Part 1 out of 9
New York Edition (1909).
Prepared by Richard D. Hathaway
Proofread by Julia P. DeRanek
Nothing is more easy than to state the subject of "The Ambassadors,"
which first appeared in twelve numbers of _The North American Review_
(1903) and was published as a whole the same year. The situation
involved is gathered up betimes, that is in the second chapter of
Book Fifth, for the reader's benefit, into as few words as possible--
planted or "sunk," stiffly and saliently, in the centre of the current,
almost perhaps to the obstruction of traffic. Never can a composition
of this sort have sprung straighter from a dropped grain of suggestion,
and never can that grain, developed, overgrown and smothered, have yet
lurked more in the mass as an independent particle. The whole case,
in fine, is in Lambert Strether's irrepressible outbreak to little Bilham
on the Sunday afternoon in Gloriani's garden, the candour with which he
yields, for his young friend's enlightenment, to the charming admonition
of that crisis. The idea of the tale resides indeed in the very fact
that an hour of such unprecedented ease should have been felt by him AS
a crisis, and he is at pains to express it for us as neatly as we could
desire. The remarks to which he thus gives utterance contain the essence of
"The Ambassadors," his fingers close, before he has done, round the
stem of the full-blown flower; which, after that fashion, he continues
officiously to present to us. "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to.
It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular so long as you
have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had? I'm too
old--too old at any rate for what I see. What one loses one loses;
make no mistake about that. Still, we have the illusion of freedom;
therefore don't, like me to-day, be without the memory of that illusion.
I was either, at the right time, too stupid or too intelligent to have it,
and now I'm a case of reaction against the mistake. Do what you like
so long as you don't make it. For it WAS a mistake. Live, live!"
Such is the gist of Strether's appeal to the impressed youth, whom
he likes and whom he desires to befriend; the word "mistake" occurs
several times, it will be seen, in the course of his remarks--
which gives the measure of the signal warning he feels attached
to his case. He has accordingly missed too much, though perhaps
after all constitutionally qualified for a better part, and he wakes up
to it in conditions that press the spring of a terrible question.
WOULD there yet perhaps be time for reparation?--reparation, that is,
for the injury done his character; for the affront, he is quite ready to
say, so stupidly put upon it and in which he has even himself had
so clumsy a hand? The answer to which is that he now at all events SEES;
so that the business of my tale and the march of my action, not to say
the precious moral of everything, is just my demonstration of this
process of vision.
Nothing can exceed the closeness with which the whole fits again
into its germ. That had been given me bodily, as usual, by the
spoken word, for I was to take the image over exactly as I
happened to have met it. A friend had repeated to me, with great
appreciation, a thing or two said to him by a man of distinction,
much his senior, and to which a sense akin to that of Strether's
melancholy eloquence might be imputed--said as chance would have,
and so easily might, in Paris, and in a charming old garden
attached to a house of art, and on a Sunday afternoon of summer,
many persons of great interest being present. The observation
there listened to and gathered up had contained part of the "note"
that I was to recognise on the spot as to my purpose--had contained
in fact the greater part; the rest was in the place and the time
and the scene they sketched: these constituents clustered
and combined to give me further support, to give me what I may
call the note absolute. There it stands, accordingly, full in the
tideway; driven in, with hard taps, like some strong stake for the
noose of a cable, the swirl of the current roundabout it. What
amplified the hint to more than the bulk of hints in general was
the gift with it of the old Paris garden, for in that token were
sealed up values infinitely precious. There was of course the seal
to break and each item of the packet to count over and handle and
estimate; but somehow, in the light of the hint, all the elements
of a situation of the sort most to my taste were there. I could
even remember no occasion on which, so confronted, I had found it
of a livelier interest to take stock, in this fashion, of
suggested wealth. For I think, verily, that there are degrees of
merit in subjects--in spite of the fact that to treat even one of
the most ambiguous with due decency we must for the time, for the
feverish and prejudiced hour, at least figure its merit and its
dignity as POSSIBLY absolute. What it comes to, doubtless, is that
even among the supremely good--since with such alone is it one's
theory of one's honour to be concerned--there is an ideal BEAUTY
of goodness the invoked action of which is to raise the artistic
faith to its maximum. Then truly, I hold, one's theme may be said
to shine, and that of "The Ambassadors," I confess, wore this glow
for me from beginning to end. Fortunately thus I am able to
estimate this as, frankly, quite the best, "all round," of all my
productions; any failure of that justification would have made
such an extreme of complacency publicly fatuous.
I recall then in this connexion no moment of subjective
intermittence, never one of those alarms as for a suspected hollow
beneath one's feet, a felt ingratitude in the scheme adopted,
under which confidence fails and opportunity seems but to mock.
If the motive of "The Wings of the Dove," as I have noted, was to
worry me at moments by a sealing-up of its face--though without
prejudice to its again, of a sudden, fairly grimacing with
expression--so in this other business I had absolute conviction
and constant clearness to deal with; it had been a frank
proposition, the whole bunch of data, installed on my premises
like a monotony of fine weather. (The order of composition, in
these things, I may mention, was reversed by the order of
publication; the earlier written of the two books having appeared
as the later.) Even under the weight of my hero's years I could
feel my postulate firm; even under the strain of the difference
between those of Madame de Vionnet and those of Chad Newsome, a
difference liable to be denounced as shocking, I could still feel
it serene. Nothing resisted, nothing betrayed, I seem to make out,
in this full and sound sense of the matter; it shed from any side
I could turn it to the same golden glow. I rejoiced in the promise
of a hero so mature, who would give me thereby the more to bite
into--since it's only into thickened motive and accumulated
character, I think, that the painter of life bites more than a
little. My poor friend should have accumulated character,
certainly; or rather would be quite naturally and handsomely
possessed of it, in the sense that he would have, and would always
have felt he had, imagination galore, and that this yet wouldn't
have wrecked him. It was immeasurable, the opportunity to "do" a
man of imagination, for if THERE mightn't be a chance to "bite,"
where in the world might it be? This personage of course, so
enriched, wouldn't give me, for his type, imagination in
PREDOMINANCE or as his prime faculty, nor should I, in view of
other matters, have found that convenient. So particular a luxury
--some occasion, that is, for study of the high gift in SUPREME
command of a case or of a career--would still doubtless come on
the day I should be ready to pay for it; and till then might, as
from far back, remain hung up well in view and just out of reach.
The comparative case meanwhile would serve--it was only on the
minor scale that I had treated myself even to comparative cases.
I was to hasten to add however that, happy stopgaps as the minor
scale had thus yielded, the instance in hand should enjoy the
advantage of the full range of the major; since most immediately
to the point was the question of that SUPPLEMENT of situation
logically involved in our gentleman's impulse to deliver himself
in the Paris garden on the Sunday afternoon--or if not involved by
strict logic then all ideally and enchantingly implied in it. (I
say "ideally," because I need scarce mention that for development,
for expression of its maximum, my glimmering story was, at the
earliest stage, to have nipped the thread of connexion with the
possibilities of the actual reported speaker. HE remains but the
happiest of accidents; his actualities, all too definite,
precluded any range of possibilities; it had only been his
charming office to project upon that wide field of the artist's
vision--which hangs there ever in place like the white sheet
suspended for the figures of a child's magic-lantern--a more
fantastic and more moveable shadow.) No privilege of the teller of
tales and the handler of puppets is more delightful, or has more
of the suspense and the thrill of a game of difficulty
breathlessly played, than just this business of looking for the
unseen and the occult, in a scheme half-grasped, by the light or,
so to speak, by the clinging scent, of the gage already in hand.
No dreadful old pursuit of the hidden slave with bloodhounds and
the rag of association can ever, for "excitement," I judge, have
bettered it at its best. For the dramatist always, by the very law
of his genius, believes not only in a possible right issue from
the rightly-conceived tight place; he does much more than this--he
believes, irresistibly, in the necessary, the precious "tightness"
of the place (whatever the issue) on the strength of any
respectable hint. It being thus the respectable hint that I had
with such avidity picked up, what would be the story to which it
would most inevitably form the centre? It is part of the charm
attendant on such questions that the "story," with the omens true,
as I say, puts on from this stage the authenticity of concrete
existence. It then is, essentially--it begins to be, though it may
more or less obscurely lurk, so that the point is not in the least
what to make of it, but only, very delightfully and very damnably,
where to put one's hand on it.
In which truth resides surely much of the interest of that
admirable mixture for salutary application which we know as art.
Art deals with what we see, it must first contribute full-handed
that ingredient; it plucks its material, otherwise expressed, in
the garden of life--which material elsewhere grown is stale and
uneatable. But it has no sooner done this than it has to take
account of a PROCESS--from which only when it's the basest of the
servants of man, incurring ignominious dismissal with no
"character," does it, and whether under some muddled pretext of
morality or on any other, pusillanimously edge away. The process,
that of the expression, the literal squeezing-out, of value is
another affair--with which the happy luck of mere finding has
little to do. The joys of finding, at this stage, are pretty well
over; that quest of the subject as a whole by "matching," as the
ladies say at the shops, the big piece with the snippet, having
ended, we assume, with a capture. The subject is found, and if the
problem is then transferred to the ground of what to do with it
the field opens out for any amount of doing. This is precisely the
infusion that, as I submit, completes the strong mixture. It is on
the other hand the part of the business that can least be likened
to the chase with horn and hound. It's all a sedentary part--
involves as much ciphering, of sorts, as would merit the highest
salary paid to a chief accountant. Not, however, that the chief
accountant hasn't HIS gleams of bliss; for the felicity, or at
least the equilibrium of the artist's state dwells less, surely,
in the further delightful complications he can smuggle in than in
those he succeeds in keeping out. He sows his seed at the risk of
too thick a crop; wherefore yet again, like the gentlemen who
audit ledgers, he must keep his head at any price. In consequence
of all which, for the interest of the matter, I might seem here to
have my choice of narrating my "hunt" for Lambert Strether, of
describing the capture of the shadow projected by my friend's
anecdote, or of reporting on the occurrences subsequent to that
triumph. But I had probably best attempt a little to glance in
each direction; since it comes to me again and again, over this
licentious record, that one's bag of adventures, conceived or
conceivable, has been only half-emptied by the mere telling of
one's story. It depends so on what one means by that equivocal
quantity. There is the story of one's hero, and then, thanks to
the intimate connexion of things, the story of one's story itself.
I blush to confess it, but if one's a dramatist one's a dramatist,
and the latter imbroglio is liable on occasion to strike me as
really the more objective of the two.
