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. Chad was out of town again, for the first time since his visitor’s first view of him; he had explained this necessity—without detail, yet also without embarrassment, the circumstance was one of those which, in the young man’s life, testified to the variety of his ties. Strether wasn’t otherwise concerned with it than for its so testifying—a pleasant multitudinous image in which he took comfort. He took comfort, by the same stroke, in the swing of Chad’s pendulum back from that other swing, the sharp jerk towards Woollett, so stayed by his own hand. He had the entertainment of thinking that if he had for that moment stopped the clock it was to promote the next minute this still livelier motion. He himself did what he hadn’t done before; he took two or three times whole days off—irrespective of others, of two or three taken with Miss Gostrey, two or three taken with little Bilham: he went to Chartres and cultivated, before the front of the cathedral, a general easy beatitude; he went to Fontainebleau and imagined himself on the way to Italy; he went to Rouen with a little handbag and inordinately spent the night.
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 Paris. She had gone for some days to the country. There was nothing in this accident but what was natural; yet it produced for poor Strether a drop of all confidence. It was suddenly as if he should never see her again, and as if moreover he had brought it on himself by not having been quite kind to her.
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 New York to that port, and having also, thanks to a happy voyage, made land with a promptitude that left Chad Newsome, who had meant to meet them at the dock, belated. He had received their telegram, with the announcement of their immediate further advance, just as he was taking the train for Havre, so that nothing had remained for him but to await them in Paris. He hastily picked up Strether, at the hotel, for this purpose, and he even, with easy pleasantry, suggested the attendance of Waymarsh as well—Waymarsh, at the moment his cab rattled up, being engaged, under Strether’s contemplative range, in a grave perambulation of the familiar court. Waymarsh had learned from his companion, who had already had a note, delivered by hand, from Chad, that the Pococks were due, and had ambiguously, though, as always, impressively, glowered at him over the circumstance; carrying himself in a manner in which Strether was now expert enough to recognise his uncertainty, in the premises, as to the best tone. The only tone he aimed at with confidence was a full tone—which was necessarily difficult in the absence of a full knowledge. The Pococks were a quantity as yet unmeasured, and, as he had practically brought them over, so this witness had to that extent exposed himself. He wanted to feel right about it, but could only, at the best, for the time, feel vague. “I shall look to you, you know, immensely,” our friend had said, “to help me with them,” and he had been quite conscious of the effect of the remark, and of others of the same sort, on his comrade’s sombre sensibility. He had insisted on the fact that Waymarsh would quite like Mrs. Pocock—one could be certain he would: he would be with her about everything, and she would also be with HIM, and Miss Barrace’s nose, in short, would find itself out of joint.
Strether had woven this web of cheerfulness while they waited in the court for Chad; he had sat smoking cigarettes to keep himself quiet while, caged and leonine, his fellow traveller paced and turned before him. Chad Newsome was doubtless to be struck, when he arrived, with the sharpness of their opposition at this particular hour; he was to remember, as a part of it, how Waymarsh came with him and with Strether to the street and stood there with a face half-wistful and half-rueful. They talked of him, the two others, as they drove, and Strether put Chad in possession of much of his own strained sense of things. He had already, a few days before, named to him the wire he was convinced their friend had pulled—a confidence that had made on the young man’s part quite hugely for curiosity and diversion. The action of the matter, moreover, Strether could see, was to penetrate; he saw that is, how Chad judged a system of influence in which Waymarsh had served as a determinant—an impression just now quickened again; with the whole bearing of such a fact on the youth’s view of his relatives. As it came up between them that they might now take their friend for a feature of the control of these latter now sought to be exerted from Woollett, Strether felt indeed how it would be stamped all over him, half an hour later for Sarah Pocock’s eyes, that he was as much on Chad’s “side” as Waymarsh had probably described him. He was letting himself at present, go; there was no denying it; it might be desperation, it might be confidence; he should offer himself to the arriving travellers bristling with all the lucidity he had cultivated.
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.”
“Ah,” said Chad, “Mother’s worth fifty of Sally!”
