Book Ninth - I
"The difficulty is," Strether said to Madame de Vionnet a couple of days later, "that I can't surprise them into the smallest sign of his not being the same old Chad they've been for the last three years glowering at across the sea. They simply won't give any, and as a policy, you know--what you call a parti pris, a deep game-- that's positively remarkable."
It was so remarkable that our friend had pulled up before his hostess with the vision of it; he had risen from his chair at the end of ten minutes and begun, as a help not to worry, to move about before her quite as he moved before Maria. He had kept his appointment with her to the minute and had been intensely impatient, though divided in truth between the sense of having everything to tell her and the sense of having nothing at all. The short interval had, in the face of their complication, multiplied his impressions--it being meanwhile to be noted, moreover, that he already frankly, already almost publicly, viewed the complication as common to them. If Madame de Vionnet, under Sarah's eyes, had pulled him into her boat, there was by this time no doubt whatever that he had remained in it and that what he had really most been conscious of for many hours together was the movement of the vessel itself. They were in it together this moment as they hadn't yet been, and he hadn't at present uttered the least of the words of alarm or remonstrance that had died on his lips at the hotel. He had other things to say to her than that she had put him in a position; so quickly had his position grown to affect him as quite excitingly, altogether richly, inevitable. That the outlook, however--given the point of exposure--hadn't cleared up half so much as he had reckoned was the first warning she received from him on his arrival. She had replied with indulgence that he was in too great a hurry, and had remarked soothingly that if she knew how to be patient surely HE might be. He felt her presence, on the spot, he felt her tone and everything about her, as an aid to that effort; and it was perhaps one of the proofs of her success with him that he seemed so much to take his ease while they talked. By the time he had explained to her why his impressions, though multiplied, still baffled him, it was as if he had been familiarly talking for hours. They baffled him because Sarah--well, Sarah was deep, deeper than she had ever yet had a chance to show herself. He didn't say that this was partly the effect of her opening so straight down, as it were, into her mother, and that, given Mrs. Newsome's profundity, the shaft thus sunk might well have a reach; but he wasn't without a resigned apprehension that, at such a rate of confidence between the two women, he was likely soon to be moved to show how already, at moments, it had been for him as if he were dealing directly with Mrs. Newsome. Sarah, to a certainty, would have begun herself to feel it in him--and this naturally put it in her power to torment him the more. From the moment she knew he COULD be tormented--!
"But WHY can you be?"--his companion was surprised at his use of the word.
"Because I'm made so--I think of everything."
"Ah one must never do that," she smiled. "One must think of as few things as possible."
"Then," he answered, "one must pick them out right. But all I mean is--for I express myself with violence--that she's in a position to watch me. There's an element of suspense for me, and she can see me wriggle. But my wriggling doesn't matter," he pursued. "I can bear it. Besides, I shall wriggle out."
The picture at any rate stirred in her an appreciation that he felt to be sincere. "I don't see how a man can be kinder to a woman than you are to me."
Well, kind was what he wanted to be; yet even while her charming eyes rested on him with the truth of this he none the less had his humour of honesty. "When I say suspense I mean, you know," he laughed, "suspense about my own case too!"
"Oh yes--about your own case too!" It diminished his magnanimity, but she only looked at him the more tenderly.
