Sunday, October 7, 2007


The Ambassadors, by Henry James - I

Project Gutenberg Edition of The Ambassadors, by Henry James.
New York Edition (1909).
Volume I
Nothing is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambassadors,"
which first appeared in twelve numbers of _The North American Review_
(1903) and was published as a whole the same year. The situation
involved is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of
Book Fifth, for the reader's benefit, into as few words as possible--
planted or "sunk," stiffly and saliently, in the centre of the current,
almost perhaps to the obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition
of this sort have sprung straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion,
and never can that grain, developed, overgrown and smothered, have yet
lurked more in the mass as an independent particle. The whole case,
in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible outbreak to little Bilham
on the Sunday afternoon in Gloriani's garden, the candour with which he
yields, for his young friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition
of that crisis. The idea of the tale resides indeed in the very fact
that an hour of such unprecedented ease should have been felt by him AS
a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly as we could
desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utterance contain the essence of
"The Ambassadors," his fingers close, before he has done, round the
stem of the full-blown flower; which, after that fashion, he continues
officiously to present to us. "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to.
It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular so long as you
have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? I'm too
old--too old at any rate for what I see. What one loses one loses;
make no mistake about that. Still, we have the illusion of freedom;
therefore don't, like me to-day, be without the memory of that illusion.
I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it,
and now I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like
so long as you don't make it. For it WAS a mistake. Live, live!"
Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the impressed youth, whom
he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word "mistake" occurs
several times, it will be seen, in the course of his remarks--
which gives the measure of the signal warning he feels attached
to his case. He has accordingly missed too much, though perhaps
after all constitutionally qualified for a better part, and he wakes up
to it in conditions that press the spring of a terrible question.
WOULD there yet perhaps be time for reparation?--reparation, that is,
for the injury done his character; for the affront, he is quite ready to
say, so stupidly put upon it and in which he has even himself had
so clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all events SEES;
so that the business of my tale and the march of my action, not to say
the precious moral of everything, is just my demonstration of this
process of vision.
Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole fits again
into its germ. That had been given me bodily, as usual, by the
spoken word, for I was to take the image over exactly as I
happened to have met it. A friend had repeated to me, with great
appreciation, a thing or two said to him by a man of distinction,
much his senior, and to which a sense akin to that of Strether's
melancholy eloquence might be imputed--said as chance would have,
and so easily might, in Paris, and in a charming old garden
attached to a house of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer,
many persons of great interest being present. The observation
there listened to and gathered up had contained part of the "note"
that I was to recognise on the spot as to my purpose--had contained
in fact the greater part; the rest was in the place and the time
and the scene they sketched: these constituents clustered
and combined to give me further support, to give me what I may
call the note absolute. There it stands, accordingly, full in the
tideway; driven in, with hard taps, like some strong stake for the
noose of a cable, the swirl of the current roundabout it. What
amplified the hint to more than the bulk of hints in general was
the gift with it of the old Paris garden, for in that token were
sealed up values infinitely precious. There was of course the seal
to break and each item of the packet to count over and handle and
estimate; but somehow, in the light of the hint, all the elements
of a situation of the sort most to my taste were there. I could
even remember no occasion on which, so confronted, I had found it
of a livelier interest to take stock, in this fashion, of
suggested wealth. For I think, verily, that there are degrees of
merit in subjects--in spite of the fact that to treat even one of
the most ambiguous with due decency we must for the time, for the
feverish and prejudiced hour, at least figure its merit and its
dignity as POSSIBLY absolute. What it comes to, doubtless, is that
even among the supremely good--since with such alone is it one's
theory of one's honour to be concerned--there is an ideal BEAUTY
of goodness the invoked action of which is to raise the artistic
faith to its maximum. Then truly, I hold, one's theme may be said
to shine, and that of "The Ambassadors," I confess, wore this glow
for me from beginning to end. Fortunately thus I am able to
estimate this as, frankly, quite the best, "all round," of all my
productions; any failure of that justification would have made
such an extreme of complacency publicly fatuous.
I recall then in this connexion no moment of subjective
intermittence, never one of those alarms as for a suspected hollow
beneath one's feet, a felt ingratitude in the scheme adopted,
under which confidence fails and opportunity seems but to mock.
If the motive of "The Wings of the Dove," as I have noted, was to
worry me at moments by a sealing-up of its face--though without
prejudice to its again, of a sudden, fairly grimacing with
expression--so in this other business I had absolute conviction
and constant clearness to deal with; it had been a frank
proposition, the whole bunch of data, installed on my premises
like a monotony of fine weather. (The order of composition, in
these things, I may mention, was reversed by the order of
publication; the earlier written of the two books having appeared
as the later.) Even under the weight of my hero's years I could
feel my postulate firm; even under the strain of the difference
between those of Madame de Vionnet and those of Chad Newsome, a
difference liable to be denounced as shocking, I could still feel
it serene. Nothing resisted, nothing betrayed, I seem to make out,
in this full and sound sense of the matter; it shed from any side
I could turn it to the same golden glow. I rejoiced in the promise
of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the more to bite
into--since it's only into thickened motive and accumulated
character, I think, that the painter of life bites more than a
little. My poor friend should have accumulated character,
certainly; or rather would be quite naturally and handsomely
possessed of it, in the sense that he would have, and would always
have felt he had, imagination galore, and that this yet wouldn't
have wrecked him. It was immeasurable, the opportunity to "do" a
man of imagination, for if THERE mightn't be a chance to "bite,"
where in the world might it be? This personage of course, so
enriched, wouldn't give me, for his type, imagination in
PREDOMINANCE or as his prime faculty, nor should I, in view of
other matters, have found that convenient. So particular a luxury
--some occasion, that is, for study of the high gift in SUPREME
command of a case or of a career--would still doubtless come on
the day I should be ready to pay for it; and till then might, as
from far back, remain hung up well in view and just out of reach.
The comparative case meanwhile would serve--it was only on the
minor scale that I had treated myself even to comparative cases.
I was to hasten to add however that, happy stopgaps as the minor
scale had thus yielded, the instance in hand should enjoy the
advantage of the full range of the major; since most immediately
to the point was the question of that SUPPLEMENT of situation
logically involved in our gentleman's impulse to deliver himself
in the Paris garden on the Sunday afternoon--or if not involved by
strict logic then all ideally and enchantingly implied in it. (I
say "ideally," because I need scarce mention that for development,
for expression of its maximum, my glimmering story was, at the
earliest stage, to have nipped the thread of connexion with the
possibilities of the actual reported speaker. HE remains but the
happiest of accidents; his actualities, all too definite,
precluded any range of possibilities; it had only been his
charming office to project upon that wide field of the artist's
vision--which hangs there ever in place like the white sheet
suspended for the figures of a child's magic-lantern--a more
fantastic and more moveable shadow.) No privilege of the teller of
tales and the handler of puppets is more delightful, or has more
of the suspense and the thrill of a game of difficulty
breathlessly played, than just this business of looking for the
unseen and the occult, in a scheme half-grasped, by the light or,
so to speak, by the clinging scent, of the gage already in hand.
No dreadful old pursuit of the hidden slave with bloodhounds and
the rag of association can ever, for "excitement," I judge, have
bettered it at its best. For the dramatist always, by the very law
of his genius, believes not only in a possible right issue from
the rightly-conceived tight place; he does much more than this--he
believes, irresistibly, in the necessary, the precious "tightness"
of the place (whatever the issue) on the strength of any
respectable hint. It being thus the respectable hint that I had
with such avidity picked up, what would be the story to which it
would most inevitably form the centre? It is part of the charm
attendant on such questions that the "story," with the omens true,
as I say, puts on from this stage the authenticity of concrete
existence. It then is, essentially--it begins to be, though it may
more or less obscurely lurk, so that the point is not in the least
what to make of it, but only, very delightfully and very damnably,
where to put one's hand on it.
In which truth resides surely much of the interest of that
admirable mixture for salutary application which we know as art.
Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute full-handed
that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in
the garden of life--which material elsewhere grown is stale and
uneatable. But it has no sooner done this than it has to take
account of a PROCESS--from which only when it's the basest of the
servants of man, incurring ignominious dismissal with no
"character," does it, and whether under some muddled pretext of
morality or on any other, pusillanimously edge away. The process,
that of the expression, the literal squeezing-out, of value is
another affair--with which the happy luck of mere finding has
little to do. The joys of finding, at this stage, are pretty well
over; that quest of the subject as a whole by "matching," as the
ladies say at the shops, the big piece with the snippet, having
ended, we assume, with a capture. The subject is found, and if the
problem is then transferred to the ground of what to do with it
the field opens out for any amount of doing. This is precisely the
infusion that, as I submit, completes the strong mixture. It is on
the other hand the part of the business that can least be likened
to the chase with horn and hound. It's all a sedentary part--
involves as much ciphering, of sorts, as would merit the highest
salary paid to a chief accountant. Not, however, that the chief
accountant hasn't HIS gleams of bliss; for the felicity, or at
least the equilibrium of the artist's state dwells less, surely,
in the further delightful complications he can smuggle in than in
those he succeeds in keeping out. He sows his seed at the risk of
too thick a crop; wherefore yet again, like the gentlemen who
audit ledgers, he must keep his head at any price. In consequence
of all which, for the interest of the matter, I might seem here to
have my choice of narrating my "hunt" for Lambert Strether, of
describing the capture of the shadow projected by my friend's
anecdote, or of reporting on the occurrences subsequent to that
triumph. But I had probably best attempt a little to glance in
each direction; since it comes to me again and again, over this
licentious record, that one's bag of adventures, conceived or
conceivable, has been only half-emptied by the mere telling of
one's story. It depends so on what one means by that equivocal
quantity. There is the story of one's hero, and then, thanks to
the intimate connexion of things, the story of one's story itself.
I blush to confess it, but if one's a dramatist one's a dramatist,
and the latter imbroglio is liable on occasion to strike me as
really the more objective of the two.
The philosophy imputed to him in that beautiful outbreak, the hour
there, amid such happy provision, striking for him, would have
been then, on behalf of my man of imagination, to be logically
and, as the artless craft of comedy has it, "led up" to; the
probable course to such a goal, the goal of so conscious a
predicament, would have in short to be finely calculated. Where
has he come from and why has he come, what is he doing (as we
Anglo-Saxons, and we only, say, in our foredoomed clutch of exotic
aids to expression) in that galere? To answer these questions
plausibly, to answer them as under cross-examination in the
witness-box by counsel for the prosecution, in other words
satisfactorily to account for Strether and for his "peculiar
tone," was to possess myself of the entire fabric. At the same
time the clue to its whereabouts would lie in a certain principle
of probability: he wouldn't have indulged in his peculiar tone
without a reason; it would take a felt predicament or a false
position to give him so ironic an accent. One hadn't been noting
"tones" all one's life without recognising when one heard it the
voice of the false position. The dear man in the Paris garden was
then admirably and unmistakeably IN one--which was no small point
gained; what next accordingly concerned us was the determination
of THIS identity. One could only go by probabilities, but there
was the advantage that the most general of the probabilities were
virtual certainties. Possessed of our friend's nationality, to
start with, there was a general probability in his narrower
localism; which, for that matter, one had really but to keep under
the lens for an hour to see it give up its secrets. He would have
issued, our rueful worthy, from the very heart of New England--at
the heels of which matter of course a perfect train of secrets
tumbled for me into the light. They had to be sifted and sorted,
and I shall not reproduce the detail of that process; but
unmistakeably they were all there, and it was but a question,
auspiciously, of picking among them. What the "position" would
infallibly be, and why, on his hands, it had turned "false"--these
inductive steps could only be as rapid as they were distinct. I
accounted for everything--and "everything" had by this time become
the most promising quantity--by the view that he had come to Paris
in some state of mind which was literally undergoing, as a result
of new and unexpected assaults and infusions, a change almost from
hour to hour. He had come with a view that might have been figured
by a clear green liquid, say, in a neat glass phial; and the
liquid, once poured into the open cup of APPLICATION, once exposed
to the action of another air, had begun to turn from green to red,
or whatever, and might, for all he knew, be on its way to purple,
to black, to yellow. At the still wilder extremes represented
perhaps, for all he could say to the contrary, by a variability so
violent, he would at first, naturally, but have gazed in surprise
and alarm; whereby the SITUATION clearly would spring from the
play of wildness and the development of extremes. I saw in a
moment that, should this development proceed both with force and
logic, my "story" would leave nothing to be desired. There is
always, of course, for the story-teller, the irresistible
determinant and the incalculable advantage of his interest in the
story AS SUCH; it is ever, obviously, overwhelmingly, the prime
and precious thing (as other than this I have never been able to
see it); as to which what makes for it, with whatever headlong
energy, may be said to pale before the energy with which it simply
makes for itself. It rejoices, none the less, at its best, to seem
to offer itself in a light, to seem to know, and with the very
last knowledge, what it's about--liable as it yet is at moments to
be caught by us with its tongue in its cheek and absolutely no
warrant but its splendid impudence. Let us grant then that the
impudence is always there--there, so to speak, for grace and
effect and ALLURE; there, above all, because the Story is just the
spoiled child of art, and because, as we are always disappointed
when the pampered don't "play up," we like it, to that extent, to
look all its character. It probably does so, in truth, even when
we most flatter ourselves that we negotiate with it by treaty.
All of which, again, is but to say that the STEPS, for my fable,
placed themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional
assurance--an air quite as of readiness to have dispensed with
logic had I been in fact too stupid for my clue. Never,
positively, none the less, as the links multiplied, had I felt
less stupid than for the determination of poor Strether's errand
and for the apprehension of his issue. These things continued to
fall together, as by the neat action of their own weight and form,
even while their commentator scratched his head about them; he
easily sees now that they were always well in advance of him. As
the case completed itself he had in fact, from a good way behind,
to catch up with them, breathless and a little flurried, as he
best could. THE false position, for our belated man of the world--
belated because he had endeavoured so long to escape being one,
and now at last had really to face his doom--the false position
for him, I say, was obviously to have presented himself at the
gate of that boundless menagerie primed with a moral scheme of the
most approved pattern which was yet framed to break down on any
approach to vivid facts; that is to any at all liberal
appreciation of them. There would have been of course the case of
the Strether prepared, wherever presenting himself, only to judge
and to feel meanly; but HE would have moved for me, I confess,
enveloped in no legend whatever. The actual man's note, from the
first of our seeing it struck, is the note of discrimination, just
as his drama is to become, under stress, the drama of
discrimination. It would have been his blest imagination, we have
seen, that had already helped him to discriminate; the element
that was for so much of the pleasure of my cutting thick, as I
have intimated, into his intellectual, into his moral substance.
Yet here it was, at the same time, just here, that a shade for a
moment fell across the scene.
There was the dreadful little old tradition, one of the platitudes
of the human comedy, that people's moral scheme DOES break down in
Paris; that nothing is more frequently observed; that hundreds of
thousands of more or less hypocritical or more or less cynical
persons annually visit the place for the sake of the probable
catastrophe, and that I came late in the day to work myself up
about it. There was in fine the TRIVIAL association, one of the
vulgarest in the world; but which give me pause no longer, I
think, simply because its vulgarity is so advertised. The
revolution performed by Strether under the influence of the most
interesting of great cities was to have nothing to do with any
betise of the imputably "tempted" state; he was to be thrown
forward, rather, thrown quite with violence, upon his lifelong
trick of intense reflexion: which friendly test indeed was to
bring him out, through winding passages, through alternations of
darkness and light, very much IN Paris, but with the surrounding
scene itself a minor matter, a mere symbol for more things than
had been dreamt of in the philosophy of Woollett. Another
surrounding scene would have done as well for our show could it
have represented a place in which Strether's errand was likely to
lie and his crisis to await him. The LIKELY place had the great
merit of sparing me preparations; there would have been too many
involved--not at all impossibilities, only rather worrying and
delaying difficulties--in positing elsewhere Chad Newsome's
interesting relation, his so interesting complexity of relations.
Strether's appointed stage, in fine, could be but Chad's most
luckily selected one. The young man had gone in, as they say, for
circumjacent charm; and where he would have found it, by the turn
of his mind, most "authentic," was where his earnest friend's analysis
would most find HIM; as well as where, for that matter, the former's
whole analytic faculty would be led such a wonderful dance.
"The Ambassadors" had been, all conveniently, "arranged for"; its
first appearance was from month to month, in the _North American
Review_ during 1903, and I had been open from far back to any
pleasant provocation for ingenuity that might reside in one's
actively adopting--so as to make it, in its way, a small compositional
law--recurrent breaks and resumptions. I had made up my mind here
regularly to exploit and enjoy these often rather rude jolts--
having found, as I believed an admirable way to it; yet every question
of form and pressure, I easily remember, paled in the light of the
major propriety, recognised as soon as really weighed; that of
employing but one centre and keeping it all within my hero's compass.
The thing was to be so much this worthy's intimate adventure that
even the projection of his consciousness upon it from beginning to end
without intermission or deviation would probably still leave a part of
its value for him, and a fortiori for ourselves, unexpressed.
I might, however, express every grain of it that there would be
room for--on condition of contriving a splendid particular economy.
Other persons in no small number were to people the scene, and each
with his or her axe to grind, his or her situation to treat, his or her
coherency not to fail of, his or her relation to my leading motive,
in a word, to establish and carry on. But Strether's sense of these
things, and Strether's only, should avail me for showing them;
I should know them but through his more or less groping knowledge
of them, since his very gropings would figure among his most interesting
motions, and a full observance of the rich rigour I speak of would
give me more of the effect I should be most "after" than all other
possible observances together. It would give me a large unity,
and that in turn would crown me with the grace to which the
enlightened story-teller will at any time, for his interest,
sacrifice if need be all other graces whatever. I refer of course
to the grace of intensity, which there are ways of signally achieving
and ways of signally missing--as we see it, all round us, helplessly
and woefully missed. Not that it isn't, on the other hand, a virtue
eminently subject to appreciation--there being no strict, no absolute
measure of it; so that one may hear it acclaimed where it has quite
escaped one's perception, and see it unnoticed where one has gratefully
hailed it. After all of which I am not sure, either, that the immense
amusement of the whole cluster of difficulties so arrayed may not operate,
for the fond fabulist, when judicious not less than fond, as his best of
determinants. That charming principle is always there, at all events,
to keep interest fresh: it is a principle, we remember, essentially
ravenous, without scruple and without mercy, appeased with no cheap
nor easy nourishment. It enjoys the costly sacrifice and rejoices
thereby in the very odour of difficulty--even as ogres, with their
"Fee-faw-fum!" rejoice in the smell of the blood of Englishmen.
Thus it was, at all events, that the ultimate, though after all so
speedy, definition of my gentleman's job--his coming out, all
solemnly appointed and deputed, to "save" Chad, and his then
finding the young man so disobligingly and, at first, so
bewilderingly not lost that a new issue altogether, in the
connexion, prodigiously faces them, which has to be dealt with in
a new light--promised as many calls on ingenuity and on the higher
branches of the compositional art as one could possibly desire.
Again and yet again, as, from book to book, I proceed with my
survey, I find no source of interest equal to this verification
after the fact, as I may call it, and the more in detail the
better, of the scheme of consistency "gone in" for. As always--
since the charm never fails--the retracing of the process from
point to point brings back the old illusion. The old intentions
bloom again and flower--in spite of all the blossoms they were to
have dropped by the way. This is the charm, as I say, of adventure
TRANSPOSED--the thrilling ups and downs, the intricate ins and
outs of the compositional problem, made after such a fashion
admirably objective, becoming the question at issue and keeping
the author's heart in his mouth. Such an element, for instance, as
his intention that Mrs. Newsome, away off with her finger on the
pulse of Massachusetts, should yet be no less intensely than
circuitously present through the whole thing, should be no less
felt as to be reckoned with than the most direct exhibition, the
finest portrayal at first hand could make her, such a sign of
artistic good faith, I say, once it's unmistakeably there, takes
on again an actuality not too much impaired by the comparative
dimness of the particular success. Cherished intention too
inevitably acts and operates, in the book, about fifty times as
little as I had fondly dreamt it might; but that scarce spoils for
me the pleasure of recognising the fifty ways in which I had
sought to provide for it. The mere charm of seeing such an idea
constituent, in its degree; the fineness of the measures taken--a
real extension, if successful, of the very terms and possibilities
of representation and figuration--such things alone were, after
this fashion, inspiring, such things alone were a gage of the
probable success of that dissimulated calculation with which the
whole effort was to square. But oh the cares begotten, none the
less, of that same "judicious" sacrifice to a particular form of
interest! One's work should have composition, because composition
alone is positive beauty; but all the while--apart from one's
inevitable consciousness too of the dire paucity of readers ever
recognising or ever missing positive beauty--how, as to the cheap
and easy, at every turn, how, as to immediacy and facility, and
even as to the commoner vivacity, positive beauty might have to be
sweated for and paid for! Once achieved and installed it may
always be trusted to make the poor seeker feel he would have
blushed to the roots of his hair for failing of it; yet, how, as
its virtue can be essentially but the virtue of the whole, the
wayside traps set in the interest of muddlement and pleading but
the cause of the moment, of the particular bit in itself, have to
be kicked out of the path! All the sophistications in life, for
example, might have appeared to muster on behalf of the menace--
the menace to a bright variety--involved in Strether's having all
the subjective "say," as it were, to himself.
Had I, meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, endowed him
with the romantic privilege of the "first person"--the darkest
abyss of romance this, inveterately, when enjoyed on the grand
scale--variety, and many other queer matters as well, might have
been smuggled in by a back door. Suffice it, to be brief, that the
first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness
and that looseness, never much my affair, had never been so little
so as on this particular occasion. All of which reflexions flocked
to the standard from the moment--a very early one--the question of
how to keep my form amusing while sticking so close to my central
figure and constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced.
He arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of
giving his creator "no end" to tell about him--before which
rigorous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed.
I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough to
reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one substitute
for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail to another. I
couldn't, save by implication, make other persons tell EACH OTHER
about him--blest resource, blest necessity, of the drama, which
reaches its effects of unity, all remarkably, by paths absolutely
opposite to the paths of the novel: with other persons, save as
they were primarily HIS persons (not he primarily but one of
theirs), I had simply nothing to do. I had relations for him none
the less, by the mercy of Providence, quite as much as if my
exhibition was to be a muddle; if I could only by implication and
a show of consequence make other persons tell each other about
him, I could at least make him tell THEM whatever in the world he
must; and could so, by the same token--which was a further luxury
thrown in--see straight into the deep differences between what
that could do for me, or at all events for HIM, and the large ease
of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to one's
hero, one shouldn't make a single mouthful of "method," shouldn't
throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap there as free
as in "Gil Blas" or in "David Copperfield," equip him with the
double privilege of subject and object--a course that has at
least the merit of brushing away questions at a sweep. The answer
to which is, I think, that one makes that surrender only if one is
prepared NOT to make certain precious discriminations.
The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the author
directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has to reckon
with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely and
vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a
presumption of exposure to criticism. Strether, on the other hand,
encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and
provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and more
salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to
bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a word,
that forbid the terrible FLUIDITY of self-revelation. I may seem
not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, for my
first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a confidant or
two, to wave away with energy the custom of the seated mass of
explanation after the fact, the inserted block of merely
referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame of the
modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but which seems
simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, digestion.
"Harking back to make up" took at any rate more doing, as the
phrase is, not only than the reader of to-day demands, but than he
will tolerate at any price any call upon him either to understand
or remotely to measure; and for the beauty of the thing when done
the current editorial mind in particular appears wholly without
sense. It is not, however, primarily for either of these reasons,
whatever their weight, that Strether's friend Waymarsh is so
keenly clutched at, on the threshold of the book, or that no less
a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey--without even the pretext,
either, of HER being, in essence, Strether's friend. She is the
reader's friend much rather--in consequence of dispositions that
make him so eminently require one; and she acts in that capacity,
and REALLY in that capacity alone, with exemplary devotion from
beginning to and of the book. She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to
lucidity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most
unmitigated and abandoned of ficelles. Half the dramatist's art,
as we well know--since if we don't it's not the fault of the
proofs that lie scattered about us--is in the use of ficelles; by
which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence on them.
Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in the whole business,
less to my subject than to my treatment of it; the interesting
proof, in these connexions, being that one has but to take one's
subject for the stuff of drama to interweave with enthusiasm as
many Gostreys as need be.
The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in this respect
exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," published just before
it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; so that, availing
myself of the opportunity given me by this edition for some
prefatory remarks on the latter work, I had mainly to make on its
behalf the point of its scenic consistency. It disguises that
virtue, in the oddest way in the world, by just LOOKING, as we
turn its pages, as little scenic as possible; but it sharply
divides itself, just as the composition before us does, into the
parts that prepare, that tend in fact to over-prepare, for scenes,
and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that justify and
crown the preparation. It may definitely be said, I think, that
everything in it that is not scene (not, I of course mean,
complete and functional scene, treating ALL the submitted matter,
as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is
discriminated preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of picture.
These alternations propose themselves all recogniseably, I think,
from an early stage, as the very form and figure of "The
Ambassadors"; so that, to repeat, such an agent as Miss Gostrey
pre-engaged at a high salary, but waits in the draughty wing with
her shawl and her smelling-salts. Her function speaks at once for
itself, and by the time she has dined with Strether in London and
gone to a play with him her intervention as a ficelle is, I hold,
expertly justified. Thanks to it we have treated scenically, and
scenically alone, the whole lumpish question of Strether's "past,"
which has seen us more happily on the way than anything else could
have done; we have strained to a high lucidity and vivacity (or at
least we hope we have) certain indispensable facts; we have seen
our two or three immediate friends all conveniently and profitably
in "action"; to say nothing of our beginning to descry others, of
a remoter intensity, getting into motion, even if a bit vaguely as
yet, for our further enrichment. Let my first point be here that
the scene in question, that in which the whole situation at
Woollett and the complex forces that have propelled my hero to
where this lively extractor of his value and distiller of his
essence awaits him, is normal and entire, is really an excellent
STANDARD scene; copious, comprehensive, and accordingly never
short, but with its office as definite as that of the hammer on
the gong of the clock, the office of expressing ALL THAT IS IN the
The "ficelle" character of the subordinate party is as artfully
dissimulated, throughout, as may be, and to that extent that, with
the seams or joints of Maria Gostrey's ostensible connectedness
taken particular care of, duly smoothed over, that is, and
anxiously kept from showing as "pieced on;" this figure doubtless
achieves, after a fashion, something of the dignity of a prime
idea: which circumstance but shows us afresh how many quite
incalculable but none the less clear sources of enjoyment for the
infatuated artist, how many copious springs of our never-to-be-slighted
"fun" for the reader and critic susceptible of contagion, may
sound their incidental plash as soon as an artistic process begins
to enjoy free development. Exquisite--in illustration of this--
the mere interest and amusement of such at once "creative" and
critical questions as how and where and why to make Miss Gostrey's
false connexion carry itself, under a due high polish, as a real one.
Nowhere is it more of an artful expedient for mere consistency
of form, to mention a case, than in the last "scene" of the book,
where its function is to give or to add nothing whatever,
but only to express as vividly as possible certain things quite
other than itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed
measure. Since, however, all art is EXPRESSION, and is thereby
vividness, one was to find the door open here to any amount of
delightful dissimulation. These verily are the refinements and
ecstasies of method--amid which, or certainly under the influence
of any exhilarated demonstration of which, one must keep one's head
and not lose one's way. To cultivate an adequate intelligence
for them and to make that sense operative is positively to find
a charm in any produced ambiguity of appearance that is not
by the same stroke, and all helplessly, an ambiguity of sense.
To project imaginatively, for my hero, a relation that has
nothing to do with the matter (the matter of my subject) but has
everything to do with the manner (the manner of my presentation
of the same) and yet to treat it, at close quarters and for fully
economic expression's possible sake, as if it were important and
essential--to do that sort of thing and yet muddle nothing may
easily become, as one goes, a signally attaching proposition;
even though it all remains but part and parcel, I hasten to
recognise, of the merely general and related question of expressional
curiosity and expressional decency.
I am moved to add after so much insistence on the scenic side of
my labour that I have found the steps of re-perusal almost as much
waylaid here by quite another style of effort in the same signal
interest--or have in other words not failed to note how, even so
associated and so discriminated, the finest proprieties and charms
of the non-scenic may, under the right hand for them, still keep
their intelligibility and assert their office. Infinitely
suggestive such an observation as this last on the whole
delightful head, where representation is concerned, of possible
variety, of effective expressional change and contrast. One would
like, at such an hour as this, for critical licence, to go into
the matter of the noted inevitable deviation (from too fond an
original vision) that the exquisite treachery even of the
straightest execution may ever be trusted to inflict even on the
most mature plan--the case being that, though one's last
reconsidered production always seems to bristle with that
particular evidence, "The Ambassadors" would place a flood of such
light at my service. I must attach to my final remark here a
different import; noting in the other connexion I just glanced at
that such passages as that of my hero's first encounter with Chad
Newsome, absolute attestations of the non-scenic form though they
be, yet lay the firmest hand too--so far at least as intention
goes--on representational effect. To report at all closely and
completely of what "passes" on a given occasion is inevitably to
become more or less scenic; and yet in the instance I allude to,
WITH the conveyance, expressional curiosity and expressional
decency are sought and arrived at under quite another law. The
true inwardness of this may be at bottom but that one of the
suffered treacheries has consisted precisely, for Chad's whole
figure and presence, of a direct presentability diminished and
compromised--despoiled, that is, of its PROPORTIONAL advantage;
so that, in a word, the whole economy of his author's relation
to him has at important points to be redetermined. The book,
however, critically viewed, is touchingly full of these disguised
and repaired losses, these insidious recoveries, these intensely
redemptive consistencies. The pages in which Mamie Pocock gives
her appointed and, I can't but think, duly felt lift to the whole
action by the so inscrutably-applied side-stroke or short-cut of
our just watching and as quite at an angle of vision as yet
untried, her single hour of suspense in the hotel salon, in our
partaking of her concentrated study of the sense of matters
bearing on her own case, all the bright warm Paris afternoon, from
the balcony that overlooks the Tuileries garden--these are as
marked an example of the representational virtue that insists here
and there on being, for the charm of opposition and renewal, other
than the scenic. It wouldn't take much to make me further argue
that from an equal play of such oppositions the book gathers an
intensity that fairly adds to the dramatic--though the latter is
supposed to be the sum of all intensities; or that has at any rate
nothing to fear from juxtaposition with it. I consciously fail to
shrink in fact from that extravagance--I risk it rather, for the
sake of the moral involved; which is not that the particular
production before us exhausts the interesting questions it raises,
but that the Novel remains still, under the right persuasion, the
most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.
Book First
Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his
friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to
arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from
him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced
for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they
should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that
extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted
Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock,
that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of
it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without
disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with
all respect to dear old Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to
himself--there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't
see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as
operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men,
wholly instinctive--the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as
it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into
his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should
he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the
nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe. Mixed with
everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that
it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a
sufficient degree.
That note had been meanwhile--since the previous afternoon, thanks
to this happier device--such a consciousness of personal freedom as
he hadn't known for years; such a deep taste of change and of
having above all for the moment nobody and nothing to consider, as
promised already, if headlong hope were not too foolish, to colour
his adventure with cool success. There were people on the ship with
whom he had easily consorted--so far as ease could up to now be
imputed to him--and who for the most part plunged straight into the
current that set from the landing-stage to London; there were
others who had invited him to a tryst at the inn and had even
invoked his aid for a "look round" at the beauties of Liverpool;
but he had stolen away from every one alike, had kept no
appointment and renewed no acquaintance, had been indifferently
aware of the number of persons who esteemed themselves fortunate in
being, unlike himself, "met," and had even independently,
unsociably, alone, without encounter or relapse and by mere quiet
evasion, given his afternoon and evening to the immediate and the
sensible. They formed a qualified draught of Europe, an afternoon
and an evening on the banks of the Mersey, but such as it was he
took his potion at least undiluted. He winced a little, truly, at
the thought that Waymarsh might be already at Chester; he reflected
that, should he have to describe himself there as having "got in"
so early, it would be difficult to make the interval look
particularly eager; but he was like a man who, elatedly finding in
his pocket more money than usual, handles it a while and idly and
pleasantly chinks it before addressing himself to the business of
spending. That he was prepared to be vague to Waymarsh about the
hour of the ship's touching, and that he both wanted extremely to
see him and enjoyed extremely the duration of delay--these things,
it is to be conceived, were early signs in him that his relation to
his actual errand might prove none of the simplest. He was
burdened, poor Strether--it had better be confessed at the outset--
with the oddity of a double consciousness. There was detachment in
his zeal and curiosity in his indifference.
After the young woman in the glass cage had held up to him across
her counter the pale-pink leaflet bearing his friend's name, which
she neatly pronounced, he turned away to find himself, in the hall,
facing a lady who met his eyes as with an intention suddenly
determined, and whose features--not freshly young, not markedly
fine, but on happy terms with each other--came back to him as from
a recent vision. For a moment they stood confronted; then the
moment placed her: he had noticed her the day before, noticed her
at his previous inn, where--again in the hall--she had been briefly
engaged with some people of his own ship's company. Nothing had
actually passed between them, and he would as little have been able
to say what had been the sign of her face for him on the first
occasion as to name the ground of his present recognition.
Recognition at any rate appeared to prevail on her own side as
well--which would only have added to the mystery. All she now began
by saying to him nevertheless was that, having chanced to catch his
enquiry, she was moved to ask, by his leave, if it were possibly a
question of Mr. Waymarsh of Milrose Connecticut--Mr. Waymarsh the
American lawyer.
"Oh yes," he replied, "my very well-known friend. He's to meet me
here, coming up from Malvern, and I supposed he'd already have
arrived. But he doesn't come till later, and I'm relieved not to
have kept him. Do you know him?" Strether wound up.
It wasn't till after he had spoken that he became aware of how much
there had been in him of response; when the tone of her own
rejoinder, as well as the play of something more in her face--
something more, that is, than its apparently usual restless light--
seemed to notify him. "I've met him at Milrose--where I used
sometimes, a good while ago, to stay; I had friends there who were
friends of his, and I've been at his house. I won't answer for it
that he would know me," Strether's new acquaintance pursued; "but I
should be delighted to see him. Perhaps," she added, "I shall--for
I'm staying over." She paused while our friend took in these
things, and it was as if a good deal of talk had already passed.
They even vaguely smiled at it, and Strether presently observed
that Mr. Waymarsh would, no doubt, be easily to be seen. This,
however, appeared to affect the lady as if she might have advanced
too far. She appeared to have no reserves about anything. "Oh," she
said, "he won't care!"--and she immediately thereupon remarked that
she believed Strether knew the Munsters; the Munsters being the
people he had seen her with at Liverpool.
But he didn't, it happened, know the Munsters well enough to give
the case much of a lift; so that they were left together as if over
the mere laid table of conversation. Her qualification of the
mentioned connexion had rather removed than placed a dish, and
there seemed nothing else to serve. Their attitude remained, none
the less, that of not forsaking the board; and the effect of this
in turn was to give them the appearance of having accepted each
other with an absence of preliminaries practically complete. They
moved along the hall together, and Strether's companion threw off
that the hotel had the advantage of a garden. He was aware by this
time of his strange inconsequence: he had shirked the intimacies of
the steamer and had muffled the shock of Waymarsh only to find
himself forsaken, in this sudden case, both of avoidance and of
caution. He passed, under this unsought protection and before he
had so much as gone up to his room, into the garden of the hotel,
and at the end of ten minutes had agreed to meet there again, as
soon as he should have made himself tidy, the dispenser of such
good assurances. He wanted to look at the town, and they would
forthwith look together. It was almost as if she had been in
possession and received him as a guest. Her acquaintance with the
place presented her in a manner as a hostess, and Strether had a
rueful glance for the lady in the glass cage. It was as if this
personage had seen herself instantly superseded.
When in a quarter of an hour he came down, what his hostess saw,
what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the
lean, the slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and
something more perhaps than the middle age--a man of five-and-fifty,
whose most immediate signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face,
a thick dark moustache, of characteristically American cut,
growing strong and falling low, a head of hair still abundant
but irregularly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold free
prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been
called, of which, had a certain effect of mitigation. A perpetual
pair of glasses astride of this fine ridge, and a line, unusually
deep and drawn, the prolonged pen-stroke of time, accompanying the
curve of the moustache from nostril to chin, did something to
complete the facial furniture that an attentive observer would have
seen catalogued, on the spot, in the vision of the other party to
Strether's appointment. She waited for him in the garden, the other
party, drawing on a pair of singularly fresh soft and elastic light
gloves and presenting herself with a superficial readiness which,
as he approached her over the small smooth lawn and in the watery
English sunshine, he might, with his rougher preparation, have
marked as the model for such an occasion. She had, this lady, a
perfect plain propriety, an expensive subdued suitability, that her
companion was not free to analyse, but that struck him, so that his
consciousness of it was instantly acute, as a quality quite new to
him. Before reaching her he stopped on the grass and went through
the form of feeling for something, possibly forgotten, in the light
overcoat he carried on his arm; yet the essence of the act was no
more than the impulse to gain time. Nothing could have been odder
than Strether's sense of himself as at that moment launched in
something of which the sense would be quite disconnected from the
sense of his past and which was literally beginning there and then.
It had begun in fact already upstairs and before the dressing glass
that struck him as blocking further, so strangely, the dimness of
the window of his dull bedroom; begun with a sharper survey of the
elements of Appearance than he had for a long time been moved to
make. He had during those moments felt these elements to be not so
much to his hand as he should have liked, and then had fallen back
on the thought that they were precisely a matter as to which help
was supposed to come from what he was about to do. He was about to
go up to London, so that hat and necktie might wait. What had come
as straight to him as a ball in a well-played game--and caught
moreover not less neatly--was just the air, in the person of his
friend, of having seen and chosen, the air of achieved possession
of those vague qualities and quantities that collectively figured
to him as the advantage snatched from lucky chances. Without pomp
or circumstance, certainly, as her original address to him, equally
with his own response, had been, he would have sketched to himself
his impression of her as: "Well, she's more thoroughly civilized--!"
If "More thoroughly than WHOM?" would not have been for him a
sequel to this remark, that was just by reason of his deep
consciousness of the bearing of his comparison.
The amusement, at all events, of a civilisation intenser was what--
familiar compatriot as she was, with the full tone of the
compatriot and the rattling link not with mystery but only with
dear dyspeptic Waymarsh--she appeared distinctly to promise. His
pause while he felt in his overcoat was positively the pause of
confidence, and it enabled his eyes to make out as much of a case
for her, in proportion, as her own made out for himself. She
affected him as almost insolently young; but an easily carried
five-and-thirty could still do that. She was, however, like himself
marked and wan; only it naturally couldn't have been known to him
how much a spectator looking from one to the other might have
discerned that they had in common. It wouldn't for such a spectator
have been altogether insupposable that, each so finely brown and so
sharply spare, each confessing so to dents of surface and aids to
sight, to a disproportionate nose and a head delicately or grossly
grizzled, they might have been brother and sister. On this ground
indeed there would have been a residuum of difference; such a
sister having surely known in respect to such a brother the
extremity of separation, and such a brother now feeling in respect
to such a sister the extremity of surprise. Surprise, it was true,
was not on the other hand what the eyes of Strether's friend most
showed him while she gave him, stroking her gloves smoother, the
time he appreciated. They had taken hold of him straightway
measuring him up and down as if they knew how; as if he were human
material they had already in some sort handled. Their possessor was
in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases
or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for
convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon-holed her
fellow mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor
scattering type. She was as equipped in this particular as Strether
was the reverse, and it made an opposition between them which he
might well have shrunk from submitting to if he had fully suspected
it. So far as he did suspect it he was on the contrary, after a
short shake of his consciousness, as pleasantly passive as might
be. He really had a sort of sense of what she knew. He had quite
the sense that she knew things he didn't, and though this was a
concession that in general he found not easy to make to women, he
made it now as good-humouredly as if it lifted a burden. His eyes
were so quiet behind his eternal nippers that they might almost
have been absent without changing his face, which took its
expression mainly, and not least its stamp of sensibility, from
other sources, surface and grain and form. He joined his guide in
an instant, and then felt she had profited still better than he by
his having been for the moments just mentioned, so at the disposal
of her intelligence. She knew even intimate things about him that
he hadn't yet told her and perhaps never would. He wasn't unaware
that he had told her rather remarkably many for the time, but these
were not the real ones. Some of the real ones, however, precisely,
were what she knew.
They were to pass again through the hall of the inn to get into the
street, and it was here she presently checked him with a question.
"Have you looked up my name?"
He could only stop with a laugh. "Have you looked up mine?"
"Oh dear, yes--as soon as you left me. I went to the office and
asked. Hadn't YOU better do the same?"
He wondered. "Find out who you are?--after the uplifted young woman
there has seen us thus scrape acquaintance!"
She laughed on her side now at the shade of alarm in his amusement.
"Isn't it a reason the more? If what you're afraid of is the injury
for me--my being seen to walk off with a gentleman who has to ask
who I am--l assure you I don't in the least mind. Here, however,"
she continued, "is my card, and as I find there's something else
again I have to say at the office, you can just study it during the
moment I leave you."
She left him after he had taken from her the small pasteboard she
had extracted from her pocket-book, and he had extracted another
from his own, to exchange with it, before she came back. He read
thus the simple designation "Maria Gostrey," to which was attached,
in a corner of the card, with a number, the name of a street,
presumably in Paris, without other appreciable identity than its
foreignness. He put the card into his waistcoat pocket, keeping his
own meanwhile in evidence; and as he leaned against the door-post
he met with the smile of a straying thought what the expanse before
the hotel offered to his view. It was positively droll to him that
he should already have Maria Gostrey, whoever she was--of which he
hadn't really the least idea--in a place of safe keeping. He had
somehow an assurance that he should carefully preserve the little
token he had just tucked in. He gazed with unseeing lingering eyes
as he followed some of the implications of his act, asking himself
if he really felt admonished to qualify it as disloyal. It was
prompt, it was possibly even premature, and there was little doubt
of the expression of face the sight of it would have produced in a
certain person. But if it was "wrong"--why then he had better not
have come out at all. At this, poor man, had he already--and even
before meeting Waymarsh--arrived. He had believed he had a limit,
but the limit had been transcended within thirty-six hours. By how
long a space on the plane of manners or even of morals, moreover,
he felt still more sharply after Maria Gostrey had come back to him
and with a gay decisive "So now--!" led him forth into the world.
This counted, it struck him as he walked beside her with his
overcoat on an arm, his umbrella under another and his personal
pasteboard a little stiffly retained between forefinger and thumb,
this struck him as really, in comparison his introduction to
things. It hadn't been "Europe" at Liverpool no--not even in the
dreadful delightful impressive streets the night before--to the
extent his present companion made it so. She hadn't yet done that
so much as when, after their walk had lasted a few minutes and he
had had time to wonder if a couple of sidelong glances from her
meant that he had best have put on gloves she almost pulled him up
with an amused challenge. "But why--fondly as it's so easy to
imagine your clinging to it--don't you put it away? Or if it's an
inconvenience to you to carry it, one's often glad to have one's
card back. The fortune one spends in them!"
Then he saw both that his way of marching with his own prepared
tribute had affected her as a deviation in one of those directions
he couldn't yet measure, and that she supposed this emblem to be
still the one he had received from her. He accordingly handed her
the card as if in restitution, but as soon as she had it she felt
the difference and, with her eyes on it, stopped short for apology.
"I like," she observed, "your name."
"Oh," he answered, "you won't have heard of it!" Yet he had his
reasons for not being sure but that she perhaps might.
Ah it was but too visible! She read it over again as one who had
never seen it. "'Mr. Lewis Lambert Strether'"--she sounded it
almost as freely as for any stranger. She repeated however that she
liked it--"particularly the Lewis Lambert. It's the name of a novel
of Balzac's."
"Oh I know that!" said Strether.
"But the novel's an awfully bad one."
"I know that too," Strether smiled. To which he added with an
irrelevance that was only superficial: "I come from Woollett
Massachusetts." It made her for some reason--the irrelevance or
whatever--laugh. Balzac had described many cities, but hadn't
described Woollett Massachusetts. "You say that," she returned,
"as if you wanted one immediately to know the worst."
"Oh I think it's a thing," he said, "that you must already have
made out. I feel it so that I certainly must look it, speak it,
and, as people say there, 'act' it. It sticks out of me, and you
knew surely for yourself as soon as you looked at me."
"The worst, you mean?"
"Well, the fact of where I come from. There at any rate it IS; so
that you won't be able, if anything happens, to say I've not been
straight with you."
"I see"--and Miss Gostrey looked really interested in the point he
had made. "But what do you think of as happening?"
Though he wasn't shy--which was rather anomalous--Strether gazed
about without meeting her eyes; a motion that was frequent with him
in talk, yet of which his words often seemed not at all the effect.
"Why that you should find me too hopeless." With which they walked
on again together while she answered, as they went, that the most
"hopeless" of her countryfolk were in general precisely those she
liked best. All sorts of other pleasant small things-small things
that were yet large for him--flowered in the air of the occasion,
but the bearing of the occasion itself on matters still remote
concerns us too closely to permit us to multiply our illustrations.
Two or three, however, in truth, we should perhaps regret to lose.
The tortuous wall--girdle, long since snapped, of the little
swollen city, half held in place by careful civic hands--wanders in
narrow file between parapets smoothed by peaceful generations,
pausing here and there for a dismantled gate or a bridged gap, with
rises and drops, steps up and steps down, queer twists, queer
contacts, peeps into homely streets and under the brows of gables,
views of cathedral tower and waterside fields, of huddled English
town and ordered English country. Too deep almost for words was the
delight of these things to Strether; yet as deeply mixed with it
were certain images of his inward picture. He had trod this walks
in the far-off time, at twenty-five; but that, instead of spoiling
it, only enriched it for present feeling and marked his renewal as
a thing substantial enough to share. It was with Waymarsh he should
have shared it. and he was now accordingly taking from him
something that was his due. He looked repeatedly at his watch, and
when he had done so for the fifth time Miss Gostrey took him up.
"You're doing something that you think not right."
It so touched the place that he quite changed colour and his laugh
grew almost awkward. "Am I enjoying it as much as THAT?"
"You're not enjoying it, I think, so much as you ought."
"I see"--he appeared thoughtfully to agree. "Great is my privilege."
"Oh it's not your privilege! It has nothing to do with me. It has
to do with yourself. Your failure's general."
"Ah there you are!" he laughed. "It's the failure of Woollett.
THAT'S general."
"The failure to enjoy," Miss Gostrey explained, "is what I mean."
"Precisely. Woollett isn't sure it ought to enjoy. If it were it
would. But it hasn't, poor thing," Strether continued, "any one to
show it how. It's not like me. I have somebody."
They had stopped, in the afternoon sunshine--constantly pausing, in
their stroll, for the sharper sense of what they saw--and Strether
rested on one of the high sides of the old stony groove of the
little rampart. He leaned back on this support with his face to the
tower of the cathedral, now admirably commanded by their station,
the high red-brown mass, square and subordinately spired and
crocketed, retouched and restored, but charming to his long-sealed
eyes and with the first swallows of the year weaving their flight
all round it. Miss Gostrey lingered near him, full of an air, to
which she more and more justified her right, of understanding the
effect of things. She quite concurred. "You've indeed somebody."
And she added: "I wish you WOULD let me show you how!"
"Oh I'm afraid of you!" he cheerfully pleaded.
She kept on him a moment, through her glasses and through his own,
a certain pleasant pointedness. "Ah no, you're not! You're not in
the least, thank goodness! If you had been we shouldn't so soon
have found ourselves here together. I think," she comfortably
concluded, "you trust me."
"I think I do!--but that's exactly what I'm afraid of. I shouldn't
mind if I didn't. It's falling thus in twenty minutes so utterly
into your hands. I dare say," Strether continued, "it's a sort of
thing you're thoroughly familiar with; but nothing more
extraordinary has ever happened to me."
She watched him with all her kindness. "That means simply that
you've recognised me--which IS rather beautiful and rare. You see
what I am." As on this, however, he protested, with a good-humoured
headshake, a resignation of any such claim, she had a moment of
explanation. "If you'll only come on further as you HAVE come
you'll at any rate make out. My own fate has been too many for me,
and I've succumbed to it. I'm a general guide--to 'Europe,' don't
you know? I wait for people--l put them through. I pick them up--
I set them down. I'm a sort of superior 'courier-maid.' I'm a
companion at large. I take people, as I've told you, about. I never
sought it--it has come to me. It has been my fate, and one's fate
one accepts. It's a dreadful thing to have to say, in so wicked a
world, but I verily believe that, such as you see me, there's
nothing I don't know. I know all the shops and the prices--but I
know worse things still. I bear on my back the huge load of our
national consciousness, or, in other words--for it comes to that--
of our nation itself. Of what is our nation composed but of the men
and women individually on my shoulders? I don't do it, you know,
for any particular advantage. I don't do it, for instance--some
people do, you know--for money."
Strether could only listen and wonder and weigh his chance. "And
yet, affected as you are then to so many of your clients, you can
scarcely be said to do it for love." He waited a moment. "How do we
reward you?"
She had her own hesitation, but "You don't!" she finally returned,
setting him again in motion. They went on, but in a few minutes,
though while still thinking over what she had said, he once more
took out his watch; mechanically, unconsciously and as if made
nervous by the mere exhilaration of what struck him as her strange
and cynical wit. He looked at the hour without seeing it, and then,
on something again said by his companion, had another pause.
"You're really in terror of him."
He smiled a smile that he almost felt to be sickly. "Now you can
see why I'm afraid of you."
"Because I've such illuminations? Why they're all for your help!
It's what I told you," she added, "just now. You feel as if this
were wrong."
He fell back once more, settling himself against the parapet as if
to hear more about it. "Then get me out!"
Her face fairly brightened for the joy of the appeal, but, as if it
were a question of immediate action, she visibly considered. "Out
of waiting for him?--of seeing him at all?"
"Oh no--not that," said poor Strether, looking grave. "I've got to
wait for him--and I want very much to see him. But out of the
terror. You did put your finger on it a few minutes ago. It's
general, but it avails itself of particular occasions. That's what
it's doing for me now. I'm always considering something else;
something else, I mean, than the thing of the moment. The obsession
of the other thing is the terror. I'm considering at present for
instance something else than YOU."
She listened with charming earnestness. "Oh you oughtn't to do
"It's what I admit. Make it then impossible."
She continued to think. "Is it really an 'order' from you?--that I
shall take the job? WILL you give yourself up?"
Poor Strether heaved his sigh. "If I only could! But that's the
deuce of it--that I never can. No--I can't."
She wasn't, however, discouraged. "But you want to at least?"
"Oh unspeakably!"
"Ah then, if you'll try!"--and she took over the job, as she had
called it, on the spot. "Trust me!" she exclaimed, and the action
of this, as they retraced their steps, was presently to make him
pass his hand into her arm in the manner of a benign dependent
paternal old person who wishes to be "nice" to a younger one. If he
drew it out again indeed as they approached the inn this may have
been because, after more talk had passed between them, the relation
of age, or at least of experience--which, for that matter, had
already played to and fro with some freedom--affected him as
incurring a readjustment. It was at all events perhaps lucky that
they arrived in sufficiently separate fashion within range of the
hotel-door. The young lady they had left in the glass cage watched
as if she had come to await them on the threshold. At her side
stood a person equally interested, by his attitude, in their
return, and the effect of the sight of whom was instantly to
determine for Strether another of those responsive arrests that we
have had so repeatedly to note. He left it to Miss Gostrey to name,
with the fine full bravado as it almost struck him, of her
"Mr. Waymarsh!" what was to have been, what--he more than ever felt
as his short stare of suspended welcome took things in--would have
been, but for herself, his doom. It was already upon him even at
that distance--Mr. Waymarsh was for HIS part joyless.
