidity. She had however to be light and tactful. "Up, you mean--a--to his mother?"
"Well, I'm not thinking of his mother now. I'm thinking of the plan of which I was the mouthpiece, which, as soon as we met, I put before him as persuasively as I knew how, and which was drawn up, as it were, in complete ignorance of all that, in this last long period, has been happening to him. It took no account whatever of the impression I was here on the spot immediately to begin to receive from him--impressions of which I feel sure I'm far from having had the last."
Miss Gostrey had a smile of the most genial criticism. "So your idea is--more or less--to stay out of curiosity?"
"Call it what you like! I don't care what it's called--"
"So long as you do stay? Certainly not then. I call it, all the same, immense fun," Maria Gostrey declared; "and to see you work it out will be one of the sensations of my life. It IS clear you can toddle alone!"
He received this tribute without elation. "I shan't be alone when the Pococks have come."
Her eyebrows went up. "The Pococks are coming?"
"That, I mean, is what will happen--and happen as
quickly as possible--in consequence of
Miss Gostrey more gravely wondered. "SHE then will take him back?"
"Very possibly--and we shall see. She must at any rate have the chance, and she may be trusted to do all she can."
"And do you WANT that?"
"Of course," said Strether, "I want it. I want to play fair "
But she had lost for a moment the thread. "If it devolves on the Pococks why do you stay?"
"Just to see that I DO play fair--and a little also, no
doubt, that they do." Strether was
luminous as he had never been. "I
came out to find myself in presence of new facts--facts that have kept striking
me as less and less met by our old reasons.
The matter's perfectly simple.
New reasons--reasons as new as the facts themselves--are wanted; and of
this our friends at Woollett--
She was quite in the current now and floating by his side. "It's Mamie--so far as I've had it from you--who'll be their great card." And then as his contemplative silence wasn't a denial she significantly added: "I think I'm sorry for her."
"I think I am!"--and Strether sprang up, moving about a little as her eyes followed him. "But it can't be helped."
"You mean her coming out can't be?"
He explained after another turn what he meant. "The only way for her not to come is for me to go home--as I believe that on the spot I could prevent it. But the difficulty as to that is that if I do go home--"
"I see, I see"--she had easily understood. "Mr. Newsome will do the same, and that's not"--she laughed out now--"to be thought of."
Strether had no laugh; he had only a quiet comparatively placid look that might have shown him as proof against ridicule. "Strange, isn't it?"
They had, in the matter that so much interested them, come so far as this without sounding another name--to which however their present momentary silence was full of a conscious reference. Strether's question was a sufficient implication of the weight it had gained with him during the absence of his hostess; and just for that reason a single gesture from her could pass for him as a vivid answer. Yet he was answered still better when she said in a moment: "Will Mr. Newsome introduce his sister--?"
"To Madame de Vionnet?" Strether spoke the name at last. "I shall be greatly surprised if he doesn't."
She seemed to gaze at the possibility. "You mean you've thought of it and you're prepared."
"I've thought of it and I'm prepared."
It was to her visitor now that she applied her consideration. "Bon! You ARE magnificent!"
"Well," he answered after a pause and a little wearily, but still standing there before her--"well, that's what, just once in all my dull days, I think I shall like to have been!"
Two days later he had news from
The increase of his darkness, however, and the quickening,
as I have called it, of his tune, resided in the fact that he was hearing
almost nothing. He had for some time
been aware that he was hearing less than before, and he was now clearly
following a process by which Mrs. Newsome's letters could but logically stop.
He hadn't had a line for many days, and he needed no proof--though he was, in
time, to have plenty--that she wouldn't have put pen to paper after receiving
the hint that had determined her telegram. She wouldn't write till Sarah should
have seen him and reported on him. It
was strange, though it might well be less so than his own behaviour appeared at
Woollett. It was at any rate
significant, and what WAS remarkable was the way his friend's nature and manner
put on for him, through this very drop of demonstration, a greater intensity. It struck him really that he had never so
lived with her as during this period of her silence; the silence was a sacred
hush, a finer clearer medium, in which her idiosyncrasies showed. He walked
about with her, sat with her, drove with her and dined face-to-face with her--a
rare treat "in his life," as he could perhaps have scarce escaped
phrasing it; and if he had never seen her so soundless he had never, on the
other hand, felt her so highly, so almost austerely, herself: pure and by the
vulgar estimate "cold," but deep devoted delicate sensitive noble. Her vividness in these respects became for
him, in the special conditions, almost an obsession; and though the obsession
sharpened his pulses, adding really to the excitement of life, there were hours
at which, to be less on the stretch, he directly sought forgetfulness. He knew it for the queerest of adventures--a
circumstance capable of playing such a part only for Lambert Strether--that in
When he went back to Maria Gostrey it was for the change to something else. And yet after all the change scarcely operated for he talked to her of Mrs. Newsome in these days as he had never talked before. He had hitherto observed in that particular a discretion and a law; considerations that at present broke down quite as if relations had altered. They hadn't REALLY altered, he said to himself, so much as that came to; for if what had occurred was of course that Mrs. Newsome had ceased to trust him, there was nothing on the other hand to prove that he shouldn't win back her confidence. It was quite his present theory that he would leave no stone unturned to do so; and in fact if he now told Maria things about her that he had never told before this was largely because it kept before him the idea of the honour of such a woman's esteem. His relation with Maria as well was, strangely enough, no longer quite the same; this truth--though not too disconcertingly--had come up between them on the renewal of their meetings. It was all contained in what she had then almost immediately said to him; it was represented by the remark she had needed but ten minutes to make and that he hadn't been disposed to gainsay. He could toddle alone, and the difference that showed was extraordinary. The turn taken by their talk had promptly confirmed this difference; his larger confidence on the score of Mrs. Newsome did the rest; and the time seemed already far off when he had held out his small thirsty cup to the spout of her pail. Her pail was scarce touched now, and other fountains had flowed for him; she fell into her place as but one of his tributaries; and there was a strange sweetness--a melancholy mildness that touched him--in her acceptance of the altered order.
