Part 4 out of 9
as a treasure dug up; giving him too, more than anything yet,
the note of the range of the immeasurable town and sweeping away,
as by a last brave brush, his usual landmarks and terms.
It was in the garden, a spacious cherished remnant, out of
which a dozen persons had already passed, that Chad's host
presently met them while the tall bird-haunted trees, all of a twitter
with the spring and the weather, and the high party-walls,
on the other side of which grave hotels stood off for privacy,
spoke of survival, transmission, association, a strong indifferent
persistent order. The day was so soft that the little party had
practically adjourned to the open air but the open air was in such
conditions all a chamber of state. Strether had presently the
sense of a great convent, a convent of missions, famous for he
scarce knew what, a nursery of young priests, of scattered shade,
of straight alleys and chapel-bells, that spread its mass in one
quarter; he had the sense of names in the air, of ghosts at the
windows, of signs and tokens, a whole range of expression, all
about him, too thick for prompt discrimination.
This assault of images became for a moment, in the address of the
distinguished sculptor, almost formidable: Gloriani showed him,
in such perfect confidence, on Chad's introduction of him, a fine
worn handsome face, a face that was like an open letter in a
foreign tongue. With his genius in his eyes, his manners on his
lips, his long career behind him and his honours and rewards all
round, the great artist, in the course of a single sustained look
and a few words of delight at receiving him, affected our friend
as a dazzling prodigy of type. Strether had seen in museums--in
the Luxembourg as well as, more reverently, later on, in the New
York of the billionaires--the work of his hand; knowing too that
after an earlier time in his native Rome he had migrated, in
mid-career, to Paris, where, with a personal lustre almost violent,
he shone in a constellation: all of which was more than enough
to crown him, for his guest, with the light, with the romance,
of glory. Strether, in contact with that element as he had never
yet so intimately been, had the consciousness of opening to it,
for the happy instant, all the windows of his mind, of letting this
rather grey interior drink in for once the sun of a clime not
marked in his old geography. He was to remember again repeatedly
the medal-like Italian face, in which every line was an artist's
own, in which time told only as tone and consecration; and he was
to recall in especial, as the penetrating radiance, as the
communication of the illustrious spirit itself, the manner in
which, while they stood briefly, in welcome and response, face to
face, he was held by the sculptor's eyes. He wasn't soon to forget
them, was to think of them, all unconscious, unintending,
preoccupied though they were, as the source of the deepest
intellectual sounding to which he had ever been exposed. He was in
fact quite to cherish his vision of it, to play with it in idle
hours; only speaking of it to no one and quite aware he couldn't
have spoken without appearing to talk nonsense. Was what it had
told him or what it had asked him the greater of the mysteries?
Was it the most special flare, unequalled, supreme, of the
aesthetic torch, lighting that wondrous world for ever, or was it
above all the long straight shaft sunk by a personal acuteness
that life had seasoned to steel? Nothing on earth could have been
stranger and no one doubtless more surprised than the artist
himself, but it was for all the world to Strether just then as if
in the matter of his accepted duty he had positively been on trial.
The deep human expertness in Gloriani's charming smile--oh the
terrible life behind it!--was flashed upon him as a test of his stuff.
Chad meanwhile, after having easily named his companion, had still
more easily turned away and was already greeting other persons present.
He was as easy, clever Chad, with the great artist as with his obscure
compatriot, and as easy with every one else as with either:
this fell into its place for Strether and made almost a new light,
giving him, as a concatenation, something more he could enjoy.
He liked Gloriani, but should never see him again; of that he was
sufficiently sure. Chad accordingly, who was wonderful with both
of them, was a kind of link for hopeless fancy, an implication of
possibilities--oh if everything had been different! Strether noted
at all events that he was thus on terms with illustrious spirits,
and also that--yes, distinctly--he hadn't in the least swaggered
about it. Our friend hadn't come there only for this figure of Abel
Newsome's son, but that presence threatened to affect the observant
mind as positively central. Gloriani indeed, remembering something
and excusing himself, pursued Chad to speak to him, and Strether was
left musing on many things. One of them was the question of whether,
since he had been tested, he had passed. Did the artist drop him
from having made out that he wouldn't do? He really felt just to-day
that he might do better than usual. Hadn't he done well enough,
so far as that went, in being exactly so dazzled? and in not having
too, as he almost believed, wholly hidden from his host that he felt
the latter's plummet? Suddenly, across the garden, he saw little
Bilham approach, and it was a part of the fit that was on him that
as their eyes met he guessed also HIS knowledge. If he had said to
him on the instant what was uppermost he would have said: "HAVE I
passed?--for of course I know one has to pass here." Little Bilham
would have reassured him, have told him that he exaggerated, and
have adduced happily enough the argument of little Bilham's own
very presence; which, in truth, he could see, was as easy a one as
Gloriani's own or as Chad's. He himself would perhaps then after a
while cease to be frightened, would get the point of view for some
of the faces--types tremendously alien, alien to Woollett--that he
had already begun to take in. Who were they all, the dispersed
groups and couples, the ladies even more unlike those of Woollett
than the gentlemen?--this was the enquiry that, when his young
friend had greeted him, he did find himself making.
"Oh they're every one--all sorts and sizes; of course I mean
within limits, though limits down perhaps rather more than limits
up. There are always artists--he's beautiful and inimitable to the
cher confrere; and then gros bonnets of many kinds--ambassadors,
cabinet ministers, bankers, generals, what do I know? even Jews.
Above all always some awfully nice women--and not too many;
sometimes an actress, an artist, a great performer--but only when
they're not monsters; and in particular the right femmes du monde.
You can fancy his history on that side--I believe it's fabulous:
they NEVER give him up. Yet he keeps them down: no one knows how
he manages; it's too beautiful and bland. Never too many--and a
mighty good thing too; just a perfect choice. But there are not in
any way many bores; it has always been so; he has some secret.
It's extraordinary. And you don't find it out. He's the same to
every one. He doesn't ask questions.'
"Ah doesn't he?" Strether laughed.
Bilham met it with all his candour. "How then should I be here?
"Oh for what you tell me. You're part of the perfect choice."
Well, the young man took in the scene. "It seems rather good to-day."
Strether followed the direction of his eyes. "Are they all, this
time, femmes du monde?"
Little Bilham showed his competence. "Pretty well."
This was a category our friend had a feeling for; a light,
romantic and mysterious, on the feminine element, in which he
enjoyed for a little watching it. "Are there any Poles?"
His companion considered. "I think I make out a 'Portuguee.' But
I've seen Turks."
Strether wondered, desiring justice. "They seem--all the women--
"Oh in closer quarters they come out!" And then, while Strether
was aware of fearing closer quarters, though giving himself again
to the harmonies, "Well," little Bilham went on, "it IS at the
worst rather good, you know. If you like it, you feel it, this
way, that shows you're not in the least out But you always know
things," he handsomely added, "immediately."
Strether liked it and felt it only too much; so "I say, don't lay
traps for me!" he rather helplessly murmured.
"Well," his companion returned, "he's wonderfully kind to us."
"To us Americans you mean?"
"Oh no--he doesn't know anything about THAT. That's half the
battle here--that you can never hear politics. We don't talk them.
I mean to poor young wretches of all sorts. And yet it's always as
charming as this; it's as if, by something in the air, our squalor
didn't show. It puts us all back--into the last century."
"I'm afraid," Strether said, amused, "that it puts me rather
forward: oh ever so far!"
"Into the next? But isn't that only," little Bilham asked,
"because you're really of the century before?"
"The century before the last? Thank you!" Strether laughed. "If I
ask you about some of the ladies it can't be then that I may hope,
as such a specimen of the rococo, to please them."
"On the contrary they adore--we all adore here--the rococo, and
where is there a better setting for it than the whole thing, the
pavilion and the garden, together? There are lots of people with
collections," little Bilham smiled as he glanced round. "You'll be
It made Strether for a moment give himself again to contemplation.
There were faces he scarce knew what to make of. Were they
charming or were they only strange? He mightn't talk politics, yet
he suspected a Pole or two. The upshot was the question at the
back of his head from the moment his friend had joined him. "Have
Madame de Vionnet and her daughter arrived?"
"I haven't seen them yet, but Miss Gostrey has come. She's in the
pavilion looking at objects. One can see SHE'S a collector,"
little Bilham added without offence.
"Oh yes, she's a collector, and I knew she was to come. Is Madame
de Vionnet a collector?" Strether went on.
"Rather, I believe; almost celebrated." The young man met, on it,
a little, his friend's eyes. "I happen to know--from Chad, whom I
saw last night--that they've come back; but only yesterday.