"Not, however," he went on, "that I want to talk to you about that. It's my own little affair, and I mentioned it simply as part of Mrs. Pocock's advantage." No, no; though there was a queer present temptation in it, and his suspense was so real that to fidget was a relief, he wouldn't talk to her about Mrs. Newsome, wouldn't work off on her the anxiety produced in him by Sarah's calculated omissions of reference. The effect she produced of representing her mother had been produced--and that was just the immense, the uncanny part of it--without her having so much as mentioned that lady. She had brought no message, had alluded to no question, had only answered his enquiries with hopeless limited propriety. She had invented a way of meeting them--as if he had been a polite perfunctory poor relation, of distant degree--that made them almost ridiculous in him. He couldn't moreover on his own side ask much without appearing to publish how he had lately lacked news; a circumstance of which it was Sarah's profound policy not to betray a suspicion. These things, all the same, he wouldn't breathe to Madame de Vionnet--much as they might make him walk up and down. And what he didn't say--as well as what SHE didn't, for she had also her high decencies--enhanced the effect of his being there with her at the end of ten minutes more intimately on the basis of saving her than he had yet had occasion to be. It ended in fact by being quite beautiful between them, the number of things they had a manifest consciousness of not saying. He would have liked to turn her, critically, to the subject of Mrs. Pocock, but he so stuck to the line he felt to be the point of honour and of delicacy that he scarce even asked her what her personal impression had been. He knew it, for that matter, without putting her to trouble: that she wondered how, with such elements, Sarah could still have no charm, was one of the principal things she held her tongue about. Strether would have been interested in her estimate of the elements-- indubitably there, some of them, and to be appraised according to taste--but he denied himself even the luxury of this diversion. The way Madame de Vionnet affected him to-day was in itself a kind of demonstration of the happy employment of gifts. How could a woman think Sarah had charm who struck one as having arrived at it herself by such different roads? On the other hand of course Sarah wasn't obliged to have it. He felt as if somehow Madame de Vionnet WAS. The great question meanwhile was what Chad thought of his sister; which was naturally ushered in by that of Sarah's apprehension of Chad. THAT they could talk of, and with a freedom purchased by their discretion in other senses. The difficulty however was that they were reduced as yet to conjecture. He had given them in the day or two as little of a lead as Sarah, and Madame de Vionnet mentioned that she hadn't seen him since his sister's arrival.
"And does that strike you as such an age?"
She met it in all honesty. "Oh I won't pretend I don't miss him. Sometimes I see him every day. Our friendship's like that. Make what you will of it!" she whimsically smiled; a little flicker of the kind, occasional in her, that had more than once moved him to wonder what he might best make of HER. "But he's perfectly right," she hastened to add, "and I wouldn't have him fail in any way at present for the world. I'd sooner not see him for three months. I begged him to be beautiful to them, and he fully feels it for himself."
Strether turned away under his quick perception; she was so odd a mixture of lucidity and mystery. She fell in at moments with the theory about her he most cherished, and she seemed at others to blow it into air. She spoke now as if her art were all an innocence, and then again as if her innocence were all an art. "Oh he's giving himself up, and he'll do so to the end. How can he but want, now that it's within reach, his full impression?--which is much more important, you know, than either yours or mine. But he's just soaking," Strether said as he came back; "he's going in conscientiously for a saturation. I'm bound to say he IS very good."
"Ah," she quietly replied, "to whom do you say it?" And then more quietly still: "He's capable of anything."
Strether more than reaffirmed--"Oh he's excellent. I more and more like," he insisted, "to see him with them;" though the oddity of this tone between them grew sharper for him even while they spoke. It placed the young man so before them as the result of her interest and the product of her genius, acknowledged so her part in the phenomenon and made the phenomenon so rare, that more than ever yet he might have been on the very point of asking her for some more detailed account of the whole business than he had yet received from her. The occasion almost forced upon him some question as to how she had managed and as to the appearance such miracles presented from her own singularly close place of survey. The moment in fact however passed, giving way to more present history, and he continued simply to mark his appreciation of the happy truth. "It's a tremendous comfort to feel how one can trust him." And then again while for a little she said nothing--as if after all to HER trust there might be a special limit: "I mean for making a good show to them."
"Yes," she thoughtfully returned--"but if they shut their eyes to it!"
Strether for an instant had his own thought. "Well perhaps that won't matter!"
"You mean because he probably--do what they will--won't like them?"
"Oh 'do what they will'--! They won't do much; especially if Sarah hasn't more--well, more than one has yet made out--to give."
Madame de Vionnet weighed it. "Ah she has all her grace!" It was a statement over which, for a little, they could look at each other sufficiently straight, and though it produced no protest from Strether the effect was somehow as if he had treated it as a joke. "She may be persuasive and caressing with him; she may be eloquent beyond words. She may get hold of him," she wound up--"well, as neither you nor I have."
"Yes, she MAY"--and now Strether smiled. "But he has spent all his time each day with Jim. He's still showing Jim round."
She visibly wondered. "Then how about Jim?"
Strether took a turn before he answered. "Hasn't he given you Jim? Hasn't he before this 'done' him for you?" He was a little at a loss. "Doesn't he tell you things?"
