He went late that evening to the Boulevard Malesherbes, having his impression that it would be vain to go early, and having also, more than once in the course of the day, made enquiries of the concierge. Chad hadn’t come in and had left no intimation; he had affairs, apparently, at this juncture—as it occurred to Strether he so well might have—that kept him long abroad. Our friend asked once for him at the hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, but the only contribution offered there was the fact that every one was out. It was with the idea that he would have to come home to sleep that Strether went up to his rooms, from which however he was still absent, though, from the balcony, a few moments later, his visitor heard eleven o’clock strike. Chad’s servant had by this time answered for his reappearance; he HAD, the visitor learned, come quickly in to dress for dinner and vanish again. Strether spent an hour in waiting for him—an hour full of strange suggestions, persuasions, recognitions; one of those that he was to recall, at the end of his adventure, as the particular handful that most had counted. The mellowest lamplight and the easiest chair had been placed at his disposal by Baptiste, subtlest of servants; the novel half-uncut, the novel lemon-coloured and tender, with the ivory knife athwart it like the dagger in a contadina’s hair, had been pushed within the soft circle—a circle which, for some reason, affected Strether as softer still after the same Baptiste had remarked that in the absence of a further need of anything by Monsieur he would betake himself to bed. The night was hot and heavy and the single lamp sufficient; the great flare of the lighted city, rising high, spending itself afar, played up from the Boulevard and, through the vague vista of the successive rooms, brought objects into view and added to their dignity. Strether found himself in possession as he never yet had been; he had been there alone, had turned over books and prints, had invoked, in Chad’s absence, the spirit of the place, but never at the witching hour and never with a relish quite so like a pang.
He spent a long time on the balcony; he hung over it as he had seen little Bilham hang the day of his first approach, as he had seen Mamie hang over her own the day little Bilham himself might have seen her from below; he passed back into the rooms, the three that occupied the front and that communicated by wide doors; and, while he circulated and rested, tried to recover the impression that they had made on him three months before, to catch again the voice in which they had seemed then to speak to him. That voice, he had to note, failed audibly to sound; which he took as the proof of all the change in himself. He had heard, of old, only what he COULD then hear; what he could do now was to think of three months ago as a point in the far past. All voices had grown thicker and meant more things; they crowded on him as he moved about—it was the way they sounded together that wouldn’t let him be still. He felt, strangely, as sad as if he had come for some wrong, and yet as excited as if he had come for some freedom. But the freedom was what was most in the place and the hour, it was the freedom that most brought him round again to the youth of his own that he had long ago missed. He could have explained little enough to-day either why he had missed it or why, after years and years, he should care that he had; the main truth of the actual appeal of everything was none the less that everything represented the substance of his loss put it within reach, within touch, made it, to a degree it had never been, an affair of the senses. That was what it became for him at this singular time, the youth he had long ago missed—a queer concrete presence, full of mystery, yet full of reality, which he could handle, taste, smell, the deep breathing of which he could positively hear. It was in the outside air as well as within; it was in the long watch, from the balcony, in the summer night, of the wide late life of Paris, the unceasing soft quick rumble, below, of the little lighted carriages that, in the press, always suggested the gamblers he had seen of old at Monte Carlo pushing up to the tables. This image was before him when he at last became aware that Chad was behind.
“She tells me you put it all on ME”—he had arrived after this promptly enough at that information; which expressed the case however quite as the young man appeared willing for the moment to leave it. Other things, with this advantage of their virtually having the night before them, came up for them, and had, as well, the odd effect of making the occasion, instead of hurried and feverish, one of the largest, loosest and easiest to which Strether’s whole adventure was to have treated him. He had been pursuing Chad from an early hour and had overtaken him only now; but now the delay was repaired by their being so exceptionally confronted. They had foregathered enough of course in all the various times; they had again and again, since that first night at the theatre, been face to face over their question; but they had never been so alone together as they were actually alone—their talk hadn’t yet been so supremely for themselves. And if many things moreover passed before them, none passed more distinctly for Strether than that striking truth about Chad of which he had been so often moved to take note: the truth that everything came happily back with him to his knowing how to live. It had been seated in his pleased smile—a smile that pleased exactly in the right degree—as his visitor turned round, on the balcony, to greet his advent; his visitor in fact felt on the spot that there was nothing their meeting would so much do as bear witness to that facility. He surrendered himself accordingly to so approved a gift; for what was the meaning of the facility but that others DID surrender themselves? He didn’t want, luckily, to prevent Chad from living; but he was quite aware that even if he had he would himself have thoroughly gone to pieces. It was in truth essentially by bringing down his personal life to a function all subsidiary to the young man’s own that he held together. And the great point, above all, the sign of how completely Chad possessed the knowledge in question, was that one thus became, not only with a proper cheerfulness, but with wild native impulses, the feeder of his stream. Their talk had accordingly not lasted three minutes without Strether’s feeling basis enough for the excitement in which he had waited. This overflow fairly deepened, wastefully abounded, as he observed the smallness of anything corresponding to it on the part of his friend. That was exactly this friend’s happy case; he “put out” his excitement, or whatever other emotion the matter involved, as he put out his washing; than which no arrangement could make more for domestic order. It was quite for Strether himself in short to feel a personal analogy with the laundress bringing home the triumphs of the mangle.
When he had reported on Sarah’s visit, which he did very fully, Chad answered his question with perfect candour. “I positively referred her to you—told her she must absolutely see you. This was last night, and it all took place in ten minutes. It was our first free talk—really the first time she had tackled me. She knew I also knew what her line had been with yourself; knew moreover how little you had been doing to make anything difficult for her. So I spoke for you frankly—assured her you were all at her service. I assured her I was too,” the young man continued; “and I pointed out how she could perfectly, at any time, have got at me. Her difficulty has been simply her not finding the moment she fancied.”
“Her difficulty,” Strether returned, “has been simply that she finds she’s afraid of you. She’s not afraid of ME, Sarah, one little scrap; and it was just because she has seen how I can fidget when I give my mind to it that she has felt her best chance, rightly enough to be in making me as uneasy as possible. I think she’s at bottom as pleased to HAVE you put it on me as you yourself can possibly be to put it.”
“But what in the world, my dear man,” Chad enquired in objection to this luminosity, “have I done to make Sally afraid?”
“You’ve been ‘wonderful, wonderful,’ as we say—we poor people who watch the play from the pit; and that’s what has, admirably, made her. Made her all the more effectually that she could see you didn’t set about it on purpose—I mean set about affecting her as with fear.”
Chad cast a pleasant backward glance over his possibilities of motive. “I’ve only wanted to be kind and friendly, to be decent and attentive—and I still only want to be.”
Strether smiled at his comfortable clearness. “Well, there can certainly be no way for it better than by my taking the onus. It reduces your personal friction and your personal offence to almost nothing.”
Ah but Chad, with his completer conception of the friendly, wouldn’t quite have this! They had remained on the balcony, where, after their day of great and premature heat, the midnight air was delicious; and they leaned back in turn against the balustrade, all in harmony with the chairs and the flower-pots, the cigarettes and the starlight. “The onus isn’t REALLY yours—after our agreeing so to wait together and judge together. That was all my answer to Sally,” Chad pursued—”that we have been, that we are, just judging together.”
“I’m not afraid of the burden,” Strether explained; “I haven’t come in the least that you should take it off me. I’ve come very much, it seems to me, to double up my fore legs in the manner of the camel when he gets down on his knees to make his back convenient. But I’ve supposed you all this while to have been doing a lot of special and private judging—about which I haven’t troubled you; and I’ve only wished to have your conclusion first from you. I don’t ask more than that; I’m quite ready to take it as it has come.”
Chad turned up his face to the sky with a slow puff of his smoke. “Well, I’ve seen.”
Strether waited a little. “I’ve left you wholly alone; haven’t, I think I may say, since the first hour or two—when I merely preached patience—so much as breathed on you.”
“Oh you’ve been awfully good!”
“We’ve both been good then—we’ve played the game. We’ve given them the most liberal conditions.”
“Ah,” said Chad, “splendid conditions! It was open to them, open to them”—he seemed to make it out, as he smoked, with his eyes still on the stars. He might in quiet sport have been reading their horoscope. Strether wondered meanwhile what had been open to them, and he finally let him have it. “It was open to them simply to let me alone; to have made up their minds, on really seeing me for themselves, that I could go on well enough as I was.”
Strether assented to this proposition with full lucidity, his companion’s plural pronoun, which stood all for Mrs. Newsome and her daughter, having no ambiguity for him. There was nothing, apparently, to stand for Mamie and Jim; and this added to our friend’s sense of Chad’s knowing what he thought. “But they’ve made up their minds to the opposite—that you CAN’T go on as you are.”
“No,” Chad continued in the same way; “they won’t have it for a minute.”