It marked for himself the flight of time, or at any rate what he was pleased to think of with irony and pity as the rush of experience; it having been but the day before yesterday that he sat at her feet and held on by her garment and was fed by her hand. It was the proportions that were changed, and the proportions were at all times, he philosophised, the very conditions of perception, the terms of thought. It was as if, with her effective little entresol and and her wide acquaintance, her activities, varieties, promiscuities, the duties and devotions that took up nine tenths of her time and of which he got, guardedly, but the side-wind--it was as if she had shrunk to a secondary element and had consented to the shrinkage with the perfection of tact. This perfection had never failed her; it had originally been greater than his prime measure for it; it had kept him quite apart, kept him out of the shop, as she called her huge general acquaintance, made their commerce as quiet, as much a thing of the home alone--the opposite of the shop--as if she had never another customer. She had been wonderful to him at first, with the memory of her little entresol, the image to which, on most mornings at that time, his eyes directly opened; but now she mainly figured for him as but part of the bristling total--though of course always as a person to whom he should never cease to be indebted. It would never be given to him certainly to inspire a greater kindness. She had decked him out for others, and he saw at this point at least nothing she would ever ask for. She only wondered and questioned and listened, rendering him the homage of a wistful speculation. She expressed it repeatedly; he was already far beyond her, and she must prepare herself to lose him. There was but one little chance for her.
Often as she had said it he met it--for it was a touch he liked--each time the same way. "My coming to grief?"
"Yes--then I might patch you up."
"Oh for my real smash, if it takes place, there will be no patching."
"But you surely don't mean it will kill you."
"No--worse. It will make me old."
"Ah nothing can do that! The wonderful and special thing about you is that you ARE, at this time of day, youth." Then she always made, further, one of those remarks that she had completely ceased to adorn with hesitations or apologies, and that had, by the same token, in spite of their extreme straightness, ceased to produce in Strether the least embarrassment. She made him believe them, and they became thereby as impersonal as truth itself. "It's just your particular charm."
His answer too was always the same. "Of course I'm youth--youth for the trip
On which, just here, Miss Gostrey inveterately questioned. "What do you, in particular, call its work?"
"Well, to see me through."
"But through what?"--she liked to get it all out of him.
"Why through this experience." That was all that would come.
It regularly gave her none the less the last word. "Don't you remember how in those first days of our meeting it was I who was to see you through?"
"Remember? Tenderly, deeply"--he always rose to it. "You're just doing your part in letting me maunder to you thus."
"Ah don't speak as if my part were small; since whatever else fails you--"
"YOU won't, ever, ever, ever?"--he thus took her up. "Oh I beg your pardon; you necessarily, you inevitably WILL. Your conditions--that's what I mean--won't allow me anything to do for you."
"Let alone--I see what you mean--that I'm drearily dreadfully old. I AM, but there's a service--possible for you to render--that I know, all the same, I shall think of."
"And what will it be?"
This, in fine, however, she would never tell him. "You shall hear only if your smash takes place. As that's really out of the question, I won't expose myself''--a point at which, for reasons of his own, Strether ceased to press.
He came round, for publicity--it was the easiest thing--to the idea that his smash WAS out of the question, and this rendered idle the discussion of what might follow it. He attached an added importance, as the days elapsed, to the arrival of the Pococks; he had even a shameful sense of waiting for it insincerely and incorrectly. He accused himself of making believe to his own mind that Sarah's presence, her impression, her judgement would simplify and harmonise, he accused himself of being so afraid of what they MIGHT do that he sought refuge, to beg the whole question, in a vain fury. He had abundantly seen at home what they were in the habit of doing, and he had not at present the smallest ground. His clearest vision was when he made out that what he most desired was an account more full and free of Mrs. Newsome's state of mind than any he felt he could now expect from herself; that calculation at least went hand in hand with the sharp consciousness of wishing to prove to himself that he was not afraid to look his behaviour in the face. If he was by an inexorable logic to pay for it he was literally impatient to know the cost, and he held himself ready to pay in instalments. The first instalment would be precisely this entertainment of Sarah; as a consequence of which moreover. he should know vastly better how he stood.
Strether rambled alone during these few days, the effect of the incident of the previous week having been to simplify in a marked fashion his mixed relations with Waymarsh. Nothing had passed between them in reference to Mrs. Newsome's summons but that our friend had mentioned to his own the departure of the deputation actually at sea--giving him thus an opportunity to confess to the occult intervention he imputed to him. Waymarsh however in the event confessed to nothing; and though this falsified in some degree Strether's forecast the latter amusedly saw in it the same depth of good conscience out of which the dear man's impertinence had originally sprung. He was patient with the dear man now and delighted to observe how unmistakeably he had put on flesh; he felt his own holiday so successfully large and free that he was full of allowances and charities in respect to those cabined and confined' his instinct toward a spirit so strapped down as Waymarsh's was to walk round it on tiptoe for fear of waking it up to a sense of losses by this time irretrievable. It was all very funny he knew, and but the difference, as he often said to himself, of tweedledum and tweedledee--an emancipation so purely comparative that it was like the advance of the door-mat on the scraper; yet the present crisis was happily to profit by it and the pilgrim from Milrose to know himself more than ever in the right.
Strether felt that when he heard of the approach of the Pococks the impulse of pity quite sprang up in him beside the impulse of triumph. That was exactly why Waymarsh had looked at him with eyes in which the heat of justice was measured and shaded. He had looked very hard, as if affectionately sorry for the friend--the friend of fifty-five--whose frivolity had had thus to be recorded; becoming, however, but obscurely sententious and leaving his companion to formulate a charge. It was in this general attitude that he had of late altogether taken refuge; with the drop of discussion they were solemnly sadly superficial; Strether recognised in him the mere portentous rumination to which Miss Barrace had so good-humouredly described herself as assigning a corner of her salon. It was quite as if he knew his surreptitious step had been divined, and it was also as if he missed the chance to explain the purity of his motive; but this privation of relief should be precisely his small penance: it was not amiss for Strether that he should find himself to that degree uneasy. If he had been challenged or accused, rebuked for meddling or otherwise pulled up, he would probably have shown, on his own system, all the height of his consistency, all the depth of his good faith. Explicit resentment of his course would have made him take the floor, and the thump of his fist on the table would have affirmed him as consciously incorruptible. Had what now really prevailed with Strether been but a dread of that thump--a dread of wincing a little painfully at what it might invidiously demonstrate? However this might be, at any rate, one of the marks of the crisis was a visible, a studied lapse, in Waymarsh, of betrayed concern. As if to make up to his comrade for the stroke by which he had played providence he now conspicuously ignored his movements, withdrew himself from the pretension to share them, stiffened up his sensibility to neglect, and, clasping his large empty hands and swinging his large restless foot, clearly looked to another quarter for justice.