He had none the less to confess to this friend that evening that he
knew almost nothing about her, and it was a deficiency that
Waymarsh, even with his memory refreshed by contact, by her own
prompt and lucid allusions and enquiries, by their having publicly
partaken of dinner in her company, and by another stroll, to which
she was not a stranger, out into the town to look at the cathedral
by moonlight--it was a blank that the resident of Milrose, though
admitting acquaintance with the Munsters, professed himself unable
to fill. He had no recollection of Miss Gostrey, and two or three
questions that she put to him about those members of his circle
had, to Strether's observation, the same effect he himself had
already more directly felt--the effect of appearing to place all
knowledge, for the time, on this original woman's side. It
interested him indeed to mark the limits of any such relation for
her with his friend as there could possibly be a question of, and
it particularly struck him that they were to be marked altogether
in Waymarsh's quarter. This added to his own sense of having gone
far with her-gave him an early illustration of a much shorter
course. There was a certitude he immediately grasped--a conviction
that Waymarsh would quite fail, as it were, and on whatever degree
of acquaintances to profit by her.
There had been after the first interchange among the three a talk
of some five minutes in the hall, and then the two men had
adjourned to the garden, Miss Gostrey for the time disappearing.
Strether in due course accompanied his friend to the room he had
bespoken and had, before going out, scrupulously visited; where at
the end of another half-hour he had no less discreetly left him.
On leaving him he repaired straight to his own room, but with the
prompt effect of feeling the compass of that chamber resented by
his condition. There he enjoyed at once the first consequence of
their reunion. A place was too small for him after it that had
seemed large enough before. He had awaited it with something he
would have been sorry, have been almost ashamed not to recognise as
emotion, yet with a tacit assumption at the same time that emotion
would in the event find itself relieved. The actual oddity was that
he was only more excited; and his excitement-to which indeed he
would have found it difficult instantly to give a name--brought him
once more downstairs and caused him for some minutes vaguely to
wander. He went once more to the garden; he looked into the public
room, found Miss Gostrey writing letters and backed out; he roamed,
fidgeted and wasted time; but he was to have his more intimate
session with his friend before the evening closed.
It was late--not till Strether had spent an hour upstairs with him--
that this subject consented to betake himself to doubtful rest.
Dinner and the subsequent stroll by moonlight--a dream, on
Strether's part, of romantic effects rather prosaically merged in a
mere missing of thicker coats--had measurably intervened, and this
midnight conference was the result of Waymarsh's having (when they
were free, as he put it, of their fashionable friend) found the
smoking-room not quite what he wanted, and yet bed what he wanted
less. His most frequent form of words was that he knew himself, and
they were applied on this occasion to his certainty of not
sleeping. He knew himself well enough to know that he should have a
night of prowling unless he should succeed, as a preliminary, in
getting prodigiously tired. If the effort directed to this end
involved till a late hour the presence of Strether--consisted,
that is, in the detention of the latter for full discourse--there
was yet an impression of minor discipline involved for our friend
in the picture Waymarsh made as he sat in trousers and shirt on the
edge of his couch. With his long legs extended and his large back
much bent, he nursed alternately, for an almost incredible time,
his elbows and his beard. He struck his visitor as extremely, as
almost wilfully uncomfortable; yet what had this been for Strether,
from that first glimpse of him disconcerted in the porch of the
hotel, but the predominant notes. The discomfort was in a manner
contagious, as well as also in a manner inconsequent and unfounded;
the visitor felt that unless he should get used to it--or unless
Waymarsh himself should--it would constitute a menace for his own
prepared, his own already confirmed, consciousness of the
agreeable. On their first going up together to the room Strether
had selected for him Waymarsh had looked it over in silence and
with a sigh that represented for his companion, if not the habit of
disapprobation, at least the despair of felicity; and this look had
recurred to Strether as the key of much he had since observed.
"Europe," he had begun to gather from these things, had up to now
rather failed of its message to him; he hadn't got into tune with
it and had at the end of three months almost renounced any such
He really appeared at present to insist on that by just perching
there with the gas in his eyes. This of itself somehow conveyed the
futility of single rectifications in a multiform failure. He had a
large handsome head and a large sallow seamed face--a striking
significant physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great
political brow, the thick loose hair, the dark fuliginous eyes,
recalled even to a generation whose standard had dreadfully
deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings and busts, of
some great national worthy of the earlier part of the mid-century.
He was of the personal type--and it was an element in the power and
promise that in their early time Strether had found in him--of the
American statesman, the statesman trained in "Congressional halls,"
of an elder day. The legend had been in later years that as the
lower part of his face, which was weak, and slightly crooked,
spoiled the likeness, this was the real reason for the growth of
his beard, which might have seemed to spoil it for those not in the
secret. He shook his mane; he fixed, with his admirable eyes, his
auditor or his observer; he wore no glasses and had a way, partly
formidable, yet also partly encouraging, as from a representative
to a constituent, of looking very hard at those who approached him.
He met you as if you had knocked and he had bidden you enter.
Strether, who hadn't seen him for so long an interval, apprehended
him now with a freshness of taste, and had perhaps never done him
such ideal justice. The head was bigger, the eyes finer, than they
need have been for the career; but that only meant, after all, that
the career was itself expressive. What it expressed at midnight in
the gas-glaring bedroom at Chester was that the subject of it had,
at the end of years, barely escaped, by flight in time, a general
nervous collapse. But this very proof of the full life, as the full
life was understood at Milrose, would have made to Strether's
imagination an element in which Waymarsh could have floated easily
had he only consented to float. Alas nothing so little resembled
floating as the rigour with which, on the edge of his bed, he
hugged his posture of prolonged impermanence. It suggested to his
comrade something that always, when kept up, worried him--a person
established in a railway-coach with a forward inclination. It
represented the angle at which poor Waymarsh was to sit through the
ordeal of Europe.
Thanks to the stress of occupation, the strain of professions, the
absorption and embarrassment of each, they had not, at home, during
years before this sudden brief and almost bewildering reign of
comparative ease, found so much as a day for a meeting; a fact that
was in some degree an explanation of the sharpness with which most
of his friend's features stood out to Strether. Those he had lost
sight of since the early time came back to him; others that it was
never possible to forget struck him now as sitting, clustered and
expectant, like a somewhat defiant family-group, on the doorstep of
their residence. The room was narrow for its length, and the
occupant of the bed thrust so far a pair of slippered feet that the
visitor had almost to step over them in his recurrent rebounds from
his chair to fidget back and forth. There were marks the friends
made on things to talk about, and on things not to, and one of the
latter in particular fell like the tap of chalk on the blackboard.
Married at thirty, Waymarsh had not lived with his wife for fifteen
years, and it came up vividly between them in the glare of the gas
that Strether wasn't to ask about her. He knew they were still
separate and that she lived at hotels, travelled in Europe, painted
her face and wrote her husband abusive letters, of not one of
which, to a certainty, that sufferer spared himself the perusal;
but he respected without difficulty the cold twilight that had
settled on this side of his companion's life. It was a province in
which mystery reigned and as to which Waymarsh had never spoken the
informing word. Strether, who wanted to do him the highest justice
wherever he COULD do it, singularly admired him for the dignity of
this reserve, and even counted it as one of the grounds--grounds
all handled and numbered--for ranking him, in the range of their
acquaintance, as a success. He WAS a success, Waymarsh, in spite of
overwork, or prostration, of sensible shrinkage, of his wife's
letters and of his not liking Europe. Strether would have reckoned
his own career less futile had he been able to put into it anything
so handsome as so much fine silence. One might one's self easily
have left Mrs. Waymarsh; and one would assuredly have paid one's
tribute to the ideal in covering with that attitude the derision of
having been left by her. Her husband had held his tongue and had
made a large income; and these were in especial the achievements as
to which Strether envied him. Our friend had had indeed on his side
too a subject for silence, which he fully appreciated; but it was a
matter of a different sort, and the figure of the income he had
arrived at had never been high enough to look any one in the face.
"I don't know as I quite see what you require it for. You don't
appear sick to speak of." It was of Europe Waymarsh thus finally
"Well," said Strether, who fell as much as possible into step, "I
guess I don't FEEL sick now that I've started. But I had pretty
well run down before I did start."
Waymarsh raised his melancholy look. "Ain't you about up to your
usual average?"
It was not quite pointedly sceptical, but it seemed somehow a plea
for the purest veracity, and it thereby affected our friend as the
very voice of Milrose. He had long since made a mental distinction--
though never in truth daring to betray it--between the voice of
Milrose and the voice even of Woollett. It was the former he felt,
that was most in the real tradition. There had been occasions in
his past when the sound of it had reduced him to temporary
confusion, and the present, for some reason, suddenly became such
another. It was nevertheless no light matter that the very effect
of his confusion should be to make him again prevaricate. "That
description hardly does justice to a man to whom it has done such a
lot of good to see YOU."
Waymarsh fixed on his washing-stand the silent detached stare with
which Milrose in person, as it were, might have marked the
unexpectedness of a compliment from Woollett, and Strether for his
part, felt once more like Woollett in person. "I mean," his friend
presently continued, "that your appearance isn't as bad as I've
seen it: it compares favourably with what it was when I last
noticed it." On this appearance Waymarsh's eyes yet failed to rest;
it was almost as if they obeyed an instinct of propriety, and the
effect was still stronger when, always considering the basin and
jug, he added: "You've filled out some since then."
"I'm afraid I have," Strether laughed: "one does fill out some with
all one takes in, and I've taken in, I dare say, more than I've
natural room for. I was dog-tired when I sailed." It had the oddest
sound of cheerfulness.
"I was dog-tired," his companion returned, "when I arrived, and it's
this wild hunt for rest that takes all the life out of me. The fact
is, Strether--and it's a comfort to have you here at last to say it to;
though I don't know, after all, that I've really waited; I've told
it to people I've met in the cars--the fact is, such a country as this
ain't my KIND of country anyway. There ain't a country I've seen over
here that DOES seem my kind. Oh I don't say but what there are plenty
of pretty places and remarkable old things; but the trouble is that I
don't seem to feel anywhere in tune. That's one of the reasons why I
suppose I've gained so little. I haven't had the first sign of that
lift I was led to expect." With this he broke out more earnestly.
"Look here--I want to go back."
His eyes were all attached to Strether's now, for he was one of the
men who fully face you when they talk of themselves. This enabled
his friend to look at him hard and immediately to appear to the
highest advantage in his eyes by doing so. "That's a genial thing
to say to a fellow who has come out on purpose to meet you!"
Nothing could have been finer, on this, than Waymarsh's sombre
glow. "HAVE you come out on purpose?"
"Well--very largely."
"I thought from the way you wrote there was something back of it."
Strether hesitated. "Back of my desire to be with you?"
"Back of your prostration."
Strether, with a smile made more dim by a certain consciousness,
shook his head. "There are all the causes of it!"
"And no particular cause that seemed most to drive you?"
Our friend could at last conscientiously answer. "Yes. One. There
IS a matter that has had much to do with my coming out."
Waymarsh waited a little. "Too private to mention?"
"No, not too private--for YOU. Only rather complicated."
"Well," said Waymarsh, who had waited again, "I MAY lose my mind
over here, but I don't know as I've done so yet."
"Oh you shall have the whole thing. But not tonight."
Waymarsh seemed to sit stiffer and to hold his elbows tighter. "Why
not--if I can't sleep?"
"Because, my dear man, I CAN!"
"Then where's your prostration?"
"Just in that--that I can put in eight hours." And Strether brought
it out that if Waymarsh didn't "gain" it was because he didn't go
to bed: the result of which was, in its order, that, to do the
latter justice, he permitted his friend to insist on his really
getting settled. Strether, with a kind coercive hand for it,
assisted him to this consummation, and again found his own part in
their relation auspiciously enlarged by the smaller touches of
lowering the lamp and seeing to a sufficiency of blanket. It
somehow ministered for him to indulgence to feel Waymarsh, who
looked unnaturally big and black in bed, as much tucked in as a
patient in a hospital and, with his covering up to his chin, as
much simplified by it He hovered in vague pity, to be brief, while
his companion challenged him out of the bedclothes. "Is she really
after you? Is that what's behind?"
Strether felt an uneasiness at the direction taken by his
companion's insight, but he played a little at uncertainty. "Behind
my coming out?"
"Behind your prostration or whatever. It's generally felt, you
know, that she follows you up pretty close."
Strether's candour was never very far off. "Oh it has occurred to
you that I'm literally running away from Mrs. Newsome?"
"Well, I haven't KNOWN but what you are. You're a very attractive
man, Strether. You've seen for yourself," said Waymarsh "what that
lady downstairs makes of it. Unless indeed," he rambled on with an
effect between the ironic and the anxious, "it's you who are after
HER. IS Mrs. Newsome OVER here?" He spoke as with a droll dread of
It made his friend--though rather dimly--smile. "Dear no she's
safe, thank goodness--as I think I more and more feel--at home. She
thought of coming, but she gave it up. I've come in a manner
instead of her; and come to that extent--for you're right in your
inference--on her business. So you see there IS plenty of
Waymarsh continued to see at least all there was. "Involving
accordingly the particular one I've referred to?"
Strether took another turn about the room, giving a twitch to his
companion's blanket and finally gaining the door. His feeling was
that of a nurse who had earned personal rest by having made
everything straight. "Involving more things than I can think of
breaking ground on now. But don't be afraid--you shall have them
from me: you'll probably find yourself having quite as much of them
as you can do with. I shall--if we keep together--very much depend
on your impression of some of them."
Waymarsh's acknowledgement of this tribute was characteristically
indirect. "You mean to say you don't believe we WILL keep
"I only glance at the danger," Strether paternally said, "because
when I hear you wail to go back I seem to see you open up such
possibilities of folly."
Waymarsh took it--silent a little--like a large snubbed child "What
are you going to do with me?"
It was the very question Strether himself had put to Miss Gostrey,
and he wondered if he had sounded like that. But HE at least could
be more definite. "I'm going to take you right down to London."
"Oh I've been down to London!" Waymarsh more softly moaned. "I've
no use, Strether, for anything down there."
"Well," said Strether, good-humouredly, "I guess you've some use
for me."
"So I've got to go?"
"Oh you've got to go further yet."
"Well," Waymarsh sighed, "do your damnedest! Only you WILL tell me
before you lead me on all the way--?"
Our friend had again so lost himself, both for amusement and for
contrition, in the wonder of whether he had made, in his own
challenge that afternoon, such another figure, that he for an
instant missed the thread. "Tell you--?"
"Why what you've got on hand."
Strether hesitated. "Why it's such a matter as that even if I
positively wanted I shouldn't be able to keep it from you."
Waymarsh gloomily gazed. "What does that mean then but that your
trip is just FOR her?"
"For Mrs. Newsome? Oh it certainly is, as I say. Very much."
"Then why do you also say it's for me?"
Strether, in impatience, violently played with his latch. "It's
simple enough. It's for both of you."
Waymarsh at last turned over with a groan. "Well, I won't marry
"Neither, when it comes to that--!" But the visitor had already
laughed and escaped.
He had told Miss Gostrey he should probably take, for departure
with Waymarsh, some afternoon train, and it thereupon in the
morning appeared that this lady had made her own plan for an
earlier one. She had breakfasted when Strether came into the
coffee-room; but, Waymarsh not having yet emerged, he was in time
to recall her to the terms of their understanding and to pronounce
her discretion overdone. She was surely not to break away at the
very moment she had created a want. He had met her as she rose
from her little table in a window, where, with the morning papers
beside her, she reminded him, as he let her know, of Major
Pendennis breakfasting at his club--a compliment of which she
professed a deep appreciation; and he detained her as pleadingly
as if he had already--and notably under pressure of the visions of
the night--learned to be unable to do without her. She must teach
him at all events, before she went, to order breakfast as
breakfast was ordered in Europe, and she must especially sustain
him in the problem of ordering for Waymarsh. The latter had laid
upon his friend, by desperate sounds through the door of his room,
dreadful divined responsibilities in respect to beefsteak and
oranges--responsibilities which Miss Gostrey took over with an
alertness of action that matched her quick intelligence. She had
before this weaned the expatriated from traditions compared with
which the matutinal beefsteak was but the creature of an hour, and
it was not for her, with some of her memories, to falter in the
path though she freely enough declared, on reflexion, that there
was always in such cases a choice of opposed policies. "There are
times when to give them their head, you know--!"
They had gone to wait together in the garden for the dressing of
the meal, and Strether found her more suggestive than ever "Well,
"Is to bring about for them such a complexity of relations-unless
indeed we call it a simplicity!--that the situation HAS to wind
itself up. They want to go back."
"And you want them to go!" Strether gaily concluded.
"I always want them to go, and I send them as fast as I can.'
"Oh I know--you take them to Liverpool."
"Any port will serve in a storm. I'm--with all my other functions--
an agent for repatriation. I want to re-people our stricken
country. What will become of it else? I want to discourage others."
The ordered English garden, in the freshness of the day, was
delightful to Strether, who liked the sound, under his feet, of
the tight fine gravel, packed with the chronic damp, and who had
the idlest eye for the deep smoothness of turf and the clean
curves of paths. "Other people?"
"Other countries. Other people--yes. I want to encourage our own."
Strether wondered. "Not to come? Why then do you 'meet' them--
since it doesn't appear to be to stop them?"
"Oh that they shouldn't come is as yet too much to ask. What I
attend to is that they come quickly and return still more so. I
meet them to help it to be over as soon as possible, and though I
don't stop them I've my way of putting them through. That's my
little system; and, if you want to know," said Maria Gostrey,
"it's my real secret, my innermost mission and use. I only seem,
you see, to beguile and approve; but I've thought it all out and
I'm working all the while underground. I can't perhaps quite give
you my formula, but I think that practically I succeed. I send you
back spent. So you stay back. Passed through my hands--"
"We don't turn up again?" The further she went the further he
always saw himself able to follow. "I don't want your formula--I
feel quite enough, as I hinted yesterday, your abysses. Spent!" he
echoed. "If that's how you're arranging so subtly to send me I
thank you for the warning."
For a minute, amid the pleasantness--poetry in tariffed items, but
all the more, for guests already convicted, a challenge to
consumption--they smiled at each other in confirmed fellowship. "Do
you call it subtly? It's a plain poor tale. Besides, you're a
special case."
"Oh special cases--that's weak!" She was weak enough, further
still, to defer her journey and agree to accompany the gentlemen on
their own, might a separate carriage mark her independence; though
it was in spite of this to befall after luncheon that she went off
alone and that, with a tryst taken for a day of her company in
London, they lingered another night. She had, during the morning--
spent in a way that he was to remember later on as the very climax
of his foretaste, as warm with presentiments, with what he would
have called collapses--had all sorts of things out with Strether;
and among them the fact that though there was never a moment of her
life when she wasn't "due" somewhere, there was yet scarce a
perfidy to others of which she wasn't capable for his sake. She
explained moreover that wherever she happened to be she found a
dropped thread to pick up, a ragged edge to repair, some familiar
appetite in ambush, jumping out as she approached, yet appeasable
with a temporary biscuit. It became, on her taking the risk of the
deviation imposed on him by her insidious arrangement of his
morning meal, a point of honour for her not to fail with Waymarsh
of the larger success too; and her subsequent boast to Strether was
that she had made their friend fare--and quite without his knowing
what was the matter--as Major Pendennis would have fared at the
Megatherium. She had made him breakfast like a gentleman, and it
was nothing, she forcibly asserted, to what she would yet make him
do. She made him participate in the slow reiterated ramble with
which, for Strether, the new day amply filled itself; and it was by
her art that he somehow had the air, on the ramparts and in the
Rows, of carrying a point of his own.
The three strolled and stared and gossiped, or at least the
two did; the case really yielding for their comrade, if analysed,
but the element of stricken silence. This element indeed affected
Strether as charged with audible rumblings, but he was conscious of
the care of taking it explicitly as a sign of pleasant peace. He
wouldn't appeal too much, for that provoked stiffness; yet he
wouldn't be too freely tacit, for that suggested giving up.
Waymarsh himself adhered to an ambiguous dumbness that might have
represented either the growth of a perception or the despair of
one; and at times and in places--where the low-browed galleries
were darkest, the opposite gables queerest, the solicitations of
every kind densest--the others caught him fixing hard some object
of minor interest, fixing even at moments nothing discernible, as
if he were indulging it with a truce. When he met Strether's eye on
such occasions he looked guilty and furtive, fell the next minute
into some attitude of retractation. Our friend couldn't show him
the right things for fear of provoking some total renouncement, and
was tempted even to show him the wrong in order to make him differ
with triumph. There were moments when he himself felt shy of
professing the full sweetness of the taste of leisure, and there
were others when he found himself feeling as if his passages of
interchange with the lady at his side might fall upon the third
member of their party very much as Mr. Burchell, at Dr. Primrose's
fireside, was influenced by the high flights of the visitors from
London. The smallest things so arrested and amused him that he
repeatedly almost apologised--brought up afresh in explanation his
plea of a previous grind. He was aware at the same time that his
grind had been as nothing to Waymarsh's, and he repeatedly
confessed that, to cover his frivolity, he was doing his best for
his previous virtue. Do what he might, in any case, his previous
virtue was still there, and it seemed fairly to stare at him out of
the windows of shops that were not as the shops of Woollett, fairly
to make him want things that he shouldn't know what to do with. It
was by the oddest, the least admissible of laws demoralising him
now; and the way it boldly took was to make him want more wants.
These first walks in Europe were in fact a kind of finely lurid
intimation of what one might find at the end of that process. Had
he come back after long years, in something already so like the
evening of life, only to be exposed to it? It was at all events
over the shop-windows that he made, with Waymarsh, most free;
though it would have been easier had not the latter most sensibly
yielded to the appeal of the merely useful trades. He pierced with
his sombre detachment the plate-glass of ironmongers and saddlers,
while Strether flaunted an affinity with the dealers in stamped
letter-paper and in smart neckties. Strether was in fact
recurrently shameless in the presence of the tailors, though it was
just over the heads of the tailors that his countryman most loftily
looked. This gave Miss Gostrey a grasped opportunity to back up
Waymarsh at his expense. The weary lawyer--it was unmistakeable--
had a conception of dress; but that, in view of some of the
features of the effect produced, was just what made the danger of
insistence on it. Strether wondered if he by this time thought Miss
Gostrey less fashionable or Lambert Strether more so; and it
appeared probable that most of the remarks exchanged between this
latter pair about passers, figures, faces, personal types,
exemplified in their degree the disposition to talk as "society"
Was what was happening to himself then, was what already HAD
happened, really that a woman of fashion was floating him into
society and that an old friend deserted on the brink was watching
the force of the current? When the woman of fashion permitted
Strether--as she permitted him at the most--the purchase of a pair
of gloves, the terms she made about it, the prohibition of neckties
and other items till she should be able to guide him through the
Burlington Arcade, were such as to fall upon a sensitive ear as a
challenge to just imputations. Miss Gostrey was such a woman of
fashion as could make without a symptom of vulgar blinking an
appointment for the Burlington Arcade. Mere discriminations about a
pair of gloves could thus at any rate represent--always for such
sensitive ears as were in question--possibilities of something that
Strether could make a mark against only as the peril of apparent
wantonness. He had quite the consciousness of his new friend, for
their companion, that he might have had of a Jesuit in petticoats,
a representative of the recruiting interests of the Catholic
Church. The Catholic Church, for Waymarsh-that was to say the
enemy, the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering
groping tentacles--was exactly society, exactly the multiplication
of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones,
exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism;
exactly in short Europe.
There was light for observation, however, in an incident that
occurred just before they turned back to luncheon. Waymarsh had
been for a quarter of an hour exceptionally mute and distant, and
something, or other--Strether was never to make out exactly what--
proved, as it were, too much for him after his comrades had stood
for three minutes taking in, while they leaned on an old balustrade
that guarded the edge of the Row, a particularly crooked and
huddled street-view. "He thinks us sophisticated, he thinks us
worldly, he thinks us wicked, he thinks us all sorts of queer
things," Strether reflected; for wondrous were the vague quantities
our friend had within a couple of short days acquired the habit of
conveniently and conclusively lumping together. There seemed
moreover a direct connexion between some such inference and a
sudden grim dash taken by Waymarsh to the opposite side. This
movement was startlingly sudden, and his companions at first
supposed him to have espied, to be pursuing, the glimpse of an
acquaintance. They next made out, however, that an open door had
instantly received him, and they then recognised him as engulfed in
the establishment of a jeweller, behind whose glittering front he
was lost to view. The fact had somehow the note of a demonstration,
and it left each of the others to show a face almost of fear. But
Miss Gostrey broke into a laugh. "What's the matter with him?"
"Well," said Strether, "he can't stand it."
"But can't stand what?"
"Anything. Europe."
"Then how will that jeweller help him?"
Strether seemed to make it out, from their position, between the
interstices of arrayed watches, of close-hung dangling gewgaws.
"You'll see."
"Ah that's just what--if he buys anything--I'm afraid of: that I
shall see something rather dreadful."
Strether studied the finer appearances. "He may buy everything."
"Then don't you think we ought to follow him?"
"Not for worlds. Besides we can't. We're paralysed. We exchange a
long scared look, we publicly tremble. The thing is, you see, we
'realise.' He has struck for freedom."
She wondered but she laughed. "Ah what a price to pay! And I was
preparing some for him so cheap."
"No, no," Strether went on, frankly amused now; "don't call it
that: the kind of freedom you deal in is dear." Then as to justify
himself: "Am I not in MY way trying it? It's this."
"Being here, you mean, with me?''
"Yes, and talking to you as I do. I've known you a few hours, and
I've known HIM all my life; so that if the ease I thus take with
you about him isn't magnificent"--and the thought of it held him a
moment--"why it's rather base."
"It's magnificent!" said Miss Gostrey to make an end of it. "And
you should hear," she added, "the ease I take--and I above all
intend to take--with Mr. Waymarsh."
Strether thought. "About ME? Ah that's no equivalent.
The equivalent would be Waymarsh's himself serving me up--
his remorseless analysis of me. And he'll never do that"--
he was sadly clear. "He'll never remorselessly analyse me."
He quite held her with the authority of this. "He'll never
say a word to you about me."
She took it in; she did it justice; yet after an instant her
reason, her restless irony, disposed of it. "Of course he won't.
For what do you take people, that they're able to say words about
anything, able remorselessly to analyse? There are not many like
you and me. It will be only because he's too stupid."
It stirred in her friend a sceptical echo which was at the same
time the protest of the faith of years. "Waymarsh stupid?"
"Compared with you."
Strether had still his eyes on the jeweller's front, and he waited
a moment to answer. "He's a success of a kind that I haven't
"Do you mean he has made money?"
"He makes it--to my belief. And I," said Strether, "though with a
back quite as bent, have never made anything. I'm a perfectly
equipped failure."
He feared an instant she'd ask him if he meant he was poor; and he
was glad she didn't, for he really didn't know to what the truth on
this unpleasant point mightn't have prompted her. She only,
however, confirmed his assertion. "Thank goodness you're a failure--
it's why I so distinguish you! Anything else to-day is too
hideous. Look about you--look at the successes. Would you BE one,
on your honour? Look, moreover," she continued, "at me."
For a little accordingly their eyes met. "I see," Strether
returned. "You too are out of it."
"The superiority you discern in me," she concurred, "announces my
futility. If you knew," she sighed, "the dreams of my youth! But
our realities are what has brought us together. We're beaten
brothers in arms."
He smiled at her kindly enough, but he shook his head. "It doesn't
alter the fact that you're expensive. You've cost me already--!"
But he had hung fire. "Cost you what?"
"Well, my past--in one great lump. But no matter," he laughed:
"I'll pay with my last penny."
Her attention had unfortunately now been engaged by their comrade's
return, for Waymarsh met their view as he came out of his shop. "I
hope he hasn't paid," she said, "with HIS last; though I'm
convinced he has been splendid, and has been so for you."
"Ah no--not that!"
"Then for me?"
"Quite as little." Waymarsh was by this time near enough to show
signs his friend could read, though he seemed to look almost
carefully at nothing in particular.
"Then for himself?"
"For nobody. For nothing. For freedom."
"But what has freedom to do with it?"
Strether's answer was indirect. "To be as good as you and me. But
She had had time to take in their companion's face; and with it, as
such things were easy for her, she took in all. "Different--yes.
But better!"
If Waymarsh was sombre he was also indeed almost sublime. He told
them nothing, left his absence unexplained, and though they were
convinced he had made some extraordinary purchase they were never
to learn its nature. He only glowered grandly at the tops of the
old gables. "It's the sacred rage," Strether had had further time
to say; and this sacred rage was to become between them, for
convenient comprehension, the description of one of his periodical
necessities. It was Strether who eventually contended that it did
make him better than they. But by that time Miss Gostrey was
convinced that she didn't want to be better than Strether.
Book Second
Those occasions on which Strether was, in association with the
exile from Milrose, to see the sacred rage glimmer through would
doubtless have their due periodicity; but our friend had meanwhile
to find names for many other matters. On no evening of his life
perhaps, as he reflected, had he had to supply so many as on the
third of his short stay in London; an evening spent by Miss
Gostrey's side at one of the theatres, to which he had found
himself transported, without his own hand raised, on the mere
expression of a conscientious wonder. She knew her theatre, she
knew her play, as she had triumphantly known, three days running,
everything else, and the moment filled to the brim, for her
companion, that apprehension of the interesting which, whether or
no the interesting happened to filter through his guide, strained
now to its limits his brief opportunity. Waymarsh hadn't come with
them; he had seen plays enough, he signified, before Strether had
joined him--an affirmation that had its full force when his friend
ascertained by questions that he had seen two and a circus.
Questions as to what he had seen had on him indeed an effect only
less favourable than questions as to what he hadn't. He liked the
former to be discriminated; but how could it be done, Strether
asked of their constant counsellor, without discriminating the
Miss Gostrey had dined with him at his hotel, face to face over a
small table on which the lighted candles had rose-coloured shades;
and the rose-coloured shades and the small table and the soft
fragrance of the lady--had anything to his mere sense ever been so
soft?--were so many touches in he scarce knew what positive high
picture. He had been to the theatre, even to the opera, in Boston,
with Mrs. Newsome, more than once acting as her only escort; but
there had been no little confronted dinner, no pink lights, no
whiff of vague sweetness, as a preliminary: one of the results of
which was that at present, mildly rueful, though with a sharpish
accent, he actually asked himself WHY there hadn't. There was much
the same difference in his impression of the noticed state of his
companion, whose dress was "cut down," as he believed the term to
be, in respect to shoulders and bosom, in a manner quite other than
Mrs. Newsome's, and who wore round her throat a broad red velvet
band with an antique jewel--he was rather complacently sure it was
antique--attached to it in front. Mrs. Newsome's dress was never in
any degree "cut down," and she never wore round her throat a broad
red velvet band: if she had, moreover, would it ever have served so
to carry on and complicate, as he now almost felt, his vision?
It would have been absurd of him to trace into ramifications the
effect of the ribbon from which Miss Gostrey's trinket depended,
had he not for the hour, at the best, been so given over to
uncontrolled perceptions. What was it but an uncontrolled
perception that his friend's velvet band somehow added, in her
appearance, to the value of every other item--to that of her smile
and of the way she carried her head, to that of her complexion, of
her lips, her teeth, her eyes, her hair? What, certainly, had a man
conscious of a man's work in the world to do with red velvet bands?
He wouldn't for anything have so exposed himself as to tell Miss
Gostrey how much he liked hers, yet he HAD none the less not only
caught himself in the act--frivolous, no doubt, idiotic, and above
all unexpected--of liking it: he had in addition taken it as a
starting-point for fresh backward, fresh forward, fresh lateral
flights. The manner in which Mrs. Newsome's throat WAS encircled
suddenly represented for him, in an alien order, almost as many
things as the manner in which Miss Gostrey's was. Mrs. Newsome
wore, at operatic hours, a black silk dress--very handsome, he knew
it was "handsome"--and an ornament that his memory was able further
to identify as a ruche. He had his association indeed with the
ruche, but it was rather imperfectly romantic. He had once said to
the wearer--and it was as "free" a remark as he had ever made to
her--that she looked, with her ruff and other matters, like Queen
Elizabeth; and it had after this in truth been his fancy that, as a
consequence of that tenderness and an acceptance of the idea, the
form of this special tribute to the "frill" had grown slightly more
marked. The connexion, as he sat there and let his imagination
roam, was to strike him as vaguely pathetic; but there it all was,
and pathetic was doubtless in the conditions the best thing it
could possibly be. It had assuredly existed at any rate; for it
seemed now to come over him that no gentleman of his age at
Woollett could ever, to a lady of Mrs. Newsome's, which was not
much less than his, have embarked on such a simile.
All sorts of things in fact now seemed to come over him,
comparatively few of which his chronicler can hope for space to
mention. It came over him for instance that Miss Gostrey looked
perhaps like Mary Stuart: Lambert Strether had a candour of fancy
which could rest for an instant gratified in such an antithesis. It
came over him that never before--no, literally never--had a lady
dined with him at a public place before going to the play. The
publicity of the place was just, in the matter, for Strether, the
rare strange thing; it affected him almost as the achievement of
privacy might have affected a man of a different experience. He had
married, in the far-away years, so young as to have missed the time
natural in Boston for taking girls to the Museum; and it was
absolutely true of hint that--even after the close of the period of
conscious detachment occupying the centre of his life, the grey
middle desert of the two deaths, that of his wife and that, ten
years later, of his boy--he had never taken any one anywhere. It
came over him in especial--though the monition had, as happened,
already sounded, fitfully gleamed, in other forms--that the
business he had come out on hadn't yet been so brought home to him
as by the sight of the people about him. She gave him the
impression, his friend, at first, more straight than he got it for
himself--gave it simply by saying with off-hand illumination: "Oh
yes, they're types!"--but after he had taken it he made to the full
his own use of it; both while he kept silence for the four acts and
while he talked in the intervals. It was an evening, it was a world
of types, and this was a connexion above all in which the figures
and faces in the stalls were interchangeable with those on the
He felt as if the play itself penetrated him with the naked elbow
of his neighbour, a great stripped handsome red-haired lady who
conversed with a gentleman on her other side in stray dissyllables
which had for his ear, in the oddest way in the world, so much
sound that he wondered they hadn't more sense; and he recognised by
the same law, beyond the footlights, what he was pleased to take
for the very flush of English life. He had distracted drops in
which he couldn't have said if it were actors or auditors who were
most true, and the upshot of which, each time, was the consciousness
of new contacts. However he viewed his job it was "types" he should
have to tackle. Those before him and around him were not as the
types of Woollett, where, for that matter, it had begun to seem to
him that there must only have been the male and the female.
These made two exactly, even with the individual varieties. Here,
on the other hand, apart from the personal and the sexual range--
which might be greater or less--a series of strong stamps had been
applied, as it were, from without; stamps that his observation
played with as, before a glass case on a table, it might have
passed from medal to medal and from copper to gold. It befell that
in the drama precisely there was a bad woman in a yellow frock who
made a pleasant weak good-looking young man in perpetual evening
dress do the most dreadful things. Strether felt himself on the
whole not afraid of the yellow frock, but he was vaguely anxious
over a certain kindness into which he found himself drifting for
its victim. He hadn't come out, he reminded himself, to be too
kind, or indeed to be kind at all, to Chadwick Newsome. Would Chad
also be in perpetual evening dress? He somehow rather hoped it--it
seemed so to add to THIS young man's general amenability; though he
wondered too if, to fight him with his own weapons, he himself (a
thought almost startling) would have likewise to be. This young man
furthermore would have been much more easy to handle--at least for
HIM--than appeared probable in respect to Chad.
It came up for him with Miss Gostrey that there were things of
which she would really perhaps after all have heard, and she admitted
when a little pressed that she was never quite sure of what she
heard as distinguished from things such as, on occasions like
the present, she only extravagantly guessed. "I seem with this
freedom, you see, to have guessed Mr. Chad. He's a young man on
whose head high hopes are placed at Woollett; a young man a wicked
woman has got hold of and whom his family over there have sent you
out to rescue. You've accepted the mission of separating him from
the wicked woman. Are you quite sure she's very bad for him?"
Something in his manner showed it as quite pulling him up. "Of
course we are. Wouldn't YOU be?"
"Oh I don't know. One never does--does one?--beforehand. One can
only judge on the facts. Yours are quite new to me; I'm really not
in the least, as you see, in possession of them: so it will be
awfully interesting to have them from you. If you're satisfied,
that's all that's required. I mean if you're sure you ARE sure:
sure it won't do."
"That he should lead such a life? Rather!"
"Oh but I don't know, you see, about his life; you've not told me
about his life. She may be charming--his life!"
"Charming?"--Strether stared before him. "She's base, venal-out of
the streets."
"I see. And HE--?"
"Chad, wretched boy?"
"Of what type and temper is he?" she went on as Strether had
"Well--the obstinate." It was as if for a moment he had been going
to say more and had then controlled himself.
That was scarce what she wished. "Do you like him?"
This time he was prompt. "No. How CAN I?"
"Do you mean because of your being so saddled with him?"
"I'm thinking of his mother," said Strether after a moment. "He has
darkened her admirable life." He spoke with austerity. "He has
worried her half to death."
"Oh that's of course odious." She had a pause as if for renewed
emphasis of this truth, but it ended on another note. "Is her life
very admirable?"
There was so much in the tone that Miss Gostrey had to devote
another pause to the appreciation of it. "And has he only HER? I
don't mean the bad woman in Paris," she quickly added--"for I
assure you I shouldn't even at the best be disposed to allow him
more than one. But has he only his mother?"
"He has also a sister, older than himself and married; and they're
both remarkably fine women."
"Very handsome, you mean?"
This promptitude--almost, as he might have thought, this
precipitation, gave him a brief drop; but he came up again.
"Mrs. Newsome, I think, is handsome, though she's not of course,
with a son of twenty-eight and a daughter of thirty, in her very
first youth. She married, however, extremely young."
"And is wonderful," Miss Gostrey asked, "for her age?"
Strether seemed to feel with a certain disquiet the pressure of it.
"I don't say she's wonderful. Or rather," he went on the next moment,
"I do say it. It's exactly what she IS--wonderful. But I wasn't
thinking of her appearance," he explained--"striking as that doubtless
is. I was thinking--well, of many other things." He seemed to look at
these as if to mention some of them; then took, pulling himself up,
another turn. "About Mrs. Pocock people may differ."
"Is that the daughter's name--'Pocock'?"
"That's the daughter's name," Strether sturdily confessed.
"And people may differ, you mean, about HER beauty?"
"About everything."
"But YOU admire her?"
He gave his friend a glance as to show how he could bear this "I'm
perhaps a little afraid of her."
"Oh," said Miss Gostrey, "I see her from here! You may say then I
see very fast and very far, but I've already shown you I do. The
young man and the two ladies," she went on, "are at any rate all
the family?"
"Quite all. His father has been dead ten years, and there's no
brother, nor any other sister. They'd do," said Strether, "anything
in the world for him."
"And you'd do anything in the world for THEM?"
He shifted again; she had made it perhaps just a shade too affirmative
for his nerves. "Oh I don't know!"
"You'd do at any rate this, and the 'anything' they'd do is
represented by their MAKING you do it."
"Ah they couldn't have come--either of them. They're very busy
people and Mrs. Newsome in particular has a large full life. She's
moreover highly nervous--and not at all strong."
"You mean she's an American invalid?"
He carefully distinguished. "There's nothing she likes less than to
be called one, but she would consent to be one of those things, I
think," he laughed, "if it were the only way to be the other."
"Consent to be an American in order to be an invalid?"
"No," said Strether, "the other way round. She's at any rate
delicate sensitive high-strung. She puts so much of herself into
Ah Maria knew these things! "That she has nothing left for anything
else? Of course she hasn't. To whom do you say it? High-strung?
Don't I spend my life, for them, jamming down the pedal? I see
moreover how it has told on you."
Strether took this more lightly. "Oh I jam down the pedal too!"
"Well," she lucidly returned, "we must from this moment bear on it
together with all our might." And she forged ahead. "Have they
But it was as if, while her energetic image still held him, her
enquiry fell short. "Mrs. Newsome," he wished further to explain,
"hasn't moreover your courage on the question of contact. If she
had come it would have been to see the person herself."
"The woman? Ah but that's courage."
"No--it's exaltation, which is a very different thing. Courage,"
he, however, accommodatingly threw out, "is what YOU have."
She shook her head. "You say that only to patch me up--to cover the
nudity of my want of exaltation. I've neither the one nor the
other. I've mere battered indifference. I see that what you mean,"
Miss Gostrey pursued, "is that if your friend HAD come she would
take great views, and the great views, to put it simply, would be
too much for her."
Strether looked amused at her notion of the simple, but he adopted
her formula. "Everything's too much for her."
"Ah then such a service as this of yours--"
"Is more for her than anything else? Yes--far more. But so long as
it isn't too much for ME--!"
"Her condition doesn't matter? Surely not; we leave her condition
out; we take it, that is, for granted. I see it, her condition, as
behind and beneath you; yet at the same time I see it as bearing
you up."
"Oh it does bear me up!" Strether laughed.
"Well then as yours bears ME nothing more's needed." With which she
put again her question. "Has Mrs. Newsome money?"
This time he heeded. "Oh plenty. That's the root of the evil.
There's money, to very large amounts, in the concern. Chad has had
the free use of a great deal. But if he'll pull himself together
and come home, all the same, he'll find his account in it."
She had listened with all her interest. "And I hope to goodness
you'll find yours!"
"He'll take up his definite material reward," said Strether without
acknowledgement of this. "He's at the parting of the ways. He can
come into the business now--he can't come later."
"Is there a business?"
"Lord, yes--a big brave bouncing business. A roaring trade."
"A great shop?"
"Yes--a workshop; a great production, a great industry. The
concern's a manufacture--and a manufacture that, if it's only
properly looked after, may well be on the way to become a monopoly.
It's a little thing they make--make better, it appears, than other
people can, or than other people, at any rate, do. Mr. Newsome,
being a man of ideas, at least in that particular line," Strether
explained, "put them on it with great effect, and gave the place
altogether, in his time, an immense lift."
"It's a place in itself?"
"Well, quite a number of buildings; almost a little industrial
colony. But above all it's a thing. The article produced."
"And what IS the article produced?"
Strether looked about him as in slight reluctance to say; then the
curtain, which he saw about to rise, came to his aid. "I'll tell
you next time." But when the next time came he only said he'd tell
her later on--after they should have left the theatre; for she had
immediately reverted to their topic, and even for himself the
picture of the stage was now overlaid with another image. His
postponements, however, made her wonder--wonder if the article
referred to were anything bad. And she explained that she meant
improper or ridiculous or wrong. But Strether, so far as that went,
could satisfy her. "Unmentionable? Oh no, we constantly talk of it;
we are quite familiar and brazen about it. Only, as a small,
trivial, rather ridiculous object of the commonest domestic use,
it's just wanting in-what shall I say? Well, dignity, or the least
approach to distinction. Right here therefore, with everything
about us so grand--!" In short he shrank.
"It's a false note?"
"Sadly. It's vulgar."
"But surely not vulgarer than this." Then on his wondering as she
herself had done: "Than everything about us." She seemed a trifle
irritated. "What do you take this for?"
"Why for--comparatively--divine! "
"This dreadful London theatre? It's impossible, if you really want
to know."
"Oh then," laughed Strether, "I DON'T really want to know!"
It made between them a pause, which she, however, still fascinated
by the mystery of the production at Woollett, presently broke.
"'Rather ridiculous'? Clothes-pins? Saleratus? Shoe-polish?"
It brought him round. "No--you don't even 'burn.' I don't think,
you know, you'll guess it."
"How then can I judge how vulgar it is?"
"You'll judge when I do tell you"--and he persuaded her to
patience. But it may even now frankly be mentioned that he in the
sequel never WAS to tell her. He actually never did so, and it
moreover oddly occurred that by the law, within her, of the
incalculable, her desire for the information dropped and her
attitude to the question converted itself into a positive
cultivation of ignorance. In ignorance she could humour her fancy,
and that proved a useful freedom. She could treat the little
nameless object as indeed unnameable--she could make their
abstention enormously definite. There might indeed have been for
Strether the portent of this in what she next said.
"Is it perhaps then because it's so bad--because your industry as
you call it, IS so vulgar--that Mr. Chad won't come back? Does he
feel the taint? Is he staying away not to be mixed up in it?"
"Oh," Strether laughed, "it wouldn't appear--would it?--that he
feels 'taints'! He's glad enough of the money from it, and the
money's his whole basis. There's appreciation in that--I mean as to
the allowance his mother has hitherto made him. She has of course
the resource of cutting this allowance off; but even then he has
unfortunately, and on no small scale, his independent supply--money
left him by his grandfather, her own father."
"Wouldn't the fact you mention then," Miss Gostrey asked, "make it
just more easy for him to be particular? Isn't he conceivable as
fastidious about the source--the apparent and public source--of his
Strether was able quite good-humouredly to entertain the
proposition. "The source of his grandfather's wealth--and thereby
of his own share in it--was not particularly noble."
"And what source was it?"
Strether cast about. "Well--practices."
"In business? Infamies? He was an old swindler?"
"Oh," he said with more emphasis than spirit, "I shan't describe
HIM nor narrate his exploits."
"Lord, what abysses! And the late Mr. Newsome then?"
"Well, what about him?"
"Was he like the grandfather?"
"No--he was on the other side of the house. And he was different."
Miss Gostrey kept it up. "Better?"
Her friend for a moment hung fire. "No."
Her comment on his hesitation was scarce the less marked for being
mute. "Thank you. NOW don't you see," she went on, "why the boy
doesn't come home? He's drowning his shame."
"His shame? What shame?"
"What shame? Comment donc? THE shame."
"But where and when," Strether asked, "is 'THE shame'--where is any
shame--to-day? The men I speak of--they did as every one does; and
(besides being ancient history) it was all a matter of appreciation."
She showed how she understood. "Mrs. Newsome has appreciated?"
"Ah I can't speak for HER!"
"In the midst of such doings--and, as I understand you, profiting
by them, she at least has remained exquisite?"
"Oh I can't talk of her!" Strether said.
"I thought she was just what you COULD talk of. You DON'T trust
me," Miss Gostrey after a moment declared.
It had its effect. "Well, her money is spent, her life conceived
and carried on with a large beneficence--"
"That's a kind of expiation of wrongs? Gracious," she added before
he could speak, "how intensely you make me see her!"
"If you see her," Strether dropped, "it's all that's necessary."
She really seemed to have her. "I feel that. She IS, in spite of
everything, handsome."
This at least enlivened him. "What do you mean by everything?"
"Well, I mean YOU." With which she had one of her swift changes of
ground. "You say the concern needs looking after; but doesn't
Mrs. Newsome look after it?"
"So far as possible. She's wonderfully able, but it's not her
affair, and her life's a good deal overcharged. She has many,
many things."
"And you also?"
"Oh yes--I've many too, if you will."
"I see. But what I mean is," Miss Gostrey amended, "do you also
look after the business?"
"Oh no, I don't touch the business."
"Only everything else?"
"Well, yes--some things."
"As for instance--?"
Strether obligingly thought. "Well, the Review."
"The Review?--you have a Review?"
"Certainly. Woollett has a Review--which Mrs. Newsome, for the
most part, magnificently pays for and which I, not at all
magnificently, edit. My name's on the cover," Strether pursued,
"and I'm really rather disappointed and hurt that you seem never
to have heard of it."
She neglected for a moment this grievance. "And what kind of a
Review is it?"
His serenity was now completely restored. "Well, it's green."
"Do you mean in political colour as they say here--in thought?"
"No; I mean the cover's green--of the most lovely shade."
"And with Mrs. Newsome's name on it too?"
He waited a little. "Oh as for that you must judge if she peeps
out. She's behind the whole thing; but she's of a delicacy and a
Miss Gostrey took it all. "I'm sure. She WOULD be. I don't
underrate her. She must be rather a swell."
"Oh yes, she's rather a swell!"
"A Woollett swell--bon! I like the idea of a Woollett swell. And
you must be rather one too, to be so mixed up with her."
"Ah no," said Strether, "that's not the way it works."
But she had already taken him up. "The way it works--you needn't
tell me!--is of course that you efface yourself."
"With my name on the cover?" he lucidly objected.
"Ah but you don't put it on for yourself."
"I beg your pardon--that's exactly what I do put it on for. It's
exactly the thing that I'm reduced to doing for myself. It seems
to rescue a little, you see, from the wreck of hopes and ambitions,
the refuse-heap of disappointments and failures, my one presentable
little scrap of an identity."
On this she looked at him as to say many things, but what she at
last simply said was: "She likes to see it there. You're the
bigger swell of the two," she immediately continued, "because you
think you're not one. She thinks she IS one. However," Miss
Gostrey added, "she thinks you're one too. You're at all events
the biggest she can get hold of." She embroidered, she abounded.
"I don't say it to interfere between you, but on the day she gets
hold of a bigger one--!" Strether had thrown back his head as in
silent mirth over something that struck him in her audacity or
felicity, and her flight meanwhile was already higher. "Therefore
close with her--!"
"Close with her?" he asked as she seemed to hang poised.
"Before you lose your chance."
Their eyes met over it. "What do you mean by closing?"
"And what do I mean by your chance? I'll tell you when you tell me
all the things YOU don't. Is it her GREATEST fad?" she briskly
"The Review?" He seemed to wonder how he could best describe it.
This resulted however but in a sketch. "It's her tribute to the
"I see. You go in for tremendous things."
"We go in for the unpopular side--that is so far as we dare."
"And how far DO you dare?"
"Well, she very far. I much less. I don't begin to have her faith.
She provides," said Strether, "three fourths of that. And she
provides, as I've confided to you, ALL the money."
It evoked somehow a vision of gold that held for a little Miss
Gostrey's eyes, and she looked as if she heard the bright dollars
shovelled in. "I hope then you make a good thing--"
"I NEVER made a good thing!" he at once returned.
She just waited. "Don't you call it a good thing to be loved?"
"Oh we're not loved. We're not even hated. We're only just sweetly
She had another pause. "You don't trust me!" she once more repeated.
"Don't I when I lift the last veil?--tell you the very secret of
the prison-house?"
Again she met his eyes, but to the result that after an instant
her own turned away with impatience. "You don't sell? Oh I'm glad
of THAT!" After which however, and before he could protest, she was
off again. "She's just a MORAL swell."
He accepted gaily enough the definition. "Yes--I really think that
describes her."
But it had for his friend the oddest connexion. "How does she do
her hair?"
He laughed out. "Beautifully!"
"Ah that doesn't tell me. However, it doesn't matter--I know. It's
tremendously neat--a real reproach; quite remarkably thick and
without, as yet, a single strand of white. There!"
He blushed for her realism, but gaped at her truth. "You're the
very deuce."
"What else SHOULD I be? It was as the very deuce I pounced on you.
But don't let it trouble you, for everything but the very deuce--
at our age--is a bore and a delusion, and even he himself, after all,
but half a joy." With which, on a single sweep of her wing, she
resumed. "You assist her to expiate--which is rather hard when
you've yourself not sinned."
"It's she who hasn't sinned," Strether replied. "I've sinned the
"Ah," Miss Gostrey cynically laughed, "what a picture of HER!
Have you robbed the widow and the orphan?"
"I've sinned enough," said Strether.
"Enough for whom? Enough for what?"
"Well, to be where I am."