She hesitated. "No"--and their eyes once more gave and took. "Not as you do. You somehow make me see them--or at least feel them. And I haven't asked too much," she added; "I've of late wanted so not to worry him."
"Ah for that, so have I," he said with encouraging assent; so that-- as if she had answered everything--they were briefly sociable on it. It threw him back on his other thought, with which he took another turn; stopping again, however, presently with something of a glow. "You see Jim's really immense. I think it will be Jim who'll do it."
She wondered. "Get hold of him?"
"No--just the other thing. Counteract Sarah's spell." And he showed now, our friend, how far he had worked it out. "Jim's intensely cynical."
"Oh dear Jim!" Madame de Vionnet vaguely smiled.
"Yes, literally--dear Jim! He's awful. What HE wants, heaven forgive him, is to help us."
"You mean"--she was eager--"help ME?"
"Well, Chad and me in the first place. But he throws you in too, though without as yet seeing you much. Only, so far as he does see you--if you don't mind--he sees you as awful."
"'Awful'?"--she wanted it all.
"A regular bad one--though of course of a tremendously superior kind. Dreadful, delightful, irresistible."
"Ah dear Jim! I should like to know him. I MUST."
"Yes, naturally. But will it do? You may, you know," Strether suggested, "disappoint him."
She was droll and humble about it. "I can but try. But my wickedness then," she went on, "is my recommendation for him?"
"Your wickedness and the charms with which, in such a degree as yours, he associates it. He understands, you see, that Chad and I have above all wanted to have a good time, and his view is simple and sharp. Nothing will persuade him--in the light, that is, of my behaviour--that I really didn't, quite as much as Chad, come over to have one before it was too late. He wouldn't have expected it of me; but men of my age, at Woollett--and especially the least likely ones--have been noted as liable to strange outbreaks, belated uncanny clutches at the unusual, the ideal. It's an effect that a lifetime of Woollett has quite been observed as having; and I thus give it to you, in Jim's view, for what it's worth. Now his wife and his mother-in-law," Strether continued to explain, "have, as in honour bound, no patience with such phenomena, late or early--which puts Jim, as against his relatives, on the other side. Besides," he added, "I don't think he really wants Chad back. If Chad doesn't come--"
"He'll have"--Madame de Vionnet quite apprehended--"more of the free hand?"
"Well, Chad's the bigger man."
"So he'll work now, en dessous, to keep him quiet?"
"No--he won't 'work' at all, and he won't do anything en dessous. He's very decent and won't be a traitor in the camp. But he'll be amused with his own little view of our duplicity, he'll sniff up what he supposes to be Paris from morning till night, and he'll be, as to the rest, for Chad--well, just what he is."
She thought it over. "A warning?"
He met it almost with glee. "You ARE as wonderful as everybody says!" And then to explain all he meant: "I drove him about for his first hour, and do you know what--all beautifully unconscious--he most put before me? Why that something like THAT is at bottom, as an improvement to his present state, as in fact the real redemption of it, what they think it may not be too late to make of our friend." With which, as, taking it in, she seemed, in her recurrent alarm, bravely to gaze at the possibility, he completed his statement. "But it IS too late. Thanks to you!"
It drew from her again one of her indefinite reflexions. "Oh 'me'-- after all!"
He stood before her so exhilarated by his demonstration that he could fairly be jocular. "Everything's comparative. You're better than THAT."
"You"--she could but answer him--"are better than anything." But she had another thought. "WILL Mrs. Pocock come to me?"
"Oh yes--she'll do that. As soon, that is, as my friend Waymarsh-- HER friend now--leaves her leisure."
She showed an interest. "Is he so much her friend as that?"
"Why, didn't you see it all at the hotel?"
"Oh"--she was amused--"'all' is a good deal to say. I don't know-- I forget. I lost myself in HER."
"You were splendid," Strether returned--"but 'all' isn't a good deal to say: it's only a little. Yet it's charming so far as it goes. She wants a man to herself."
"And hasn't she got you?"
"Do you think she looked at me--or even at you--as if she had?" Strether easily dismissed that irony. "Every one, you see, must strike her as having somebody. You've got Chad--and Chad has got you."
"I see"--she made of it what she could. "And you've got Maria."
Well, he on his side accepted that. "I've got Maria. And Maria has got me. So it goes."
"But Mr. Jim--whom has he got?"