“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. Chad had done exactly what he had promised him a fortnight previous—had accepted without another question his plea for delay. He was waiting cheerfully and handsomely, but also inscrutably and with a slight increase perhaps of the hardness originally involved in his acquired high polish. He was neither excited nor depressed; was easy and acute and deliberate—unhurried unflurried unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual. Strether felt him more than ever a justification of the extraordinary process of which his own absurd spirit had been the arena; he knew as their cab rolled along, knew as he hadn’t even yet known, that nothing else than what Chad had done and had been would have led to his present showing. They had made him, these things, what he was, and the business hadn’t been easy; it had taken time and trouble, it had cost, above all, a price. The result at any rate was now to be offered to Sally; which Strether, so far as that was concerned, was glad to be there to witness. Would she in the least make it out or take it in, the result, or would she in the least care for it if she did? He scratched his chin as he asked himself by what name, when challenged—as he was sure he should be—he could call it for her. Oh those were determinations she must herself arrive at; since she wanted so much to see, let her see then and welcome. She had come out in the pride of her competence, yet it hummed in Strether’s inner sense that she practically wouldn’t see.
That this was moreover what Chad shrewdly suspected was clear from a word that next dropped from him. “They’re children; they play at life!”—and the exclamation was significant and reassuring. It implied that he hadn’t then, for his companion’s sensibility, appeared to give Mrs. Newsome away; and it facilitated our friend’s presently asking him if it were his idea that Mrs. Pocock and Madame de Vionnet should become acquainted. Strether was still more sharply struck, hereupon, with Chad’s lucidity. “Why, isn’t that exactly—to get a sight of the company I keep—what she has come out for?”
“Yes—I’m afraid it is,” Strether unguardedly replied.
Chad’s quick rejoinder lighted his precipitation. “Why do you say you’re afraid?”
“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 Chad, was beautifully obvious. “Yes, but you’ve only spoken handsomely.”
“Never more handsomely of any woman. But it’s just that tone—!”
“That tone,” said Chad, “that has fetched her? I dare say; but I’ve no quarrel with you about it. And no more has Madame de Vionnet. Don’t you know by this time how she likes you?”
“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.”
Chad’s urbanity fairly shamed him, and he was at this moment absolutely impatient to see the face Sarah Pocock would present to a sort of thing, as he synthetically phrased it to himself, with no adequate forecast of which, despite his admonitions, she would certainly arrive. “I’ve done THIS!”
“Well, this is all right. She likes,” Chad comfortably remarked, “to be liked.”
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 it were,” Chad laughed, “to the good. However, she doesn’t despair of Sarah either, and is prepared, on her own side, to go all lengths.”
“In the way of appreciation?”
“Yes, and of everything else. In the way of general amiability, hospitality and welcome. She’s under arms,” Chad laughed again; “she’s prepared.”
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 Chad, but without reproach, “only your own fault. I tried to bring you together, and SHE, my dear fellow—I never saw her more charming to any man. But you’ve got your extraordinary ideas.”
“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 to Chad at this moment to feel it; for Chad was in the act of remarking to him that they of course both counted on him—he himself and the other earnest person—for cheer and support. It was brave to Strether to hear him talk as if the line of wisdom they had struck out was to make things ravishing to the Pococks. No, if Madame de Vionnet compassed THAT, compassed the ravishment of the Pococks, Madame de Vionnet would be prodigious. It would be a beautiful plan if it succeeded, and it all came to the question of Sarah’s being really bribeable. The precedent of his own case helped Strether perhaps but little to consider she might prove so; it being distinct that her character would rather make for every possible difference. This idea of his own bribeability set him apart for himself; with the further mark in fact that his case was absolutely proved. He liked always, where Lambert Strether was concerned, to know the worst, and what he now seemed to know was not only that he was bribeable, but that he had been effectually bribed. The only difficulty was that he couldn’t quite have said with what. It was as if he had sold himself, but hadn’t somehow got the cash. That, however, was what, characteristically, WOULD happen to him. It would naturally be his kind of traffic. While he thought of these things he reminded Chad of the truth they mustn’t lose sight of—the truth that, with all deference to her susceptibility to new interests, Sarah would have come out with a high firm definite purpose. “She hasn’t come out, you know, to be bamboozled. We may all be ravishing—nothing perhaps can be more easy for us; but she hasn’t come out to be ravished. She has come out just simply to take you home.”