He wasn't sure--up to the last. This, accordingly," little Bilham
went on, "will be--if they ARE here--their first appearance after
Strether, very quickly, turned these things over. "Chad told you
last night? To me, on our way here, he said nothing about it."
"But did you ask him?"
Strether did him the justice. "I dare say not."
"Well," said little Bilham, "you're not a person to whom it's easy
to tell things you don't want to know. Though it is easy, I admit--
it's quite beautiful," he benevolently added, "when you do want to."
Strether looked at him with an indulgence that matched his
intelligence. "Is that the deep reasoning on which--about these
ladies--you've been yourself so silent?"
Little Bilham considered the depth of his reasoning. "I haven't
been silent. I spoke of them to you the other day, the day we sat
together after Chad's tea-party."
Strether came round to it. "They then are the virtuous attachment?"
"I can only tell you that it's what they pass for. But isn't that
enough? What more than a vain appearance does the wisest of us
know? I commend you," the young man declared with a pleasant
emphasis, "the vain appearance."
Strether looked more widely round, and what he saw, from face to face,
deepened the effect of his young friend's words. "Is it so good?"
Strether had a pause. "The husband's dead?"
"Dear no. Alive."
"Oh!" said Strether. After which, as his companion laughed:
"How then can it be so good?"
"You'll see for yourself. One does see."
"Chad's in love with the daughter?"
"That's what I mean."
Strether wondered. "Then where's the difficulty?"
"Why, aren't you and I--with our grander bolder ideas?"
"Oh mine--!" Strether said rather strangely. But then as if to
attenuate: "You mean they won't hear of Woollett?"
Little Bilham smiled. "Isn't that just what you must see about?"
It had brought them, as she caught the last words, into relation
with Miss Barrace, whom Strether had already observed--as he had
never before seen a lady at a party--moving about alone. Coming
within sound of them she had already spoken, and she took again,
through her long-handled glass, all her amused and amusing
possession. "How much, poor Mr. Strether, you seem to have to see
about! But you can't say," she gaily declared, "that I don't do
what I can to help you. Mr. Waymarsh is placed. I've left him in
the house with Miss Gostrey."
"The way," little Bilham exclaimed, "Mr. Strether gets the ladies
to work for him! He's just preparing to draw in another; to
pounce--don't you see him?--on Madame de Vionnet."
"Madame de Vionnet? Oh, oh, oh!" Miss Barrace cried in a wonderful
crescendo. There was more in it, our friend made out, than met the
ear. Was it after all a joke that he should be serious about
anything? He envied Miss Barrace at any rate her power of not
being. She seemed, with little cries and protests and quick
recognitions, movements like the darts of some fine high-feathered
free-pecking bird, to stand before life as before some full
shop-window. You could fairly hear, as she selected and pointed,
the tap of her tortoise-shell against the glass. "It's certain that
we do need seeing about; only I'm glad it's not I who have to do it.
One does, no doubt, begin that way; then suddenly one finds that
one has given it up. It's too much, it's too difficult. You're
wonderful, you people," she continued to Strether, "for not feeling
those things--by which I mean impossibilities. You never feel them.
You face them with a fortitude that makes it a lesson to watch you."
"Ah but"--little Bilham put it with discouragement--"what do we
achieve after all? We see about you and report--when we even go so
far as reporting. But nothing's done."
"Oh you, Mr. Bilham," she replied as with an impatient rap on the
glass, "you're not worth sixpence! You come over to convert the
savages--for I know you verily did, I remember you--and the
savages simply convert YOU."
"Not even!" the young man woefully confessed: "they haven't gone
through that form. They've simply--the cannibals!--eaten me;
converted me if you like, but converted me into food. I'm but the
bleached bones of a Christian."
"Well then there we are! Only"--and Miss Barrace appealed again to
Strether--"don't let it discourage you. You'll break down soon
enough, but you'll meanwhile have had your moments. Il faut en
avoir. I always like to see you while you last. And I'll tell you
who WILL last."
"Waymarsh?"--he had already taken her up.
She laughed out as at the alarm of it. "He'll resist even Miss
Gostrey: so grand is it not to understand. He's wonderful."
"He is indeed," Strether conceded. "He wouldn't tell me of this
affair--only said he had an engagement; but with such a gloom, you
must let me insist, as if it had been an engagement to be hanged.
Then silently and secretly he turns up here with you. Do you call
"Oh I hope it's lasting!" Miss Barrace said. "But he only, at the
best, bears with me. He doesn't understand--not one little scrap.
He's delightful. He's wonderful," she repeated.
"Michelangelesque!"--little Bilham completed her meaning. "He IS
a success. Moses, on the ceiling, brought down to the floor;
overwhelming, colossal, but somehow portable."
"Certainly, if you mean by portable," she returned, "looking so
well in one's carriage. He's too funny beside me in his comer; he
looks like somebody, somebody foreign and famous, en exil; so that
people wonder--it's very amusing--whom I'm taking about. I show
him Paris, show him everything, and he never turns a hair. He's
like the Indian chief one reads about, who, when he comes up to
Washington to see the Great Father, stands wrapt in his blanket
and gives no sign. I might be the Great Father--from the way he
takes everything." She was delighted at this hit of her identity
with that personage--it fitted so her character; she declared it
was the title she meant henceforth to adopt. "And the way he sits,
too, in the corner of my room, only looking at my visitors very
hard and as if he wanted to start something! They wonder what he
does want to start. But he's wonderful," Miss Barrace once more
insisted. "He has never started anything yet."
It presented him none the less, in truth, to her actual friends,
who looked at each other in intelligence, with frank amusement on
Bilham's part and a shade of sadness on Strether's. Strether's
sadness sprang--for the image had its grandeur--from his thinking
how little he himself was wrapt in his blanket, how little, in
marble halls, all too oblivious of the Great Father, he resembled
a really majestic aboriginal. But he had also another reflexion.
"You've all of you here so much visual sense that you've somehow
all 'run' to it. There are moments when it strikes one that you
haven't any other."
"Any moral," little Bilham explained, watching serenely, across
the garden, the several femmes du monde. "But Miss Barrace has a
moral distinction," he kindly continued; speaking as if for Strether's
benefit not less than for her own.
"HAVE you?" Strether, scarce knowing what he was about, asked of
her almost eagerly.
"Oh not a distinction"--she was mightily amused at his tone--"Mr. Bilham's
too good. But I think I may say a sufficiency. Yes, a sufficiency.
Have you supposed strange things of me?"--and she fixed him again,
through all her tortoise-shell, with the droll interest of it.
"You ARE all indeed wonderful. I should awfully disappoint you.
I do take my stand on my sufficiency. But I know, I confess,"
she went on, "strange people. I don't know how it happens;
I don't do it on purpose; it seems to be my doom--as if I were
always one of their habits: it's wonderful! I dare say moreover,"
she pursued with an interested gravity, "that I do, that we all
do here, run too much to mere eye. But how can it be helped?
We're all looking at each other--and in the light of Paris one
sees what things resemble. That's what the light of Paris seems
always to show. It's the fault of the light of Paris--dear old light!"
"Dear old Paris!" little Bilham echoed.
"Everything, every one shows," Miss Barrace went on.
"But for what they really are?" Strether asked.
"Oh I like your Boston 'reallys'! But sometimes--yes."
"Dear old Paris then!" Strether resignedly sighed while for a
moment they looked at each other. Then he broke out: "Does
Madame de Vionnet do that? I mean really show for what she is?"
Her answer was prompt. "She's charming. She's perfect."
"Then why did you a minute ago say 'Oh, oh, oh!' at her name?"
She easily remembered. "Why just because--! She's wonderful."
"Ah she too?"--Strether had almost a groan.
But Miss Barrace had meanwhile perceived relief. "Why not put your
question straight to the person who can answer it best?"
"No," said little Bilham; "don't put any question; wait, rather--
it will be much more fun--to judge for yourself. He has come to
take you to her."
On which Strether saw that Chad was again at hand, and he
afterwards scarce knew, absurd as it may seem, what had then
quickly occurred. The moment concerned him, he felt, more deeply
than he could have explained, and he had a subsequent passage of
speculation as to whether, on walking off with Chad, he hadn't
looked either pale or red. The only thing he was clear about was
that, luckily, nothing indiscreet had in fact been said and that
Chad himself was more than ever, in Miss Barrace's great sense,
wonderful. It was one of the connexions--though really why it
should be, after all, was none so apparent--in which the whole
change in him came out as most striking. Strether recalled as they
approached the house that he had impressed him that first night as
knowing how to enter a box. Well, he impressed him scarce less now
as knowing how to make a presentation. It did something for
Strether's own quality--marked it as estimated; so that our poor
friend, conscious and passive, really seemed to feel himself quite
handed over and delivered; absolutely, as he would have said, made
a present of, given away. As they reached the house a young woman,
about to come forth, appeared, unaccompanied, on the steps; at the
exchange with whom of a word on Chad's part Strether immediately
perceived that, obligingly, kindly, she was there to meet them.