The philosophy imputed to him in that beautiful outbreak, the hour
there, amid such happy provision, striking for him, would have
been then, on behalf of my man of imagination, to be logically
and, as the artless craft of comedy has it, "led up" to; the
probable course to such a goal, the goal of so conscious a
predicament, would have in short to be finely calculated. Where
has he come from and why has he come, what is he doing (as we
Anglo-Saxons, and we only, say, in our foredoomed clutch of exotic
aids to expression) in that galere? To answer these questions
plausibly, to answer them as under cross-examination in the
witness-box by counsel for the prosecution, in other words
satisfactorily to account for Strether and for his "peculiar
tone," was to possess myself of the entire fabric. At the same
time the clue to its whereabouts would lie in a certain principle
of probability: he wouldn't have indulged in his peculiar tone
without a reason; it would take a felt predicament or a false
position to give him so ironic an accent. One hadn't been noting
"tones" all one's life without recognising when one heard it the
voice of the false position. The dear man in the Paris garden was
then admirably and unmistakeably IN one--which was no small point
gained; what next accordingly concerned us was the determination
of THIS identity. One could only go by probabilities, but there
was the advantage that the most general of the probabilities were
virtual certainties. Possessed of our friend's nationality, to
start with, there was a general probability in his narrower
localism; which, for that matter, one had really but to keep under
the lens for an hour to see it give up its secrets. He would have
issued, our rueful worthy, from the very heart of New England--at
the heels of which matter of course a perfect train of secrets
tumbled for me into the light. They had to be sifted and sorted,
and I shall not reproduce the detail of that process; but
unmistakeably they were all there, and it was but a question,
auspiciously, of picking among them. What the "position" would
infallibly be, and why, on his hands, it had turned "false"--these
inductive steps could only be as rapid as they were distinct. I
accounted for everything--and "everything" had by this time become
the most promising quantity--by the view that he had come to Paris
in some state of mind which was literally undergoing, as a result
of new and unexpected assaults and infusions, a change almost from
hour to hour. He had come with a view that might have been figured
by a clear green liquid, say, in a neat glass phial; and the
liquid, once poured into the open cup of APPLICATION, once exposed
to the action of another air, had begun to turn from green to red,
or whatever, and might, for all he knew, be on its way to purple,
to black, to yellow. At the still wilder extremes represented
perhaps, for all he could say to the contrary, by a variability so
violent, he would at first, naturally, but have gazed in surprise
and alarm; whereby the SITUATION clearly would spring from the
play of wildness and the development of extremes. I saw in a
moment that, should this development proceed both with force and
logic, my "story" would leave nothing to be desired. There is
always, of course, for the story-teller, the irresistible
determinant and the incalculable advantage of his interest in the
story AS SUCH; it is ever, obviously, overwhelmingly, the prime
and precious thing (as other than this I have never been able to
see it); as to which what makes for it, with whatever headlong
energy, may be said to pale before the energy with which it simply
makes for itself. It rejoices, none the less, at its best, to seem
to offer itself in a light, to seem to know, and with the very
last knowledge, what it's about--liable as it yet is at moments to
be caught by us with its tongue in its cheek and absolutely no
warrant but its splendid impudence. Let us grant then that the
impudence is always there--there, so to speak, for grace and
effect and ALLURE; there, above all, because the Story is just the
spoiled child of art, and because, as we are always disappointed
when the pampered don't "play up," we like it, to that extent, to
look all its character. It probably does so, in truth, even when
we most flatter ourselves that we negotiate with it by treaty.
All of which, again, is but to say that the STEPS, for my fable,
placed themselves with a prompt and, as it were, functional
assurance--an air quite as of readiness to have dispensed with
logic had I been in fact too stupid for my clue. Never,
positively, none the less, as the links multiplied, had I felt
less stupid than for the determination of poor Strether's errand
and for the apprehension of his issue. These things continued to
fall together, as by the neat action of their own weight and form,
even while their commentator scratched his head about them; he
easily sees now that they were always well in advance of him. As
the case completed itself he had in fact, from a good way behind,
to catch up with them, breathless and a little flurried, as he
best could. THE false position, for our belated man of the world--
belated because he had endeavoured so long to escape being one,
and now at last had really to face his doom--the false position
for him, I say, was obviously to have presented himself at the
gate of that boundless menagerie primed with a moral scheme of the
most approved pattern which was yet framed to break down on any
approach to vivid facts; that is to any at all liberal
appreciation of them. There would have been of course the case of
the Strether prepared, wherever presenting himself, only to judge
and to feel meanly; but HE would have moved for me, I confess,
enveloped in no legend whatever. The actual man's note, from the
first of our seeing it struck, is the note of discrimination, just
as his drama is to become, under stress, the drama of
discrimination. It would have been his blest imagination, we have
seen, that had already helped him to discriminate; the element
that was for so much of the pleasure of my cutting thick, as I
have intimated, into his intellectual, into his moral substance.
Yet here it was, at the same time, just here, that a shade for a
moment fell across the scene.
There was the dreadful little old tradition, one of the platitudes
of the human comedy, that people's moral scheme DOES break down in
Paris; that nothing is more frequently observed; that hundreds of
thousands of more or less hypocritical or more or less cynical
persons annually visit the place for the sake of the probable
catastrophe, and that I came late in the day to work myself up
about it. There was in fine the TRIVIAL association, one of the
vulgarest in the world; but which give me pause no longer, I
think, simply because its vulgarity is so advertised. The
revolution performed by Strether under the influence of the most
interesting of great cities was to have nothing to do with any
betise of the imputably "tempted" state; he was to be thrown
forward, rather, thrown quite with violence, upon his lifelong
trick of intense reflexion: which friendly test indeed was to
bring him out, through winding passages, through alternations of
darkness and light, very much IN Paris, but with the surrounding
scene itself a minor matter, a mere symbol for more things than
had been dreamt of in the philosophy of Woollett. Another
surrounding scene would have done as well for our show could it
have represented a place in which Strether's errand was likely to
lie and his crisis to await him. The LIKELY place had the great
merit of sparing me preparations; there would have been too many
involved--not at all impossibilities, only rather worrying and
delaying difficulties--in positing elsewhere Chad Newsome's
interesting relation, his so interesting complexity of relations.
Strether's appointed stage, in fine, could be but Chad's most
luckily selected one. The young man had gone in, as they say, for
circumjacent charm; and where he would have found it, by the turn
of his mind, most "authentic," was where his earnest friend's analysis
would most find HIM; as well as where, for that matter, the former's
whole analytic faculty would be led such a wonderful dance.
"The Ambassadors" had been, all conveniently, "arranged for"; its
first appearance was from month to month, in the _North American
Review_ during 1903, and I had been open from far back to any
pleasant provocation for ingenuity that might reside in one's
actively adopting--so as to make it, in its way, a small compositional
law--recurrent breaks and resumptions. I had made up my mind here
regularly to exploit and enjoy these often rather rude jolts--
having found, as I believed an admirable way to it; yet every question
of form and pressure, I easily remember, paled in the light of the
major propriety, recognised as soon as really weighed; that of
employing but one centre and keeping it all within my hero's compass.
The thing was to be so much this worthy's intimate adventure that
even the projection of his consciousness upon it from beginning to end
without intermission or deviation would probably still leave a part of
its value for him, and a fortiori for ourselves, unexpressed.
I might, however, express every grain of it that there would be
room for--on condition of contriving a splendid particular economy.
Other persons in no small number were to people the scene, and each
with his or her axe to grind, his or her situation to treat, his or her
coherency not to fail of, his or her relation to my leading motive,
in a word, to establish and carry on. But Strether's sense of these
things, and Strether's only, should avail me for showing them;
I should know them but through his more or less groping knowledge
of them, since his very gropings would figure among his most interesting
motions, and a full observance of the rich rigour I speak of would
give me more of the effect I should be most "after" than all other
possible observances together. It would give me a large unity,
and that in turn would crown me with the grace to which the
enlightened story-teller will at any time, for his interest,
sacrifice if need be all other graces whatever. I refer of course
to the grace of intensity, which there are ways of signally achieving
and ways of signally missing--as we see it, all round us, helplessly
and woefully missed. Not that it isn't, on the other hand, a virtue
eminently subject to appreciation--there being no strict, no absolute
measure of it; so that one may hear it acclaimed where it has quite
escaped one's perception, and see it unnoticed where one has gratefully
hailed it. After all of which I am not sure, either, that the immense
amusement of the whole cluster of difficulties so arrayed may not operate,
for the fond fabulist, when judicious not less than fond, as his best of
determinants. That charming principle is always there, at all events,
to keep interest fresh: it is a principle, we remember, essentially
ravenous, without scruple and without mercy, appeased with no cheap
nor easy nourishment. It enjoys the costly sacrifice and rejoices
thereby in the very odour of difficulty--even as ogres, with their
"Fee-faw-fum!" rejoice in the smell of the blood of Englishmen.
Thus it was, at all events, that the ultimate, though after all so
speedy, definition of my gentleman's job--his coming out, all
solemnly appointed and deputed, to "save" Chad, and his then
finding the young man so disobligingly and, at first, so
bewilderingly not lost that a new issue altogether, in the
connexion, prodigiously faces them, which has to be dealt with in
a new light--promised as many calls on ingenuity and on the higher
branches of the compositional art as one could possibly desire.
Again and yet again, as, from book to book, I proceed with my
survey, I find no source of interest equal to this verification
after the fact, as I may call it, and the more in detail the
better, of the scheme of consistency "gone in" for. As always--
since the charm never fails--the retracing of the process from
point to point brings back the old illusion. The old intentions
bloom again and flower--in spite of all the blossoms they were to
have dropped by the way. This is the charm, as I say, of adventure
TRANSPOSED--the thrilling ups and downs, the intricate ins and
outs of the compositional problem, made after such a fashion
admirably objective, becoming the question at issue and keeping
the author's heart in his mouth. Such an element, for instance, as
his intention that Mrs. Newsome, away off with her finger on the
pulse of Massachusetts, should yet be no less intensely than
circuitously present through the whole thing, should be no less
felt as to be reckoned with than the most direct exhibition, the
finest portrayal at first hand could make her, such a sign of
artistic good faith, I say, once it's unmistakeably there, takes
on again an actuality not too much impaired by the comparative
dimness of the particular success. Cherished intention too
inevitably acts and operates, in the book, about fifty times as
little as I had fondly dreamt it might; but that scarce spoils for
me the pleasure of recognising the fifty ways in which I had
sought to provide for it. The mere charm of seeing such an idea
constituent, in its degree; the fineness of the measures taken--a
real extension, if successful, of the very terms and possibilities
of representation and figuration--such things alone were, after
this fashion, inspiring, such things alone were a gage of the
probable success of that dissimulated calculation with which the
whole effort was to square. But oh the cares begotten, none the
less, of that same "judicious" sacrifice to a particular form of
interest! One's work should have composition, because composition
alone is positive beauty; but all the while--apart from one's
inevitable consciousness too of the dire paucity of readers ever
recognising or ever missing positive beauty--how, as to the cheap
and easy, at every turn, how, as to immediacy and facility, and
even as to the commoner vivacity, positive beauty might have to be
sweated for and paid for! Once achieved and installed it may
always be trusted to make the poor seeker feel he would have
blushed to the roots of his hair for failing of it; yet, how, as
its virtue can be essentially but the virtue of the whole, the
wayside traps set in the interest of muddlement and pleading but
the cause of the moment, of the particular bit in itself, have to
be kicked out of the path! All the sophistications in life, for
example, might have appeared to muster on behalf of the menace--
the menace to a bright variety--involved in Strether's having all
the subjective "say," as it were, to himself.