Strether on his side also reflectively smoked. It was as if their high place really represented some moral elevation from which they could look down on their recent past. “There never was the smallest chance, do you know, that they WOULD have it for a moment.”
“Of course not—no real chance. But if they were willing to think there was—!”
“They weren’t willing.” Strether had worked it all out. “It wasn’t for you they came out, but for me. It wasn’t to see for themselves what you’re doing, but what I’m doing. The first branch of their curiosity was inevitably destined, under my culpable delay, to give way to the second; and it’s on the second that, if I may use the expression and you don’t mind my marking the invidious fact, they’ve been of late exclusively perched. When Sarah sailed it was me, in other words, they were after.”
Chad took it in both with intelligence and with indulgence. “It IS rather a business then—what I’ve let you in for!”
Strether had again a brief pause; which ended in a reply that seemed to dispose once for all of this element of compunction. Chad was to treat it, at any rate, so far as they were again together, as having done so. “I was ‘in’ when you found me.”
“Ah but it was you,” the young man laughed, “who found ME.”
“I only found you out. It was you who found me in. It was all in the day’s work for them, at all events, that they should come. And they’ve greatly enjoyed it,” Strether declared.
“Well, I’ve tried to make them,” said Chad.
His companion did himself presently the same justice. “So have I. I tried even this very morning—while Mrs. Pocock was with me. She enjoys for instance, almost as much as anything else, not being, as I’ve said, afraid of me; and I think I gave her help in that.”
Chad took a deeper interest. “Was she very very nasty?”
Strether debated. “Well, she was the most important thing—she was definite. She was—at last—crystalline. And I felt no remorse. I saw that they must have come.”
“Oh I wanted to see them for myself; so that if it were only for THAT—!” Chad’s own remorse was as small.
This appeared almost all Strether wanted. “Isn’t your having seen them for yourself then THE thing, beyond all others, that has come of their visit?”
Chad looked as if he thought it nice of his old friend to put it so. “Don’t you count it as anything that you’re dished—if you ARE dished? Are you, my dear man, dished?”
It sounded as if he were asking if he had caught cold or hurt his foot, and Strether for a minute but smoked and smoked. “I want to see her again. I must see her.”
“Of course you must.” Then Chad hesitated. “Do you mean—a—Mother herself?”
“Oh your mother—that will depend.”
It was as if Mrs. Newsome had somehow been placed by the words very far off. Chad however endeavoured in spite of this to reach the place. “What do you mean it will depend on?”
Strether, for all answer, gave him a longish look. “I was speaking of Sarah. I must positively—though she quite cast me off—see HER again. I can’t part with her that way.”
“Then she was awfully unpleasant?”
Again Strether exhaled. “She was what she had to be. I mean that from the moment they’re not delighted they can only be—well what I admit she was. We gave them,” he went on, “their chance to be delighted, and they’ve walked up to it, and looked all round it, and not taken it.”
“You can bring a horse to water—!” Chad suggested.
“Precisely. And the tune to which this morning Sarah wasn’t delighted—the tune to which, to adopt your metaphor, she refused to drink—leaves us on that side nothing more to hope.”
Chad had a pause, and then as if consolingly: “It was never of course really the least on the cards that they would be ‘delighted.'”
“Well, I don’t know, after all,” Strether mused. “I’ve had to come as far round. However”—he shook it off—”it’s doubtless MY performance that’s absurd.”
“There are certainly moments,” said Chad, “when you seem to me too good to be true. Yet if you are true,” he added, “that seems to be all that need concern me.”
“I’m true, but I’m incredible. I’m fantastic and ridiculous—I don’t explain myself even TO myself. How can they then,” Strether asked, “understand me? So I don’t quarrel with them.”
“I see. They quarrel,” said Chad rather comfortably, “with US.” Strether noted once more the comfort, but his young friend had already gone on. “I should feel greatly ashamed, all the same, if I didn’t put it before you again that you ought to think, after all, tremendously well. I mean before giving up beyond recall—” With which insistence, as from a certain delicacy, dropped.
Ah but Strether wanted it. “Say it all, say it all.”
“Well, at your age, and with what—when all’s said and done—Mother might do for you and be for you.”
Chad had said it all, from his natural scruple, only to that extent; so that Strether after an instant himself took a hand. “My absence of an assured future. The little I have to show toward the power to take care of myself. The way, the wonderful way, she would certainly take care of me. Her fortune, her kindness, and the constant miracle of her having been disposed to go even so far. Of course, of course”—he summed it up. “There are those sharp facts.”
Chad had meanwhile thought of another still. “And don’t you really care—?”
His friend slowly turned round to him. “Will you go?”
“I’ll go if you’ll say you now consider I should. You know,” he went on, “I was ready six weeks ago.”
“Ah,” said Strether, “that was when you didn’t know I wasn’t! You’re ready at present because you do know it.”
“That may be,” Chad returned; “but all the same I’m sincere. You talk about taking the whole thing on your shoulders, but in what light do you regard me that you think me capable of letting you pay?” Strether patted his arm, as they stood together against the parapet, reassuringly—seeming to wish to contend that he HAD the wherewithal; but it was again round this question of purchase and price that the young man’s sense of fairness continued to hover. “What it literally comes to for you, if you’ll pardon my putting it so, is that you give up money. Possibly a good deal of money.”
“Oh,” Strether laughed, “if it were only just enough you’d still be justified in putting it so! But I’ve on my side to remind you too that YOU give up money; and more than ‘possibly’—quite certainly, as I should suppose—a good deal.”
“True enough; but I’ve got a certain quantity,” Chad returned after a moment. “Whereas you, my dear man, you—”
“I can’t be at all said”—Strether took him up—”to have a ‘quantity’ certain or uncertain? Very true. Still, I shan’t starve.”
“Oh you mustn’t STARVE!” Chad pacifically emphasised; and so, in the pleasant conditions, they continued to talk; though there was, for that matter, a pause in which the younger companion might have been taken as weighing again the delicacy of his then and there promising the elder some provision against the possibility just mentioned. This, however, he presumably thought best not to do, for at the end of another minute they had moved in quite a different direction. Strether had broken in by returning to the subject of Chad’s passage with Sarah and enquiring if they had arrived, in the event, at anything in the nature of a “scene.” To this Chad replied that they had on the contrary kept tremendously polite; adding moreover that Sally was after all not the woman to have made the mistake of not being. “Her hands are a good deal tied, you see. I got so, from the first,” he sagaciously observed, “the start of her.”
“You mean she has taken so much from you?”
“Well, I couldn’t of course in common decency give less: only she hadn’t expected, I think, that I’d give her nearly so much. And she began to take it before she knew it.”
“And she began to like it,” said Strether, “as soon as she began to take it!”
“Yes, she has liked it—also more than she expected.” After which Chad observed: “But she doesn’t like ME. In fact she hates me.”
Strether’s interest grew. “Then why does she want you at home?”
“Because when you hate you want to triumph, and if she should get me neatly stuck there she WOULD triumph.”
Strether followed afresh, but looking as he went. “Certainly—in a manner. But it would scarce be a triumph worth having if, once entangled, feeling her dislike and possibly conscious in time of a certain quantity of your own, you should on the spot make yourself unpleasant to her.”
“Ah,” said Chad, “she can bear ME—could bear me at least at home. It’s my being there that would be her triumph. She hates me in Paris.”
“She hates in other words—”
“Yes, THAT’S it!”—Chad had quickly understood this understanding; which formed on the part of each as near an approach as they had yet made to naming Madame de Vionnet. The limitations of their distinctness didn’t, however, prevent its fairly lingering in the air that it was this lady Mrs. Pocock hated. It added one more touch moreover to their established recognition of the rare intimacy of Chad’s association with her. He had never yet more twitched away the last light veil from this phenomenon than in presenting himself as confounded and submerged in the feeling she had created at Woollett. “And I’ll tell you who hates me too,” he immediately went on.
Strether knew as immediately whom he meant, but with as prompt a protest. “Ah no! Mamie doesn’t hate—well,” he caught himself in time—”anybody at all. Mamie’s beautiful.”
Chad shook his head. “That’s just why I mind it. She certainly doesn’t like me.”
“How much do you mind it? What would you do for her?”
“Well, I’d like her if she’d like me. Really, really,” Chad declared.
It gave his companion a moment’s pause. “You asked me just now if I don’t, as you said, ‘care’ about a certain person. You rather tempt me therefore to put the question in my turn. Don’t YOU care about a certain other person?”
Chad looked at him hard in the lamplight of the window. “The difference is that I don’t want to.”
Strether wondered. “‘Don’t want’ to?”
“I try not to—that is I HAVE tried. I’ve done my best. You can’t be surprised,” the young man easily went on, “when you yourself set me on it. I was indeed,” he added, “already on it a little; but you set me harder. It was six weeks ago that I thought I had come out.”