“Oh well, with HER I’ll go,” said Chad good-humouredly. “I suppose you’ll allow THAT.” And then as for a minute Strether said nothing: “Or is your idea that when I’ve seen her I shan’t want to go?” As this question, however, again left his friend silent he presently went on: “My own idea at any rate is that they shall have while they’re here the best sort of time.”
It was at this that Strether spoke. “Ah there you are! I think if you really wanted to go—!”
“Well?” said Chad to bring it out.
“Well, you wouldn’t trouble about our good time. You wouldn’t care what sort of a time we have.”
Chad could always take in the easiest way in the world any ingenious suggestion. “I see. But can I help it? I’m too decent.”
“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 Chad made no rejoinder. But he spoke again as they came in sight of the station. “Do you mean to introduce her to Miss Gostrey?”
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?”
“Yes,” said Chad with his pleasant promptness: “to show her there’s nothing in it.”
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 Chad, who was all genial attention to the needs of his friends, besides having arranged that his servant should reinforce him; the ladies were certainly pleasant to see, and Mamie would be at any time and anywhere pleasant to exhibit. She would look extraordinarily like his young wife—the wife of a honeymoon, should he go about with her; but that was his own affair—or perhaps it was hers; it was at any rate something she couldn’t help. Strether remembered how he had seen him come up with Jeanne de Vionnet in Gloriani’s garden, and the fancy he had had about that—the fancy obscured now, thickly overlaid with others; the recollection was during these minutes his only note of trouble. He had often, in spite of himself, wondered if Chad but too probably were not with Jeanne the object of a still and shaded flame. It was on the cards that the child MIGHT be tremulously in love, and this conviction now flickered up not a bit the less for his disliking to think of it, for its being, in a complicated situation, a complication the more, and for something indescribable in Mamie, something at all events straightway lent her by his own mind, something that gave her value, gave her intensity and purpose, as the symbol of an opposition. Little Jeanne wasn’t really at all in question—how COULD she be?—yet from the moment Miss Pocock had shaken her skirts on the platform, touched up the immense bows of her hat and settled properly over her shoulder the strap of her morocco-and-gilt travelling-satchel, from that moment little Jeanne was opposed.
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, Chad’s conclusion about his sister, and about her husband and her husband’s sister, was at the least on the way not to fail of confidence. Strether felt the confidence, and that, as the look between them was an exchange, what he himself gave back was relatively vague. This comparison of notes however could wait; everything struck him as depending on the effect produced by Chad. Neither Sarah nor Mamie had in any way, at the station—where they had had after all ample time—broken out about it; which, to make up for this, was what our friend had expected of Jim as soon as they should find themselves together.
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 even as Chad was changed. Only what in Chad was conspicuous improvement—well, he had no name ready for the working, in his own organism, of his own more timid dose. He should have to see first what this action would amount to. And for his occult passage with the young man, after all, the directness of it had no greater oddity than the fact that the young man’s way with the three travellers should have been so happy a manifestation. Strether liked him for it, on the spot, as he hadn’t yet liked him; it affected him while it lasted as he might have been affected by some light pleasant perfect work of art: to that degree that he wondered if they were really worthy of it, took it in and did it justice; to that degree that it would have been scarce a miracle if, there in the luggage-room, while they waited for their things, Sarah had pulled his sleeve and drawn him aside. “You’re right; we haven’t quite known what you mean, Mother and I, but now we see. Chad’s magnificent; what can one want more? If THIS is the kind of thing—!” On which they might, as it were, have embraced and begun to work together.
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 Chad’s display. Yet, none the less, when, at the end of five minutes, in the cab, Jim Pocock had said nothing either—hadn’t said, that is, what Strether wanted, though he had said much else—it all suddenly bounced back to their being either stupid or wilful. It was more probably on the whole the former; so that that would be the drawback of the bridling brightness. Yes, they would bridle and be bright; they would make the best of what was before them, but their observation would fail; it would be beyond them; they simply wouldn’t understand. Of what use would it be then that they had come?—if they weren’t to be intelligent up to THAT point: unless indeed he himself were utterly deluded and extravagant? Was he, on this question of Chad’s improvement, fantastic and away from the truth? Did he live in a false world, a world that had grown simply to suit him, and was his present slight irritation—in the face now of Jim’s silence in particular—but the alarm of the vain thing menaced by the touch of the real? Was this contribution of the real possibly the mission of the Pococks?—had they come to make the work of observation, as HE had practised observation, crack and crumble, and to reduce Chad to the plain terms in which honest minds could deal with him? Had they come in short to be sane where Strether was destined to feel that he himself had only been silly?