"Oh he has got--or it's as IF he had--the whole place."
"But for Mr. Waymarsh"--she recalled--"isn't Miss Barrace before any one else?"
He shook his head. "Miss Barrace is a raffinee, and her amusement won't lose by Mrs. Pocock. It will gain rather--especially if Sarah triumphs and she comes in for a view of it."
"How well you know us!" Madame de Vionnet, at this, frankly sighed.
"No--it seems to me it's we that I know. I know Sarah--it's perhaps on that ground only that my feet are firm. Waymarsh will take her round while Chad takes Jim--and I shall be, I assure you delighted for both of them. Sarah will have had what she requires--she will have paid her tribute to the ideal; and he will have done about the same. In Paris it's in the air--so what can one do less? If there's a point that, beyond any other, Sarah wants to make, it's that she didn't come out to be narrow. We shall feel at least that."
"Oh," she sighed, "the quantity we seem likely to 'feel'! But what becomes, in these conditions, of the girl?"
"Of Mamie--if we're all provided? Ah for that," said Strether, "you can trust Chad."
"To be, you mean, all right to her?"
"To pay her every attention as soon as he has polished off Jim. He wants what Jim can give him--and what Jim really won't--though he has had it all, and more than all, from me. He wants in short his own personal impression, and he'll get it--strong. But as soon as he has got it Mamie won't suffer."
"Oh Mamie mustn't SUFFER!" Madame de Vionnet soothingly emphasised.
But Strether could reassure her. "Don't fear. As soon as he has done with Jim, Jim will fall to me. And then you'll see."
It was as if in a moment she saw already; yet she still waited. Then "Is she really quite charming?" she asked.
He had got up with his last words and gathered in his hat and gloves. "I don't know; I'm watching. I'm studying the case, as it were-- and I dare say I shall be able to tell you."
She wondered. "Is it a case?"
"Yes--I think so. At any rate I shall see.'
"But haven't you known her before?"
"Yes," he smiled--"but somehow at home she wasn't a case. She has become one since." It was as if he made it out for himself. "She has become one here."
"So very very soon?"
He measured it, laughing. "Not sooner than I did."
"And you became one--?"
"Very very soon. The day I arrived."
Her intelligent eyes showed her thought of it. "Ah but the day you arrived you met Maria. Whom has Miss Pocock met?"
He paused again, but he brought it out. "Hasn't she met Chad?"
"Certainly--but not for the first time. He's an old friend." At which Strether had a slow amused significant headshake that made her go on: "You mean that for HER at least he's a new person-- that she sees him as different?"
"She sees him as different."
"And how does she see him?"
Strether gave it up. "How can one tell how a deep little girl sees a deep young man?"
"Is every one so deep? Is she too?"
"So it strikes me deeper than I thought. But wait a little--between us we'll make it out. You'll judge for that matter yourself."
Madame de Vionnet looked for the moment fairly bent on the chance. "Then she WILL come with her?--I mean Mamie with Mrs. Pocock?"
"Certainly. Her curiosity, if nothing else, will in any case work that. But leave it all to Chad."
"Ah," wailed Madame de Vionnet, turning away a little wearily, "the things I leave to Chad!"
The tone of it made him look at her with a kindness that showed his vision of her suspense. But he fell back on his confidence. "Oh well--trust him. Trust him all the way." He had indeed no sooner so spoken than the queer displacement of his point of view appeared again to come up for him in the very sound, which drew from him a short laugh, immediately checked. He became still more advisory. "When they do come give them plenty of Miss Jeanne. Let Mamie see her well."
She looked for a moment as if she placed them face to face. "For Mamie to hate her?"
He had another of his corrective headshakes. "Mamie won't. Trust THEM."
She looked at him hard, and then as if it were what she must always come back to: "It's you I trust. But I was sincere," she said, "at the hotel. I did, I do, want my child--"
"Well?"--Strether waited with deference while she appeared to hesitate as to how to put it.
"Well, to do what she can for me."
Strether for a little met her eyes on it; after which something that might have been unexpected to her came from him. "Poor little duck!"
Not more expected for himself indeed might well have been her echo of it. "Poor little duck! But she immensely wants herself," she said, "to see our friend's cousin."
"Is that what she thinks her?"
"It's what we call the young lady."