Had I, meanwhile, made him at once hero and historian, endowed him
with the romantic privilege of the "first person"--the darkest
abyss of romance this, inveterately, when enjoyed on the grand
scale--variety, and many other queer matters as well, might have
been smuggled in by a back door. Suffice it, to be brief, that the
first person, in the long piece, is a form foredoomed to looseness
and that looseness, never much my affair, had never been so little
so as on this particular occasion. All of which reflexions flocked
to the standard from the moment--a very early one--the question of
how to keep my form amusing while sticking so close to my central
figure and constantly taking its pattern from him had to be faced.
He arrives (arrives at Chester) as for the dreadful purpose of
giving his creator "no end" to tell about him--before which
rigorous mission the serenest of creators might well have quailed.
I was far from the serenest; I was more than agitated enough to
reflect that, grimly deprived of one alternative or one substitute
for "telling," I must address myself tooth and nail to another. I
couldn't, save by implication, make other persons tell EACH OTHER
about him--blest resource, blest necessity, of the drama, which
reaches its effects of unity, all remarkably, by paths absolutely
opposite to the paths of the novel: with other persons, save as
they were primarily HIS persons (not he primarily but one of
theirs), I had simply nothing to do. I had relations for him none
the less, by the mercy of Providence, quite as much as if my
exhibition was to be a muddle; if I could only by implication and
a show of consequence make other persons tell each other about
him, I could at least make him tell THEM whatever in the world he
must; and could so, by the same token--which was a further luxury
thrown in--see straight into the deep differences between what
that could do for me, or at all events for HIM, and the large ease
of "autobiography." It may be asked why, if one so keeps to one's
hero, one shouldn't make a single mouthful of "method," shouldn't
throw the reins on his neck and, letting them flap there as free
as in "Gil Blas" or in "David Copperfield," equip him with the
double privilege of subject and object--a course that has at
least the merit of brushing away questions at a sweep. The answer
to which is, I think, that one makes that surrender only if one is
prepared NOT to make certain precious discriminations.
The "first person" then, so employed, is addressed by the author
directly to ourselves, his possible readers, whom he has to reckon
with, at the best, by our English tradition, so loosely and
vaguely after all, so little respectfully, on so scant a
presumption of exposure to criticism. Strether, on the other hand,
encaged and provided for as "The Ambassadors" encages and
provides, has to keep in view proprieties much stiffer and more
salutary than any our straight and credulous gape are likely to
bring home to him, has exhibitional conditions to meet, in a word,
that forbid the terrible FLUIDITY of self-revelation. I may seem
not to better the case for my discrimination if I say that, for my
first care, I had thus inevitably to set him up a confidant or
two, to wave away with energy the custom of the seated mass of
explanation after the fact, the inserted block of merely
referential narrative, which flourishes so, to the shame of the
modern impatience, on the serried page of Balzac, but which seems
simply to appal our actual, our general weaker, digestion.
"Harking back to make up" took at any rate more doing, as the
phrase is, not only than the reader of to-day demands, but than he
will tolerate at any price any call upon him either to understand
or remotely to measure; and for the beauty of the thing when done
the current editorial mind in particular appears wholly without
sense. It is not, however, primarily for either of these reasons,
whatever their weight, that Strether's friend Waymarsh is so
keenly clutched at, on the threshold of the book, or that no less
a pounce is made on Maria Gostrey--without even the pretext,
either, of HER being, in essence, Strether's friend. She is the
reader's friend much rather--in consequence of dispositions that
make him so eminently require one; and she acts in that capacity,
and REALLY in that capacity alone, with exemplary devotion from
beginning to and of the book. She is an enrolled, a direct, aid to
lucidity; she is in fine, to tear off her mask, the most
unmitigated and abandoned of ficelles. Half the dramatist's art,
as we well know--since if we don't it's not the fault of the
proofs that lie scattered about us--is in the use of ficelles; by
which I mean in a deep dissimulation of his dependence on them.
Waymarsh only to a slighter degree belongs, in the whole business,
less to my subject than to my treatment of it; the interesting
proof, in these connexions, being that one has but to take one's
subject for the stuff of drama to interweave with enthusiasm as
many Gostreys as need be.
The material of "The Ambassadors," conforming in this respect
exactly to that of "The Wings of the Dove," published just before
it, is taken absolutely for the stuff of drama; so that, availing
myself of the opportunity given me by this edition for some
prefatory remarks on the latter work, I had mainly to make on its
behalf the point of its scenic consistency. It disguises that
virtue, in the oddest way in the world, by just LOOKING, as we
turn its pages, as little scenic as possible; but it sharply
divides itself, just as the composition before us does, into the
parts that prepare, that tend in fact to over-prepare, for scenes,
and the parts, or otherwise into the scenes, that justify and
crown the preparation. It may definitely be said, I think, that
everything in it that is not scene (not, I of course mean,
complete and functional scene, treating ALL the submitted matter,
as by logical start, logical turn, and logical finish) is
discriminated preparation, is the fusion and synthesis of picture.
These alternations propose themselves all recogniseably, I think,
from an early stage, as the very form and figure of "The
Ambassadors"; so that, to repeat, such an agent as Miss Gostrey
pre-engaged at a high salary, but waits in the draughty wing with
her shawl and her smelling-salts. Her function speaks at once for
itself, and by the time she has dined with Strether in London and
gone to a play with him her intervention as a ficelle is, I hold,
expertly justified. Thanks to it we have treated scenically, and
scenically alone, the whole lumpish question of Strether's "past,"
which has seen us more happily on the way than anything else could
have done; we have strained to a high lucidity and vivacity (or at
least we hope we have) certain indispensable facts; we have seen
our two or three immediate friends all conveniently and profitably
in "action"; to say nothing of our beginning to descry others, of
a remoter intensity, getting into motion, even if a bit vaguely as
yet, for our further enrichment. Let my first point be here that
the scene in question, that in which the whole situation at
Woollett and the complex forces that have propelled my hero to
where this lively extractor of his value and distiller of his
essence awaits him, is normal and entire, is really an excellent
STANDARD scene; copious, comprehensive, and accordingly never
short, but with its office as definite as that of the hammer on
the gong of the clock, the office of expressing ALL THAT IS IN the
The "ficelle" character of the subordinate party is as artfully
dissimulated, throughout, as may be, and to that extent that, with
the seams or joints of Maria Gostrey's ostensible connectedness
taken particular care of, duly smoothed over, that is, and
anxiously kept from showing as "pieced on;" this figure doubtless
achieves, after a fashion, something of the dignity of a prime
idea: which circumstance but shows us afresh how many quite
incalculable but none the less clear sources of enjoyment for the
infatuated artist, how many copious springs of our never-to-be-slighted
"fun" for the reader and critic susceptible of contagion, may
sound their incidental plash as soon as an artistic process begins
to enjoy free development. Exquisite--in illustration of this--
the mere interest and amusement of such at once "creative" and
critical questions as how and where and why to make Miss Gostrey's
false connexion carry itself, under a due high polish, as a real one.
Nowhere is it more of an artful expedient for mere consistency
of form, to mention a case, than in the last "scene" of the book,
where its function is to give or to add nothing whatever,
but only to express as vividly as possible certain things quite
other than itself and that are of the already fixed and appointed
measure. Since, however, all art is EXPRESSION, and is thereby
vividness, one was to find the door open here to any amount of
delightful dissimulation. These verily are the refinements and
ecstasies of method--amid which, or certainly under the influence
of any exhilarated demonstration of which, one must keep one's head
and not lose one's way. To cultivate an adequate intelligence
for them and to make that sense operative is positively to find
a charm in any produced ambiguity of appearance that is not
by the same stroke, and all helplessly, an ambiguity of sense.
To project imaginatively, for my hero, a relation that has
nothing to do with the matter (the matter of my subject) but has
everything to do with the manner (the manner of my presentation
of the same) and yet to treat it, at close quarters and for fully
economic expression's possible sake, as if it were important and
essential--to do that sort of thing and yet muddle nothing may
easily become, as one goes, a signally attaching proposition;
even though it all remains but part and parcel, I hasten to
recognise, of the merely general and related question of expressional
curiosity and expressional decency.