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 Chad—it was Sally’s job; and as it would be like her, he felt, to open fire on the spot, it wouldn’t be amiss of them to hold off and give her time. Strether, on his side, only asked to give her time; so he jogged with his companion along boulevards and avenues, trying to extract from meagre material some forecast of his catastrophe. He was quick enough to see that Jim Pocock declined judgement, had hovered quite round the outer edge of discussion and anxiety, leaving all analysis of their question to the ladies alone and now only feeling his way toward some small droll cynicism. It broke out afresh, the cynicism—it had already shown a flicker—in a but slightly deferred: “Well, hanged if I would if I were he!”
“You mean you wouldn’t in Chad’s place—?”
“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 Paris noon and carried his eyes from one side of their vista to the other. “Why I want to come right out and live here myself. And I want to live while I AM here too. I feel with YOU—oh you’ve been grand, old man, and I’ve twigged—that it ain’t right to worry Chad. I don’t mean to persecute him; I couldn’t in conscience. It’s thanks to you at any rate that I’m here, and I’m sure I’m much obliged. You’re a lovely pair.”
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 Paris, I dare say I’ve liked it too much.”
“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 Chad’s not turning up?”
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 Paris. “We haven’t all the same at Woollett got anything like this.”
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 Chad has now the advantage of being there before her. If he doesn’t work that for all it’s worth—!” He sighed with contingent pity at his brother-in-law’s possible want of resource. “He has worked it on YOU, pretty well, eh?” and he asked the next moment if there were anything new at the Varieties, which he pronounced in the American manner. They talked about the Varieties—Strether confessing to a knowledge which produced again on Pocock’s part a play of innuendo as vague as a nursery-rhyme, yet as aggressive as an elbow in his side; and they finished their drive under the protection of easy themes. Strether waited to the end, but still in vain, for any show that Jim had seen Chad as different; and he could scarce have explained the discouragement he drew from the absence of this testimony. It was what he had taken his own stand on, so far as he had taken a stand; and if they were all only going to see nothing he had only wasted his time. He gave his friend till the very last moment, till they had come into sight of the hotel; and when poor Pocock only continued cheerful and envious and funny he fairly grew to dislike him, to feel him extravagantly common. If they were ALL going to see nothing!—Strether knew, as this came back to him, that he was also letting Pocock represent for him what Mrs. Newsome wouldn’t see. He went on disliking, in the light of Jim’s commonness, to talk to him about that lady; yet just before the cab pulled up he knew the extent of his desire for the real word from Woollett.
“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 Chad’s, on purpose to say. “There isn’t anything at all—? I should be so delighted.”
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 Paris. I KNOW Paris,” said Sally Pocock in a tone that breathed a certain chill on Strether’s heart.
“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 Chad’s family. Strether noticed her card on the table—her coronet and her “Comtesse”—and the imagination was sharp in him of certain private adjustments in Sarah’s mind. She had never, he was sure, sat with a “Comtesse” before, and such was the specimen of that class he had been keeping to play on her. She had crossed the sea very particularly for a look at her; but he read in Madame de Vionnet’s own eyes that this curiosity hadn’t been so successfully met as that she herself wouldn’t now have more than ever need of him. She looked much as she had looked to him that morning at Notre Dame; he noted in fact the suggestive sameness of her discreet and delicate dress. It seemed to speak—perhaps a little prematurely or too finely—of the sense in which she would help Mrs. Pocock with the shops. The way that lady took her in, moreover, added depth to his impression of what Miss Gostrey, by their common wisdom, had escaped. He winced as he saw himself but for that timely prudence ushering in Maria as a guide and an example. There was however a touch of relief for him in his glimpse, so far as he had got it, of Sarah’s line. She “knew Paris.” Madame de Vionnet had, for that matter, lightly taken this up. “Ah then you’ve a turn for that, an affinity that belongs to your family. Your brother, though his long experience makes a difference, I admit, has become one of us in a marvellous way.” And she appealed to Strether in the manner of a woman who could always glide off with smoothness into another subject. Wasn’t HE struck with the way Mr. Newsome had made the place his own, and hadn’t he been in a position to profit by his friend’s wondrous expertness?
