The Ambassadors (London: Methuen & Co., 1903)/Part 8/Chapter 19

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He rambled largely alone during these few days, the effect of the incident of the previous week having been to simplify in a marked fashion his mixed relations with Waymarsh. Nothing had passed between them in reference to Mrs. Newsome's summons but that Strether had mentioned to his friend the departure of the deputation actually at sea, giving him thus an opportunity to confess to the occult intervention he imputed to him. Waymarsh, however, in the event confessed to nothing; and though this falsified in some degree Strether's forecast, the latter saw in it amusedly the same depth of good conscience, out of which the dear man's impertinence had originally sprung. He was patient with the dear man now, was delighted to observe that he had unmistakably put on flesh. He felt his own holiday so successfully large and free that he was full of allowances and charities in respect to those cabined and confined; his instinct toward a spirit so strapped down as Waymarsh's was to walk round it on tiptoe for fear of waking it up to a sense of losses by this time irretrievable. It was all very funny, he knew, and but the difference, as he often said to himself, of tweedledum and tweedledee—an emancipation so purely comparative that it was like the advance of the doormat on the scraper. Yet the present crisis was happily to profit by it and the pilgrim from Milrose to know himself more than ever in the right.

Strether felt that when he heard of the approach of the Pococks the impulse of pity quite sprang up to him beside the impulse of triumph. That was exactly why Waymarsh had looked at him with eyes in which the heat of justice was measured and shaded. He had looked very hard, as if affectionately sorry for the friend—the friend of fifty-five—whose frivolity had had thus to be recorded; becoming, however, but obscurely sententious and leaving his companion to formulate a charge. It was in this general attitude that he had of late altogether taken refuge; with the drop of discussion, they were solemnly, sadly superficial. Strether recognised in him the mere portentous rumination to which Miss Barrace had so good-humouredly described herself as assigning a corner of her salon. It was quite as if he knew the step he had taken had been divined, and it was also as if he missed the chance to explain the purity of his motive. But this privation of opportunity should be precisely his small penance; it was not amiss for Strether that he should find himself to that degree uneasy. If he had been challenged or accused, rebuked for meddling or otherwise pulled up, he would probably have shown, on his own system, all the height of his consistency, all the depth of his good faith. Explicit resentment of his course would have made him take the floor, and the thump of his fist on the table would have affirmed him as consciously incorruptible. Was what had now really prevailed with Strether but a dread of that thump—a dread of wincing a little painfully at what it might invidiously demonstrate? However this might be, at any rate, one of the marks of the situation was a visible lapse, in Waymarsh, of expectation. As if to make up to his comrade for the stroke by which he had played providence, he now conspicuously ignored his movements, withdrew himself from the pretension to share them, stiffened up his sensibility to neglect, and, clasping his large empty hands and swinging his large restless foot, clearly looked to another quarter for relief.

This made for independence on Strether's part, and he had in truth at no moment of his stay been so free to go and come. The early summer brushed the picture over and blurred everything but the near. It made a vast, warm, fragrant medium, in which the elements floated together on the best of terms, in which rewards were immediate and reckonings postponed. Chad was out of town again, for the first time since his visitor's first view of him; he had explained this necessity—without details, yet also without embarrassment; the circumstance was one of those which, in the young man's life, testified to the variety of his ties. Strether was not otherwise concerned with it than as to its so testifying—a pleasant multitudinous image in which he took comfort. He took comfort, by the same stroke, in the swing of Chad's pendulum back from that other swing, the sharp jerk towards Woollett so stayed by his own hand. He had the entertainment of thinking that if he had for that moment stopped the clock, it was to promote, the next minute, this still livelier action. He himself did what he had not done before; he took two or three times whole days off—irrespective of others, two or three that he took with Miss Gostrey, two or three that he took with little Bilham. He went to Chartres and cultivated before the front of the cathedral a general easy beatitude; he went to Fontainebleau and imagined himself on the way to Italy; he went to Rouen with a little handbag and inordinately spent the night.

One afternoon he did something quite different; finding himself in the neighbourhood of a fine old house across the river, he passed under the great arch of its doorway and asked at the porter's lodge for Mme. de Vionnet. He had already hovered more than once round that possibility, been aware of it, in the course of ostensible strolls, as lurking but round the corner; only it had perversely happened, after his morning at Notre Dame, that his consistency, as he considered and intended it, had come back to him; whereby he had reflected that the encounter in question had been none of his making, clinging again intensely to the strength of his position, which was precisely that there was nothing in it for himself. From the moment he eagerly pursued the charming associate of his adventure, from that moment his position weakened, for he was then acting in an interested way. It was only within a few days that he had fixed himself a limit; he promised himself his consistency should end with Sarah's arrival. It was arguing correctly to feel the title to a free hand that this event would give him. If he was not to be let alone he should be merely a dupe to act with delicacy. If he was not to be trusted he could at least take his ease. If he was to be placed under control, he became free to try what his position might agreeably give him. An ideal rigour would perhaps postpone the trial till after the Pococks had shown their spirit, and it was to an ideal rigour that he had quite promised himself to conform.