I am moved to add after so much insistence on the scenic side of
my labour that I have found the steps of re-perusal almost as much
waylaid here by quite another style of effort in the same signal
interest--or have in other words not failed to note how, even so
associated and so discriminated, the finest proprieties and charms
of the non-scenic may, under the right hand for them, still keep
their intelligibility and assert their office. Infinitely
suggestive such an observation as this last on the whole
delightful head, where representation is concerned, of possible
variety, of effective expressional change and contrast. One would
like, at such an hour as this, for critical licence, to go into
the matter of the noted inevitable deviation (from too fond an
original vision) that the exquisite treachery even of the
straightest execution may ever be trusted to inflict even on the
most mature plan--the case being that, though one's last
reconsidered production always seems to bristle with that
particular evidence, "The Ambassadors" would place a flood of such
light at my service. I must attach to my final remark here a
different import; noting in the other connexion I just glanced at
that such passages as that of my hero's first encounter with Chad
Newsome, absolute attestations of the non-scenic form though they
be, yet lay the firmest hand too--so far at least as intention
goes--on representational effect. To report at all closely and
completely of what "passes" on a given occasion is inevitably to
become more or less scenic; and yet in the instance I allude to,
WITH the conveyance, expressional curiosity and expressional
decency are sought and arrived at under quite another law. The
true inwardness of this may be at bottom but that one of the
suffered treacheries has consisted precisely, for Chad's whole
figure and presence, of a direct presentability diminished and
compromised--despoiled, that is, of its PROPORTIONAL advantage;
so that, in a word, the whole economy of his author's relation
to him has at important points to be redetermined. The book,
however, critically viewed, is touchingly full of these disguised
and repaired losses, these insidious recoveries, these intensely
redemptive consistencies. The pages in which Mamie Pocock gives
her appointed and, I can't but think, duly felt lift to the whole
action by the so inscrutably-applied side-stroke or short-cut of
our just watching and as quite at an angle of vision as yet
untried, her single hour of suspense in the hotel salon, in our
partaking of her concentrated study of the sense of matters
bearing on her own case, all the bright warm Paris afternoon, from
the balcony that overlooks the Tuileries garden--these are as
marked an example of the representational virtue that insists here
and there on being, for the charm of opposition and renewal, other
than the scenic. It wouldn't take much to make me further argue
that from an equal play of such oppositions the book gathers an
intensity that fairly adds to the dramatic--though the latter is
supposed to be the sum of all intensities; or that has at any rate
nothing to fear from juxtaposition with it. I consciously fail to
shrink in fact from that extravagance--I risk it rather, for the
sake of the moral involved; which is not that the particular
production before us exhausts the interesting questions it raises,
but that the Novel remains still, under the right persuasion, the
most independent, most elastic, most prodigious of literary forms.
Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his
friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to
arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from
him bespeaking a room "only if not noisy," reply paid, was produced
for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they
should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that
extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted
Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh's presence at the dock,
that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of
it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without
disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with
all respect to dear old Waymarsh--if not even, for that matter, to
himself--there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn't
see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as
operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men,
wholly instinctive--the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as
it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into
his comrade's face, his business would be a trifle bungled should
he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the
nearing steamer as the first "note," of Europe. Mixed with
everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether's part, that
it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a
That note had been meanwhile--since the previous afternoon, thanks
to this happier device--such a consciousness of personal freedom as
he hadn't known for years; such a deep taste of change and of
having above all for the moment nobody and nothing to consider, as
promised already, if headlong hope were not too foolish, to colour
his adventure with cool success. There were people on the ship with
whom he had easily consorted--so far as ease could up to now be
imputed to him--and who for the most part plunged straight into the
current that set from the landing-stage to London; there were
others who had invited him to a tryst at the inn and had even
invoked his aid for a "look round" at the beauties of Liverpool;
but he had stolen away from every one alike, had kept no
appointment and renewed no acquaintance, had been indifferently
aware of the number of persons who esteemed themselves fortunate in
being, unlike himself, "met," and had even independently,
unsociably, alone, without encounter or relapse and by mere quiet
evasion, given his afternoon and evening to the immediate and the
sensible. They formed a qualified draught of Europe, an afternoon
and an evening on the banks of the Mersey, but such as it was he
took his potion at least undiluted. He winced a little, truly, at
the thought that Waymarsh might be already at Chester; he reflected
that, should he have to describe himself there as having "got in"
so early, it would be difficult to make the interval look
particularly eager; but he was like a man who, elatedly finding in
his pocket more money than usual, handles it a while and idly and
pleasantly chinks it before addressing himself to the business of
spending. That he was prepared to be vague to Waymarsh about the
hour of the ship's touching, and that he both wanted extremely to
see him and enjoyed extremely the duration of delay--these things,
it is to be conceived, were early signs in him that his relation to
his actual errand might prove none of the simplest. He was
burdened, poor Strether--it had better be confessed at the outset--
with the oddity of a double consciousness. There was detachment in
his zeal and curiosity in his indifference.
After the young woman in the glass cage had held up to him across
her counter the pale-pink leaflet bearing his friend's name, which
she neatly pronounced, he turned away to find himself, in the hall,
facing a lady who met his eyes as with an intention suddenly
determined, and whose features--not freshly young, not markedly
fine, but on happy terms with each other--came back to him as from
a recent vision. For a moment they stood confronted; then the
moment placed her: he had noticed her the day before, noticed her
at his previous inn, where--again in the hall--she had been briefly
engaged with some people of his own ship's company. Nothing had
actually passed between them, and he would as little have been able
to say what had been the sign of her face for him on the first
occasion as to name the ground of his present recognition.
Recognition at any rate appeared to prevail on her own side as
well--which would only have added to the mystery. All she now began
by saying to him nevertheless was that, having chanced to catch his
enquiry, she was moved to ask, by his leave, if it were possibly a
question of Mr. Waymarsh of Milrose Connecticut--Mr. Waymarsh the
"Oh yes," he replied, "my very well-known friend. He's to meet me
here, coming up from Malvern, and I supposed he'd already have
arrived. But he doesn't come till later, and I'm relieved not to
have kept him. Do you know him?" Strether wound up.
It wasn't till after he had spoken that he became aware of how much
there had been in him of response; when the tone of her own
rejoinder, as well as the play of something more in her face--
something more, that is, than its apparently usual restless light--
seemed to notify him. "I've met him at Milrose--where I used
sometimes, a good while ago, to stay; I had friends there who were
friends of his, and I've been at his house. I won't answer for it
that he would know me," Strether's new acquaintance pursued; "but I
should be delighted to see him. Perhaps," she added, "I shall--for
I'm staying over." She paused while our friend took in these
things, and it was as if a good deal of talk had already passed.
They even vaguely smiled at it, and Strether presently observed
that Mr. Waymarsh would, no doubt, be easily to be seen. This,
however, appeared to affect the lady as if she might have advanced
too far. She appeared to have no reserves about anything. "Oh," she
said, "he won't care!"--and she immediately thereupon remarked that
she believed Strether knew the Munsters; the Munsters being the
people he had seen her with at Liverpool.
But he didn't, it happened, know the Munsters well enough to give
the case much of a lift; so that they were left together as if over
the mere laid table of conversation. Her qualification of the
mentioned connexion had rather removed than placed a dish, and
there seemed nothing else to serve. Their attitude remained, none
the less, that of not forsaking the board; and the effect of this
in turn was to give them the appearance of having accepted each
other with an absence of preliminaries practically complete. They
moved along the hall together, and Strether's companion threw off
that the hotel had the advantage of a garden. He was aware by this
time of his strange inconsequence: he had shirked the intimacies of
the steamer and had muffled the shock of Waymarsh only to find
himself forsaken, in this sudden case, both of avoidance and of
caution. He passed, under this unsought protection and before he
had so much as gone up to his room, into the garden of the hotel,
and at the end of ten minutes had agreed to meet there again, as
soon as he should have made himself tidy, the dispenser of such
good assurances. He wanted to look at the town, and they would
forthwith look together. It was almost as if she had been in
possession and received him as a guest. Her acquaintance with the
place presented her in a manner as a hostess, and Strether had a
rueful glance for the lady in the glass cage. It was as if this
personage had seen herself instantly superseded.
When in a quarter of an hour he came down, what his hostess saw,
what she might have taken in with a vision kindly adjusted, was the
lean, the slightly loose figure of a man of the middle height and
something more perhaps than the middle age--a man of five-and-fifty,
whose most immediate signs were a marked bloodless brownness of face,
a thick dark moustache, of characteristically American cut,
growing strong and falling low, a head of hair still abundant
but irregularly streaked with grey, and a nose of bold free
prominence, the even line, the high finish, as it might have been
called, of which, had a certain effect of mitigation. A perpetual
pair of glasses astride of this fine ridge, and a line, unusually
deep and drawn, the prolonged pen-stroke of time, accompanying the
curve of the moustache from nostril to chin, did something to
complete the facial furniture that an attentive observer would have
seen catalogued, on the spot, in the vision of the other party to
Strether's appointment. She waited for him in the garden, the other
party, drawing on a pair of singularly fresh soft and elastic light
gloves and presenting herself with a superficial readiness which,
as he approached her over the small smooth lawn and in the watery
English sunshine, he might, with his rougher preparation, have
marked as the model for such an occasion. She had, this lady, a
perfect plain propriety, an expensive subdued suitability, that her
companion was not free to analyse, but that struck him, so that his
consciousness of it was instantly acute, as a quality quite new to
him. Before reaching her he stopped on the grass and went through
the form of feeling for something, possibly forgotten, in the light
overcoat he carried on his arm; yet the essence of the act was no
more than the impulse to gain time. Nothing could have been odder
than Strether's sense of himself as at that moment launched in
something of which the sense would be quite disconnected from the
sense of his past and which was literally beginning there and then.
It had begun in fact already upstairs and before the dressing glass
that struck him as blocking further, so strangely, the dimness of
the window of his dull bedroom; begun with a sharper survey of the
elements of Appearance than he had for a long time been moved to
make. He had during those moments felt these elements to be not so
much to his hand as he should have liked, and then had fallen back
on the thought that they were precisely a matter as to which help
was supposed to come from what he was about to do. He was about to
go up to London, so that hat and necktie might wait. What had come
as straight to him as a ball in a well-played game--and caught
moreover not less neatly--was just the air, in the person of his
friend, of having seen and chosen, the air of achieved possession
of those vague qualities and quantities that collectively figured
to him as the advantage snatched from lucky chances. Without pomp
or circumstance, certainly, as her original address to him, equally
with his own response, had been, he would have sketched to himself
his impression of her as: "Well, she's more thoroughly civilized--!"
If "More thoroughly than WHOM?" would not have been for him a
sequel to this remark, that was just by reason of his deep
consciousness of the bearing of his comparison.