"Thank you!" They were disturbed at this moment by the passage
between their knees and the back of the seats before them of a
gentleman who had been absent during a part of the performance and
who now returned for the close; but the interruption left Miss
Gostrey time, before the subsequent hush, to express as a sharp
finality her sense of the moral of all their talk. "I knew you had
something up your sleeve!" This finality, however, left them in its
turn, at the end of the play, as disposed to hang back as if they
had still much to say; so that they easily agreed to let every one
go before them--they found an interest in waiting. They made out
from the lobby that the night had turned to rain; yet Miss Gostrey
let her friend know that he wasn't to see her home. He was simply
to put her, by herself, into a four-wheeler; she liked so in
London, of wet nights after wild pleasures, thinking things over,
on the return, in lonely four-wheelers. This was her great time,
she intimated, for pulling herself together. The delays caused by
the weather, the struggle for vehicles at the door, gave them
occasion to subside on a divan at the back of the vestibule and
just beyond the reach of the fresh damp gusts from the street. Here
Strether's comrade resumed that free handling of the subject to
which his own imagination of it already owed so much. "Does your
young friend in Paris like you?"
It had almost, after the interval, startled him. "Oh I hope not!
Why SHOULD he?"
"Why shouldn't he?" Miss Gostrey asked. "That you're coming down on
him need have nothing to do with it."
"You see more in it," he presently returned, "than I."
"Of course I see you in it."
"Well then you see more in 'me'!"
"Than you see in yourself? Very likely. That's always one's right.
What I was thinking of," she explained, "is the possible particular
effect on him of his milieu."
"Oh his milieu--!" Strether really felt he could imagine it better
now than three hours before.
"Do you mean it can only have been so lowering?"
"Why that's my very starting-point."
"Yes, but you start so far back. What do his letters say?"
"Nothing. He practically ignores us--or spares us. He doesn't
"I see. But there are all the same," she went on, "two quite
distinct things that--given the wonderful place he's in--may have
happened to him. One is that he may have got brutalised. The other
is that he may have got refined."
Strether stared--this WAS a novelty. "Refined?"
"Oh," she said quietly, "there ARE refinements."
The way of it made him, after looking at her, break into a laugh.
"YOU have them!"
"As one of the signs," she continued in the same tone, "they
constitute perhaps the worst."
He thought it over and his gravity returned. "Is it a refinement
not to answer his mother's letters?"
She appeared to have a scruple, but she brought it out. "Oh I
should say the greatest of all."
"Well," said Strether, "I'M quite content to let it, as one of the
signs, pass for the worst that I know he believes he can do what he
likes with me."
This appeared to strike her. "How do you know it?"
"Oh I'm sure of it. I feel it in my bones."
"Feel he CAN do it?"
"Feel that he believes he can. It may come to the same thing!"
Strether laughed.
She wouldn't, however, have this. "Nothing for you will ever come
to the same thing as anything else." And she understood what she
meant, it seemed, sufficiently to go straight on. "You say that if
he does break he'll come in for things at home?"
"Quite positively. He'll come in for a particular chance--a chance
that any properly constituted young man would jump at. The
business has so developed that an opening scarcely apparent three
years ago, but which his father's will took account of as in
certain conditions possible and which, under that will, attaches
to Chad's availing himself of it a large contingent advantage--
this opening, the conditions having come about, now simply awaits
him. His mother has kept it for him, holding out against strong
pressure, till the last possible moment. It requires, naturally,
as it carries with it a handsome 'part,' a large share in profits,
his being on the spot and making a big effort for a big result.
That's what I mean by his chance. If he misses it he comes in, as
you say, for nothing. And to see that he doesn't miss it is, in a
word, what I've come out for."
She let it all sink in. "What you've come out for then is simply
to render him an immense service."
Well, poor Strether was willing to take it so. "Ah if you like."
"He stands, as they say, if you succeed with him, to gain--"
"Oh a lot of advantages." Strether had them clearly at his
fingers' ends.
"By which you mean of course a lot of money."
"Well, not only. I'm acting with a sense for him of other things
too. Consideration and comfort and security--the general safety of
being anchored by a strong chain. He wants, as I see him, to be
protected. Protected I mean from life."
"Ah voila!"--her thought fitted with a click. "From life. What you
REALLY want to get him home for is to marry him."
"Well, that's about the size of it."
"Of course," she said, "it's rudimentary. But to any one in
He smiled at this, looking a little more conscious. "You get
everything out."
For a moment again their eyes met. "You put everything in!"
He acknowledged the tribute by telling her. "To Mamie Pocock."
She wondered; then gravely, even exquisitely, as if to make the
oddity also fit: "His own niece?"
"Oh you must yourself find a name for the relation. His
brother-in-law's sister. Mrs. Jim's sister-in-law."
It seemed to have on Miss Gostrey a certain hardening effect. "And
who in the world's Mrs. Jim?"
"Chad's sister--who was Sarah Newsome. She's married--didn't I
mention it?--to Jim Pocock."
"Ah yes," she tacitly replied; but he had mentioned things--!
Then, however, with all the sound it could have, "Who in the
world's Jim Pocock?" she asked.
"Why Sally's husband. That's the only way we distinguish people at
Woollett," he good-humoredly explained.
"And is it a great distinction--being Sally's husband?"
He considered. "I think there can be scarcely a greater--unless it
may become one, in the future, to be Chad's wife."
"Then how do they distinguish YOU?"
"They DON'T--except, as I've told you, by the green cover."
Once more their eyes met on it, and she held him an instant. "The
green cover won't--nor will ANY cover--avail you with ME. You're
of a depth of duplicity!" Still, she could in her own large grasp
of the real condone it. "Is Mamie a great parti?"
"Oh the greatest we have--our prettiest brightest girl."
Miss Gostrey seemed to fix the poor child. "I know what they CAN
be. And with money?"
"Not perhaps with a great deal of that--but with so much of
everything else that we don't miss it. We DON'T miss money much,
you know," Strether added, "in general, in America, in pretty
"No," she conceded; "but I know also what you do sometimes miss.
And do you," she asked, "yourself admire her?"
It was a question, he indicated, that there might be several ways
of taking; but he decided after an instant for the humorous.
"Haven't I sufficiently showed you how I admire ANY pretty girl?';
Her interest in his problem was by this time such that it scarce
left her freedom, and she kept close to the facts. "I supposed
that at Woollett you wanted them--what shall I call it?--
blameless. I mean your young men for your pretty girls."
"So did I!" Strether confessed. "But you strike there a curious
fact--the fact that Woollett too accommodates itself to the spirit
of the age and the increasing mildness of manners. Everything
changes, and I hold that our situation precisely marks a date. We
SHOULD prefer them blameless, but we have to make the best of them
as we find them. Since the spirit of the age and the increasing
mildness send them so much more to Paris--"
"You've to take them back as they come. When they DO come. Bon!"
Once more she embraced it all, but she had a moment of thought.
"Poor Chad!"
"Ah," said Strether cheerfully "Mamie will save him!"
She was looking away, still in her vision, and she spoke with
impatience and almost as if he hadn't understood her. "YOU'LL save
him. That's who'll save him."
"Oh but with Mamie's aid. Unless indeed you mean," he added, "that
I shall effect so much more with yours!"
It made her at last again look at him. "You'll do more--as you're
so much better--than all of us put together."
"I think I'm only better since I've known YOU!" Strether bravely
The depletion of the place, the shrinkage of the crowd and now
comparatively quiet withdrawal of its last elements had already
brought them nearer the door and put them in relation with a
messenger of whom he bespoke Miss Gostrey's cab. But this left
them a few minutes more, which she was clearly in no mood not to
use. "You've spoken to me of what--by your success--Mr. Chad
stands to gain. But you've not spoken to me of what you do."
"Oh I've nothing more to gain," said Strether very simply.
She took it as even quite too simple. "You mean you've got it all
'down'? You've been paid in advance?"
"Ah don't talk about payment!" he groaned.
Something in the tone of it pulled her up, but as their messenger
still delayed she had another chance and she put it in another
way. "What--by failure--do you stand to lose?"
He still, however, wouldn't have it. "Nothing!" he exclaimed, and
on the messenger's at this instant reappearing he was able to sink
the subject in their responsive advance. When, a few steps up the
street, under a lamp, he had put her into her four-wheeler and she
had asked him if the man had called for him no second conveyance,
he replied before the door was closed. "You won't take me with
"Not for the world."
"Then I shall walk."
"In the rain?"
"I like the rain," said Strether. "Good-night!"
She kept him a moment, while his hand was on the door, by not
answering; after which she answered by repeating her question.
"What do you stand to lose?"
Why the question now affected him as other he couldn't have said;
he could only this time meet it otherwise. "Everything."
"So I thought. Then you shall succeed. And to that end I'm yours--"
"Ah, dear lady!" he kindly breathed.
"Till death!" said Maria Gostrey. "Good-night."
Strether called, his second morning in Paris, on the bankers of
the Rue Scribe to whom his letter of credit was addressed, and he
made this visit attended by Waymarsh, in whose company he had
crossed from London two days before. They had hastened to the Rue
Scribe on the morrow of their arrival, but Strether had not then
found the letters the hope of which prompted this errand. He had
had as yet none at all; hadn't expected them in London, but had
counted on several in Paris, and, disconcerted now, had presently
strolled back to the Boulevard with a sense of injury that he felt
himself taking for as good a start as any other. It would serve,
this spur to his spirit, he reflected, as, pausing at the top of
the street, he looked up and down the great foreign avenue, it
would serve to begin business with. His idea was to begin business
immediately, and it did much for him the rest of his day that the
beginning of business awaited him. He did little else till night
but ask himself what he should do if he hadn't fortunately had so
much to do; but he put himself the question in many different
situations and connexions. What carried him hither and yon was an
admirable theory that nothing he could do wouldn't be in some
manner related to what he fundamentally had on hand, or WOULD be--
should he happen to have a scruple--wasted for it. He did happen
to have a scruple--a scruple about taking no definite step till he
should get letters; but this reasoning carried it off. A single
day to feel his feet--he had felt them as yet only at Chester and
in London--was he could consider, none too much; and having, as he
had often privately expressed it, Paris to reckon with, he threw
these hours of freshness consciously into the reckoning. They made
it continually greater, but that was what it had best be if it was
to be anything at all, and he gave himself up till far into the
evening, at the theatre and on the return, after the theatre,
along the bright congested Boulevard, to feeling it grow. Waymarsh
had accompanied him this time to the play, and the two men had
walked together, as a first stage, from the Gymnase to the Cafe
Riche, into the crowded "terrace" of which establishment--the
night, or rather the morning, for midnight had struck, being bland
and populous--they had wedged themselves for refreshment.
Waymarsh, as a result of some discussion with his friend, had made
a marked virtue of his having now let himself go; and there had
been elements of impression in their half-hour over their watered
beer-glasses that gave him his occasion for conveying that he held
this compromise with his stiffer self to have become extreme. He
conveyed it--for it was still, after all, his stiffer self who
gloomed out of the glare of the terrace--in solemn silence; and
there was indeed a great deal of critical silence, every way,
between the companions, even till they gained the Place de l'Opera,
as to the character of their nocturnal progress.
This morning there WERE letters--letters which had reached London,
apparently all together, the day of Strether's journey, and had
taken their time to follow him; so that, after a controlled
impulse to go into them in the reception-room of the bank, which,
reminding him of the post-office at Woollett, affected him as the
abutment of some transatlantic bridge, he slipped them into the
pocket of his loose grey overcoat with a sense of the felicity of
carrying them off. Waymarsh, who had had letters yesterday, had
had them again to-day, and Waymarsh suggested in this particular
no controlled impulses. The last one he was at all events likely
to be observed to struggle with was clearly that of bringing to a
premature close any visit to the Rue Scribe. Strether had left him
there yesterday; he wanted to see the papers, and he had spent, by
what his friend could make out, a succession of hours with the
papers. He spoke of the establishment, with emphasis, as a post of
superior observation; just as he spoke generally of his actual
damnable doom as a device for hiding from him what was going on.
Europe was best described, to his mind, as an elaborate engine for
dissociating the confined American from that indispensable
knowledge, and was accordingly only rendered bearable by these
occasional stations of relief, traps for the arrest of wandering
western airs. Strether, on his side, set himself to walk again--he
had his relief in his pocket; and indeed, much as he had desired
his budget, the growth of restlessness might have been marked in
him from the moment he had assured himself of the superscription
of most of the missives it contained. This restlessness became
therefore his temporary law; he knew he should recognise as soon
as see it the best place of all for settling down with his chief
correspondent. He had for the next hour an accidental air of
looking for it in the windows of shops; he came down the Rue de la
Paix in the sun and, passing across the Tuileries and the river,
indulged more than once--as if on finding himself determined--in a
sudden pause before the book-stalls of the opposite quay. In the
garden of the Tuileries he had lingered, on two or three spots, to
look; it was as if the wonderful Paris spring had stayed him as he
roamed. The prompt Paris morning struck its cheerful notes--in a
soft breeze and a sprinkled smell, in the light flit, over the
garden-floor, of bareheaded girls with the buckled strap of oblong
boxes, in the type of ancient thrifty persons basking betimes
where terrace-walls were warm, in the blue-frocked brass-labelled
officialism of humble rakers and scrapers, in the deep references
of a straight-pacing priest or the sharp ones of a white-gaitered
red-legged soldier. He watched little brisk figures, figures whose
movement was as the tick of the great Paris clock, take their
smooth diagonal from point to point; the air had a taste as of
something mixed with art, something that presented nature as a
white-capped master-chef. The palace was gone, Strether remembered
the palace; and when he gazed into the irremediable void of its
site the historic sense in him might have been freely at play--the
play under which in Paris indeed it so often winces like a touched
nerve. He filled out spaces with dim symbols of scenes; he caught
the gleam of white statues at the base of which, with his letters
out, he could tilt back a straw-bottomed chair. But his drift was,
for reasons, to the other side, and it floated him unspent up the
Rue de Seine and as far as the Luxembourg. In the Luxembourg
Gardens he pulled up; here at last he found his nook, and here, on
a penny chair from which terraces, alleys, vistas, fountains,
little trees in green tubs, little women in white caps and shrill
little girls at play all sunnily "composed" together, he passed an
hour in which the cup of his impressions seemed truly to overflow.
But a week had elapsed since he quitted the ship, and there were
more things in his mind than so few days could account for. More
than once, during the time, he had regarded himself as admonished;
but the admonition this morning was formidably sharp. It took as
it hadn't done yet the form of a question--the question of what he
was doing with such an extraordinary sense of escape. This sense
was sharpest after he had read his letters, but that was also
precisely why the question pressed. Four of the letters were from
Mrs. Newsome and none of them short; she had lost no time, had
followed on his heels while he moved, so expressing herself that
he now could measure the probable frequency with which he should
hear. They would arrive, it would seem, her communications, at the
rate of several a week; he should be able to count, it might even
prove, on more than one by each mail. If he had begun yesterday
with a small grievance he had therefore an opportunity to begin
to-day with its opposite. He read the letters successively and
slowly, putting others back into his pocket but keeping these for
a long time afterwards gathered in his lap. He held them there,
lost in thought, as if to prolong the presence of what they gave
him; or as if at the least to assure them their part in the
constitution of some lucidity. His friend wrote admirably, and her
tone was even more in her style than in her voice--he might
almost, for the hour, have had to come this distance to get its
full carrying quality; yet the plentitude of his consciousness of
difference consorted perfectly with the deepened intensity of the
connexion. It was the difference, the difference of being just
where he was and AS he was, that formed the escape--this
difference was so much greater than he had dreamed it would be;
and what he finally sat there turning over was the strange logic
of his finding himself so free. He felt it in a manner his duty to
think out his state, to approve the process, and when he came in
fact to trace the steps and add up the items they sufficiently
accounted for the sum. He had never expected--that was the truth
of it--again to find himself young, and all the years and other
things it had taken to make him so were exactly his present
arithmetic. He had to make sure of them to put his scruple to
It all sprang at bottom from the beauty of Mrs. Newsome's desire
that he should be worried with nothing that was not of the essence
of his task; by insisting that he should thoroughly intermit and
break she had so provided for his freedom that she would, as it
were, have only herself to thank. Strether could not at this point
indeed have completed his thought by the image of what she might
have to thank herself FOR: the image, at best, of his own
likeness-poor Lambert Strether washed up on the sunny strand by
the waves of a single day, poor Lambert Strether thankful for
breathing-time and stiffening himself while he gasped. There he
was, and with nothing in his aspect or his posture to scandalise:
it was only true that if he had seen Mrs. Newsome coming he would
instinctively have jumped up to walk away a little. He would have
come round and back to her bravely, but he would have had first to
pull himself together. She abounded in news of the situation at
home, proved to him how perfectly she was arranging for his
absence, told him who would take up this and who take up that
exactly where he had left it, gave him in fact chapter and verse
for the moral that nothing would suffer. It filled for him, this
tone of hers, all the air; yet it struck him at the same time as
the hum of vain things. This latter effect was what he tried to
justify--and with the success that, grave though the appearance,
he at last lighted on a form that was happy. He arrived at it by
the inevitable recognition of his having been a fortnight before
one of the weariest of men. If ever a man had come off tired
Lambert Strether was that man; and hadn't it been distinctly on
the ground of his fatigue that his wonderful friend at home had so
felt for him and so contrived? It seemed to him somehow at these
instants that, could he only maintain with sufficient firmness his
grasp of that truth, it might become in a manner his compass and
his helm. What he wanted most was some idea that would simplify,
and nothing would do this so much as the fact that he was done for
and finished. If it had been in such a light that he had just
detected in his cup the dregs of youth, that was a mere flaw of
the surface of his scheme. He was so distinctly fagged-out that it
must serve precisely as his convenience, and if he could but
consistently be good for little enough he might do everything he
Everything he wanted was comprised moreover in a single boon--the
common unattainable art of taking things as they came. He appeared
to himself to have given his best years to an active appreciation
of the way they didn't come; but perhaps--as they would seemingly
here be things quite other--this long ache might at last drop to
rest. He could easily see that from the moment he should accept
the notion of his foredoomed collapse the last thing he would lack
would be reasons and memories. Oh if he SHOULD do the sum no slate
would hold the figures! The fact that he had failed, as he
considered, in everything, in each relation and in half a dozen
trades, as he liked luxuriously to put it, might have made, might
still make, for an empty present; but it stood solidly for a
crowded past. It had not been, so much achievement missed, a light
yoke nor a short load.[sic] It was at present as if the backward
picture had hung there, the long crooked course, grey in the
shadow of his solitude. It had been a dreadful cheerful sociable
solitude, a solitude of life or choice, of community; but though
there had been people enough all round it there had been but three
or four persons IN it. Waymarsh was one of these, and the fact
struck him just now as marking the record. Mrs. Newsome was
another, and Miss Gostrey had of a sudden shown signs of becoming
a third. Beyond, behind them was the pale figure of his real
youth, which held against its breast the two presences paler than
itself--the young wife he had early lost and the young son he had
stupidly sacrificed. He had again and again made out for himself
that he might have kept his little boy, his little dull boy who
had died at school of rapid diphtheria, if he had not in those
years so insanely given himself to merely missing the mother. It
was the soreness of his remorse that the child had in all
likelihood not really been dull--had been dull, as he had been
banished and neglected, mainly because the father had been
unwittingly selfish. This was doubtless but the secret habit of
sorrow, which had slowly given way to time; yet there remained an
ache sharp enough to make the spirit, at the sight now and again
of some fair young man just growing up, wince with the thought of
an opportunity lost. Had ever a man, he had finally fallen into
the way of asking himself, lost so much and even done so much for
so little? There had been particular reasons why all yesterday,
beyond other days, he should have had in one ear this cold
enquiry. His name on the green cover, where he had put it for Mrs.
Newsome, expressed him doubtless just enough to make the world--
the world as distinguished, both for more and for less, from
Woollett--ask who he was. He had incurred the ridicule of having
to have his explanation explained. He was Lambert Strether because
he was on the cover, whereas it should have been, for anything
like glory, that he was on the cover because he was Lambert
Strether. He would have done anything for Mrs. Newsome, have been
still more ridiculous--as he might, for that matter, have occasion
to be yet; which came to saying that this acceptance of fate was
all he had to show at fifty-five.
He judged the quantity as small because it WAS small, and all the
more egregiously since it couldn't, as he saw the case, so much as
thinkably have been larger. He hadn't had the gift of making the
most of what he tried, and if he had tried and tried again--no one
but himself knew how often--it appeared to have been that he might
demonstrate what else, in default of that, COULD be made. Old
ghosts of experiments came back to him, old drudgeries and
delusions, and disgusts, old recoveries with their relapses, old
fevers with their chills, broken moments of good faith, others of
still better doubt; adventures, for the most part, of the sort
qualified as lessons. The special spring that had constantly
played for him the day before was the recognition--frequent enough
to surprise him--of the promises to himself that he had after his
other visit never kept. The reminiscence to-day most quickened for
him was that of the vow taken in the course of the pilgrimage
that, newly-married, with the War just over, and helplessly young
in spite of it, he had recklessly made with the creature who was
so much younger still. It had been a bold dash, for which they had
taken money set apart for necessities, but kept sacred at the
moment in a hundred ways, and in none more so than by this private
pledge of his own to treat the occasion as a relation formed with
the higher culture and see that, as they said at Woollett, it
should bear a good harvest. He had believed, sailing home again,
that he had gained something great, and his theory--with an
elaborate innocent plan of reading, digesting, coming back even,
every few years--had then been to preserve, cherish and extend it.
As such plans as these had come to nothing, however, in respect to
acquisitions still more precious, it was doubtless little enough
of a marvel that he should have lost account of that handful of
seed. Buried for long years in dark corners at any rate these few
germs had sprouted again under forty-eight hours of Paris. The
process of yesterday had really been the process of feeling the
general stirred life of connexions long since individually
dropped. Strether had become acquainted even on this ground with
short gusts of speculation--sudden flights of fancy in Louvre
galleries, hungry gazes through clear plates behind which
lemon-coloured volumes were as fresh as fruit on the tree.
There were instants at which he could ask whether, since there had
been fundamentally so little question of his keeping anything, the
fate after all decreed for him hadn't been only to BE kept. Kept
for something, in that event, that he didn't pretend, didn't
possibly dare as yet to divine; something that made him hover and
wonder and laugh and sigh, made him advance and retreat, feeling
half ashamed of his impulse to plunge and more than half afraid of
his impulse to wait. He remembered for instance how he had gone
back in the sixties with lemon-coloured volumes in general on the
brain as well as with a dozen--selected for his wife too--in his
trunk; and nothing had at the moment shown more confidence than
this invocation of the finer taste. They were still somewhere at
home, the dozen--stale and soiled and never sent to the binder;
but what had become of the sharp initiation they represented? They
represented now the mere sallow paint on the door of the temple of
taste that he had dreamed of raising up--a structure he had
practically never carried further. Strether's present highest
flights were perhaps those in which this particular lapse figured
to him as a symbol, a symbol of his long grind and his want of odd
moments, his want moreover of money, of opportunity, of positive
dignity. That the memory of the vow of his youth should, in order
to throb again, have had to wait for this last, as he felt it, of
all his accidents--that was surely proof enough of how his
conscience had been encumbered. If any further proof were needed
it would have been to be found in the fact that, as he perfectly
now saw, he had ceased even to measure his meagreness, a
meagreness that sprawled, in this retrospect, vague and
comprehensive, stretching back like some unmapped Hinterland from
a rough coast-settlement. His conscience had been amusing itself
for the forty-eight hours by forbidding him the purchase of a
book; he held off from that, held off from everything; from the
moment he didn't yet call on Chad he wouldn't for the world have
taken any other step. On this evidence, however, of the way they
actually affected him he glared at the lemon-coloured covers in
confession of the subconsciousness that, all the same, in the
great desert of the years, he must have had of them. The green
covers at home comprised, by the law of their purpose, no tribute
to letters; it was of a mere rich kernel of economics, politics,
ethics that, glazed and, as Mrs. Newsome maintained rather against
HIS view, pre-eminently pleasant to touch, they formed the
specious shell. Without therefore any needed instinctive knowledge
of what was coming out, in Paris, on the bright highway, he struck
himself at present as having more than once flushed with a
suspicion: he couldn't otherwise at present be feeling so many
fears confirmed. There were "movements" he was too late for:
weren't they, with the fun of them, already spent? There were
sequences he had missed and great gaps in the procession: he might
have been watching it all recede in a golden cloud of dust. If the
playhouse wasn't closed his seat had at least fallen to somebody
else. He had had an uneasy feeling the night before that if he was
at the theatre at all--though he indeed justified the theatre, in
the specific sense, and with a grotesqueness to which his
imagination did all honour, as something he owed poor Waymarsh--he
should have been there with, and as might have been said, FOR
This suggested the question of whether he could properly have
taken him to such a play, and what effect--it was a point that
suddenly rose--his peculiar responsibility might be held in
general to have on his choice of entertainment. It had literally
been present to him at the Gymnase--where one was held moreover
comparatively safe--that having his young friend at his side would
have been an odd feature of the work of redemption; and this quite
in spite of the fact that the picture presented might well,
confronted with Chad's own private stage, have seemed the pattern
of propriety. He clearly hadn't come out in the name of propriety
but to visit unattended equivocal performances; yet still less had
he done so to undermine his authority by sharing them with the
graceless youth. Was he to renounce all amusement for the sweet
sake of that authority? and WOULD such renouncement give him for
Chad a moral glamour? The little problem bristled the more by
reason of poor Strether's fairly open sense of the irony of
things. Were there then sides on which his predicament threatened
to look rather droll to him? Should he have to pretend to believe--
either to himself or the wretched boy--that there was anything
that could make the latter worse? Wasn't some such pretence on the
other hand involved in the assumption of possible processes that
would make him better? His greatest uneasiness seemed to peep at
him out of the imminent impression that almost any acceptance of
Paris might give one's authority away. It hung before him this
morning, the vast bright Babylon, like some huge iridescent
object, a jewel brilliant and hard, in which parts were not to be
discriminated nor differences comfortably marked. It twinkled and
trembled and melted together, and what seemed all surface one
moment seemed all depth the next. It was a place of which,
unmistakeably, Chad was fond; wherefore if he, Strether, should
like it too much, what on earth, with such a bond, would become of
either of them? It all depended of course--which was a gleam of
light--on how the "too much" was measured; though indeed our
friend fairly felt, while he prolonged the meditation I describe,
that for himself even already a certain measure had been reached.
It will have been sufficiently seen that he was not a man to
neglect any good chance for reflexion. Was it at all possible for
instance to like Paris enough without liking it too much? He
luckily however hadn't promised Mrs. Newsome not to like it at
all. He was ready to recognise at this stage that such an
engagement WOULD have tied his hands. The Luxembourg Gardens were
incontestably just so adorable at this hour by reason--in addition
to their intrinsic charm--of his not having taken it. The only
engagement he had taken, when he looked the thing in the face, was
to do what he reasonably could.
It upset him a little none the less and after a while to find
himself at last remembering on what current of association he had
been floated so far. Old imaginations of the Latin Quarter had
played their part for him, and he had duly recalled its having
been with this scene of rather ominous legend that, like so many
young men in fiction as well as in fact, Chad had begun. He was
now quite out of it, with his "home," as Strether figured the
place, in the Boulevard Malesherbes; which was perhaps why,
repairing, not to fail of justice either, to the elder
neighbourhood, our friend had felt he could allow for the element
of the usual, the immemorial, without courting perturbation. He
was not at least in danger of seeing the youth and the particular
Person flaunt by together; and yet he was in the very air of
which--just to feel what the early natural note must have been--he
wished most to take counsel. It became at once vivid to him that
he had originally had, for a few days, an almost envious vision of
the boy's romantic privilege. Melancholy Murger, with Francine and
Musette and Rodolphe, at home, in the company of the tattered,
one--if he not in his single self two or three--of the unbound,
the paper-covered dozen on the shelf; and when Chad had written,
five years ago, after a sojourn then already prolonged to six
months, that he had decided to go in for economy and the real
thing, Strether's fancy had quite fondly accompanied him in this
migration, which was to convey him, as they somewhat confusedly
learned at Woollett, across the bridges and up the Montagne
Sainte-Genevieve. This was the region--Chad had been quite
distinct about it--in which the best French, and many other
things, were to be learned at least cost, and in which all sorts
of clever fellows, compatriots there for a purpose, formed an
awfully pleasant set. The clever fellows, the friendly countrymen
were mainly young painters, sculptors, architects, medical
students; but they were, Chad sagely opined, a much more
profitable lot to be with--even on the footing of not being quite
one of them--than the "terrible toughs" (Strether remembered the
edifying discrimination) of the American bars and banks
roundabout the Opera. Chad had thrown out, in the communications
following this one--for at that time he did once in a while
communicate--that several members of a band of earnest workers
under one of the great artists had taken him right in, making him
dine every night, almost for nothing, at their place, and even
pressing him not to neglect the hypothesis of there being as much
"in him" as in any of them. There had been literally a moment at
which it appeared there might be something in him; there had been
at any rate a moment at which he had written that he didn't know
but what a month or two more might see him enrolled in some
atelier. The season had been one at which Mrs. Newsome was moved
to gratitude for small mercies; it had broken on them all as a
blessing that their absentee HAD perhaps a conscience--that he was
sated in fine with idleness, was ambitious of variety. The
exhibition was doubtless as yet not brilliant, but Strether
himself, even by that time much enlisted and immersed, had
determined, on the part of the two ladies, a temperate approval
and in fact, as he now recollected, a certain austere enthusiasm.
But the very next thing that happened had been a dark drop of the
curtain. The son and brother had not browsed long on the Montagne
Sainte-Genevieve--his effective little use of the name of which,
like his allusion to the best French, appeared to have been but
one of the notes of his rough cunning. The light refreshment of
these vain appearances had not accordingly carried any of them
very far. On the other hand it had gained Chad time; it had given
him a chance, unchecked, to strike his roots, had paved the way
for initiations more direct and more deep. It was Strether's
belief that he had been comparatively innocent before this first
migration, and even that the first effects of the migration would
not have been, without some particular bad accident, to have been
deplored. There had been three months--he had sufficiently figured
it out--in which Chad had wanted to try. He HAD tried, though not
very hard--he had had his little hour of good faith. The weakness
of this principle in him was that almost any accident attestedly
bad enough was stronger. Such had at any rate markedly been the
case for the precipitation of a special series of impressions.
They had proved, successively, these impressions--all of Musette
and Francine, but Musette and Francine vulgarised by the larger
evolution of the type--irresistibly sharp: he had "taken up," by
what was at the time to be shrinkingly gathered, as it was scantly
mentioned, with one ferociously "interested" little person after
another. Strether had read somewhere of a Latin motto, a
description of the hours, observed on a clock by a traveller in
Spain; and he had been led to apply it in thought to Chad's number
one, number two, number three. Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat--they
had all morally wounded, the last had morally killed. The last had
been longest in possession--in possession, that is, of whatever
was left of the poor boy's finer mortality. And it hadn't been
she, it had been one of her early predecessors, who had determined
the second migration, the expensive return and relapse, the
exchange again, as was fairly to be presumed, of the vaunted best
French for some special variety of the worst.
He pulled himself then at last together for his own progress back;
not with the feeling that he had taken his walk in vain. He
prolonged it a little, in the immediate neighbourhood, after he
had quitted his chair; and the upshot of the whole morning for him
was that his campaign had begun. He had wanted to put himself in
relation, and he would be hanged if he were NOT in relation. He
was that at no moment so much as while, under the old arches of
the Odeon, he lingered before the charming open-air array of
literature classic and casual. He found the effect of tone and
tint, in the long charged tables and shelves, delicate and
appetising; the impression--substituting one kind of low-priced
consommation for another--might have been that of one of the
pleasant cafes that overlapped, under an awning, to the pavement;
but he edged along, grazing the tables, with his hands firmly
behind him. He wasn't there to dip, to consume--he was there to
reconstruct. He wasn't there for his own profit--not, that is, the
direct; he was there on some chance of feeling the brush of the
wing of the stray spirit of youth. He felt it in fact, he had it
beside him; the old arcade indeed, as his inner sense listened,
gave out the faint sound, as from far off, of the wild waving of
wings. They were folded now over the breasts of buried generations;
but a flutter or two lived again in the turned page of shock-headed
slouch-hatted loiterers whose young intensity of type, in the direction
of pale acuteness, deepened his vision, and even his appreciation,
of racial differences, and whose manipulation of the uncut volume was
too often, however, but a listening at closed doors. He reconstructed
a possible groping Chad of three or four years before, a Chad who had,
after all, simply--for that was the only way to see it--been too vulgar
for his privilege. Surely it WAS a privilege to have been young and
happy just there. Well, the best thing Strether knew of him was that
he had had such a dream.
But his own actual business half an hour later was with a third
floor on the Boulevard Malesherbes--so much as that was definite;
and the fact of the enjoyment by the third-floor windows of a
continuous balcony, to which he was helped by this knowledge, had
perhaps something to do with his lingering for five minutes on the
opposite side of the street. There were points as to which he had
quite made up his mind, and one of these bore precisely on the
wisdom of the abruptness to which events had finally committed him,
a policy that he was pleased to find not at all shaken as he now
looked at his watch and wondered. He HAD announced himself--six
months before; had written out at least that Chad wasn't to be
surprised should he see him some day turn up. Chad had thereupon,
in a few words of rather carefully colourless answer, offered him a
general welcome; and Strether, ruefully reflecting that he might
have understood the warning as a hint to hospitality, a bid for an
invitation, had fallen back upon silence as the corrective most to
his own taste. He had asked Mrs. Newsome moreover not to announce
him again; he had so distinct an opinion on his attacking his job,
should he attack it at all, in his own way. Not the least of this
lady's high merits for him was that he could absolutely rest on her
word. She was the only woman he had known, even at Woollett, as to
whom his conviction was positive that to lie was beyond her art.
Sarah Pocock, for instance, her own daughter, though with social
ideals, as they said, in some respects different--Sarah who WAS, in
her way, aesthetic, had never refused to human commerce that
mitigation of rigour; there were occasions when he had distinctly
seen her apply it. Since, accordingly, at all events, he had had it
from Mrs. Newsome that she had, at whatever cost to her more
strenuous view, conformed, in the matter of preparing Chad, wholly
to his restrictions, he now looked up at the fine continuous
balcony with a safe sense that if the case had been bungled the
mistake was at least his property. Was there perhaps just a
suspicion of that in his present pause on the edge of the Boulevard
and well in the pleasant light?
Many things came over him here, and one of them was that he should
doubtless presently know whether he had been shallow or sharp.
Another was that the balcony in question didn't somehow show as a
convenience easy to surrender. Poor Strether had at this very
moment to recognise the truth that wherever one paused in Paris the
imagination reacted before one could stop it. This perpetual
reaction put a price, if one would, on pauses; but it piled up
consequences till there was scarce room to pick one's steps among
them. What call had he, at such a juncture, for example, to like
Chad's very house? High broad clear--he was expert enough to make
out in a moment that it was admirably built--it fairly embarrassed
our friend by the quality that, as he would have said, it "sprang"
on him. He had struck off the fancy that it might, as a
preliminary, be of service to him to be seen, by a happy accident,
from the third-story windows, which took all the March sun, but of
what service was it to find himself making out after a moment that
the quality "sprung," the quality produced by measure and balance,
the fine relation of part to part and space to space, was probably--
aided by the presence of ornament as positive as it was discreet,
and by the complexion of the stone, a cold fair grey, warmed and
polished a little by life--neither more nor less than a case of
distinction, such a case as he could only feel unexpectedly as a
sort of delivered challenge? Meanwhile, however, the chance he had
allowed for--the chance of being seen in time from the balcony--had
become a fact. Two or three of the windows stood open to the violet
air; and, before Strether had cut the knot by crossing, a young man
had come out and looked about him, had lighted a cigarette and
tossed the match over, and then, resting on the rail, had given
himself up to watching the life below while he smoked. His arrival
contributed, in its order, to keeping Strether in position; the
result of which in turn was that Strether soon felt himself
noticed. The young man began to look at him as in acknowledgement
of his being himself in observation.
This was interesting so far as it went, but the interest was
affected by the young man's not being Chad. Strether wondered at
first if he were perhaps Chad altered, and then saw that this was
asking too much of alteration. The young man was light bright and
alert--with an air too pleasant to have been arrived at by
patching. Strether had conceived Chad as patched, but not beyond
recognition. He was in presence, he felt, of amendments enough as
they stood; it was a sufficient amendment that the gentleman up
there should be Chad's friend. He was young too then, the gentleman
up there--he was very young; young enough apparently to be amused
at an elderly watcher, to be curious even to see what the elderly
watcher would do on finding himself watched. There was youth in
that, there was youth in the surrender to the balcony, there was
youth for Strether at this moment in everything but his own
business; and Chad's thus pronounced association with youth had
given the next instant an extraordinary quick lift to the issue.
The balcony, the distinguished front, testified suddenly, for
Strether's fancy, to something that was up and up; they placed the
whole case materially, and as by an admirable image, on a level
that he found himself at the end of another moment rejoicing to
think he might reach. The young man looked at him still, he looked
at the young man; and the issue, by a rapid process, was that this
knowledge of a perched privacy appeared to him the last of
luxuries. To him too the perched privacy was open, and he saw it
now but in one light--that of the only domicile, the only fireside,
in the great ironic city, on which he had the shadow of a claim.
Miss Gostrey had a fireside; she had told him of it, and it was
something that doubtless awaited him; but Miss Gostrey hadn't yet
arrived--she mightn't arrive for days; and the sole attenuation of
his excluded state was his vision of the small, the admittedly
secondary hotel in the bye-street from the Rue de la Paix, in which
her solicitude for his purse had placed him, which affected him
somehow as all indoor chill, glass-roofed court and slippery
staircase, and which, by the same token, expressed the presence of
Waymarsh even at times when Waymarsh might have been certain to be
round at the bank. It came to pass before he moved that Waymarsh,
and Waymarsh alone, Waymarsh not only undiluted but positively
strengthened, struck him as the present alternative to the young
man in the balcony. When he did move it was fairly to escape that
alternative. Taking his way over the street at last and passing
through the porte-cochere of the house was like consciously leaving
Waymarsh out. However, he would tell him all about it.
Book Third
Strether told Waymarsh all about it that very evening, on their
dining together at the hotel; which needn't have happened, he was
all the while aware, hadn't he chosen to sacrifice to this occasion
a rarer opportunity. The mention to his companion of the sacrifice
was moreover exactly what introduced his recital--or, as he would
have called it with more confidence in his interlocutor, his
confession. His confession was that he had been captured and that
one of the features of the affair had just failed to be his
engaging himself on the spot to dinner. As by such a freedom
Waymarsh would have lost him he had obeyed his scruple; and he had
likewise obeyed another scruple--which bore on the question of his
himself bringing a guest.
Waymarsh looked gravely ardent, over the finished soup, at this
array of scruples; Strether hadn't yet got quite used to being so
unprepared for the consequences of the impression he produced. It
was comparatively easy to explain, however, that he hadn't felt
sure his guest would please. The person was a young man whose
acquaintance he had made but that afternoon in the course of rather
a hindered enquiry for another person--an enquiry his new friend
had just prevented in fact from being vain. "Oh," said Strether,
"I've all sorts of things to tell you!"--and he put it in a way
that was a virtual hint to Waymarsh to help him to enjoy the
telling. He waited for his fish, he drank of his wine, he wiped his
long moustache, he leaned back in his chair, he took in the two
English ladies who had just creaked past them and whom he would
even have articulately greeted if they hadn't rather chilled the
impulse; so that all he could do was--by way of doing something--to
say "Merci, Francois!" out quite loud when his fish was brought.
Everything was there that he wanted, everything that could make the
moment an occasion, that would do beautifully--everything but what
Waymarsh might give. The little waxed salle-a-manger was sallow and
sociable; Francois, dancing over it, all smiles, was a man and a
brother; the high-shouldered patronne, with her high-held,
much-rubbed hands, seemed always assenting exuberantly to something
unsaid; the Paris evening in short was, for Strether, in the very
taste of the soup, in the goodness, as he was innocently pleased to
think it, of the wine, in the pleasant coarse texture of the napkin
and the crunch of the thick-crusted bread. These all were things
congruous with his confession, and his confession was that he HAD--
it would come out properly just there if Waymarsh would only take
it properly--agreed to breakfast out, at twelve literally, the next
day. He didn't quite know where; the delicacy of the case came
straight up in the remembrance of his new friend's "We'll see; I'll
take you somewhere!"--for it had required little more than that,
after all, to let him right in. He was affected after a minute,
face to face with his actual comrade, by the impulse to overcolour.
There had already been things in respect to which he knew himself
tempted by this perversity. If Waymarsh thought them bad he should
at least have his reason for his discomfort; so Strether showed
them as worse. Still, he was now, in his way, sincerely perplexed.
Chad had been absent from the Boulevard Malesherbes--was absent
from Paris altogether; he had learned that from the concierge, but
had nevertheless gone up, and gone up--there were no two ways about
it--from an uncontrollable, a really, if one would, depraved
curiosity. The concierge had mentioned to him that a friend of the
tenant of the troisieme was for the time in possession; and this
had been Strether's pretext for a further enquiry, an experiment
carried on, under Chad's roof, without his knowledge. "I found his
friend in fact there keeping the place warm, as he called it, for
him; Chad himself being, as appears, in the south. He went a month
ago to Cannes and though his return begins to be looked for it
can't be for some days. I might, you see, perfectly have waited a
week; might have beaten a retreat as soon as I got this essential
knowledge. But I beat no retreat; I did the opposite; I stayed, I
dawdled, I trifled; above all I looked round. I saw, in fine; and--
I don't know what to call it--I sniffed. It's a detail, but it's as
if there were something--something very good--TO sniff."
Waymarsh's face had shown his friend an attention apparently so
remote that the latter was slightly surprised to find it at this
point abreast with him. "Do you mean a smell? What of?"
"A charming scent. But I don't know."
Waymarsh gave an inferential grunt. "Does he live there with a
"I don't know."
Waymarsh waited an instant for more, then resumed. "Has he taken
her off with him?"
"And will he bring her back?"--Strether fell into the enquiry. But
he wound it up as before. "I don't know."
The way he wound it up, accompanied as this was with another drop
back, another degustation of the Leoville, another wipe of his
moustache and another good word for Francois, seemed to produce in
his companion a slight irritation. "Then what the devil DO you
"Well," said Strether almost gaily, "I guess I don't know anything!"
His gaiety might have been a tribute to the fact that the state he
had been reduced to did for him again what had been done by his talk
of the matter with Miss Gostrey at the London theatre. It was somehow
enlarging; and the air of that amplitude was now doubtless more or
less--and all for Waymarsh to feel--in his further response. "That's
what I found out from the young man."
"But I thought you said you found out nothing."
"Nothing but that--that I don't know anything."
"And what good does that do you?"
"It's just," said Strether, "what I've come to you to help me to
discover. I mean anything about anything over here. I FELT that, up
there. It regularly rose before me in its might. The young man
moreover--Chad's friend--as good as told me so."
"As good as told you you know nothing about anything?" Waymarsh
appeared to look at some one who might have as good as told HIM.
"How old is he?"
"Well, I guess not thirty."
"Yet you had to take that from him?"
"Oh I took a good deal more--since, as I tell you, I took an
invitation to dejeuner."
"And are you GOING to that unholy meal?"
"If you'll come with me. He wants you too, you know. I told him
about you. He gave me his card," Strether pursued, "and his name's
rather funny. It's John Little Bilham, and he says his two surnames
are, on account of his being small, inevitably used together."
"Well," Waymarsh asked with due detachment from these details,
"what's he doing up there?"
"His account of himself is that he's 'only a little artist-man.'
That seemed to me perfectly to describe him. But he's yet in the
phase of study; this, you know, is the great art-school--to pass a
certain number of years in which he came over. And he's a great
friend of Chad's, and occupying Chad's rooms just now because
they're so pleasant. HE'S very pleasant and curious too," Strether
added--"though he's not from Boston."
Waymarsh looked already rather sick of him. "Where is he from?"
Strether thought. "I don't know that, either. But he's
'notoriously,' as he put it himself, not from Boston."
"Well," Waymarsh moralised from dry depths, "every one can't
notoriously be from Boston. Why," he continued, "is he curious?"
"Perhaps just for THAT--for one thing! But really," Strether added,
"for everything. When you meet him you'll see."
"Oh I don't want to meet him," Waymarsh impatiently growled. "Why
don't he go home?"
Strether hesitated. "Well, because he likes it over here."
This appeared in particular more than Waymarsh could bear. "He
ought then to be ashamed of himself, and, as you admit that you
think so too, why drag him in?"
Strether's reply again took time. "Perhaps I do think so myself--
though I don't quite yet admit it. I'm not a bit sure--it's again
one of the things I want to find out. I liked him, and CAN you like
people--? But no matter." He pulled himself up. "There's no doubt I
want you to come down on me and squash me."
Waymarsh helped himself to the next course, which, however proving
not the dish he had just noted as supplied to the English ladies,
had the effect of causing his imagination temporarily to wander.
But it presently broke out at a softer spot. "Have they got a
handsome place up there?"
"Oh a charming place; full of beautiful and valuable things. I
never saw such a place"--and Strether's thought went back to it.
"For a little artist-man--!" He could in fact scarce express it.
But his companion, who appeared now to have a view, insisted.
"Well, life can hold nothing better. Besides, they're things of
which he's in charge."
"So that he does doorkeeper for your precious pair? Can life,"
Waymarsh enquired, "hold nothing better than THAT?" Then as
Strether, silent, seemed even yet to wonder, "Doesn't he know what
SHE is?" he went on.
"I don't know. I didn't ask him. I couldn't. It was impossible. You
wouldn't either. Besides I didn't want to. No more would you."
Strether in short explained it at a stroke. "You can't make out
over here what people do know."
"Then what did you come over for?"
"Well, I suppose exactly to see for myself--without their aid."
"Then what do you want mine for?"
"Oh," Strether laughed, "you're not one of THEM! I do know what you
As, however, this last assertion caused Waymarsh again to look at
him hard--such being the latter's doubt of its implications--he
felt his justification lame. Which was still more the case when
Waymarsh presently said: "Look here, Strether. Quit this."
Our friend smiled with a doubt of his own. "Do you mean my tone?"
"No--damn your tone. I mean your nosing round. Quit the whole job.
Let them stew in their juice. You're being used for a thing you
ain't fit for. People don't take a fine-tooth comb to groom a
"Am I a fine-tooth comb?" Strether laughed. "It's something I never
called myself!"
"It's what you are, all the same. You ain't so young as you were,
but you've kept your teeth."
He acknowledged his friend's humour. "Take care I don't get them
into YOU! You'd like them, my friends at home, Waymarsh," he
declared; "you'd really particularly like them. And I know"--it was
slightly irrelevant, but he gave it sudden and singular force--"I
know they'd like you!"
"Oh don't work them off on ME!" Waymarsh groaned.
Yet Strether still lingered with his hands in his pockets. "It's
really quite as indispensable as I say that Chad should be got
"Indispensable to whom? To you?"
"Yes," Strether presently said.
"Because if you get him you also get Mrs. Newsome?"
Strether faced it. "Yes."
"And if you don't get him you don't get her?"
It might be merciless, but he continued not to flinch. "I think it
might have some effect on our personal understanding. Chad's of
real importance--or can easily become so if he will--to the
"And the business is of real importance to his mother's husband?"
"Well, I naturally want what my future wife wants. And the thing
will be much better if we have our own man in it."
"If you have your own man in it, in other words," Waymarsh said,
"you'll marry--you personally--more money. She's already rich, as I
understand you, but she'll be richer still if the business can be
made to boom on certain lines that you've laid down."
"I haven't laid them down," Strether promptly returned. "Mr. Newsome
--who knew extraordinarily well what he was about--laid them down
ten years ago."
Oh well, Waymarsh seemed to indicate with a shake of his mane, THAT
didn't matter! "You're fierce for the boom anyway."
His friend weighed a moment in silence the justice of the charge.
"I can scarcely be called fierce, I think, when I so freely take my
chance of the possibility, the danger, of being influenced in a
sense counter to Mrs. Newsome's own feelings."
Waymarsh gave this proposition a long hard look. "I see. You're
afraid yourself of being squared. But you're a humbug," he added,
all the same."
"Oh!" Strether quickly protested.
"Yes, you ask me for protection--which makes you very interesting;
and then you won't take it. You say you want to be squashed--"
"Ah but not so easily! Don't you see," Strether demanded "where my
interest, as already shown you, lies? It lies in my not being
squared. If I'm squared where's my marriage? If I miss my errand I
miss that; and if I miss that I miss everything--I'm nowhere."
Waymarsh--but all relentlessly--took this in. "What do I care where
you are if you're spoiled?"
Their eyes met on it an instant. "Thank you awfully," Strether at
last said. "But don't you think HER judgement of that--?"
"Ought to content me? No."
It kept them again face to face, and the end of this was that
Strether again laughed. "You do her injustice. You really MUST know
her. Good-night."
He breakfasted with Mr. Bilham on the morrow, and, as
inconsequently befell, with Waymarsh massively of the party. The
latter announced, at the eleventh hour and much to his friend's
surprise, that, damn it, he would as soon join him as do anything
else; on which they proceeded together, strolling in a state of
detachment practically luxurious for them to the Boulevard
Malesherbes, a couple engaged that day with the sharp spell of
Paris as confessedly, it might have been seen, as any couple
among the daily thousands so compromised. They walked, wandered,
wondered and, a little, lost themselves; Strether hadn't had for
years so rich a consciousness of time--a bag of gold into which
he constantly dipped for a handful. It was present to him that
when the little business with Mr. Bilham should be over he would
still have shining hours to use absolutely as he liked. There was
no great pulse of haste yet in this process of saving Chad; nor
was that effect a bit more marked as he sat, half an hour later,
with his legs under Chad's mahogany, with Mr. Bilham on one side,
with a friend of Mr. Bilham's on the other, with Waymarsh
stupendously opposite, and with the great hum of Paris coming up
in softness, vagueness-for Strether himself indeed already
positive sweetness--through the sunny windows toward which, the
day before, his curiosity had raised its wings from below. The
feeling strongest with him at that moment had borne fruit almost
faster than he could taste it, and Strether literally felt at the
present hour that there was a precipitation in his fate. He had
known nothing and nobody as he stood in the street; but hadn't
his view now taken a bound in the direction of every one and of
every thing?
"What's he up to, what's he up to?"--something like that was at
the back of his head all the while in respect to little Bilham;
but meanwhile, till he should make out, every one and every thing
were as good as represented for him by the combination of his
host and the lady on his left. The lady on his left, the lady
thus promptly and ingeniously invited to "meet" Mr. Strether and
Mr. Waymarsh--it was the way she herself expressed her case--was
a very marked person, a person who had much to do with our
friend's asking himself if the occasion weren't in its essence
the most baited, the most gilded of traps. Baited it could
properly be called when the repast was of so wise a savour, and
gilded surrounding objects seemed inevitably to need to be when
Miss Barrace--which was the lady's name--looked at them with
convex Parisian eyes and through a glass with a remarkably long
tortoise-shell handle. Why Miss Barrace, mature meagre erect and
eminently gay, highly adorned, perfectly familiar, freely
contradictions and reminding him of some last-century portrait of
a clever head without powder--why Miss Barrace should have been
in particular the note of a "trap" Strether couldn't on the spot
have explained; he blinked in the light of a conviction that he
should know later on, and know well--as it came over him, for
that matter, with force, that he should need to. He wondered what
he was to think exactly of either of his new friends; since the
young man, Chad's intimate and deputy, had, in thus constituting
the scene, practised so much more subtly than he had been
prepared for, and since in especial Miss Barrace, surrounded
clearly by every consideration, hadn't scrupled to figure as a
familiar object. It was interesting to him to feel that he was in
the presence of new measures, other standards, a different scale
of relations, and that evidently here were a happy pair who
didn't think of things at all as he and Waymarsh thought. Nothing
was less to have been calculated in the business than that it
should now be for him as if he and Waymarsh were comparatively
quite at one.