Suddenly, however, on this particular day, he felt a particular fear under which everything collapsed. He knew abruptly that he was afraid of himself, and yet not in relation to the effect on his sensibilities of another hour of Mme. de Vionnet. What he dreaded was the effect of a single hour of Sarah Pocock, as to whom he was visited, in troubled nights, with fantastic waking dreams. She loomed at him larger than life; she increased in volume as she came. She so met his eyes that, his imagination taking, after the first step, all, and more than all, the strides, he already felt her come down on him; already burned, under her reprobation, with the blush of guilt; already consented, by way of penance, to the instant forfeiture of everything. He saw himself recommitted under her direction to Woollett as juvenile offenders are committed to reformatories. It was not of course that Woollett was really a place of discipline, but he knew in advance that Sarah's salon at the hotel would be. His danger, at any rate, in these moods of alarm, was some concession on that ground that would involve a sharp rupture with the actual; therefore if he waited to take leave of it he might wholly miss his chance. It was represented with supreme vividness by Mme. de Vionnet, and that is why, in a word, he waited no longer. He had seen in a flash that he must anticipate Mrs. Pocock. He was accordingly much disappointed on now learning from the portress that the lady of his quest was not in Paris. She had gone for some days in the country. There was nothing in this accident but what was natural, yet it produced for poor Strether a drop of all confidence. It was suddenly as if he should never see her again, and as if, moreover, he had brought it on himself by not having been quite kind to her.

It was the advantage of his having let his fancy lose itself for a little in the gloom that the prospect, by reaction, began really to brighten from the moment the deputation from Woollett alighted on the platform of the station. They had come straight from Havre, having sailed from New York to that port, and having also, thanks to a happy voyage, made land with a promptitude that left Chad Newsome, who had meant to meet them at the dock, belated. He received their telegram, with the announcement of their immediate further advance, just as he was taking the train for Havre, so that nothing remained for him but to await them in Paris. He hastily picked up Strether at the hotel for this purpose, and he even, with easy pleasantry, suggested the attendance of Waymarsh as well—Waymarsh, at the moment his cab rattled up, being engaged, under Strether's contemplative range, in a grave perambulation of the familiar court. Waymarsh had learned from his companion, who had already had a note, delivered by hand, from Chad, that the Pococks were due, and had ambiguously, though, as always, impressively, glowered at him over the circumstance, carrying himself in a manner in which Strether was now expert enough to recognise his uncertainty, in the premises, as to the best tone. The only tone he really liked was a full tone, which was necessarily difficult in the absence of a full knowledge. The Pococks were a quantity as yet unmeasured, and as he had practically brought them over, he had to that extent exposed himself. He wanted to feel right about it, but he could only, at the best, for the time, feel vague. "I shall look to you, you know, immensely," our friend had said, "to help me with them"; and he had been quite conscious of the effect of the remark, and of others of the same sort, on Waymarsh's sombre sensibility. He had insisted on the fact that he would quite like Mrs. Pocock—one could be certain he would; he would be with her about everything, and she would also be with him, and Miss Barrace's nose, in short, would find itself out of joint.

Strether had woven this web of cheerfulness while they waited in the court for Chad; he had sat smoking cigarettes to keep himself quiet, while before him, caged and leonine, his comrade paced and turned. Chad Newsome was doubtless to be struck, when he arrived, with the sharpness of their opposition at this particular hour; he was to remember, as a part of it, how Waymarsh came with him and with Strether to the street and stood there with a face half wistful and half rueful. They talked of him, the two others, as they drove, and Strether put Chad in possession of much of his own heavy sense of things. He had already, a few days before, named to him the wire that he was convinced their friend had pulled—a confidence that had made, on the young man's part, quite hugely for curiosity and diversion. The effect of the matter, moreover, Strether could see, was sharp; he saw, that is, how Chad judged a system of influence in which Waymarsh had served as a determinant—an impression just now quickened again; with the whole bearing of such a fact on the youth's view of his relations. As it came up between them that they might now regard their friend as a feature of the control of these latter now sought to be exerted from Woollett, Strether felt indeed that it would be stamped all over him, half an hour later, for Sarah Pocock's eyes, that he was as much on Chad's "side" as Waymarsh had probably described him. He was letting himself, at present, go; there was no denying it; it might be desperation, it might be confidence; he should offer himself to the arriving travellers bristling with all the lucidity he had cultivated.