Chad had left her in the house, but she had afterwards come
halfway and then the next moment had joined them in the garden.
Her air of youth, for Strether, was at first almost disconcerting,
while his second impression was, not less sharply, a degree of
relief at there not having just been, with the others, any freedom
used about her. It was upon him at a touch that she was no subject
for that, and meanwhile, on Chad's introducing him, she had spoken
to him, very simply and gently, in an English clearly of the
easiest to her, yet unlike any other he had ever heard. It wasn't
as if she tried; nothing, he could see after they had been a few
minutes together, was as if she tried; but her speech, charming
correct and odd, was like a precaution against her passing for a
Pole. There were precautions, he seemed indeed to see, only when
there were really dangers.
Later on he was to feel many more of them, but by that time he was
to feel other things besides. She was dressed in black, but in
black that struck him as light and transparent; she was
exceedingly fair, and, though she was as markedly slim, her face
had a roundness, with eyes far apart and a little strange.
Her smile was natural and dim; her hat not extravagant; he had only
perhaps a sense of the clink, beneath her fine black sleeves, of
more gold bracelets and bangles than he had ever seen a lady wear.
Chad was excellently free and light about their encounter; it was
one of the occasions on which Strether most wished he himself
might have arrived at such ease and such humour: "Here you are
then, face to face at last; you're made for each other--vous allez
voir; and I bless your union." It was indeed, after he had gone
off, as if he had been partly serious too. This latter motion had
been determined by an enquiry from him about "Jeanne"; to which
her mother had replied that she was probably still in the house
with Miss Gostrey, to whom she had lately committed her. "Ah but
you know," the young man had rejoined, "he must see her"; with
which, while Strether pricked up his ears, he had started as if to
bring her, leaving the other objects of his interest together.
Strether wondered to find Miss Gostrey already involved, feeling
that he missed a link; but feeling also, with small delay, how
much he should like to talk with her of Madame de Vionnet on this
basis of evidence.
The evidence as yet in truth was meagre; which, for that matter,
was perhaps a little why his expectation had had a drop. There was
somehow not quite a wealth in her; and a wealth was all that, in
his simplicity, he had definitely prefigured. Still, it was too
much to be sure already that there was but a poverty. They moved
away from the house, and, with eyes on a bench at some distance,
he proposed that they should sit down. "I've heard a great deal
about you," she said as they went; but he had an answer to it that
made her stop short. "Well, about YOU, Madame de Vionnet, I've
heard, I'm bound to say, almost nothing"--those struck him as the
only words he himself could utter with any lucidity; conscious as
he was, and as with more reason, of the determination to be in
respect to the rest of his business perfectly plain and go
perfectly straight. It hadn't at any rate been in the least his
idea to spy on Chad's proper freedom. It was possibly, however, at
this very instant and under the impression of Madame de Vionnet's
pause, that going straight began to announce itself as a matter
for care. She had only after all to smile at him ever so gently in
order to make him ask himself if he weren't already going crooked.
It might be going crooked to find it of a sudden just only clear
that she intended very definitely to be what he would have called
nice to him. This was what passed between them while, for another
instant, they stood still; he couldn't at least remember
afterwards what else it might have been. The thing indeed really
unmistakeable was its rolling over him as a wave that he had been,
in conditions incalculable and unimaginable, a subject of
discussion. He had been, on some ground that concerned her,
answered for; which gave her an advantage he should never be able
"Hasn't Miss Gostrey," she asked, "said a good word for me?"
What had struck him first was the way he was bracketed with that
lady; and he wondered what account Chad would have given of their
acquaintance. Something not as yet traceable, at all events. had
obviously happened. "I didn't even know of her knowing you."
"Well, now she'll tell you all. I'm so glad you're in relation
This was one of the things--the "all" Miss Gostrey would now tell
him--that, with every deference to present preoccupation, was
uppermost for Strether after they had taken their seat. One of the
others was, at the end of five minutes, that she--oh incontestably,
yes--DIFFERED less; differed, that is, scarcely at all--well,
superficially speaking, from Mrs. Newsome or even from Mrs. Pocock.
She was ever so much younger than the one and not so young as the other;
but what WAS there in her, if anything, that would have made it
impossible he should meet her at Woollett? And wherein was her talk
during their moments on the bench together not the same as would have been
found adequate for a Woollett garden-party?--unless perhaps truly in
not being quite so bright. She observed to him that Mr. Newsome had, to
her knowledge, taken extraordinary pleasure in his visit; but there was
no good lady at Woollett who wouldn't have been at least up to that.
Was there in Chad, by chance, after all, deep down, a principle of
aboriginal loyalty that had made him, for sentimental ends, attach
himself to elements, happily encountered, that would remind him most
of the old air and the old soil? Why accordingly be in a flutter--
Strether could even put it that way--about this unfamiliar
phenomenon of the femme du monde? On these terms Mrs. Newsome
herself was as much of one. Little Bilham verily had testified
that they came out, the ladies of the type, in close quarters; but
it was just in these quarters--now comparatively close--that he
felt Madame de Vionnet's common humanity. She did come out, and
certainly to his relief, but she came out as the usual thing.
There might be motives behind, but so could there often be even at
Woollett. The only thing was that if she showed him she wished to
like him--as the motives behind might conceivably prompt--it
would possibly have been more thrilling for him that she should
have shown as more vividly alien. Ah she was neither Turk nor
Pole!--which would be indeed flat once more for Mrs. Newsome and
Mrs. Pocock. A lady and two gentlemen had meanwhile, however,
approached their bench, and this accident stayed for the time
They presently addressed his companion, the brilliant strangers;
she rose to speak to them, and Strether noted how the escorted
lady, though mature and by no means beautiful, had more of the
bold high look, the range of expensive reference, that he had, as
might have been said, made his plans for. Madame de Vionnet
greeted her as "Duchesse" and was greeted in turn, while talk
started in French, as "Ma toute-belle"; little facts that had
their due, their vivid interest for Strether. Madame de Vionnet
didn't, none the less, introduce him--a note he was conscious of
as false to the Woollett scale and the Woollett humanity; though
it didn't prevent the Duchess, who struck him as confident and
free, very much what he had obscurely supposed duchesses, from
looking at him as straight and as hard--for it WAS hard--as if she
would have liked, all the same, to know him. "Oh yes, my dear,
it's all right, it's ME; and who are YOU, with your interesting
wrinkles and your most effective (is it the handsomest, is it the
ugliest?) of noses?"--some such loose handful of bright flowers
she seemed, fragrantly enough, to fling at him. Strether almost
wondered--at such a pace was he going--if some divination of the
influence of either party were what determined Madame de Vionnet's
abstention. One of the gentlemen, in any case, succeeded in
placing himself in close relation with our friend's companion; a
gentleman rather stout and importantly short, in a hat with a
wonderful wide curl to its brim and a frock coat buttoned with an
effect of superlative decision. His French had quickly turned to
equal English, and it occurred to Strether that he might well be
one of the ambassadors. His design was evidently to assert a claim
to Madame de Vionnet's undivided countenance, and he made it good
in the course of a minute--led her away with a trick of three
words; a trick played with a social art of which Strether, looking
after them as the four, whose backs were now all turned, moved
off, felt himself no master.
He sank again upon his bench and, while his eyes followed the
party, reflected, as he had done before, on Chad's strange
communities. He sat there alone for five minutes, with plenty to
think of; above all with his sense of having suddenly been dropped
by a charming woman overlaid now by other impressions and in fact
quite cleared and indifferent. He hadn't yet had so quiet a
surrender; he didn't in the least care if nobody spoke to him
more. He might have been, by his attitude, in for something of a
march so broad that the want of ceremony with which he had just
been used could fall into its place as but a minor incident of the
procession. Besides, there would be incidents enough, as he felt
when this term of contemplation was closed by the reappearance of
little Bilham, who stood before him a moment with a suggestive
"Well?" in which he saw himself reflected as disorganised, as
possibly floored. He replied with a "Well!" intended to show that
he wasn't floored in the least. No indeed; he gave it out, as the
young man sat down beside him, that if, at the worst, he had been
overturned at all, he had been overturned into the upper air, the
sublimer element with which he had an affinity and in which he
might be trusted a while to float. It wasn't a descent to earth to
say after an instant and in sustained response to the reference:
"You're quite sure her husband's living?"