This made for independence on Strether's part, and he had in
truth at no moment of his stay been so free to go and come. The early summer brushed the picture over and
blurred everything but the near; it made a vast warm fragrant medium in which
the elements floated together on the best of terms, in which rewards were
immediate and reckonings postponed.
One afternoon he did something quite different; finding himself in the neighbourhood of a fine old house across the river, he passed under the great arch of its doorway and asked at the porter's lodge for Madame de Vionnet. He had already hovered more than once about that possibility, been aware of it, in the course of ostensible strolls, as lurking but round the corner. Only it had perversely happened, after his morning at Notre Dame, that his consistency, as he considered and intended it, had come back to him; whereby he had reflected that the encounter in question had been none of his making; clinging again intensely to the strength of his position, which was precisely that there was nothing in it for himself. From the moment he actively pursued the charming associate of his adventure, from that moment his position weakened, for he was then acting in an interested way. It was only within a few days that he had fixed himself a limit: he promised himself his consistency should end with Sarah's arrival. It was arguing correctly to feel the title to a free hand conferred on him by this event. If he wasn't to be let alone he should be merely a dupe to act with delicacy. If he wasn't to be trusted he could at least take his ease. If he was to be placed under control he gained leave to try what his position MIGHT agreeably give him. An ideal rigour would perhaps postpone the trial till after the Pococks had shown their spirit; and it was to an ideal rigour that he had quite promised himself to conform.
Suddenly, however, on this particular day, he felt a
particular fear under which everything collapsed. He knew abruptly that he was afraid of
himself--and yet not in relation to the effect on his sensibilities of another
hour of Madame de Vionnet. What he
dreaded was the effect of a single hour of Sarah Pocock, as to whom he was
visited, in troubled nights, with fantastic waking dreams. She loomed at him larger than life; she
increased in volume as she drew nearer; she so met his eyes that, his
imagination taking, after the first step, all, and more than all, the strides,
he already felt her come down on him, already burned, under her reprobation,
with the blush of guilt, already consented, by way of penance, to the instant
forfeiture of everything. He saw
himself, under her direction, recommitted to Woollett as juvenile offenders are
committed to reformatories. It wasn't of
course that Woollett was really a place of discipline; but he knew in advance
that Sarah's salon at the hotel would be.
His danger, at any rate, in such moods of alarm, was some concession, on
this ground, that would involve a sharp rupture with the actual; therefore if
he waited to take leave of that actual he might wholly miss his chance. It was represented with supreme vividness by
Madame de Vionnet, and that is why, in a word, he waited no longer. He had seen in a flash that he must
anticipate Mrs. Pocock. He was
accordingly much disappointed on now learning from the portress that the lady
of his quest was not in
It was the advantage of his having let his fancy lose itself
for a little in the gloom that, as by reaction, the prospect began really to
brighten from the moment the deputation from Woollett alighted on the platform
of the station. They had come straight
from Havre, having sailed from
Strether had woven this web of cheerfulness while they
waited in the court for
He repeated to Chad what he had been saying in the court to Waymarsh; how there was no doubt whatever that his sister would find the latter a kindred spirit, no doubt of the alliance, based on an exchange of views, that the pair would successfully strike up. They would become as thick as thieves--which moreover was but a development of what Strether remembered to have said in one of his first discussions with his mate, struck as he had then already been with the elements of affinity between that personage and Mrs. Newsome herself. "I told him, one day, when he had questioned me on your mother, that she was a person who, when he should know her, would rouse in him, I was sure, a special enthusiasm; and that hangs together with the conviction we now feel--this certitude that Mrs. Pocock will take him into her boat. For it's your mother's own boat that she's pulling."
"A thousand; but when you presently meet her, all the
same you'll be meeting your mother's representative--just as I shall. I feel like the outgoing ambassador," said
Strether, "doing honour to his appointed successor." A moment after speaking as he had just done
he felt he had inadvertently rather cheapened Mrs. Newsome to her son; an
impression audibly reflected, as at first seen, in Chad's prompt protest. He had recently rather failed of apprehension
of the young man's attitude and temper--remaining principally conscious of how
little worry, at the worst, he wasted, and he studied him at this critical hour
with renewed interest.
That this was moreover what
"Yes--I'm afraid it is," Strether unguardedly replied.
"Well, because I feel a certain responsibility. It's my testimony, I imagine, that will have been at the bottom of Mrs. Pocock's curiosity. My letters, as I've supposed you to understand from the beginning, have spoken freely. I've certainly said my little say about Madame de Vionnet."
All that, for
"Never more handsomely of any woman. But it's just that tone--!"
"That tone," said
"Oh!"--and Strether had, with his groan, a real pang of melancholy. "For all I've done for her!"
"Ah you've done a great deal."
"Well, this is all right. She likes,"
It gave his companion a moment's thought. "And she's sure Mrs. Pocock WILL--?"
"No, I say that for you. She likes your liking her; it's so much, as
"In the way of appreciation?"
"Yes, and of everything else. In the way of general amiability, hospitality
and welcome. She's under arms,"
Strether took it in; then as if an echo of Miss Barrace were in the air: "She's wonderful."
"You don't begin to know HOW wonderful!"
There was a depth in it, to Strether's ear, of confirmed luxury--almost a kind of unconscious insolence of proprietorship; but the effect of the glimpse was not at this moment to foster speculation: there was something so conclusive in so much graceful and generous assurance. It was in fact a fresh evocation; and the evocation had before many minutes another consequence. "Well, I shall see her oftener now. I shall see her as much as I like--by your leave; which is what I hitherto haven't done."
"It has been," said
"Well, I DID have," Strether murmured, while he
felt both how they had possessed him and how they had now lost their
authority. He couldn't have traced the
sequence to the end, but it was all because of Mrs. Pocock. Mrs. Pocock might be because of Mrs. Newsome,
but that was still to be proved. What
came over him was the sense of having stupidly failed to profit where profit
would have been precious. It had been
open to him to see so much more of her, and he had but let the good days
pass. Fierce in him almost was the
resolve to lose no more of them, and he whimsically reflected, while at Chad's
side he drew nearer to his destination, that it was after all Sarah who would
have quickened his chance. What her
visit of inquisition might achieve in other directions was as yet all
obscure--only not obscure that it would do supremely much to bring two earnest
persons together. He had but to listen
"Oh well, with HER I'll go," said
It was at this that Strether spoke. "Ah there you are! I think if you really wanted to go--!"