He repeated to Chad what he had been saying, in the court, to Waymarsh; how there was no doubt whatever that his sister would find the latter a kindred spirit, no doubt of the alliance, based on an exchange of views, that the pair would successfully strike up. They would become as thick as thieves, which, moreover, was but a development of what Strether remembered to have said in one of his first discussions with his mate, struck as he had then already been with the elements of affinity between that personage and Mrs. Newsome herself. "I told him, one day when he had questioned me on your mother, that she was a person who, when he should know her, would rouse in him, I was sure, a special enthusiasm; and that hangs together with the conviction we now feel—this certitude that Mrs. Pocock will take him into her boat. For it's your mother's own boat that she's pulling."

"Ah," said Chad, "mother's worth fifty of Sally!"

"A thousand; but when you presently meet her, all the same, you'll be meeting your mother's representative—just as I shall. I feel like the outgoing ambassador," said Strether, "doing honour to his appointed successor." A moment after speaking as he had just done, he felt that he had inadvertently rather cheapened Mrs. Newsome to her son; an impression audibly reflected, as at first seen, in Chad's prompt protest. He had recently rather failed of apprehension of the young man's attitude and temper—remaining principally conscious of how little worry, at the worst, he wasted; and he studied him at this critical hour with renewed interest. Chad had done exactly what he had promised him a fortnight previous—had accepted without another question his plea for delay. He was waiting cheerfully and handsomely, but also inscrutably and with a slight increase perhaps of the hardness originally involved in his acquired high polish. He was neither excited nor depressed; was easy and acute and deliberate—unhurried, unflurried, unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual. Strether felt him more than ever a justification of the extraordinary process of which his own absurd spirit had been the arena; he knew as their cab rolled along, knew as he had not even yet known, that nothing else than what Chad had done and had been would have led to his present showing. They had made him, these things, what he was, and the business had not been easy; it had taken time and trouble, it had cost, above all, a price. The result, at any rate, was now to be offered to Sally; which Strether, so far as that was concerned, was glad to be there to witness. Would she in the least make it out or take it in, the result, or would she in the least care for it if she did? He scratched his chin as he asked himself by what name, when challenged—as he was sure he should be—he could call it for her. Oh, those were determinations she must herself arrive at; since she wanted so much to see, let her see then and welcome. She had come out in the pride of her competence, yet it hummed in Strether's inner sense that she practically wouldn't see.

That this was, moreover, what Chad shrewdly suspected was clear from a word that next dropped from him. "They're children; they play at life!" And the exclamation was significant and reassuring. It implied that he hadn't then, for his companion's sensibility, appeared to give Mrs. Newsome away; and it facilitated our friend's presently asking him if it were his idea that Mrs. Pocock and Mme. de Vionnet should become acquainted. Strether was still more sharply struck hereupon with Chad's lucidity. "Why, isn't that exactly—to get a sight of the company I keep—what she has come out for?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is," Strether unguardedly replied.

Chad's quick rejoinder lighted his precipitation. "Why do you say you're afraid?"

"Well, because I feel a certain responsibility. It's my testimony, I imagine, that will have been at the bottom of Mrs. Pocock's curiosity. My letters, as I've supposed you from the beginning to understand, have spoken freely. I've certainly said my little say about Mme. de Vionnet."

All this for Chad was beautifully obvious. "Yes, but you've only spoken handsomely."

"Never more handsomely of any woman. But it's just that tone———"

"That tone," said Chad, "that has fetched her? I dare say, but I've no quarrel with you about it; and no more has Mme. de Vionnet. Don't you know by this time that she likes you?"

"Oh!" and Strether had with his groan a real pang of melancholy. "For all I've done for her!"

"Ah, you've done a great deal."

Chad's urbanity fairly shamed him, and he was at this moment absolutely impatient to see the face Sarah Pocock would present to a force as to which certainly, despite his own admonitions, she would arrive with no adequate forecast. "I've done this!"

"Well, this is all right. She likes," Chad comfortably remarked, "to be liked."

It gave his companion a moment's thought. "And she's sure Mrs. Pocock will?"

"No, I say that for you. She likes your liking her; it's so much, as it were," Chad laughed, "to the good. How ever, she doesn't despair of Sarah either, and is prepared, on her own side, to go all lengths."