"Oh dear, yes."
"Ah then what?"
Strether had after all to think. "Well, I'm sorry for them." But
it didn't for the moment matter more than that. He assured his
young friend he was quite content. They wouldn't stir; were all
right as they were. He didn't want to be introduced; had been
introduced already about as far as he could go. He had seen
moreover an immensity; liked Gloriani, who, as Miss Barrace kept
saying, was wonderful; had made out, he was sure, the half-dozen
other 'men who were distinguished, the artists, the critics and oh
the great dramatist--HIM it was easy to spot; but wanted--no,
thanks, really--to talk with none of them; having nothing at all
to say and finding it would do beautifully as it was; do
beautifully because what it was--well, was just simply too late.
And when after this little Bilham, submissive and responsive, but
with an eye to the consolation nearest, easily threw off some
"Better late than never!" all he got in return for it was a sharp
"Better early than late!" This note indeed the next thing
overflowed for Strether into a quiet stream of demonstration that
as soon as he had let himself go he felt as the real relief. It
had consciously gathered to a head, but the reservoir had filled
sooner than he knew, and his companion's touch was to make the
waters spread. There were some things that had to come in time if
they were to come at all. If they didn't come in time they were
lost for ever. It was the general sense of them that had
overwhelmed him with its long slow rush.
"It's not too late for YOU, on any side, and you don't strike me
as in danger of missing the train; besides which people can be in
general pretty well trusted, of course--with the clock of their
freedom ticking as loud as it seems to do here--to keep an eye on
the fleeting hour. All the same don't forget that you're young--
blessedly young; be glad of it on the contrary and live up to it.
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? This place and these
impressions--mild as you may find them to wind a man up so; all my
impressions of Chad and of people I've seen at HIS place--well,
have had their abundant message for me, have just dropped THAT
into my mind. I see it now. I haven't done so enough before--
and now I'm old; too old at any rate for what I see. Oh I DO see,
at least; and more than you'd believe or I can express. It's too late.
And it's as if the train had fairly waited at the station for me
without my having had the gumption to know it was there.
Now I hear its faint receding whistle miles and miles down the line.
What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. The affair--
I mean the affair of life--couldn't, no doubt, have been different
for me; for it's at the best a tin mould, either fluted and embossed,
with ornamental excrescences, or else smooth and dreadfully plain,
into which, a helpless jelly, one's consciousness is poured--
so that one 'takes' the form as the great cook says, and is more
or less compactly held by it: one lives in fine as one can.
Still, one has the illusion of freedom; therefore don't be, like me,
without the memory of that illusion. I was either, at the right time,
too stupid or too intelligent to have it; I don't quite know which.
Of course at present I'm a case of reaction against the mistake;
and the voice of reaction should, no doubt, always be taken with
an allowance. But that doesn't affect the point that the right time
is now yours. The right time is ANY time that one is still so lucky
as to have. You've plenty; that's the great thing; you're, as I say,
damn you, so happily and hatefully young. Don't at any rate miss things
out of stupidity. Of course I don't take you for a fool, or I
shouldn't be addressing you thus awfully. Do what you like so long
as you don't make MY mistake. For it was a mistake. Live!" . . .
Slowly and sociably, with full pauses and straight dashes,
Strether had so delivered himself; holding little Bilham
from step to step deeply and gravely attentive. The end of all was
that the young man had turned quite solemn, and that this was a
contradiction of the innocent gaiety the speaker had wished to
promote. He watched for a moment the consequence of his words,
and then, laying a hand on his listener's knee and as if to end
with the proper joke: "And now for the eye I shall keep on you!"
"Oh but I don't know that I want to be, at your age, too different
"Ah prepare while you're about it," said Strether, "to be more
Little Bilham continued to think, but at last had a smile. "Well,
you ARE amusing--to ME."
"Impayable, as you say, no doubt. But what am I to myself?"
Strether had risen with this, giving his attention now to an
encounter that, in the middle of the garden, was in the act of
taking place between their host and the lady at whose side Madame
de Vionnet had quitted him. This lady, who appeared within a few
minutes to have left her friends, awaited Gloriani's eager
approach with words on her lips that Strether couldn't catch, but
of which her interesting witty face seemed to give him the echo.
He was sure she was prompt and fine, but also that she had met her
match, and he liked--in the light of what he was quite sure was
the Duchess's latent insolence--the good humour with which the
great artist asserted equal resources. Were they, this pair, of
the "great world"?--and was he himself, for the moment and thus
related to them by his observation, IN it? Then there was
something in the great world covertly tigerish, which came to him
across the lawn and in the charming air as a waft from the jungle.
Yet it made him admire most of the two, made him envy, the glossy
male tiger, magnificently marked. These absurdities of the stirred
sense, fruits of suggestion ripening on the instant, were all
reflected in his next words to little Bilham. "I know--if we talk
of that--whom I should enjoy being like!"
Little Bilham followed his eyes; but then as with a shade of knowing
Our friend had in fact already hesitated, though not on the hint
of his companion's doubt, in which there were depths of critical
reserve. He had just made out, in the now full picture, something
and somebody else; another impression had been superimposed. A
young girl in a white dress and a softly plumed white hat had
suddenly come into view, and what was presently clear was that her
course was toward them. What was clearer still was that the
handsome young man at her side was Chad Newsome, and what was
clearest of all was that she was therefore Mademoiselle de Vionnet,
that she was unmistakeably pretty--bright gentle shy happy
wonderful--and that Chad now, with a consummate calculation
of effect, was about to present her to his old friend's vision.
What was clearest of all indeed was something much more than this,
something at the single stroke of which--and wasn't it simply
juxtaposition?--all vagueness vanished. It was the click of a
spring--he saw the truth. He had by this time also met Chad's
look; there was more of it in that; and the truth, accordingly, so
far as Bilham's enquiry was concerned, had thrust in the answer.
"Oh Chad!"--it was that rare youth he should have enjoyed being
"like." The virtuous attachment would be all there before him; the
virtuous attachment would be in the very act of appeal for his blessing;
Jeanne de Vionnet, this charming creature, would be exquisitely,
intensely now--the object of it. Chad brought her straight up to him,
and Chad was, oh yes, at this moment--for the glory of Woollett or
whatever--better still even than Gloriani. He had plucked this
blossom; he had kept it over-night in water; and at last as he held
it up to wonder he did enjoy his effect. That was why Strether had
felt at first the breath of calculation--and why moreover, as he
now knew, his look at the girl would be, for the young man, a sign
of the latter's success. What young man had ever paraded about that
way, without a reason, a maiden in her flower? And there was
nothing in his reason at present obscure. Her type sufficiently
told of it--they wouldn't, they couldn't, want her to go to
Woollett. Poor Woollett, and what it might miss!--though brave Chad
indeed too, and what it might gain! Brave Chad however had just
excellently spoken. "This is a good little friend of mine who knows
all about you and has moreover a message for you. And this, my
dear"--he had turned to the child herself--"is the best man in the
world, who has it in his power to do a great deal for us and whom I
want you to like and revere as nearly as possible as much as I do."
She stood there quite pink, a little frightened, prettier and
prettier and not a bit like her mother. There was in this last
particular no resemblance but that of youth to youth; and here was
in fact suddenly Strether's sharpest impression. It went wondering,
dazed, embarrassed, back to the woman he had just been talking
with; it was a revelation in the light of which he already saw she
would become more interesting. So slim and fresh and fair, she had
yet put forth this perfection; so that for really believing it of
her, for seeing her to any such developed degree as a mother,
comparison would be urgent. Well, what was it now but fairly thrust
upon him? "Mamma wishes me to tell you before we go," the girl
said, "that she hopes very much you'll come to see us very soon.
She has something important to say to you."
"She quite reproaches herself," Chad helpfully explained: "you were
interesting her so much when she accidentally suffered you to be
"Ah don't mention it!" Strether murmured, looking kindly from one
to the other and wondering at many things.
"And I'm to ask you for myself," Jeanne continued with her hands
clasped together as if in some small learnt prayer--"I'm to ask you
for myself if you won't positively come."
"Leave it to me, dear--I'll take care of it!" Chad genially
declared in answer to this, while Strether himself almost held his
breath. What was in the girl was indeed too soft, too unknown for
direct dealing; so that one could only gaze at it as at a picture,
quite staying one's own hand. But with Chad he was now on ground--
Chad he could meet; so pleasant a confidence in that and in
everything did the young man freely exhale. There was the whole of
a story in his tone to his companion, and he spoke indeed as if
already of the family. It made Strether guess the more quickly what
it might be about which Madame de Vionnet was so urgent. Having
seen him then she had found him easy; she wished to have it out
with him that some way for the young people must be discovered,
some way that would not impose as a condition the transplantation
of her daughter. He already saw himself discussing with this lady
the attractions of Woollett as a residence for Chad's companion.
