Book Third - I
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 woman?"
"I don't know."
Waymarsh waited an instant for more, then resumed. "Has he taken her off with him?"
"And will he bring her back?"--Strether fell into the enquiry. But he wound it up as before. "I don't know."
The way he wound it up, accompanied as this was with another drop back, another degustation of the Leoville, another wipe of his moustache and another good word for Francois, seemed to produce in his companion a slight irritation. "Then what the devil DO you know?"
"Well," said Strether almost gaily, "I guess I don't know anything!" His gaiety might have been a tribute to the fact that the state he had been reduced to did for him again what had been done by his talk of the matter with Miss Gostrey at the 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?"
"Well, life can hold nothing better. Besides, they're things of which he's in charge."
"So that he does doorkeeper for your precious pair? Can life," Waymarsh enquired, "hold nothing better than THAT?" Then as Strether, silent, seemed even yet to wonder, "Doesn't he know what SHE is?" he went on.
"I don't know. I didn't ask him. I couldn't. It was impossible. You wouldn't either. Besides I didn't want to. No more would you." Strether in short explained it at a stroke. "You can't make out over here what people do know."
"Then what did you come over for?"
"Well, I suppose exactly to see for myself--without their aid."
"Then what do you want mine for?"
"Oh," Strether laughed, "you're not one of THEM! I do know what you know."
As, however, this last assertion caused Waymarsh again to look at him hard--such being the latter's doubt of its implications--he felt his justification lame. Which was still more the case when Waymarsh presently said: "Look here, Strether. Quit this."
Our friend smiled with a doubt of his own. "Do you mean my tone?"
"No--damn your tone. I mean your nosing round. Quit the whole job. Let them stew in their juice. You're being used for a thing you ain't fit for. People don't take a fine-tooth comb to groom a horse."
"Am I a fine-tooth comb?" Strether laughed. "It's something I never called myself!"
"It's what you are, all the same. You ain't so young as you were, but you've kept your teeth."
He acknowledged his friend's humour. "Take care I don't get them into YOU! You'd like them, my friends at home, Waymarsh," he declared; "you'd really particularly like them. And I know"--it was slightly irrelevant, but he gave it sudden and singular force--"I know they'd like you!"
"Oh don't work them off on ME!" Waymarsh groaned.
Yet Strether still lingered with his hands in his pockets. "It's really quite as indispensable as I say that Chad should be got back."
"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 business."
"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 life.
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.
— William Delaney
These lines of dialogue between Strether and his acute friend Waymarsh establish Strether's whole motivation for coming to Europe. He can marry his wealthy patroness Mrs. Newsome if he succeeds in persuading her son Chad to return to America. But if he does not succeed, he probably won't be able to marry her. He obviously has a small private income, but he can only feel secure at his late stage in life is he marries a wealthy woman.
The reader will realize later that Mme. de Vionnet wants to keep Chad in France because she is in love with him. So the entire novel is about a tug of war between Mrs. Newsome in America and Mme. de Vionnet in Europe, with Lambert Strether caught in the middle. It is really Mrs. Newsome, though never seen in person in the book, who is the protagonist, and Mme. de Vionnet who is the antagonist.