The amusement, at all events, of a civilisation intenser was what--
familiar compatriot as she was, with the full tone of the
compatriot and the rattling link not with mystery but only with
dear dyspeptic Waymarsh--she appeared distinctly to promise. His
pause while he felt in his overcoat was positively the pause of
confidence, and it enabled his eyes to make out as much of a case
for her, in proportion, as her own made out for himself. She
affected him as almost insolently young; but an easily carried
five-and-thirty could still do that. She was, however, like himself
marked and wan; only it naturally couldn't have been known to him
how much a spectator looking from one to the other might have
discerned that they had in common. It wouldn't for such a spectator
have been altogether insupposable that, each so finely brown and so
sharply spare, each confessing so to dents of surface and aids to
sight, to a disproportionate nose and a head delicately or grossly
grizzled, they might have been brother and sister. On this ground
indeed there would have been a residuum of difference; such a
sister having surely known in respect to such a brother the
extremity of separation, and such a brother now feeling in respect
to such a sister the extremity of surprise. Surprise, it was true,
was not on the other hand what the eyes of Strether's friend most
showed him while she gave him, stroking her gloves smoother, the
time he appreciated. They had taken hold of him straightway
measuring him up and down as if they knew how; as if he were human
material they had already in some sort handled. Their possessor was
in truth, it may be communicated, the mistress of a hundred cases
or categories, receptacles of the mind, subdivisions for
convenience, in which, from a full experience, she pigeon-holed her
fellow mortals with a hand as free as that of a compositor
scattering type. She was as equipped in this particular as Strether
was the reverse, and it made an opposition between them which he
might well have shrunk from submitting to if he had fully suspected
it. So far as he did suspect it he was on the contrary, after a
short shake of his consciousness, as pleasantly passive as might
be. He really had a sort of sense of what she knew. He had quite
the sense that she knew things he didn't, and though this was a
concession that in general he found not easy to make to women, he
made it now as good-humouredly as if it lifted a burden. His eyes
were so quiet behind his eternal nippers that they might almost
have been absent without changing his face, which took its
expression mainly, and not least its stamp of sensibility, from
other sources, surface and grain and form. He joined his guide in
an instant, and then felt she had profited still better than he by
his having been for the moments just mentioned, so at the disposal
of her intelligence. She knew even intimate things about him that
he hadn't yet told her and perhaps never would. He wasn't unaware
that he had told her rather remarkably many for the time, but these
were not the real ones. Some of the real ones, however, precisely,
were what she knew.
They were to pass again through the hall of the inn to get into the
street, and it was here she presently checked him with a question.
"Have you looked up my name?"
He could only stop with a laugh. "Have you looked up mine?"
"Oh dear, yes--as soon as you left me. I went to the office and
asked. Hadn't YOU better do the same?"
He wondered. "Find out who you are?--after the uplifted young woman
there has seen us thus scrape acquaintance!"
She laughed on her side now at the shade of alarm in his amusement.
"Isn't it a reason the more? If what you're afraid of is the injury
for me--my being seen to walk off with a gentleman who has to ask
who I am--l assure you I don't in the least mind. Here, however,"
she continued, "is my card, and as I find there's something else
again I have to say at the office, you can just study it during the
moment I leave you."
She left him after he had taken from her the small pasteboard she
had extracted from her pocket-book, and he had extracted another
from his own, to exchange with it, before she came back. He read
thus the simple designation "Maria Gostrey," to which was attached,
in a corner of the card, with a number, the name of a street,
presumably in Paris, without other appreciable identity than its
foreignness. He put the card into his waistcoat pocket, keeping his
own meanwhile in evidence; and as he leaned against the door-post
he met with the smile of a straying thought what the expanse before
the hotel offered to his view. It was positively droll to him that
he should already have Maria Gostrey, whoever she was--of which he
hadn't really the least idea--in a place of safe keeping. He had
somehow an assurance that he should carefully preserve the little
token he had just tucked in. He gazed with unseeing lingering eyes
as he followed some of the implications of his act, asking himself
if he really felt admonished to qualify it as disloyal. It was
prompt, it was possibly even premature, and there was little doubt
of the expression of face the sight of it would have produced in a
certain person. But if it was "wrong"--why then he had better not
have come out at all. At this, poor man, had he already--and even
before meeting Waymarsh--arrived. He had believed he had a limit,
but the limit had been transcended within thirty-six hours. By how
long a space on the plane of manners or even of morals, moreover,
he felt still more sharply after Maria Gostrey had come back to him
and with a gay decisive "So now--!" led him forth into the world.
This counted, it struck him as he walked beside her with his
overcoat on an arm, his umbrella under another and his personal
pasteboard a little stiffly retained between forefinger and thumb,
this struck him as really, in comparison his introduction to
things. It hadn't been "Europe" at Liverpool no--not even in the
dreadful delightful impressive streets the night before--to the
extent his present companion made it so. She hadn't yet done that
so much as when, after their walk had lasted a few minutes and he
had had time to wonder if a couple of sidelong glances from her
meant that he had best have put on gloves she almost pulled him up
with an amused challenge. "But why--fondly as it's so easy to
imagine your clinging to it--don't you put it away? Or if it's an
inconvenience to you to carry it, one's often glad to have one's
card back. The fortune one spends in them!"
Then he saw both that his way of marching with his own prepared
tribute had affected her as a deviation in one of those directions
he couldn't yet measure, and that she supposed this emblem to be
still the one he had received from her. He accordingly handed her
the card as if in restitution, but as soon as she had it she felt
the difference and, with her eyes on it, stopped short for apology.
"I like," she observed, "your name."
"Oh," he answered, "you won't have heard of it!" Yet he had his
reasons for not being sure but that she perhaps might.
Ah it was but too visible! She read it over again as one who had
never seen it. "'Mr. Lewis Lambert Strether'"--she sounded it
almost as freely as for any stranger. She repeated however that she
liked it--"particularly the Lewis Lambert. It's the name of a novel
"Oh I know that!" said Strether.
"But the novel's an awfully bad one."
"I know that too," Strether smiled. To which he added with an
irrelevance that was only superficial: "I come from Woollett
Massachusetts." It made her for some reason--the irrelevance or
whatever--laugh. Balzac had described many cities, but hadn't
described Woollett Massachusetts. "You say that," she returned,
"as if you wanted one immediately to know the worst."
"Oh I think it's a thing," he said, "that you must already have
made out. I feel it so that I certainly must look it, speak it,
and, as people say there, 'act' it. It sticks out of me, and you
knew surely for yourself as soon as you looked at me."
"The worst, you mean?"
"Well, the fact of where I come from. There at any rate it IS; so
that you won't be able, if anything happens, to say I've not been
straight with you."
"I see"--and Miss Gostrey looked really interested in the point he
had made. "But what do you think of as happening?"
Though he wasn't shy--which was rather anomalous--Strether gazed
about without meeting her eyes; a motion that was frequent with him
in talk, yet of which his words often seemed not at all the effect.
"Why that you should find me too hopeless." With which they walked
on again together while she answered, as they went, that the most
"hopeless" of her countryfolk were in general precisely those she
liked best. All sorts of other pleasant small things-small things
that were yet large for him--flowered in the air of the occasion,
but the bearing of the occasion itself on matters still remote
concerns us too closely to permit us to multiply our illustrations.
Two or three, however, in truth, we should perhaps regret to lose.
The tortuous wall--girdle, long since snapped, of the little
swollen city, half held in place by careful civic hands--wanders in
narrow file between parapets smoothed by peaceful generations,
pausing here and there for a dismantled gate or a bridged gap, with
rises and drops, steps up and steps down, queer twists, queer
contacts, peeps into homely streets and under the brows of gables,
views of cathedral tower and waterside fields, of huddled English
town and ordered English country. Too deep almost for words was the
delight of these things to Strether; yet as deeply mixed with it
were certain images of his inward picture. He had trod this walks
in the far-off time, at twenty-five; but that, instead of spoiling
it, only enriched it for present feeling and marked his renewal as
a thing substantial enough to share. It was with Waymarsh he should
have shared it. and he was now accordingly taking from him
something that was his due. He looked repeatedly at his watch, and
when he had done so for the fifth time Miss Gostrey took him up.
"You're doing something that you think not right."
It so touched the place that he quite changed colour and his laugh
grew almost awkward. "Am I enjoying it as much as THAT?"
"You're not enjoying it, I think, so much as you ought."
"I see"--he appeared thoughtfully to agree. "Great is my privilege."
"Oh it's not your privilege! It has nothing to do with me. It has
to do with yourself. Your failure's general."
"Ah there you are!" he laughed. "It's the failure of Woollett.
"The failure to enjoy," Miss Gostrey explained, "is what I mean."
"Precisely. Woollett isn't sure it ought to enjoy. If it were it
would. But it hasn't, poor thing," Strether continued, "any one to
show it how. It's not like me. I have somebody."
They had stopped, in the afternoon sunshine--constantly pausing, in
their stroll, for the sharper sense of what they saw--and Strether
rested on one of the high sides of the old stony groove of the
little rampart. He leaned back on this support with his face to the
tower of the cathedral, now admirably commanded by their station,
the high red-brown mass, square and subordinately spired and
crocketed, retouched and restored, but charming to his long-sealed
eyes and with the first swallows of the year weaving their flight
all round it. Miss Gostrey lingered near him, full of an air, to
which she more and more justified her right, of understanding the
effect of things. She quite concurred. "You've indeed somebody."
And she added: "I wish you WOULD let me show you how!"
"Oh I'm afraid of you!" he cheerfully pleaded.
She kept on him a moment, through her glasses and through his own,
a certain pleasant pointedness. "Ah no, you're not! You're not in
the least, thank goodness! If you had been we shouldn't so soon
have found ourselves here together. I think," she comfortably
concluded, "you trust me."
"I think I do!--but that's exactly what I'm afraid of. I shouldn't
mind if I didn't. It's falling thus in twenty minutes so utterly
into your hands. I dare say," Strether continued, "it's a sort of
thing you're thoroughly familiar with; but nothing more
extraordinary has ever happened to me."
She watched him with all her kindness. "That means simply that
you've recognised me--which IS rather beautiful and rare. You see
what I am." As on this, however, he protested, with a good-humoured
headshake, a resignation of any such claim, she had a moment of
explanation. "If you'll only come on further as you HAVE come
you'll at any rate make out. My own fate has been too many for me,
and I've succumbed to it. I'm a general guide--to 'Europe,' don't
you know? I wait for people--l put them through. I pick them up--
I set them down. I'm a sort of superior 'courier-maid.' I'm a
companion at large. I take people, as I've told you, about. I never
sought it--it has come to me. It has been my fate, and one's fate
one accepts. It's a dreadful thing to have to say, in so wicked a
world, but I verily believe that, such as you see me, there's
nothing I don't know. I know all the shops and the prices--but I
know worse things still. I bear on my back the huge load of our
national consciousness, or, in other words--for it comes to that--
of our nation itself. Of what is our nation composed but of the men
and women individually on my shoulders? I don't do it, you know,
for any particular advantage. I don't do it, for instance--some
people do, you know--for money."
Strether could only listen and wonder and weigh his chance. "And
yet, affected as you are then to so many of your clients, you can
scarcely be said to do it for love." He waited a moment. "How do we
She had her own hesitation, but "You don't!" she finally returned,
setting him again in motion. They went on, but in a few minutes,
though while still thinking over what she had said, he once more
took out his watch; mechanically, unconsciously and as if made
nervous by the mere exhilaration of what struck him as her strange
and cynical wit. He looked at the hour without seeing it, and then,
on something again said by his companion, had another pause.