"In the way of appreciation?"

"Yes, and of everything else. In the way of general amiability, hospitality and welcome. She's under arms," Chad laughed again; "she's prepared."

Strether took it in. Then, as if an echo of Miss Barrace were in the air, "She's wonderful."

"You don't begin to know how wonderful!"

There was a depth in it, to Strether's ear, of confirmed luxury—almost a kind of unconscious insolence of proprietorship; but the effect of this glimpse was not at the moment to foster speculation—there was something so conclusive in so much graceful and generous assurance. It was a fresh evocation in fact, and the evocation had, before many minutes, another consequence. "Well, I shall see her oftener now. I shall see her as much as I like—by your leave, which is what I hitherto haven't done."

"It has been," said Chad, but without reproach, "only your own fault. I tried to bring you together, and she—my dear fellow, I never saw her more charming to any man. But you've got your extraordinary ideas."

"Well, I did have," Strether murmured, while he felt both how they had possessed him and had now lost their authority. He couldn't have traced the sequence to the end, but it was all because of Mrs. Pocock. Mrs. Pocock might be because of Mrs. Newsome, but that was still to be proved. What came over him was the sense of having stupidly failed to profit where profit would have been precious. It had been open to him to see so much more of her, and he had but let the good days pass. Fierce in him almost was the resolve to lose no more of them, and he whimsically reflected while he drew nearer at Chad's side to his destination that it was Sarah, after all, who would have touched up his chance. What her visit of inquisition might achieve in other directions was as yet all obscure; but it was not obscure that it would do supremely much to bring two earnest persons together. He had only to listen to Chad at this moment to feel it, for Chad was in the act of remarking to him that they, of course, both counted on him—he himself and the other earnest person—for cheer and support. It was brave to Strether to hear him talk as if the line of wisdom they had struck out was to make things ravishing to the Pococks. No; if Mme. de Vionnet compassed that—compassed the ravishment of the Pococks—Mme. de Vionnet would be prodigious. It would be a beautiful plan if it succeeded, and it all came to the question of Sarah's being really bribable. The precedent of his own case helped Strether perhaps but little to consider she might prove so, it being evident enough that her character would make, rather, for every possible difference. This idea of his own bribability set him apart for himself, with the further mark, in fact, that his case was absolutely proved. He liked always, where Lambert Strether was concerned, to know the worst, and what he now seemed to know was not only that he was bribable, but that he had been effectually bribed. The only difficulty was that he couldn't quite have said with what. It was as if he had sold himself, but hadn't somehow got the cash. That, however, was what, characteristically, would happen to him. It would naturally be his kind of traffic. While he thought of these things, at any rate, he reminded Chad of the truth they mustn't lose sight of—the truth that, with all deference to her susceptibility to new interests, Sarah would have come out with a high, firm, definite purpose. "She hasn't come out, you know, to be beguiled. We may all be ravishing—nothing perhaps can be more easy for us; but she hasn't come out to be ravished. She has come out just simply to take you home."

"Oh well, with her I'll go," said Chad good-humouredly. "I suppose you'll allow that." And then as, for a minute, Strether said nothing: "Or is your idea that when I've seen her I won't want to go?" As this question, however, again left his friend silent, he presently went on: "My own idea, at any rate, is that they shall have, while they're here, a good time."

It was at this that Strether spoke. "Ah, there you are! I think if you really wanted to go———!"

"Well?" said Chad to bring it out.

"Well, you wouldn't trouble about our good time. You wouldn't care what sort of a time we have."

Chad could always take, in the easiest way in the world, an ingenious suggestion. "I see. But can I help it? I'm too nice."

"Yes, you're too nice!" Strether heavily sighed. And he felt for the moment as if it were the preposterous end of his mission.

It ministered furthermore to that temporary effect that Chad made no rejoinder. But he spoke again as they came in sight of the station. "Do you mean to introduce her to Miss Gostrey?"

As to this Strether was ready. "No."

"But haven't you told me they know about her?"

"I think I've told you your mother knows."

"And won't she have told Sally?"

"That's one of the things I want to see."

"And if you find she has———?"

"Will I then, you mean, bring them together?"

"Yes," said Chad with his pleasant promptness; "to show her there's nothing in it."

Strether hesitated. "I don't think that I care very much what she may think there's in it."

"Not if it represents what mother thinks?"

"Ah, what does your mother think?" There was in this some sound of bewilderment.

But they were just driving up, and help of a sort might, after all, well be at hand. "Isn't that, my dear man, what we're both just going to make out?"