Book Seventh - II
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 down.
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 you."
"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 patience."
"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 replied.
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 here."
"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."
"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 her."
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 days."
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: "Grotesque!"
"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.
"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 flight."
"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 what."
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.