Strether took it well in. “But you haven’t come out!”
“I don’t know—it’s what I WANT to know,” said Chad. “And if I could have sufficiently wanted—by myself—to go back, I think I might have found out.”
“Possibly”—Strether considered. “But all you were able to achieve was to want to want to! And even then,” he pursued, “only till our friends there came. Do you want to want to still?” As with a sound half-dolorous, half-droll and all vague and equivocal, Chad buried his face for a little in his hands, rubbing it in a whimsical way that amounted to an evasion, he brought it out more sharply: “DO you?”
Chad kept for a time his attitude, but at last he looked up, and then abruptly, “Jim IS a damned dose!” he declared.
“Oh I don’t ask you to abuse or describe or in any way pronounce on your relatives; I simply put it to you once more whether you’re NOW ready. You say you’ve ‘seen.’ Is what you’ve seen that you can’t resist?”
Chad gave him a strange smile—the nearest approach he had ever shown to a troubled one. “Can’t you make me NOT resist?”
“What it comes to,” Strether went on very gravely now and as if he hadn’t heard him, “what it comes to is that more has been done for you, I think, than I’ve ever seen done—attempted perhaps, but never so successfully done—by one human being for another.”
“Oh an immense deal certainly”—Chad did it full justice. “And you yourself are adding to it.”
It was without heeding this either that his visitor continued. “And our friends there won’t have it.”
“No, they simply won’t.”
“They demand you on the basis, as it were, of repudiation and ingratitude; and what has been the matter with me,” Strether went on, “is that I haven’t seen my way to working with you for repudiation.”
Chad appreciated this. “Then as you haven’t seen yours you naturally haven’t seen mine. There it is.” After which he proceeded, with a certain abruptness, to a sharp interrogation. “NOW do you say she doesn’t hate me?”
Strether hesitated. “‘She’—?”
“Yes—Mother. We called it Sarah, but it comes to the same thing.”
“Ah,” Strether objected, “not to the same thing as her hating YOU.”
On which—though as if for an instant it had hung fire—Chad remarkably replied: “Well, if they hate my good friend, THAT comes to the same thing.” It had a note of inevitable truth that made Strether take it as enough, feel he wanted nothing more. The young man spoke in it for his “good friend” more than he had ever yet directly spoken, confessed to such deep identities between them as he might play with the idea of working free from, but which at a given moment could still draw him down like a whirlpool. And meanwhile he had gone on. “Their hating you too moreover—that also comes to a good deal.”
“Ah,” said Strether, “your mother doesn’t.”
Chad, however, loyally stuck to it—loyally, that is, to Strether. “She will if you don’t look out.”
“Well, I do look out. I am, after all, looking out. That’s just why,” our friend explained, “I want to see her again.”
It drew from Chad again the same question. “To see Mother?”
“To see—for the present—Sarah.”
“Ah then there you are! And what I don’t for the life of me make out,” Chad pursued with resigned perplexity, “is what you GAIN by it.”
Oh it would have taken his companion too long to say! “That’s because you have, I verily believe, no imagination. You’ve other qualities. But no imagination, don’t you see? at all.”
“I dare say. I do see.” It was an idea in which Chad showed interest. “But haven’t you yourself rather too much?”
“Oh RATHER—!” So that after an instant, under this reproach and as if it were at last a fact really to escape from, Strether made his move for departure.
One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock’s visit was an hour spent, shortly before dinner, with Maria Gostrey, whom of late, in spite of so sustained a call on his attention from other quarters, he had by no means neglected. And that he was still not neglecting her will appear from the fact that he was with her again at the same hour on the very morrow—with no less fine a consciousness moreover of being able to hold her ear. It continued inveterately to occur, for that matter, that whenever he had taken one of his greater turns he came back to where she so faithfully awaited him. None of these excursions had on the whole been livelier than the pair of incidents—the fruit of the short interval since his previous visit—on which he had now to report to her. He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before, and he had had that morning, as a sequel to this conversation, a second interview with Sarah. “But they’re all off,” he said, “at last.”
It puzzled her a moment. “All?—Mr. Newsome with them?”
“Ah not yet! Sarah and Jim and Mamie. But Waymarsh with them—for Sarah. It’s too beautiful,” Strether continued; “I find I don’t get over that—it’s always a fresh joy. But it’s a fresh joy too,” he added, “that—well, what do you think? Little Bilham also goes. But he of course goes for Mamie.”
Miss Gostrey wondered. “‘For’ her? Do you mean they’re already engaged?”
“Well,” said Strether, “say then for ME. He’ll do anything for me; just as I will, for that matter—anything I can—for him. Or for Mamie either. SHE’LL do anything for me.”
Miss Gostrey gave a comprehensive sigh. “The way you reduce people to subjection!”
“It’s certainly, on one side, wonderful. But it’s quite equalled, on another, by the way I don’t. I haven’t reduced Sarah, since yesterday; though I’ve succeeded in seeing her again, as I’ll presently tell you. The others however are really all right. Mamie, by that blessed law of ours, absolutely must have a young man.”
“But what must poor Mr. Bilham have? Do you mean they’ll MARRY for you?”
“I mean that, by the same blessed law, it won’t matter a grain if they don’t—I shan’t have in the least to worry.”
She saw as usual what he meant. “And Mr. Jim?—who goes for him?”
“Oh,” Strether had to admit, “I couldn’t manage THAT. He’s thrown, as usual, on the world; the world which, after all, by his account—for he has prodigious adventures—seems very good to him. He fortunately—’over here,’ as he says—finds the world everywhere; and his most prodigious adventure of all,” he went on, “has been of course of the last few days.”
Miss Gostrey, already knowing, instantly made the connexion. “He has seen Marie de Vionnet again?”
“He went, all by himself, the day after Chad’s party—didn’t I tell you?—to tea with her. By her invitation—all alone.”
“Quite like yourself!” Maria smiled.
“Oh but he’s more wonderful about her than I am!” And then as his friend showed how she could believe it, filling it out, fitting it on to old memories of the wonderful woman: “What I should have liked to manage would have been HER going.”
“To Switzerland with the party?”
“For Jim—and for symmetry. If it had been workable moreover for a fortnight she’d have gone. She’s ready”—he followed up his renewed vision of her—”for anything.”
Miss Gostrey went with him a minute. “She’s too perfect!”
“She WILL, I think,” he pursued, “go to-night to the station.”
“To see him off?”
“With Chad—marvellously—as part of their general attention. And she does it”—it kept before him—”with a light, light grace, a free, free gaiety, that may well softly bewilder Mr. Pocock.”
It kept her so before him that his companion had after an instant a friendly comment. “As in short it has softly bewildered a saner man. Are you really in love with her?” Maria threw off.
“It’s of no importance I should know,” he replied. “It matters so little—has nothing to do, practically, with either of us.”
“All the same”—Maria continued to smile—”they go, the five, as I understand you, and you and Madame de Vionnet stay.”
“Oh and Chad.” To which Strether added: “And you.”
“Ah ‘me’!”—she gave a small impatient wail again, in which something of the unreconciled seemed suddenly to break out. “I don’t stay, it somehow seems to me, much to my advantage. In the presence of all you cause to pass before me I’ve a tremendous sense of privation.”
Strether hesitated. “But your privation, your keeping out of everything, has been—hasn’t it?—by your own choice.”
“Oh yes; it has been necessary—that is it has been better for you. What I mean is only that I seem to have ceased to serve you.”
“How can you tell that?” he asked. “You don’t know how you serve me. When you cease—”
“Well?” she said as he dropped.
“Well, I’ll LET you know. Be quiet till then.”
She thought a moment. “Then you positively like me to stay?”
“Don’t I treat you as if I did?”
“You’re certainly very kind to me. But that,” said Maria, “is for myself. It’s getting late, as you see, and Paris turning rather hot and dusty. People are scattering, and some of them, in other places want me. But if you want me here—!”
She had spoken as resigned to his word, but he had of a sudden a still sharper sense than he would have expected of desiring not to lose her. “I want you here.”
She took it as if the words were all she had wished; as if they brought her, gave her something that was the compensation of her case. “Thank you,” she simply answered. And then as he looked at her a little harder, “Thank you very much,” she repeated.
It had broken as with a slight arrest into the current of their talk, and it held him a moment longer. “Why, two months, or whatever the time was, ago, did you so suddenly dash off? The reason you afterwards gave me for having kept away three weeks wasn’t the real one.”
She recalled. “I never supposed you believed it was. Yet,” she continued, “if you didn’t guess it that was just what helped you.”
He looked away from her on this; he indulged, so far as space permitted, in one of his slow absences. “I’ve often thought of it, but never to feel that I could guess it. And you see the consideration with which I’ve treated you in never asking till now.”