"Well, you wouldn't trouble about our good time. You wouldn't care what sort of a time we have."
"Yes, you're too decent!" Strether heavily sighed. And he felt for the moment as if it were the preposterous end of his mission.
It ministered for the time to this temporary effect that
As to this Strether was ready. "No."
"But haven't you told me they know about her?"
"I think I've told you your mother knows."
"And won't she have told Sally?"
"That's one of the things I want to see."
"And if you find she HAS--?"
"Will I then, you mean, bring them together?"
Strether hesitated. "I don't know that I care very much what she may think there's in it."
"Not if it represents what Mother thinks?"
"Ah what DOES your mother think?" There was in this some sound of bewilderment.
But they were just driving up, and help, of a sort, might after all be quite at hand. "Isn't that, my dear man, what we're both just going to make out?"
Strether quitted the station half an hour later in different company. Chad had taken charge, for the journey to the hotel, of Sarah, Mamie, the maid and the luggage, all spaciously installed and conveyed; and it was only after the four had rolled away that his companion got into a cab with Jim. A strange new feeling had come over Strether, in consequence of which his spirits had risen; it was as if what had occurred on the alighting of his critics had been something other than his fear, though his fear had vet not been of an instant scene of violence. His impression had been nothing but what was inevitable--he said that to himself; yet relief and reassurance had softly dropped upon him. Nothing could be so odd as to be indebted for these things to the look of faces and the sound of voices that had been with him to satiety, as he might have said, for years; but he now knew, all the same, how uneasy he had felt; that was brought home to him by his present sense of a respite. It had come moreover in the flash of an eye, it had come in the smile with which Sarah, whom, at the window of her compartment, they had effusively greeted from the platform, rustled down to them a moment later, fresh and handsome from her cool June progress through the charming land. It was only a sign, but enough: she was going to be gracious and unallusive, she was going to play the larger game--which was still more apparent, after she had emerged from Chad's arms, in her direct greeting to the valued friend of her family.
Strether WAS then as much as ever the valued friend of her family, it was something he could at all events go on with; and the manner of his response to it expressed even for himself how little he had enjoyed the prospect of ceasing to figure in that likeness. He had always seen Sarah gracious--had in fact rarely seen her shy or dry, her marked thin-lipped smile, intense without brightness and as prompt to act as the scrape of a safety-match; the protrusion of her rather remarkably long chin, which in her case represented invitation and urbanity, and not, as in most others, pugnacity and defiance; the penetration of her voice to a distance, the general encouragement and approval of her manner, were all elements with which intercourse had made him familiar, but which he noted today almost as if she had been a new acquaintance. This first glimpse of her had given a brief but vivid accent to her resemblance to her mother; he could have taken her for Mrs. Newsome while she met his eyes as the train rolled into the station. It was an impression that quickly dropped; Mrs. Newsome was much handsomer, and while Sarah inclined to the massive her mother had, at an age, still the girdle of a maid; also the latter's chin was rather short, than long, and her smile, by good fortune, much more, oh ever so much more, mercifully vague. Strether had seen Mrs. Newsome reserved; he had literally heard her silent, though he had never known her unpleasant. It was the case with Mrs. Pocock that he had known HER unpleasant, even though he had never known her not affable. She had forms of affability that were in a high degree assertive; nothing for instance had ever been more striking than that she was affable to Jim.
What had told in any case at the window of the train was her high clear forehead, that forehead which her friends, for some reason, always thought of as a "brow"; the long reach of her eyes--it came out at this juncture in such a manner as to remind him, oddly enough, also of that of Waymarsh's; and the unusual gloss of her dark hair, dressed and hatted, after her mother's refined example, with such an avoidance of extremes that it was always spoken of at Woollett as "their own." Though this analogy dropped as soon as she was on the platform it had lasted long enough to make him feel all the advantage, as it were, of his relief. The woman at home, the woman to whom he was attached, was before him just long enough to give him again the measure of the wretchedness, in fact really of the shame, of their having to recognise the formation, between them, of a "split." He had taken this measure in solitude and meditation: but the catastrophe, as Sarah steamed up, looked for its seconds unprecedentedly dreadful--or proved, more exactly, altogether unthinkable; so that his finding something free and familiar to respond to brought with it an instant renewal of his loyalty. He had suddenly sounded the whole depth, had gasped at what he might have lost.
Well, he could now, for the quarter of an hour of their detention hover about the travellers as soothingly as if their direct message to him was that he had lost nothing. He wasn't going to have Sarah write to her mother that night that he was in any way altered or strange. There had been times enough for a month when it had seemed to him that he was strange, that he was altered, in every way; but that was a matter for himself; he knew at least whose business it was not; it was not at all events such a circumstance as Sarah's own unaided lights would help her to. Even if she had come out to flash those lights more than yet appeared she wouldn't make much headway against mere pleasantness. He counted on being able to be merely pleasant to the end, and if only from incapacity moreover to formulate anything different. He couldn't even formulate to himself his being changed and queer; it had taken place, the process, somewhere deep down; Maria Gostrey had caught glimpses of it; but how was he to fish it up, even if he desired, for Mrs. Pocock? This was then the spirit in which he hovered, and with the easier throb in it much indebted furthermore to the impression of high and established adequacy as a pretty girl promptly produced in him by Mamie. He had wondered vaguely--turning over many things in the fidget of his thoughts--if Mamie WERE as pretty as Woollett published her; as to which issue seeing her now again was to be so swept away by Woollett's opinion that this consequence really let loose for the imagination an avalanche of others. There were positively five minutes in which the last word seemed of necessity to abide with a Woollett represented by a Mamie. This was the sort of truth the place itself would feel; it would send her forth in confidence; it would point to her with triumph; it would take its stand on her with assurance; it would be conscious of no requirements she didn't meet, of no question she couldn't answer.