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 Chad’s situation was more eminent than the fact that he had created for himself a new set of circumstances? Unless she hid herself altogether she could show but as one of these, an illustration of his domiciled and indeed of his confirmed condition. And the consciousness of all this in her charming eyes was so clear and fine that as she thus publicly drew him into her boat she produced in him such a silent agitation as he was not to fail afterwards to denounce as pusillanimous. “Ah don’t be so charming to me!—for it makes us intimate, and after all what IS between us when I’ve been so tremendously on my guard and have seen you but half a dozen times?” He recognised once more the perverse law that so inveterately governed his poor personal aspects: it would be exactly LIKE the way things always turned out for him that he should affect Mrs. Pocock and Waymarsh as launched in a relation in which he had really never been launched at all. They were at this very moment—they could only be—attributing to him the full licence of it, and all by the operation of her own tone with him; whereas his sole licence had been to cling with intensity to the brink, not to dip so much as a toe into the flood. But the flicker of his fear on this occasion was not, as may be added, to repeat itself; it sprang up, for its moment, only to die down and then go out for ever. To meet his fellow visitor’s invocation and, with Sarah’s brilliant eyes on him, answer, WAS quite sufficiently to step into her boat. During the rest of the time her visit lasted he felt himself proceed to each of the proper offices, successively, for helping to keep the adventurous skiff afloat. It rocked beneath him, but he settled himself in his place. He took up an oar and, since he was to have the credit of pulling, pulled.
“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 Europe. Above all there’s no doubt she does love Strether.”
“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 and the interest represented by Sarah there was already a basis. Beyond all question now, yes: Waymarsh had been in occult relation with Mrs. Newsome—out, out it all came in the very effort of his face. “Yes, you’re feeling my hand”—he as good as proclaimed it; “but only because this at least I SHALL have got out of the damned Old World: that I shall have picked up the pieces into which it has caused you to crumble.” It was as if in short, after an instant, Strether had not only had it from him, but had recognised that so far as this went the instant had cleared the air. Our friend understood and approved; he had the sense that they wouldn’t otherwise speak of it. This would be all, and it would mark in himself a kind of intelligent generosity. It was with grim Sarah then—Sarah grim for all her grace—that Waymarsh had begun at ten o’clock in the morning to save him. Well—if he COULD, poor dear man, with his big bleak kindness! The upshot of which crowded perception was that Strether, on his own side, still showed no more than he absolutely had to. He showed the least possible by saying to Mrs. Pocock after an interval much briefer than our glance at the picture reflected in him: “Oh it’s as true as they please!—There’s no Miss Gostrey for any one but me—not the least little peep. I keep her to myself.”
“Well, it’s very good of you to notify me,” Sarah replied without looking at him and thrown for a moment by this discrimination, as the direction of her eyes showed, upon a dimly desperate little community with Madame de Vionnet. “But I hope I shan’t miss her too much.”
Madame de Vionnet instantly rallied. “And you know—though it might occur to one—it isn’t in the least that he’s ashamed of her. She’s really—in a way—extremely good-looking.”
“Ah but extremely!” Strether laughed while he wondered at the odd part he found thus imposed on him.
It continued to be so by every touch from Madame de Vionnet. “Well, as I say, you know, I wish you would keep ME a little more to yourself. Couldn’t you name some day for me, some hour—and better soon than late? I’ll be at home whenever it best suits you. There—I can’t say fairer.”
Strether thought a moment while Waymarsh and Mrs. Pocock affected him as standing attentive. “I did lately call on you. Last week—while Chad was out of town.”
“Yes—and I was away, as it happened, too. You choose your moments well. But don’t wait for my next absence, for I shan’t make another,” Madame de Vionnet declared, “while Mrs. Pocock’s here.”
“That vow needn’t keep you long, fortunately,” Sarah observed with reasserted suavity. “I shall be at present but a short time in Paris. I have my plans for other countries. I meet a number of charming friends”—and her voice seemed to caress that description of these persons.
“Ah then,” her visitor cheerfully replied, “all the more reason! To-morrow, for instance, or next day?” she continued to Strether. “Tuesday would do for me beautifully.”