He thought again; then with a laugh: "Well, your daughter will help you."
And now at last he took leave of her, as he had been intending for five minutes. But she went part of the way with him, accompanying him out of the room and into the next and the next. Her noble old apartment offered a succession of three, the first two of which indeed, on entering, smaller than the last, but each with its faded and formal air, enlarged the office of the antechamber and enriched the sense of approach. Strether fancied them, liked them, and, passing through them with her more slowly now, met a sharp renewal of his original impression. He stopped, he looked back; the whole thing made a vista, which he found high melancholy and sweet--full, once more, of dim historic shades, of the faint faraway cannon-roar of the great Empire. It was doubtless half the projection of his mind, but his mind was a thing that, among old waxed parquets, pale shades of pink and green, pseudo-classic candelabra, he had always needfully to reckon with. They could easily make him irrelevant. The oddity, the originality, the poetry--he didn't know what to call it--of Chad's connexion reaffirmed for him its romantic side. "They ought to see this, you know. They MUST."
"The Pococks?"--she looked about in deprecation; she seemed to see gaps he didn't.
"Mamie and Sarah--Mamie in particular."
"My shabby old place? But THEIR things--!"
"Oh their things! You were talking of what will do something for you--"
"So that it strikes you," she broke in, "that my poor place may? Oh," she ruefully mused, "that WOULD be desperate!"
"Do you know what I wish?" he went on. "I wish Mrs. Newsome herself could have a look."
She stared, missing a little his logic. "It would make a difference?"
Her tone was so earnest that as he continued to look about he laughed. "It might!"
"But you've told her, you tell me--"
"All about you? Yes, a wonderful story. But there's all the indescribable--what one gets only on the spot."
"Thank you!" she charmingly and sadly smiled.
"It's all about me here," he freely continued. "Mrs. Newsome feels things."
But she seemed doomed always to come back to doubt. "No one feels so much as YOU. No--not any one."
"So much the worse then for every one. It's very easy."
They were by this time in the antechamber, still alone together, as she hadn't rung for a servant. The antechamber was high and square, grave and suggestive too, a little cold and slippery even in summer, and with a few old prints that were precious, Strether divined, on the walls. He stood in the middle, slightly lingering, vaguely directing his glasses, while, leaning against the door-post of the room, she gently pressed her cheek to the side of the recess. "YOU would have been a friend."
"I?"--it startled him a little.
"For the reason you say. You're not stupid." And then abruptly, as if bringing it out were somehow founded on that fact: "We're marrying Jeanne."
It affected him on the spot as a move in a game, and he was even then not without the sense that that wasn't the way Jeanne should be married. But he quickly showed his interest, though--as quickly afterwards struck him--with an absurd confusion of mind. "'You'? You and--a--not Chad?" Of course it was the child's father who made the 'we,' but to the child's father it would have cost him an effort to allude. Yet didn't it seem the next minute that Monsieur de Vionnet was after all not in question?--since she had gone on to say that it was indeed to Chad she referred and that he had been in the whole matter kindness itself.
"If I must tell you all, it is he himself who has put us in the way. I mean in the way of an opportunity that, so far as I can yet see, is all I could possibly have dreamed of. For all the trouble Monsieur de Vionnet will ever take!" It was the first time she had spoken to him of her husband, and he couldn't have expressed how much more intimate with her it suddenly made him feel. It wasn't much, in truth--there were other things in what she was saying that were far more; but it was as if, while they stood there together so easily in these cold chambers of the past, the single touch had shown the reach of her confidence. "But our friend," she asked, "hasn't then told you?"
"He has told me nothing."