Well, it was right, Strether slipped smoothly enough into the cheerfulness of saying: granted that a community MIGHT be best represented by a young lady of twenty-two, Mamie perfectly played the part, played it as if she were used to it, and looked and spoke and dressed the character. He wondered if she mightn't, in the high light of Paris, a cool full studio-light, becoming yet treacherous, show as too conscious of these matters; but the next moment he felt satisfied that her consciousness was after all empty for its size, rather too simple than too mixed, and that the kind way with her would be not to take many things out of it, but to put as many as possible in. She was robust and conveniently tall; just a trifle too bloodlessly fair perhaps, but with a pleasant public familiar radiance that affirmed her vitality. She might have been "receiving" for Woollett, wherever she found herself, and there was something in her manner, her tone, her motion, her pretty blue eyes, her pretty perfect teeth and her very small, too small, nose, that immediately placed her, to the fancy, between the windows of a hot bright room in which voices were high--up at that end to which people were brought to be "presented." They were there to congratulate, these images, and Strether's renewed vision, on this hint, completed the idea. What Mamie was like was the happy bride, the bride after the church and just before going away. She wasn't the mere maiden, and yet was only as much married as that quantity came to. She was in the brilliant acclaimed festal stage. Well, might it last her long!
Strether rejoiced in these things for
It was in the cab with Jim that impressions really crowded
on Strether, giving him the strangest sense of length of absence from people
among whom he had lived for years.
Having them thus come out to him was as if he had returned to find
them: and the droll promptitude of Jim's
mental reaction threw his own initiation far back into the past. Whoever might or mightn't be suited by what
was going on among them, Jim, for one, would certainly be: his instant recognition--frank and
whimsical--of what the affair was for HIM gave Strether a glow of
pleasure. "I say, you know, this IS
about my shape, and if it hadn't been for YOU--!" so he broke out as the
charming streets met his healthy appetite; and he wound up, after an expressive
nudge, with a clap of his companion's knee and an "Oh you, you--you ARE
doing it!" that was charged with rich meaning. Strether felt in it the
intention of homage, but, with a curiosity otherwise occupied, postponed taking
it up. What he was asking himself for
the time was how Sarah Pocock, in the opportunity already given her, had judged
her brother--from whom he himself, as they finally, at the station, separated
for their different conveyances, had had a look into which he could read more
than one message. However Sarah was
judging her brother,
It was queer to him that he had that noiseless brush with
Chad; an ironic intelligence with this youth on the subject of his relatives,
an intelligence carried on under their nose and, as might be said, at their
expense--such a matter marked again for him strongly the number of stages he
had come; albeit that if the number seemed great the time taken for the final
one was but the turn of a hand. He had
before this had many moments of wondering if he himself weren't perhaps changed
Ah how much, as it was, for all her bridling
brightness--which was merely general and noticed nothing--WOULD they work
together? Strether knew he was unreasonable; he set it down to his being
nervous: people couldn't notice
everything and speak of everything in a quarter of an hour. Possibly, no doubt, also, he made too much of
He glanced at such a contingency, but it failed to hold him long when once he had reflected that he would have been silly, in this case, with Maria Gostrey and little Bilham, with Madame de Vionnet and little Jeanne, with Lambert Strether, in fine, and above all with Chad Newsome himself. Wouldn't it be found to have made more for reality to be silly with these persons than sane with Sarah and Jim? Jim in fact, he presently made up his mind, was individually out of it; Jim didn't care; Jim hadn't come out either for Chad or for him; Jim in short left the moral side to Sally and indeed simply availed himself now, for the sense of recreation, of the fact that he left almost everything to Sally. He was nothing compared to Sally, and not so much by reason of Sally's temper and will as by that of her more developed type and greater acquaintance with the world. He quite frankly and serenely confessed, as he sat there with Strether, that he felt his type hang far in the rear of his wife's and still further, if possible, in the rear of his sister's. Their types, he well knew, were recognised and acclaimed; whereas the most a leading Woollett business-man could hope to achieve socially, and for that matter industrially, was a certain freedom to play into this general glamour.
The impression he made on our friend was another of the things that marked our friend's road. It was a strange impression, especially as so soon produced; Strether had received it, he judged, all in the twenty minutes; it struck him at least as but in a minor degree the work of the long Woollett years. Pocock was normally and consentingly though not quite wittingly out of the question. It was despite his being normal; it was despite his being cheerful; it was despite his being a leading Woollett business-man; and the determination of his fate left him thus perfectly usual--as everything else about it was clearly, to his sense, not less so. He seemed to say that there was a whole side of life on which the perfectly usual WAS for leading Woollett business-men to be out of the question. He made no more of it than that, and Strether, so far as Jim was concerned, desired to make no more. Only Strether's imagination, as always, worked, and he asked himself if this side of life were not somehow connected, for those who figured on it with the fact of marriage. Would HIS relation to it, had he married ten years before, have become now the same as Pocock's? Might it even become the same should he marry in a few months? Should he ever know himself as much out of the question for Mrs. Newsome as Jim knew himself--in a dim way--for Mrs. Jim?
To turn his eyes in that direction was to be personally reassured; he was different from Pocock; he had affirmed himself differently and was held after all in higher esteem. What none the less came home to him, however, at this hour, was that the society over there, that of which Sarah and Mamie--and, in a more eminent way, Mrs. Newsome herself--were specimens, was essentially a society of women, and that poor Jim wasn't in it. He himself Lambert Strether, WAS as yet in some degree--which was an odd situation for a man; but it kept coming back to him in a whimsical way that he should perhaps find his marriage had cost him his place. This occasion indeed, whatever that fancy represented, was not a time of sensible exclusion for Jim, who was in a state of manifest response to the charm of his adventure. Small and fat and constantly facetious, straw-coloured and destitute of marks, he would have been practically indistinguishable hadn't his constant preference for light-grey clothes, for white hats, for very big cigars and very little stories, done what it could for his identity. There were signs in him, though none of them plaintive, of always paying for others; and the principal one perhaps was just this failure of type. It was with this that he paid, rather than with fatigue or waste; and also doubtless a little with the effort of humour--never irrelevant to the conditions, to the relations, with which he was acquainted.
He gurgled his joy as they rolled through the happy streets;
he declared that his trip was a regular windfall, and that he wasn't there, he
was eager to remark, to hang back from anything: he didn't know quite what Sally had come for,
but HE had come for a good time.