Was that youth going now to trust her with the affair--so that it
would be after all with one of his "lady-friends" that his mother's
missionary should be condemned to deal? It was quite as if for an
instant the two men looked at each other on this question. But
there was no mistaking at last Chad's pride in the display of such
a connexion. This was what had made him so carry himself while,
three minutes before, he was bringing it into view; what had caused
his friend, first catching sight of him, to be so struck with his
air. It was, in a word, just when he thus finally felt Chad putting
things straight off on him that he envied him, as he had mentioned
to little Bilham, most. The whole exhibition however was but a
matter of three or four minutes, and the author of it had soon
explained that, as Madame de Vionnet was immediately going "on,"
this could be for Jeanne but a snatch. They would all meet again
soon, and Strether was meanwhile to stay and amuse himself--"I'll
pick you up again in plenty of time." He took the girl off as he
had brought her, and Strether, with the faint sweet foreignness of
her "Au revoir, monsieur!" in his ears as a note almost
unprecedented, watched them recede side by side and felt how, once
more, her companion's relation to her got an accent from it. They
disappeared among the others and apparently into the house;
whereupon our friend turned round to give out to little Bilham the
conviction of which he was full. But there was no little Bilham any
more; little Bilham had within the few moments, for reasons of his
own, proceeded further: a circumstance by which, in its order,
Strether was also sensibly affected.
Chad was not in fact on this occasion to keep his promise of coming
back; but Miss Gostrey had soon presented herself with an
explanation of his failure. There had been reasons at the last for
his going off with ces dames; and he had asked her with much
instance to come out and take charge of their friend. She did so,
Strether felt as she took her place beside him, in a manner that
left nothing to desire. He had dropped back on his bench, alone
again for a time, and the more conscious for little Bilham's
defection of his unexpressed thought; in respect to which however
this next converser was a still more capacious vessel. "It's the
child!" he had exclaimed to her almost as soon as she appeared; and
though her direct response was for some time delayed he could feel
in her meanwhile the working of this truth. It might have been
simply, as she waited, that they were now in presence altogether of
truth spreading like a flood and not for the moment to be offered
her in the mere cupful; inasmuch as who should ces dames prove to
be but persons about whom--once thus face to face with them--she
found she might from the first have told him almost everything?
This would have freely come had he taken the simple precaution of
giving her their name. There could be no better example--and she
appeared to note it with high amusement--than the way, making
things out already so much for himself, he was at last throwing
precautions to the winds. They were neither more nor less, she and
the child's mother, than old school-friends--friends who had
scarcely met for years but whom this unlooked-for chance had
brought together with a rush. It was a relief, Miss Gostrey hinted,
to feel herself no longer groping; she was unaccustomed to grope
and as a general thing, he might well have seen, made straight
enough for her clue. With the one she had now picked up in her
hands there need be at least no waste of wonder. "She's coming to
see me--that's for YOU," Strether's counsellor continued; "but I
don't require it to know where I am."
The waste of wonder might be proscribed; but Strether,
characteristically, was even by this time in the immensity of
space. "By which you mean that you know where SHE is?"
She just hesitated. "I mean that if she comes to see me I shall--
now that I've pulled myself round a bit after the shock--not be at
Strether hung poised. "You call it--your recognition--a shock?"
She gave one of her rare flickers of impatience. "It was a
surprise, an emotion. Don't be so literal. I wash my hands of her."
Poor Strether's face lengthened. "She's impossible--?"
"She's even more charming than I remembered her."
"Then what's the matter?"
She had to think how to put it. "Well, I'M impossible. It's
impossible. Everything's impossible."
He looked at her an instant. "I see where you're coming out.
Everything's possible." Their eyes had on it in fact an exchange of
some duration; after which he pursued: "Isn't it that beautiful
child?" Then as she still said nothing: "Why don't you mean to
Her answer in an instant rang clear. "Because I wish to keep out of
It provoked in him a weak wail. "You're going to abandon me NOW?"
"No, I'm only going to abandon HER. She'll want me to help her with
you. And I won't."
"You'll only help me with her? Well then--!" Most of the persons
previously gathered had, in the interest of tea, passed into the
house, and they had the gardens mainly to themselves. The shadows
were long, the last call of the birds, who had made a home of their
own in the noble interspaced quarter, sounded from the high trees
in the other gardens as well, those of the old convent and of the
old hotels; it was as if our friends had waited for the full charm
to come out. Strether's impressions were still present; it was as
if something had happened that "nailed" them, made them more
intense; but he was to ask himself soon afterwards, that evening,
what really HAD happened--conscious as he could after all remain
that for a gentleman taken, and taken the first time, into the
"great world," the world of ambassadors and duchesses, the items
made a meagre total. It was nothing new to him, however, as we
know, that a man might have--at all events such a man as he--an
amount of experience out of any proportion to his adventures; so
that, though it was doubtless no great adventure to sit on there
with Miss Gostrey and hear about Madame de Vionnet, the hour, the
picture, the immediate, the recent, the possible--as well as the
communication itself, not a note of which failed to reverberate--
only gave the moments more of the taste of history.
It was history, to begin with, that Jeanne's mother had been
three-and-twenty years before, at Geneva, schoolmate and good
girlfriend to Maria Gostrey, who had moreover enjoyed since then,
though interruptedly and above all with a long recent drop,
other glimpses of her. Twenty-three years put them both on,
no doubt; and Madame de Vionnet--though she had married straight
after school--couldn't be today an hour less than thirty-eight.
This made her ten years older than Chad--though ten years, also, if
Strether liked, older than she looked; the least, at any rate, that
a prospective mother-in-law could be expected to do with. She would
be of all mothers-in-law the most charming; unless indeed, through
some perversity as yet insupposeable, she should utterly belie herself
in that relation. There was none surely in which, as Maria remembered
her, she mustn't be charming; and this frankly in spite of the stigma
of failure in the tie where failure always most showed. It was no test
there--when indeed WAS it a test there?--for Monsieur de Vionnet
had been a brute. She had lived for years apart from him--which was
of course always a horrid position; but Miss Gostrey's impression
of the matter had been that she could scarce have made a better
thing of it had she done it on purpose to show she was amiable. She
was so amiable that nobody had had a word to say; which was luckily
not the case for her husband. He was so impossible that she had the
advantage of all her merits.
It was still history for Strether that the Comte de Vionnet--it
being also history that the lady in question was a Countess--should
now, under Miss Gostrey's sharp touch, rise before him as a high
distinguished polished impertinent reprobate, the product of a
mysterious order; it was history, further, that the charming girl
so freely sketched by his companion should have been married out of
hand by a mother, another figure of striking outline, full of dark
personal motive; it was perhaps history most of all that this
company was, as a matter of course, governed by such considerations
as put divorce out of the question. "Ces gens-la don't divorce, you
know, any more than they emigrate or abjure--they think it impious
and vulgar"; a fact in the light of which they seemed but the more
richly special. It was all special; it was all, for Strether's
imagination, more or less rich. The girl at the Genevese school, an
isolated interesting attaching creature, then both sensitive and
violent, audacious but always forgiven, was the daughter of a
French father and an English mother who, early left a widow, had
married again--tried afresh with a foreigner; in her career with
whom she had apparently given her child no example of comfort. All
these people--the people of the English mother's side--had been of
condition more or less eminent; yet with oddities and disparities
that had often since made Maria, thinking them over, wonder what
they really quite rhymed to. It was in any case her belief that the
mother, interested and prone to adventure, had been without
conscience, had only thought of ridding herself most quickly of a
possible, an actual encumbrance. The father, by her impression, a
Frenchman with a name one knew, had been a different matter,
leaving his child, she clearly recalled, a memory all fondness, as
well as an assured little fortune which was unluckily to make her
more or less of a prey later on. She had been in particular, at
school, dazzlingly, though quite booklessly, clever; as polyglot
as a little Jewess (which she wasn't, oh no!) and chattering French,
English, German, Italian, anything one would, in a way that made a
clean sweep, if not of prizes and parchments, at least of every
"part," whether memorised or improvised, in the curtained costumed
school repertory, and in especial of all mysteries of race and
vagueness of reference, all swagger about "home," among their
It would doubtless be difficult to-day, as between French and
English, to name her and place her; she would certainly show, on
knowledge, Miss Gostrey felt, as one of those convenient types who
don't keep you explaining--minds with doors as numerous as the
many-tongued cluster of confessionals at Saint Peter's. You might
confess to her with confidence in Roumelian, and even Roumelian
sins. Therefore--! But Strether's narrator covered her implication
with a laugh; a laugh by which his betrayal of a sense of the lurid
in the picture was also perhaps sufficiently protected. He had a
moment of wondering, while his friend went on, what sins might be
especially Roumelian. She went on at all events to the mention of
her having met the young thing--again by some Swiss lake--in her
first married state, which had appeared for the few intermediate
years not at least violently disturbed. She had been lovely at that
moment, delightful to HER, full of responsive emotion, of amused
recognitions and amusing reminders, and then once more, much later,
after a long interval, equally but differently charming--touching
and rather mystifying for the five minutes of an encounter at a
railway-station en province, during which it had come out that her
life was all changed. Miss Gostrey had understood enough to see,
essentially, what had happened, and yet had beautifully dreamed
that she was herself faultless. There were doubtless depths in her,
but she was all right; Strether would see if she wasn't. She was
another person however--that had been promptly marked--from the
small child of nature at the Geneva school, a little person quite
made over (as foreign women WERE, compared with American) by
marriage. Her situation too had evidently cleared itself up; there
would have been--all that was possible--a judicial separation. She
had settled in Paris, brought up her daughter, steered her boat. It
was no very pleasant boat--especially there--to be in; but Marie de
Vionnet would have headed straight. She would have friends,
certainly--and very good ones. There she was at all events--and it
was very interesting. Her knowing Mr. Chad didn't in the least
prove she hadn't friends; what it proved was what good ones HE had.