"Well, it has come with rather a rush--all in a very few days; and hasn't moreover yet taken a form that permits an announcement. It's only for you--absolutely you alone--that I speak; I so want you to know." The sense he had so often had, since the first hour of his disembarkment, of being further and further "in," treated him again at this moment to another twinge; but in this wonderful way of her putting him in there continued to be something exquisitely remorseless. "Monsieur de Vionnet will accept what he MUST accept. He has proposed half a dozen things--each one more impossible than the other; and he wouldn't have found this if he lives to a hundred. Chad found it," she continued with her lighted, faintly flushed, her conscious confidential face, "in the quietest way in the world. Or rather it found HIM--for everything finds him; I mean finds him right. You'll think we do such things strangely--but at my age," she smiled, "one has to accept one's conditions. Our young man's people had seen her; one of his sisters, a charming woman--we know all about them--had observed her somewhere with me. She had spoken to her brother--turned him on; and we were again observed, poor Jeanne and I, without our in the least knowing it. It was at the beginning of the winter; it went on for some time; it outlasted our absence; it began again on our return; and it luckily seems all right. The young man had met Chad, and he got a friend to approach him--as having a decent interest in us. Mr. Newsome looked well before he leaped; he kept beautifully quiet and satisfied himself fully; then only he spoke. It's what has for some time past occupied us. It seems as if it were what would do; really, really all one could wish. There are only two or three points to be settled--they depend on her father. But this time I think we're safe."
Strether, consciously gaping a little, had fairly hung upon her lips. "I hope so with all my heart." And then he permitted himself: "Does nothing depend on HER?"
"Ah naturally; everything did. But she's pleased comme tout. She has been perfectly free; and he--our young friend--is really a combination. I quite adore him."
Strether just made sure. "You mean your future son-in-law?"
"Future if we all bring it off."
"Ah well," said Strether decorously, "I heartily hope you may." There seemed little else for him to say, though her communication had the oddest effect on him. Vaguely and confusedly he was troubled by it; feeling as if he had even himself been concerned in something deep and dim. He had allowed for depths, but these were greater: and it was as if, oppressively--indeed absurdly--he was responsible for what they had now thrown up to the surface. It was-- through something ancient and cold in it--what he would have called the real thing. In short his hostess's news, though he couldn't have explained why, was a sensible shock, and his oppression a weight he felt he must somehow or other immediately get rid of. There were too many connexions missing to make it tolerable he should do anything else. He was prepared to suffer-- before his own inner tribunal--for Chad; he was prepared to suffer even for Madame de Vionnet. But he wasn't prepared to suffer for the little girl So now having said the proper thing, he wanted to get away. She held him an instant, however, with another appeal.
"Do I seem to you very awful?"
"Awful? Why so?" But he called it to himself, even as he spoke, his biggest insincerity yet.
"Our arrangements are so different from yours."
"Mine?" Oh he could dismiss that too! "I haven't any arrangements."
"Then you must accept mine; all the more that they're excellent. They're founded on a vieille sagesse. There will be much more, if all goes well, for you to hear and to know, and everything, believe me, for you to like. Don't be afraid; you'll be satisfied." Thus she could talk to him of what, of her innermost life--for that was what it came to--he must "accept"; thus she could extraordinarily speak as if in such an affair his being satisfied had an importance. It was all a wonder and made the whole case larger. He had struck himself at the hotel, before Sarah and Waymarsh, as being in her boat; but where on earth was he now? This question was in the air till her own lips quenched it with another. "And do you suppose HE--who loves her so--would do anything reckless or cruel?"
He wondered what he supposed. "Do you mean your young man--?"
"I mean yours. I mean Mr. Newsome." It flashed for Strether the next moment a finer light, and the light deepened as she went on. "He takes, thank God, the truest tenderest interest in her."
It deepened indeed. "Oh I'm sure of that!"
"You were talking," she said, "about one's trusting him. You see then how I do."
He waited a moment--it all came. "I see--I see." He felt he really did see.
"He wouldn't hurt her for the world, nor--assuming she marries at all--risk anything that might make against her happiness. And-- willingly, at least--he would never hurt ME."
Her face, with what he had by this time grasped, told him more than her words; whether something had come into it, or whether he only read clearer, her whole story--what at least he then took for such--reached out to him from it. With the initiative she now attributed to Chad it all made a sense, and this sense--a light, a lead, was what had abruptly risen before him. He wanted, once more, to get off with these things; which was at last made easy, a servant having, for his assistance, on hearing voices in the hall, just come forward. All that Strether had made out was, while the man opened the door and impersonally waited, summed up in his last word. "I don't think, you know, Chad will tell me anything."
"No--perhaps not yet."
"And I won't as yet speak to him."
"Ah that's as you'll think best. You must judge."
She had finally given him her hand, which he held a moment. "How MUCH I have to judge!"
"Everything," said Madame de Vionnet: a remark that was indeed-- with the refined disguised suppressed passion of her face--what he most carried away.