“Tuesday then with pleasure.”
“And at half-past five?—or at six?”
It was ridiculous, but Mrs. Pocock and Waymarsh struck him as fairly waiting for his answer. It was indeed as if they were arranged, gathered for a performance, the performance of “Europe” by his confederate and himself. Well, the performance could only go on. “Say five forty-five.”
“Five forty-five—good.” And now at last Madame de Vionnet must leave them, though it carried, for herself, the performance a little further. “I DID hope so much also to see Miss Pocock. Mayn’t I still?”
Sarah hesitated, but she rose equal. “She’ll return your visit with me. She’s at present out with Mr. Pocock and my brother.”
“I see—of course Mr. Newsome has everything to show them. He has told me so much about her. My great desire’s to give my daughter the opportunity of making her acquaintance. I’m always on the lookout for such chances for her. If I didn’t bring her to-day it was only to make sure first that you’d let me.” After which the charming woman risked a more intense appeal. “It wouldn’t suit you also to mention some near time, so that we shall be sure not to lose you?” Strether on his side waited, for Sarah likewise had, after all, to perform; and it occupied him to have been thus reminded that she had stayed at home—and on her first morning of Paris—while Chad led the others forth. Oh she was up to her eyes; if she had stayed at home she had stayed by an understanding, arrived at the evening before, that Waymarsh would come and find her alone. This was beginning well—for a first day in Paris; and the thing might be amusing yet. But Madame de Vionnet’s earnestness was meanwhile beautiful. “You may think me indiscreet, but I’ve SUCH a desire my Jeanne shall know an American girl of the really delightful kind. You see I throw myself for it on your charity.”
The manner of this speech gave Strether such a sense of depths below it and behind it as he hadn’t yet had—ministered in a way that almost frightened him to his dim divinations of reasons; but if Sarah still, in spite of it, faltered, this was why he had time for a sign of sympathy with her petitioner. “Let me say then, dear lady, to back your plea, that Miss Mamie is of the most delightful kind of all—is charming among the charming.”
Even Waymarsh, though with more to produce on the subject, could get into motion in time. “Yes, Countess, the American girl’s a thing that your country must at least allow ours the privilege to say we CAN show you. But her full beauty is only for those who know how to make use of her.”
“Ah then,” smiled Madame de Vionnet, “that’s exactly what I want to do. I’m sure she has much to teach us.”
It was wonderful, but what was scarce less so was that Strether found himself, by the quick effect of it, moved another way. “Oh that may be! But don’t speak of your own exquisite daughter, you know, as if she weren’t pure perfection. I at least won’t take that from you. Mademoiselle de Vionnet,” he explained, in considerable form, to Mrs. Pocock, “IS pure perfection. Mademoiselle de Vionnet IS exquisite.”
It had been perhaps a little portentous, but “Ah?” Sarah simply glittered.
Waymarsh himself, for that matter, apparently recognised, in respect to the facts, the need of a larger justice, and he had with it an inclination to Sarah. “Miss Jane’s strikingly handsome—in the regular French style.”
It somehow made both Strether and Madame de Vionnet laugh out, though at the very moment he caught in Sarah’s eyes, as glancing at the speaker, a vague but unmistakeable “You too?” It made Waymarsh in fact look consciously over her head. Madame de Vionnet meanwhile, however, made her point in her own way. “I wish indeed I could offer you my poor child as a dazzling attraction: it would make one’s position simple enough! She’s as good as she can be, but of course she’s different, and the question is now—in the light of the way things seem to go—if she isn’t after all TOO different: too different I mean from the splendid type every one is so agreed that your wonderful country produces. On the other hand of course Mr. Newsome, who knows it so well, has, as a good friend, dear kind man that he is, done everything he can—to keep us from fatal benightedness—for my small shy creature. Well,” she wound up after Mrs. Pocock had signified, in a murmur still a little stiff, that she would speak to her own young charge on the question—”well, we shall sit, my child and I, and wait and wait and wait for you.” But her last fine turn was for Strether. “Do speak of us in such a way—!”
“As that something can’t but come of it? Oh something SHALL come of it! I take a great interest!” he further declared; and in proof of it, the next moment, he had gone with her down to her carriage.