"You're really in terror of him."
He smiled a smile that he almost felt to be sickly. "Now you can
see why I'm afraid of you."
"Because I've such illuminations? Why they're all for your help!
It's what I told you," she added, "just now. You feel as if this
He fell back once more, settling himself against the parapet as if
to hear more about it. "Then get me out!"
Her face fairly brightened for the joy of the appeal, but, as if it
were a question of immediate action, she visibly considered. "Out
of waiting for him?--of seeing him at all?"
"Oh no--not that," said poor Strether, looking grave. "I've got to
wait for him--and I want very much to see him. But out of the
terror. You did put your finger on it a few minutes ago. It's
general, but it avails itself of particular occasions. That's what
it's doing for me now. I'm always considering something else;
something else, I mean, than the thing of the moment. The obsession
of the other thing is the terror. I'm considering at present for
instance something else than YOU."
She listened with charming earnestness. "Oh you oughtn't to do
"It's what I admit. Make it then impossible."
She continued to think. "Is it really an 'order' from you?--that I
shall take the job? WILL you give yourself up?"
Poor Strether heaved his sigh. "If I only could! But that's the
deuce of it--that I never can. No--I can't."
She wasn't, however, discouraged. "But you want to at least?"
"Ah then, if you'll try!"--and she took over the job, as she had
called it, on the spot. "Trust me!" she exclaimed, and the action
of this, as they retraced their steps, was presently to make him
pass his hand into her arm in the manner of a benign dependent
paternal old person who wishes to be "nice" to a younger one. If he
drew it out again indeed as they approached the inn this may have
been because, after more talk had passed between them, the relation
of age, or at least of experience--which, for that matter, had
already played to and fro with some freedom--affected him as
incurring a readjustment. It was at all events perhaps lucky that
they arrived in sufficiently separate fashion within range of the
hotel-door. The young lady they had left in the glass cage watched
as if she had come to await them on the threshold. At her side
stood a person equally interested, by his attitude, in their
return, and the effect of the sight of whom was instantly to
determine for Strether another of those responsive arrests that we
have had so repeatedly to note. He left it to Miss Gostrey to name,
with the fine full bravado as it almost struck him, of her
"Mr. Waymarsh!" what was to have been, what--he more than ever felt
as his short stare of suspended welcome took things in--would have
been, but for herself, his doom. It was already upon him even at
that distance--Mr. Waymarsh was for HIS part joyless.
He had none the less to confess to this friend that evening that he
knew almost nothing about her, and it was a deficiency that
Waymarsh, even with his memory refreshed by contact, by her own
prompt and lucid allusions and enquiries, by their having publicly
partaken of dinner in her company, and by another stroll, to which
she was not a stranger, out into the town to look at the cathedral
by moonlight--it was a blank that the resident of Milrose, though
admitting acquaintance with the Munsters, professed himself unable
to fill. He had no recollection of Miss Gostrey, and two or three
questions that she put to him about those members of his circle
had, to Strether's observation, the same effect he himself had
already more directly felt--the effect of appearing to place all
knowledge, for the time, on this original woman's side. It
interested him indeed to mark the limits of any such relation for
her with his friend as there could possibly be a question of, and
it particularly struck him that they were to be marked altogether
in Waymarsh's quarter. This added to his own sense of having gone
far with her-gave him an early illustration of a much shorter
course. There was a certitude he immediately grasped--a conviction
that Waymarsh would quite fail, as it were, and on whatever degree
of acquaintances to profit by her.
There had been after the first interchange among the three a talk
of some five minutes in the hall, and then the two men had
adjourned to the garden, Miss Gostrey for the time disappearing.
Strether in due course accompanied his friend to the room he had
bespoken and had, before going out, scrupulously visited; where at
the end of another half-hour he had no less discreetly left him.
On leaving him he repaired straight to his own room, but with the
prompt effect of feeling the compass of that chamber resented by
his condition. There he enjoyed at once the first consequence of
their reunion. A place was too small for him after it that had
seemed large enough before. He had awaited it with something he
would have been sorry, have been almost ashamed not to recognise as
emotion, yet with a tacit assumption at the same time that emotion
would in the event find itself relieved. The actual oddity was that
he was only more excited; and his excitement-to which indeed he
would have found it difficult instantly to give a name--brought him
once more downstairs and caused him for some minutes vaguely to
wander. He went once more to the garden; he looked into the public
room, found Miss Gostrey writing letters and backed out; he roamed,
fidgeted and wasted time; but he was to have his more intimate
session with his friend before the evening closed.
It was late--not till Strether had spent an hour upstairs with him--
that this subject consented to betake himself to doubtful rest.
Dinner and the subsequent stroll by moonlight--a dream, on
Strether's part, of romantic effects rather prosaically merged in a
mere missing of thicker coats--had measurably intervened, and this
midnight conference was the result of Waymarsh's having (when they
were free, as he put it, of their fashionable friend) found the
smoking-room not quite what he wanted, and yet bed what he wanted
less. His most frequent form of words was that he knew himself, and
they were applied on this occasion to his certainty of not
sleeping. He knew himself well enough to know that he should have a
night of prowling unless he should succeed, as a preliminary, in
getting prodigiously tired. If the effort directed to this end
involved till a late hour the presence of Strether--consisted,
that is, in the detention of the latter for full discourse--there
was yet an impression of minor discipline involved for our friend
in the picture Waymarsh made as he sat in trousers and shirt on the
edge of his couch. With his long legs extended and his large back
much bent, he nursed alternately, for an almost incredible time,
his elbows and his beard. He struck his visitor as extremely, as
almost wilfully uncomfortable; yet what had this been for Strether,
from that first glimpse of him disconcerted in the porch of the
hotel, but the predominant notes. The discomfort was in a manner
contagious, as well as also in a manner inconsequent and unfounded;
the visitor felt that unless he should get used to it--or unless
Waymarsh himself should--it would constitute a menace for his own
prepared, his own already confirmed, consciousness of the
agreeable. On their first going up together to the room Strether
had selected for him Waymarsh had looked it over in silence and
with a sigh that represented for his companion, if not the habit of
disapprobation, at least the despair of felicity; and this look had
recurred to Strether as the key of much he had since observed.
"Europe," he had begun to gather from these things, had up to now
rather failed of its message to him; he hadn't got into tune with
it and had at the end of three months almost renounced any such
He really appeared at present to insist on that by just perching
there with the gas in his eyes. This of itself somehow conveyed the
futility of single rectifications in a multiform failure. He had a
large handsome head and a large sallow seamed face--a striking
significant physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great
political brow, the thick loose hair, the dark fuliginous eyes,
recalled even to a generation whose standard had dreadfully
deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings and busts, of
some great national worthy of the earlier part of the mid-century.
He was of the personal type--and it was an element in the power and
promise that in their early time Strether had found in him--of the
American statesman, the statesman trained in "Congressional halls,"
of an elder day. The legend had been in later years that as the
lower part of his face, which was weak, and slightly crooked,
spoiled the likeness, this was the real reason for the growth of
his beard, which might have seemed to spoil it for those not in the
secret. He shook his mane; he fixed, with his admirable eyes, his
auditor or his observer; he wore no glasses and had a way, partly
formidable, yet also partly encouraging, as from a representative
to a constituent, of looking very hard at those who approached him.
He met you as if you had knocked and he had bidden you enter.
Strether, who hadn't seen him for so long an interval, apprehended
him now with a freshness of taste, and had perhaps never done him
such ideal justice. The head was bigger, the eyes finer, than they
need have been for the career; but that only meant, after all, that
the career was itself expressive. What it expressed at midnight in
the gas-glaring bedroom at Chester was that the subject of it had,
at the end of years, barely escaped, by flight in time, a general
nervous collapse. But this very proof of the full life, as the full
life was understood at Milrose, would have made to Strether's
imagination an element in which Waymarsh could have floated easily
had he only consented to float. Alas nothing so little resembled
floating as the rigour with which, on the edge of his bed, he
hugged his posture of prolonged impermanence. It suggested to his
comrade something that always, when kept up, worried him--a person
established in a railway-coach with a forward inclination. It
represented the angle at which poor Waymarsh was to sit through the
ordeal of Europe.
Thanks to the stress of occupation, the strain of professions, the
absorption and embarrassment of each, they had not, at home, during
years before this sudden brief and almost bewildering reign of
comparative ease, found so much as a day for a meeting; a fact that
was in some degree an explanation of the sharpness with which most
of his friend's features stood out to Strether. Those he had lost
sight of since the early time came back to him; others that it was
never possible to forget struck him now as sitting, clustered and
expectant, like a somewhat defiant family-group, on the doorstep of
their residence. The room was narrow for its length, and the
occupant of the bed thrust so far a pair of slippered feet that the
visitor had almost to step over them in his recurrent rebounds from
his chair to fidget back and forth. There were marks the friends
made on things to talk about, and on things not to, and one of the
latter in particular fell like the tap of chalk on the blackboard.
Married at thirty, Waymarsh had not lived with his wife for fifteen
years, and it came up vividly between them in the glare of the gas
that Strether wasn't to ask about her. He knew they were still
separate and that she lived at hotels, travelled in Europe, painted
her face and wrote her husband abusive letters, of not one of
which, to a certainty, that sufferer spared himself the perusal;
but he respected without difficulty the cold twilight that had
settled on this side of his companion's life. It was a province in
which mystery reigned and as to which Waymarsh had never spoken the
informing word. Strether, who wanted to do him the highest justice
wherever he COULD do it, singularly admired him for the dignity of
this reserve, and even counted it as one of the grounds--grounds
all handled and numbered--for ranking him, in the range of their
acquaintance, as a success. He WAS a success, Waymarsh, in spite of
overwork, or prostration, of sensible shrinkage, of his wife's
letters and of his not liking Europe. Strether would have reckoned
his own career less futile had he been able to put into it anything
so handsome as so much fine silence. One might one's self easily
have left Mrs. Waymarsh; and one would assuredly have paid one's
tribute to the ideal in covering with that attitude the derision of
having been left by her. Her husband had held his tongue and had
made a large income; and these were in especial the achievements as
to which Strether envied him. Our friend had had indeed on his side
too a subject for silence, which he fully appreciated; but it was a
matter of a different sort, and the figure of the income he had
arrived at had never been high enough to look any one in the face.
"I don't know as I quite see what you require it for. You don't
appear sick to speak of." It was of Europe Waymarsh thus finally
"Well," said Strether, who fell as much as possible into step, "I
guess I don't FEEL sick now that I've started. But I had pretty
well run down before I did start."