“Now then why DO you ask?”
“To show you how I miss you when you’re not here, and what it does for me.”
“It doesn’t seem to have done,” she laughed, “all it might! However,” she added, “if you’ve really never guessed the truth I’ll tell it you.”
“I’ve never guessed it,” Strether declared.
“Well then I dashed off, as you say, so as not to have the confusion of being there if Marie de Vionnet should tell you anything to my detriment.”
He looked as if he considerably doubted. “You even then would have had to face it on your return.”
“Oh if I had found reason to believe it something very bad I’d have left you altogether.”
“So then,” he continued, “it was only on guessing she had been on the whole merciful that you ventured back?”
Maria kept it together. “I owe her thanks. Whatever her temptation she didn’t separate us. That’s one of my reasons,” she went on “for admiring her so.”
“Let it pass then,” said Strether, “for one of mine as well. But what would have been her temptation?”
“What are ever the temptations of women?”
He thought—but hadn’t, naturally, to think too long. “Men?”
“She would have had you, with it, more for herself. But she saw she could have you without it.”
“Oh ‘have’ me!” Strether a trifle ambiguously sighed. “YOU,” he handsomely declared, “would have had me at any rate WITH it.”
“Oh ‘have’ you!”—she echoed it as he had done. “I do have you, however,” she less ironically said, “from the moment you express a wish.”
He stopped before her, full of the disposition. “I’ll express fifty.”
Which indeed begot in her, with a certain inconsequence, a return of her small wail. “Ah there you are!”
There, if it were so, he continued for the rest of the time to be, and it was as if to show her how she could still serve him that, coming back to the departure of the Pococks, he gave her the view, vivid with a hundred more touches than we can reproduce, of what had happened for him that morning. He had had ten minutes with Sarah at her hotel, ten minutes reconquered, by irresistible pressure, from the time over which he had already described her to Miss Gostrey as having, at the end of their interview on his own premises, passed the great sponge of the future. He had caught her by not announcing himself, had found her in her sitting-room with a dressmaker and a lingere whose accounts she appeared to have been more or less ingenuously settling and who soon withdrew. Then he had explained to her how he had succeeded, late the night before, in keeping his promise of seeing Chad. “I told her I’d take it all.”
“You’d ‘take’ it?”
“Why if he doesn’t go.”
Maria waited. “And who takes it if he does?” she enquired with a certain grimness of gaiety.
“Well,” said Strether, “I think I take, in any event, everything.”
“By which I suppose you mean,” his companion brought out after a moment, “that you definitely understand you now lose everything.”
He stood before her again. “It does come perhaps to the same thing. But Chad, now that he has seen, doesn’t really want it.”
She could believe that, but she made, as always, for clearness. “Still, what, after all, HAS he seen?”
“What they want of him. And it’s enough.”
“It contrasts so unfavourably with what Madame de Vionnet wants?”
“It contrasts—just so; all round, and tremendously.”
“Therefore, perhaps, most of all with what YOU want?”
“Oh,” said Strether, “what I want is a thing I’ve ceased to measure or even to understand.”
But his friend none the less went on. “Do you want Mrs. Newsome—after such a way of treating you?”
It was a straighter mode of dealing with this lady than they had as yet—such was their high form—permitted themselves; but it seemed not wholly for this that he delayed a moment. “I dare say it has been, after all, the only way she could have imagined.”
“And does that make you want her any more?”
“I’ve tremendously disappointed her,” Strether thought it worth while to mention.
“Of course you have. That’s rudimentary; that was plain to us long ago. But isn’t it almost as plain,” Maria went on, “that you’ve even yet your straight remedy? Really drag him away, as I believe you still can, and you’d cease to have to count with her disappointment.”
“Ah then,” he laughed, “I should have to count with yours!”
But this barely struck her now. “What, in that case, should you call counting? You haven’t come out where you are, I think, to please ME.”
“Oh,” he insisted, “that too, you know, has been part of it. I can’t separate—it’s all one; and that’s perhaps why, as I say, I don’t understand.” But he was ready to declare again that this didn’t in the least matter; all the more that, as he affirmed, he HADn’t really as yet “come out.” “She gives me after all, on its coming to the pinch, a last mercy, another chance. They don’t sail, you see, for five or six weeks more, and they haven’t—she admits that—expected Chad would take part in their tour. It’s still open to him to join them, at the last, at Liverpool.”
Miss Gostrey considered. “How in the world is it ‘open’ unless you open it? How can he join them at Liverpool if he but sinks deeper into his situation here?”
“He has given her—as I explained to you that she let me know yesterday—his word of honour to do as I say.”
Maria stared. “But if you say nothing!”
Well, he as usual walked about on it. “I did say something this morning. I gave her my answer—the word I had promised her after hearing from himself what HE had promised. What she demanded of me yesterday, you’ll remember, was the engagement then and there to make him take up this vow.”
“Well then,” Miss Gostrey enquired, “was the purpose of your visit to her only to decline?”
“No; it was to ask, odd as that may seem to you, for another delay.”
“Ah that’s weak!”
“Precisely!” She had spoken with impatience, but, so far as that at least, he knew where he was. “If I AM weak I want to find it out. If I don’t find it out I shall have the comfort, the little glory, of thinking I’m strong.”
“It’s all the comfort, I judge,” she returned, “that you WILL have!”
“At any rate,” he said, “it will have been a month more. Paris may grow, from day to day, hot and dusty, as you say; but there are other things that are hotter and dustier. I’m not afraid to stay on; the summer here must be amusing in a wild—if it isn’t a tame—way of its own; the place at no time more picturesque. I think I shall like it. And then,” he benevolently smiled for her, “there will be always you.”
“Oh,” she objected, “it won’t be as a part of the picturesqueness that I shall stay, for I shall be the plainest thing about you. You may, you see, at any rate,” she pursued, “have nobody else. Madame de Vionnet may very well be going off, mayn’t she?—and Mr. Newsome by the same stroke: unless indeed you’ve had an assurance from them to the contrary. So that if your idea’s to stay for them”—it was her duty to suggest it—”you may be left in the lurch. Of course if they do stay”—she kept it up—”they would be part of the picturesqueness. Or else indeed you might join them somewhere.”
Strether seemed to face it as if it were a happy thought; but the next moment he spoke more critically. “Do you mean that they’ll probably go off together?”
She just considered. “I think it will be treating you quite without ceremony if they do; though after all,” she added, “it would be difficult to see now quite what degree of ceremony properly meets your case.”
“Of course,” Strether conceded, “my attitude toward them is extraordinary.”
“Just so; so that one may ask one’s self what style of proceeding on their own part can altogether match it. The attitude of their own that won’t pale in its light they’ve doubtless still to work out. The really handsome thing perhaps,” she presently threw off, “WOULD be for them to withdraw into more secluded conditions, offering at the same time to share them with you.” He looked at her, on this, as if some generous irritation—all in his interest—had suddenly again flickered in her; and what she next said indeed half-explained it. “Don’t really be afraid to tell me if what now holds you IS the pleasant prospect of the empty town, with plenty of seats in the shade, cool drinks, deserted museums, drives to the Bois in the evening, and our wonderful woman all to yourself.” And she kept it up still more. “The handsomest thing of ALL, when one makes it out, would, I dare say, be that Mr. Chad should for a while go off by himself. It’s a pity, from that point of view,” she wound up, “that he doesn’t pay his mother a visit. It would at least occupy your interval.” The thought in fact held her a moment. “Why doesn’t he pay his mother a visit? Even a week, at this good moment, would do.”
“My dear lady,” Strether replied—and he had it even to himself surprisingly ready—”my dear lady, his mother has paid HIM a visit. Mrs. Newsome has been with him, this month, with an intensity that I’m sure he has thoroughly felt; he has lavishly entertained her, and she has let him have her thanks. Do you suggest he shall go back for more of them?”
Well, she succeeded after a little in shaking it off. “I see. It’s what you don’t suggest—what you haven’t suggested. And you know.”
“So would you, my dear,” he kindly said, “if you had so much as seen her.”
“As seen Mrs. Newsome?”
“No, Sarah—which, both for Chad and for myself, has served all the purpose.”
“And served it in a manner,” she responsively mused, “so extraordinary!”
“Well, you see,” he partly explained, “what it comes to is that she’s all cold thought—which Sarah could serve to us cold without its really losing anything. So it is that we know what she thinks of us.”
Maria had followed, but she had an arrest. “What I’ve never made out, if you come to that, is what you think—I mean you personally—of HER. Don’t you so much, when all’s said, as care a little?”
“That,” he answered with no loss of promptness, “is what even Chad himself asked me last night. He asked me if I don’t mind the loss—well, the loss of an opulent future. Which moreover,” he hastened to add, “was a perfectly natural question.”