The latter was magnificent--this at least was an assurance
privately given him by Miss Barrace. "Oh your friend's a type,
the grand old American--what shall one call it? The Hebrew
prophet, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, who used when I was a little girl in
the Rue Montaigne to come to see my father and who was usually
the American Minister to the Tuileries or some other court. I
haven't seen one these ever so many years; the sight of it warms
my poor old chilled heart; this specimen is wonderful; in the
right quarter, you know, he'll have a succes fou." Strether
hadn't failed to ask what the right quarter might be, much as he
required his presence of mind to meet such a change in their
scheme. "Oh the artist-quarter and that kind of thing; HERE
already, for instance, as you see." He had been on the point of
echoing "'Here'?--is THIS the artist-quarter?" but she had
already disposed of the question with a wave of all her tortoise-shell
and an easy "Bring him to ME!" He knew on the spot how little he
should be able to bring him, for the very air was by this time,
to his sense, thick and hot with poor Waymarsh's judgement of it.
He was in the trap still more than his companion and, unlike
his companion, not making the best of it; which was precisely what
doubtless gave him his admirable sombre glow. Little did Miss Barrace
know that what was behind it was his grave estimate of her own laxity.
The general assumption with which our two friends had arrived had been
that of finding Mr. Bilham ready to conduct them to one or other of
those resorts of the earnest, the aesthetic fraternity which were shown
among the sights of Paris. In this character it would have justified
them in a proper insistence on discharging their score. Waymarsh's
only proviso at the last had been that nobody should pay for him;
but he found himself, as the occasion developed, paid for on a
scale as to which Strether privately made out that he already
nursed retribution. Strether was conscious across the table of
what worked in him, conscious when they passed back to the small
salon to which, the previous evening, he himself had made so rich
a reference; conscious most of all as they stepped out to the
balcony in which one would have had to be an ogre not to
recognise the perfect place for easy aftertastes. These things
were enhanced for Miss Barrace by a succession of excellent
cigarettes--acknowledged, acclaimed, as a part of the wonderful
supply left behind him by Chad--in an almost equal absorption of
which Strether found himself blindly, almost wildly pushing
forward. He might perish by the sword as well as by famine, and
he knew that his having abetted the lady by an excess that was
rare with him would count for little in the sum--as Waymarsh
might so easily add it up--of her licence. Waymarsh had smoked of
old, smoked hugely; but Waymarsh did nothing now, and that gave
him his advantage over people who took things up lightly just
when others had laid them heavily down. Strether had never
smoked, and he felt as if he flaunted at his friend that this had
been only because of a reason. The reason, it now began to appear
even to himself, was that he had never had a lady to smoke with.
It was this lady's being there at all, however, that was the
strange free thing; perhaps, since she WAS there, her smoking was
the least of her freedoms. If Strether had been sure at each
juncture of what--with Bilham in especial--she talked about, he
might have traced others and winced at them and felt Waymarsh
wince; but he was in fact so often at sea that his sense of the
range of reference was merely general and that he on several
different occasions guessed and interpreted only to doubt. He
wondered what they meant, but there were things he scarce thought
they could be supposed to mean, and "Oh no--not THAT!" was at the
end of most of his ventures. This was the very beginning with him
of a condition as to which, later on, it will be seen, he found
cause to pull himself up; and he was to remember the moment duly
as the first step in a process. The central fact of the place was
neither more nor less, when analysed--and a pressure superficial
sufficed--than the fundamental impropriety of Chad's situation,
round about which they thus seemed cynically clustered.
Accordingly, since they took it for granted, they took for
granted all that was in connexion with it taken for granted at
Woollett--matters as to which, verily, he had been reduced with
Mrs. Newsome to the last intensity of silence. That was the
consequence of their being too bad to be talked about, and was
the accompaniment, by the same token, of a deep conception of
their badness. It befell therefore that when poor Strether put it
to himself that their badness was ultimately, or perhaps even
insolently, what such a scene as the one before him was, so to
speak, built upon, he could scarce shirk the dilemma of reading a
roundabout echo of them into almost anything that came up. This,
he was well aware, was a dreadful necessity; but such was the
stern logic, he could only gather, of a relation to the irregular
It was the way the irregular life sat upon Bilham and Miss
Barrace that was the insidious, the delicate marvel. He was eager
to concede that their relation to it was all indirect, for
anything else in him would have shown the grossness of bad
manners; but the indirectness was none the less consonant--THAT
was striking-with a grateful enjoyment of everything that was
Chad's. They spoke of him repeatedly, invoking his good name and
good nature, and the worst confusion of mind for Strether was
that all their mention of him was of a kind to do him honour.
They commended his munificence and approved his taste, and in
doing so sat down, as it seemed to Strether, in the very soil out
of which these things flowered. Our friend's final predicament
was that he himself was sitting down, for the time, WITH them,
and there was a supreme moment at which, compared with his
collapse, Waymarsh's erectness affected him as really high. One
thing was certain--he saw he must make up his mind. He must
approach Chad, must wait for him, deal with him, master him, but
he mustn't dispossess himself of the faculty of seeing things as
they were. He must bring him to HIM--not go himself, as it were,
so much of the way. He must at any rate be clearer as to what--
should he continue to do that for convenience--he was still
condoning. It was on the detail of this quantity--and what could
the fact be but mystifying?-that Bilham and Miss Barrace threw so
little light. So there they were.
When Miss Gostrey arrived, at the end of a week, she made him a
sign; he went immediately to see her, and it wasn't till then
that he could again close his grasp on the idea of a corrective.
This idea however was luckily all before him again from the
moment he crossed the threshold of the little entresol of the
Quartier Marboeuf into which she had gathered, as she said,
picking them up in a thousand flights and funny little passionate
pounces, the makings of a final nest. He recognised in an instant
that there really, there only, he should find the boon with the
vision of which he had first mounted Chad's stairs. He might have
been a little scared at the picture of how much more, in this
place, he should know himself "in" hadn't his friend been on the
spot to measure the amount to his appetite. Her compact and
crowded little chambers, almost dusky, as they at first struck
him, with accumulations, represented a supreme general adjustment
to opportunities and conditions. Wherever he looked he saw an old
ivory or an old brocade, and he scarce knew where to sit for fear
of a misappliance. The life of the occupant struck him of a
sudden as more charged with possession even than Chad's or than
Miss Barrace's; wide as his glimpse had lately become of the
empire of "things," what was before him still enlarged it; the
lust of the eyes and the pride of life had indeed thus their
temple. It was the innermost nook of the shrine--as brown as a
pirate's cave. In the brownness were glints of gold; patches of
purple were in the gloom; objects all that caught, through the
muslin, with their high rarity, the light of the low windows.
Nothing was clear about them but that they were precious, and
they brushed his ignorance with their contempt as a flower, in a
liberty taken with him, might have been whisked under his nose.
But after a full look at his hostess he knew none the less what
most concerned him. The circle in which they stood together was
warm with life, and every question between them would live there
as nowhere else. A question came up as soon as they had spoken,
for his answer, with a laugh, was quickly: "Well, they've got
hold of me!" Much of their talk on this first occasion was his
development of that truth. He was extraordinarily glad to see
her, expressing to her frankly what she most showed him, that one
might live for years without a blessing unsuspected, but that to
know it at last for no more than three days was to need it or
miss it for ever. She was the blessing that had now become his
need, and what could prove it better than that without her he had
lost himself?
"What do you mean?" she asked with an absence of alarm that,
correcting him as if he had mistaken the "period" of one of her
pieces, gave him afresh a sense of her easy movement through the
maze he had but begun to tread. "What in the name of all the
Pococks have you managed to do?"
"Why exactly the wrong thing. I've made a frantic friend of
little Bilham."
"Ah that sort of thing was of the essence of your case and to
have been allowed for from the first." And it was only after this
that, quite as a minor matter, she asked who in the world little
Bilham might be. When she learned that he was a friend of Chad's
and living for the time in Chad's rooms in Chad's absence, quite
as if acting in Chad's spirit and serving Chad's cause, she
showed, however, more interest. "Should you mind my seeing him?
Only once, you know," she added.
"Oh the oftener the better: he's amusing--he's original."
"He doesn't shock you?" Miss Gostrey threw out.
"Never in the world! We escape that with a perfection--! I feel
it to be largely, no doubt, because I don't half-understand him;
but our modus vivendi isn't spoiled even by that. You must dine
with me to meet him," Strether went on. "Then you'll see.'
"Are you giving dinners?"
"Yes--there I am. That's what I mean."
All her kindness wondered. "That you're spending too much money?"
"Dear no--they seem to cost so little. But that I do it to THEM.
I ought to hold off."
She thought again--she laughed. "The money you must be spending
to think it cheap! But I must be out of it--to the naked eye."
He looked for a moment as if she were really failing him. "Then
you won't meet them?" It was almost as if she had developed an
unexpected personal prudence.
She hesitated. "Who are they--first?"
"Why little Bilham to begin with." He kept back for the moment
Miss Barrace. "And Chad--when he comes--you must absolutely see."
"When then does he come?"
"When Bilham has had time to write him, and hear from him about
me. Bilham, however," he pursued, "will report favourably--
favourably for Chad. That will make him not afraid to come. I
want you the more therefore, you see, for my bluff."
"Oh you'll do yourself for your bluff." She was perfectly easy.
"At the rate you've gone I'm quiet."
"Ah but I haven't," said Strether, "made one protest."
She turned it over. "Haven't you been seeing what there's to
protest about?"
He let her, with this, however ruefully, have the whole truth. "I
haven't yet found a single thing."
"Isn't there any one WITH him then?"
"Of the sort I came out about?" Strether took a moment. "How do I
know? And what do I care?"
"Oh oh!"--and her laughter spread. He was struck in fact by the
effect on her of his joke. He saw now how he meant it as a joke.
SHE saw, however, still other things, though in an instant she
had hidden them. "You've got at no facts at all?"
He tried to muster them. "Well, he has a lovely home."
"Ah that, in Paris," she quickly returned, "proves nothing. That
is rather it DISproves nothing. They may very well, you see, the
people your mission is concerned with, have done it FOR him."
"Exactly. And it was on the scene of their doings then that
Waymarsh and I sat guzzling."
"Oh if you forbore to guzzle here on scenes of doings," she
replied, "you might easily die of starvation." With which she
smiled at him. "You've worse before you."
"Ah I've EVERYTHING before me. But on our hypothesis, you know,
they must be wonderful."
"They ARE!" said Miss Gostrey. "You're not therefore, you see,"
she added, "wholly without facts. They've BEEN, in effect,
To have got at something comparatively definite appeared at last a
little to help--a wave by which moreover, the next moment,
recollection was washed. "My young man does admit furthermore that
they're our friend's great interest."
"Is that the expression he uses?"
Strether more exactly recalled. "No--not quite."
"Something more vivid? Less?"
He had bent, with neared glasses, over a group of articles on a
small stand; and at this he came up. "It was a mere allusion, but,
on the lookout as I was, it struck me. 'Awful, you know, as Chad
is'--those were Bilham's words."
"'Awful, you know'--? Oh!"--and Miss Gostrey turned them over. She
seemed, however, satisfied. "Well, what more do you want?"
He glanced once more at a bibelot or two, and everything sent him
back. "But it is all the same as if they wished to let me have it
between the eyes."
She wondered. "Quoi donc?"
"Why what I speak of. The amenity. They can stun you with that as
well as with anything else."
"Oh," she answered, "you'll come round! I must see them each," she
went on, "for myself. I mean Mr. Bilham and Mr. Newsome--Mr.
Bilham naturally first. Once only--once for each; that will do.
But face to face--for half an hour. What's Mr. Chad," she
immediately pursued, "doing at Cannes? Decent men don't go to
Cannes with the--well, with the kind of ladies you mean."
"Don't they?" Strether asked with an interest in decent men that
amused her.
"No, elsewhere, but not to Cannes. Cannes is different. Cannes is
better. Cannes is best. I mean it's all people you know--when you
do know them. And if HE does, why that's different too. He must
have gone alone. She can't be with him."
"I haven't," Strether confessed in his weakness, "the least
idea." There seemed much in what she said, but he was able after a
little to help her to a nearer impression. The meeting with little
Bilham took place, by easy arrangement, in the great gallery of
the Louvre; and when, standing with his fellow visitor before one
of the splendid Titians--the overwhelming portrait of the young
man with the strangely-shaped glove and the blue-grey eyes--he
turned to see the third member of their party advance from the end
of the waxed and gilded vista, he had a sense of having at last
taken hold. He had agreed with Miss Gostrey--it dated even from
Chester--for a morning at the Louvre, and he had embraced
independently the same idea as thrown out by little Bilham, whom
he had already accompanied to the museum of the Luxembourg. The
fusion of these schemes presented no difficulty, and it was to
strike him again that in little Bilham's company contrarieties in
general dropped.
"Oh he's all right--he's one of US!" Miss Gostrey, after the first
exchange, soon found a chance to murmur to her companion; and
Strether, as they proceeded and paused and while a quick unanimity
between the two appeared to have phrased itself in half a dozen
remarks--Strether knew that he knew almost immediately what she
meant, and took it as still another sign that he had got his job
in hand. This was the more grateful to him that he could think of
the intelligence now serving him as an acquisition positively new.
He wouldn't have known even the day before what she meant--that
is if she meant, what he assumed, that they were intense Americans
together. He had just worked round--and with a sharper turn of the
screw than any yet--to the conception of an American intense as
little Bilham was intense. The young man was his first specimen;
the specimen had profoundly perplexed him; at present however
there was light. It was by little Bilham's amazing serenity that
he had at first been affected, but he had inevitably, in his
circumspection, felt it as the trail of the serpent, the
corruption, as he might conveniently have said, of Europe; whereas
the promptness with which it came up for Miss Gostrey but as a
special little form of the oldest thing they knew justified it at
once to his own vision as well. He wanted to be able to like his
specimen with a clear good conscience, and this fully permitted
it. What had muddled him was precisely the small artist-man's way
--it was so complete--of being more American than anybody. But it
now for the time put Strether vastly at his ease to have this view
of a new way.
The amiable youth then looked out, as it had first struck
Strether, at a world in respect to which he hadn't a prejudice.
The one our friend most instantly missed was the usual one in
favour of an occupation accepted. Little Bilham had an occupation,
but it was only an occupation declined; and it was by his general
exemption from alarm, anxiety or remorse on this score that the
impression of his serenity was made. He had come out to Paris to
paint--to fathom, that is, at large, that mystery; but study had
been fatal to him so far as anything COULD be fatal, and his
productive power faltered in proportion as his knowledge grew.
Strether had gathered from him that at the moment of his finding
him in Chad's rooms he hadn't saved from his shipwreck a scrap of
anything but his beautiful intelligence and his confirmed habit of
Paris. He referred to these things with an equal fond familiarity,
and it was sufficiently clear that, as an outfit, they still
served him. They were charming to Strether through the hour spent
at the Louvre, where indeed they figured for him as an unseparated
part of the charged iridescent air, the glamour of the name, the
splendour of the space, the colour of the masters. Yet they were
present too wherever the young man led, and the day after the
visit to the Louvre they hung, in a different walk, about the
steps of our party. He had invited his companions to cross the
river with him, offering to show them his own poor place; and his
own poor place, which was very poor, gave to his idiosyncrasies,
for Strether--the small sublime indifference and independences
that had struck the latter as fresh--an odd and engaging dignity.
He lived at the end of an alley that went out of an old short
cobbled street, a street that went in turn out of a new long
smooth avenue--street and avenue and alley having, however, in
common a sort of social shabbiness; and he introduced them to the
rather cold and blank little studio which he had lent to a comrade
for the term of his elegant absence. The comrade was another
ingenuous compatriot, to whom he had wired that tea was to await
them "regardless," and this reckless repast, and the second
ingenuous compatriot, and the faraway makeshift life, with its
jokes and its gaps, its delicate daubs and its three or four
chairs, its overflow of taste and conviction and its lack of
nearly all else--these things wove round the occasion a spell to
which our hero unreservedly surrendered.
He liked the ingenuous compatriots--for two or three others soon
gathered; he liked the delicate daubs and the free
discriminations--involving references indeed, involving
enthusiasms and execrations that made him, as they said, sit up;
he liked above all the legend of good-humoured poverty, of mutual
accommodation fairly raised to the romantic, that he soon read
into the scene. The ingenuous compatriots showed a candour, he
thought, surpassing even the candour of Woollett; they were
red-haired and long-legged, they were quaint and queer and dear
and droll; they made the place resound with the vernacular, which
he had never known so marked as when figuring for the chosen
language, he must suppose, of contemporary art. They twanged with
a vengeance the aesthetic lyre--they drew from it wonderful airs.
This aspect of their life had an admirable innocence; and he
looked on occasion at Maria Gostrey to see to what extent that
element reached her. She gave him however for the hour, as she had
given him the previous day, no further sign than to show how she
dealt with boys; meeting them with the air of old Parisian
practice that she had for every one, for everything, in turn.
Wonderful about the delicate daubs, masterful about the way to
make tea, trustful about the legs of chairs and familiarly
reminiscent of those, in the other time, the named, the numbered
or the caricatured, who had flourished or failed, disappeared or
arrived, she had accepted with the best grace her second course of
little Bilham, and had said to Strether, the previous afternoon on
his leaving them, that, since her impression was to be renewed,
she would reserve judgement till after the new evidence.
The new evidence was to come, as it proved, in a day or two. He
soon had from Maria a message to the effect that an excellent box at
the Francais had been lent her for the following night; it seeming
on such occasions not the least of her merits that she was subject
to such approaches. The sense of how she was always paying for
something in advance was equalled on Strether's part only by the
sense of how she was always being paid; all of which made for his
consciousness, in the larger air, of a lively bustling traffic,
the exchange of such values as were not for him to handle. She
hated, he knew, at the French play, anything but a box--just as
she hated at the English anything but a stall; and a box was what
he was already in this phase girding himself to press upon her.
But she had for that matter her community with little Bilham: she
too always, on the great issues, showed as having known in time.
It made her constantly beforehand with him and gave him mainly the
chance to ask himself how on the day of their settlement their
account would stand. He endeavoured even now to keep it a little
straight by arranging that if he accepted her invitation she
should dine with him first; but the upshot of this scruple was
that at eight o'clock on the morrow he awaited her with Waymarsh
under the pillared portico. She hadn't dined with him, and it was
characteristic of their relation that she had made him embrace her
refusal without in the least understanding it. She ever caused her
rearrangements to affect him as her tenderest touches. It was on
that principle for instance that, giving him the opportunity to be
amiable again to little Bilham, she had suggested his offering the
young man a seat in their box. Strether had dispatched for this
purpose a small blue missive to the Boulevard Malesherbes, but up
to the moment of their passing into the theatre he had received no
response to his message. He held, however, even after they had
been for some time conveniently seated, that their friend, who
knew his way about, would come in at his own right moment. His
temporary absence moreover seemed, as never yet, to make the right
moment for Miss Gostrey. Strether had been waiting till tonight to
get back from her in some mirrored form her impressions and
conclusions. She had elected, as they said, to see little Bilham
once; but now she had seen him twice and had nevertheless not said
more than a word.
Waymarsh meanwhile sat opposite him with their hostess between;
and Miss Gostrey spoke of herself as an instructor of youth
introducing her little charges to a work that was one of the
glories of literature. The glory was happily unobjectionable, and
the little charges were candid; for herself she had travelled that
road and she merely waited on their innocence. But she referred in
due time to their absent friend, whom it was clear they should
have to give up. "He either won't have got your note," she said,
"or you won't have got his: he has had some kind of hindrance,
and, of course, for that matter, you know, a man never writes
about coming to a box." She spoke as if, with her look, it might
have been Waymarsh who had written to the youth, and the latter's
face showed a mixture of austerity and anguish. She went on
however as if to meet this. "He's far and away, you know, the best
of them."
"The best of whom, ma'am?"
"Why of all the long procession--the boys, the girls, or the old
men and old women as they sometimes really are; the hope, as one
may say, of our country. They've all passed, year after year; but
there has been no one in particular I've ever wanted to stop. I
feel--don't YOU?--that I want to stop little Bilham; he's so
exactly right as he is." She continued to talk to Waymarsh. "He's
too delightful. If he'll only not spoil it! But they always WILL;
they always do; they always have."
"I don't think Waymarsh knows," Strether said after a moment,
"quite what it's open to Bilham to spoil."
"It can't be a good American," Waymarsh lucidly enough replied;
"for it didn't strike me the young man had developed much in THAT
"Ah," Miss Gostrey sighed, "the name of the good American is as
easily given as taken away! What IS it, to begin with, to BE one,
and what's the extraordinary hurry? Surely nothing that's so
pressing was ever so little defined. It's such an order, really,
that before we cook you the dish we must at least have your
receipt. Besides the poor chicks have time! What I've seen so
often spoiled," she pursued, "is the happy attitude itself, the
state of faith and--what shall I call it?--the sense of beauty.
You're right about him"--she now took in Strether; "little Bilham
has them to a charm, we must keep little Bilham along." Then she
was all again for Waymarsh. "The others have all wanted so
dreadfully to do something, and they've gone and done it in too
many cases indeed. It leaves them never the same afterwards; the
charm's always somehow broken. Now HE, I think, you know, really
won't. He won't do the least dreadful little thing. We shall
continue to enjoy him just as he is. No--he's quite beautiful. He
sees everything. He isn't a bit ashamed. He has every scrap of
the courage of it that one could ask. Only think what he MIGHT do.
One wants really--for fear of some accident--to keep him in view.
At this very moment perhaps what mayn't he be up to? I've had my
disappointments--the poor things are never really safe; or only at
least when you have them under your eye. One can never completely
trust them. One's uneasy, and I think that's why I most miss him
She had wound up with a laugh of enjoyment over her embroidery of
her idea--an enjoyment that her face communicated to Strether, who
almost wished none the less at this moment that she would let poor
Waymarsh alone. HE knew more or less what she meant; but the fact
wasn't a reason for her not pretending to Waymarsh that he
didn't. It was craven of him perhaps, but he would, for the high
amenity of the occasion, have liked Waymarsh not to be so sure of
his wit. Her recognition of it gave him away and, before she had
done with him or with that article, would give him worse. What was
he, all the same, to do? He looked across the box at his friend;
their eyes met; something queer and stiff, something that bore on
the situation but that it was better not to touch, passed in
silence between them. Well, the effect of it for Strether was an
abrupt reaction, a final impatience of his own tendency to
temporise. Where was that taking him anyway? It was one of the
quiet instants that sometimes settle more matters than the
outbreaks dear to the historic muse. The only qualification of the
quietness was the synthetic "Oh hang it!" into which Strether's
share of the silence soundlessly flowered. It represented, this
mute ejaculation, a final impulse to burn his ships. These ships,
to the historic muse, may seem of course mere cockles, but when he
presently spoke to Miss Gostrey it was with the sense at least of
applying the torch. "Is it then a conspiracy?"
"Between the two young men? Well, I don't pretend to be a seer or
a prophetess," she presently replied; "but if I'm simply a woman
of sense he's working for you to-night. I don't quite know how--
but it's in my bones." And she looked at him at last as if, little
material as she yet gave him, he'd really understand. "For an
opinion THAT'S my opinion. He makes you out too well not to."
"Not to work for me to-night?" Strether wondered. "Then I hope he
isn't doing anything very bad."
"They've got you," she portentously answered.
"Do you mean he IS--?"
"They've got you," she merely repeated. Though she disclaimed the
prophetic vision she was at this instant the nearest approach he
had ever met to the priestess of the oracle. The light was in her
eyes. "You must face it now."
He faced it on the spot. "They HAD arranged--?"
"Every move in the game. And they've been arranging ever since. He
has had every day his little telegram from Cannes."
It made Strether open his eyes. "Do you KNOW that?"
"I do better. I see it. This was, before I met him, what I
wondered whether I WAS to see. But as soon as I met him I ceased
to wonder, and our second meeting made me sure. I took him all in.
He was acting--he is still--on his daily instructions."
"So that Chad has done the whole thing?"
"Oh no--not the whole. WE'VE done some of it. You and I and
"Europe--yes," Strether mused.
"Dear old Paris," she seemed to explain. But there was more, and,
with one of her turns, she risked it. "And dear old Waymarsh.
You," she declared, "have been a good bit of it."
He sat massive. "A good bit of what, ma'am?"
"Why of the wonderful consciousness of our friend here. You've
helped too in your way to float him to where he is."
"And where the devil IS he?"
She passed it on with a laugh. "Where the devil, Strether, are
He spoke as if he had just been thinking it out. "Well, quite
already in Chad's hands, it would seem." And he had had with this
another thought. "Will that be--just all through Bilham--the way
he's going to work it? It would be, for him, you know, an idea.
And Chad with an idea--!"
"Well?" she asked while the image held him.
"Well, is Chad--what shall I say?--monstrous?"
"Oh as much as you like! But the idea you speak of," she said,
"won't have been his best. He'll have a better. It won't be all
through little Bilham that he'll work it."
This already sounded almost like a hope destroyed. "Through whom
else then?"
"That's what we shall see!" But quite as she spoke she turned, and
Strether turned; for the door of the box had opened, with the
click of the ouvreuse, from the lobby, and a gentleman, a stranger
to them, had come in with a quick step. The door closed behind
him, and, though their faces showed him his mistake, his air,
which was striking, was all good confidence. The curtain had just
again arisen, and, in the hush of the general attention,
Strether's challenge was tacit, as was also the greeting, with a
quickly deprecating hand and smile, of the unannounced visitor. He
discreetly signed that he would wait, would stand, and these
things and his face, one look from which she had caught, had
suddenly worked for Miss Gostrey. She fitted to them all an answer
for Strether's last question. The solid stranger was simply the
answer--as she now, turning to her friend, indicated. She brought
it straight out for him--it presented the intruder. "Why, through
this gentleman!" The gentleman indeed, at the same time, though
sounding for Strether a very short name, did practically as much
to explain. Strether gasped the name back--then only had he seen
Miss Gostrey had said more than she knew. They were in presence of
Chad himself.
Our friend was to go over it afterwards again and again--he was
going over it much of the time that they were together, and they
were together constantly for three or four days: the note had been
so strongly struck during that first half-hour that everything
happening since was comparatively a minor development. The fact
was that his perception of the young man's identity--so absolutely
checked for a minute--had been quite one of the sensations that
count in life; he certainly had never known one that had acted, as
he might have said, with more of a crowded rush. And the rush
though both vague and multitudinous, had lasted a long time,
protected, as it were, yet at the same time aggravated, by the
circumstance of its coinciding with a stretch of decorous silence.
They couldn't talk without disturbing the spectators in the part
of the balcony just below them; and it, for that matter, came to
Strether--being a thing of the sort that did come to him--that
these were the accidents of a high civilisation; the imposed
tribute to propriety, the frequent exposure to conditions, usually
brilliant, in which relief has to await its time. Relief was never
quite near at hand for kings, queens, comedians and other such
people, and though you might be yourself not exactly one of those,
you could yet, in leading the life of high pressure, guess a
little how they sometimes felt. It was truly the life of high
pressure that Strether had seemed to feel himself lead while he
sat there, close to Chad, during the long tension of the act. He
was in presence of a fact that occupied his whole mind, that
occupied for the half-hour his senses themselves all together; but
he couldn't without inconvenience show anything--which moreover
might count really as luck. What he might have shown, had he shown
at all, was exactly the kind of emotion--the emotion of
bewilderment--that he had proposed to himself from the first,
whatever should occur, to show least. The phenomenon that had
suddenly sat down there with him was a phenomenon of change so
complete that his imagination, which had worked so beforehand,
felt itself, in the connexion, without margin or allowance. It had
faced every contingency but that Chad should not BE Chad, and this
was what it now had to face with a mere strained smile and an
uncomfortable flush.
He asked himself if, by any chance, before he should have in some
way to commit himself, he might feel his mind settled to the new
vision, might habituate it, so to speak, to the remarkable truth.
But oh it was too remarkable, the truth; for what could be more
remarkable than this sharp rupture of an identity? You could deal
with a man as himself--you couldn't deal with him as somebody
else. It was a small source of peace moreover to be reduced to
wondering how little he might know in such an event what a sum he
was setting you. He couldn't absolutely not know, for you couldn't
absolutely not let him. It was a CASE then simply, a strong
case, as people nowadays called such things,' a case of
transformation unsurpassed, and the hope was but in the general
law that strong cases were liable to control from without. Perhaps
he, Strether himself, was the only person after all aware of it.
Even Miss Gostrey, with all her science, wouldn't be, would she?
--and he had never seen any one less aware of anything than
Waymarsh as he glowered at Chad. The social sightlessness of his
old friend's survey marked for him afresh, and almost in an
humiliating way, the inevitable limits of direct aid from this
source. He was not certain, however, of not drawing a shade of
compensation from the privilege, as yet untasted, of knowing more
about something in particular than Miss Gostrey did. His situation
too was a case, for that matter, and he was now so interested,
quite so privately agog, about it, that he had already an eye to
the fun it would be to open up to her afterwards. He derived
during his half-hour no assistance from her, and just this fact of
her not meeting his eyes played a little, it must be confessed,
into his predicament.
He had introduced Chad, in the first minutes, under his breath,
and there was never the primness in her of the person
unacquainted; but she had none the less betrayed at first no
vision but of the stage, where she occasionally found a pretext
for an appreciative moment that she invited Waymarsh to share. The
latter's faculty of participation had never had, all round, such
an assault to meet; the pressure on him being the sharper for this
chosen attitude in her, as Strether judged it, of isolating, for
their natural intercourse, Chad and himself. This intercourse was
meanwhile restricted to a frank friendly look from the young man,
something markedly like a smile, but falling far short of a grin,
and to the vivacity of Strether's private speculation as to
whether HE carried himself like a fool. He didn't quite see how
he could so feel as one without somehow showing as one. The worst
of that question moreover was that he knew it as a symptom the
sense of which annoyed him. "If I'm going to be odiously conscious
of how I may strike the fellow," he reflected, "it was so little
what I came out for that I may as well stop before I begin." This
sage consideration too, distinctly, seemed to leave untouched the
fact that he WAS going to be conscious. He was conscious of
everything but of what would have served him.
He was to know afterwards, in the watches of the night, that
nothing would have been more open to him than after a minute or
two to propose to Chad to seek with him the refuge of the lobby.
He hadn't only not proposed it, but had lacked even the presence
of mind to see it as possible. He had stuck there like a schoolboy
wishing not to miss a minute of the show; though for that portion
of the show then presented he hadn't had an instant's real
attention. He couldn't when the curtain fell have given the
slightest account of what had happened. He had therefore, further,
not at that moment acknowledged the amenity added by this
acceptance of his awkwardness to Chad's general patience. Hadn't
he none the less known at the very time--known it stupidly and
without reaction--that the boy was accepting something? He was
modestly benevolent, the boy--that was at least what he had been
capable of the superiority of making out his chance to be; and one
had one's self literally not had the gumption to get in ahead of
him. If we should go into all that occupied our friend in the
watches of the night we should have to mend our pen; but an
instance or two may mark for us the vividness with which he could
remember. He remembered the two absurdities that, if his presence
of mind HAD failed, were the things that had had most to do with
it. He had never in his life seen a young man come into a box at
ten o'clock at night, and would, if challenged on the question in
advance, have scarce been ready to pronounce as to different ways
of doing so. But it was in spite of this definite to him that Chad
had had a way that was wonderful: a fact carrying with it an
implication that, as one might imagine it, he knew, he had
learned, how.
Here already then were abounding results; he had on the spot and
without the least trouble of intention taught Strether that even
in so small a thing as that there were different ways. He had
done in the same line still more than this; had by a mere shake or
two of the head made his old friend observe that the change in him
was perhaps more than anything else, for the eye, a matter of the
marked streaks of grey, extraordinary at his age, in his thick
black hair; as well as that this new feature was curiously
becoming to him, did something for him, as characterisation, also
even--of all things in the world--as refinement, that had been a
good deal wanted. Strether felt, however, he would have had to
confess, that it wouldn't have been easy just now, on this and
other counts, in the presence of what had been supplied, to be
quite clear as to what had been missed. A reflexion a candid
critic might have made of old, for instance, was that it would
have been happier for the son to look more like the mother; but
this was a reflexion that at present would never occur. The ground
had quite fallen away from it, yet no resemblance whatever to the
mother had supervened. It would have been hard for a young man's
face and air to disconnect themselves more completely than Chad's
at this juncture from any discerned, from any imaginable aspect of
a New England female parent. That of course was no more than had
been on the cards; but it produced in Strether none the less one
of those frequent phenomena of mental reference with which all
judgement in him was actually beset.
Again and again as the days passed he had had a sense of the
pertinence of communicating quickly with Woollett--communicating
with a quickness with which telegraphy alone would rhyme; the
fruit really of a fine fancy in him for keeping things straight,
for the happy forestalment of error. No one could explain better
when needful, nor put more conscience into an account or a report;
which burden of conscience is perhaps exactly the reason why his
heart always sank when the clouds of explanation gathered. His
highest ingenuity was in keeping the sky of life clear of them.
Whether or no he had a grand idea of the lucid, he held that nothing
ever was in fact--for any one else--explained. One went through
the vain motions, but it was mostly a waste of life. A personal
relation was a relation only so long as people either perfectly
understood or, better still, didn't care if they didn't. From
the moment they cared if they didn't it was living by the sweat
of one's brow; and the sweat of one's brow was just what one
might buy one's self off from by keeping the ground free of the
wild weed of delusion. It easily grew too fast, and the Atlantic
cable now alone could race with it. That agency would each day
have testified for him to something that was not what Woollett had
argued. He was not at this moment absolutely sure that the effect
of the morrow's--or rather of the night's--appreciation of the
crisis wouldn't be to determine some brief missive. "Have at last
seen him, but oh dear!"--some temporary relief of that sort seemed
to hover before him. It hovered somehow as preparing them all--yet
preparing them for what? If he might do so more luminously and
cheaply he would tick out in four words: "Awfully old--grey hair."
To this particular item in Chad's appearance he constantly, during
their mute half-hour, reverted; as if so very much more than he
could have said had been involved in it. The most he could have
said would have been: "If he's going to make me feel young--!"
which indeed, however, carried with it quite enough. If Strether
was to feel young, that is, it would be because Chad was to feel
old; and an aged and hoary sinner had been no part of the scheme.
The question of Chadwick's true time of life was, doubtless, what
came up quickest after the adjournment of the two, when the play
was over, to a cafe in the Avenue de l'Opera. Miss Gostrey had in
due course been perfect for such a step; she had known exactly
what they wanted--to go straight somewhere and talk; and Strether
had even felt she had known what he wished to say and that he was
arranging immediately to begin. She hadn't pretended this, as she
HAD pretended on the other hand, to have divined Waymarsh's wish
to extend to her an independent protection homeward; but Strether
nevertheless found how, after he had Chad opposite to him at a
small table in the brilliant halls that his companion straightway
selected, sharply and easily discriminated from others, it was
quite, to his mind, as if she heard him speak; as if, sitting up,
a mile away, in the little apartment he knew, she would listen
hard enough to catch. He found too that he liked that idea, and he
wished that, by the same token, Mrs. Newsome might have caught as
well. For what had above all been determined in him as a necessity
of the first order was not to lose another hour, nor a fraction of
one; was to advance, to overwhelm, with a rush. This was how he
would anticipate--by a night-attack, as might be--any forced
maturity that a crammed consciousness of Paris was likely to take
upon itself to assert on behalf of the boy. He knew to the full,
on what he had just extracted from Miss Gostrey, Chad's marks of
alertness; but they were a reason the more for not dawdling. If he
was himself moreover to be treated as young he wouldn't at all
events be so treated before he should have struck out at least
once. His arms might be pinioned afterwards, but it would have
been left on record that he was fifty. The importance of this he
had indeed begun to feel before they left the theatre; it had
become a wild unrest, urging him to seize his chance. He could
scarcely wait for it as they went; he was on the verge of the
indecency of bringing up the question in the street; he fairly
caught himself going on--so he afterwards invidiously named it--as
if there would be for him no second chance should the present be
lost. Not till, on the purple divan before the perfunctory bock,
he had brought out the words themselves, was he sure, for that
matter, that the present would be saved.
Book Fourth
"I've come, you know, to make you break with everything, neither
more nor less, and take you straight home; so you'll be so good as
immediately and favourably to consider it!"--Strether, face to
face with Chad after the play, had sounded these words almost
breathlessly, and with an effect at first positively disconcerting
to himself alone. For Chad's receptive attitude was that of a
person who had been gracefully quiet while the messenger at last
reaching him has run a mile through the dust. During some seconds
after he had spoken Strether felt as if HE had made some such
exertion; he was not even certain that the perspiration wasn't on
his brow. It was the kind of consciousness for which he had to
thank the look that, while the strain lasted, the young man's eyes
gave him. They reflected--and the deuce of the thing was that they
reflected really with a sort of shyness of kindness--his
momentarily disordered state; which fact brought on in its turn
for our friend the dawn of a fear that Chad might simply "take it
out"--take everything out--in being sorry for him. Such a fear,
any fear, was unpleasant. But everything was unpleasant; it was
odd how everything had suddenly turned so. This however was no
reason for letting the least thing go. Strether had the next
minute proceeded as roundly as if with an advantage to follow up.
"Of course I'm a busybody, if you want to fight the case to the
death; but after all mainly in the sense of having known you and
having given you such attention as you kindly permitted when you
were in jackets and knickerbockers. Yes--it was knickerbockers,
I'm busybody enough to remember that; and that you had, for your
age--I speak of the first far-away time--tremendously stout legs.
Well, we want you to break. Your mother's heart's passionately set
upon it, but she has above and beyond that excellent arguments and
reasons. I've not put them into her head--I needn't remind you how
little she's a person who needs that. But they exist--you must
take it from me as a friend both of hers and yours--for myself as
well. I didn't invent them, I didn't originally work them out; but
I understand them, I think I can explain them--by which I mean
make you actively do them justice; and that's why you see me here.
You had better know the worst at once. It's a question of an
immediate rupture and an immediate return. I've been conceited
enough to dream I can sugar that pill. I take at any rate the
greatest interest in the question. I took it already before I left
home, and I don't mind telling you that, altered as you are, I
take it still more now that I've seen you. You're older and--I
don't know what to call it!--more of a handful; but you're by so
much the more, I seem to make out, to our purpose."
"Do I strike you as improved?" Strether was to recall that Chad
had at this point enquired.
He was likewise to recall--and it had to count for some time as
his greatest comfort--that it had been "given" him, as they said
at Woollett, to reply with some presence of mind: "I haven't the
least idea." He was really for a while to like thinking he had
been positively hard. On the point of conceding that Chad had
improved in appearance, but that to the question of appearance the
remark must be confined, he checked even that compromise and left
his reservation bare. Not only his moral, but also, as it were,
his aesthetic sense had a little to pay for this, Chad being
unmistakeably--and wasn't it a matter of the confounded grey hair
again?--handsomer than he had ever promised. That however fell in
perfectly with what Strether had said. They had no desire to keep
down his proper expansion, and he wouldn't be less to their
purpose for not looking, as he had too often done of old, only
bold and wild. There was indeed a signal particular in which he
would distinctly be more so. Strether didn't, as he talked,
absolutely follow himself; he only knew he was clutching his
thread and that he held it from moment to moment a little tighter;
his mere uninterruptedness during the few minutes helped him to do
that. He had frequently for a month, turned over what he should
say on this very occasion, and he seemed at last to have said
nothing he had thought of--everything was so totally different.
But in spite of all he had put the flag at the window. This was
what he had done, and there was a minute during which he affected
himself as having shaken it hard, flapped it with a mighty
flutter, straight in front of his companion's nose. It gave him
really almost the sense of having already acted his part. The
momentary relief--as if from the knowledge that nothing of THAT
at least could be undone--sprang from a particular cause, the
cause that had flashed into operation, in Miss Gostrey's box, with
direct apprehension, with amazed recognition, and that had been
concerned since then in every throb of his consciousness. What it
came to was that with an absolutely new quantity to deal with one
simply couldn't know. The new quantity was represented by the fact
that Chad had been made over. That was all; whatever it was it was
everything. Strether had never seen the thing so done before--it
was perhaps a speciality of Paris. If one had been present at the
process one might little by little have mastered the result; but
he was face to face, as matters stood, with the finished business.
It had freely been noted for him that he might be received as a
dog among skittles, but that was on the basis of the old quantity.
He had originally thought of lines and tones as things to be
taken, but these possibilities had now quite melted away. There
was no computing at all what the young man before him would think
or feel or say on any subject whatever. This intelligence Strether
had afterwards, to account for his nervousness, reconstituted as
he might, just as he had also reconstituted the promptness with
which Chad had corrected his uncertainty. An extraordinarily short
time had been required for the correction, and there had ceased to
be anything negative in his companion's face and air as soon as it
was made. "Your engagement to my mother has become then what they
call here a fait accompli?"--it had consisted, the determinant
touch, in nothing more than that.
Well, that was enough, Strether had felt while his answer hung
fire. He had felt at the same time, however, that nothing could
less become him than that it should hang fire too long. "Yes," he
said brightly, "it was on the happy settlement of the question
that I started. You see therefore to what tune I'm in your family.
Moreover," he added, "I've been supposing you'd suppose it."
"Oh I've been supposing it for a long time, and what you tell me
helps me to understand that you should want to do something. To do
something, I mean," said Chad, "to commemorate an event so--what
do they call it?--so auspicious. I see you make out, and not
unnaturally," he continued, "that bringing me home in triumph as a
sort of wedding-present to Mother would commemorate it better than
anything else. You want to make a bonfire in fact," he laughed,
"and you pitch me on. Thank you, thank you!" he laughed again.
He was altogether easy about it, and this made Strether now see
how at bottom, and in spite of the shade of shyness that really
cost him nothing, he had from the first moment been easy about
everything. The shade of shyness was mere good taste. People with
manners formed could apparently have, as one of their best cards,
the shade of shyness too. He had leaned a little forward to speak;
his elbows were on the table; and the inscrutable new face that he
had got somewhere and somehow was brought by the movement nearer
to his critics There was a fascination for that critic in its not
being, this ripe physiognomy, the face that, under observation at
least, he had originally carried away from Woollett. Strether
found a certain freedom on his own side in defining it as that of
a man of the world--a formula that indeed seemed to come now in
some degree to his relief; that of a man to whom things had
happened and were variously known. In gleams, in glances, the past
did perhaps peep out of it; but such lights were faint and
instantly merged. Chad was brown and thick and strong, and of old
Chad had been rough. Was all the difference therefore that he was
actually smooth? Possibly; for that he WAS smooth was as marked as
in the taste of a sauce or in the rub of a hand. The effect of it
was general--it had retouched his features, drawn them with a
cleaner line. It had cleared his eyes and settled his colour and
polished his fine square teeth--the main ornament of his face; and
at the same time that it had given him a form and a surface,
almost a design, it had toned his voice, established his accent,
encouraged his smile to more play and his other motions to less.
He had formerly, with a great deal of action, expressed very
little; and he now expressed whatever was necessary with almost
none at all. It was as if in short he had really, copious perhaps
but shapeless, been put into a firm mould and turned successfully
out. The phenomenon--Strether kept eyeing it as a phenomenon, an
eminent case--was marked enough to be touched by the finger. He
finally put his hand across the table and laid it on Chad's arm.
"If you'll promise me--here on the spot and giving me your word of
honour--to break straight off, you'll make the future the real
right thing for all of us alike. You'll ease off the strain of
this decent but none the less acute suspense in which I've for so
many days been waiting for you, and let me turn in to rest. I
shall leave you with my blessing and go to bed in peace."
Chad again fell back at this and, his hands pocketed, settled
himself a little; in which posture he looked, though he rather
anxiously smiled, only the more earnest. Then Strether seemed to
see that he was really nervous, and he took that as what he would
have called a wholesome sign. The only mark of it hitherto had
been his more than once taking off and putting on his wide-brimmed
crush hat. He had at this moment made the motion again to remove
it, then had only pushed it back, so that it hung informally on
his strong young grizzled crop. It was a touch that gave the note
of the familiar--the intimate and the belated--to their quiet
colloquy; and it was indeed by some such trivial aid that Strether
became aware at the same moment of something else. The observation
was at any rate determined in him by some light too fine to
distinguish from so many others, but it was none the less sharply
determined. Chad looked unmistakeably during these instants--
well, as Strether put it to himself, all he was worth. Our friend
had a sudden apprehension of what that would on certain sides be.
He saw him in a flash as the young man marked out by women; and
for a concentrated minute the dignity, the comparative austerity,
as he funnily fancied it, of this character affected him almost
with awe. There was an experience on his interlocutor's part that
looked out at him from under the displaced hat, and that looked
out moreover by a force of its own, the deep fact of its quantity
and quality, and not through Chad's intending bravado or swagger.
That was then the way men marked out by women WERE--and also the
men by whom the women were doubtless in turn sufficiently
distinguished. It affected Strether for thirty seconds as a
relevant truth, a truth which, however, the next minute, had
fallen into its relation. "Can't you imagine there being some
questions," Chad asked, "that a fellow--however much impressed by
your charming way of stating things--would like to put to you
"Oh yes--easily. I'm here to answer everything. I think I can even
tell you things, of the greatest interest to you, that you won't
know enough to ask me. We'll take as many days to it as you like.
But I want," Strether wound up, "to go to bed now."
Chad had spoken in such surprise that he was amused. "Can't you
believe it?--with what you put me through?"
The young man seemed to consider. "Oh I haven't put you through
"Do you mean there's so much more to come?" Strether laughed. "All
the more reason then that I should gird myself." And as if to mark
what he felt he could by this time count on he was already on his
Chad, still seated, stayed him, with a hand against him, as he
passed between their table and the next. "Oh we shall get on!"
The tone was, as who should say, everything Strether could have
desired; and quite as good the expression of face with which the
speaker had looked up at him and kindly held him. All these things
lacked was their not showing quite so much as the fruit of
experience. Yes, experience was what Chad did play on him, if he
didn't play any grossness of defiance. Of course experience was in
a manner defiance; but it wasn't, at any rate--rather indeed quite
the contrary!--grossness; which was so much gained. He fairly grew
older, Strether thought, while he himself so reasoned. Then with
his mature pat of his visitor's arm he also got up; and there had
been enough of it all by this time to make the visitor feel that
something WAS settled. Wasn't it settled that he had at least the
testimony of Chad's own belief in a settlement? Strether found
himself treating Chad's profession that they would get on as a
sufficient basis for going to bed. He hadn't nevertheless after
this gone to bed directly; for when they had again passed out
together into the mild bright night a check had virtually sprung
from nothing more than a small circumstance which might have acted
only as confirming quiescence. There were people, expressive
sound, projected light, still abroad, and after they had taken in
for a moment, through everything, the great clear architectural
street, they turned off in tacit union to the quarter of
Strether's hotel. "Of course," Chad here abruptly began, "of
course Mother's making things out with you about me has been
natural--and of course also you've had a good deal to go upon.
Still, you must have filled out."
He had stopped, leaving his friend to wonder a little what point
he wished to make; and this it was that enabled Strether meanwhile
to make one. "Oh we've never pretended to go into detail. We
weren't in the least bound to THAT. It was 'filling out' enough to
miss you as we did."
But Chad rather oddly insisted, though under the high lamp at
their corner, where they paused, he had at first looked as if
touched by Strether's allusion to the long sense, at home, of his
absence. "What I mean is you must have imagined."
"Imagined what?"
It affected Strether: horrors were so little--superficially at
least--in this robust and reasoning image. But he was none the
less there to be veracious. "Yes, I dare say we HAVE imagined
horrors. But where's the harm if we haven't been wrong?"
Chad raised his face to the lamp, and it was one of the moments at
which he had, in his extraordinary way, most his air of designedly
showing himself. It was as if at these instants he just presented
himself, his identity so rounded off, his palpable presence and
his massive young manhood, as such a link in the chain as might
practically amount to a kind of demonstration. It was as if--and
how but anomalously?--he couldn't after all help thinking
sufficiently well of these things to let them go for what they
were worth. What could there be in this for Strether but the hint
of some self-respect, some sense of power, oddly perverted;
something latent and beyond access, ominous and perhaps enviable?
The intimation had the next thing, in a flash, taken on a name--a
name on which our friend seized as he asked himself if he weren't
perhaps really dealing with an irreducible young Pagan. This
description--he quite jumped at it--had a sound that gratified his
mental ear, so that of a sudden he had already adopted it. Pagan--
yes, that was, wasn't it? what Chad WOULD logically be. It was
what he must be. It was what he was. The idea was a clue and,
instead of darkening the prospect, projected a certain clearness.
Strether made out in this quick ray that a Pagan was perhaps, at
the pass they had come to, the thing most wanted at Woollett.
They'd be able to do with one--a good one; he'd find an opening--
yes; and Strether's imagination even now prefigured and
accompanied the first appearance there of the rousing personage.
He had only the slight discomfort of feeling, as the young man
turned away from the lamp, that his thought had in the momentary
silence possibly been guessed. "Well, I've no doubt," said Chad,
"you've come near enough. The details, as you say, don't matter.
It HAS been generally the case that I've let myself go. But I'm
coming round--I'm not so bad now." With which they walked on again
to Strether's hotel.
"Do you mean," the latter asked as they approached the door, "that
there isn't any woman with you now?"
"But pray what has that to do with it?"
"Why it's the whole question."
"Of my going home?" Chad was clearly surprised. "Oh not much! Do
you think that when I want to go any one will have any power--"
"To keep you"--Strether took him straight up--"from carrying out
your wish? Well, our idea has been that somebody has hitherto--or
a good many persons perhaps--kept you pretty well from 'wanting.'
That's what--if you're in anybody's hands--may again happen. You
don't answer my question"--he kept it up; "but if you aren't in
anybody's hands so much the better. There's nothing then but what
makes for your going."
Chad turned this over. "I don't answer your question?" He spoke
quite without resenting it. "Well, such questions have always a
rather exaggerated side. One doesn't know quite what you mean by
being in women's 'hands.' It's all so vague. One is when one
isn't. One isn't when one is. And then one can't quite give people
away." He seemed kindly to explain. "I've NEVER got stuck--so
very hard; and, as against anything at any time really better, I
don't think I've ever been afraid." There was something in it that
held Strether to wonder, and this gave him time to go on. He broke
out as with a more helpful thought. "Don't you know how I like
Paris itself?"
The upshot was indeed to make our friend marvel. "Oh if THAT'S all
that's the matter with you--!" It was HE who almost showed
Chad's smile of a truth more than met it. "But isn't that enough?"
Strether hesitated, but it came out. "Not enough for your mother!"
Spoken, however, it sounded a trifle odd--the effect of which was
that Chad broke into a laugh. Strether, at this, succumbed as
well, though with extreme brevity. "Permit us to have still our
theory. But if you ARE so free and so strong you're inexcusable.
I'll write in the morning," he added with decision. "I'll say I've
got you."
This appeared to open for Chad a new interest. "How often do you
"Oh perpetually."
"And at great length?"
Strether had become a little impatient. "I hope it's not found too
"Oh I'm sure not. And you hear as often?"
Again Strether paused. "As often as I deserve."
"Mother writes," said Chad, "a lovely letter."
Strether, before the closed porte-cochere, fixed him a moment.