Waymarsh raised his melancholy look. "Ain't you about up to your
It was not quite pointedly sceptical, but it seemed somehow a plea
for the purest veracity, and it thereby affected our friend as the
very voice of Milrose. He had long since made a mental distinction--
though never in truth daring to betray it--between the voice of
Milrose and the voice even of Woollett. It was the former he felt,
that was most in the real tradition. There had been occasions in
his past when the sound of it had reduced him to temporary
confusion, and the present, for some reason, suddenly became such
another. It was nevertheless no light matter that the very effect
of his confusion should be to make him again prevaricate. "That
description hardly does justice to a man to whom it has done such a
lot of good to see YOU."
Waymarsh fixed on his washing-stand the silent detached stare with
which Milrose in person, as it were, might have marked the
unexpectedness of a compliment from Woollett, and Strether for his
part, felt once more like Woollett in person. "I mean," his friend
presently continued, "that your appearance isn't as bad as I've
seen it: it compares favourably with what it was when I last
noticed it." On this appearance Waymarsh's eyes yet failed to rest;
it was almost as if they obeyed an instinct of propriety, and the
effect was still stronger when, always considering the basin and
jug, he added: "You've filled out some since then."
"I'm afraid I have," Strether laughed: "one does fill out some with
all one takes in, and I've taken in, I dare say, more than I've
natural room for. I was dog-tired when I sailed." It had the oddest
sound of cheerfulness.
"I was dog-tired," his companion returned, "when I arrived, and it's
this wild hunt for rest that takes all the life out of me. The fact
is, Strether--and it's a comfort to have you here at last to say it to;
though I don't know, after all, that I've really waited; I've told
it to people I've met in the cars--the fact is, such a country as this
ain't my KIND of country anyway. There ain't a country I've seen over
here that DOES seem my kind. Oh I don't say but what there are plenty
of pretty places and remarkable old things; but the trouble is that I
don't seem to feel anywhere in tune. That's one of the reasons why I
suppose I've gained so little. I haven't had the first sign of that
lift I was led to expect." With this he broke out more earnestly.
"Look here--I want to go back."
His eyes were all attached to Strether's now, for he was one of the
men who fully face you when they talk of themselves. This enabled
his friend to look at him hard and immediately to appear to the
highest advantage in his eyes by doing so. "That's a genial thing
to say to a fellow who has come out on purpose to meet you!"
Nothing could have been finer, on this, than Waymarsh's sombre
glow. "HAVE you come out on purpose?"
"I thought from the way you wrote there was something back of it."
Strether hesitated. "Back of my desire to be with you?"
"Back of your prostration."
Strether, with a smile made more dim by a certain consciousness,
shook his head. "There are all the causes of it!"
"And no particular cause that seemed most to drive you?"
Our friend could at last conscientiously answer. "Yes. One. There
IS a matter that has had much to do with my coming out."
Waymarsh waited a little. "Too private to mention?"
"No, not too private--for YOU. Only rather complicated."
"Well," said Waymarsh, who had waited again, "I MAY lose my mind
over here, but I don't know as I've done so yet."
"Oh you shall have the whole thing. But not tonight."
Waymarsh seemed to sit stiffer and to hold his elbows tighter. "Why
not--if I can't sleep?"
"Because, my dear man, I CAN!"
"Then where's your prostration?"
"Just in that--that I can put in eight hours." And Strether brought
it out that if Waymarsh didn't "gain" it was because he didn't go
to bed: the result of which was, in its order, that, to do the
latter justice, he permitted his friend to insist on his really
getting settled. Strether, with a kind coercive hand for it,
assisted him to this consummation, and again found his own part in
their relation auspiciously enlarged by the smaller touches of
lowering the lamp and seeing to a sufficiency of blanket. It
somehow ministered for him to indulgence to feel Waymarsh, who
looked unnaturally big and black in bed, as much tucked in as a
patient in a hospital and, with his covering up to his chin, as
much simplified by it He hovered in vague pity, to be brief, while
his companion challenged him out of the bedclothes. "Is she really
after you? Is that what's behind?"
Strether felt an uneasiness at the direction taken by his
companion's insight, but he played a little at uncertainty. "Behind
my coming out?"
"Behind your prostration or whatever. It's generally felt, you
know, that she follows you up pretty close."
Strether's candour was never very far off. "Oh it has occurred to
you that I'm literally running away from Mrs. Newsome?"
"Well, I haven't KNOWN but what you are. You're a very attractive
man, Strether. You've seen for yourself," said Waymarsh "what that
lady downstairs makes of it. Unless indeed," he rambled on with an
effect between the ironic and the anxious, "it's you who are after
HER. IS Mrs. Newsome OVER here?" He spoke as with a droll dread of
It made his friend--though rather dimly--smile. "Dear no she's
safe, thank goodness--as I think I more and more feel--at home. She
thought of coming, but she gave it up. I've come in a manner
instead of her; and come to that extent--for you're right in your
inference--on her business. So you see there IS plenty of
Waymarsh continued to see at least all there was. "Involving
accordingly the particular one I've referred to?"
Strether took another turn about the room, giving a twitch to his
companion's blanket and finally gaining the door. His feeling was
that of a nurse who had earned personal rest by having made
everything straight. "Involving more things than I can think of
breaking ground on now. But don't be afraid--you shall have them
from me: you'll probably find yourself having quite as much of them
as you can do with. I shall--if we keep together--very much depend
on your impression of some of them."
Waymarsh's acknowledgement of this tribute was characteristically
indirect. "You mean to say you don't believe we WILL keep
"I only glance at the danger," Strether paternally said, "because
when I hear you wail to go back I seem to see you open up such
possibilities of folly."
Waymarsh took it--silent a little--like a large snubbed child "What
are you going to do with me?"
It was the very question Strether himself had put to Miss Gostrey,
and he wondered if he had sounded like that. But HE at least could
be more definite. "I'm going to take you right down to London."
"Oh I've been down to London!" Waymarsh more softly moaned. "I've
no use, Strether, for anything down there."
"Well," said Strether, good-humouredly, "I guess you've some use
"So I've got to go?"
"Oh you've got to go further yet."
"Well," Waymarsh sighed, "do your damnedest! Only you WILL tell me
before you lead me on all the way--?"
Our friend had again so lost himself, both for amusement and for
contrition, in the wonder of whether he had made, in his own
challenge that afternoon, such another figure, that he for an
instant missed the thread. "Tell you--?"
"Why what you've got on hand."
Strether hesitated. "Why it's such a matter as that even if I
positively wanted I shouldn't be able to keep it from you."
Waymarsh gloomily gazed. "What does that mean then but that your
trip is just FOR her?"
"For Mrs. Newsome? Oh it certainly is, as I say. Very much."
"Then why do you also say it's for me?"
Strether, in impatience, violently played with his latch. "It's
simple enough. It's for both of you."
Waymarsh at last turned over with a groan. "Well, I won't marry
"Neither, when it comes to that--!" But the visitor had already
laughed and escaped.
He had told Miss Gostrey he should probably take, for departure
with Waymarsh, some afternoon train, and it thereupon in the
morning appeared that this lady had made her own plan for an
earlier one. She had breakfasted when Strether came into the
coffee-room; but, Waymarsh not having yet emerged, he was in time
to recall her to the terms of their understanding and to pronounce
her discretion overdone. She was surely not to break away at the
very moment she had created a want. He had met her as she rose
from her little table in a window, where, with the morning papers
beside her, she reminded him, as he let her know, of Major
Pendennis breakfasting at his club--a compliment of which she
professed a deep appreciation; and he detained her as pleadingly
as if he had already--and notably under pressure of the visions of
the night--learned to be unable to do without her. She must teach
him at all events, before she went, to order breakfast as
breakfast was ordered in Europe, and she must especially sustain
him in the problem of ordering for Waymarsh. The latter had laid
upon his friend, by desperate sounds through the door of his room,
dreadful divined responsibilities in respect to beefsteak and
oranges--responsibilities which Miss Gostrey took over with an
alertness of action that matched her quick intelligence. She had
before this weaned the expatriated from traditions compared with
which the matutinal beefsteak was but the creature of an hour, and
it was not for her, with some of her memories, to falter in the
path though she freely enough declared, on reflexion, that there
was always in such cases a choice of opposed policies. "There are
times when to give them their head, you know--!"
They had gone to wait together in the garden for the dressing of
the meal, and Strether found her more suggestive than ever "Well,
"Is to bring about for them such a complexity of relations-unless
indeed we call it a simplicity!--that the situation HAS to wind
itself up. They want to go back."
"And you want them to go!" Strether gaily concluded.
"I always want them to go, and I send them as fast as I can.'
"Oh I know--you take them to Liverpool."
"Any port will serve in a storm. I'm--with all my other functions--
an agent for repatriation. I want to re-people our stricken
country. What will become of it else? I want to discourage others."
The ordered English garden, in the freshness of the day, was
delightful to Strether, who liked the sound, under his feet, of
the tight fine gravel, packed with the chronic damp, and who had
the idlest eye for the deep smoothness of turf and the clean
curves of paths. "Other people?"
"Other countries. Other people--yes. I want to encourage our own."
Strether wondered. "Not to come? Why then do you 'meet' them--
since it doesn't appear to be to stop them?"
"Oh that they shouldn't come is as yet too much to ask. What I
attend to is that they come quickly and return still more so. I
meet them to help it to be over as soon as possible, and though I
don't stop them I've my way of putting them through. That's my
little system; and, if you want to know," said Maria Gostrey,
"it's my real secret, my innermost mission and use. I only seem,
you see, to beguile and approve; but I've thought it all out and
I'm working all the while underground. I can't perhaps quite give
you my formula, but I think that practically I succeed. I send you
back spent. So you stay back. Passed through my hands--"
"We don't turn up again?" The further she went the further he
always saw himself able to follow. "I don't want your formula--I
feel quite enough, as I hinted yesterday, your abysses. Spent!" he
echoed. "If that's how you're arranging so subtly to send me I
thank you for the warning."