“I call your attention, all the same,” said Miss Gostrey, “to the fact that I don’t ask it. What I venture to ask is whether it’s to Mrs. Newsome herself that you’re indifferent.”
“I haven’t been so”—he spoke with all assurance. “I’ve been the very opposite. I’ve been, from the first moment, preoccupied with the impression everything might be making on her—quite oppressed, haunted, tormented by it. I’ve been interested ONLY in her seeing what I’ve seen. And I’ve been as disappointed in her refusal to see it as she has been in what has appeared to her the perversity of my insistence.”
“Do you mean that she has shocked you as you’ve shocked her?”
Strether weighed it. “I’m probably not so shockable. But on the other hand I’ve gone much further to meet her. She, on her side, hasn’t budged an inch.”
“So that you’re now at last”—Maria pointed the moral—”in the sad stage of recriminations.”
“No—it’s only to you I speak. I’ve been like a lamb to Sarah. I’ve only put my back to the wall. It’s to THAT one naturally staggers when one has been violently pushed there.”
She watched him a moment. “Thrown over?”
“Well, as I feel I’ve landed somewhere I think I must have been thrown.”
She turned it over, but as hoping to clarify much rather than to harmonise. “The thing is that I suppose you’ve been disappointing—”
“Quite from the very first of my arrival? I dare say. I admit I was surprising even to myself.”
“And then of course,” Maria went on, “I had much to do with it.”
“With my being surprising—?”
“That will do,” she laughed, “if you’re too delicate to call it MY being! Naturally,” she added, “you came over more or less for surprises.”
“Naturally!”—he valued the reminder.
“But they were to have been all for you”—she continued to piece it out—”and none of them for HER.”
Once more he stopped before her as if she had touched the point. “That’s just her difficulty—that she doesn’t admit surprises. It’s a fact that, I think, describes and represents her; and it falls in with what I tell you—that she’s all, as I’ve called it, fine cold thought. She had, to her own mind, worked the whole thing out in advance, and worked it out for me as well as for herself. Whenever she has done that, you see, there’s no room left; no margin, as it were, for any alteration. She’s filled as full, packed as tight, as she’ll hold and if you wish to get anything more or different either out or in—”
“You’ve got to make over altogether the woman herself?”
“What it comes to,” said Strether, “is that you’ve got morally and intellectually to get rid of her.”
“Which would appear,” Maria returned, “to be practically what you’ve done.”
But her friend threw back his head. “I haven’t touched her. She won’t BE touched. I see it now as I’ve never done; and she hangs together with a perfection of her own,” he went on, “that does suggest a kind of wrong in ANY change of her composition. It was at any rate,” he wound up, “the woman herself, as you call her the whole moral and intellectual being or block, that Sarah brought me over to take or to leave.”
It turned Miss Gostrey to deeper thought. “Fancy having to take at the point of the bayonet a whole moral and intellectual being or block!”
“It was in fact,” said Strether, “what, at home, I HAD done. But somehow over there I didn’t quite know it.”
“One never does, I suppose,” Miss Gostrey concurred, “realise in advance, in such a case, the size, as you may say, of the block. Little by little it looms up. It has been looming for you more and more till at last you see it all.”
“I see it all,” he absently echoed, while his eyes might have been fixing some particularly large iceberg in a cool blue northern sea. “It’s magnificent!” he then rather oddly exclaimed.
But his friend, who was used to this kind of inconsequence in him, kept the thread. “There’s nothing so magnificent—for making others feel you—as to have no imagination.”
It brought him straight round. “Ah there you are! It’s what I said last night to Chad. That he himself, I mean, has none.”
“Then it would appear,” Maria suggested, “that he has, after all, something in common with his mother.”
“He has in common that he makes one, as you say, ‘feel’ him. And yet,” he added, as if the question were interesting, “one feels others too, even when they have plenty.”
Miss Gostrey continued suggestive. “Madame de Vionnet?”
“SHE has plenty.”
“Certainly—she had quantities of old. But there are different ways of making one’s self felt.”
“Yes, it comes, no doubt, to that. You now—”
He was benevolently going on, but she wouldn’t have it. “Oh I DON’T make myself felt; so my quantity needn’t be settled. Yours, you know,” she said, “is monstrous. No one has ever had so much.”
It struck him for a moment. “That’s what Chad also thinks.”
“There YOU are then—though it isn’t for him to complain of it!”
“Oh he doesn’t complain of it,” said Strether.
“That’s all that would be wanting! But apropos of what,” Maria went on, “did the question come up?”
“Well, of his asking me what it is I gain.”
She had a pause. “Then as I’ve asked you too it settles my case. Oh you HAVE,” she repeated, “treasures of imagination.”
But he had been for an instant thinking away from this, and he came up in another place. “And yet Mrs. Newsome—it’s a thing to remember—HAS imagined, did, that is, imagine, and apparently still does, horrors about what I should have found. I was booked, by her vision—extraordinarily intense, after all—to find them; and that I didn’t, that I couldn’t, that, as she evidently felt, I wouldn’t—this evidently didn’t at all, as they say, ‘suit’ her book. It was more than she could bear. That was her disappointment.”
“You mean you were to have found Chad himself horrible?”
“I was to have found the woman.”
“Found her as she imagined her.” And Strether paused as if for his own expression of it he could add no touch to that picture.
His companion had meanwhile thought. “She imagined stupidly—so it comes to the same thing.”
“Stupidly? Oh!” said Strether.
But she insisted. “She imagined meanly.”
He had it, however, better. “It couldn’t but be ignorantly.”
“Well, intensity with ignorance—what do you want worse?”
This question might have held him, but he let it pass. “Sarah isn’t ignorant—now; she keeps up the theory of the horrible.”
“Ah but she’s intense—and that by itself will do sometimes as well. If it doesn’t do, in this case, at any rate, to deny that Marie’s charming, it will do at least to deny that she’s good.”
“What I claim is that she’s good for Chad.”
“You don’t claim”—she seemed to like it clear—”that she’s good for YOU.”
But he continued without heeding. “That’s what I wanted them to come out for—to see for themselves if she’s bad for him.”
“And now that they’ve done so they won’t admit that she’s good even for anything?”
“They do think,” Strether presently admitted, “that she’s on the whole about as bad for me. But they’re consistent of course, inasmuch as they’ve their clear view of what’s good for both of us.”
“For you, to begin with”—Maria, all responsive, confined the question for the moment—”to eliminate from your existence and if possible even from your memory the dreadful creature that I must gruesomely shadow forth for them, even more than to eliminate the distincter evil—thereby a little less portentous—of the person whose confederate you’ve suffered yourself to become. However, that’s comparatively simple. You can easily, at the worst, after all, give me up.”
“I can easily at the worst, after all, give you up.” The irony was so obvious that it needed no care. “I can easily at the worst, after all, even forget you.”
“Call that then workable. But Mr. Newsome has much more to forget. How can HE do it?”
“Ah there again we are! That’s just what I was to have made him do; just where I was to have worked with him and helped.”
She took it in silence and without attenuation—as if perhaps from very familiarity with the facts; and her thought made a connexion without showing the links. “Do you remember how we used to talk at Chester and in London about my seeing you through?” She spoke as of far-off things and as if they had spent weeks at the places she named.
“It’s just what you ARE doing.”
“Ah but the worst—since you’ve left such a margin—may be still to come. You may yet break down.”
“Yes, I may yet break down. But will you take me—?”
He had hesitated, and she waited. “Take you?”
“For as long as I can bear it.”
She also debated “Mr. Newsome and Madame de Vionnet may, as we were saying, leave town. How long do you think you can bear it without them?”
Strether’s reply to this was at first another question. “Do you mean in order to get away from me?”
Her answer had an abruptness. “Don’t find me rude if I say I should think they’d want to!”
He looked at her hard again—seemed even for an instant to have an intensity of thought under which his colour changed. But he smiled. “You mean after what they’ve done to me?”
“After what SHE has.”
At this, however, with a laugh, he was all right again. “Ah but she hasn’t done it yet!”