"It's more, my boy, than YOU do! But our suppositions don't
matter," he added, "if you're actually not entangled."
Chad's pride seemed none the less a little touched. "I never WAS
that--let me insist. I always had my own way." With which he
pursued: "And I have it at present."
"Then what are you here for? What has kept you," Strether asked,
"if you HAVE been able to leave?"
It made Chad, after a stare, throw himself back. "Do you think
one's kept only by women?" His surprise and his verbal emphasis
rang out so clear in the still street that Strether winced till he
remembered the safety of their English speech. "Is that," the
young man demanded, "what they think at Woollett?" At the good
faith in the question Strether had changed colour, feeling that,
as he would have said, he had put his foot in it. He had appeared
stupidly to misrepresent what they thought at Woollett; but before
he had time to rectify Chad again was upon him. "I must say then
you show a low mind!"
It so fell in, unhappily for Strether, with that reflexion of his
own prompted in him by the pleasant air of the Boulevard
Malesherbes, that its disconcerting force was rather unfairly
great. It was a dig that, administered by himself--and
administered even to poor Mrs. Newsome--was no more than salutary;
but administered by Chad--and quite logically--it came nearer
drawing blood. They HADn't a low mind--nor any approach to one;
yet incontestably they had worked, and with a certain smugness, on
a basis that might be turned against them. Chad had at any rate
pulled his visitor up; he had even pulled up his admirable mother;
he had absolutely, by a turn of the wrist and a jerk of the far-flung
noose, pulled up, in a bunch, Woollett browsing in its pride. There
was no doubt Woollett HAD insisted on his coarseness; and what
he at present stood there for in the sleeping street was, by his
manner of striking the other note, to make of such insistence a
preoccupation compromising to the insisters. It was exactly as
if they had imputed to him a vulgarity that he had by a mere
gesture caused to fall from him. The devil of the case was that
Strether felt it, by the same stroke, as falling straight upon
himself. He had been wondering a minute ago if the boy weren't a
Pagan, and he found himself wondering now if he weren't by chance
a gentleman. It didn't in the least, on the spot, spring up
helpfully for him that a person couldn't at the same time be both.
There was nothing at this moment in the air to challenge the
combination; there was everything to give it on the contrary
something of a flourish. It struck Strether into the bargain as
doing something to meet the most difficult of the questions;
though perhaps indeed only by substituting another. Wouldn't it be
precisely by having learned to be a gentleman that he had mastered
the consequent trick of looking so well that one could scarce
speak to him straight? But what in the world was the clue to such
a prime producing cause? There were too many clues then that
Strether still lacked, and these clues to clues were among them.
What it accordingly amounted to for him was that he had to take
full in the face a fresh attribution of ignorance. He had grown
used by this time to reminders, especially from his own lips, of
what he didn't know; but he had borne them because in the first
place they were private and because in the second they practically
conveyed a tribute. He didn't know what was bad, and--as others
didn't know how little he knew it--he could put up with his state.
But if he didn't know, in so important a particular, what was
good, Chad at least was now aware he didn't; and that, for some
reason, affected our friend as curiously public. It was in fact an
exposed condition that the young man left him in long enough for
him to feel its chill--till he saw fit, in a word, generously
again to cover him. This last was in truth what Chad quite
gracefully did. But he did it as with a simple thought that met
the whole of the case. "Oh I'm all right!" It was what Strether
had rather bewilderedly to go to bed on.
It really looked true moreover from the way Chad was to behave
after this. He was full of attentions to his mother's ambassador;
in spite of which, all the while, the latter's other relations
rather remarkably contrived to assert themselves. Strether's
sittings pen in hand with Mrs. Newsome up in his own room were
broken, yet they were richer; and they were more than ever
interspersed with the hours in which he reported himself, in a
different fashion, but with scarce less earnestness and fulness,
to Maria Gostrey. Now that, as he would have expressed it, he had
really something to talk about he found himself, in respect to any
oddity that might reside for him in the double connexion, at once
more aware and more indifferent. He had been fine to Mrs. Newsome
about his useful friend, but it had begun to haunt his imagination
that Chad, taking up again for her benefit a pen too long disused,
might possibly be finer. It wouldn't at all do, he saw, that
anything should come up for him at Chad's hand but what
specifically was to have come; the greatest divergence from which
would be precisely the element of any lubrication of their
intercourse by levity It was accordingly to forestall such an
accident that he frankly put before the young man the several
facts, just as they had occurred, of his funny alliance. He spoke
of these facts, pleasantly and obligingly, as "the whole story,"
and felt that he might qualify the alliance as funny if he
remained sufficiently grave about it. He flattered himself that he
even exaggerated the wild freedom of his original encounter with
the wonderful lady; he was scrupulously definite about the absurd
conditions in which they had made acquaintance--their having
picked each other up almost in the street; and he had (finest
inspiration of all!) a conception of carrying the war into the
enemy's country by showing surprise at the enemy's ignorance.
He had always had a notion that this last was the grand style of
fighting; the greater therefore the reason for it, as he couldn't
remember that he had ever before fought in the grand style. Every
one, according to this, knew Miss Gostrey: how came it Chad didn't
know her? The difficulty, the impossibility, was really to escape
it; Strether put on him, by what he took for granted, the burden
of proof of the contrary. This tone was so far successful as that
Chad quite appeared to recognise her as a person whose fame had
reached him, but against his acquaintance with whom much mischance
had worked. He made the point at the same time that his social
relations, such as they could be called, were perhaps not to the
extent Strether supposed with the rising flood of their
compatriots. He hinted at his having more and more given way to a
different principle of selection; the moral of which seemed to be
that he went about little in the "colony." For the moment
certainly he had quite another interest. It was deep, what he
understood, and Strether, for himself, could only so observe it.
He couldn't see as yet how deep. Might he not all too soon! For
there was really too much of their question that Chad had already
committed himself to liking. He liked, to begin with, his
prospective stepfather; which was distinctly what had not been on
the cards. His hating him was the untowardness for which Strether
had been best prepared; he hadn't expected the boy's actual form
to give him more to do than his imputed. It gave him more through
suggesting that he must somehow make up to himself for not being
sure he was sufficiently disagreeable. That had really been
present to him as his only way to be sure he was sufficiently
thorough. The point was that if Chad's tolerance of his
thoroughness were insincere, were but the best of devices for
gaining time, it none the less did treat everything as tacitly
That seemed at the end of ten days the upshot of the abundant, the
recurrent talk through which Strether poured into him all it
concerned him to know, put him in full possession of facts and
figures. Never cutting these colloquies short by a minute, Chad
behaved, looked and spoke as if he were rather heavily, perhaps
even a trifle gloomily, but none the less fundamentally and
comfortably free. He made no crude profession of eagerness to
yield, but he asked the most intelligent questions, probed, at
moments, abruptly, even deeper than his friend's layer of
information, justified by these touches the native estimate of his
latent stuff, and had in every way the air of trying to live,
reflectively, into the square bright picture. He walked up and
down in front of this production, sociably took Strether's arm at
the points at which he stopped, surveyed it repeatedly from the
right and from the left, inclined a critical head to either
quarter, and, while he puffed a still more critical cigarette,
animadverted to his companion on this passage and that. Strether
sought relief--there were hours when he required it--in repeating
himself; it was in truth not to be blinked that Chad had a way.
The main question as yet was of what it was a way TO. It made
vulgar questions no more easy; but that was unimportant when all
questions save those of his own asking had dropped. That he was
free was answer enough, and it wasn't quite ridiculous that this
freedom should end by presenting itself as what was difficult to
move. His changed state, his lovely home, his beautiful things,
his easy talk, his very appetite for Strether, insatiable and,
when all was said, flattering--what were such marked matters all
but the notes of his freedom? He had the effect of making a
sacrifice of it just in these handsome forms to his visitor; which
was mainly the reason the visitor was privately, for the time, a
little out of countenance. Strether was at this period again and
again thrown back on a felt need to remodel somehow his plan. He
fairly caught himself shooting rueful glances, shy looks of
pursuit, toward the embodied influence, the definite adversary, who
had by a stroke of her own failed him and on a fond theory of
whose palpable presence he had, under Mrs. Newsome's inspiration,
altogether proceeded. He had once or twice, in secret, literally
expressed the irritated wish that SHE would come out and find her.
He couldn't quite yet force it upon Woollett that such a career,
such a perverted young life, showed after all a certain plausible
side, DID in the case before them flaunt something like an
impunity for the social man; but he could at least treat himself
to the statement that would prepare him for the sharpest echo.
This echo--as distinct over there in the dry thin air as some
shrill "heading" above a column of print--seemed to reach him even
as he wrote. "He says there's no woman," he could hear Mrs.
Newsome report, in capitals almost of newspaper size, to Mrs.
Pocock; and he could focus in Mrs. Pocock the response of the
reader of the journal. He could see in the younger lady's face the
earnestness of her attention and catch the full scepticism of her
but slightly delayed "What is there then?" Just so he could again
as little miss the mother's clear decision: "There's plenty of
disposition, no doubt, to pretend there isn't." Strether had,
after posting his letter, the whole scene out; and it was a scene
during which, coming and going, as befell, he kept his eye not
least upon the daughter. He had his fine sense of the conviction
Mrs. Pocock would take occasion to reaffirm--a conviction bearing,
as he had from the first deeply divined it to bear, on Mr.
Strether's essential inaptitude. She had looked him in his
conscious eyes even before he sailed, and that she didn't believe
HE would find the woman had been written in her book. [sic]
Hadn't she at the best but a scant faith in his ability to find women?
It wasn't even as if he had found her mother--so much more, to her
discrimination, had her mother performed the finding. Her mother
had, in a case her private judgement of which remained educative
of Mrs. Pocock's critical sense, found the man. The man owed his
unchallenged state, in general, to the fact that Mrs. Newsome's
discoveries were accepted at Woollett; but he knew in his bones,
our friend did, how almost irresistibly Mrs. Pocock would now be
moved to show what she thought of his own. Give HER a free hand,
would be the moral, and the woman would soon be found.
His impression of Miss Gostrey after her introduction to Chad was
meanwhile an impression of a person almost unnaturally on her
guard. He struck himself as at first unable to extract from her
what he wished; though indeed OF what he wished at this special
juncture he would doubtless have contrived to make but a crude
statement. It sifted and settled nothing to put to her, tout
betement, as she often said, "Do you like him, eh?"--thanks to his
feeling it actually the least of his needs to heap up the evidence
in the young man's favour. He repeatedly knocked at her door to
let her have it afresh that Chad's case--whatever else of minor
interest it might yield--was first and foremost a miracle almost
monstrous. It was the alteration of the entire man, and was so
signal an instance that nothing else, for the intelligent
observer, could--COULD it?--signify. "It's a plot," he declared--
"there's more in it than meets the eye." He gave the rein to his
fancy. "It's a plant!"
His fancy seemed to please her. "Whose then?"
"Well, the party responsible is, I suppose, the fate that waits
for one, the dark doom that rides. What I mean is that with such
elements one can't count. I've but my poor individual, my modest
human means. It isn't playing the game to turn on the uncanny. All
one's energy goes to facing it, to tracking it. One wants, confound
it, don't you see?" he confessed with a queer face--"one wants to
enjoy anything so rare. Call it then life"--he puzzled it out--
"call it poor dear old life simply that springs the surprise.
Nothing alters the fact that the surprise is paralysing, or at any
rate engrossing--all, practically, hang it, that one sees, that
one CAN see."
Her silences were never barren, nor even dull. "Is that what
you've written home?"
He tossed it off. "Oh dear, yes!"
She had another pause while, across her carpets, he had another
walk. "If you don't look out you'll have them straight over."
"Oh but I've said he'll go back."
"And WILL he?" Miss Gostrey asked.
The special tone of it made him, pulling up, look at her long.
"What's that but just the question I've spent treasures of
patience and ingenuity in giving you, by the sight of him--after
everything had led up--every facility to answer? What is it but
just the thing I came here to-day to get out of you? Will he?"
"No--he won't," she said at last. "He's not free."
The air of it held him. "Then you've all the while known--?"
"I've known nothing but what I've seen; and I wonder," she
declared with some impatience, that you didn't see as much. It was
enough to be with him there--"
"In the box? Yes," he rather blankly urged.
"Well--to feel sure."
"Sure of what?"
She got up from her chair, at this, with a nearer approach than
she had ever yet shown to dismay at his dimness. She even, fairly
pausing for it, spoke with a shade of pity. "Guess!"
It was a shade, fairly, that brought a flush into his face; so
that for a moment, as they waited together, their difference was
between them. "You mean that just your hour with him told you so
much of his story? Very good; I'm not such a fool, on my side, as
that I don't understand you, or as that I didn't in some degree
understand HIM. That he has done what he liked most isn't, among
any of us, a matter the least in dispute. There's equally little
question at this time of day of what it is he does like most. But
I'm not talking," he reasonably explained, "of any mere wretch he
may still pick up. I'm talking of some person who in his present
situation may have held her own, may really have counted."
"That's exactly what I am!" said Miss Gostrey. But she as quickly
made her point. "I thought you thought--or that they think at
Woollett--that that's what mere wretches necessarily do. Mere
wretches necessarily DON'T!" she declared with spirit. "There
must, behind every appearance to the contrary, still be somebody--
somebody who's not a mere wretch, since we accept the miracle.
What else but such a somebody can such a miracle be?"
He took it in. "Because the fact itself IS the woman?"
"A woman. Some woman or other. It's one of the things that HAVE to
"But you mean then at least a good one."
"A good woman?" She threw up her arms with a laugh. "I should call
her excellent!"
"Then why does he deny her?"
Miss Gostrey thought a moment. "Because she's too good to admit!
Don't you see," she went on, "how she accounts for him?"
Strether clearly, more and more, did see; yet it made him also see
other things. "But isn't what we want that he shall account for
"Well, he does. What you have before you is his way. You must
forgive him if it isn't quite outspoken. In Paris such debts are
Strether could imagine; but still--! "Even when the woman's good?"
Again she laughed out. "Yes, and even when the man is! There's
always a caution in such cases," she more seriously explained--
"for what it may seem to show. There's nothing that's taken as
showing so much here as sudden unnatural goodness."
"Ah then you're speaking now," Strether said, "of people who are
NOT nice."
"I delight," she replied, "in your classifications. But do you
want me," she asked, "to give you in the matter, on this ground,
the wisest advice I'm capable of? Don't consider her, don't judge
her at all in herself. Consider her and judge her only in Chad."
He had the courage at least of his companion's logic. "Because
then I shall like her?" He almost looked, with his quick imagination
as if he already did, though seeing at once also the full extent
of how little it would suit his book. "But is that what I came
out for?"
She had to confess indeed that it wasn't. But there was something
else. "Don't make up your mind. There are all sorts of things. You
haven't seen him all."
This on his side Strether recognised; but his acuteness none the
less showed him the danger. "Yes, but if the more I see the better
he seems?"
Well, she found something. "That may be--but his disavowal of her
isn't, all the same, pure consideration. There's a hitch." She
made it out. "It's the effort to sink her."
Strether winced at the image. "To 'sink'--?"
"Well, I mean there's a struggle, and a part of it is just what he
hides. Take time--that's the only way not to make some mistake
that you'll regret. Then you'll see. He does really want to shake
her off."
Our friend had by this time so got into the vision that he almost
gasped. "After all she has done for him?"
Miss Gostrey gave him a look which broke the next moment into a
wonderful smile. "He's not so good as you think!"
They remained with him, these words, promising him, in their
character of warning, considerable help; but the support he tried
to draw from them found itself on each renewal of contact with
Chad defeated by something else. What could it be, this
disconcerting force, he asked himself, but the sense, constantly
renewed, that Chad WAS--quite in fact insisted on being--as good
as he thought? It seemed somehow as if he couldn't BUT be as good
from the moment he wasn't as bad. There was a succession of days
at all events when contact with him--and in its immediate effect,
as if it could produce no other--elbowed out of Strether's
consciousness everything but itself. Little Bilham once more
pervaded the scene, but little Bilham became even in a higher
degree than he had originally been one of the numerous forms of
the inclusive relation; a consequence promoted, to our friend's
sense, by two or three incidents with which we have yet to make
acquaintance. Waymarsh himself, for the occasion, was drawn into
the eddy; it absolutely, though but temporarily, swallowed him
down, and there were days when Strether seemed to bump against him
as a sinking swimmer might brush a submarine object. The
fathomless medium held them--Chad's manner was the fathomless
medium; and our friend felt as if they passed each other, in their
deep immersion, with the round impersonal eye of silent fish. It
was practically produced between them that Waymarsh was giving him
then his chance; and the shade of discomfort that Strether drew
from the allowance resembled not a little the embarrassment he had
known at school, as a boy, when members of his family had been
present at exhibitions. He could perform before strangers, but
relatives were fatal, and it was now as if, comparatively,
Waymarsh were a relative. He seemed to hear him say "Strike up
then!" and to enjoy a foretaste of conscientious domestic
criticism. He HAD struck up, so far as he actually could; Chad
knew by this time in profusion what he wanted; and what vulgar
violence did his fellow pilgrim expect of him when he had really
emptied his mind? It went somehow to and fro that what poor
Waymarsh meant was "I told you so--that you'd lose your immortal
soul!" but it was also fairly explicit that Strether had his own
challenge and that, since they must go to the bottom of things, he
wasted no more virtue in watching Chad than Chad wasted in
watching him. His dip for duty's sake--where was it worse than
Waymarsh's own? For HE needn't have stopped resisting and
refusing, needn't have parleyed, at that rate, with the foe.
The strolls over Paris to see something or call somewhere were
accordingly inevitable and natural, and the late sessions in the
wondrous troisieme, the lovely home, when men dropped in and the
picture composed more suggestively through the haze of tobacco, of
music more or less good and of talk more or less polyglot, were on
a principle not to be distinguished from that of the mornings and
the afternoons. Nothing, Strether had to recognise as he leaned
back and smoked, could well less resemble a scene of violence than
even the liveliest of these occasions. They were occasions of
discussion, none the less, and Strether had never in his life
heard so many opinions on so many subjects. There were opinions at
Woollett, but only on three or four. The differences were there to
match; if they were doubtless deep, though few, they were quiet--
they were, as might be said, almost as shy as if people had been
ashamed of them. People showed little diffidence about such
things, on the other hand, in the Boulevard Malesherbes, and were
so far from being ashamed of them--or indeed of anything else--
that they often seemed to have invented them to avert those
agreements that destroy the taste of talk. No one had ever done that
at Woollett, though Strether could remember times when he himself had
been tempted to it without quite knowing why. He saw why at present
--he had but wanted to promote intercourse.
These, however, were but parenthetic memories, and the turn taken
by his affair on the whole was positively that if his nerves were
on the stretch it was because he missed violence. When he asked
himself if none would then, in connexion with it, ever come at
all, he might almost have passed as wondering how to provoke it.
It would be too absurd if such a vision as THAT should have to be
invoked for relief; it was already marked enough as absurd that he
should actually have begun with flutters and dignities on the
score of a single accepted meal. What sort of a brute had he
expected Chad to be, anyway?--Strether had occasion to make the
enquiry but was careful to make it in private. He could himself,
comparatively recent as it was--it was truly but the fact of a few
days since--focus his primal crudity; but he would on the
approach of an observer, as if handling an illicit possession,
have slipped the reminiscence out of sight. There were echoes of
it still in Mrs. Newsome's letters, and there were moments when
these echoes made him exclaim on her want of tact. He blushed of
course, at once, still more for the explanation than for the
ground of it: it came to him in time to save his manners that she
couldn't at the best become tactful as quickly as he. Her tact had
to reckon with the Atlantic Ocean, the General Post-Office and the
extravagant curve of the globe. Chad had one day offered tea at
the Boulevard Malesherbes to a chosen few, a group again including
the unobscured Miss Barrace; and Strether had on coming out walked
away with the acquaintance whom in his letters to Mrs. Newsome he
always spoke of as the little artist-man. He had had full occasion
to mention him as the other party, so oddly, to the only close
personal alliance observation had as yet detected in Chad's
existence. Little Bilham's way this afternoon was not Strether's,
but he had none the less kindly come with him, and it was somehow
a part of his kindness that as it had sadly begun to rain they
suddenly found themselves seated for conversation at a cafe in
which they had taken refuge. He had passed no more crowded hour in
Chad's society than the one just ended; he had talked with Miss
Barrace, who had reproached him with not having come to see her,
and he had above all hit on a happy thought for causing Waymarsh's
tension to relax. Something might possibly be extracted for the
latter from the idea of his success with that lady, whose quick
apprehension of what might amuse her had given Strether a free
hand. What had she meant if not to ask whether she couldn't help
him with his splendid encumbrance, and mightn't the sacred rage at
any rate be kept a little in abeyance by thus creating for his
comrade's mind even in a world of irrelevance the possibility of a
relation? What was it but a relation to be regarded as so
decorative and, in especial, on the strength of it, to be whirled
away, amid flounces and feathers, in a coupe lined, by what
Strether could make out, with dark blue brocade? He himself had
never been whirled away--never at least in a coupe and behind a
footman; he had driven with Miss Gostrey in cabs, with Mrs.
Pocock, a few times, in an open buggy, with Mrs. Newsome in a
four-seated cart and, occasionally up at the mountains, on a
buckboard; but his friend's actual adventure transcended his
personal experience. He now showed his companion soon enough
indeed how inadequate, as a general monitor, this last queer
quantity could once more feel itself.
"What game under the sun is he playing?" He signified the next
moment that his allusion was not to the fat gentleman immersed in
dominoes on whom his eyes had begun by resting, but to their host
of the previous hour, as to whom, there on the velvet bench, with
a final collapse of all consistency, he treated himself to the
comfort of indiscretion. "Where do you see him come out?"
Little Bilham, in meditation, looked at him with a kindness almost
paternal. "Don't you like it over here?"
Strether laughed out--for the tone was indeed droll; he let
himself go. "What has that to do with it? The only thing I've any
business to like is to feel that I'm moving him. That's why I ask
you whether you believe I AM? Is the creature"--and he did his
best to show that he simply wished to ascertain--"honest?"
His companion looked responsible, but looked it through a small
dim smile. "What creature do you mean?"
It was on this that they did have for a little a mute interchange.
"Is it untrue that he's free? How then," Strether asked wondering
"does he arrange his life?"
"Is the creature you mean Chad himself?" little Bilham said.
Strether here, with a rising hope, just thought, "We must take one
of them at a time." But his coherence lapsed. "IS there some
woman? Of whom he's really afraid of course I mean--or who does
with him what she likes."
"It's awfully charming of you," Bilham presently remarked, "not to
have asked me that before."
"Oh I'm not fit for my job!"
The exclamation had escaped our friend, but it made little Bilham
more deliberate. "Chad's a rare case!" he luminously observed.
"He's awfully changed," he added.
"Then you see it too?"
"The way he has improved? Oh yes--I think every one must see it.
But I'm not sure," said little Bilham, "that I didn't like him
about as well in his other state."
"Then this IS really a new state altogether?"
"Well," the young man after a moment returned, "I'm not sure he
was really meant by nature to be quite so good. It's like the new
edition of an old book that one has been fond of--revised and
amended, brought up to date, but not quite the thing one knew and
loved. However that may be at all events," he pursued, "I don't
think, you know, that he's really playing, as you call it, any
game. I believe he really wants to go back and take up a career.
He's capable of one, you know, that will improve and enlarge him
still more. He won't then," little Bilham continued to remark, "be
my pleasant well-rubbed old-fashioned volume at all. But of course
I'm beastly immoral. I'm afraid it would be a funny world
altogether--a world with things the way I like them. I ought, I
dare say, to go home and go into business myself. Only I'd simply
rather die--simply. And I've not the least difficulty in making
up my mind not to, and in knowing exactly why, and in defending my
ground against all comers. All the same," he wound up, "I assure
you I don't say a word against it--for himself, I mean--to Chad. I
seem to see it as much the best thing for him. You see he's not
"DO I?"--Strether stared. "I've been supposing I see just the
opposite--an extraordinary case of the equilibrium arrived at and
"Oh there's a lot behind it."
"Ah there you are!" Strether exclaimed. "That's just what I want
to get at. You speak of your familiar volume altered out of
recognition. Well, who's the editor?"
Little Bilham looked before him a minute in silence. "He ought to
get married. THAT would do it. And he wants to."
"Wants to marry her?"
Again little Bilham waited, and, with a sense that he had
information, Strether scarce knew what was coming. "He wants to be
free. He isn't used, you see," the young man explained in his
lucid way, "to being so good."
Strether hesitated. "Then I may take it from you that he IS good?"
His companion matched his pause, but making it up with a quiet
fulness. "DO take it from me."
"Well then why isn't he free? He swears to me he is, but meanwhile
does nothing--except of course that he's so kind to me--to prove
it; and couldn't really act much otherwise if he weren't. My
question to you just now was exactly on this queer impression of
his diplomacy: as if instead of really giving ground his line were
to keep me on here and set me a bad example."
As the half-hour meanwhile had ebbed Strether paid his score, and
the waiter was presently in the act of counting out change. Our
friend pushed back to him a fraction of it, with which, after an
emphatic recognition, the personage in question retreated. "You
give too much," little Bilham permitted himself benevolently to
"Oh I always give too much!" Strether helplessly sighed. "But you
don't," he went on as if to get quickly away from the contemplation
of that doom, "answer my question. Why isn't he free?"
Little Bilham had got up as if the transaction with the waiter had
been a signal, and had already edged out between the table and the
divan. The effect of this was that a minute later they had quitted
the place, the gratified waiter alert again at the open door.
Strether had found himself deferring to his companion's abruptness
as to a hint that he should be answered as soon as they were more
isolated. This happened when after a few steps in the outer air
they had turned the next comer. There our friend had kept it up.
"Why isn't he free if he's good?"
Little Bilham looked him full in the face. "Because it's a
virtuous attachment."
This had settled the question so effectually for the time--that is
for the next few days--that it had given Strether almost a new
lease of life. It must be added however that, thanks to his
constant habit of shaking the bottle in which life handed him the
wine of experience, he presently found the taste of the lees
rising as usual into his draught. His imagination had in other
words already dealt with his young friend's assertion; of which it
had made something that sufficiently came out on the very next
occasion of his seeing Maria Gostrey. This occasion moreover had
been determined promptly by a new circumstance--a circumstance he
was the last man to leave her for a day in ignorance of. "When I
said to him last night," he immediately began, "that without some
definite word from him now that will enable me to speak to them
over there of our sailing--or at least of mine, giving them some
sort of date--my responsibility becomes uncomfortable and my
situation awkward; when I said that to him what do you think was
his reply?" And then as she this time gave it up: "Why that he has
two particular friends, two ladies, mother and daughter, about to
arrive in Paris--coming back from an absence; and that he wants
me so furiously to meet them, know them and like them, that I
shall oblige him by kindly not bringing our business to a crisis
till he has had a chance to see them again himself. Is that,"
Strether enquired, "the way he's going to try to get off? These
are the people," he explained, "that he must have gone down to see
before I arrived. They're the best friends he has in the world,
and they take more interest than any one else in what concerns
him. As I'm his next best he sees a thousand reasons why we should
comfortably meet. He hasn't broached the question sooner because
their return was uncertain--seemed in fact for the present
impossible. But he more than intimates that--if you can believe
it--their desire to make my acquaintance has had to do with their
surmounting difficulties."
"They're dying to see you?" Miss Gostrey asked.
"Dying. Of course," said Strether, "they're the virtuous attachment."
He had already told her about that--had seen her the day after
his talk with little Bilham; and they had then threshed out
together the bearing of the revelation. She had helped him to put
into it the logic in which little Bilham had left it slightly
deficient Strether hadn't pressed him as to the object of the
preference so unexpectedly described; feeling in the presence of
it, with one of his irrepressible scruples, a delicacy from which
he had in the quest of the quite other article worked himself
sufficiently free. He had held off, as on a small principle of
pride, from permitting his young friend to mention a name; wishing
to make with this the great point that Chad's virtuous attachments
were none of his business. He had wanted from the first not to
think too much of his dignity, but that was no reason for not
allowing it any little benefit that might turn up. He had often
enough wondered to what degree his interference might pass for
interested; so that there was no want of luxury in letting it be
seen whenever he could that he didn't interfere. That had of
course at the same time not deprived him of the further luxury of
much private astonishment; which however he had reduced to some
order before communicating his knowledge. When he had done this at
last it was with the remark that, surprised as Miss Gostrey might,
like himself, at first be, she would probably agree with him on
reflexion that such an account of the matter did after all fit the
confirmed appearances. Nothing certainly, on all the indications,
could have been a greater change for him than a virtuous
attachment, and since they had been in search of the "word" as the
French called it, of that change, little Bilham's announcement--
though so long and so oddly delayed--would serve as well as
another. She had assured Strether in fact after a pause that the
more she thought of it the more it did serve; and yet her
assurance hadn't so weighed with him as that before they parted he
hadn't ventured to challenge her sincerity. Didn't she believe the
attachment was virtuous?--he had made sure of her again with the
aid of that question. The tidings he brought her on this second
occasion were moreover such as would help him to make surer still.
She showed at first none the less as only amused. "You say there
are two? An attachment to them both then would, I suppose, almost
necessarily be innocent."
Our friend took the point, but he had his clue. "Mayn't he be
still in the stage of not quite knowing which of them, mother or
daughter, he likes best?"
She gave it more thought. "Oh it must be the daughter--at his
"Possibly. Yet what do we know," Strether asked, "about hers? She
may be old enough."
"Old enough for what?"
"Why to marry Chad. That may be, you know, what they want. And if
Chad wants it too, and little Bilham wants it, and even we, at a
pinch, could do with it--that is if she doesn't prevent repatriation
--why it may be plain sailing yet."
It was always the case for him in these counsels that each of his
remarks, as it came, seemed to drop into a deeper well. He had at
all events to wait a moment to hear the slight splash of this one.
"I don't see why if Mr. Newsome wants to marry the young lady he
hasn't already done it or hasn't been prepared with some statement
to you about it. And if he both wants to marry her and is on good
terms with them why isn't he 'free'?"
Strether, responsively, wondered indeed. "Perhaps the girl herself
doesn't like him."
"Then why does he speak of them to you as he does?"
Strether's mind echoed the question, but also again met it. "Perhaps
it's with the mother he's on good terms."
"As against the daughter?"
"Well, if she's trying to persuade the daughter to consent to him,
what could make him like the mother more? Only," Strether threw
out, "why shouldn't the daughter consent to him?"
"Oh," said Miss Gostrey, "mayn't it be that every one else isn't
quite so struck with him as you?"
"Doesn't regard him you mean as such an 'eligible' young man? Is
that what I've come to?" he audibly and rather gravely sought to
know. "However," he went on, "his marriage is what his mother most
desires--that is if it will help. And oughtn't ANY marriage to
help? They must want him"--he had already worked it out--"to be
better off. Almost any girl he may marry will have a direct
interest in his taking up his chances. It won't suit HER at least
that he shall miss them."
Miss Gostrey cast about. "No--you reason well! But of course on
the other hand there's always dear old Woollett itself."
"Oh yes," he mused--"there's always dear old Woollett itself."
She waited a moment. "The young lady mayn't find herself able to
swallow THAT quantity. She may think it's paying too much; she may
weigh one thing against another."
Strether, ever restless in such debates, took a vague turn "It
will all depend on who she is. That of course--the proved ability
to deal with dear old Woollett, since I'm sure she does deal with
it--is what makes so strongly for Mamie."
He stopped short, at her tone, before her; then, though seeing
that it represented not vagueness, but a momentary embarrassed
fulness, let his exclamation come. "You surely haven't forgotten
about Mamie!"
"No, I haven't forgotten about Mamie," she smiled. "There's no
doubt whatever that there's ever so much to be said for her.
Mamie's MY girl!" she roundly declared.
Strether resumed for a minute his walk. "She's really perfectly
lovely, you know. Far prettier than any girl I've seen over here
"That's precisely on what I perhaps most build." And she mused a
moment in her friend's way. "I should positively like to take her
in hand!"
He humoured the fancy, though indeed finally to deprecate it. "Oh
but don't, in your zeal, go over to her! I need you most and
can't, you know, be left."
But she kept it up. "I wish they'd send her out to me!"
"If they knew you," he returned, "they would "
"Ah but don't they?--after all that, as I've understood you you've
told them about me?"
He had paused before her again, but he continued his course "They
WILL--before, as you say, I've done." Then he came out with the
point he had wished after all most to make. "It seems to give away
now his game. This is what he has been doing--keeping me along
for. He has been waiting for them."
Miss Gostrey drew in her lips. "You see a good deal in it!"
"I doubt if I see as much as you. Do you pretend," he went on,
"that you don't see--?"
"Well, what?"--she pressed him as he paused.
"Why that there must be a lot between them--and that it has been
going on from the first; even from before I came."
She took a minute to answer. "Who are they then--if it's so
"It mayn't be grave--it may be gay. But at any rate it's marked.
Only I don't know," Strether had to confess, "anything about them.
Their name for instance was a thing that, after little Bilham's
information, I found it a kind of refreshment not to feel obliged
to follow up."
"Oh," she returned, "if you think you've got off--!"
Her laugh produced in him a momentary gloom. "I don't think I've
got off. I only think I'm breathing for about five minutes. I dare
say I SHALL have, at the best, still to get on." A look, over it
all, passed between them, and the next minute he had come back to
good humour. "I don't meanwhile take the smallest interest in
their name."
"Nor in their nationality?--American, French, English, Polish?"
"I don't care the least little 'hang,'" he smiled, "for their
nationality. It would be nice if they're Polish!" he almost
immediately added.
"Very nice indeed." The transition kept up her spirits. "So you
see you do care."
He did this contention a modified justice. "I think I should if
they WERE Polish. Yes," he thought--"there might be joy in THAT."
"Let us then hope for it." But she came after this nearer to the
question. "If the girl's of the right age of course the mother
can't be. I mean for the virtuous attachment. If the girl's
twenty--and she can't be less--the mother must be at least forty.
So it puts the mother out. SHE'S too old for him."
Strether, arrested again, considered and demurred. "Do you think
so? Do you think any one would be too old for him? I'M eighty, and
I'm too young. But perhaps the girl," he continued, "ISn't twenty.
Perhaps she's only ten--but such a little dear that Chad finds
himself counting her in as an attraction of the acquaintance.
Perhaps she's only five. Perhaps the mother's but five-and-twenty
--a charming young widow."
Miss Gostrey entertained the suggestion. "She IS a widow then?"
"I haven't the least idea!" They once more, in spite of this
vagueness, exchanged a look--a look that was perhaps the longest
yet. It seemed in fact, the next thing, to require to explain
itself; which it did as it could. "I only feel what I've told you
--that he has some reason."
Miss Gostrey's imagination had taken its own flight. "Perhaps
she's NOT a widow."
Strether seemed to accept the possibility with reserve. Still he
accepted it. "Then that's why the attachment--if it's to her--is
But she looked as if she scarce followed. "Why is it virtuous if--
since she's free--there's nothing to impose on it any condition?"
He laughed at her question. "Oh I perhaps don't mean as virtuous
as THAT! Your idea is that it can be virtuous--in any sense worthy
of the name--only if she's NOT free? But what does it become
then," he asked, "for HER?"
"Ah that's another matter." He said nothing for a moment, and she
soon went on. "I dare say you're right, at any rate, about
Mr. Newsome's little plan. He HAS been trying you--has been
reporting on you to these friends."
Strether meanwhile had had time to think more. "Then where's his
"Well, as we say, it's struggling up, breaking out, asserting itself
as it can. We can be on the side, you see, of his straightness.
We can help him. But he has made out," said Miss Gostrey, "that
you'll do."
"Do for what?"
"Why, for THEM--for ces dames. He has watched you, studied you,
liked you--and recognised that THEY must. It's a great compliment
to you, my dear man; for I'm sure they're particular. You came out
for a success. Well," she gaily declared, "you're having it!"
He took it from her with momentary patience and then turned
abruptly away. It was always convenient to him that there were so
many fine things in her room to look at. But the examination of
two or three of them appeared soon to have determined a speech
that had little to do with them. "You don't believe in it!"
"In what?"
"In the character of the attachment. In its innocence."
But she defended herself. "I don't pretend to know anything about
it. Everything's possible. We must see."
"See?" he echoed with a groan. "Haven't we seen enough?"
"I haven't," she smiled.
"But do you suppose then little Bilham has lied?"
"You must find out."
It made him almost turn pale. "Find out any MORE?"
He had dropped on a sofa for dismay; but she seemed, as she stood
over him, to have the last word. "Wasn't what you came out for to
find out ALL?"
Book Fifth
The Sunday of the next week was a wonderful day, and Chad Newsome
had let his friend know in advance that he had provided for it.
There had already been a question of his taking him to see the
great Gloriani, who was at home on Sunday afternoons and at whose
house, for the most part, fewer bores were to be met than
elsewhere; but the project, through some accident, had not had
instant effect, and now revived in happier conditions. Chad had
made the point that the celebrated sculptor had a queer old
garden, for which the weather--spring at last frank and fair--was
propitious; and two or three of his other allusions had confirmed
for Strether the expectation of something special. He had by this
time, for all introductions and adventures, let himself recklessly
go, cherishing the sense that whatever the young man showed him he
was showing at least himself. He could have wished indeed, so far
as this went, that Chad were less of a mere cicerone; for he was
not without the impression--now that the vision of his game, his
plan, his deep diplomacy, did recurrently assert itself--of his
taking refuge from the realities of their intercourse in profusely
dispensing, as our friend mentally phrased et panem et circenses.
Our friend continued to feel rather smothered in flowers, though
he made in his other moments the almost angry inference that this
was only because of his odious ascetic suspicion of any form of
beauty. He periodically assured himself--for his reactions were
sharp--that he shouldn't reach the truth of anything till he had
at least got rid of that.
He had known beforehand that Madame de Vionnet and her daughter
would probably be on view, an intimation to that effect having
constituted the only reference again made by Chad to his good
friends from the south. The effect of Strether's talk about them
with Miss Gostrey had been quite to consecrate his reluctance to
pry; something in the very air of Chad's silence--judged in the
light of that talk--offered it to him as a reserve he could
markedly match. It shrouded them about with he scarce knew what, a
consideration, a distinction; he was in presence at any rate--so
far as it placed him there--of ladies; and the one thing that was
definite for him was that they themselves should be, to the extent
of his responsibility, in presence of a gentleman. Was it because
they were very beautiful, very clever, or even very good--was it
for one of these reasons that Chad was, so to speak, nursing his
effect? Did he wish to spring them, in the Woollett phrase, with a
fuller force--to confound his critic, slight though as yet the
criticism, with some form of merit exquisitely incalculable? The
most the critic had at all events asked was whether the persons in
question were French; and that enquiry had been but a proper
comment on the sound of their name. "Yes. That is no!" had been
Chad's reply; but he had immediately added that their English was
the most charming in the world, so that if Strether were wanting
an excuse for not getting on with them he wouldn't in the least
find one. Never in fact had Strether--in the mood into which the
place had quickly launched him--felt, for himself, less the need
of an excuse. Those he might have found would have been, at the
worst, all for the others, the people before him, in whose liberty
to be as they were he was aware that he positively rejoiced. His
fellow guests were multiplying, and these things, their liberty,
their intensity, their variety, their conditions at large, were in
fusion in the admirable medium of the scene.
The place itself was a great impression--a small pavilion, clear-faced
and sequestered, an effect of polished parquet, of fine white panel
and spare sallow gilt, of decoration delicate and rare, in the heart
of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and on the edge of a cluster of gardens
attached to old noble houses. Far back from streets and unsuspected
by crowds, reached by a long passage and a quiet court,
it was as striking to the unprepared mind, he immediately saw,
as a treasure dug up; giving him too, more than anything yet,
the note of the range of the immeasurable town and sweeping away,
as by a last brave brush, his usual landmarks and terms.
It was in the garden, a spacious cherished remnant, out of
which a dozen persons had already passed, that Chad's host
presently met them while the tall bird-haunted trees, all of a twitter
with the spring and the weather, and the high party-walls,
on the other side of which grave hotels stood off for privacy,
spoke of survival, transmission, association, a strong indifferent
persistent order. The day was so soft that the little party had
practically adjourned to the open air but the open air was in such
conditions all a chamber of state. Strether had presently the
sense of a great convent, a convent of missions, famous for he
scarce knew what, a nursery of young priests, of scattered shade,
of straight alleys and chapel-bells, that spread its mass in one
quarter; he had the sense of names in the air, of ghosts at the
windows, of signs and tokens, a whole range of expression, all
about him, too thick for prompt discrimination.
This assault of images became for a moment, in the address of the
distinguished sculptor, almost formidable: Gloriani showed him,
in such perfect confidence, on Chad's introduction of him, a fine
worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a
foreign tongue. With his genius in his eyes, his manners on his
lips, his long career behind him and his honours and rewards all
round, the great artist, in the course of a single sustained look
and a few words of delight at receiving him, affected our friend
as a dazzling prodigy of type. Strether had seen in museums--in
the Luxembourg as well as, more reverently, later on, in the New
York of the billionaires--the work of his hand; knowing too that
after an earlier time in his native Rome he had migrated, in
mid-career, to Paris, where, with a personal lustre almost violent,
he shone in a constellation: all of which was more than enough
to crown him, for his guest, with the light, with the romance,
of glory. Strether, in contact with that element as he had never
yet so intimately been, had the consciousness of opening to it,
for the happy instant, all the windows of his mind, of letting this
rather grey interior drink in for once the sun of a clime not
marked in his old geography. He was to remember again repeatedly
the medal-like Italian face, in which every line was an artist's
own, in which time told only as tone and consecration; and he was
to recall in especial, as the penetrating radiance, as the
communication of the illustrious spirit itself, the manner in
which, while they stood briefly, in welcome and response, face to
face, he was held by the sculptor's eyes. He wasn't soon to forget
them, was to think of them, all unconscious, unintending,
preoccupied though they were, as the source of the deepest
intellectual sounding to which he had ever been exposed. He was in
fact quite to cherish his vision of it, to play with it in idle
hours; only speaking of it to no one and quite aware he couldn't
have spoken without appearing to talk nonsense. Was what it had
told him or what it had asked him the greater of the mysteries?
Was it the most special flare, unequalled, supreme, of the
aesthetic torch, lighting that wondrous world for ever, or was it
above all the long straight shaft sunk by a personal acuteness
that life had seasoned to steel? Nothing on earth could have been
stranger and no one doubtless more surprised than the artist
himself, but it was for all the world to Strether just then as if
in the matter of his accepted duty he had positively been on trial.
The deep human expertness in Gloriani's charming smile--oh the
terrible life behind it!--was flashed upon him as a test of his stuff.
Chad meanwhile, after having easily named his companion, had still
more easily turned away and was already greeting other persons present.
He was as easy, clever Chad, with the great artist as with his obscure
compatriot, and as easy with every one else as with either:
this fell into its place for Strether and made almost a new light,
giving him, as a concatenation, something more he could enjoy.
He liked Gloriani, but should never see him again; of that he was
sufficiently sure. Chad accordingly, who was wonderful with both
of them, was a kind of link for hopeless fancy, an implication of
possibilities--oh if everything had been different! Strether noted
at all events that he was thus on terms with illustrious spirits,
and also that--yes, distinctly--he hadn't in the least swaggered
about it. Our friend hadn't come there only for this figure of Abel
Newsome's son, but that presence threatened to affect the observant
mind as positively central. Gloriani indeed, remembering something
and excusing himself, pursued Chad to speak to him, and Strether was
left musing on many things. One of them was the question of whether,
since he had been tested, he had passed. Did the artist drop him
from having made out that he wouldn't do? He really felt just to-day
that he might do better than usual. Hadn't he done well enough,
so far as that went, in being exactly so dazzled? and in not having
too, as he almost believed, wholly hidden from his host that he felt
the latter's plummet? Suddenly, across the garden, he saw little
Bilham approach, and it was a part of the fit that was on him that
as their eyes met he guessed also HIS knowledge. If he had said to
him on the instant what was uppermost he would have said: "HAVE I
passed?--for of course I know one has to pass here." Little Bilham
would have reassured him, have told him that he exaggerated, and
have adduced happily enough the argument of little Bilham's own
very presence; which, in truth, he could see, was as easy a one as
Gloriani's own or as Chad's. He himself would perhaps then after a
while cease to be frightened, would get the point of view for some
of the faces--types tremendously alien, alien to Woollett--that he
had already begun to take in. Who were they all, the dispersed
groups and couples, the ladies even more unlike those of Woollett
than the gentlemen?--this was the enquiry that, when his young
friend had greeted him, he did find himself making.
"Oh they're every one--all sorts and sizes; of course I mean
within limits, though limits down perhaps rather more than limits
up. There are always artists--he's beautiful and inimitable to the
cher confrere; and then gros bonnets of many kinds--ambassadors,
cabinet ministers, bankers, generals, what do I know? even Jews.
Above all always some awfully nice women--and not too many;
sometimes an actress, an artist, a great performer--but only when
they're not monsters; and in particular the right femmes du monde.
You can fancy his history on that side--I believe it's fabulous:
they NEVER give him up. Yet he keeps them down: no one knows how
he manages; it's too beautiful and bland. Never too many--and a
mighty good thing too; just a perfect choice. But there are not in
any way many bores; it has always been so; he has some secret.
It's extraordinary. And you don't find it out. He's the same to
every one. He doesn't ask questions.'
"Ah doesn't he?" Strether laughed.
Bilham met it with all his candour. "How then should I be here?
"Oh for what you tell me. You're part of the perfect choice."
Well, the young man took in the scene. "It seems rather good to-day."
Strether followed the direction of his eyes. "Are they all, this
time, femmes du monde?"
Little Bilham showed his competence. "Pretty well."
This was a category our friend had a feeling for; a light,
romantic and mysterious, on the feminine element, in which he
enjoyed for a little watching it. "Are there any Poles?"
His companion considered. "I think I make out a 'Portuguee.' But
I've seen Turks."
Strether wondered, desiring justice. "They seem--all the women--
very harmonious."
"Oh in closer quarters they come out!" And then, while Strether
was aware of fearing closer quarters, though giving himself again
to the harmonies, "Well," little Bilham went on, "it IS at the
worst rather good, you know. If you like it, you feel it, this
way, that shows you're not in the least out But you always know
things," he handsomely added, "immediately."
Strether liked it and felt it only too much; so "I say, don't lay
traps for me!" he rather helplessly murmured.
"Well," his companion returned, "he's wonderfully kind to us."
"To us Americans you mean?"
"Oh no--he doesn't know anything about THAT. That's half the
battle here--that you can never hear politics. We don't talk them.
I mean to poor young wretches of all sorts. And yet it's always as
charming as this; it's as if, by something in the air, our squalor
didn't show. It puts us all back--into the last century."
"I'm afraid," Strether said, amused, "that it puts me rather
forward: oh ever so far!"
"Into the next? But isn't that only," little Bilham asked,
"because you're really of the century before?"
"The century before the last? Thank you!" Strether laughed. "If I
ask you about some of the ladies it can't be then that I may hope,
as such a specimen of the rococo, to please them."
"On the contrary they adore--we all adore here--the rococo, and
where is there a better setting for it than the whole thing, the
pavilion and the garden, together? There are lots of people with
collections," little Bilham smiled as he glanced round. "You'll be
It made Strether for a moment give himself again to contemplation.
There were faces he scarce knew what to make of. Were they
charming or were they only strange? He mightn't talk politics, yet
he suspected a Pole or two. The upshot was the question at the
back of his head from the moment his friend had joined him. "Have
Madame de Vionnet and her daughter arrived?"
"I haven't seen them yet, but Miss Gostrey has come. She's in the
pavilion looking at objects. One can see SHE'S a collector,"
little Bilham added without offence.
"Oh yes, she's a collector, and I knew she was to come. Is Madame
de Vionnet a collector?" Strether went on.
"Rather, I believe; almost celebrated." The young man met, on it,
a little, his friend's eyes. "I happen to know--from Chad, whom I
saw last night--that they've come back; but only yesterday.
He wasn't sure--up to the last. This, accordingly," little Bilham
went on, "will be--if they ARE here--their first appearance after
their return."
Strether, very quickly, turned these things over. "Chad told you
last night? To me, on our way here, he said nothing about it."
"But did you ask him?"
Strether did him the justice. "I dare say not."
"Well," said little Bilham, "you're not a person to whom it's easy
to tell things you don't want to know. Though it is easy, I admit--
it's quite beautiful," he benevolently added, "when you do want to."
Strether looked at him with an indulgence that matched his
intelligence. "Is that the deep reasoning on which--about these
ladies--you've been yourself so silent?"
Little Bilham considered the depth of his reasoning. "I haven't
been silent. I spoke of them to you the other day, the day we sat
together after Chad's tea-party."
Strether came round to it. "They then are the virtuous attachment?"
"I can only tell you that it's what they pass for. But isn't that
enough? What more than a vain appearance does the wisest of us
know? I commend you," the young man declared with a pleasant
emphasis, "the vain appearance."
Strether looked more widely round, and what he saw, from face to face,
deepened the effect of his young friend's words. "Is it so good?"
Strether had a pause. "The husband's dead?"
"Dear no. Alive."
"Oh!" said Strether. After which, as his companion laughed:
"How then can it be so good?"
"You'll see for yourself. One does see."
"Chad's in love with the daughter?"
"That's what I mean."
Strether wondered. "Then where's the difficulty?"
"Why, aren't you and I--with our grander bolder ideas?"
"Oh mine--!" Strether said rather strangely. But then as if to
attenuate: "You mean they won't hear of Woollett?"
Little Bilham smiled. "Isn't that just what you must see about?"
It had brought them, as she caught the last words, into relation
with Miss Barrace, whom Strether had already observed--as he had
never before seen a lady at a party--moving about alone. Coming
within sound of them she had already spoken, and she took again,
through her long-handled glass, all her amused and amusing
possession. "How much, poor Mr. Strether, you seem to have to see
about! But you can't say," she gaily declared, "that I don't do
what I can to help you. Mr. Waymarsh is placed. I've left him in
the house with Miss Gostrey."
"The way," little Bilham exclaimed, "Mr. Strether gets the ladies
to work for him! He's just preparing to draw in another; to
pounce--don't you see him?--on Madame de Vionnet."
"Madame de Vionnet? Oh, oh, oh!" Miss Barrace cried in a wonderful
crescendo. There was more in it, our friend made out, than met the
ear. Was it after all a joke that he should be serious about
anything? He envied Miss Barrace at any rate her power of not
being. She seemed, with little cries and protests and quick
recognitions, movements like the darts of some fine high-feathered
free-pecking bird, to stand before life as before some full
shop-window. You could fairly hear, as she selected and pointed,
the tap of her tortoise-shell against the glass. "It's certain that
we do need seeing about; only I'm glad it's not I who have to do it.
One does, no doubt, begin that way; then suddenly one finds that
one has given it up. It's too much, it's too difficult. You're
wonderful, you people," she continued to Strether, "for not feeling
those things--by which I mean impossibilities. You never feel them.
You face them with a fortitude that makes it a lesson to watch you."
"Ah but"--little Bilham put it with discouragement--"what do we
achieve after all? We see about you and report--when we even go so
far as reporting. But nothing's done."
"Oh you, Mr. Bilham," she replied as with an impatient rap on the
glass, "you're not worth sixpence! You come over to convert the
savages--for I know you verily did, I remember you--and the
savages simply convert YOU."
"Not even!" the young man woefully confessed: "they haven't gone
through that form. They've simply--the cannibals!--eaten me;
converted me if you like, but converted me into food. I'm but the
bleached bones of a Christian."
