The Ambassadors (London: Methuen & Co., 1903)/Part 2/Chapter 4
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 known triumphantly, for three days, 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 had not 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 latter?
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, and been more than once 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 fact 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 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 connection, 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 existed, assuredly, 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 natural time, in Boston, for taking girls to the Museum; and it was absolutely true of him that—even after the close of the period of conscious detachment occupying the centre of his life, the gray middle desert of the two deaths, that of his wife and that, ten years later, of his boy—he had never taken anyone 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 had not 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 offhand illumination, "Oh yes, they're types!"—but after he had taken it he made to the full, both while he kept silence for the four acts and while he talked in the intervals, his own use of it. It was an evening, it was a world of types, and this was a connection, above all, in which the figures and faces in the stalls were interchangeable with those on the stage.
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 at Woollett high hopes are placed, whom 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 that you are sure: sure that 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 hesitated.
"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?"
"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 her 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 she's not strong."
"You mean she's a bad invalid?"
He carefully distinguished. "There's nothing she likes less than to be called one. But she's delicate, sensitive, high-strung. She puts so much of herself into everything———"
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."
But Strether made nothing of that. "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 took the subject up further on. "Have they money?"
But it was as if, while her energetic image still held him, her inquiry 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 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 is 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 in quantities 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 acknowledgment 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 would 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 rather wanting in—what shall I say? Well, dignity, or the least approach to distinction. Just 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?"
"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, in money left him by his grandfather, her own father, his independent supply."
"Wouldn't the fact you mention then," Miss Gostrey asked, "make it, precisely, more easy for him to be particular? Isn't he conceivable as fastidious about the source—the apparent and public source—of his income?"
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 hesitated. "Well—practices."
"In business? Infamies? He was an old swindler?"
"Oh," Strether 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 everyone 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 hold her in view. "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 not 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 hesitated. "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 discretion———!"
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."
She looked at him an instant, on this, as if 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, with it, met a moment. "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 pursued.
"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 ideal."
"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 promptly declared.
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 ignored."
She had another pause. "You don't trust me!" she 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 with 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 connection. "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 he gaped at her truth. "You're the very deuce."
"What else should I be? It was as the very deuce I pounced upon 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 has not sinned," Strether returned. "I've sinned the most."
"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 everyone 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 was not 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 that he could now imagine it better 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 ignores us—or spares us. He doesn't write."
"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 hesitated. "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 know it. I feel it in my bones."
"Feel that 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, with 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 that scarcely existed three years ago, but which his father's will took account of as, in certain conditions, possible, attaching to Chad's availing himself of it a large contingent advantage—this opening, the conditions having come about, now simply waits for 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."
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, voilà!—"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 anyone in particular?"
He smiled at this—he looked 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-humouredly 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 have 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 truth 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 girls."
"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, however, by this time such that it scarce left her freedom, and she kept close to the facts. "I suppose 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 returned.
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 murmured.
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 you?"
"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 only could, 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."