Strether indulged him even while wondering if what Sally wanted her
brother to go back for was to become like her husband. He trusted that a good
time was to be, out and out, the programme for all of them; and he assented
liberally to Jim's proposal that, disencumbered and irresponsible--his things
were in the omnibus with those of the others--they should take a further turn
round before going to the hotel. It
wasn't for HIM to tackle
"You mean you wouldn't in
"Give up this to go back and boss the
advertising!" Poor Jim, with his
arms folded and his little legs out in the open fiacre, drank in the sparkling
There were things in this speech that Strether let pass for the time. "Don't you then think it important the advertising should be thoroughly taken in hand? Chad WILL be, so far as capacity is concerned," he went on, "the man to do it."
"Where did he get his capacity," Jim asked, "over here?"
"He didn't get it over here, and the wonderful thing is that over here he hasn't inevitably lost it. He has a natural turn for business, an extraordinary head. He comes by that," Strether explained, "honestly enough. He's in that respect his father's son, and also--for she's wonderful in her way too--his mother's. He has other tastes and other tendencies; but Mrs. Newsome and your wife are quite right about his having that. He's very remarkable."
"Well, I guess he is!" Jim Pocock comfortably sighed. "But if you've believed so in his making us hum, why have you so prolonged the discussion? Don't you know we've been quite anxious about you?"
These questions were not informed with earnestness, but
Strether saw he must none the less make a choice and take a line. "Because, you see, I've greatly liked
it. I've liked my
"Oh you old wretch!" Jim gaily exclaimed.
"But nothing's concluded," Strether went on. "The case is more complex than it looks from Woollett."
"Oh well, it looks bad enough from Woollett!" Jim declared.
"Even after all I've written?"
Jim bethought himself.
"Isn't it what you've written that has made Mrs. Newsome pack us
off? That at least and
Strether made a reflexion of his own. "I see. That she should do something was, no doubt, inevitable, and your wife has therefore of course come out to act."
"Oh yes," Jim concurred--"to act. But Sally comes out to act, you know,"
he lucidly added, "every time she leaves the house. She never comes out but she DOES act. She's acting moreover now for her mother, and
that fixes the scale." Then he wound up, opening all his senses to it,
with a renewed embrace of pleasant
Strether continued to consider. "I'm bound to say for you all that you strike me as having arrived in a very mild and reasonable frame of mind. You don't show your claws. I felt just now in Mrs. Pocock no symptom of that. She isn't fierce," he went on. "I'm such a nervous idiot that I thought she might be."
"Oh don't you know her well enough," Pocock asked, "to have noticed that she never gives herself away, any more than her mother ever does? They ain't fierce, either of 'em; they let you come quite close. They wear their fur the smooth side out--the warm side in. Do you know what they are?" Jim pursued as he looked about him, giving the question, as Strether felt, but half his care--"do you know what they are? They're about as intense as they can live."
"Yes"--and Strether's concurrence had a positive precipitation; "they're about as intense as they can live."
"They don't lash about and shake the cage," said Jim, who seemed pleased with his analogy; "and it's at feeding-time that they're quietest. But they always get there."
"They do indeed--they always get there!" Strether replied with a laugh that justified his confession of nervousness. He disliked to be talking sincerely of Mrs. Newsome with Pocock; he could have talked insincerely. But there was something he wanted to know, a need created in him by her recent intermission, by his having given from the first so much, as now more than ever appeared to him, and got so little. It was as if a queer truth in his companion's metaphor had rolled over him with a rush. She HAD been quiet at feeding-time; she had fed, and Sarah had fed with her, out of the big bowl of all his recent free communication, his vividness and pleasantness, his ingenuity and even his eloquence, while the current of her response had steadily run thin. Jim meanwhile however, it was true, slipped characteristically into shallowness from the moment he ceased to speak out of the experience of a husband.
"But of course
"Has Mrs. Newsome at all given way--?"
"'Given way'?"--Jim echoed it with the practical derision of his sense of a long past.
"Under the strain, I mean, of hope deferred, of disappointment repeated and thereby intensified."
"Oh is she prostrate, you mean?"--he had his categories in hand. "Why yes, she's prostrate--just as Sally is. But they're never so lively, you know, as when they're prostrate."
"Ah Sarah's prostrate?" Strether vaguely murmured.
"It's when they're prostrate that they most sit up."
"And Mrs. Newsome's sitting up?"
"All night, my boy--for YOU!" And Jim fetched him, with a vulgar little guffaw, a thrust that gave relief to the picture. But he had got what he wanted. He felt on the spot that this WAS the real word from Woollett. "So don't you go home!" Jim added while he alighted and while his friend, letting him profusely pay the cabman, sat on in a momentary muse. Strether wondered if that were the real word too.
As the door of Mrs. Pocock's salon was pushed open for him,
the next day, well before noon, he was reached by a voice with a charming sound
that made him just falter before crossing the threshold. Madame de Vionnet was already on the field,
and this gave the drama a quicker pace than he felt it as yet--though his
suspense had increased--in the power of any act of his own to do. He had spent
the previous evening with all his old friends together yet he would still have
described himself as quite in the dark in respect to a forecast of their
influence on his situation. It was strange now, none the less, that in the
light of this unexpected note of her presence he felt Madame de Vionnet a part
of that situation as she hadn't even yet been.
She was alone, he found himself assuming, with Sarah, and there was a
bearing in that--somehow beyond his control--on his personal fate. Yet she was only saying something quite easy
and independent--the thing she had come, as a good friend of
It was clear enough, when they were there before him, how
she had been received. He saw this, as
Sarah got up to greet him, from something fairly hectic in Sarah's face. He saw furthermore that they weren't, as had
first come to him, alone together; he was at no loss as to the identity of the
broad high back presented to him in the embrasure of the window furthest from
the door. Waymarsh, whom he had to-day not yet seen, whom he only knew to have left the hotel
before him, and who had taken part, the
night previous, on Mrs. Pocock's kind
invitation, conveyed by Chad, in the entertainment, informal but cordial,
promptly offered by that lady--Waymarsh had anticipated him even as Madame de
Vionnet had done, and, with his hands in his pockets and his attitude
unaffected by Strether's entrance, was looking out, in marked detachment, at
the Rue de Rivoli. The latter felt it in
the air--it was immense how Waymarsh could mark things---that he had remained
deeply dissociated from the overture to their hostess that we have recorded on
Madame de Vionnet's side. He had, conspicuously,
tact, besides a stiff general view; and this was why he had left Mrs. Pocock to
struggle alone. He would outstay the
visitor; he would unmistakeably wait; to what had he been doomed for months
past but waiting? Therefore she was to
feel that she had him in reserve. What support she drew from this was still to
be seen, for, although Sarah was vividly bright, she had given herself up for
the moment to an ambiguous flushed formalism.