He had taken the train a few days after this from a station—as well as to a station—selected almost at random; such days, whatever should happen, were numbered, and he had gone forth under the impulse—artless enough, no doubt—to give the whole of one of them to that French ruralism, with its cool special green, into which he had hitherto looked only through the little oblong window of the picture-frame. It had been as yet for the most part but a land of fancy for him—the background of fiction, the medium of art, the nursery of letters; practically as distant as Greece, but practically also well-nigh as consecrated. Romance could weave itself, for Strether’s sense, out of elements mild enough; and even after what he had, as he felt, lately “been through,” he could thrill a little at the chance of seeing something somewhere that would remind him of a certain small Lambinet that had charmed him, long years before, at a Boston dealer’s and that he had quite absurdly never forgotten. It had been offered, he remembered, at a price he had been instructed to believe the lowest ever named for a Lambinet, a price he had never felt so poor as on having to recognise, all the same, as beyond a dream of possibility. He had dreamed—had turned and twisted possibilities for an hour: it had been the only adventure of his life in connexion with the purchase of a work of art. The adventure, it will be perceived, was modest; but the memory, beyond all reason and by some accident of association, was sweet. The little Lambinet abode with him as the picture he WOULD have bought—the particular production that had made him for the moment overstep the modesty of nature. He was quite aware that if he were to see it again he should perhaps have a drop or a shock, and he never found himself wishing that the wheel of time would turn it up again, just as he had seen it in the maroon-coloured, sky-lighted inner shrine of Tremont Street. It would be a different thing, however, to see the remembered mixture resolved back into its elements—to assist at the restoration to nature of the whole far-away hour: the dusty day in Boston, the background of the Fitchburg Depot, of the maroon-coloured sanctum, the special-green vision, the ridiculous price, the poplars, the willows, the rushes, the river, the sunny silvery sky, the shady woody horizon.
He observed in respect to his train almost no condition save that it should stop a few times after getting out of the banlieue; he threw himself on the general amiability of the day for the hint of where to alight. His theory of his excursion was that he could alight anywhere—not nearer Paris than an hour’s run—on catching a suggestion of the particular note required. It made its sign, the suggestion—weather, air, light, colour and his mood all favouring—at the end of some eighty minutes; the train pulled up just at the right spot, and he found himself getting out as securely as if to keep an appointment. It will be felt of him that he could amuse himself, at his age, with very small things if it be again noted that his appointment was only with a superseded Boston fashion. He hadn’t gone far without the quick confidence that it would be quite sufficiently kept. The oblong gilt frame disposed its enclosing lines; the poplars and willows, the reeds and river—a river of which he didn’t know, and didn’t want to know, the name—fell into a composition, full of felicity, within them; the sky was silver and turquoise and varnish; the village on the left was white and the church on the right was grey; it was all there, in short—it was what he wanted: it was Tremont Street, it was France, it was Lambinet. Moreover he was freely walking about in it. He did this last, for an hour, to his heart’s content, making for the shady woody horizon and boring so deep into his impression and his idleness that he might fairly have got through them again and reached the maroon-coloured wall. It was a wonder, no doubt, that the taste of idleness for him shouldn’t need more time to sweeten; but it had in fact taken the few previous days; it had been sweetening in truth ever since the retreat of the Pococks. He walked and walked as if to show himself how little he had now to do; he had nothing to do but turn off to some hillside where he might stretch himself and hear the poplars rustle, and whence—in the course of an afternoon so spent, an afternoon richly suffused too with the sense of a book in his pocket—he should sufficiently command the scene to be able to pick out just the right little rustic inn for an experiment in respect to dinner. There was a train back to Paris at 9.20, and he saw himself partaking, at the close of the day, with the enhancements of a coarse white cloth and a sanded door, of something fried and felicitous, washed down with authentic wine; after which he might, as he liked, either stroll back to his station in the gloaming or propose for the local carriole and converse with his driver, a driver who naturally wouldn’t fail of a stiff clean blouse, of a knitted nightcap and of the genius of response—who, in fine, would sit on the shafts, tell him what the French people were thinking, and remind him, as indeed the whole episode would incidentally do, of Maupassant. Strether heard his lips, for the first time in French air, as this vision assumed consistency, emit sounds of expressive intention without fear of his company. He had been afraid of Chad and of Maria and of Madame de Vionnet; he had been most of all afraid of Waymarsh, in whose presence, so far as they had mixed together in the light of the town, he had never without somehow paying for it aired either his vocabulary or his accent. He usually paid for it by meeting immediately afterwards Waymarsh’s eye.
Such were the liberties with which his fancy played after he had turned off to the hillside that did really and truly, as well as most amiably, await him beneath the poplars, the hillside that made him feel, for a murmurous couple of hours, how happy had been his thought. He had the sense of success, of a finer harmony in things; nothing but what had turned out as yet according to his plan. It most of all came home to him, as he lay on his back on the grass, that Sarah had really gone, that his tension was really relaxed; the peace diffused in these ideas might be delusive, but it hung about him none the less for the time. It fairly, for half an hour, sent him to sleep; he pulled his straw hat over his eyes—he had bought it the day before with a reminiscence of Waymarsh’s—and lost himself anew in Lambinet. It was as if he had found out he was tired—tired not from his walk, but from that inward exercise which had known, on the whole, for three months, so little intermission. That was it—when once they were off he had dropped; this moreover was what he had dropped to, and now he was touching bottom. He was kept luxuriously quiet, soothed and amused by the consciousness of what he had found at the end of his descent. It was very much what he had told Maria Gostrey he should like to stay on for, the hugely-distributed Paris of summer, alternately dazzling and dusky, with a weight lifted for him off its columns and cornices and with shade and air in the flutter of awnings as wide as avenues. It was present to him without attenuation that, reaching out, the day after making the remark, for some proof of his freedom, he had gone that very afternoon to see Madame de Vionnet. He had gone again the next day but one, and the effect of the two visits, the after-sense of the couple of hours spent with her, was almost that of fulness and frequency. The brave intention of frequency, so great with him from the moment of his finding himself unjustly suspected at Woollett, had remained rather theoretic, and one of the things he could muse about under his poplars was the source of the special shyness that had still made him careful. He had surely got rid of it now, this special shyness; what had become of it if it hadn’t precisely, within the week, rubbed off?
It struck him now in fact as sufficiently plain that if he had still been careful he had been so for a reason. He had really feared, in his behaviour, a lapse from good faith; if there was a danger of one’s liking such a woman too much one’s best safety was in waiting at least till one had the right to do so. In the light of the last few days the danger was fairly vivid; so that it was proportionately fortunate that the right was likewise established. It seemed to our friend that he had on each occasion profited to the utmost by the latter: how could he have done so more, he at all events asked himself, than in having immediately let her know that, if it was all the same to her, he preferred not to talk about anything tiresome? He had never in his life so sacrificed an armful of high interests as in that remark; he had never so prepared the way for the comparatively frivolous as in addressing it to Madame de Vionnet’s intelligence. It hadn’t been till later that he quite recalled how in conjuring away everything but the pleasant he had conjured away almost all they had hitherto talked about; it was not till later even that he remembered how, with their new tone, they hadn’t so much as mentioned the name of Chad himself. One of the things that most lingered with him on his hillside was this delightful facility, with such a woman, of arriving at a new tone; he thought, as he lay on his back, of all the tones she might make possible if one were to try her, and at any rate of the probability that one could trust her to fit them to occasions. He had wanted her to feel that, as he was disinterested now, so she herself should be, and she had showed she felt it, and he had showed he was grateful, and it had been for all the world as if he were calling for the first time. They had had other, but irrelevant, meetings; it was quite as if, had they sooner known how much they REALLY had in common, there were quantities of comparatively dull matters they might have skipped. Well, they were skipping them now, even to graceful gratitude, even to handsome “Don’t mention it!”—and it was amazing what could still come up without reference to what had been going on between them. It might have been, on analysis, nothing more than Shakespeare and the musical glasses; but it had served all the purpose of his appearing to have said to her: “Don’t like me, if it’s a question of liking me, for anything obvious and clumsy that I’ve, as they call it, ‘done’ for you: like me—well, like me, hang it, for anything else you choose. So, by the same propriety, don’t be for me simply the person I’ve come to know through my awkward connexion with Chad—was ever anything, by the way, MORE awkward? Be for me, please, with all your admirable tact and trust, just whatever I may show you it’s a present pleasure to me to think you.” It had been a large indication to meet; but if she hadn’t met it what HAD she done, and how had their time together slipped along so smoothly, mild but not slow, and melting, liquefying, into his happy illusion of idleness? He could recognise on the other hand that he had probably not been without reason, in his prior, his restricted state, for keeping an eye on his liability to lapse from good faith.
He really continued in the picture—that being for himself his situation—all the rest of this rambling day; so that the charm was still, was indeed more than ever upon him when, toward six o’clock he found himself amicably engaged with a stout white-capped deep-voiced woman at the door of the auberge of the biggest village, a village that affected him as a thing of whiteness, blueness and crookedness, set in coppery green, and that had the river flowing behind or before it—one couldn’t say which; at the bottom, in particular, of the inn-garden. He had had other adventures before this; had kept along the height, after shaking off slumber; had admired, had almost coveted, another small old church, all steep roof and dim slate-colour without and all whitewash and paper flowers within; had lost his way and had found it again; had conversed with rustics who struck him perhaps a little more as men of the world than he had expected; had acquired at a bound a fearless facility in French; had had, as the afternoon waned, a watery bock, all pale and Parisian, in the cafe of the furthest village, which was not the biggest; and had meanwhile not once overstepped the oblong gilt frame. The frame had drawn itself out for him, as much as you please; but that was just his luck. He had finally come down again to the valley, to keep within touch of stations and trains, turning his face to the quarter from which he had started; and thus it was that he had at last pulled up before the hostess of the Cheval Blanc, who met him, with a rough readiness that was like the clatter of sabots over stones, on their common ground of a cotelette de veau a l’oseille and a subsequent lift. He had walked many miles and didn’t know he was tired; but he still knew he was amused, and even that, though he had been alone all day, he had never yet so struck himself as engaged with others and in midstream of his drama. It might have passed for finished his drama, with its catastrophe all but reached: it had, however, none the less been vivid again for him as he thus gave it its fuller chance. He had only had to be at last well out of it to feel it, oddly enough, still going on.