"Well then there we are! Only"--and Miss Barrace appealed again to
Strether--"don't let it discourage you. You'll break down soon
enough, but you'll meanwhile have had your moments. Il faut en
avoir. I always like to see you while you last. And I'll tell you
who WILL last."
"Waymarsh?"--he had already taken her up.
She laughed out as at the alarm of it. "He'll resist even Miss
Gostrey: so grand is it not to understand. He's wonderful."
"He is indeed," Strether conceded. "He wouldn't tell me of this
affair--only said he had an engagement; but with such a gloom, you
must let me insist, as if it had been an engagement to be hanged.
Then silently and secretly he turns up here with you. Do you call
THAT 'lasting'?"
"Oh I hope it's lasting!" Miss Barrace said. "But he only, at the
best, bears with me. He doesn't understand--not one little scrap.
He's delightful. He's wonderful," she repeated.
"Michelangelesque!"--little Bilham completed her meaning. "He IS
a success. Moses, on the ceiling, brought down to the floor;
overwhelming, colossal, but somehow portable."
"Certainly, if you mean by portable," she returned, "looking so
well in one's carriage. He's too funny beside me in his comer; he
looks like somebody, somebody foreign and famous, en exil; so that
people wonder--it's very amusing--whom I'm taking about. I show
him Paris, show him everything, and he never turns a hair. He's
like the Indian chief one reads about, who, when he comes up to
Washington to see the Great Father, stands wrapt in his blanket
and gives no sign. I might be the Great Father--from the way he
takes everything." She was delighted at this hit of her identity
with that personage--it fitted so her character; she declared it
was the title she meant henceforth to adopt. "And the way he sits,
too, in the corner of my room, only looking at my visitors very
hard and as if he wanted to start something! They wonder what he
does want to start. But he's wonderful," Miss Barrace once more
insisted. "He has never started anything yet."
It presented him none the less, in truth, to her actual friends,
who looked at each other in intelligence, with frank amusement on
Bilham's part and a shade of sadness on Strether's. Strether's
sadness sprang--for the image had its grandeur--from his thinking
how little he himself was wrapt in his blanket, how little, in
marble halls, all too oblivious of the Great Father, he resembled
a really majestic aboriginal. But he had also another reflexion.
"You've all of you here so much visual sense that you've somehow
all 'run' to it. There are moments when it strikes one that you
haven't any other."
"Any moral," little Bilham explained, watching serenely, across
the garden, the several femmes du monde. "But Miss Barrace has a
moral distinction," he kindly continued; speaking as if for Strether's
benefit not less than for her own.
"HAVE you?" Strether, scarce knowing what he was about, asked of
her almost eagerly.
"Oh not a distinction"--she was mightily amused at his tone--"Mr. Bilham's
too good. But I think I may say a sufficiency. Yes, a sufficiency.
Have you supposed strange things of me?"--and she fixed him again,
through all her tortoise-shell, with the droll interest of it.
"You ARE all indeed wonderful. I should awfully disappoint you.
I do take my stand on my sufficiency. But I know, I confess,"
she went on, "strange people. I don't know how it happens;
I don't do it on purpose; it seems to be my doom--as if I were
always one of their habits: it's wonderful! I dare say moreover,"
she pursued with an interested gravity, "that I do, that we all
do here, run too much to mere eye. But how can it be helped?
We're all looking at each other--and in the light of Paris one
sees what things resemble. That's what the light of Paris seems
always to show. It's the fault of the light of Paris--dear old light!"
"Dear old Paris!" little Bilham echoed.
"Everything, every one shows," Miss Barrace went on.
"But for what they really are?" Strether asked.
"Oh I like your Boston 'reallys'! But sometimes--yes."
"Dear old Paris then!" Strether resignedly sighed while for a
moment they looked at each other. Then he broke out: "Does
Madame de Vionnet do that? I mean really show for what she is?"
Her answer was prompt. "She's charming. She's perfect."
"Then why did you a minute ago say 'Oh, oh, oh!' at her name?"
She easily remembered. "Why just because--! She's wonderful."
"Ah she too?"--Strether had almost a groan.
But Miss Barrace had meanwhile perceived relief. "Why not put your
question straight to the person who can answer it best?"
"No," said little Bilham; "don't put any question; wait, rather--
it will be much more fun--to judge for yourself. He has come to
take you to her."
On which Strether saw that Chad was again at hand, and he
afterwards scarce knew, absurd as it may seem, what had then
quickly occurred. The moment concerned him, he felt, more deeply
than he could have explained, and he had a subsequent passage of
speculation as to whether, on walking off with Chad, he hadn't
looked either pale or red. The only thing he was clear about was
that, luckily, nothing indiscreet had in fact been said and that
Chad himself was more than ever, in Miss Barrace's great sense,
wonderful. It was one of the connexions--though really why it
should be, after all, was none so apparent--in which the whole
change in him came out as most striking. Strether recalled as they
approached the house that he had impressed him that first night as
knowing how to enter a box. Well, he impressed him scarce less now
as knowing how to make a presentation. It did something for
Strether's own quality--marked it as estimated; so that our poor
friend, conscious and passive, really seemed to feel himself quite
handed over and delivered; absolutely, as he would have said, made
a present of, given away. As they reached the house a young woman,
about to come forth, appeared, unaccompanied, on the steps; at the
exchange with whom of a word on Chad's part Strether immediately
perceived that, obligingly, kindly, she was there to meet them.
Chad had left her in the house, but she had afterwards come
halfway and then the next moment had joined them in the garden.
Her air of youth, for Strether, was at first almost disconcerting,
while his second impression was, not less sharply, a degree of
relief at there not having just been, with the others, any freedom
used about her. It was upon him at a touch that she was no subject
for that, and meanwhile, on Chad's introducing him, she had spoken
to him, very simply and gently, in an English clearly of the
easiest to her, yet unlike any other he had ever heard. It wasn't
as if she tried; nothing, he could see after they had been a few
minutes together, was as if she tried; but her speech, charming
correct and odd, was like a precaution against her passing for a
Pole. There were precautions, he seemed indeed to see, only when
there were really dangers.
Later on he was to feel many more of them, but by that time he was
to feel other things besides. She was dressed in black, but in
black that struck him as light and transparent; she was
exceedingly fair, and, though she was as markedly slim, her face
had a roundness, with eyes far apart and a little strange.
Her smile was natural and dim; her hat not extravagant; he had only
perhaps a sense of the clink, beneath her fine black sleeves, of
more gold bracelets and bangles than he had ever seen a lady wear.
Chad was excellently free and light about their encounter; it was
one of the occasions on which Strether most wished he himself
might have arrived at such ease and such humour: "Here you are
then, face to face at last; you're made for each other--vous allez
voir; and I bless your union." It was indeed, after he had gone
off, as if he had been partly serious too. This latter motion had
been determined by an enquiry from him about "Jeanne"; to which
her mother had replied that she was probably still in the house
with Miss Gostrey, to whom she had lately committed her. "Ah but
you know," the young man had rejoined, "he must see her"; with
which, while Strether pricked up his ears, he had started as if to
bring her, leaving the other objects of his interest together.
Strether wondered to find Miss Gostrey already involved, feeling
that he missed a link; but feeling also, with small delay, how
much he should like to talk with her of Madame de Vionnet on this
basis of evidence.
The evidence as yet in truth was meagre; which, for that matter,
was perhaps a little why his expectation had had a drop. There was
somehow not quite a wealth in her; and a wealth was all that, in
his simplicity, he had definitely prefigured. Still, it was too
much to be sure already that there was but a poverty. They moved
away from the house, and, with eyes on a bench at some distance,
he proposed that they should sit down. "I've heard a great deal
about you," she said as they went; but he had an answer to it that
made her stop short. "Well, about YOU, Madame de Vionnet, I've
heard, I'm bound to say, almost nothing"--those struck him as the
only words he himself could utter with any lucidity; conscious as
he was, and as with more reason, of the determination to be in
respect to the rest of his business perfectly plain and go
perfectly straight. It hadn't at any rate been in the least his
idea to spy on Chad's proper freedom. It was possibly, however, at
this very instant and under the impression of Madame de Vionnet's
pause, that going straight began to announce itself as a matter
for care. She had only after all to smile at him ever so gently in
order to make him ask himself if he weren't already going crooked.
It might be going crooked to find it of a sudden just only clear
that she intended very definitely to be what he would have called
nice to him. This was what passed between them while, for another
instant, they stood still; he couldn't at least remember
afterwards what else it might have been. The thing indeed really
unmistakeable was its rolling over him as a wave that he had been,
in conditions incalculable and unimaginable, a subject of
discussion. He had been, on some ground that concerned her,
answered for; which gave her an advantage he should never be able
to match.
"Hasn't Miss Gostrey," she asked, "said a good word for me?"
What had struck him first was the way he was bracketed with that
lady; and he wondered what account Chad would have given of their
acquaintance. Something not as yet traceable, at all events. had
obviously happened. "I didn't even know of her knowing you."
"Well, now she'll tell you all. I'm so glad you're in relation
with her."
This was one of the things--the "all" Miss Gostrey would now tell
him--that, with every deference to present preoccupation, was
uppermost for Strether after they had taken their seat. One of the
others was, at the end of five minutes, that she--oh incontestably,
yes--DIFFERED less; differed, that is, scarcely at all--well,
superficially speaking, from Mrs. Newsome or even from Mrs. Pocock.
She was ever so much younger than the one and not so young as the other;
but what WAS there in her, if anything, that would have made it
impossible he should meet her at Woollett? And wherein was her talk
during their moments on the bench together not the same as would have been
found adequate for a Woollett garden-party?--unless perhaps truly in
not being quite so bright. She observed to him that Mr. Newsome had, to
her knowledge, taken extraordinary pleasure in his visit; but there was
no good lady at Woollett who wouldn't have been at least up to that.
Was there in Chad, by chance, after all, deep down, a principle of
aboriginal loyalty that had made him, for sentimental ends, attach
himself to elements, happily encountered, that would remind him most
of the old air and the old soil? Why accordingly be in a flutter--
Strether could even put it that way--about this unfamiliar
phenomenon of the femme du monde? On these terms Mrs. Newsome
herself was as much of one. Little Bilham verily had testified
that they came out, the ladies of the type, in close quarters; but
it was just in these quarters--now comparatively close--that he
felt Madame de Vionnet's common humanity. She did come out, and
certainly to his relief, but she came out as the usual thing.
There might be motives behind, but so could there often be even at
Woollett. The only thing was that if she showed him she wished to
like him--as the motives behind might conceivably prompt--it
would possibly have been more thrilling for him that she should
have shown as more vividly alien. Ah she was neither Turk nor
Pole!--which would be indeed flat once more for Mrs. Newsome and
Mrs. Pocock. A lady and two gentlemen had meanwhile, however,
approached their bench, and this accident stayed for the time
further developments.
They presently addressed his companion, the brilliant strangers;
she rose to speak to them, and Strether noted how the escorted
lady, though mature and by no means beautiful, had more of the
bold high look, the range of expensive reference, that he had, as
might have been said, made his plans for. Madame de Vionnet
greeted her as "Duchesse" and was greeted in turn, while talk
started in French, as "Ma toute-belle"; little facts that had
their due, their vivid interest for Strether. Madame de Vionnet
didn't, none the less, introduce him--a note he was conscious of
as false to the Woollett scale and the Woollett humanity; though
it didn't prevent the Duchess, who struck him as confident and
free, very much what he had obscurely supposed duchesses, from
looking at him as straight and as hard--for it WAS hard--as if she
would have liked, all the same, to know him. "Oh yes, my dear,
it's all right, it's ME; and who are YOU, with your interesting
wrinkles and your most effective (is it the handsomest, is it the
ugliest?) of noses?"--some such loose handful of bright flowers
she seemed, fragrantly enough, to fling at him. Strether almost
wondered--at such a pace was he going--if some divination of the
influence of either party were what determined Madame de Vionnet's
abstention. One of the gentlemen, in any case, succeeded in
placing himself in close relation with our friend's companion; a
gentleman rather stout and importantly short, in a hat with a
wonderful wide curl to its brim and a frock coat buttoned with an
effect of superlative decision. His French had quickly turned to
equal English, and it occurred to Strether that he might well be
one of the ambassadors. His design was evidently to assert a claim
to Madame de Vionnet's undivided countenance, and he made it good
in the course of a minute--led her away with a trick of three
words; a trick played with a social art of which Strether, looking
after them as the four, whose backs were now all turned, moved
off, felt himself no master.
He sank again upon his bench and, while his eyes followed the
party, reflected, as he had done before, on Chad's strange
communities. He sat there alone for five minutes, with plenty to
think of; above all with his sense of having suddenly been dropped
by a charming woman overlaid now by other impressions and in fact
quite cleared and indifferent. He hadn't yet had so quiet a
surrender; he didn't in the least care if nobody spoke to him
more. He might have been, by his attitude, in for something of a
march so broad that the want of ceremony with which he had just
been used could fall into its place as but a minor incident of the
procession. Besides, there would be incidents enough, as he felt
when this term of contemplation was closed by the reappearance of
little Bilham, who stood before him a moment with a suggestive
"Well?" in which he saw himself reflected as disorganised, as
possibly floored. He replied with a "Well!" intended to show that
he wasn't floored in the least. No indeed; he gave it out, as the
young man sat down beside him, that if, at the worst, he had been
overturned at all, he had been overturned into the upper air, the
sublimer element with which he had an affinity and in which he
might be trusted a while to float. It wasn't a descent to earth to
say after an instant and in sustained response to the reference:
"You're quite sure her husband's living?"
"Oh dear, yes."
"Ah then--!"
"Ah then what?"
Strether had after all to think. "Well, I'm sorry for them." But
it didn't for the moment matter more than that. He assured his
young friend he was quite content. They wouldn't stir; were all
right as they were. He didn't want to be introduced; had been
introduced already about as far as he could go. He had seen
moreover an immensity; liked Gloriani, who, as Miss Barrace kept
saying, was wonderful; had made out, he was sure, the half-dozen
other 'men who were distinguished, the artists, the critics and oh
the great dramatist--HIM it was easy to spot; but wanted--no,
thanks, really--to talk with none of them; having nothing at all
to say and finding it would do beautifully as it was; do
beautifully because what it was--well, was just simply too late.
And when after this little Bilham, submissive and responsive, but
with an eye to the consolation nearest, easily threw off some
"Better late than never!" all he got in return for it was a sharp
"Better early than late!" This note indeed the next thing
overflowed for Strether into a quiet stream of demonstration that
as soon as he had let himself go he felt as the real relief. It
had consciously gathered to a head, but the reservoir had filled
sooner than he knew, and his companion's touch was to make the
waters spread. There were some things that had to come in time if
they were to come at all. If they didn't come in time they were
lost for ever. It was the general sense of them that had
overwhelmed him with its long slow rush.
"It's not too late for YOU, on any side, and you don't strike me
as in danger of missing the train; besides which people can be in
general pretty well trusted, of course--with the clock of their
freedom ticking as loud as it seems to do here--to keep an eye on
the fleeting hour. All the same don't forget that you're young--
blessedly young; be glad of it on the contrary and live up to it.
Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter
what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you
haven't had that what HAVE you had? This place and these
impressions--mild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my
impressions of Chad and of people I've seen at HIS place--well,
have had their abundant message for me, have just dropped THAT
into my mind. I see it now. I haven't done so enough before--
and now I'm old; too old at any rate for what I see. Oh I DO see,
at least; and more than you'd believe or I can express. It's too late.
And it's as if the train had fairly waited at the station for me
without my having had the gumption to know it was there.
Now I hear its faint receding whistle miles and miles down the line.
What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. The affair--
I mean the affair of life--couldn't, no doubt, have been different
for me; for it's at the best a tin mould, either fluted and embossed,
with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain,
into which, a helpless jelly, one's consciousness is poured--
so that one 'takes' the form as the great cook says, and is more
or less compactly held by it: one lives in fine as one can.
Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don't be, like me,
without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time,
too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don't quite know which.
Of course at present I'm a case of reaction against the mistake;
and the voice of reaction should, no doubt, always be taken with
an allowance. But that doesn't affect the point that the right time
is now yours. The right time is ANY time that one is still so lucky
as to have. You've plenty; that's the great thing; you're, as I say,
damn you, so happily and hatefully young. Don't at any rate miss things
out of stupidity. Of course I don't take you for a fool, or I
shouldn't be addressing you thus awfully. Do what you like so long
as you don't make MY mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!" . . .
Slowly and sociably, with full pauses and straight dashes,
Strether had so delivered himself; holding little Bilham
from step to step deeply and gravely attentive. The end of all was
that the young man had turned quite solemn, and that this was a
contradiction of the innocent gaiety the speaker had wished to
promote. He watched for a moment the consequence of his words,
and then, laying a hand on his listener's knee and as if to end
with the proper joke: "And now for the eye I shall keep on you!"
"Oh but I don't know that I want to be, at your age, too different
from you!"
"Ah prepare while you're about it," said Strether, "to be more
Little Bilham continued to think, but at last had a smile. "Well,
you ARE amusing--to ME."
"Impayable, as you say, no doubt. But what am I to myself?"
Strether had risen with this, giving his attention now to an
encounter that, in the middle of the garden, was in the act of
taking place between their host and the lady at whose side Madame
de Vionnet had quitted him. This lady, who appeared within a few
minutes to have left her friends, awaited Gloriani's eager
approach with words on her lips that Strether couldn't catch, but
of which her interesting witty face seemed to give him the echo.
He was sure she was prompt and fine, but also that she had met her
match, and he liked--in the light of what he was quite sure was
the Duchess's latent insolence--the good humour with which the
great artist asserted equal resources. Were they, this pair, of
the "great world"?--and was he himself, for the moment and thus
related to them by his observation, IN it? Then there was
something in the great world covertly tigerish, which came to him
across the lawn and in the charming air as a waft from the jungle.
Yet it made him admire most of the two, made him envy, the glossy
male tiger, magnificently marked. These absurdities of the stirred
sense, fruits of suggestion ripening on the instant, were all
reflected in his next words to little Bilham. "I know--if we talk
of that--whom I should enjoy being like!"
Little Bilham followed his eyes; but then as with a shade of knowing
surprise: "Gloriani?"
Our friend had in fact already hesitated, though not on the hint
of his companion's doubt, in which there were depths of critical
reserve. He had just made out, in the now full picture, something
and somebody else; another impression had been superimposed. A
young girl in a white dress and a softly plumed white hat had
suddenly come into view, and what was presently clear was that her
course was toward them. What was clearer still was that the
handsome young man at her side was Chad Newsome, and what was
clearest of all was that she was therefore Mademoiselle de Vionnet,
that she was unmistakeably pretty--bright gentle shy happy
wonderful--and that Chad now, with a consummate calculation
of effect, was about to present her to his old friend's vision.
What was clearest of all indeed was something much more than this,
something at the single stroke of which--and wasn't it simply
juxtaposition?--all vagueness vanished. It was the click of a
spring--he saw the truth. He had by this time also met Chad's
look; there was more of it in that; and the truth, accordingly, so
far as Bilham's enquiry was concerned, had thrust in the answer.
"Oh Chad!"--it was that rare youth he should have enjoyed being
"like." The virtuous attachment would be all there before him; the
virtuous attachment would be in the very act of appeal for his blessing;
Jeanne de Vionnet, this charming creature, would be exquisitely,
intensely now--the object of it. Chad brought her straight up to him,
and Chad was, oh yes, at this moment--for the glory of Woollett or
whatever--better still even than Gloriani. He had plucked this
blossom; he had kept it over-night in water; and at last as he held
it up to wonder he did enjoy his effect. That was why Strether had
felt at first the breath of calculation--and why moreover, as he
now knew, his look at the girl would be, for the young man, a sign
of the latter's success. What young man had ever paraded about that
way, without a reason, a maiden in her flower? And there was
nothing in his reason at present obscure. Her type sufficiently
told of it--they wouldn't, they couldn't, want her to go to
Woollett. Poor Woollett, and what it might miss!--though brave Chad
indeed too, and what it might gain! Brave Chad however had just
excellently spoken. "This is a good little friend of mine who knows
all about you and has moreover a message for you. And this, my
dear"--he had turned to the child herself--"is the best man in the
world, who has it in his power to do a great deal for us and whom I
want you to like and revere as nearly as possible as much as I do."
She stood there quite pink, a little frightened, prettier and
prettier and not a bit like her mother. There was in this last
particular no resemblance but that of youth to youth; and here was
in fact suddenly Strether's sharpest impression. It went wondering,
dazed, embarrassed, back to the woman he had just been talking
with; it was a revelation in the light of which he already saw she
would become more interesting. So slim and fresh and fair, she had
yet put forth this perfection; so that for really believing it of
her, for seeing her to any such developed degree as a mother,
comparison would be urgent. Well, what was it now but fairly thrust
upon him? "Mamma wishes me to tell you before we go," the girl
said, "that she hopes very much you'll come to see us very soon.
She has something important to say to you."
"She quite reproaches herself," Chad helpfully explained: "you were
interesting her so much when she accidentally suffered you to be
"Ah don't mention it!" Strether murmured, looking kindly from one
to the other and wondering at many things.
"And I'm to ask you for myself," Jeanne continued with her hands
clasped together as if in some small learnt prayer--"I'm to ask you
for myself if you won't positively come."
"Leave it to me, dear--I'll take care of it!" Chad genially
declared in answer to this, while Strether himself almost held his
breath. What was in the girl was indeed too soft, too unknown for
direct dealing; so that one could only gaze at it as at a picture,
quite staying one's own hand. But with Chad he was now on ground--
Chad he could meet; so pleasant a confidence in that and in
everything did the young man freely exhale. There was the whole of
a story in his tone to his companion, and he spoke indeed as if
already of the family. It made Strether guess the more quickly what
it might be about which Madame de Vionnet was so urgent. Having
seen him then she had found him easy; she wished to have it out
with him that some way for the young people must be discovered,
some way that would not impose as a condition the transplantation
of her daughter. He already saw himself discussing with this lady
the attractions of Woollett as a residence for Chad's companion.
Was that youth going now to trust her with the affair--so that it
would be after all with one of his "lady-friends" that his mother's
missionary should be condemned to deal? It was quite as if for an
instant the two men looked at each other on this question. But
there was no mistaking at last Chad's pride in the display of such
a connexion. This was what had made him so carry himself while,
three minutes before, he was bringing it into view; what had caused
his friend, first catching sight of him, to be so struck with his
air. It was, in a word, just when he thus finally felt Chad putting
things straight off on him that he envied him, as he had mentioned
to little Bilham, most. The whole exhibition however was but a
matter of three or four minutes, and the author of it had soon
explained that, as Madame de Vionnet was immediately going "on,"
this could be for Jeanne but a snatch. They would all meet again
soon, and Strether was meanwhile to stay and amuse himself--"I'll
pick you up again in plenty of time." He took the girl off as he
had brought her, and Strether, with the faint sweet foreignness of
her "Au revoir, monsieur!" in his ears as a note almost
unprecedented, watched them recede side by side and felt how, once
more, her companion's relation to her got an accent from it. They
disappeared among the others and apparently into the house;
whereupon our friend turned round to give out to little Bilham the
conviction of which he was full. But there was no little Bilham any
more; little Bilham had within the few moments, for reasons of his
own, proceeded further: a circumstance by which, in its order,
Strether was also sensibly affected.
Chad was not in fact on this occasion to keep his promise of coming
back; but Miss Gostrey had soon presented herself with an
explanation of his failure. There had been reasons at the last for
his going off with ces dames; and he had asked her with much
instance to come out and take charge of their friend. She did so,
Strether felt as she took her place beside him, in a manner that
left nothing to desire. He had dropped back on his bench, alone
again for a time, and the more conscious for little Bilham's
defection of his unexpressed thought; in respect to which however
this next converser was a still more capacious vessel. "It's the
child!" he had exclaimed to her almost as soon as she appeared; and
though her direct response was for some time delayed he could feel
in her meanwhile the working of this truth. It might have been
simply, as she waited, that they were now in presence altogether of
truth spreading like a flood and not for the moment to be offered
her in the mere cupful; inasmuch as who should ces dames prove to
be but persons about whom--once thus face to face with them--she
found she might from the first have told him almost everything?
This would have freely come had he taken the simple precaution of
giving her their name. There could be no better example--and she
appeared to note it with high amusement--than the way, making
things out already so much for himself, he was at last throwing
precautions to the winds. They were neither more nor less, she and
the child's mother, than old school-friends--friends who had
scarcely met for years but whom this unlooked-for chance had
brought together with a rush. It was a relief, Miss Gostrey hinted,
to feel herself no longer groping; she was unaccustomed to grope
and as a general thing, he might well have seen, made straight
enough for her clue. With the one she had now picked up in her
hands there need be at least no waste of wonder. "She's coming to
see me--that's for YOU," Strether's counsellor continued; "but I
don't require it to know where I am."
The waste of wonder might be proscribed; but Strether,
characteristically, was even by this time in the immensity of
space. "By which you mean that you know where SHE is?"
She just hesitated. "I mean that if she comes to see me I shall--
now that I've pulled myself round a bit after the shock--not be at
Strether hung poised. "You call it--your recognition--a shock?"
She gave one of her rare flickers of impatience. "It was a
surprise, an emotion. Don't be so literal. I wash my hands of her."
Poor Strether's face lengthened. "She's impossible--?"
"She's even more charming than I remembered her."
"Then what's the matter?"
She had to think how to put it. "Well, I'M impossible. It's
impossible. Everything's impossible."
He looked at her an instant. "I see where you're coming out.
Everything's possible." Their eyes had on it in fact an exchange of
some duration; after which he pursued: "Isn't it that beautiful
child?" Then as she still said nothing: "Why don't you mean to
receive her?"
Her answer in an instant rang clear. "Because I wish to keep out of
the business."
It provoked in him a weak wail. "You're going to abandon me NOW?"
"No, I'm only going to abandon HER. She'll want me to help her with
you. And I won't."
"You'll only help me with her? Well then--!" Most of the persons
previously gathered had, in the interest of tea, passed into the
house, and they had the gardens mainly to themselves. The shadows
were long, the last call of the birds, who had made a home of their
own in the noble interspaced quarter, sounded from the high trees
in the other gardens as well, those of the old convent and of the
old hotels; it was as if our friends had waited for the full charm
to come out. Strether's impressions were still present; it was as
if something had happened that "nailed" them, made them more
intense; but he was to ask himself soon afterwards, that evening,
what really HAD happened--conscious as he could after all remain
that for a gentleman taken, and taken the first time, into the
"great world," the world of ambassadors and duchesses, the items
made a meagre total. It was nothing new to him, however, as we
know, that a man might have--at all events such a man as he--an
amount of experience out of any proportion to his adventures; so
that, though it was doubtless no great adventure to sit on there
with Miss Gostrey and hear about Madame de Vionnet, the hour, the
picture, the immediate, the recent, the possible--as well as the
communication itself, not a note of which failed to reverberate--
only gave the moments more of the taste of history.
It was history, to begin with, that Jeanne's mother had been
three-and-twenty years before, at Geneva, schoolmate and good
girlfriend to Maria Gostrey, who had moreover enjoyed since then,
though interruptedly and above all with a long recent drop,
other glimpses of her. Twenty-three years put them both on,
no doubt; and Madame de Vionnet--though she had married straight
after school--couldn't be today an hour less than thirty-eight.
This made her ten years older than Chad--though ten years, also, if
Strether liked, older than she looked; the least, at any rate, that
a prospective mother-in-law could be expected to do with. She would
be of all mothers-in-law the most charming; unless indeed, through
some perversity as yet insupposeable, she should utterly belie herself
in that relation. There was none surely in which, as Maria remembered
her, she mustn't be charming; and this frankly in spite of the stigma
of failure in the tie where failure always most showed. It was no test
there--when indeed WAS it a test there?--for Monsieur de Vionnet
had been a brute. She had lived for years apart from him--which was
of course always a horrid position; but Miss Gostrey's impression
of the matter had been that she could scarce have made a better
thing of it had she done it on purpose to show she was amiable. She
was so amiable that nobody had had a word to say; which was luckily
not the case for her husband. He was so impossible that she had the
advantage of all her merits.
It was still history for Strether that the Comte de Vionnet--it
being also history that the lady in question was a Countess--should
now, under Miss Gostrey's sharp touch, rise before him as a high
distinguished polished impertinent reprobate, the product of a
mysterious order; it was history, further, that the charming girl
so freely sketched by his companion should have been married out of
hand by a mother, another figure of striking outline, full of dark
personal motive; it was perhaps history most of all that this
company was, as a matter of course, governed by such considerations
as put divorce out of the question. "Ces gens-la don't divorce, you
know, any more than they emigrate or abjure--they think it impious
and vulgar"; a fact in the light of which they seemed but the more
richly special. It was all special; it was all, for Strether's
imagination, more or less rich. The girl at the Genevese school, an
isolated interesting attaching creature, then both sensitive and
violent, audacious but always forgiven, was the daughter of a
French father and an English mother who, early left a widow, had
married again--tried afresh with a foreigner; in her career with
whom she had apparently given her child no example of comfort. All
these people--the people of the English mother's side--had been of
condition more or less eminent; yet with oddities and disparities
that had often since made Maria, thinking them over, wonder what
they really quite rhymed to. It was in any case her belief that the
mother, interested and prone to adventure, had been without
conscience, had only thought of ridding herself most quickly of a
possible, an actual encumbrance. The father, by her impression, a
Frenchman with a name one knew, had been a different matter,
leaving his child, she clearly recalled, a memory all fondness, as
well as an assured little fortune which was unluckily to make her
more or less of a prey later on. She had been in particular, at
school, dazzlingly, though quite booklessly, clever; as polyglot
as a little Jewess (which she wasn't, oh no!) and chattering French,
English, German, Italian, anything one would, in a way that made a
clean sweep, if not of prizes and parchments, at least of every
"part," whether memorised or improvised, in the curtained costumed
school repertory, and in especial of all mysteries of race and
vagueness of reference, all swagger about "home," among their
variegated mates.
It would doubtless be difficult to-day, as between French and
English, to name her and place her; she would certainly show, on
knowledge, Miss Gostrey felt, as one of those convenient types who
don't keep you explaining--minds with doors as numerous as the
many-tongued cluster of confessionals at Saint Peter's. You might
confess to her with confidence in Roumelian, and even Roumelian
sins. Therefore--! But Strether's narrator covered her implication
with a laugh; a laugh by which his betrayal of a sense of the lurid
in the picture was also perhaps sufficiently protected. He had a
moment of wondering, while his friend went on, what sins might be
especially Roumelian. She went on at all events to the mention of
her having met the young thing--again by some Swiss lake--in her
first married state, which had appeared for the few intermediate
years not at least violently disturbed. She had been lovely at that
moment, delightful to HER, full of responsive emotion, of amused
recognitions and amusing reminders, and then once more, much later,
after a long interval, equally but differently charming--touching
and rather mystifying for the five minutes of an encounter at a
railway-station en province, during which it had come out that her
life was all changed. Miss Gostrey had understood enough to see,
essentially, what had happened, and yet had beautifully dreamed
that she was herself faultless. There were doubtless depths in her,
but she was all right; Strether would see if she wasn't. She was
another person however--that had been promptly marked--from the
small child of nature at the Geneva school, a little person quite
made over (as foreign women WERE, compared with American) by
marriage. Her situation too had evidently cleared itself up; there
would have been--all that was possible--a judicial separation. She
had settled in Paris, brought up her daughter, steered her boat. It
was no very pleasant boat--especially there--to be in; but Marie de
Vionnet would have headed straight. She would have friends,
certainly--and very good ones. There she was at all events--and it
was very interesting. Her knowing Mr. Chad didn't in the least
prove she hadn't friends; what it proved was what good ones HE had.
"I saw that," said Miss Gostrey, "that night at the Francais; it
came out for me in three minutes. I saw HER--or somebody like her.
And so," she immediately added, "did you."
"Oh no--not anybody like her!" Strether laughed. "But you mean," he
as promptly went on, "that she has had such an influence on him?"
Miss Gostrey was on her feet; it was time for them to go. "She has
brought him up for her daughter."
Their eyes, as so often, in candid conference, through their
settled glasses, met over it long; after which Strether's again
took in the whole place. They were quite alone there now. "Mustn't
she rather--in the time then--have rushed it?"
"Ah she won't of course have lost an hour. But that's just the good
mother--the good French one. You must remember that of her--that as
a mother she's French, and that for them there's a special
providence. It precisely however--that she mayn't have been able to
begin as far back as she'd have liked--makes her grateful for aid."
Strether took this in as they slowly moved to the house on their
way out. "She counts on me then to put the thing through?"
"Yes--she counts on you. Oh and first of all of course," Miss
Gostrey added, "on her--well, convincing you."
"Ah," her friend returned, "she caught Chad young!"
"Yes, but there are women who are for all your 'times of life.'
They're the most wonderful sort."
She had laughed the words out, but they brought her companion, the
next thing, to a stand. "Is what you mean that she'll try to make a
fool of me?"
"Well, I'm wondering what she WILL--with an opportunity--make."
"What do you call," Strether asked, "an opportunity? My going to
see her?"
"Ah you must go to see her"--Miss Gostrey was a trifle evasive.
"You can't not do that. You'd have gone to see the other woman. I
mean if there had been one--a different sort. It's what you came
out for."
It might be; but Strether distinguished. "I didn't come out to see
THIS sort."
She had a wonderful look at him now. "Are you disappointed she
isn't worse?"
He for a moment entertained the question, then found for it the
frankest of answers. "Yes. If she were worse she'd be better for
our purpose. It would be simpler."
"Perhaps," she admitted. "But won't this be pleasanter?"
"Ah you know," he promptly replied, "I didn't come out--wasn't that
just what you originally reproached me with?--for the pleasant."
"Precisely. Therefore I say again what I said at first. You must
take things as they come. Besides," Miss Gostrey added, "I'm not
afraid for myself."
"For yourself--?"
"Of your seeing her. I trust her. There's nothing she'll say about
me. In fact there's nothing she CAN."
Strether wondered--little as he had thought of this. Then he broke
out. "Oh you women!"
There was something in it at which she flushed. "Yes--there we are.
We're abysses." At last she smiled. "But I risk her!"
He gave himself a shake. "Well then so do I!" But he added as they
passed into the house that he would see Chad the first thing in the
This was the next day the more easily effected that the young man,
as it happened, even before he was down, turned up at his hotel.
Strether took his coffee, by habit, in the public room; but on his
descending for this purpose Chad instantly proposed an adjournment
to what he called greater privacy. He had himself as yet had
nothing--they would sit down somewhere together; and when after a
few steps and a turn into the Boulevard they had, for their greater
privacy, sat down among twenty others, our friend saw in his
companion's move a fear of the advent of Waymarsh. It was the first
time Chad had to that extent given this personage "away"; and
Strether found himself wondering of what it was symptomatic. He
made out in a moment that the youth was in earnest as he hadn't yet
seen him; which in its turn threw a ray perhaps a trifle startling
on what they had each up to that time been treating as earnestness.
It was sufficiently flattering however that the real thing--if
this WAS at last the real thing--should have been determined, as
appeared, precisely by an accretion of Strether's importance. For
this was what it quickly enough came to--that Chad, rising with the
lark, had rushed down to let him know while his morning
consciousness was yet young that he had literally made the
afternoon before a tremendous impression. Madame de Vionnet
wouldn't, couldn't rest till she should have some assurance from
him that he WOULD consent again to see her. The announcement was
made, across their marble-topped table, while the foam of the hot
milk was in their cups and its plash still in the air, with the
smile of Chad's easiest urbanity; and this expression of his face
caused our friend's doubts to gather on the spot into a challenge
of the lips. "See here"--that was all; he only for the moment said
again "See here." Chad met it with all his air of straight
intelligence, while Strether remembered again that fancy of the
first impression of him, the happy young Pagan, handsome and hard
but oddly indulgent, whose mysterious measure he had under the
street-lamp tried mentally to take. The young Pagan, while a long
look passed between them, sufficiently understood. Strether scarce
needed at last to say the rest--"I want to know where I am." But he
said it, adding before any answer something more. "Are you engaged
to be married--is that your secret?--to the young lady?"
Chad shook his head with the slow amenity that was one of his ways
of conveying that there was time for everything. "I have no secret--
though I may have secrets! I haven't at any rate that one. We're
not engaged. No."
"Then where's the hitch?"
"Do you mean why I haven't already started with you?" Chad,
beginning his coffee and buttering his roll, was quite ready to
explain. "Nothing would have induced me--nothing will still induce
me--not to try to keep you here as long as you can be made to stay.
It's too visibly good for you." Strether had himself plenty to say
about this, but it was amusing also to measure the march of Chad's
tone. He had never been more a man of the world, and it was always
in his company present to our friend that one was seeing how in
successive connexions a man of the world acquitted himself. Chad
kept it up beautifully. "My idea--voyons!--is simply that you
should let Madame de Vionnet know you, simply that you should
consent to know HER. I don't in the least mind telling you that,
clever and charming as she is, she's ever so much in my confidence.
All I ask of you is to let her talk to you. You've asked me about
what you call my hitch, and so far as it goes she'll explain it to
you. She's herself my hitch, hang it--if you must really have it
all out. But in a sense," he hastened in the most wonderful manner
to add, "that you'll quite make out for yourself. She's too good a
friend, confound her. Too good, I mean, for me to leave without--
without--" It was his first hesitation.
"Without what?"
"Well, without my arranging somehow or other the damnable terms of
my sacrifice."
"It WILL be a sacrifice then?"
"It will be the greatest loss I ever suffered. I owe her so much."
It was beautiful, the way Chad said these things, and his plea was
now confessedly--oh quite flagrantly and publicly--interesting. The
moment really took on for Strether an intensity. Chad owed Madame
de Vionnet so much? What DID that do then but clear up the whole
mystery? He was indebted for alterations, and she was thereby in a
position to have sent in her bill for expenses incurred in
reconstruction. What was this at bottom but what had been to be
arrived at? Strether sat there arriving at it while he munched
toast and stirred his second cup. To do this with the aid of Chad's
pleasant earnest face was also to do more besides. No, never before
had he been so ready to take him as he was. What was it that had
suddenly so cleared up? It was just everybody's character; that is
everybody's but--in a measure--his own. Strether felt HIS character
receive for the instant a smutch from all the wrong things he had
suspected or believed. The person to whom Chad owed it that he
could positively turn out such a comfort to other persons--such a
person was sufficiently raised above any "breath" by the nature of
her work and the young man's steady light. All of which was vivid
enough to come and go quickly; though indeed in the midst of it
Strether could utter a question. "Have I your word of honour that
if I surrender myself to Madame de Vionnet you'll surrender
yourself to me?"
Chad laid his hand firmly on his friend's. "My dear man, you have
There was finally something in his felicity almost embarrassing and
oppressive--Strether had begun to fidget under it for the open air
and the erect posture. He had signed to the waiter that he wished
to pay, and this transaction took some moments, during which he
thoroughly felt, while he put down money and pretended--it was
quite hollow--to estimate change, that Chad's higher spirit, his
youth, his practice, his paganism, his felicity, his assurance, his
impudence, whatever it might be, had consciously scored a success.
Well, that was all right so far as it went; his sense of the thing
in question covered our friend for a minute like a veil through
which--as if he had been muffled--he heard his interlocutor ask him
if he mightn't take him over about five. "Over" was over the river,
and over the river was where Madame de Vionnet lived, and five was
that very afternoon. They got at last out of the place--got out
before he answered. He lighted, in the street, a cigarette, which
again gave him more time. But it was already sharp for him that
there was no use in time. "What does she propose to do to me?" he
had presently demanded.
Chad had no delays. "Are you afraid of her?"
"Oh immensely. Don't you see it?"
"Well," said Chad, "she won't do anything worse to you than make
you like her."
"It's just of that I'm afraid."
"Then it's not fair to me."
Strether cast about. "It's fair to your mother."
"Oh," said Chad, "are you afraid of HER?"
"Scarcely less. Or perhaps even more. But is this lady against your
interests at home?" Strether went on.
"Not directly, no doubt; but she's greatly in favour of them here."
"And what--'here'--does she consider them to be?"
"Well, good relations!"
"With herself?"
"With herself."
"And what is it that makes them so good?"
"What? Well, that's exactly what you'll make out if you'll only go,
as I'm supplicating you, to see her."
Strether stared at him with a little of the wanness, no doubt, that
the vision of more to "make out" could scarce help producing. "I
mean HOW good are they?"
"Oh awfully good."
Again Strether had faltered, but it was brief. It was all very
well, but there was nothing now he wouldn't risk. "Excuse me, but I
must really--as I began by telling you--know where I am. Is she
"'Bad'?"--Chad echoed it, but without a shock. "Is that what's
"When relations are good?" Strether felt a little silly, and was
even conscious of a foolish laugh, at having it imposed on him to
have appeared to speak so. What indeed was he talking about? His
stare had relaxed; he looked now all round him. But something in
him brought him back, though he still didn't know quite how to turn
it. The two or three ways he thought of, and one of them in
particular, were, even with scruples dismissed, too ugly. He none
the less at last found something. "Is her life without reproach?"
It struck him, directly he had found it, as pompous and priggish;
so much so that he was thankful to Chad for taking it only in the
right spirit. The young man spoke so immensely to the point that
the effect was practically of positive blandness. "Absolutely
without reproach. A beautiful life. Allez donc voir!"
These last words were, in the liberality of their confidence, so
imperative that Strether went through no form of assent; but before
they separated it had been confirmed that he should be picked up at
a quarter to five.
Book Sixth
It was quite by half-past five--after the two men had been together
in Madame de Vionnet's drawing-room not more than a dozen minutes--
that Chad, with a look at his watch and then another at their
hostess, said genially, gaily: "I've an engagement, and I know you
won't complain if I leave him with you. He'll interest you
immensely; and as for her," he declared to Strether, "I assure you,
if you're at all nervous, she's perfectly safe."
He had left them to be embarrassed or not by this guarantee, as
they could best manage, and embarrassment was a thing that Strether
wasn't at first sure Madame de Vionnet escaped. He escaped it
himself, to his surprise; but he had grown used by this time to
thinking of himself as brazen. She occupied, his hostess, in the
Rue de Bellechasse, the first floor of an old house to which our
visitors had had access from an old clean court. The court was
large and open, full of revelations, for our friend, of the habit
of privacy, the peace of intervals, the dignity of distances and
approaches; the house, to his restless sense, was in the high
homely style of an elder day, and the ancient Paris that he was
always looking for--sometimes intensely felt, sometimes more
acutely missed--was in the immemorial polish of the wide waxed
staircase and in the fine boiseries, the medallions, mouldings,
mirrors, great clear spaces, of the greyish-white salon into which
he had been shown. He seemed at the very outset to see her in the
midst of possessions not vulgarly numerous, but hereditary
cherished charming. While his eyes turned after a little from those
of his hostess and Chad freely talked--not in the least about HIM,
but about other people, people he didn't know, and quite as if he
did know them--he found himself making out, as a background of the
occupant, some glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some
Napoleonic glamour, some dim lustre of the great legend; elements
clinging still to all the consular chairs and mythological brasses
and sphinxes' heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with
alternate silk.
The place itself went further back--that he guessed, and how old
Paris continued in a manner to echo there; but the post-revolutionary
period, the world he vaguely thought of as the world of Chateaubriand,
of Madame de Stael, even of the young Lamartine, had left its stamp of
harps and urns and torches, a stamp impressed on sundry small objects,
ornaments and relics. He had never before, to his knowledge, had
present to him relics, of any special dignity, of a private order--
little old miniatures, medallions, pictures, books; books in leather
bindings, pinkish and greenish, with gilt garlands on the back, ranged,
together with other promiscuous properties, under the glass of
brass-mounted cabinets. His attention took them all tenderly into account.
They were among the matters that marked Madame de Vionnet's
apartment as something quite different from Miss Gostrey's little museum
of bargains and from Chad's lovely home; he recognised it as founded
much more on old accumulations that had possibly from time to time
shrunken than on any contemporary method of acquisition or form of
curiosity. Chad and Miss Gostrey had rummaged and purchased and picked
up and exchanged, sifting, selecting, comparing; whereas the mistress of
the scene before him, beautifully passive under the spell of
transmission--transmission from her father's line, he quite made up
his mind--had only received, accepted and been quiet. When she
hadn't been quiet she had been moved at the most to some occult
charity for some fallen fortune. There had been objects she or her
predecessors might even conceivably have parted with under need,
but Strether couldn't suspect them of having sold old pieces to get
"better" ones. They would have felt no difference as to better or
worse. He could but imagine their having felt--perhaps in
emigration, in proscription, for his sketch was slight and
confused--the pressure of want or the obligation of sacrifice.
The pressure of want--whatever might be the case with the other
force--was, however, presumably not active now, for the tokens of a
chastened ease still abounded after all, many marks of a taste
whose discriminations might perhaps have been called eccentric. He
guessed at intense little preferences and sharp little exclusions,
a deep suspicion of the vulgar and a personal view of the right.
The general result of this was something for which he had no name
on the spot quite ready, but something he would have come nearest
to naming in speaking of it as the air of supreme respectability,
the consciousness, small, still, reserved, but none the less
distinct and diffused, of private honour. The air of supreme
respectability--that was a strange blank wall for his adventure to
have brought him to break his nose against. It had in fact, as he
was now aware, filled all the approaches, hovered in the court as
he passed, hung on the staircase as he mounted, sounded in the
grave rumble of the old bell, as little electric as possible, of
which Chad, at the door, had pulled the ancient but neatly-kept
tassel; it formed in short the clearest medium of its particular
kind that he had ever breathed. He would have answered for it at
the end of a quarter of an hour that some of the glass cases
contained swords and epaulettes of ancient colonels and generals;
medals and orders once pinned over hearts that had long since
ceased to beat; snuff-boxes bestowed on ministers and envoys;
copies of works presented, with inscriptions, by authors now
classic. At bottom of it all for him was the sense of her rare
unlikeness to the women he had known. This sense had grown, since
the day before, the more he recalled her, and had been above all
singularly fed by his talk with Chad in the morning. Everything in
fine made her immeasurably new, and nothing so new as the old house
and the old objects. There were books, two or three, on a small
table near his chair, but they hadn't the lemon-coloured covers
with which his eye had begun to dally from the hour of his arrival
and to the opportunity of a further acquaintance with which he had
for a fortnight now altogether succumbed. On another table, across
the room, he made out the great _Revue_; but even that familiar face,
conspicuous in Mrs. Newsome's parlours, scarce counted here as a
modern note. He was sure on the spot--and he afterwards knew he was
right--that this was a touch of Chad's own hand. What would Mrs.
Newsome say to the circumstance that Chad's interested "influence"
kept her paper-knife in the _Revue_? The interested influence at any
rate had, as we say, gone straight to the point--had in fact soon
left it quite behind.
She was seated, near the fire, on a small stuffed and fringed chair
one of the few modern articles in the room, and she leaned back in
it with her hands clasped in her lap and no movement, in all her
person, but the fine prompt play of her deep young face. The fire,
under the low white marble, undraped and academic, had burnt down
to the silver ashes of light wood, one of the windows, at a
distance, stood open to the mildness and stillness, out of which,
in the short pauses, came the faint sound, pleasant and homely,
almost rustic, of a plash and a clatter of sabots from some
coach-house on the other side of the court. Madame de Vionnet,
while Strether sat there, wasn't to shift her posture by an inch.
"I don't think you seriously believe in what you're doing," she
said; "but all the same, you know, I'm going to treat you quite as
if I did."
"By which you mean," Strether directly replied, "quite as if you
didn't! I assure you it won't make the least difference with me how
you treat me."
"Well," she said, taking that menace bravely and
philosophically enough, "the only thing that really matters is that
you shall get on with me."
"Ah but I don't!" he immediately returned.
It gave her another pause; which, however, she happily enough shook
off. "Will you consent to go on with me a little--provisionally--
as if you did?"
Then it was that he saw how she had decidedly come all the way; and
there accompanied it an extraordinary sense of her raising from
somewhere below him her beautiful suppliant eyes. He might have
been perched at his door-step or at his window and she standing in
the road. For a moment he let her stand and couldn't moreover have
spoken. It had been sad, of a sudden, with a sadness that was like
a cold breath in his face. "What can I do," he finally asked, "but
listen to you as I promised Chadwick?"
"Ah but what I'm asking you," she quickly said, "isn't what Mr.
Newsome had in mind." She spoke at present, he saw, as if to take
courageously ALL her risk. "This is my own idea and a different
It gave poor Strether in truth--uneasy as it made him too--
something of the thrill of a bold perception justified. "Well," he
answered kindly enough, "I was sure a moment since that some idea
of your own had come to you."
She seemed still to look up at him, but now more serenely. "I made
out you were sure--and that helped it to come. So you see," she
continued, "we do get on."
"Oh but it appears to me I don't at all meet your request. How can
I when I don't understand it?"
"It isn't at all necessary you should understand; it will do quite
well enough if you simply remember it. Only feel I trust you--and
for nothing so tremendous after all. Just," she said with a
wonderful smile, "for common civility."
Strether had a long pause while they sat again face to face, as
they had sat, scarce less conscious, before the poor lady had
crossed the stream. She was the poor lady for Strether now because
clearly she had some trouble, and her appeal to him could only mean
that her trouble was deep. He couldn't help it; it wasn't his
fault; he had done nothing; but by a turn of the hand she had
somehow made their encounter a relation. And the relation profited
by a mass of things that were not strictly in it or of it; by the
very air in which they sat, by the high cold delicate room, by the
world outside and the little plash in the court, by the First
Empire and the relics in the stiff cabinets, by matters as far off
as those and by others as near as the unbroken clasp of her hands
in her lap and the look her expression had of being most natural
when her eyes were most fixed. "You count upon me of course for
something really much greater than it sounds."
"Oh it sounds great enough too!" she laughed at this.
He found himself in time on the point of telling her that she was,
as Miss Barrace called it, wonderful; but, catching himself up, he
said something else instead. "What was it Chad's idea then that you
should say to me?"
"Ah his idea was simply what a man's idea always is--to put every
effort off on the woman."
"The 'woman'--?" Strether slowly echoed.
"The woman he likes--and just in proportion as he likes her. In
proportion too--for shifting the trouble--as she likes HIM."
Strether followed it; then with an abruptness of his own:
"How much do you like Chad?"
"Just as much as THAT--to take all, with you, on myself." But she
got at once again away from this. "I've been trembling as if we
were to stand or fall by what you may think of me; and I'm even
now," she went on wonderfully, "drawing a long breath--and, yes,
truly taking a great courage--from the hope that I don't in fact
strike you as impossible."
"That's at all events, clearly," he observed after an instant, "the
way I don't strike YOU."
"Well," she so far assented, "as you haven't yet said you WON'T
have the little patience with me I ask for--"
"You draw splendid conclusions? Perfectly. But I don't understand
them," Strether pursued. "You seem to me to ask for much more than
you need. What, at the worst for you, what at the best for myself,
can I after all do? I can use no pressure that I haven't used. You
come really late with your request. I've already done all that for
myself the case admits of. I've said my say, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are, fortunately!" Madame de Vionnet laughed. "Mrs.
Newsome," she added in another tone, "didn't think you can do so
He had an hesitation, but he brought the words out. "Well, she
thinks so now."
"Do you mean by that--?" But she also hung fire.
"Do I mean what?"
She still rather faltered. "Pardon me if I touch on it, but if I'm
saying extraordinary things, why, perhaps, mayn't I? Besides,
doesn't it properly concern us to know?"
"To know what?" he insisted as after thus beating about the bush
she had again dropped.
She made the effort. "Has she given you up?"