For a minute, amid the pleasantness--poetry in tariffed items, but
all the more, for guests already convicted, a challenge to
consumption--they smiled at each other in confirmed fellowship. "Do
you call it subtly? It's a plain poor tale. Besides, you're a
"Oh special cases--that's weak!" She was weak enough, further
still, to defer her journey and agree to accompany the gentlemen on
their own, might a separate carriage mark her independence; though
it was in spite of this to befall after luncheon that she went off
alone and that, with a tryst taken for a day of her company in
London, they lingered another night. She had, during the morning--
spent in a way that he was to remember later on as the very climax
of his foretaste, as warm with presentiments, with what he would
have called collapses--had all sorts of things out with Strether;
and among them the fact that though there was never a moment of her
life when she wasn't "due" somewhere, there was yet scarce a
perfidy to others of which she wasn't capable for his sake. She
explained moreover that wherever she happened to be she found a
dropped thread to pick up, a ragged edge to repair, some familiar
appetite in ambush, jumping out as she approached, yet appeasable
with a temporary biscuit. It became, on her taking the risk of the
deviation imposed on him by her insidious arrangement of his
morning meal, a point of honour for her not to fail with Waymarsh
of the larger success too; and her subsequent boast to Strether was
that she had made their friend fare--and quite without his knowing
what was the matter--as Major Pendennis would have fared at the
Megatherium. She had made him breakfast like a gentleman, and it
was nothing, she forcibly asserted, to what she would yet make him
do. She made him participate in the slow reiterated ramble with
which, for Strether, the new day amply filled itself; and it was by
her art that he somehow had the air, on the ramparts and in the
Rows, of carrying a point of his own.
The three strolled and stared and gossiped, or at least the
two did; the case really yielding for their comrade, if analysed,
but the element of stricken silence. This element indeed affected
Strether as charged with audible rumblings, but he was conscious of
the care of taking it explicitly as a sign of pleasant peace. He
wouldn't appeal too much, for that provoked stiffness; yet he
wouldn't be too freely tacit, for that suggested giving up.
Waymarsh himself adhered to an ambiguous dumbness that might have
represented either the growth of a perception or the despair of
one; and at times and in places--where the low-browed galleries
were darkest, the opposite gables queerest, the solicitations of
every kind densest--the others caught him fixing hard some object
of minor interest, fixing even at moments nothing discernible, as
if he were indulging it with a truce. When he met Strether's eye on
such occasions he looked guilty and furtive, fell the next minute
into some attitude of retractation. Our friend couldn't show him
the right things for fear of provoking some total renouncement, and
was tempted even to show him the wrong in order to make him differ
with triumph. There were moments when he himself felt shy of
professing the full sweetness of the taste of leisure, and there
were others when he found himself feeling as if his passages of
interchange with the lady at his side might fall upon the third
member of their party very much as Mr. Burchell, at Dr. Primrose's
fireside, was influenced by the high flights of the visitors from
London. The smallest things so arrested and amused him that he
repeatedly almost apologised--brought up afresh in explanation his
plea of a previous grind. He was aware at the same time that his
grind had been as nothing to Waymarsh's, and he repeatedly
confessed that, to cover his frivolity, he was doing his best for
his previous virtue. Do what he might, in any case, his previous
virtue was still there, and it seemed fairly to stare at him out of
the windows of shops that were not as the shops of Woollett, fairly
to make him want things that he shouldn't know what to do with. It
was by the oddest, the least admissible of laws demoralising him
now; and the way it boldly took was to make him want more wants.
These first walks in Europe were in fact a kind of finely lurid
intimation of what one might find at the end of that process. Had
he come back after long years, in something already so like the
evening of life, only to be exposed to it? It was at all events
over the shop-windows that he made, with Waymarsh, most free;
though it would have been easier had not the latter most sensibly
yielded to the appeal of the merely useful trades. He pierced with
his sombre detachment the plate-glass of ironmongers and saddlers,
while Strether flaunted an affinity with the dealers in stamped
letter-paper and in smart neckties. Strether was in fact
recurrently shameless in the presence of the tailors, though it was
just over the heads of the tailors that his countryman most loftily
looked. This gave Miss Gostrey a grasped opportunity to back up
Waymarsh at his expense. The weary lawyer--it was unmistakeable--
had a conception of dress; but that, in view of some of the
features of the effect produced, was just what made the danger of
insistence on it. Strether wondered if he by this time thought Miss
Gostrey less fashionable or Lambert Strether more so; and it
appeared probable that most of the remarks exchanged between this
latter pair about passers, figures, faces, personal types,
exemplified in their degree the disposition to talk as "society"
Was what was happening to himself then, was what already HAD
happened, really that a woman of fashion was floating him into
society and that an old friend deserted on the brink was watching
the force of the current? When the woman of fashion permitted
Strether--as she permitted him at the most--the purchase of a pair
of gloves, the terms she made about it, the prohibition of neckties
and other items till she should be able to guide him through the
Burlington Arcade, were such as to fall upon a sensitive ear as a
challenge to just imputations. Miss Gostrey was such a woman of
fashion as could make without a symptom of vulgar blinking an
appointment for the Burlington Arcade. Mere discriminations about a
pair of gloves could thus at any rate represent--always for such
sensitive ears as were in question--possibilities of something that
Strether could make a mark against only as the peril of apparent
wantonness. He had quite the consciousness of his new friend, for
their companion, that he might have had of a Jesuit in petticoats,
a representative of the recruiting interests of the Catholic
Church. The Catholic Church, for Waymarsh-that was to say the
enemy, the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering
groping tentacles--was exactly society, exactly the multiplication
of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones,
exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism;
exactly in short Europe.
There was light for observation, however, in an incident that
occurred just before they turned back to luncheon. Waymarsh had
been for a quarter of an hour exceptionally mute and distant, and
something, or other--Strether was never to make out exactly what--
proved, as it were, too much for him after his comrades had stood
for three minutes taking in, while they leaned on an old balustrade
that guarded the edge of the Row, a particularly crooked and
huddled street-view. "He thinks us sophisticated, he thinks us
worldly, he thinks us wicked, he thinks us all sorts of queer
things," Strether reflected; for wondrous were the vague quantities
our friend had within a couple of short days acquired the habit of
conveniently and conclusively lumping together. There seemed
moreover a direct connexion between some such inference and a
sudden grim dash taken by Waymarsh to the opposite side. This
movement was startlingly sudden, and his companions at first
supposed him to have espied, to be pursuing, the glimpse of an
acquaintance. They next made out, however, that an open door had
instantly received him, and they then recognised him as engulfed in
the establishment of a jeweller, behind whose glittering front he
was lost to view. The fact had somehow the note of a demonstration,
and it left each of the others to show a face almost of fear. But
Miss Gostrey broke into a laugh. "What's the matter with him?"
"Well," said Strether, "he can't stand it."
"But can't stand what?"
"Then how will that jeweller help him?"
Strether seemed to make it out, from their position, between the
interstices of arrayed watches, of close-hung dangling gewgaws.
"Ah that's just what--if he buys anything--I'm afraid of: that I
shall see something rather dreadful."
Strether studied the finer appearances. "He may buy everything."
"Then don't you think we ought to follow him?"
"Not for worlds. Besides we can't. We're paralysed. We exchange a
long scared look, we publicly tremble. The thing is, you see, we
'realise.' He has struck for freedom."
She wondered but she laughed. "Ah what a price to pay! And I was
preparing some for him so cheap."
"No, no," Strether went on, frankly amused now; "don't call it
that: the kind of freedom you deal in is dear." Then as to justify
himself: "Am I not in MY way trying it? It's this."
"Being here, you mean, with me?''
"Yes, and talking to you as I do. I've known you a few hours, and
I've known HIM all my life; so that if the ease I thus take with
you about him isn't magnificent"--and the thought of it held him a
moment--"why it's rather base."
"It's magnificent!" said Miss Gostrey to make an end of it. "And
you should hear," she added, "the ease I take--and I above all
intend to take--with Mr. Waymarsh."
Strether thought. "About ME? Ah that's no equivalent.
The equivalent would be Waymarsh's himself serving me up--
his remorseless analysis of me. And he'll never do that"--
he was sadly clear. "He'll never remorselessly analyse me."
He quite held her with the authority of this. "He'll never
say a word to you about me."
She took it in; she did it justice; yet after an instant her
reason, her restless irony, disposed of it. "Of course he won't.
For what do you take people, that they're able to say words about
anything, able remorselessly to analyse? There are not many like
you and me. It will be only because he's too stupid."
It stirred in her friend a sceptical echo which was at the same
time the protest of the faith of years. "Waymarsh stupid?"
"Compared with you."
Strether had still his eyes on the jeweller's front, and he waited
a moment to answer. "He's a success of a kind that I haven't
"Do you mean he has made money?"
"He makes it--to my belief. And I," said Strether, "though with a
back quite as bent, have never made anything. I'm a perfectly
He feared an instant she'd ask him if he meant he was poor; and he
was glad she didn't, for he really didn't know to what the truth on
this unpleasant point mightn't have prompted her. She only,
however, confirmed his assertion. "Thank goodness you're a failure--
it's why I so distinguish you! Anything else to-day is too
hideous. Look about you--look at the successes. Would you BE one,
on your honour? Look, moreover," she continued, "at me."
For a little accordingly their eyes met. "I see," Strether
returned. "You too are out of it."
"The superiority you discern in me," she concurred, "announces my
futility. If you knew," she sighed, "the dreams of my youth! But
our realities are what has brought us together. We're beaten
brothers in arms."
He smiled at her kindly enough, but he shook his head. "It doesn't
alter the fact that you're expensive. You've cost me already--!"
But he had hung fire. "Cost you what?"
"Well, my past--in one great lump. But no matter," he laughed:
"I'll pay with my last penny."
Her attention had unfortunately now been engaged by their comrade's
return, for Waymarsh met their view as he came out of his shop. "I
hope he hasn't paid," she said, "with HIS last; though I'm
convinced he has been splendid, and has been so for you."
"Ah no--not that!"
"Then for me?"
"Quite as little." Waymarsh was by this time near enough to show
signs his friend could read, though he seemed to look almost
carefully at nothing in particular.
"Then for himself?"
"For nobody. For nothing. For freedom."
"But what has freedom to do with it?"
Strether's answer was indirect. "To be as good as you and me. But
She had had time to take in their companion's face; and with it, as
such things were easy for her, she took in all. "Different--yes.
If Waymarsh was sombre he was also indeed almost sublime. He told
them nothing, left his absence unexplained, and though they were
convinced he had made some extraordinary purchase they were never
to learn its nature. He only glowered grandly at the tops of the
old gables. "It's the sacred rage," Strether had had further time
to say; and this sacred rage was to become between them, for
convenient comprehension, the description of one of his periodical
necessities. It was Strether who eventually contended that it did
make him better than they. But by that time Miss Gostrey was
convinced that she didn't want to be better than Strether.
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 triumphantly known, three days running,
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 hadn't 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
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, more than once acting as 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 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 on 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 connexion, 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 assuredly existed 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