"I saw that," said Miss Gostrey, "that night at the Francais; it
came out for me in three minutes. I saw HER--or somebody like her.
And so," she immediately added, "did you."
"Oh no--not anybody like her!" Strether laughed. "But you mean," he
as promptly went on, "that she has had such an influence on him?"
Miss Gostrey was on her feet; it was time for them to go. "She has
brought him up for her daughter."
Their eyes, as so often, in candid conference, through their
settled glasses, met over it long; after which Strether's again
took in the whole place. They were quite alone there now. "Mustn't
she rather--in the time then--have rushed it?"
"Ah she won't of course have lost an hour. But that's just the good
mother--the good French one. You must remember that of her--that as
a mother she's French, and that for them there's a special
providence. It precisely however--that she mayn't have been able to
begin as far back as she'd have liked--makes her grateful for aid."
Strether took this in as they slowly moved to the house on their
way out. "She counts on me then to put the thing through?"
"Yes--she counts on you. Oh and first of all of course," Miss
Gostrey added, "on her--well, convincing you."
"Ah," her friend returned, "she caught Chad young!"
"Yes, but there are women who are for all your 'times of life.'
They're the most wonderful sort."
She had laughed the words out, but they brought her companion, the
next thing, to a stand. "Is what you mean that she'll try to make a
fool of me?"
"Well, I'm wondering what she WILL--with an opportunity--make."
"What do you call," Strether asked, "an opportunity? My going to
"Ah you must go to see her"--Miss Gostrey was a trifle evasive.
"You can't not do that. You'd have gone to see the other woman. I
mean if there had been one--a different sort. It's what you came
It might be; but Strether distinguished. "I didn't come out to see
She had a wonderful look at him now. "Are you disappointed she
He for a moment entertained the question, then found for it the
frankest of answers. "Yes. If she were worse she'd be better for
our purpose. It would be simpler."
"Perhaps," she admitted. "But won't this be pleasanter?"
"Ah you know," he promptly replied, "I didn't come out--wasn't that
just what you originally reproached me with?--for the pleasant."
"Precisely. Therefore I say again what I said at first. You must
take things as they come. Besides," Miss Gostrey added, "I'm not
afraid for myself."
"Of your seeing her. I trust her. There's nothing she'll say about
me. In fact there's nothing she CAN."
Strether wondered--little as he had thought of this. Then he broke
out. "Oh you women!"
There was something in it at which she flushed. "Yes--there we are.
We're abysses." At last she smiled. "But I risk her!"
He gave himself a shake. "Well then so do I!" But he added as they
passed into the house that he would see Chad the first thing in the
This was the next day the more easily effected that the young man,
as it happened, even before he was down, turned up at his hotel.
Strether took his coffee, by habit, in the public room; but on his
descending for this purpose Chad instantly proposed an adjournment
to what he called greater privacy. He had himself as yet had
nothing--they would sit down somewhere together; and when after a
few steps and a turn into the Boulevard they had, for their greater
privacy, sat down among twenty others, our friend saw in his
companion's move a fear of the advent of Waymarsh. It was the first
time Chad had to that extent given this personage "away"; and
Strether found himself wondering of what it was symptomatic. He
made out in a moment that the youth was in earnest as he hadn't yet
seen him; which in its turn threw a ray perhaps a trifle startling
on what they had each up to that time been treating as earnestness.
It was sufficiently flattering however that the real thing--if
this WAS at last the real thing--should have been determined, as
appeared, precisely by an accretion of Strether's importance. For
this was what it quickly enough came to--that Chad, rising with the
lark, had rushed down to let him know while his morning
consciousness was yet young that he had literally made the
afternoon before a tremendous impression. Madame de Vionnet
wouldn't, couldn't rest till she should have some assurance from
him that he WOULD consent again to see her. The announcement was
made, across their marble-topped table, while the foam of the hot
milk was in their cups and its plash still in the air, with the
smile of Chad's easiest urbanity; and this expression of his face
caused our friend's doubts to gather on the spot into a challenge
of the lips. "See here"--that was all; he only for the moment said
again "See here." Chad met it with all his air of straight
intelligence, while Strether remembered again that fancy of the
first impression of him, the happy young Pagan, handsome and hard
but oddly indulgent, whose mysterious measure he had under the
street-lamp tried mentally to take. The young Pagan, while a long
look passed between them, sufficiently understood. Strether scarce
needed at last to say the rest--"I want to know where I am." But he
said it, adding before any answer something more. "Are you engaged
to be married--is that your secret?--to the young lady?"
Chad shook his head with the slow amenity that was one of his ways
of conveying that there was time for everything. "I have no secret--
though I may have secrets! I haven't at any rate that one. We're
not engaged. No."
"Then where's the hitch?"
"Do you mean why I haven't already started with you?" Chad,
beginning his coffee and buttering his roll, was quite ready to
explain. "Nothing would have induced me--nothing will still induce
me--not to try to keep you here as long as you can be made to stay.
It's too visibly good for you." Strether had himself plenty to say
about this, but it was amusing also to measure the march of Chad's
tone. He had never been more a man of the world, and it was always
in his company present to our friend that one was seeing how in
successive connexions a man of the world acquitted himself. Chad
kept it up beautifully. "My idea--voyons!--is simply that you
should let Madame de Vionnet know you, simply that you should
consent to know HER. I don't in the least mind telling you that,
clever and charming as she is, she's ever so much in my confidence.
All I ask of you is to let her talk to you. You've asked me about
what you call my hitch, and so far as it goes she'll explain it to
you. She's herself my hitch, hang it--if you must really have it
all out. But in a sense," he hastened in the most wonderful manner
to add, "that you'll quite make out for yourself. She's too good a
friend, confound her. Too good, I mean, for me to leave without--
without--" It was his first hesitation.
"Well, without my arranging somehow or other the damnable terms of
"It WILL be a sacrifice then?"
"It will be the greatest loss I ever suffered. I owe her so much."
It was beautiful, the way Chad said these things, and his plea was
now confessedly--oh quite flagrantly and publicly--interesting. The
moment really took on for Strether an intensity. Chad owed Madame
de Vionnet so much? What DID that do then but clear up the whole
mystery? He was indebted for alterations, and she was thereby in a
position to have sent in her bill for expenses incurred in
reconstruction. What was this at bottom but what had been to be
arrived at? Strether sat there arriving at it while he munched
toast and stirred his second cup. To do this with the aid of Chad's
pleasant earnest face was also to do more besides. No, never before
had he been so ready to take him as he was. What was it that had
suddenly so cleared up? It was just everybody's character; that is
everybody's but--in a measure--his own. Strether felt HIS character
receive for the instant a smutch from all the wrong things he had
suspected or believed. The person to whom Chad owed it that he
could positively turn out such a comfort to other persons--such a
person was sufficiently raised above any "breath" by the nature of
her work and the young man's steady light. All of which was vivid
enough to come and go quickly; though indeed in the midst of it
Strether could utter a question. "Have I your word of honour that
if I surrender myself to Madame de Vionnet you'll surrender
yourself to me?"