She had had to reckon more quickly than she expected; but it concerned
her first of all to signify that she was not to be taken unawares. Strether arrived precisely in time for her
showing it. "Oh you're too good;
but I don't think I feel quite helpless.
I have my brother--and these American friends. And then you know I've been to
"Ah but a woman, in this tiresome place where
everything's always changing, a woman of good will," Madame de Vionnet
threw off, "can always help a woman.
I'm sure you 'know'--but we know perhaps different things." She
too, visibly, wished to make no mistake; but it was a fear of a different order
and more kept out of sight. She smiled
in welcome at Strether; she greeted him more familiarly than Mrs. Pocock; she
put out her hand to him without moving from her place; and it came to him in
the course of a minute and in the oddest way that--yes, positively--she was
giving him over to ruin. She was all kindness and ease, but she couldn't help
so giving him; she was exquisite, and her being just as she was poured for
Sarah a sudden rush of meaning into his own equivocations. How could she know how she was hurting
him? She wanted to show as simple and
humble--in the degree compatible with operative charm; but it was just this
that seemed to put him on her side. She
struck him as dressed, as arranged, as prepared infinitely to conciliate--with
the very poetry of good taste in her view of the conditions of her early call. She was ready to advise about dressmakers and
shops; she held herself wholly at the disposition of
Strether felt the bravery, at the least, of her presenting
herself so promptly to sound that note, and yet asked himself what other note,
after all, she COULD strike from the moment she presented herself at all. She could meet Mrs. Pocock only on the ground
of the obvious, and what feature of
"That will make it all the pleasanter if it so happens that we DO meet," Madame de Vionnet had further observed in reference to Mrs. Pocock's mention of her initiated state; and she had immediately added that, after all, her hostess couldn't be in need with the good offices of Mr. Strether so close at hand. "It's he, I gather, who has learnt to know his Paris, and to love it, better than any one ever before in so short a time; so that between him and your brother, when it comes to the point, how can you possibly want for good guidance? The great thing, Mr. Strether will show you," she smiled, "is just to let one's self go."
"Oh I've not let myself go very far," Strether answered, feeling quite as if he had been called upon to hint to Mrs. Pocock how Parisians could talk. "I'm only afraid of showing I haven't let myself go far enough. I've taken a good deal of time, but I must quite have had the air of not budging from one spot." He looked at Sarah in a manner that he thought she might take as engaging, and he made, under Madame de Vionnet's protection, as it were, his first personal point. "What has really happened has been that, all the while, I've done what I came out for."
Yet it only at first gave Madame de Vionnet a chance immediately to take him up. "You've renewed acquaintance with your friend--you've learnt to know him again." She spoke with such cheerful helpfulness that they might, in a common cause, have been calling together and pledged to mutual aid.
Waymarsh, at this, as if he had been in question, straightway turned from the window. "Oh yes, Countess--he has renewed acquaintance with ME, and he HAS, I guess, learnt something about me, though I don't know how much he has liked it. It's for Strether himself to say whether he has felt it justifies his course."
"Oh but YOU," said the Countess gaily, "are not in the least what he came out for--is he really, Strether? and I hadn't you at all in my mind. I was thinking of Mr. Newsome, of whom we think so much and with whom, precisely, Mrs. Pocock has given herself the opportunity to take up threads. What a pleasure for you both!" Madame de Vionnet, with her eyes on Sarah, bravely continued.
Mrs. Pocock met her handsomely, but Strether quickly saw she meant to accept no version of her movements or plans from any other lips. She required no patronage and no support, which were but other names for a false position; she would show in her own way what she chose to show, and this she expressed with a dry glitter that recalled to him a fine Woollett winter morning. "I've never wanted for opportunities to see my brother. We've many things to think of at home, and great responsibilities and occupations, and our home's not an impossible place. We've plenty of reasons," Sarah continued a little piercingly, "for everything we do"--and in short she wouldn't give herself the least little scrap away. But she added as one who was always bland and who could afford a concession: "I've come because--well, because we do come."
"Ah then fortunately!"--Madame de Vionnet breathed it to the air. Five minutes later they were on their feet for her to take leave, standing together in an affability that had succeeded in surviving a further exchange of remarks; only with the emphasised appearance on Waymarsh's part of a tendency to revert, in a ruminating manner and as with an instinctive or a precautionary lightening of his tread, to an open window and his point of vantage. The glazed and gilded room, all red damask, ormolu, mirrors, clocks, looked south, and the shutters were bowed upon the summer morning; but the Tuileries garden and what was beyond it, over which the whole place hung, were things visible through gaps; so that the far-spreading presence of Paris came up in coolness, dimness and invitation, in the twinkle of gilt-tipped palings, the crunch of gravel, the click of hoofs, the crack of whips, things that suggested some parade of the circus. "I think it probable," said Mrs. Pocock, "that I shall have the opportunity of going to my brother's I've no doubt it's very pleasant indeed." She spoke as to Strether, but her face was turned with an intensity of brightness to Madame de Vionnet, and there was a moment during which, while she thus fronted her, our friend expected to hear her add: "I'm much obliged to you, I'm sure, for inviting me there." He guessed that for five seconds these words were on the point of coming; he heard them as clearly as if they had been spoken; but he presently knew they had just failed--knew it by a glance, quick and fine, from Madame de Vionnet, which told him that she too had felt them in the air, but that the point had luckily not been made in any manner requiring notice. This left her free to reply only to what had been said.
"That the Boulevard Malesherbes may be common ground for us offers me the best prospect I see for the pleasure of meeting you again."
"Oh I shall come to see you, since you've been so good": and Mrs. Pocock looked her invader well in the eyes. The flush in Sarah's cheeks had by this time settled to a small definite crimson spot that was not without its own bravery; she held her head a good deal up, and it came to Strether that of the two, at this moment, she was the one who most carried out the idea of a Countess. He quite took in, however, that she would really return her visitor's civility: she wouldn't report again at Woollett without at least so much producible history as that in her pocket.