He was amazed afterwards to think how simply and quietly he had met
it. "Not yet." It was almost as if he were a trifle disappointed--
had expected still more of her freedom. But he went straight on.
"Is that what Chad has told you will happen to me?"
She was evidently charmed with the way he took it. "If you mean if
we've talked of it--most certainly. And the question's not what has
had least to do with my wishing to see you."
"To judge if I'm the sort of man a woman CAN--?"
"Precisely," she exclaimed--"you wonderful gentleman! I do judge--I
HAVE judged. A woman can't. You're safe--with every right to be.
You'd be much happier if you'd only believe it."
Strether was silent a little; then he found himself speaking with a
cynicism of confidence of which even at the moment the sources were
strange to him. "I try to believe it. But it's a marvel," he
exclaimed, "how YOU already get at it!"
Oh she was able to say. "Remember how much I was on the way to it
through Mr. Newsome--before I saw you. He thinks everything of your
"Well, I can bear almost anything!" our friend briskly interrupted.
Deep and beautiful on this her smile came back, and with the effect
of making him hear what he had said just as she had heard it. He
easily enough felt that it gave him away, but what in truth had
everything done but that? It had been all very well to think at
moments that he was holding her nose down and that he had coerced
her: what had he by this time done but let her practically see that
he accepted their relation? What was their relation moreover--
though light and brief enough in form as yet--but whatever she
might choose to make it? Nothing could prevent her--certainly he
couldn't--from making it pleasant. At the back of his head, behind
everything, was the sense that she was--there, before him, close to
him, in vivid imperative form--one of the rare women he had so
often heard of, read of, thought of, but never met, whose very
presence, look, voice, the mere contemporaneous FACT of whom, from
the moment it was at all presented, made a relation of mere
recognition. That was not the kind of woman he had ever found Mrs.
Newsome, a contemporaneous fact who had been distinctly slow to
establish herself; and at present, confronted with Madame de
Vionnet, he felt the simplicity of his original impression of Miss
Gostrey. She certainly had been a fact of rapid growth; but the
world was wide, each day was more and more a new lesson. There were
at any rate even among the stranger ones relations and relations.
"Of course I suit Chad's grand way," he quickly added. "He hasn't
had much difficulty in working me in."
She seemed to deny a little, on the young man's behalf, by the rise
of her eyebrows, an intention of any process at all inconsiderate.
"You must know how grieved he'd be if you were to lose anything. He
believes you can keep his mother patient."
Strether wondered with his eyes on her. "I see. THAT'S then what
you really want of me. And how am I to do it? Perhaps you'll tell
me that."
"Simply tell her the truth."
"And what do you call the truth?"
"Well, any truth--about us all--that you see yourself. I leave it
to you."
"Thank you very much. I like," Strether laughed with a slight
harshness, "the way you leave things!"
But she insisted kindly, gently, as if it wasn't so bad. "Be
perfectly honest. Tell her all."
"All?" he oddly echoed.
"Tell her the simple truth," Madame de Vionnet again pleaded.
"But what is the simple truth? The simple truth is exactly what I'm
trying to discover."
She looked about a while, but presently she came back to him. "Tell
her, fully and clearly, about US."
Strether meanwhile had been staring. "You and your daughter?"
"Yes--little Jeanne and me. Tell her," she just slightly quavered,
"you like us."
"And what good will that do me? Or rather"--he caught himself up--
"what good will it do YOU?"
She looked graver. "None, you believe, really?"
Strether debated. "She didn't send me out to 'like' you."
"Oh," she charmingly contended, "she sent you out to face the
He admitted after an instant that there was something in that. "But
how can I face them till I know what they are? Do you want him," he
then braced himself to ask, "to marry your daughter?"
She gave a headshake as noble as it was prompt. "No--not that."
"And he really doesn't want to himself?"
She repeated the movement, but now with a strange light in her
face. "He likes her too much."
Strether wondered. "To be willing to consider, you mean, the
question of taking her to America?"
"To be willing to do anything with her but be immensely kind and
nice--really tender of her. We watch over her, and you must help
us. You must see her again."
Strether felt awkward. "Ah with pleasure--she's so remarkably
The mother's eagerness with which Madame de Vionnet jumped at this
was to come back to him later as beautiful in its grace. "The dear
thing DID please you?" Then as he met it with the largest "Oh!" of
enthusiasm: "She's perfect. She's my joy."
"Well, I'm sure that--if one were near her and saw more of her--
she'd be mine."
"Then," said Madame de Vionnet, "tell Mrs. Newsome that!"
He wondered the more. "What good will that do you?" As she appeared
unable at once to say, however, he brought out something else. "Is
your daughter in love with our friend?"
"Ah," she rather startlingly answered, "I wish you'd find out!"
He showed his surprise. "I? A stranger?"
"Oh you won't be a stranger--presently. You shall see her quite, I
assure you, as if you weren't."
It remained for him none the less an extraordinary notion. "It
seems to me surely that if her mother can't--"
"Ah little girls and their mothers to-day!" she rather inconsequently
broke in. But she checked herself with something she seemed to give
out as after all more to the point. "Tell her I've been good for
him. Don't you think I have?"
It had its effect on him--more than at the moment he quite measured.
Yet he was consciously enough touched. "Oh if it's all you--!"
"Well, it may not be 'all,'" she interrupted, "but it's to a great
extent. Really and truly," she added in a tone that was to take its
place with him among things remembered.
"Then it's very wonderful." He smiled at her from a face that he
felt as strained, and her own face for a moment kept him so. At
last she also got up. "Well, don't you think that for that--"
"I ought to save you?" So it was that the way to meet her--and the
way, as well, in a manner, to get off--came over him. He heard
himself use the exorbitant word, the very sound of which helped to
determine his flight. "I'll save you if I can."
In Chad's lovely home, however, one evening ten days later, he felt
himself present at the collapse of the question of Jeanne de Vionnet's
shy secret. He had been dining there in the company of that young
lady and her mother, as well as of other persons, and he had gone
into the petit salon, at Chad's request, on purpose to talk with her.
The young man had put this to him as a favour--"I should like so
awfully to know what you think of her. It will really be a chance
for you," he had said, "to see the jeune fille--I mean the type--as she
actually is, and I don't think that, as an observer of manners,
it's a thing you ought to miss. It will be an impression that--
whatever else you take--you can carry home with you, where you'll
find again so much to compare it with."
Strether knew well enough with what Chad wished him to compare it,
and though he entirely assented he hadn't yet somehow been so
deeply reminded that he was being, as he constantly though mutely
expressed it, used. He was as far as ever from making out exactly
to what end; but he was none the less constantly accompanied by a
sense of the service he rendered. He conceived only that this
service was highly agreeable to those who profited by it; and he
was indeed still waiting for the moment at which he should catch it
in the act of proving disagreeable, proving in some degree
intolerable, to himself. He failed quite to see how his situation
could clear up at all logically except by some turn of events that
would give him the pretext of disgust. He was building from day to
day on the possibility of disgust, but each day brought forth
meanwhile a new and more engaging bend of the road. That
possibility was now ever so much further from sight than on the eve
of his arrival, and he perfectly felt that, should it come at all,
it would have to be at best inconsequent and violent. He struck
himself as a little nearer to it only when he asked himself what
service, in such a life of utility, he was after all rendering
Mrs. Newsome. When he wished to help himself to believe that he was
still all right he reflected--and in fact with wonder--on the
unimpaired frequency of their correspondence; in relation to which
what was after all more natural than that it should become more
frequent just in proportion as their problem became more complicated?
Certain it is at any rate that he now often brought himself balm by
the question, with the rich consciousness of yesterday's letter,
"Well, what can I do more than that--what can I do more than tell
her everything?" To persuade himself that he did tell her, had told
her, everything, he used to try to think of particular things he
hadn't told her. When at rare moments and in the watches of the
night he pounced on one it generally showed itself to be--to a
deeper scrutiny--not quite truly of the essence. When anything new
struck him as coming up, or anything already noted as reappearing,
he always immediately wrote, as if for fear that if he didn't he
would miss something; and also that he might be able to say to
himself from time to time "She knows it NOW--even while I worry."
It was a great comfort to him in general not to have left past
things to be dragged to light and explained; not to have to produce
at so late a stage anything not produced, or anything even veiled
and attenuated, at the moment. She knew it now: that was what he
said to himself to-night in relation to the fresh fact of Chad's
acquaintance with the two ladies--not to speak of the fresher one
of his own. Mrs. Newsome knew in other words that very night at
Woollett that he himself knew Madame de Vionnet and that he had
conscientiously been to see her; also that he had found her
remarkably attractive and that there would probably be a good deal
more to tell. But she further knew, or would know very soon, that,
again conscientiously, he hadn't repeated his visit; and that when
Chad had asked him on the Countess's behalf--Strether made her out
vividly, with a thought at the back of his head, a Countess--if he
wouldn't name a day for dining with her, he had replied lucidly:
"Thank you very much--impossible." He had begged the young man
would present his excuses and had trusted him to understand that it
couldn't really strike one as quite the straight thing. He hadn't
reported to Mrs. Newsome that he had promised to "save" Madame de
Vionnet; but, so far as he was concerned with that reminiscence, he
hadn't at any rate promised to haunt her house. What Chad had
understood could only, in truth, be inferred from Chad's behaviour,
which had been in this connexion as easy as in every other. He was
easy, always, when he understood; he was easier still, if possible,
when he didn't; he had replied that he would make it all right; and
he had proceeded to do this by substituting the present occasion--
as he was ready to substitute others--for any, for every occasion
as to which his old friend should have a funny scruple.
"Oh but I'm not a little foreign girl; I'm just as English as I can be,"
Jeanne de Vionnet had said to him as soon as, in the petit salon,
he sank, shyly enough on his own side, into the place near her
vacated by Madame Gloriani at his approach. Madame Gloriani,
who was in black velvet, with white lace and powdered hair, and
whose somewhat massive majesty melted, at any contact, into the
graciousness of some incomprehensible tongue, moved away to make
room for the vague gentleman, after benevolent greetings to him
which embodied, as he believed, in baffling accents, some
recognition of his face from a couple of Sundays before. Then he
had remarked--making the most of the advantage of his years--that
it frightened him quite enough to find himself dedicated to the
entertainment of a little foreign girl. There were girls he wasn't
afraid of--he was quite bold with little Americans. Thus it was
that she had defended herself to the end--"Oh but I'm almost
American too. That's what mamma has wanted me to be--I mean LIKE
that; for she has wanted me to have lots of freedom. She has known
such good results from it."
She was fairly beautiful to him--a faint pastel in an oval frame:
he thought of her already as of some lurking image in a long
gallery, the portrait of a small old-time princess of whom nothing
was known but that she had died young. Little Jeanne wasn't,
doubtless, to die young, but one couldn't, all the same, bear on
her lightly enough. It was bearing hard, it was bearing as HE, in
any case, wouldn't bear, to concern himself, in relation to her,
with the question of a young man. Odious really the question of a
young man; one didn't treat such a person as a maid-servant
suspected of a "follower." And then young men, young men--well, the
thing was their business simply, or was at all events hers. She was
fluttered, fairly fevered--to the point of a little glitter that
came and went in her eyes and a pair of pink spots that stayed in
her cheeks--with the great adventure of dining out and with the
greater one still, possibly, of finding a gentleman whom she must
think of as very, very old, a gentleman with eye-glasses, wrinkles,
a long grizzled moustache. She spoke the prettiest English, our
friend thought, that he had ever heard spoken, just as he had
believed her a few minutes before to be speaking the prettiest
French. He wondered almost wistfully if such a sweep of the lyre
didn't react on the spirit itself; and his fancy had in fact,
before he knew it, begun so to stray and embroider that he finally
found himself, absent and extravagant, sitting with the child in a
friendly silence. Only by this time he felt her flutter to have
fortunately dropped and that she was more at her ease. She trusted
him, liked him, and it was to come back to him afterwards that she
had told him things. She had dipped into the waiting medium at last
and found neither surge nor chill--nothing but the small splash she
could herself make in the pleasant warmth, nothing but the safety
of dipping and dipping again. At the end of the ten minutes he was
to spend with her his impression--with all it had thrown off and
all it had taken in--was complete. She had been free, as she knew
freedom, partly to show him that, unlike other little persons she
knew, she had imbibed that ideal. She was delightfully quaint about
herself, but the vision of what she had imbibed was what most held
him. It really consisted, he was soon enough to feel, in just one
great little matter, the fact that, whatever her nature, she was
thoroughly--he had to cast about for the word, but it came--bred.
He couldn't of course on so short an acquaintance speak for her
nature, but the idea of breeding was what she had meanwhile dropped
into his mind. He had never yet known it so sharply presented. Her
mother gave it, no doubt; but her mother, to make that less sensible,
gave so much else besides, and on neither of the two previous occasions,
extraordinary woman, Strether felt, anything like what she was giving
tonight. Little Jeanne was a case, an exquisite case of education;
whereas the Countess, whom it so amused him to think of by that
denomination, was a case, also exquisite, of--well, he didn't know what.
"He has wonderful taste, notre jeune homme": this was what Gloriani
said to him on turning away from the inspection of a small picture
suspended near the door of the room. The high celebrity in question
had just come in, apparently in search of Mademoiselle de Vionnet,
but while Strether had got up from beside her their fellow guest,
with his eye sharply caught, had paused for a long look. The thing
was a landscape, of no size, but of the French school, as our
friend was glad to feel he knew, and also of a quality--which he
liked to think he should also have guessed; its frame was large out
of proportion to the canvas, and he had never seen a person look at
anything, he thought, just as Gloriani, with his nose very near and
quick movements of the head from side to side and bottom to top,
examined this feature of Chad's collection. The artist used that
word the next moment smiling courteously, wiping his nippers and
looking round him further--paying the place in short by the very
manner of his presence and by something Strether fancied he could
make out in this particular glance, such a tribute as, to the
latter's sense, settled many things once for all. Strether was
conscious at this instant, for that matter, as he hadn't yet been,
of how, round about him, quite without him, they WERE consistently
settled. Gloriani's smile, deeply Italian, he considered, and
finely inscrutable, had had for him, during dinner, at which they
were not neighbours, an indefinite greeting; but the quality in it
was gone that had appeared on the other occasion to turn him inside
out; it was as if even the momentary link supplied by the doubt
between them had snapped. He was conscious now of the final
reality, which was that there wasn't so much a doubt as a
difference altogether; all the more that over the difference the
famous sculptor seemed to signal almost condolingly, yet oh how
vacantly! as across some great flat sheet of water. He threw out
the bridge of a charming hollow civility on which Strether wouldn't
have trusted his own full weight a moment. That idea, even though
but transient and perhaps belated, had performed the office of
putting Strether more at his ease, and the blurred picture had
already dropped--dropped with the sound of something else said and
with his becoming aware, by another quick turn, that Gloriani was
now on the sofa talking with Jeanne, while he himself had in his
ears again the familiar friendliness and the elusive meaning of the
"Oh, oh, oh!" that had made him, a fortnight before, challenge Miss
Barrace in vain. She had always the air, this picturesque and
original lady, who struck him, so oddly, as both antique and
modern--she had always the air of taking up some joke that one had
already had out with her. The point itself, no doubt, was what was
antique, and the use she made of it what was modern. He felt just
now that her good-natured irony did bear on something, and it
troubled him a little that she wouldn't be more explicit only
assuring him, with the pleasure of observation so visible in her,
that she wouldn't tell him more for the world. He could take refuge
but in asking her what she had done with Waymarsh, though it must
be added that he felt himself a little on the way to a clue after
she had answered that this personage was, in the other room,
engaged in conversation with Madame de Vionnet. He stared a moment
at the image of such a conjunction; then, for Miss Barrace's
benefit, he wondered. "Is she too then under the charm--?"
"No, not a bit"--Miss Barrace was prompt. "She makes nothing of him.
She's bored. She won't help you with him."
"Oh," Strether laughed, "she can't do everything.
"Of course not--wonderful as she is. Besides, he makes nothing of
HER. She won't take him from me--though she wouldn't, no doubt,
having other affairs in hand, even if she could. I've never," said
Miss Barrace, "seen her fail with any one before. And to-night,
when she's so magnificent, it would seem to her strange--if she
minded. So at any rate I have him all. Je suis tranquille!''
Strether understood, so far as that went; but he was feeling for
his clue. "She strikes you to-night as particularly magnificent?"
"Surely. Almost as I've never seen her. Doesn't she you?
Why it's FOR you."
He persisted in his candour. "'For' me--?"
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Miss Barrace, who persisted in the opposite of
that quality.
"Well," he acutely admitted, "she IS different. She's gay. "
"She's gay!" Miss Barrace laughed. "And she has beautiful
shoulders--though there's nothing different in that."
"No," said Strether, "one was sure of her shoulders.
It isn't her shoulders."
His companion, with renewed mirth and the finest sense, between
the puffs of her cigarette, of the drollery of things, appeared to
find their conversation highly delightful. "Yes, it isn't
her shoulders ."
"What then is it?" Strether earnestly enquired.
"Why, it's SHE--simply. It's her mood. It's her charm."
"Of course it's her charm, but we're speaking of the difference."
"Well," Miss Barrace explained, "she's just brilliant, as we used
to say. That's all. She's various. She's fifty women."
"Ah but only one"--Strether kept it clear--"at a time."
"Perhaps. But in fifty times--!"
"Oh we shan't come to that," our friend declared; and the next
moment he had moved in another direction. "Will you answer me a
plain question? Will she ever divorce?"
Miss Barrace looked at him through all her tortoise-shell. "Why
should she?"
It wasn't what he had asked for, he signified; but he met it well
enough. "To marry Chad."
"Why should she marry Chad?"
"Because I'm convinced she's very fond of him. She has done wonders
for him."
"Well then, how could she do more? Marrying a man, or woman
either," Miss Barrace sagely went on, "is never the wonder for any
Jack and Jill can bring THAT off. The wonder is their doing such
things without marrying."
Strether considered a moment this proposition. "You mean it's so
beautiful for our friends simply to go on so?"
But whatever he said made her laugh. "Beautiful."
He nevertheless insisted. "And THAT because it's disinterested?"
She was now, however, suddenly tired of the question. "Yes then--
call it that. Besides, she'll never divorce. Don't, moreover," she
added, "believe everything you hear about her husband."
He's not then," Strether asked, "a wretch?"
"Oh yes. But charming."
"Do you know him?"
"I've met him. He's bien aimable."
"To every one but his wife?"
"Oh for all I know, to her too--to any, to every woman. I hope you
at any rate," she pursued with a quick change, "appreciate the care
I take of Mr. Waymarsh."
"Oh immensely." But Strether was not yet in line. "At all events,"
he roundly brought out, "the attachment's an innocent one."
"Mine and his? Ah," she laughed, "don't rob it of ALL interest!"
"I mean our friend's here--to the lady we've been speaking of."
That was what he had settled to as an indirect but none the less
closely involved consequence of his impression of Jeanne. That was
where he meant to stay. "It's innocent," he repeated--"I see the
whole thing."
Mystified by his abrupt declaration, she had glanced over at
Gloriani as at the unnamed subject of his allusion, but the next
moment she had understood; though indeed not before Strether had
noticed her momentary mistake and wondered what might possibly be
behind that too. He already knew that the sculptor admired Madame
de Vionnet; but did this admiration also represent an attachment of
which the innocence was discussable? He was moving verily in a
strange air and on ground not of the firmest. He looked hard for an
instant at Miss Barrace, but she had already gone on. "All right
with Mr. Newsome? Why of course she is!"--and she got gaily back
to the question of her own good friend. "I dare say you're
surprised that I'm not worn out with all I see--it being so much!--
of Sitting Bull. But I'm not, you know--I don't mind him; I bear
up, and we get on beautifully. I'm very strange; I'm like that; and
often I can't explain. There are people who are supposed
interesting or remarkable or whatever, and who bore me to death;
and then there are others as to whom nobody can understand what
anybody sees in them--in whom I see no end of things." Then after
she had smoked a moment, "He's touching, you know," she said.
"'Know'?" Strether echoed--"don't I, indeed? We must move you
almost to tears."
"Oh but I don't mean YOU!" she laughed.
"You ought to then, for the worst sign of all--as I must have it
for you--is that you can't help me. That's when a woman pities."
"Ah but I do help you!" she cheerfully insisted.
Again he looked at her hard, and then after a pause: "No you
Her tortoise-shell, on its long chain, rattled down. "I help you
with Sitting Bull. That's a good deal."
"Oh that, yes." But Strether hesitated. "Do you mean he talks of
"So that I have to defend you? No, never.'
"I see," Strether mused. "It's too deep."
"That's his only fault," she returned--"that everything, with him,
is too deep. He has depths of silence--which he breaks only at the
longest intervals by a remark. And when the remark comes it's
always something he has seen or felt for himself--never a bit banal
THAT would be what one might have feared and what would kill me But
never." She smoked again as she thus, with amused complacency,
appreciated her acquisition. "And never about you. We keep clear of
you. We're wonderful. But I'll tell you what he does do," she
continued: "he tries to make me presents."
"Presents?" poor Strether echoed, conscious with a pang that HE
hadn't yet tried that in any quarter.
"Why you see," she explained, "he's as fine as ever in the
victoria; so that when I leave him, as I often do almost for hours
--he likes it so--at the doors of shops, the sight of him there
helps me, when I come out, to know my carriage away off in the
rank. But sometimes, for a change, he goes with me into the shops,
and then I've all I can do to prevent his buying me things."
"He wants to 'treat' you?" Strether almost gasped at all he himself
hadn't thought of. He had a sense of admiration. "Oh he's much more
in the real tradition than I. Yes," he mused, "it's the sacred rage."
"The sacred rage, exactly!"--and Miss Barrace, who hadn't before
heard this term applied, recognised its bearing with a clap of her
gemmed hands. "Now I do know why he's not banal. But I do prevent
him all the same--and if you saw what he sometimes selects--from
buying. I save him hundreds and hundreds. I only take flowers."
"Flowers?" Strether echoed again with a rueful reflexion. How many
nosegays had her present converser sent?
"Innocent flowers," she pursued, "as much as he likes. And he sends
me splendours; he knows all the best places--he has found them for
himself; he's wonderful."
"He hasn't told them to me," her friend smiled, "he has a life of
his own." But Strether had swung back to the consciousness that for
himself after all it never would have done. Waymarsh hadn't Mrs.
Waymarsh in the least to consider, whereas Lambert Strether had
constantly, in the inmost honour of his thoughts, to consider Mrs.
Newsome. He liked moreover to feel how much his friend was in the
real tradition. Yet he had his conclusion. "WHAT a rage it is!"
He had worked it out. "It's an opposition."
She followed, but at a distance. "That's what I feel. Yet to what?"
"Well, he thinks, you know, that I'VE a life of my own. And I haven't!"
"You haven't?" She showed doubt, and her laugh confirmed it.
"Oh, oh, oh!"
"No--not for myself. I seem to have a life only for other people."
"Ah for them and WITH them! Just now for instance with--"
"Well, with whom?" he asked before she had had time to say.
His tone had the effect of making her hesitate and even, as he
guessed, speak with a difference. "Say with Miss Gostrey. What do
you do for HER?" It really made him wonder. "Nothing at all!"
Madame de Vionnet, having meanwhile come in, was at present
close to them, and Miss Barrace hereupon, instead of risking a
rejoinder, became again with a look that measured her from top to
toe all mere long-handled appreciative tortoise-shell. She had
struck our friend, from the first of her appearing, as dressed for
a great occasion, and she met still more than on either of the
others the conception reawakened in him at their garden-party, the
idea of the femme du monde in her habit as she lived. Her bare
shoulders and arms were white and beautiful; the materials of her
dress, a mixture, as he supposed, of silk and crape, were of a
silvery grey so artfully composed as to give an impression of warm
splendour; and round her neck she wore a collar of large old
emeralds, the green note of which was more dimly repeated, at other
points of her apparel, in embroidery, in enamel, in satin, in
substances and textures vaguely rich. Her head, extremely fair and
exquisitely festal, was like a happy fancy, a notion of the
antique, on an old precious medal, some silver coin of the
Renaissance; while her slim lightness and brightness, her gaiety,
her expression, her decision, contributed to an effect that might
have been felt by a poet as half mythological and half conventional.
He could have compared her to a goddess still partly engaged
in a morning cloud, or to a sea-nymph waist-high in the summer surge.
Above all she suggested to him the reflexion that the femme du monde--
in these finest developments of the type--was, like Cleopatra
in the play, indeed various and multifold. She had aspects, characters,
days, nights--or had them at least, showed them by a mysterious law
of her own, when in addition to everything she happened also to be
a woman of genius. She was an obscure person, a muffled person one day,
and a showy person, an uncovered person the next. He thought of
Madame de Vionnet to-night as showy and uncovered, though he felt
the formula rough, because, thanks to one of the short-cuts of genius
she had taken all his categories by surprise. Twice during dinner
he had met Chad's eyes in a longish look; but these communications
had in truth only stirred up again old ambiguities--so little was it
clear from them whether they were an appeal or an admonition.
"You see how I'm fixed," was what they appeared to convey; yet how
he was fixed was exactly what Strether didn't see. However, perhaps
he should see now.
"Are you capable of the very great kindness of going to relieve
Newsome, for a few minutes, of the rather crushing responsibility
of Madame Gloriani, while I say a word, if he'll allow me, to
Mr. Strether, of whom I've a question to ask? Our host ought to talk
a bit to those other ladies, and I'll come back in a minute to your
rescue." She made this proposal to Miss Barrace as if her
consciousness of a special duty had just flickered-up, but that
lady's recognition of Strether's little start at it--as at a
betrayal on the speaker's part of a domesticated state--was as mute
as his own comment; and after an instant, when their fellow guest
had good-naturedly left them, he had been given something else to
think of. "Why has Maria so suddenly gone? Do you know?" That was
the question Madame de Vionnet had brought with her.
"I'm afraid I've no reason to give you but the simple reason I've
had from her in a note--the sudden obligation to join in the south
a sick friend who has got worse."
"Ah then she has been writing you?"
"Not since she went--I had only a brief explanatory word before she
started. I went to see her," Strether explained--"it was the day
after I called on you--but she was already on her way, and her
concierge told me that in case of my coming I was to be informed
she had written to me. I found her note when I got home."
Madame de Vionnet listened with interest and with her eyes on
Strether's face; then her delicately decorated head had a small
melancholy motion. "She didn't write to ME. I went to see her," she
added, "almost immediately after I had seen you, and as I assured
her I would do when I met her at Gloriani's. She hadn't then told
me she was to be absent, and I felt at her door as if I understood.
She's absent--with all respect to her sick friend, though I know
indeed she has plenty--so that I may not see her. She doesn't want
to meet me again. Well," she continued with a beautiful conscious
mildness, "I liked and admired her beyond every one in the old
time, and she knew it--perhaps that's precisely what has made her go--
and I dare say I haven't lost her for ever." Strether still said
nothing; he had a horror, as he now thought of himself, of being
in question between women--was in fact already quite enough on his
way to that, and there was moreover, as it came to him, perceptibly,
something behind these allusions and professions that, should he
take it in, would square but ill with his present resolve to simplify.
It was as if, for him, all the same, her softness and sadness
were sincere. He felt that not less when she soon went on:
"I'm extremely glad of her happiness." But it also left him mute--
sharp and fine though the imputation it conveyed. What it conveyed
was that HE was Maria Gostrey's happiness, and for the least little
instant he had the impulse to challenge the thought. He could have
done so however only by saying "What then do you suppose to be
between us?" and he was wonderfully glad a moment later not to have
spoken. He would rather seem stupid any day than fatuous, and he
drew back as well, with a smothered inward shudder, from the
consideration of what women--of highly-developed type in particular--
might think of each other. Whatever he had come out for he hadn't
come to go into that; so that he absolutely took up nothing his
interlocutress had now let drop. Yet, though he had kept away from her
for days, had laid wholly on herself the burden of their meeting again,
she hadn't a gleam of irritation to show him. "Well, about Jeanne now?"
she smiled--it had the gaiety with which she had originally come in.
He felt it on the instant to represent her motive and real errand.
But he had been schooling her of a truth to say much in proportion to
his little. "Do you make out that she has a sentiment? I mean for
Mr. Newsome."
Almost resentful, Strether could at last be prompt. "How can I make
out such things?"
She remained perfectly good-natured. "Ah but they're beautiful
little things, and you make out--don't pretend--everything in the
world. Haven't you," she asked, "been talking with her?"
"Yes, but not about Chad. At least not much."
"Oh you don't require 'much'!" she reassuringly declared. But she
immediately changed her ground. "I hope you remember your promise
of the other day."
"To 'save' you, as you called it?"
"I call it so still. You WILL?" she insisted. "You haven't repented?"
He wondered. "No--but I've been thinking what I meant."
She kept it up. "And not, a little, what I did?"
"No--that's not necessary. It will be enough if I know what I
meant myself."
"And don't you know," she asked, "by this time?"
Again he had a pause. "I think you ought to leave it to me.
But how long," he added, "do you give me?"
"It seems to me much more a question of how long you give ME.
Doesn't our friend here himself, at any rate," she went on,
"perpetually make me present to you?"
"Not," Strether replied, "by ever speaking of you to me."
"He never does that?"
She considered, and, if the fact was disconcerting to her,
effectually concealed it. The next minute indeed she had recovered.
"No, he wouldn't. But do you NEED that?"
Her emphasis was wonderful, and though his eyes had been wandering
he looked at her longer now. "I see what you mean."
"Of course you see what I mean."
Her triumph was gentle, and she really had tones to make justice
weep. "I've before me what he owes you."
"Admit then that that's something," she said, yet still with the
same discretion in her pride.
He took in this note but went straight on. "You've made of him what
I see, but what I don't see is how in the world you've done it."
"Ah that's another question!" she smiled. "The point is of what use
is your declining to know me when to know Mr. Newsome--as you do me
the honour to find him--IS just to know me."
"I see," he mused, still with his eyes on her. "I shouldn't have
met you to-night."
She raised and dropped her linked hands. "It doesn't matter. If I
trust you why can't you a little trust me too? And why can't you
also," she asked in another tone, "trust yourself?" But she gave
him no time to reply. "Oh I shall be so easy for you! And I'm glad
at any rate you've seen my child."
"I'm glad too," he said; "but she does you no good."
"No good?"--Madame de Vionnet had a clear stare. "Why she's an
angel of light."
"That's precisely the reason. Leave her alone. Don't try to find
out. I mean," he explained, "about what you spoke to me of--
the way she feels."
His companion wondered. "Because one really won't?"
"Well, because I ask you, as a favour to myself, not to. She's the
most charming creature I've ever seen. Therefore don't touch her.
Don't know--don't want to know. And moreover--yes--you won't."
It was an appeal, of a sudden, and she took it in. "As a favour to you?"
"Well--since you ask me."
"Anything, everything you ask," she smiled. "I shan't know then--never.
Thank you," she added with peculiar gentleness as she turned away.
The sound of it lingered with him, making him fairly feel as if he
had been tripped up and had a fall. In the very act of arranging
with her for his independence he had, under pressure from a
particular perception, inconsistently, quite stupidly, committed
himself, and, with her subtlety sensitive on the spot to an
advantage, she had driven in by a single word a little golden nail,
the sharp intention of which he signally felt. He hadn't detached,
he had more closely connected himself, and his eyes, as he
considered with some intensity this circumstance, met another pair
which had just come within their range and which struck him as
reflecting his sense of what he had done. He recognised them at the
same moment as those of little Bilham, who had apparently drawn
near on purpose to speak to him, and little Bilham wasn't, in the
conditions, the person to whom his heart would be most closed.
They were seated together a minute later at the angle of the room
obliquely opposite the corner in which Gloriani was still engaged
with Jeanne de Vionnet, to whom at first and in silence their
attention had been benevolently given. "I can't see for my life,"
Strether had then observed, "how a young fellow of any spirit--such
a one as you for instance--can be admitted to the sight of that
young lady without being hard hit. Why don't you go in, little
Bilham?" He remembered the tone into which he had been betrayed on
the garden-bench at the sculptor's reception, and this might make
up for that by being much more the right sort of thing to say to a
young man worthy of any advice at all. "There WOULD be some
"Some reason for what?"
"Why for hanging on here."
"To offer my hand and fortune to Mademoiselle de Vionnet?"
"Well," Strether asked, "to what lovelier apparition COULD you
offer them? She's the sweetest little thing I've ever seen."
"She's certainly immense. I mean she's the real thing. I believe
the pale pink petals are folded up there for some wondrous
efflorescence in time; to open, that is, to some great golden sun.
I'M unfortunately but a small farthing candle. What chance in such
a field for a poor little painter-man?"
"Oh you're good enough," Strether threw out.
"Certainly I'm good enough. We're good enough, I consider, nous
autres, for anything. But she's TOO good. There's the difference.
They wouldn't look at me."
Strether, lounging on his divan and still charmed by the young
girl, whose eyes had consciously strayed to him, he fancied, with a
vague smile--Strether, enjoying the whole occasion as with dormant
pulses at last awake and in spite of new material thrust upon him,
thought over his companion's words. "Whom do you mean by 'they'?
She and her mother?"
"She and her mother. And she has a father too, who, whatever else
he may be, certainly can't be indifferent to the possibilities she
represents. Besides, there's Chad."
Strether was silent a little. "Ah but he doesn't care for her--not,
I mean, it appears, after all, in the sense I'm speaking of. He's
NOT in love with her."
"No--but he's her best friend; after her mother. He's very fond
of her. He has his ideas about what can be done for her."
"Well, it's very strange!" Strether presently remarked with a
sighing sense of fulness.
"Very strange indeed. That's just the beauty of it. Isn't it very
much the kind of beauty you had in mind," little Bilham went on,
"when you were so wonderful and so inspiring to me the other day?
Didn't you adjure me, in accents I shall never forget, to see,
while I've a chance, everything I can?--and REALLY to see, for it
must have been that only you meant. Well, you did me no end of
good, and I'm doing my best. I DO make it out a situation."
"So do I!" Strether went on after a moment. But he had the next minute
an inconsequent question. "How comes Chad so mixed up, anyway?"
"Ah, ah, ah!"--and little Bilham fell back on his cushions.
It reminded our friend of Miss Barrace, and he felt again the brush
of his sense of moving in a maze of mystic closed allusions. Yet he
kept hold of his thread. "Of course I understand really; only the
general transformation makes me occasionally gasp. Chad with such a
voice in the settlement of the future of a little countess--no,"
he declared, "it takes more time! You say moreover," he resumed, "that
we're inevitably, people like you and me, out of the running. The
curious fact remains that Chad himself isn't. The situation doesn't
make for it, but in a different one he could have her if he would."
"Yes, but that's only because he's rich and because there's a
possibility of his being richer. They won't think of anything but a
great name or a great fortune."
"Well," said Strether, "he'll have no great fortune on THESE lines.
He must stir his stumps."
"Is that," little Bilham enquired, "what you were saying to
Madame de Vionnet?"
"No--I don't say much to her. Of course, however," Strether
continued, "he can make sacrifices if he likes."
Little Bilham had a pause. "Oh he's not keen for sacrifices; or
thinks, that is, possibly, that he has made enough."
"Well, it IS virtuous," his companion observed with some decision.
"That's exactly," the young man dropped after a moment, "what I mean."
It kept Strether himself silent a little. "I've made it out for
myself," he then went on; "I've really, within the last half-hour,
got hold of it. I understand it in short at last; which at first--
when you originally spoke to me--I didn't. Nor when Chad originally
spoke to me either."
"Oh," said little Bilham, "I don't think that at that time you
believed me."
"Yes--I did; and I believed Chad too. It would have been odious and
unmannerly--as well as quite perverse--if I hadn't. What interest
have you in deceiving me?"
The young man cast about. "What interest have I?"
"Yes. Chad MIGHT have. But you?"
"Ah, ah, ah!" little Bilham exclaimed.
It might, on repetition, as a mystification, have irritated our
friend a little, but he knew, once more, as we have seen, where he
was, and his being proof against everything was only another
attestation that he meant to stay there. "I couldn't, without my
own impression, realise. She's a tremendously clever brilliant
capable woman, and with an extraordinary charm on top of it all--
the charm we surely all of us this evening know what to think of.
It isn't every clever brilliant capable woman that has it. In fact
it's rare with any woman. So there you are," Strether proceeded as
if not for little Bilham's benefit alone. "I understand what a
relation with such a woman--what such a high fine friendship--
may be. It can't be vulgar or coarse, anyway--and that's the point."
"Yes, that's the point," said little Bilham. "It can't be vulgar or
coarse. And, bless us and save us, it ISn't! It's, upon my word,
the very finest thing I ever saw in my life, and the most
Strether, from beside him and leaning back with him as he leaned,
dropped on him a momentary look which filled a short interval and
of which he took no notice. He only gazed before him with intent
participation. "Of course what it has done for him," Strether at
all events presently pursued, "of course what it has done for him--
that is as to HOW it has so wonderfully worked--isn't a thing I
pretend to understand. I've to take it as I find it. There he is."
"There he is!" little Bilham echoed. "And it's really and truly
she. I don't understand either, even with my longer and closer
opportunity. But I'm like you," he added; "I can admire and rejoice
even when I'm a little in the dark. You see I've watched it for
some three years, and especially for this last. He wasn't so bad
before it as I seem to have made out that you think--"
"Oh I don't think anything now!" Strether impatiently broke in:
"that is but what I DO think! I mean that originally, for her to
have cared for him--"
"There must have been stuff in him? Oh yes, there was stuff indeed,
and much more of it than ever showed, I dare say, at home. Still,
you know," the young man in all fairness developed, "there was room
for her, and that's where she came in. She saw her chance and took
it. That's what strikes me as having been so fine. But of course,"
he wound up, "he liked her first."
"Naturally," said Strether.
"I mean that they first met somehow and somewhere--I believe in
some American house--and she, without in the least then intending
it, made her impression. Then with time and opportunity he made
his; and after THAT she was as bad as he."
Strether vaguely took it up. "As 'bad'?"
"She began, that is, to care--to care very much. Alone, and in her
horrid position, she found it, when once she had started, an
interest. It was, it is, an interest, and it did--it continues to
do--a lot for herself as well. So she still cares. She cares in
fact," said little Bilham thoughtfully "more."
Strether's theory that it was none of his business was somehow not
damaged by the way he took this. "More, you mean, than he?" On
which his companion looked round at him, and now for an instant
their eyes met. "More than he?" he repeated.
Little Bilham, for as long, hung fire. "Will you never tell any
Strether thought. "Whom should I tell?"
"Why I supposed you reported regularly--"
"To people at home?"--Strether took him up. "Well, I won't tell
them this."
The young man at last looked away. "Then she does now care more
than he."
"Oh!" Strether oddly exclaimed.
But his companion immediately met it. "Haven't you after all had
your impression of it? That's how you've got hold of him."
"Ah but I haven't got hold of him!"
"Oh I say!" But it was all little Bilham said.
"It's at any rate none of my business. I mean," Strether explained,
"nothing else than getting hold of him is." It appeared, however,
to strike him as his business to add: "The fact remains
nevertheless that she has saved him."
Little Bilham just waited. "I thought that was what you were to do."
But Strether had his answer ready. "I'm speaking--in connexion with
her--of his manners and morals, his character and life. I'm
speaking of him as a person to deal with and talk with and live
with--speaking of him as a social animal."
"And isn't it as a social animal that you also want him?"
"Certainly; so that it's as if she had saved him FOR us."
"It strikes you accordingly then," the young man threw out, "as for
you all to save HER?"
"Oh for us 'all'--!" Strether could but laugh at that. It brought
him back, however, to the point he had really wished to make.
"They've accepted their situation--hard as it is. They're not free
--at least she's not; but they take what's left to them. It's a
friendship, of a beautiful sort; and that's what makes them so
strong. They're straight, they feel; and they keep each other up.
It's doubtless she, however, who, as you yourself have hinted,
feels it most."
Little Bilham appeared to wonder what he had hinted. "Feels most
that they're straight?"
"Well, feels that SHE is, and the strength that comes from it. She
keeps HIM up--she keeps the whole thing up. When people are able to
it's fine. She's wonderful, wonderful, as Miss Barrace says; and he
is, in his way, too; however, as a mere man, he may sometimes rebel
and not feel that he finds his account in it. She has simply given
him an immense moral lift, and what that can explain is prodigious.
That's why I speak of it as a situation. It IS one, if there ever
was." And Strether, with his head back and his eyes on the ceiling,
seemed to lose himself in the vision of it.
His companion attended deeply. "You state it much better than I
"Oh you see it doesn't concern you."
Little Bilham considered. "I thought you said just now that it
doesn't concern you either."
"Well, it doesn't a bit as Madame de Vionnet's affair. But as we
were again saying just now, what did I come out for but to save
"Yes--to remove him."
"To save him by removal; to win him over to HIMSELF thinking it
best he shall take up business--thinking he must immediately do
therefore what's necessary to that end."
"Well," said little Bilham after a moment, "you HAVE won him over.
He does think it best. He has within a day or two again said to me
as much."
"And that," Strether asked, "is why you consider that he cares less
than she?"
"Cares less for her than she for him? Yes, that's one of the reasons.
But other things too have given me the impression. A man, don't
you think?" little Bilham presently pursued, "CAN'T, in such
conditions, care so much as a woman. It takes different conditions
to make him, and then perhaps he cares more. Chad," he wound up,
"has his possible future before him."
"Are you speaking of his business future?"
"No--on the contrary; of the other, the future of what you so
justly call their situation. M. de Vionnet may live for ever."
"So that they can't marry?"
The young man waited a moment. "Not being able to marry is all
they've with any confidence to look forward to. A woman--a
particular woman--may stand that strain. But can a man?" he
Strether's answer was as prompt as if he had already, for himself,
worked it out. "Not without a very high ideal of conduct. But
that's just what we're attributing to Chad. And how, for that
matter," he mused, "does his going to America diminish the
particular strain? Wouldn't it seem rather to add to it?"
"Out of sight out of mind!" his companion laughed. Then more
bravely: "Wouldn't distance lessen the torment?" But before
Strether could reply, "The thing is, you see, Chad ought to marry!"
he wound up.
Strether, for a little, appeared to think of it. "If you talk of
torments you don't diminish mine!" he then broke out. The next
moment he was on his feet with a question. "He ought to marry
Little Bilham rose more slowly. "Well, some one he CAN--some
thoroughly nice girl "
Strether's eyes, as they stood together, turned again to Jeanne.
"Do you mean HER?"
His friend made a sudden strange face. "After being in love with
her mother? No."
"But isn't it exactly your idea that he ISn't in love with her
His friend once more had a pause. "Well, he isn't at any rate in
love with Jeanne."
"I dare say not."
"How CAN he be with any other woman?"
"Oh that I admit. But being in love isn't, you know, here"--little
Bilham spoke in friendly reminder--"thought necessary, in strictness,
for marriage."
"And what torment--to call a torment--can there ever possibly be
with a woman like that?" As if from the interest of his own
question Strether had gone on without hearing. "Is it for her to
have turned a man out so wonderfully, too, only for somebody else?"
He appeared to make a point of this, and little Bilham looked at
him now. "When it's for each other that people give things up they
don't miss them." Then he threw off as with an extravagance of
which he was conscious: "Let them face the future together!"
Little Bilham looked at him indeed. "You mean that after all he
shouldn't go back?"
"I mean that if he gives her up--!"
"Well, he ought to be ashamed of himself." But Strether spoke with
a sound that might have passed for a laugh.
Volume II
Book Seventh
It wasn't the first time Strether had sat alone in the great dim
church--still less was it the first of his giving himself up, so
far as conditions permitted, to its beneficent action on his
nerves. He had been to Notre Dame with Waymarsh, he had been there
with Miss Gostrey, he had been there with Chad Newsome, and had
found the place, even in company, such a refuge from the obsession
of his problem that, with renewed pressure from that source, he had
not unnaturally recurred to a remedy meeting the case, for the
moment, so indirectly, no doubt, but so relievingly. He was
conscious enough that it was only for the moment, but good moments--
if he could call them good--still had their value for a man who by
this time struck himself as living almost disgracefully from hand
to mouth. Having so well learnt the way, he had lately made the
pilgrimage more than once by himself--had quite stolen off, taking
an unnoticed chance and making no point of speaking of the
adventure when restored to his friends.
His great friend, for that matter, was still absent, as well as
remarkably silent; even at the end of three weeks Miss Gostrey
hadn't come back. She wrote to him from Mentone, admitting that he
must judge her grossly inconsequent--perhaps in fact for the time
odiously faithless; but asking for patience, for a deferred
sentence, throwing herself in short on his generosity. For her too,
she could assure him, life was complicated--more complicated than
he could have guessed; she had moreover made certain of him--
certain of not wholly missing him on her return--before her
disappearance. If furthermore she didn't burden him with letters it
was frankly because of her sense of the other great commerce he had
to carry on. He himself, at the end of a fortnight, had written
twice, to show how his generosity could be trusted; but he reminded
himself in each case of Mrs. Newsome's epistolary manner at the
times when Mrs. Newsome kept off delicate ground. He sank his
problem, he talked of Waymarsh and Miss Barrace, of little Bilham
and the set over the river, with whom he had again had tea, and he
was easy, for convenience, about Chad and Madame de Vionnet and
Jeanne. He admitted that he continued to see them, he was decidedly
so confirmed a haunter of Chad's premises and that young man's
practical intimacy with them was so undeniably great; but he had
his reason for not attempting to render for Miss Gostrey's benefit
the impression of these last days. That would be to tell her too
much about himself--it being at present just from himself he was
trying to escape.
This small struggle sprang not a little, in its way, from the same
impulse that had now carried him across to Notre Dame; the impulse
to let things be, to give them time to justify themselves or at
least to pass. He was aware of having no errand in such a place but
the desire not to be, for the hour, in certain other places; a
sense of safety, of simplification, which each time he yielded to
it he amused himself by thinking of as a private concession to
cowardice. The great church had no altar for his worship, no direct
voice for his soul; but it was none the less soothing even to
sanctity; for he could feel while there what he couldn't elsewhere,
that he was a plain tired man taking the holiday he had earned. He
was tired, but he wasn't plain--that was the pity and the trouble
of it; he was able, however, to drop his problem at the door very
much as if it had been the copper piece that he deposited, on the
threshold, in the receptacle of the inveterate blind beggar. He
trod the long dim nave, sat in the splendid choir, paused before
the cluttered chapels of the east end, and the mighty monument laid
upon him its spell. He might have been a student under the charm of
a museum--which was exactly what, in a foreign town, in the
afternoon of life, he would have liked to be free to be. This form
of sacrifice did at any rate for the occasion as well as another;
it made him quite sufficiently understand how, within the precinct,
for the real refugee, the things of the world could fall into
abeyance. That was the cowardice, probably--to dodge them, to beg
the question, not to deal with it in the hard outer light; but his
own oblivions were too brief, too vain, to hurt any one but
himself, and he had a vague and fanciful kindness for certain
persons whom he met, figures of mystery and anxiety, and whom, with
observation for his pastime, he ranked as those who were fleeing
from justice. Justice was outside, in the hard light, and injustice
too; but one was as absent as the other from the air of the long
aisles and the brightness of the many altars.
Thus it was at all events that, one morning some dozen days after
the dinner in the Boulevard Malesherbes at which Madame de Vionnet
had been present with her daughter, he was called upon to play his
part in an encounter that deeply stirred his imagination. He had
the habit, in these contemplations, of watching a fellow visitant,
here and there, from a respectable distance, remarking some note of
behaviour, of penitence, of prostration, of the absolved, relieved
state; this was the manner in which his vague tenderness took its
course, the degree of demonstration to which it naturally had to
confine itself. It hadn't indeed so felt its responsibility as when
on this occasion he suddenly measured the suggestive effect of a
lady whose supreme stillness, in the shade of one of the chapels,
he had two or three times noticed as he made, and made once more,
his slow circuit. She wasn't prostrate--not in any degree bowed,
but she was strangely fixed, and her prolonged immobility showed
her, while he passed and paused, as wholly given up to the need,
whatever it was, that had brought her there. She only sat and gazed
before her, as he himself often sat; but she had placed herself, as
he never did, within the focus of the shrine, and she had lost
herself, he could easily see, as he would only have liked to do.
She was not a wandering alien, keeping back more than she gave, but
one of the familiar, the intimate, the fortunate, for whom these
dealings had a method and a meaning. She reminded our friend--since
it was the way of nine tenths of his current impressions to act as
recalls of things imagined--of some fine firm concentrated heroine
of an old story, something he had heard, read, something that, had
he had a hand for drama, he might himself have written, renewing
her courage, renewing her clearness, in splendidly-protected
meditation. Her back, as she sat, was turned to him, but his
impression absolutely required that she should be young and
interesting, and she carried her head moreover, even in the sacred
shade, with a discernible faith in herself, a kind of implied
conviction of consistency, security, impunity. But what had such a
woman come for if she hadn't come to pray? Strether's reading of
such matters was, it must be owned, confused; but he wondered if
her attitude were some congruous fruit of absolution, of
"indulgence." He knew but dimly what indulgence, in such a place,
might mean; yet he had, as with a soft sweep, a vision of how it
might indeed add to the zest of active rites. All this was a good
deal to have been denoted by a mere lurking figure who was nothing
to him; but, the last thing before leaving the church, he had the
surprise of a still deeper quickening.
He had dropped upon a seat halfway down the nave and, again in the
museum mood, was trying with head thrown back and eyes aloft,
to reconstitute a past, to reduce it in fact to the convenient terms
of Victor Hugo, whom, a few days before, giving the rein for once
in a way to the joy of life, he had purchased in seventy bound volumes,
a miracle of cheapness, parted with, he was assured by the shopman,
at the price of the red-and-gold alone. He looked, doubtless, while he
played his eternal nippers over Gothic glooms, sufficiently rapt in
reverence; but what his thought had finally bumped against was the
question of where, among packed accumulations, so multiform a wedge
would be able to enter. Were seventy volumes in red-and-gold to be
perhaps what he should most substantially have to show at Woollett
as the fruit of his mission? It was a possibility that held him a
minute--held him till he happened to feel that some one, unnoticed,
had approached him and paused. Turning, he saw that a lady stood
there as for a greeting, and he sprang up as he next took her,
securely, for Madame de Vionnet, who appeared to have recognised
him as she passed near him on her way to the door. She checked,
quickly and gaily, a certain confusion in him, came to meet it,
turned it back, by an art of her own; the confusion having
threatened him as he knew her for the person he had lately been
observing. She was the lurking figure of the dim chapel; she had
occupied him more than she guessed; but it came to him in time,
luckily, that he needn't tell her and that no harm, after all, had
been done. She herself, for that matter, straightway showing she
felt their encounter as the happiest of accidents, had for him a
"You come here too?" that despoiled surprise of every awkwardness.
"I come often," she said. "I love this place, but I'm terrible, in
general, for churches. The old women who live in them all know me;
in fact I'm already myself one of the old women. It's like that, at
all events, that I foresee I shall end." Looking about for a chair,
so that he instantly pulled one nearer, she sat down with him again
to the sound of an "Oh, I like so much your also being fond--!"
He confessed the extent of his feeling, though she left the object
vague; and he was struck with the tact, the taste of her vagueness,
which simply took for granted in him a sense of beautiful things.
He was conscious of how much it was affected, this sense, by
something subdued and discreet in the way she had arranged herself
for her special object and her morning walk--he believed her to
have come on foot; the way her slightly thicker veil was drawn--a
mere touch, but everything; the composed gravity of her dress, in
which, here and there, a dull wine-colour seemed to gleam faintly
through black; the charming discretion of her small compact head;
the quiet note, as she sat, of her folded, grey-gloved hands. It
was, to Strether's mind, as if she sat on her own ground, the light
honours of which, at an open gate, she thus easily did him, while
all the vastness and mystery of the domain stretched off behind.