For this had been all day at bottom the spell of the picture—that it was essentially more than anything else a scene and a stage, that the very air of the play was in the rustle of the willows and the tone of the sky. The play and the characters had, without his knowing it till now, peopled all his space for him, and it seemed somehow quite happy that they should offer themselves, in the conditions so supplied, with a kind of inevitability. It was as if the conditions made them not only inevitable, but so much more nearly natural and right as that they were at least easier, pleasanter, to put up with. The conditions had nowhere so asserted their difference from those of Woollett as they appeared to him to assert it in the little court of the Cheval Blanc while he arranged with his hostess for a comfortable climax. They were few and simple, scant and humble, but they were THE THING, as he would have called it, even to a greater degree than Madame de Vionnet’s old high salon where the ghost of the Empire walked. “The” thing was the thing that implied the greatest number of other things of the sort he had had to tackle; and it was queer of course, but so it was—the implication here was complete. Not a single one of his observations but somehow fell into a place in it; not a breath of the cooler evening that wasn’t somehow a syllable of the text. The text was simply, when condensed, that in THESE places such things were, and that if it was in them one elected to move about one had to make one’s account with what one lighted on. Meanwhile at all events it was enough that they did affect one—so far as the village aspect was concerned—as whiteness, crookedness and blueness set in coppery green; there being positively, for that matter, an outer wall of the White Horse that was painted the most improbable shade. That was part of the amusement—as if to show that the fun was harmless; just as it was enough, further, that the picture and the play seemed supremely to melt together in the good woman’s broad sketch of what she could do for her visitor’s appetite. He felt in short a confidence, and it was general, and it was all he wanted to feel. It suffered no shock even on her mentioning that she had in fact just laid the cloth for two persons who, unlike Monsieur, had arrived by the river—in a boat of their own; who had asked her, half an hour before, what she could do for them, and had then paddled away to look at something a little further up—from which promenade they would presently return. Monsieur might meanwhile, if he liked, pass into the garden, such as it was, where she would serve him, should he wish it—for there were tables and benches in plenty—a “bitter” before his repast. Here she would also report to him on the possibility of a conveyance to his station, and here at any rate he would have the agrement of the river.
It may be mentioned without delay that Monsieur had the agrement of everything, and in particular, for the next twenty minutes, of a small and primitive pavilion that, at the garden’s edge, almost overhung the water, testifying, in its somewhat battered state, to much fond frequentation. It consisted of little more than a platform, slightly raised, with a couple of benches and a table, a protecting rail and a projecting roof; but it raked the full grey-blue stream, which, taking a turn a short distance above, passed out of sight to reappear much higher up; and it was clearly in esteemed requisition for Sundays and other feasts. Strether sat there and, though hungry, felt at peace; the confidence that had so gathered for him deepened with the lap of the water, the ripple of the surface, the rustle of the reeds on the opposite bank, the faint diffused coolness and the slight rock of a couple of small boats attached to a rough landing-place hard by. The valley on the further side was all copper-green level and glazed pearly sky, a sky hatched across with screens of trimmed trees, which looked flat, like espaliers; and though the rest of the village straggled away in the near quarter the view had an emptiness that made one of the boats suggestive. Such a river set one afloat almost before one could take up the oars—the idle play of which would be moreover the aid to the full impression. This perception went so far as to bring him to his feet; but that movement, in turn, made him feel afresh that he was tired, and while he leaned against a post and continued to look out he saw something that gave him a sharper arrest.
What he saw was exactly the right thing—a boat advancing round the bend and containing a man who held the paddles and a lady, at the stern, with a pink parasol. It was suddenly as if these figures, or something like them, had been wanted in the picture, had been wanted more or less all day, and had now drifted into sight, with the slow current, on purpose to fill up the measure. They came slowly, floating down, evidently directed to the landing-place near their spectator and presenting themselves to him not less clearly as the two persons for whom his hostess was already preparing a meal. For two very happy persons he found himself straightway taking them—a young man in shirt-sleeves, a young woman easy and fair, who had pulled pleasantly up from some other place and, being acquainted with the neighbourhood, had known what this particular retreat could offer them. The air quite thickened, at their approach, with further intimations; the intimation that they were expert, familiar, frequent—that this wouldn’t at all events be the first time. They knew how to do it, he vaguely felt—and it made them but the more idyllic, though at the very moment of the impression, as happened, their boat seemed to have begun to drift wide, the oarsman letting it go. It had by this time none the less come much nearer—near enough for Strether to dream the lady in the stern had for some reason taken account of his being there to watch them. She had remarked on it sharply, yet her companion hadn’t turned round; it was in fact almost as if our friend had felt her bid him keep still. She had taken in something as a result of which their course had wavered, and it continued to waver while they just stood off. This little effect was sudden and rapid, so rapid that Strether’s sense of it was separate only for an instant from a sharp start of his own. He too had within the minute taken in something, taken in that he knew the lady whose parasol, shifting as if to hide her face, made so fine a pink point in the shining scene. It was too prodigious, a chance in a million, but, if he knew the lady, the gentleman, who still presented his back and kept off, the gentleman, the coatless hero of the idyll, who had responded to her start, was, to match the marvel, none other than Chad.
Chad and Madame de Vionnet were then like himself taking a day in the country—though it was as queer as fiction, as farce, that their country could happen to be exactly his; and she had been the first at recognition, the first to feel, across the water, the shock—for it appeared to come to that—of their wonderful accident. Strether became aware, with this, of what was taking place—that her recognition had been even stranger for the pair in the boat, that her immediate impulse had been to control it, and that she was quickly and intensely debating with Chad the risk of betrayal. He saw they would show nothing if they could feel sure he hadn’t made them out; so that he had before him for a few seconds his own hesitation. It was a sharp fantastic crisis that had popped up as if in a dream, and it had had only to last the few seconds to make him feel it as quite horrible. They were thus, on either side, TRYING the other side, and all for some reason that broke the stillness like some unprovoked harsh note. It seemed to him again, within the limit, that he had but one thing to do—to settle their common question by some sign of surprise and joy. He hereupon gave large play to these things, agitating his hat and his stick and loudly calling out—a demonstration that brought him relief as soon as he had seen it answered. The boat, in mid-stream, still went a little wild—which seemed natural, however, while Chad turned round, half springing up; and his good friend, after blankness and wonder, began gaily to wave her parasol. Chad dropped afresh to his paddles and the boat headed round, amazement and pleasantry filling the air meanwhile, and relief, as Strether continued to fancy, superseding mere violence. Our friend went down to the water under this odd impression as of violence averted—the violence of their having “cut” him, out there in the eye of nature, on the assumption that he wouldn’t know it. He awaited them with a face from which he was conscious of not being able quite to banish this idea that they would have gone on, not seeing and not knowing, missing their dinner and disappointing their hostess, had he himself taken a line to match. That at least was what darkened his vision for the moment. Afterwards, after they had bumped at the landing-place and he had assisted their getting ashore, everything found itself sponged over by the mere miracle of the encounter.
They could so much better at last, on either side, treat it as a wild extravagance of hazard, that the situation was made elastic by the amount of explanation called into play. Why indeed—apart from oddity—the situation should have been really stiff was a question naturally not practical at the moment, and in fact, so far as we are concerned, a question tackled, later on and in private, only by Strether himself. He was to reflect later on and in private that it was mainly HE who had explained—as he had had moreover comparatively little difficulty in doing. He was to have at all events meanwhile the worrying thought of their perhaps secretly suspecting him of having plotted this coincidence, taking such pains as might be to give it the semblance of an accident. That possibility—as their imputation—didn’t of course bear looking into for an instant; yet the whole incident was so manifestly, arrange it as they would, an awkward one, that he could scarce keep disclaimers in respect to his own presence from rising to his lips. Disclaimers of intention would have been as tactless as his presence was practically gross; and the narrowest escape they either of them had was his lucky escape, in the event, from making any. Nothing of the sort, so far as surface and sound were involved, was even in question; surface and sound all made for their common ridiculous good fortune, for the general invraisemblance of the occasion, for the charming chance that they had, the others, in passing, ordered some food to be ready, the charming chance that he had himself not eaten, the charming chance, even more, that their little plans, their hours, their train, in short, from la-bas, would all match for their return together to Paris. The chance that was most charming of all, the chance that drew from Madame de Vionnet her clearest, gayest “Comme cela se trouve!” was the announcement made to Strether after they were seated at table, the word given him by their hostess in respect to his carriage for the station, on which he might now count. It settled the matter for his friends as well; the conveyance—it WAS all too lucky!—would serve for them; and nothing was more delightful than his being in a position to make the train so definite. It might have been, for themselves—to hear Madame de Vionnet—almost unnaturally vague, a detail left to be fixed; though Strether indeed was afterwards to remember that Chad had promptly enough intervened to forestall this appearance, laughing at his companion’s flightiness and making the point that he had after all, in spite of the bedazzlement of a day out with her, known what he was about.