"I want extremely to be able to show you my little daughter." Madame de Vionnet went on; "and I should have brought her with me if I hadn't wished first to ask your leave. I was in hopes I should perhaps find Miss Pocock, of whose being with you I've heard from Mr. Newsome and whose acquaintance I should so much like my child to make. If I have the pleasure of seeing her and you do permit it I shall venture to ask her to be kind to Jeanne. Mr. Strether will tell you"--she beautifully kept it up--"that my poor girl is gentle and good and rather lonely. They've made friends, he and she, ever so happily, and he doesn't, I believe, think ill of her. As for Jeanne herself he has had the same success with her that I know he has had here wherever he has turned." She seemed to ask him for permission to say these things, or seemed rather to take it, softly and happily, with the ease of intimacy, for granted, and he had quite the consciousness now that not to meet her at any point more than halfway would be odiously, basely to abandon her. Yes, he was WITH her, and, opposed even in this covert, this semi-safe fashion to those who were not, he felt, strangely and confusedly, but excitedly, inspiringly, how much and how far. It was as if he had positively waited in suspense for something from her that would let him in deeper, so that he might show her how he could take it. And what did in fact come as she drew out a little her farewell served sufficiently the purpose. "As his success is a matter that I'm sure he'll never mention for himself, I feel, you see, the less scruple; which it's very good of me to say, you know, by the way," she added as she addressed herself to him; "considering how little direct advantage I've gained from your triumphs with ME. When does one ever see you? I wait at home and I languish. You'll have rendered me the service, Mrs. Pocock, at least," she wound up, "of giving me one of my much-too-rare glimpses of this gentleman."
"I certainly should be sorry to deprive you of anything that seems so much, as you describe it, your natural due. Mr. Strether and I are very old friends," Sarah allowed, "but the privilege of his society isn't a thing I shall quarrel about with any one."
"And yet, dear Sarah," he freely broke in, "I feel, when I hear you say that, that you don't quite do justice to the important truth of the extent to which--as you're also mine--I'm your natural due. I should like much better," he laughed, "to see you fight for me."
She met him, Mrs. Pocock, on this, with an arrest of speech--with a certain breathlessness, as he immediately fancied, on the score of a freedom for which she wasn't quite prepared. It had flared up--for all the harm he had intended by it--because, confoundedly, he didn't want any more to be afraid about her than he wanted to be afraid about Madame de Vionnet. He had never, naturally, called her anything but Sarah at home, and though he had perhaps never quite so markedly invoked her as his "dear," that was somehow partly because no occasion had hitherto laid so effective a trap for it. But something admonished him now that it was too late--unless indeed it were possibly too early; and that he at any rate shouldn't have pleased Mrs. Pocock the more by it. "Well, Mr. Strether--!" she murmured with vagueness, yet with sharpness, while her crimson spot burned a trifle brighter and he was aware that this must be for the present the limit of her response. Madame de Vionnet had already, however, come to his aid, and Waymarsh, as if for further participation, moved again back to them. It was true that the aid rendered by Madame de Vionnet was questionable; it was a sign that, for all one might confess to with her, and for all she might complain of not enjoying, she could still insidiously show how much of the material of conversation had accumulated between them.
"The real truth is, you know, that you sacrifice one without mercy to dear old Maria. She leaves no room in your life for anybody else. Do you know," she enquired of Mrs. Pocock, "about dear old Maria? The worst is that Miss Gostrey is really a wonderful woman."
"Oh yes indeed," Strether answered for her, "Mrs. Pocock knows about Miss Gostrey. Your mother, Sarah, must have told you about her; your mother knows everything," he sturdily pursued. "And I cordially admit," he added with his conscious gaiety of courage, "that she's as wonderful a woman as you like."
"Ah it isn't I who 'like,' dear Mr. Strether, anything to do with the matter!" Sarah Pocock promptly protested; "and I'm by no means sure I have--from my mother or from any one else--a notion of whom you're talking about."
"Well, he won't let you see her, you know," Madame de Vionnet sympathetically threw in. "He never lets me--old friends as we are: I mean as I am with Maria. He reserves her for his best hours; keeps her consummately to himself; only gives us others the crumbs of the feast."
"Well, Countess, I'VE had some of the crumbs," Waymarsh observed with weight and covering her with his large look; which led her to break in before he could go on.
"Comment donc, he shares her with YOU?" she exclaimed in droll stupefaction. "Take care you don't have, before you go much further, rather more of all ces dames than you may know what to do with!"
But he only continued in his massive way. "I can post you about the lady, Mrs. Pocock, so far as you may care to hear. I've seen her quite a number of times, and I was practically present when they made acquaintance. I've kept my eye on her right along, but I don't know as there's any real harm in her."
"'Harm'?" Madame de Vionnet quickly echoed. "Why she's the dearest and cleverest of all the clever and dear."
"Well, you run her pretty close, Countess,"
Waymarsh returned with spirit; "though there's no doubt she's pretty well
up in things. She knows her way round
"Ah but we all do that--we all love Strether: it isn't a merit!" their fellow visitor laughed, keeping to her idea with a good conscience at which our friend was aware that he marvelled, though he trusted also for it, as he met her exquisitely expressive eyes, to some later light.
The prime effect of her tone, however--and it was a truth which his own eyes gave back to her in sad ironic play--could only be to make him feel that, to say such things to a man in public, a woman must practically think of him as ninety years old. He had turned awkwardly, responsively red, he knew, at her mention of Maria Gostrey; Sarah Pocock's presence--the particular quality of it--had made this inevitable; and then he had grown still redder in proportion as he hated to have shown anything at all. He felt indeed that he was showing much, as, uncomfortably and almost in pain, he offered up his redness to Waymarsh, who, strangely enough, seemed now to be looking at him with a certain explanatory yearning. Something deep--something built on their old old relation--passed, in this complexity, between them; he got the side-wind of a loyalty that stood behind all actual queer questions. Waymarsh's dry bare humour--as it gave itself to be taken--gloomed out to demand justice. "Well, if you talk of Miss Barrace I've MY chance too," it appeared stiffly to nod, and it granted that it was giving him away, but struggled to add that it did so only to save him. The sombre glow stared it at him till it fairly sounded out--"to save you, poor old man, to save you; to save you in spite of yourself." Yet it was somehow just this communication that showed him to himself as more than ever lost. Still another result of it was to put before him as never yet that between his comrade an