Chad laid his hand firmly on his friend's. "My dear man, you have
There was finally something in his felicity almost embarrassing and
oppressive--Strether had begun to fidget under it for the open air
and the erect posture. He had signed to the waiter that he wished
to pay, and this transaction took some moments, during which he
thoroughly felt, while he put down money and pretended--it was
quite hollow--to estimate change, that Chad's higher spirit, his
youth, his practice, his paganism, his felicity, his assurance, his
impudence, whatever it might be, had consciously scored a success.
Well, that was all right so far as it went; his sense of the thing
in question covered our friend for a minute like a veil through
which--as if he had been muffled--he heard his interlocutor ask him
if he mightn't take him over about five. "Over" was over the river,
and over the river was where Madame de Vionnet lived, and five was
that very afternoon. They got at last out of the place--got out
before he answered. He lighted, in the street, a cigarette, which
again gave him more time. But it was already sharp for him that
there was no use in time. "What does she propose to do to me?" he
had presently demanded.
Chad had no delays. "Are you afraid of her?"
"Oh immensely. Don't you see it?"
"Well," said Chad, "she won't do anything worse to you than make
you like her."
"It's just of that I'm afraid."
"Then it's not fair to me."
Strether cast about. "It's fair to your mother."
"Oh," said Chad, "are you afraid of HER?"
"Scarcely less. Or perhaps even more. But is this lady against your
interests at home?" Strether went on.
"Not directly, no doubt; but she's greatly in favour of them here."
"And what--'here'--does she consider them to be?"
"Well, good relations!"
"And what is it that makes them so good?"
"What? Well, that's exactly what you'll make out if you'll only go,
as I'm supplicating you, to see her."
Strether stared at him with a little of the wanness, no doubt, that
the vision of more to "make out" could scarce help producing. "I
mean HOW good are they?"
"Oh awfully good."
Again Strether had faltered, but it was brief. It was all very
well, but there was nothing now he wouldn't risk. "Excuse me, but I
must really--as I began by telling you--know where I am. Is she
"'Bad'?"--Chad echoed it, but without a shock. "Is that what's
"When relations are good?" Strether felt a little silly, and was
even conscious of a foolish laugh, at having it imposed on him to
have appeared to speak so. What indeed was he talking about? His
stare had relaxed; he looked now all round him. But something in
him brought him back, though he still didn't know quite how to turn
it. The two or three ways he thought of, and one of them in
particular, were, even with scruples dismissed, too ugly. He none
the less at last found something. "Is her life without reproach?"
It struck him, directly he had found it, as pompous and priggish;
so much so that he was thankful to Chad for taking it only in the
right spirit. The young man spoke so immensely to the point that
the effect was practically of positive blandness. "Absolutely
without reproach. A beautiful life. Allez donc voir!"
These last words were, in the liberality of their confidence, so
imperative that Strether went through no form of assent; but before
they separated it had been confirmed that he should be picked up at
a quarter to five.
It was quite by half-past five--after the two men had been together
in Madame de Vionnet's drawing-room not more than a dozen minutes--
that Chad, with a look at his watch and then another at their
hostess, said genially, gaily: "I've an engagement, and I know you
won't complain if I leave him with you. He'll interest you
immensely; and as for her," he declared to Strether, "I assure you,
if you're at all nervous, she's perfectly safe."
He had left them to be embarrassed or not by this guarantee, as
they could best manage, and embarrassment was a thing that Strether
wasn't at first sure Madame de Vionnet escaped. He escaped it
himself, to his surprise; but he had grown used by this time to
thinking of himself as brazen. She occupied, his hostess, in the
Rue de Bellechasse, the first floor of an old house to which our
visitors had had access from an old clean court. The court was
large and open, full of revelations, for our friend, of the habit
of privacy, the peace of intervals, the dignity of distances and
approaches; the house, to his restless sense, was in the high
homely style of an elder day, and the ancient Paris that he was
always looking for--sometimes intensely felt, sometimes more
acutely missed--was in the immemorial polish of the wide waxed
staircase and in the fine boiseries, the medallions, mouldings,
mirrors, great clear spaces, of the greyish-white salon into which
he had been shown. He seemed at the very outset to see her in the
midst of possessions not vulgarly numerous, but hereditary
cherished charming. While his eyes turned after a little from those
of his hostess and Chad freely talked--not in the least about HIM,
but about other people, people he didn't know, and quite as if he
did know them--he found himself making out, as a background of the
occupant, some glory, some prosperity of the First Empire, some
Napoleonic glamour, some dim lustre of the great legend; elements
clinging still to all the consular chairs and mythological brasses
and sphinxes' heads and faded surfaces of satin striped with
The place itself went further back--that he guessed, and how old
Paris continued in a manner to echo there; but the post-revolutionary
period, the world he vaguely thought of as the world of Chateaubriand,
of Madame de Stael, even of the young Lamartine, had left its stamp of
harps and urns and torches, a stamp impressed on sundry small objects,
ornaments and relics. He had never before, to his knowledge, had
present to him relics, of any special dignity, of a private order--
little old miniatures, medallions, pictures, books; books in leather
bindings, pinkish and greenish, with gilt garlands on the back, ranged,
together with other promiscuous properties, under the glass of
brass-mounted cabinets. His attention took them all tenderly into account.
They were among the matters that marked Madame de Vionnet's
apartment as something quite different from Miss Gostrey's little museum
of bargains and from Chad's lovely home; he recognised it as founded
much more on old accumulations that had possibly from time to time
shrunken than on any contemporary method of acquisition or form of
curiosity. Chad and Miss Gostrey had rummaged and purchased and picked
up and exchanged, sifting, selecting, comparing; whereas the mistress of
the scene before him, beautifully passive under the spell of
transmission--transmission from her father's line, he quite made up
his mind--had only received, accepted and been quiet. When she
hadn't been quiet she had been moved at the most to some occult
charity for some fallen fortune. There had been objects she or her
predecessors might even conceivably have parted with under need,
but Strether couldn't suspect them of having sold old pieces to get
"better" ones. They would have felt no difference as to better or
worse. He could but imagine their having felt--perhaps in
emigration, in proscription, for his sketch was slight and
confused--the pressure of want or the obligation of sacrifice.
The pressure of want--whatever might be the case with the other
force--was, however, presumably not active now, for the tokens of a
chastened ease still abounded after all, many marks of a taste
whose discriminations might perhaps have been called eccentric. He
guessed at intense little preferences and sharp little exclusions,
a deep suspicion of the vulgar and a personal view of the right.
The general result of this was something for which he had no name
on the spot quite ready, but something he would have come nearest
to naming in speaking of it as the air of supreme respectability,
the consciousness, small, still, reserved, but none the less
distinct and diffused, of private honour. The air of supreme
respectability--that was a strange blank wall for his adventure to
have brought him to break his nose against. It had in fact, as he
was now aware, filled all the approaches, hovered in the court as
he passed, hung on the staircase as he mounted, sounded in the
grave rumble of the old bell, as little electric as possible, of
which Chad, at the door, had pulled the ancient but neatly-kept
tassel; it formed in short the clearest medium of its particular
kind that he had ever breathed. He would have answered for it at
the end of a quarter of an hour that some of the glass cases
contained swords and epaulettes of ancient colonels and generals;
medals and orders once pinned over hearts that had long since
ceased to beat; snuff-boxes bestowed on ministers and envoys;
copies of works presented, with inscriptions, by authors now
classic. At bottom of it all for him was the sense of her rare
unlikeness to the women he had known. This sense had grown, since
the day before, the more he recalled her, and had been above all
singularly fed by his talk with Chad in the morning. Everything in
fine made her immeasurably new, and nothing so new as the old house
and the old objects. There were books, two or three, on a small
table near his chair, but they hadn't the lemon-coloured covers
with which his eye had begun to dally from the hour of his arrival
and to the opportunity of a further acquaintance with which he had
for a fortnight now altogether succumbed. On another table, across
the room, he made out the great _Revue_; but even that familiar face,
conspicuous in Mrs. Newsome's parlours, scarce counted here as a
modern note. He was sure on the spot--and he afterwards knew he was
right--that this was a touch of Chad's own hand. What would Mrs.
Newsome say to the circumstance that Chad's interested "influence"
kept her paper-knife in the _Revue_? The interested influence at any
rate had, as we say, gone straight to the point--had in fact soon
left it quite behind.