Strether was to remember afterwards further that this had had for him the effect of forming Chad’s almost sole intervention; and indeed he was to remember further still, in subsequent meditation, many things that, as it were, fitted together. Another of them was for instance that the wonderful woman’s overflow of surprise and amusement was wholly into French, which she struck him as speaking with an unprecedented command of idiomatic turns, but in which she got, as he might have said, somewhat away from him, taking all at once little brilliant jumps that he could but lamely match. The question of his own French had never come up for them; it was the one thing she wouldn’t have permitted—it belonged, for a person who had been through much, to mere boredom; but the present result was odd, fairly veiling her identity, shifting her back into a mere voluble class or race to the intense audibility of which he was by this time inured. When she spoke the charming slightly strange English he best knew her by he seemed to feel her as a creature, among all the millions, with a language quite to herself, the real monopoly of a special shade of speech, beautifully easy for her, yet of a colour and a cadence that were both inimitable and matters of accident. She came back to these things after they had shaken down in the inn-parlour and knew, as it were, what was to become of them; it was inevitable that loud ejaculation over the prodigy of their convergence should at last wear itself out. Then it was that his impression took fuller form—the impression, destined only to deepen, to complete itself, that they had something to put a face upon, to carry off and make the best of, and that it was she who, admirably on the whole, was doing this. It was familiar to him of course that they had something to put a face upon; their friendship, their connexion, took any amount of explaining—that would have been made familiar by his twenty minutes with Mrs. Pocock if it hadn’t already been so. Yet his theory, as we know, had bountifully been that the facts were specifically none of his business, and were, over and above, so far as one had to do with them, intrinsically beautiful; and this might have prepared him for anything, as well as rendered him proof against mystification. When he reached home that night, however, he knew he had been, at bottom, neither prepared nor proof; and since we have spoken of what he was, after his return, to recall and interpret, it may as well immediately be said that his real experience of these few hours put on, in that belated vision—for he scarce went to bed till morning—the aspect that is most to our purpose.
He then knew more or less how he had been affected—he but half knew at the time. There had been plenty to affect him even after, as has been said, they had shaken down; for his consciousness, though muffled, had its sharpest moments during this passage, a marked drop into innocent friendly Bohemia. They then had put their elbows on the table, deploring the premature end of their two or three dishes; which they had tried to make up with another bottle while Chad joked a little spasmodically, perhaps even a little irrelevantly, with the hostess. What it all came to had been that fiction and fable WERE, inevitably, in the air, and not as a simple term of comparison, but as a result of things said; also that they were blinking it, all round, and that they yet needn’t, so much as that, have blinked it—though indeed if they hadn’t Strether didn’t quite see what else they could have done. Strether didn’t quite see THAT even at an hour or two past midnight, even when he had, at his hotel, for a long time, without a light and without undressing, sat back on his bedroom sofa and stared straight before him. He was, at that point of vantage, in full possession, to make of it all what he could. He kept making of it that there had been simply a LIE in the charming affair—a lie on which one could now, detached and deliberate, perfectly put one’s finger. It was with the lie that they had eaten and drunk and talked and laughed, that they had waited for their carriole rather impatiently, and had then got into the vehicle and, sensibly subsiding, driven their three or four miles through the darkening summer night. The eating and drinking, which had been a resource, had had the effect of having served its turn; the talk and laughter had done as much; and it was during their somewhat tedious progress to the station, during the waits there, the further delays, their submission to fatigue, their silences in the dim compartment of the much-stopping train, that he prepared himself for reflexions to come. It had been a performance, Madame de Vionnet’s manner, and though it had to that degree faltered toward the end, as through her ceasing to believe in it, as if she had asked herself, or Chad had found a moment surreptitiously to ask her, what after all was the use, a performance it had none the less quite handsomely remained, with the final fact about it that it was on the whole easier to keep up than to abandon.
From the point of view of presence of mind it had been very wonderful indeed, wonderful for readiness, for beautiful assurance, for the way her decision was taken on the spot, without time to confer with Chad, without time for anything. Their only conference could have been the brief instants in the boat before they confessed to recognising the spectator on the bank, for they hadn’t been alone together a moment since and must have communicated all in silence. It was a part of the deep impression for Strether, and not the least of the deep interest, that they COULD so communicate—that Chad in particular could let her know he left it to her. He habitually left things to others, as Strether was so well aware, and it in fact came over our friend in these meditations that there had been as yet no such vivid illustration of his famous knowing how to live. It was as if he had humoured her to the extent of letting her lie without correction—almost as if, really, he would be coming round in the morning to set the matter, as between Strether and himself, right. Of course he couldn’t quite come; it was a case in which a man was obliged to accept the woman’s version, even when fantastic; if she had, with more flurry than she cared to show, elected, as the phrase was, to represent that they had left Paris that morning, and with no design but of getting back within the day—if she had so sized-up, in the Woollett phrase, their necessity, she knew best her own measure. There were things, all the same, it was impossible to blink and which made this measure an odd one—the too evident fact for instance that she hadn’t started out for the day dressed and hatted and shod, and even, for that matter, pink parasol’d, as she had been in the boat. From what did the drop in her assurance proceed as the tension increased—from what did this slightly baffled ingenuity spring but from her consciousness of not presenting, as night closed in, with not so much as a shawl to wrap her round, an appearance that matched her story? She admitted that she was cold, but only to blame her imprudence which Chad suffered her to give such account of as she might. Her shawl and Chad’s overcoat and her other garments, and his, those they had each worn the day before, were at the place, best known to themselves—a quiet retreat enough, no doubt—at which they had been spending the twenty-four hours, to which they had fully meant to return that evening, from which they had so remarkably swum into Strether’s ken, and the tacit repudiation of which had been thus the essence of her comedy. Strether saw how she had perceived in a flash that they couldn’t quite look to going back there under his nose; though, honestly, as he gouged deeper into the matter, he was somewhat surprised, as Chad likewise had perhaps been, at the uprising of this scruple. He seemed even to divine that she had entertained it rather for Chad than for herself, and that, as the young man had lacked the chance to enlighten her, she had had to go on with it, he meanwhile mistaking her motive.
He was rather glad, none the less, that they had in point of fact not parted at the Cheval Blanc, that he hadn’t been reduced to giving them his blessing for an idyllic retreat down the river. He had had in the actual case to make-believe more than he liked, but this was nothing, it struck him, to what the other event would have required. Could he, literally, quite have faced the other event? Would he have been capable of making the best of it with them? This was what he was trying to do now; but with the advantage of his being able to give more time to it a good deal counteracted by his sense of what, over and above the central fact itself, he had to swallow. It was the quantity of make-believe involved and so vividly exemplified that most disagreed with his spiritual stomach. He moved, however, from the consideration of that quantity—to say nothing of the consciousness of that organ—back to the other feature of the show, the deep, deep truth of the intimacy revealed. That was what, in his vain vigil, he oftenest reverted to: intimacy, at such a point, was LIKE that—and what in the world else would one have wished it to be like? It was all very well for him to feel the pity of its being so much like lying; he almost blushed, in the dark, for the way he had dressed the possibility in vagueness, as a little girl might have dressed her doll. He had made them—and by no fault of their own—momentarily pull it for him, the possibility, out of this vagueness; and must he not therefore take it now as they had had simply, with whatever thin attenuations, to give it to him? The very question, it may be added, made him feel lonely and cold. There was the element of the awkward all round, but Chad and Madame de Vionnet had at least the comfort that they could talk it over together. With whom could HE talk of such things?—unless indeed always, at almost any stage, with Maria? He foresaw that Miss Gostrey would come again into requisition on the morrow; though it wasn’t to be denied that he was already a little afraid of her “What on earth—that’s what I want to know now—had you then supposed?” He recognised at last that he had really been trying all along to suppose nothing. Verily, verily, his labour had been lost. He found himself supposing innumerable and wonderful things.