When people were so completely in possession they could be
extraordinarily civil; and our friend had indeed at this hour a
kind of revelation of her heritage. She was romantic for him far
beyond what she could have guessed, and again he found his small
comfort in the conviction that, subtle though she was, his
impression must remain a secret from her. The thing that, once
more, made him uneasy for secrets in general was this particular
patience she could have with his own want of colour; albeit that on
the other hand his uneasiness pretty well dropped after he had been
for ten minutes as colourless as possible and at the same time as
The moments had already, for that matter, drawn their deepest tinge
from the special interest excited in him by his vision of his
companion's identity with the person whose attitude before the
glimmering altar had so impressed him. This attitude fitted
admirably into the stand he had privately taken about her connexion
with Chad on the last occasion of his seeing them together. It
helped him to stick fast at the point he had then reached; it was
there he had resolved that he WOULD stick, and at no moment since
had it seemed as easy to do so. Unassailably innocent was a
relation that could make one of the parties to it so carry herself.
If it wasn't innocent why did she haunt the churches?--into which,
given the woman he could believe he made out, she would never have
come to flaunt an insolence of guilt. She haunted them for
continued help, for strength, for peace--sublime support which, if
one were able to look at it so, she found from day to day. They
talked, in low easy tones and with lifted lingering looks, about
the great monument and its history and its beauty--all of which,
Madame de Vionnet professed, came to her most in the other, the
outer view. "We'll presently, after we go," she said, "walk round
it again if you like. I'm not in a particular hurry, and it will be
pleasant to look at it well with you." He had spoken of the great
romancer and the great romance, and of what, to his imagination,
they had done for the whole, mentioning to her moreover the
exorbitance of his purchase, the seventy blazing volumes that were
so out of proportion.
"Out of proportion to what?"
"Well, to any other plunge." Yet he felt even as he spoke how at
that instant he was plunging. He had made up his mind and was
impatient to get into the air; for his purpose was a purpose to be
uttered outside, and he had a fear that it might with delay still
slip away from him. She however took her time; she drew out their
quiet gossip as if she had wished to profit by their meeting, and
this confirmed precisely an interpretation of her manner, of her
mystery. While she rose, as he would have called it, to the
question of Victor Hugo, her voice itself, the light low quaver of
her deference to the solemnity about them, seemed to make her words
mean something that they didn't mean openly. Help, strength, peace,
a sublime support--she hadn't found so much of these things as that
the amount wouldn't be sensibly greater for any scrap his
appearance of faith in her might enable her to feel in her hand.
Every little, in a long strain, helped, and if he happened to
affect her as a firm object she could hold on by, he wouldn't jerk
himself out of her reach. People in difficulties held on by what
was nearest, and he was perhaps after all not further off than
sources of comfort more abstract. It was as to this he had made up
his mind; he had made it up, that is, to give her a sign. The sign
would be that--though it was her own affair--he understood; the
sign would be that--though it was her own affair--she was free to
clutch. Since she took him for a firm object--much as he might to
his own sense appear at times to rock--he would do his best to BE one.
The end of it was that half an hour later they were seated together
for an early luncheon at a wonderful, a delightful house of
entertainment on the left bank--a place of pilgrimage for the
knowing, they were both aware, the knowing who came, for its great
renown, the homage of restless days, from the other end of the
town. Strether had already been there three times--first with Miss
Gostrey, then with Chad, then with Chad again and with Waymarsh and
little Bilham, all of whom he had himself sagaciously entertained;
and his pleasure was deep now on learning that Madame de Vionnet
hadn't yet been initiated. When he had said as they strolled round
the church, by the river, acting at last on what, within, he had
made up his mind to, "Will you, if you have time, come to dejeuner
with me somewhere? For instance, if you know it, over there on the
other side, which is so easy a walk"--and then had named the
place; when he had done this she stopped short as for quick
intensity, and yet deep difficulty, of response. She took in the
proposal as if it were almost too charming to be true; and there
had perhaps never yet been for her companion so unexpected a moment
of pride--so fine, so odd a case, at any rate, as his finding
himself thus able to offer to a person in such universal possession
a new, a rare amusement. She had heard of the happy spot, but she
asked him in reply to a further question how in the world he could
suppose her to have been there. He supposed himself to have
supposed that Chad might have taken her, and she guessed this the
next moment to his no small discomfort.
"Ah, let me explain," she smiled, "that I don't go about with him
in public; I never have such chances--not having them otherwise--
and it's just the sort of thing that, as a quiet creature living in
my hole, I adore." It was more than kind of him to have thought of
it--though, frankly, if he asked whether she had time she hadn't a
single minute. That however made no difference--she'd throw
everything over. Every duty at home, domestic, maternal, social,
awaited her; but it was a case for a high line. Her affairs would
go to smash, but hadn't one a right to one's snatch of scandal when
one was prepared to pay? It was on this pleasant basis of costly
disorder, consequently, that they eventually seated themselves, on
either side of a small table, at a window adjusted to the busy quay
and the shining barge-burdened Seine; where, for an hour, in the
matter of letting himself go, of diving deep, Strether was to feel
he had touched bottom. He was to feel many things on this occasion,
and one of the first of them was that he had travelled far since
that evening in London, before the theatre, when his dinner with
Maria Gostrey, between the pink-shaded candles, had struck him as
requiring so many explanations. He had at that time gathered them
in, the explanations--he had stored them up; but it was at present
as if he had either soared above or sunk below them--he couldn't
tell which; he could somehow think of none that didn't seem to
leave the appearance of collapse and cynicism easier for him than
lucidity. How could he wish it to be lucid for others, for any one,
that he, for the hour, saw reasons enough in the mere way the
bright clean ordered water-side life came in at the open window?--
the mere way Madame de Vionnet, opposite him over their intensely
white table-linen, their omelette aux tomates, their bottle of
straw-coloured Chablis, thanked him for everything almost with the
smile of a child, while her grey eyes moved in and out of their
talk, back to the quarter of the warm spring air, in which early
summer had already begun to throb, and then back again to his face
and their human questions.
Their human questions became many before they had done--many more,
as one after the other came up, than our friend's free fancy had at
all foreseen. The sense he had had before, the sense he had had
repeatedly, the sense that the situation was running away with him,
had never been so sharp as now; and all the more that he could
perfectly put his finger on the moment it had taken the bit in its
teeth. That accident had definitely occurred, the other evening,
after Chad's dinner; it had occurred, as he fully knew, at the
moment when he interposed between this lady and her child, when he
suffered himself so to discuss with her a matter closely concerning
them that her own subtlety, marked by its significant "Thank you!"
instantly sealed the occasion in her favour. Again he had held off
for ten days, but the situation had continued out of hand in spite
of that; the fact that it was running so fast being indeed just WHY
he had held off. What had come over him as he recognised her in the
nave of the church was that holding off could be but a losing game
from the instant she was worked for not only by her subtlety, but
by the hand of fate itself. If all the accidents were to fight on
her side--and by the actual showing they loomed large--he could
only give himself up. This was what he had done in privately
deciding then and there to propose she should breakfast with him.
What did the success of his proposal in fact resemble but the smash
in which a regular runaway properly ends? The smash was their walk,
their dejeuner, their omelette, the Chablis, the place, the view,
their present talk and his present pleasure in it--to say nothing,
wonder of wonders, of her own. To this tune and nothing less,
accordingly, was his surrender made good. It sufficiently lighted
up at least the folly of holding off. Ancient proverbs sounded, for
his memory, in the tone of their words and the clink of their
glasses, in the hum of the town and the plash of the river. It WAS
clearly better to suffer as a sheep than as a lamb. One might as
well perish by the sword as by famine.
"Maria's still away?"--that was the first thing she had asked him;
and when he had found the frankness to be cheerful about it in
spite of the meaning he knew her to attach to Miss Gostrey's
absence, she had gone on to enquire if he didn't tremendously miss
her. There were reasons that made him by no means sure, yet he
nevertheless answered "Tremendously"; which she took in as if it
were all she had wished to prove. Then, "A man in trouble MUST be
possessed somehow of a woman," she said; "if she doesn't come in
one way she comes in another."
"Why do you call me a man in trouble?"
"Ah because that's the way you strike me." She spoke ever so gently
and as if with all fear of wounding him while she sat partaking of
his bounty. "AREn't you in trouble?"
He felt himself colour at the question, and then hated that--hated
to pass for anything so idiotic as woundable. Woundable by Chad's
lady, in respect to whom he had come out with such a fund of
indifference--was he already at that point? Perversely, none the
less, his pause gave a strange air of truth to her supposition; and
what was he in fact but disconcerted at having struck her just in
the way he had most dreamed of not doing? "I'm not in trouble yet,"
he at last smiled. "I'm not in trouble now."
"Well, I'm always so. But that you sufficiently know." She was a
woman who, between courses, could be graceful with her elbows
on the table. It was a posture unknown to Mrs. Newsome, but it was
easy for a femme du monde. "Yes--I am 'now'!"
"There was a question you put to me," he presently returned, "the
night of Chad's dinner. I didn't answer it then, and it has been
very handsome of you not to have sought an occasion for pressing me
about it since."
She was instantly all there. "Of course I know what you allude to.
I asked you what you had meant by saying, the day you came to see
me, just before you left me, that you'd save me. And you then said
--at our friend's--that you'd have really to wait to see, for
yourself, what you did mean."
"Yes, I asked for time," said Strether. "And it sounds now, as you
put it, like a very ridiculous speech."
"Oh!" she murmured--she was full of attenuation. But she had
another thought. "If it does sound ridiculous why do you deny that
you're in trouble?"
"Ah if I were," he replied, "it wouldn't be the trouble of fearing
ridicule. I don't fear it."
"What then do you?"
"Nothing--now." And he leaned back in his chair.
"I like your 'now'!" she laughed across at him.
"Well, it's precisely that it fully comes to me at present that
I've kept you long enough. I know by this time, at any rate, what I
meant by my speech; and I really knew it the night of Chad's
"Then why didn't you tell me?"
"Because it was difficult at the moment. I had already at that
moment done something for you, in the sense of what I had said the
day I went to see you; but I wasn't then sure of the importance I
might represent this as having."
She was all eagerness. "And you're sure now?"
"Yes; I see that, practically, I've done for you--had done for you
when you put me your question--all that it's as yet possible to me
to do. I feel now," he went on, "that it may go further than I
thought. What I did after my visit to you," he explained, "was to
write straight off to Mrs. Newsome about you, and I'm at last, from
one day to the other, expecting her answer. It's this answer that
will represent, as I believe, the consequences."
Patient and beautiful was her interest. "I see--the consequences of
your speaking for me." And she waited as if not to hustle him.
He acknowledged it by immediately going on. "The question, you
understand, was HOW I should save you. Well, I'm trying it by thus
letting her know that I consider you worth saving."
"I see--I see." Her eagerness broke through.
"How can I thank you enough?" He couldn't tell her that, however,
and she quickly pursued. "You do really, for yourself, consider
His only answer at first was to help her to the dish that had been
freshly put before them. "I've written to her again since then--
I've left her in no doubt of what I think. I've told her all about
"Thanks--not so much. 'All about' me," she went on--"yes."
"All it seems to me you've done for him."
"Ah and you might have added all it seems to ME!" She laughed
again, while she took up her knife and fork, as in the cheer of
these assurances. "But you're not sure how she'll take it."
"No, I'll not pretend I'm sure."
"Voila." And she waited a moment. "I wish you'd tell me about her."
"Oh," said Strether with a slightly strained smile, "all that
need concern you about her is that she's really a grand person."
Madame de Vionnet seemed to demur. "Is that all that need concern
me about her?"
But Strether neglected the question. "Hasn't Chad talked to you?"
"Of his mother? Yes, a great deal--immensely. But not from your
point of view."
"He can't," our friend returned, "have said any ill of her."
"Not the least bit. He has given me, like you, the assurance that
she's really grand. But her being really grand is somehow just what
hasn't seemed to simplify our case. Nothing," she continued, "is
further from me than to wish to say a word against her; but of
course I feel how little she can like being told of her owing me
anything. No woman ever enjoys such an obligation to another
This was a proposition Strether couldn't contradict. "And yet what
other way could I have expressed to her what I felt? It's what
there was most to say about you."
"Do you mean then that she WILL be good to me?"
"It's what I'm waiting to see. But I've little doubt she would," he
added, "if she could comfortably see you."
It seemed to strike her as a happy, a beneficent thought. "Oh then
couldn't that be managed? Wouldn't she come out? Wouldn't she if
you so put it to her? DID you by any possibility?" she faintly
"Oh no"--he was prompt. "Not that. It would be, much more, to give
an account of you that--since there's no question of YOUR paying
the visit--I should go home first."
It instantly made her graver. "And are you thinking of that?"
"Oh all the while, naturally."
"Stay with us--stay with us!" she exclaimed on this. "That's your
only way to make sure."
"To make sure of what?"
"Why that he doesn't break up. You didn't come out to do that to
"Doesn't it depend," Strether returned after a moment, "on what you
mean by breaking up?"
"Oh you know well enough what I mean!"
His silence seemed again for a little to denote an understanding.
"You take for granted remarkable things."
"Yes, I do--to the extent that I don't take for granted vulgar
ones. You're perfectly capable of seeing that what you came out for
wasn't really at all to do what you'd now have to do."
"Ah it's perfectly simple," Strether good-humouredly pleaded. "I've
had but one thing to do--to put our case before him. To put it as
it could only be put here on the spot--by personal pressure. My
dear lady," he lucidly pursued, "my work, you see, is really done,
and my reasons for staying on even another day are none of the
best. Chad's in possession of our case and professes to do it full
justice. What remains is with himself. I've had my rest, my
amusement and refreshment; I've had, as we say at Woollett, a
lovely time. Nothing in it has been more lovely than this happy
meeting with you--in these fantastic conditions to which you've so
delightfully consented. I've a sense of success. It's what I
wanted. My getting all this good is what Chad has waited for, and I
gather that if I'm ready to go he's the same."
She shook her head with a finer deeper wisdom. "You're not ready.
If you're ready why did you write to Mrs. Newsome in the sense
you've mentioned to me?"
Strether considered. "I shan't go before I hear from her. You're
too much afraid of her," he added.
It produced between them a long look from which neither shrank. "I
don't think you believe that--believe I've not really reason to
fear her."
"She's capable of great generosity," Strether presently stated.
"Well then let her trust me a little. That's all I ask. Let her
recognise in spite of everything what I've done."
"Ah remember," our friend replied, "that she can't effectually
recognise it without seeing it for herself. Let Chad go over and
show her what you've done, and let him plead with her there for it
and, as it were, for YOU."
She measured the depth of this suggestion. "Do you give me your
word of honour that if she once has him there she won't do her best
to marry him?"
It made her companion, this enquiry, look again a while out at the
view; after which he spoke without sharpness. "When she sees for
herself what he is--"
But she had already broken in. "It's when she sees for herself what
he is that she'll want to marry him most."
Strether's attitude, that of due deference to what she said,
permitted him to attend for a minute to his luncheon. "I doubt if
that will come off. It won't be easy to make it."
"It will be easy if he remains there--and he'll remain for the
money. The money appears to be, as a probability, so hideously
"Well," Strether presently concluded, "nothing COULD really hurt
you but his marrying."
She gave a strange light laugh. "Putting aside what may really hurt
But her friend looked at her as if he had thought of that too.
"The question will come up, of course, of the future that you
yourself offer him."
She was leaning back now, but she fully faced him. "Well, let it
come up!"
"The point is that it's for Chad to make of it what he can. His
being proof against marriage will show what he does make."
"If he IS proof, yes"--she accepted the proposition. "But for
myself," she added, "the question is what YOU make."
"Ah I make nothing. It's not my affair."
"I beg your pardon. It's just there that, since you've taken it up
and are committed to it, it most intensely becomes yours. You're
not saving me, I take it, for your interest in myself, but for your
interest in our friend. The one's at any rate wholly dependent on
the other. You can't in honour not see me through," she wound up,
"because you can't in honour not see HIM."
Strange and beautiful to him was her quiet soft acuteness. The thing
that most moved him was really that she was so deeply serious. She had
none of the portentous forms of it, but he had never come in contact,
it struck him, with a force brought to so fine a head. Mrs. Newsome,
goodness knew, was serious; but it was nothing to this. He took it
all in, he saw it all together. "No," he mused, "I can't in honour
not see him."
Her face affected him as with an exquisite light. "You WILL then?"
"I will."
At this she pushed back her chair and was the next moment on her
feet. "Thank you!" she said with her hand held out to him across
the table and with no less a meaning in the words than her lips had
so particularly given them after Chad's dinner. The golden nail she
had then driven in pierced a good inch deeper. Yet he reflected
that he himself had only meanwhile done what he had made up his mind to
on the same occasion. So far as the essence of the matter went he had
simply stood fast on the spot on which he had then planted his feet.
He received three days after this a communication from America, in
the form of a scrap of blue paper folded and gummed, not reaching
him through his bankers, but delivered at his hotel by a small boy
in uniform, who, under instructions from the concierge, approached
him as he slowly paced the little court. It was the evening hour,
but daylight was long now and Paris more than ever penetrating. The
scent of flowers was in the streets, he had the whiff of violets
perpetually in his nose; and he had attached himself to sounds and
suggestions, vibrations of the air, human and dramatic, he
imagined, as they were not in other places, that came out for him
more and more as the mild afternoons deepened--a far-off hum, a
sharp near click on the asphalt, a voice calling, replying,
somewhere and as full of tone as an actor's in a play. He was to
dine at home, as usual, with Waymarsh--they had settled to that for
thrift and simplicity; and he now hung about before his friend came
He read his telegram in the court, standing still a long time where
he had opened it and giving five minutes afterwards to the renewed
study of it. At last, quickly, he crumpled it up as if to get it
out of the way; in spite of which, however, he kept it there--
still kept it when, at the end of another turn, he had dropped into
a chair placed near a small table. Here, with his scrap of paper
compressed in his fist and further concealed by his folding his
arms tight, he sat for some time in thought, gazed before him so
straight that Waymarsh appeared and approached him without catching
his eye. The latter in fact, struck with his appearance, looked at
him hard for a single instant and then, as if determined to that
course by some special vividness in it, dropped back into the salon
de lecture without addressing him. But the pilgrim from Milrose
permitted himself still to observe the scene from behind the clear
glass plate of that retreat. Strether ended, as he sat, by a fresh
scrutiny of his compressed missive, which he smoothed out carefully
again as he placed it on his table. There it remained for some
minutes, until, at last looking up, he saw Waymarsh watching him
from within. It was on this that their eyes met--met for a moment
during which neither moved. But Strether then got up, folding his
telegram more carefully and putting it into his waistcoat pocket
A few minutes later the friends were seated together at dinner; but
Strether had meanwhile said nothing about it, and they eventually
parted, after coffee in the court, with nothing said on either
side. Our friend had moreover the consciousness that even less than
usual was on this occasion said between them, so that it was almost
as if each had been waiting for something from the other. Waymarsh
had always more or less the air of sitting at the door of his tent,
and silence, after so many weeks, had come to play its part in
their concert. This note indeed, to Strether's sense, had lately
taken a fuller tone, and it was his fancy to-night that they had
never quite so drawn it out. Yet it befell, none the less that he
closed the door to confidence when his companion finally asked him
if there were anything particular the matter with him. "Nothing,"
he replied, "more than usual."
On the morrow, however, at an early hour, he found occasion to give
an answer more in consonance with the facts. What was the matter
had continued to be so all the previous evening, the first hours of
which, after dinner, in his room, he had devoted to the copious
composition of a letter. He had quitted Waymarsh for this purpose,
leaving him to his own resources with less ceremony than their
wont, but finally coming down again with his letter unconcluded and
going forth into the streets without enquiry for his comrade. He
had taken a long vague walk, and one o'clock had struck before his
return and his re-ascent to his room by the aid of the glimmering
candle-end left for him on the shelf outside the porter's lodge. He
had possessed himself, on closing his door, of the numerous loose
sheets of his unfinished composition, and then, without reading
them over, had torn them into small pieces. He had thereupon slept--
as if it had been in some measure thanks to that sacrifice--the
sleep of the just, and had prolonged his rest considerably beyond
his custom. Thus it was that when, between nine and ten, the tap of
the knob of a walking-stick sounded on his door, he had not yet
made himself altogether presentable. Chad Newsome's bright deep
voice determined quickly enough none the less the admission of the
visitor. The little blue paper of the evening before, plainly an
object the more precious for its escape from premature destruction,
now lay on the sill of the open window, smoothed out afresh and
kept from blowing away by the superincumbent weight of his watch.
Chad, looking about with careless and competent criticism, as he
looked wherever he went immediately espied it and permitted himself
to fix it for a moment rather hard. After which he turned his eyes
to his host. "It has come then at last?"
Strether paused in the act of pinning his necktie. "Then you know--?
You've had one too?"
"No, I've had nothing, and I only know what I see. I see that thing
and I guess. Well," he added, "it comes as pat as in a play, for
I've precisely turned up this morning--as I would have done
yesterday, but it was impossible--to take you."
"To take me?" Strether had turned again to his glass.
"Back, at last, as I promised. I'm ready--I've really been ready
this month. I've only been waiting for you--as was perfectly right.
But you're better now; you're safe--I see that for myself; you've
got all your good. You're looking, this morning, as fit as a flea."
Strether, at his glass, finished dressing; consulting that witness
moreover on this last opinion. WAS he looking preternaturally fit?
There was something in it perhaps for Chad's wonderful eye, but he
had felt himself for hours rather in pieces. Such a judgement,
however, was after all but a contribution to his resolve; it
testified unwittingly to his wisdom. He was still firmer,
apparently--since it shone in him as a light--than he had flattered
himself. His firmness indeed was slightly compromised, as he faced
about to his friend, by the way this very personage looked--though
the case would of course have been worse hadn't the secret of
personal magnificence been at every hour Chad's unfailing
possession. There he was in all the pleasant morning freshness of
it--strong and sleek and gay, easy and fragrant and fathomless,
with happy health in his colour, and pleasant silver in his thick
young hair, and the right word for everything on the lips that his
clear brownness caused to show as red. He had never struck Strether
as personally such a success; it was as if now, for his definite
surrender, he had gathered himself vividly together. This, sharply
and rather strangely, was the form in which he was to be presented
to Woollett. Our friend took him in again--he was always taking him
in and yet finding that parts of him still remained out; though
even thus his image showed through a mist of other things. "I've
had a cable," Strether said, "from your mother."
"I dare say, my dear man. I hope she's well."
Strether hesitated. "No--she's not well, I'm sorry to have to tell
"Ah," said Chad, "I must have had the instinct of it. All the more
reason then that we should start straight off."
Strether had now got together hat, gloves and stick, but Chad had
dropped on the sofa as if to show where he wished to make his
point. He kept observing his companion's things; he might have been
judging how quickly they could be packed. He might even have wished
to hint that he'd send his own servant to assist. "What do you
mean," Strether enquired, "by 'straight off'?"
"Oh by one of next week's boats. Everything at this season goes out
so light that berths will be easy anywhere."
Strether had in his hand his telegram, which he had kept there
after attaching his watch, and he now offered it to Chad, who,
however, with an odd movement, declined to take it. "Thanks, I'd
rather not. Your correspondence with Mother's your own affair. I'm
only WITH you both on it, whatever it is." Strether, at this, while
their eyes met, slowly folded the missive and put it in his pocket;
after which, before he had spoken again, Chad broke fresh ground.
"Has Miss Gostrey come back?"
But when Strether presently spoke it wasn't in answer. "It's not, I
gather, that your mother's physically ill; her health, on the
whole, this spring, seems to have been better than usual. But she's
worried, she's anxious, and it appears to have risen within the
last few days to a climax. We've tired out, between us, her
"Oh it isn't YOU!" Chad generously protested.
"I beg your pardon--it IS me." Strether was mild and melancholy,
but firm. He saw it far away and over his companion's head. "It's
very particularly me."
"Well then all the more reason. Marchons, marchons!" said the young
man gaily. His host, however, at this, but continued to stand
agaze; and he had the next thing repeated his question of a moment
before. "Has Miss Gostrey come back?"
"Yes, two days ago."
"Then you've seen her?"
"No--I'm to see her to-day." But Strether wouldn't linger now on
Miss Gostrey. "Your mother sends me an ultimatum. If I can't bring
you I'm to leave you; I'm to come at any rate myself."
"Ah but you CAN bring me now," Chad, from his sofa, reassuringly
Strether had a pause. "I don't think I understand you. Why was it
that, more than a month ago, you put it to me so urgently to let
Madame de Vionnet speak for you?"
"'Why'?" Chad considered, but he had it at his fingers' ends. "Why
but because I knew how well she'd do it? It was the way to keep you
quiet and, to that extent, do you good. Besides," he happily and
comfortably explained, "I wanted you really to know her and to get
the impression of her--and you see the good that HAS done you."
"Well," said Strether, "the way she has spoken for you, all the
same--so far as I've given her a chance--has only made me feel how
much she wishes to keep you. If you make nothing of that I don't
see why you wanted me to listen to her."
"Why my dear man," Chad exclaimed, "I make everything of it! How
can you doubt--?"
"I doubt only because you come to me this morning with your signal
to start."
Chad stared, then gave a laugh. "And isn't my signal to start just
what you've been waiting for?"
Strether debated; he took another turn. "This last month I've been
awaiting, I think, more than anything else, the message I have
"You mean you've been afraid of it?"
"Well, I was doing my business in my own way. And I suppose your
present announcement," Strether went on, "isn't merely the result
of your sense of what I've expected. Otherwise you wouldn't have
put me in relation--" But he paused, pulling up.
At this Chad rose. "Ah HER wanting me not to go has nothing to do
with it! It's only because she's afraid--afraid of the way that,
over there, I may get caught. But her fear's groundless."
He had met again his companion's sufficiently searching look. "Are
you tired of her?"
Chad gave him in reply to this, with a movement of the head, the
strangest slow smile he had ever had from him. "Never."
It had immediately, on Strether's imagination, so deep and soft an
effect that our friend could only for the moment keep it before
him. "Never?"
"Never," Chad obligingly and serenely repeated.
It made his companion take several more steps. "Then YOU'RE not
"Afraid to go?"
Strether pulled up again. "Afraid to stay."
The young man looked brightly amazed. "You want me now to 'stay'?"
"If I don't immediately sail the Pococks will immediately come out.
That's what I mean," said Strether, "by your mother's ultimatum ."
Chad showed a still livelier, but not an alarmed interest. "She has
turned on Sarah and Jim?"
Strether joined him for an instant in the vision. "Oh and you may
be sure Mamie. THAT'S whom she's turning on."
This also Chad saw--he laughed out. "Mamie--to corrupt me?"
"Ah," said Strether, "she's very charming."
"So you've already more than once told me. I should like to see
Something happy and easy, something above all unconscious, in the
way he said this, brought home again to his companion the facility
of his attitude and the enviability of his state. "See her then by
all means. And consider too," Strether went on, "that you really
give your sister a lift in letting her come to you. You give her a
couple of months of Paris, which she hasn't seen, if I'm not
mistaken, since just after she was married, and which I'm sure she
wants but the pretext to visit."
Chad listened, but with all his own knowledge of the world. "She
has had it, the pretext, these several years, yet she has never
taken it."
"Do you mean YOU?" Strether after an instant enquired.
"Certainly--the lone exile. And whom do you mean?" said Chad.
"Oh I mean ME. I'm her pretext. That is--for it comes to the same
thing--I'm your mother's."
"Then why," Chad asked, "doesn't Mother come herself?"
His friend gave him a long look. "Should you like her to?" And as
he for the moment said nothing: "It's perfectly open to you to
cable for her."
Chad continued to think. "Will she come if I do?"
"Quite possibly. But try, and you'll see."
"Why don't YOU try?" Chad after a moment asked.
"Because I don't want to."
Chad thought. "Don't desire her presence here?"
Strether faced the question, and his answer was the more emphatic.
"Don't put it off, my dear boy, on ME!"
"Well--I see what you mean. I'm sure you'd behave beautifully but you
DON'T want to see her. So I won't play you that trick.'
"Ah," Strether declared, "I shouldn't call it a trick. You've a
perfect right, and it would be perfectly straight of you." Then he
added in a different tone: "You'd have moreover, in the person of
Madame de Vionnet, a very interesting relation prepared for her."
Their eyes, on this proposition, continued to meet, but Chad's
pleasant and bold, never flinched for a moment. He got up at last
and he said something with which Strether was struck. "She wouldn't
understand her, but that makes no difference. Madame de Vionnet
would like to see her. She'd like to be charming to her. She
believes she could work it."
Strether thought a moment, affected by this, but finally turning
away. "She couldn't!"
"You're quite sure?" Chad asked.
"Well, risk it if you like!"
Strether, who uttered this with serenity, had urged a plea for their
now getting into the air; but the young man still waited. "Have you
sent your answer?"
"No, I've done nothing yet."
"Were you waiting to see me?"
"No, not that."
"Only waiting"--and Chad, with this, had a smile for him--"to see
Miss Gostrey?"
"No--not even Miss Gostrey. I wasn't waiting to see any one. I had
only waited, till now, to make up my mind--in complete solitude;
and, since I of course absolutely owe you the information, was on
the point of going out with it quite made up. Have therefore a
little more patience with me. Remember," Strether went on, "that
that's what you originally asked ME to have. I've had it, you see,
and you see what has come of it. Stay on with me."
Chad looked grave. "How much longer?"
"Well, till I make you a sign. I can't myself, you know, at the
best, or at the worst, stay for ever. Let the Pococks come,"
Strether repeated.
"Because it gains you time?"
"Yes--it gains me time."
Chad, as if it still puzzled him, waited a minute. "You don't want
to get back to Mother?"
"Not just yet. I'm not ready."
"You feel," Chad asked in a tone of his own, "the charm of life
over here?"
"Immensely." Strether faced it. "You've helped me so to feel it
that that surely needn't surprise you."
"No, it doesn't surprise me, and I'm delighted. But what, my dear
man," Chad went on with conscious queerness, "does it all lead to
for you?"
The change of position and of relation, for each, was so oddly
betrayed in the question that Chad laughed out as soon as he had
uttered it--which made Strether also laugh. "Well, to my having a
certitude that has been tested--that has passed through the fire.
But oh," he couldn't help breaking out, "if within my first month
here you had been willing to move with me--!"
"Well?" said Chad, while he broke down as for weight of thought.
"Well, we should have been over there by now."
"Ah but you wouldn't have had your fun!"
"I should have had a month of it; and I'm having now, if you want
to know," Strether continued, "enough to last me for the rest of my
Chad looked amused and interested, yet still somewhat in the dark;
partly perhaps because Strether's estimate of fun had required of
him from the first a good deal of elucidation. "It wouldn't do if
I left you--?"
"Left me?"--Strether remained blank.
"Only for a month or two--time to go and come. Madame de Vionnet,"
Chad smiled, "would look after you in the interval."
"To go back by yourself, I remaining here?" Again for an instant
their eyes had the question out; after which Strether said:
"But I want to see Mother," Chad presently returned. "Remember how
long it is since I've seen Mother."
"Long indeed; and that's exactly why I was originally so keen for
moving you. Hadn't you shown us enough how beautifully you could do
without it?"
"Oh but," said Chad wonderfully, "I'm better now."
There was an easy triumph in it that made his friend laugh out
again. "Oh if you were worse I SHOULD know what to do with you. In
that case I believe I'd have you gagged and strapped down, carried
on board resisting, kicking. How MUCH," Strether asked, "do you
want to see Mother?"
"How much?"--Chad seemed to find it in fact difficult to say.
"How much."
"Why as much as you've made me. I'd give anything to see her. And
you've left me," Chad went on, "in little enough doubt as to how
much SHE wants it."
Strether thought a minute. "Well then if those things are really
your motive catch the French steamer and sail to-morrow. Of course,
when it comes to that, you're absolutely free to do as you choose.
From the moment you can't hold yourself I can only accept your
"I'll fly in a minute then," said Chad, "if you'll stay here."
"I'll stay here till the next steamer--then I'll follow you."
"And do you call that," Chad asked, "accepting my flight?"
"Certainly--it's the only thing to call it. The only way to keep me
here, accordingly," Strether explained, "is by staying yourself."
Chad took it in. "All the more that I've really dished you, eh?"
"Dished me?" Strether echoed as inexpressively as possible.
"Why if she sends out the Pococks it will be that she doesn't trust
you, and if she doesn't trust you, that bears upon--well, you know
Strether decided after a moment that he did know what, and in
consonance with this he spoke. "You see then all the more what you
owe me."
"Well, if I do see, how can I pay?"
"By not deserting me. By standing by me."
"Oh I say--!" But Chad, as they went downstairs, clapped a firm
hand, in the manner of a pledge, upon his shoulder. They descended
slowly together and had, in the court of the hotel, some further
talk, of which the upshot was that they presently separated. Chad
Newsome departed, and Strether, left alone, looked about, superficially,
for Waymarsh. But Waymarsh hadn't yet, it appeared, come down, and
our friend finally went forth without sight of him.
At four o'clock that afternoon he had still not seen him, but he
was then, as to make up for this, engaged in talk about him with
Miss Gostrey. Strether had kept away from home all day, given
himself up to the town and to his thoughts, wandered and mused,
been at once restless and absorbed--and all with the present climax
of a rich little welcome in the Quartier Marboeuf. "Waymarsh has
been, 'unbeknown' to me, I'm convinced"--for Miss Gostrey had
enquired--"in communication with Woollett: the consequence of which
was, last night, the loudest possible call for me."
"Do you mean a letter to bring you home?"
"No--a cable, which I have at this moment in my pocket: a 'Come
back by the first ship.'"
Strether's hostess, it might have been made out, just escaped
changing colour. Reflexion arrived but in time and established a
provisional serenity. It was perhaps exactly this that enabled her
to say with duplicity: "And you're going--?"
"You almost deserve it when you abandon me so."
She shook her head as if this were not worth taking up. "My absence
has helped you--as I've only to look at you to see. It was my
calculation, and I'm justified. You're not where you were. And the
thing," she smiled, "was for me not to be there either. You can go
of yourself."
"Oh but I feel to-day," he comfortably declared, "that I shall want
you yet."
She took him all in again. "Well, I promise you not again to leave
you, but it will only be to follow you. You've got your momentum
and can toddle alone."
He intelligently accepted it. "Yes--I suppose I can toddle. It's
the sight of that in fact that has upset Waymarsh. He can bear it--
the way I strike him as going--no longer. That's only the climax
of his original feeling. He wants me to quit; and he must have
written to Woollett that I'm in peril of perdition."
"Ah good!" she murmured. "But is it only your supposition?"
"I make it out--it explains."
"Then he denies?--or you haven't asked him?"
"I've not had time," Strether said; "I made it out but last night,
putting various things together, and I've not been since then face
to face with him."
She wondered. "Because you're too disgusted? You can't trust
He settled his glasses on his nose. "Do I look in a great rage?"
"You look divine!"
"There's nothing," he went on, "to be angry about. He has done me
on the contrary a service."
She made it out. "By bringing things to a head?"
"How well you understand!" he almost groaned. "Waymarsh won't in
the least, at any rate, when I have it out with him, deny or
extenuate. He has acted from the deepest conviction, with the best
conscience and after wakeful nights. He'll recognise that he's
fully responsible, and will consider that he has been highly
successful; so that any discussion we may have will bring us quite
together again--bridge the dark stream that has kept us so
thoroughly apart. We shall have at last, in the consequences of his
act, something we can definitely talk about."
She was silent a little. "How wonderfully you take it! But you're
always wonderful."
He had a pause that matched her own; then he had, with an adequate
spirit, a complete admission. "It's quite true. I'm extremely
wonderful just now. I dare say in fact I'm quite fantastic, and I
shouldn't be at all surprised if I were mad."
"Then tell me!" she earnestly pressed. As he, however, for the time
answered nothing, only returning the look with which she watched
him, she presented herself where it was easier to meet her. "What
will Mr. Waymarsh exactly have done?"
"Simply have written a letter. One will have been quite enough. He
has told them I want looking after."
"And DO you?"--she was all interest.
"Immensely. And I shall get it."
"By which you mean you don't budge?"
"I don't budge."
"You've cabled?"
"No--I've made Chad do it."
"That you decline to come?"
"That HE declines. We had it out this morning and I brought him
round. He had come in, before I was down, to tell me he was ready--
ready, I mean, to return. And he went off, after ten minutes with
me, to say he wouldn't."
Miss Gostrey followed with intensity. "Then you've STOPPED him?"
Strether settled himself afresh in his chair. "I've stopped him.
That is for the time. That"--he gave it to her more vividly--"is
where I am."
"I see, I see. But where's Mr. Newsome? He was ready," she asked,
"to go?"
"All ready."
"And sincerely--believing YOU'D be?"
"Perfectly, I think; so that he was amazed to find the hand I had
laid on him to pull him over suddenly converted into an engine for
keeping him still."
It was an account of the matter Miss Gostrey could weigh. "Does he
think the conversion sudden?"
"Well," said Strether, "I'm not altogether sure what he thinks. I'm
not sure of anything that concerns him, except that the more I've
seen of him the less I've found him what I originally expected.
He's obscure, and that's why I'm waiting."
She wondered. "But for what in particular?"
"For the answer to his cable."
"And what was his cable?"
"I don't know," Strether replied; "it was to be, when he left me,
according to his own taste. I simply said to him: 'I want to stay,
and the only way for me to do so is for you to.' That I wanted to
stay seemed to interest him, and he acted on that."
Miss Gostrey turned it over. "He wants then himself to stay."
"He half wants it. That is he half wants to go. My original appeal
has to that extent worked in him. Nevertheless," Strether pursued,
"he won't go. Not, at least, so long as I'm here."
"But you can't," his companion suggested, "stay here always. I wish
you could."
"By no means. Still, I want to see him a little further. He's not
in the least the case I supposed, he's quite another case. And it's
as such that he interests me." It was almost as if for his own
intelligence that, deliberate and lucid, our friend thus expressed
the matter. "I don't want to give him up."
Miss Gostrey but desired to help his lucidity. She had however to
be light and tactful. "Up, you mean--a--to his mother?"
"Well, I'm not thinking of his mother now. I'm thinking of the plan
of which I was the mouthpiece, which, as soon as we met, I put
before him as persuasively as I knew how, and which was drawn up,
as it were, in complete ignorance of all that, in this last long
period, has been happening to him. It took no account whatever of
the impression I was here on the spot immediately to begin to
receive from him--impressions of which I feel sure I'm far from
having had the last."
Miss Gostrey had a smile of the most genial criticism. "So your
idea is--more or less--to stay out of curiosity?"
"Call it what you like! I don't care what it's called--"
"So long as you do stay? Certainly not then. I call it, all the
same, immense fun," Maria Gostrey declared; "and to see you work it
out will be one of the sensations of my life. It IS clear you can
toddle alone!"
He received this tribute without elation. "I shan't be alone when
the Pococks have come."
Her eyebrows went up. "The Pococks are coming?"
"That, I mean, is what will happen--and happen as quickly as
possible--in consequence of Chad's cable. They'll simply embark.
Sarah will come to speak for her mother--with an effect different
from MY muddle."
Miss Gostrey more gravely wondered. "SHE then will take him back?"
"Very possibly--and we shall see. She must at any rate have the
chance, and she may be trusted to do all she can."
"And do you WANT that?"
"Of course," said Strether, "I want it. I want to play fair "
But she had lost for a moment the thread. "If it devolves on the
Pococks why do you stay?"
"Just to see that I DO play fair--and a little also, no doubt, that
they do." Strether was luminous as he had never been. "I came out
to find myself in presence of new facts--facts that have kept
striking me as less and less met by our old reasons. The matter's
perfectly simple. New reasons--reasons as new as the facts
themselves--are wanted; and of this our friends at Woollett--Chad's
and mine--were at the earliest moment definitely notified. If any
are producible Mrs. Pocock will produce them; she'll bring over the
whole collection. They'll be," he added with a pensive smile "a
part of the 'fun' you speak of."
She was quite in the current now and floating by his side. "It's
Mamie--so far as I've had it from you--who'll be their great card."
And then as his contemplative silence wasn't a denial she
significantly added: "I think I'm sorry for her."
"I think I am!"--and Strether sprang up, moving about a little as
her eyes followed him. "But it can't be helped."
"You mean her coming out can't be?"
He explained after another turn what he meant. "The only way for
her not to come is for me to go home--as I believe that on the spot
I could prevent it. But the difficulty as to that is that if I do
go home--"
"I see, I see"--she had easily understood. "Mr. Newsome will do the
same, and that's not"--she laughed out now--"to be thought of."
Strether had no laugh; he had only a quiet comparatively placid
look that might have shown him as proof against ridicule. "Strange,
isn't it?"
They had, in the matter that so much interested them, come so far
as this without sounding another name--to which however their
present momentary silence was full of a conscious reference.
Strether's question was a sufficient implication of the weight it
had gained with him during the absence of his hostess; and just for
that reason a single gesture from her could pass for him as a vivid
answer. Yet he was answered still better when she said in a moment:
"Will Mr. Newsome introduce his sister--?"
"To Madame de Vionnet?" Strether spoke the name at last. "I shall
be greatly surprised if he doesn't."
She seemed to gaze at the possibility. "You mean you've thought of
it and you're prepared."
"I've thought of it and I'm prepared."
It was to her visitor now that she applied her consideration. "Bon!
You ARE magnificent!"
"Well," he answered after a pause and a little wearily, but still
standing there before her--"well, that's what, just once in all my
dull days, I think I shall like to have been!"
Two days later he had news from Chad of a communication from
Woollett in response to their determinant telegram, this missive
being addressed to Chad himself and announcing the immediate
departure for France of Sarah and Jim and Mamie. Strether had
meanwhile on his own side cabled; he had but delayed that act till
after his visit to Miss Gostrey, an interview by which, as so often
before, he felt his sense of things cleared up and settled. His
message to Mrs. Newsome, in answer to her own, had consisted of the
words: "Judge best to take another month, but with full
appreciation of all re-enforcements." He had added that he was
writing, but he was of course always writing; it was a practice
that continued, oddly enough, to relieve him, to make him come
nearer than anything else to the consciousness of doing something:
so that he often wondered if he hadn't really, under his recent
stress, acquired some hollow trick, one of the specious arts of
make-believe. Wouldn't the pages he still so freely dispatched by
the American post have been worthy of a showy journalist, some
master of the great new science of beating the sense out of words?
Wasn't he writing against time, and mainly to show he was kind?--
since it had become quite his habit not to like to read himself
over. On those lines he could still be liberal, yet it was at best
a sort of whistling in the dark. It was unmistakeable moreover that
the sense of being in the dark now pressed on him more sharply--
creating thereby the need for a louder and livelier whistle. He
whistled long and hard after sending his message; he whistled again
and again in celebration of Chad's news; there was an interval of a
fortnight in which this exercise helped him. He had no great notion
of what, on the spot, Sarah Pocock would have to say, though he had
indeed confused premonitions; but it shouldn't be in her power to
say--it shouldn't be in any one's anywhere to say--that he was
neglecting her mother. He might have written before more freely,
but he had never written more copiously; and he frankly gave for a
reason at Woollett that he wished to fill the void created there by
Sarah's departure.
The increase of his darkness, however, and the quickening, as I
have called it, of his tune, resided in the fact that he was
hearing almost nothing. He had for some time been aware that he was
hearing less than before, and he was now clearly following a
process by which Mrs. Newsome's letters could but logically stop.
He hadn't had a line for many days, and he needed no proof--though
he was, in time, to have plenty--that she wouldn't have put pen to
paper after receiving the hint that had determined her telegram.
She wouldn't write till Sarah should have seen him and reported on
him. It was strange, though it might well be less so than his own
behaviour appeared at Woollett. It was at any rate significant, and
what WAS remarkable was the way his friend's nature and manner put
on for him, through this very drop of demonstration, a greater
intensity. It struck him really that he had never so lived with her
as during this period of her silence; the silence was a sacred
hush, a finer clearer medium, in which her idiosyncrasies showed.
He walked about with her, sat with her, drove with her and dined
face-to-face with her--a rare treat "in his life," as he could
perhaps have scarce escaped phrasing it; and if he had never seen
her so soundless he had never, on the other hand, felt her so
highly, so almost austerely, herself: pure and by the vulgar
estimate "cold," but deep devoted delicate sensitive noble. Her
vividness in these respects became for him, in the special
conditions, almost an obsession; and though the obsession sharpened
his pulses, adding really to the excitement of life, there were
hours at which, to be less on the stretch, he directly sought
forgetfulness. He knew it for the queerest of adventures--a
circumstance capable of playing such a part only for Lambert
Strether--that in Paris itself, of all places, he should find this
ghost of the lady of Woollett more importunate than any other
When he went back to Maria Gostrey it was for the change to
something else. And yet after all the change scarcely operated for
he talked to her of Mrs. Newsome in these days as he had never
talked before. He had hitherto observed in that particular a
discretion and a law; considerations that at present broke down
quite as if relations had altered. They hadn't REALLY altered, he
said to himself, so much as that came to; for if what had occurred
was of course that Mrs. Newsome had ceased to trust him, there was
nothing on the other hand to prove that he shouldn't win back her
confidence. It was quite his present theory that he would leave no
stone unturned to do so; and in fact if he now told Maria things
about her that he had never told before this was largely because it
kept before him the idea of the honour of such a woman's esteem.
His relation with Maria as well was, strangely enough, no longer
quite the same; this truth--though not too disconcertingly--had
come up between them on the renewal of their meetings. It was all
contained in what she had then almost immediately said to him; it
was represented by the remark she had needed but ten minutes to
make and that he hadn't been disposed to gainsay. He could toddle
alone, and the difference that showed was extraordinary. The turn
taken by their talk had promptly confirmed this difference; his
larger confidence on the score of Mrs. Newsome did the rest; and
the time seemed already far off when he had held out his small
thirsty cup to the spout of her pail. Her pail was scarce touched
now, and other fountains had flowed for him; she fell into her
place as but one of his tributaries; and there was a strange
sweetness--a melancholy mildness that touched him--in her
acceptance of the altered order.
It marked for himself the flight of time, or at any rate what he
was pleased to think of with irony and pity as the rush of experience;
it having been but the day before yesterday that he sat at her feet
and held on by her garment and was fed by her hand. It was the
proportions that were changed, and the proportions were at all
times, he philosophised, the very conditions of perception, the
terms of thought. It was as if, with her effective little entresol and
and her wide acquaintance, her activities, varieties, promiscuities,
the duties and devotions that took up nine tenths of her time and
of which he got, guardedly, but the side-wind--it was as if she had
shrunk to a secondary element and had consented to the shrinkage
with the perfection of tact. This perfection had never failed
her; it had originally been greater than his prime measure for it;
it had kept him quite apart, kept him out of the shop, as she
called her huge general acquaintance, made their commerce as
quiet, as much a thing of the home alone--the opposite of the
shop--as if she had never another customer. She had been wonderful
to him at first, with the memory of her little entresol, the image
to which, on most mornings at that time, his eyes directly opened;
but now she mainly figured for him as but part of the bristling
total--though of course always as a person to whom he should never
cease to be indebted. It would never be given to him certainly
to inspire a greater kindness. She had decked him out for others,
and he saw at this point at least nothing she would ever ask for.
She only wondered and questioned and listened, rendering him the
homage of a wistful speculation. She expressed it repeatedly;
he was already far beyond her, and she must prepare herself to
lose him. There was but one little chance for her.
Often as she had said it he met it--for it was a touch he liked--
each time the same way. "My coming to grief?"
"Yes--then I might patch you up."
"Oh for my real smash, if it takes place, there will be no
"But you surely don't mean it will kill you."
"No--worse. It will make me old."
"Ah nothing can do that! The wonderful and special thing about you
is that you ARE, at this time of day, youth." Then she always made,
further, one of those remarks that she had completely ceased to
adorn with hesitations or apologies, and that had, by the same
token, in spite of their extreme straightness, ceased to produce in
Strether the least embarrassment. She made him believe them, and
they became thereby as impersonal as truth itself. "It's just your
particular charm."
His answer too was always the same. "Of course I'm youth--youth
for the trip to Europe. I began to be young, or at least to get the
benefit of it, the moment I met you at Chester, and that's what has
been taking place ever since. I never had the benefit at the proper
time--which comes to saying that I never had the thing itself. I'm
having the benefit at this moment; I had it the other day when I
said to Chad 'Wait'; I shall have it still again when Sarah Pocock
arrives. It's a benefit that would make a poor show for many
people; and I don't know who else but you and I, frankly, could
begin to see in it what I feel. I don't get drunk; I don't pursue
the ladies; I don't spend money; I don't even write sonnets. But
nevertheless I'm making up late for what I didn't have early. I
cultivate my little benefit in my own little way. It amuses me more
than anything that has happened to me in all my life. They may say
what they like--it's my surrender, it's my tribute, to youth. One
puts that in where one can--it has to come in somewhere, if only
out of the lives, the conditions, the feelings of other persons.
Chad gives me the sense of it, for all his grey hairs, which merely
make it solid in him and safe and serene; and SHE does the same,
for all her being older than he, for all her marriageable daughter,
her separated husband, her agitated history. Though they're young
enough, my pair, I don't say they're, in the freshest way, their
own absolutely prime adolescence; for that has nothing to do with
it. The point is that they're mine. Yes, they're my youth; since
somehow at the right time nothing else ever was. What I meant just
now therefore is that it would all go--go before doing its work--
if they were to fail me."
On which, just here, Miss Gostrey inveterately questioned. "What do
you, in particular, call its work?"
"Well, to see me through."
"But through what?"--she liked to get it all out of him.
"Why through this experience." That was all that would come.
It regularly gave her none the less the last word. "Don't you
remember how in those first days of our meeting it was I who was to
see you through?"
"Remember? Tenderly, deeply"--he always rose to it. "You're just
doing your part in letting me maunder to you thus."
"Ah don't speak as if my part were small; since whatever else fails
"YOU won't, ever, ever, ever?"--he thus took her up. "Oh I beg your
pardon; you necessarily, you inevitably WILL. Your conditions--that's
what I mean--won't allow me anything to do for you."
"Let alone--I see what you mean--that I'm drearily dreadfully old.
I AM, but there's a service--possible for you to render--that I know,
all the same, I shall think of."
"And what will it be?"
This, in fine, however, she would never tell him. "You shall hear
only if your smash takes place. As that's really out of the
question, I won't expose myself''--a point at which, for reasons of
his own, Strether ceased to press.
He came round, for publicity--it was the easiest thing--to the idea
that his smash WAS out of the question, and this rendered idle the
discussion of what might follow it. He attached an added
importance, as the days elapsed, to the arrival of the Pococks; he
had even a shameful sense of waiting for it insincerely and
incorrectly. He accused himself of making believe to his own mind
that Sarah's presence, her impression, her judgement would simplify
and harmonise, he accused himself of being so afraid of what they
MIGHT do that he sought refuge, to beg the whole question, in a
vain fury. He had abundantly seen at home what they were in the
habit of doing, and he had not at present the smallest ground. His
clearest vision was when he made out that what he most desired was
an account more full and free of Mrs. Newsome's state of mind than
any he felt he could now expect from herself; that calculation at
least went hand in hand with the sharp consciousness of wishing to
prove to himself that he was not afraid to look his behaviour in
the face. If he was by an inexorable logic to pay for it he was
literally impatient to know the cost, and he held himself ready to
pay in instalments. The first instalment would be precisely this
entertainment of Sarah; as a consequence of which moreover. he
should know vastly better how he stood.
Book Eighth
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
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

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