She was seated, near the fire, on a small stuffed and fringed chair
one of the few modern articles in the room, and she leaned back in
it with her hands clasped in her lap and no movement, in all her
person, but the fine prompt play of her deep young face. The fire,
under the low white marble, undraped and academic, had burnt down
to the silver ashes of light wood, one of the windows, at a
distance, stood open to the mildness and stillness, out of which,
in the short pauses, came the faint sound, pleasant and homely,
almost rustic, of a plash and a clatter of sabots from some
coach-house on the other side of the court. Madame de Vionnet,
while Strether sat there, wasn't to shift her posture by an inch.
"I don't think you seriously believe in what you're doing," she
said; "but all the same, you know, I'm going to treat you quite as
if I did."
"By which you mean," Strether directly replied, "quite as if you
didn't! I assure you it won't make the least difference with me how
you treat me."
"Well," she said, taking that menace bravely and
philosophically enough, "the only thing that really matters is that
you shall get on with me."
"Ah but I don't!" he immediately returned.
It gave her another pause; which, however, she happily enough shook
off. "Will you consent to go on with me a little--provisionally--
as if you did?"
Then it was that he saw how she had decidedly come all the way; and
there accompanied it an extraordinary sense of her raising from
somewhere below him her beautiful suppliant eyes. He might have
been perched at his door-step or at his window and she standing in
the road. For a moment he let her stand and couldn't moreover have
spoken. It had been sad, of a sudden, with a sadness that was like
a cold breath in his face. "What can I do," he finally asked, "but
listen to you as I promised Chadwick?"
"Ah but what I'm asking you," she quickly said, "isn't what Mr.
Newsome had in mind." She spoke at present, he saw, as if to take
courageously ALL her risk. "This is my own idea and a different
It gave poor Strether in truth--uneasy as it made him too--
something of the thrill of a bold perception justified. "Well," he
answered kindly enough, "I was sure a moment since that some idea
of your own had come to you."
She seemed still to look up at him, but now more serenely. "I made
out you were sure--and that helped it to come. So you see," she
continued, "we do get on."
"Oh but it appears to me I don't at all meet your request. How can
I when I don't understand it?"
"It isn't at all necessary you should understand; it will do quite
well enough if you simply remember it. Only feel I trust you--and
for nothing so tremendous after all. Just," she said with a
wonderful smile, "for common civility."
Strether had a long pause while they sat again face to face, as
they had sat, scarce less conscious, before the poor lady had
crossed the stream. She was the poor lady for Strether now because
clearly she had some trouble, and her appeal to him could only mean
that her trouble was deep. He couldn't help it; it wasn't his
fault; he had done nothing; but by a turn of the hand she had
somehow made their encounter a relation. And the relation profited
by a mass of things that were not strictly in it or of it; by the
very air in which they sat, by the high cold delicate room, by the
world outside and the little plash in the court, by the First
Empire and the relics in the stiff cabinets, by matters as far off
as those and by others as near as the unbroken clasp of her hands
in her lap and the look her expression had of being most natural
when her eyes were most fixed. "You count upon me of course for
something really much greater than it sounds."
"Oh it sounds great enough too!" she laughed at this.
He found himself in time on the point of telling her that she was,
as Miss Barrace called it, wonderful; but, catching himself up, he
said something else instead. "What was it Chad's idea then that you
should say to me?"
"Ah his idea was simply what a man's idea always is--to put every
effort off on the woman."
"The 'woman'--?" Strether slowly echoed.
"The woman he likes--and just in proportion as he likes her. In
proportion too--for shifting the trouble--as she likes HIM."
Strether followed it; then with an abruptness of his own:
"How much do you like Chad?"
"Just as much as THAT--to take all, with you, on myself." But she
got at once again away from this. "I've been trembling as if we
were to stand or fall by what you may think of me; and I'm even
now," she went on wonderfully, "drawing a long breath--and, yes,
truly taking a great courage--from the hope that I don't in fact
strike you as impossible."
"That's at all events, clearly," he observed after an instant, "the
way I don't strike YOU."
"Well," she so far assented, "as you haven't yet said you WON'T
have the little patience with me I ask for--"
"You draw splendid conclusions? Perfectly. But I don't understand
them," Strether pursued. "You seem to me to ask for much more than
you need. What, at the worst for you, what at the best for myself,
can I after all do? I can use no pressure that I haven't used. You
come really late with your request. I've already done all that for
myself the case admits of. I've said my say, and here I am."
"Yes, here you are, fortunately!" Madame de Vionnet laughed. "Mrs.
Newsome," she added in another tone, "didn't think you can do so
He had an hesitation, but he brought the words out. "Well, she
thinks so now."
"Do you mean by that--?" But she also hung fire.
"Do I mean what?"
She still rather faltered. "Pardon me if I touch on it, but if I'm
saying extraordinary things, why, perhaps, mayn't I? Besides,
doesn't it properly concern us to know?"
"To know what?" he insisted as after thus beating about the bush
she had again dropped.
She made the effort. "Has she given you up?"
He was amazed afterwards to think how simply and quietly he had met
it. "Not yet." It was almost as if he were a trifle disappointed--
had expected still more of her freedom. But he went straight on.
"Is that what Chad has told you will happen to me?"
She was evidently charmed with the way he took it. "If you mean if
we've talked of it--most certainly. And the question's not what has
had least to do with my wishing to see you."
"To judge if I'm the sort of man a woman CAN--?"
"Precisely," she exclaimed--"you wonderful gentleman! I do judge--I
HAVE judged. A woman can't. You're safe--with every right to be.
You'd be much happier if you'd only believe it."
Strether was silent a little; then he found himself speaking with a
cynicism of confidence of which even at the moment the sources were
strange to him. "I try to believe it. But it's a marvel," he
exclaimed, "how YOU already get at it!"
Oh she was able to say. "Remember how much I was on the way to it
through Mr. Newsome--before I saw you. He thinks everything of your
"Well, I can bear almost anything!" our friend briskly interrupted.
Deep and beautiful on this her smile came back, and with the effect
of making him hear what he had said just as she had heard it. He
easily enough felt that it gave him away, but what in truth had
everything done but that? It had been all very well to think at
moments that he was holding her nose down and that he had coerced
her: what had he by this time done but let her practically see that
he accepted their relation? What was their relation moreover--
though light and brief enough in form as yet--but whatever she
might choose to make it? Nothing could prevent her--certainly he
couldn't--from making it pleasant. At the back of his head, behind
everything, was the sense that she was--there, before him, close to
him, in vivid imperative form--one of the rare women he had so
often heard of, read of, thought of, but never met, whose very
presence, look, voice, the mere contemporaneous FACT of whom, from
the moment it was at all presented, made a relation of mere
recognition. That was not the kind of woman he had ever found Mrs.
Newsome, a contemporaneous fact who had been distinctly slow to
establish herself; and at present, confronted with Madame de
Vionnet, he felt the simplicity of his original impression of Miss
Gostrey. She certainly had been a fact of rapid growth; but the
world was wide, each day was more and more a new lesson. There were
at any rate even among the stranger ones relations and relations.
"Of course I suit Chad's grand way," he quickly added. "He hasn't
had much difficulty in working me in."
She seemed to deny a little, on the young man's behalf, by the rise
of her eyebrows, an intention of any process at all inconsiderate.
"You must know how grieved he'd be if you were to lose anything. He
believes you can keep his mother patient."
Strether wondered with his eyes on her. "I see. THAT'S then what
you really want of me. And how am I to do it? Perhaps you'll tell
"Simply tell her the truth."
"And what do you call the truth?"
"Well, any truth--about us all--that you see yourself. I leave it
"Thank you very much. I like," Strether laughed with a slight
harshness, "the way you leave things!"
But she insisted kindly, gently, as if it wasn't so bad. "Be
perfectly honest. Tell her all."
"All?" he oddly echoed.
"Tell her the simple truth," Madame de Vionnet again pleaded.
"But what is the simple truth? The simple truth is exactly what I'm
trying to discover."
She looked about a while, but presently she came back to him. "Tell
her, fully and clearly, about US."
Strether meanwhile had been staring. "You and your daughter?"
"Yes--little Jeanne and me. Tell her," she just slightly quavered,
"you like us."
"And what good will that do me? Or rather"--he caught himself up--
"what good will it do YOU?"
She looked graver. "None, you believe, really?"
Strether debated. "She didn't send me out to 'like' you."
"Oh," she charmingly contended, "she sent you out to face the
He admitted after an instant that there was something in that. "But
how can I face them till I know what they are? Do you want him," he
then braced himself to ask, "to marry your daughter?"
She gave a headshake as noble as it was prompt. "No--not that."
"And he really doesn't want to himself?"
She repeated the movement, but now with a strange light in her
face. "He likes her too much."
Strether wondered. "To be willing to consider, you mean, the
question of taking her to America?"
"To be willing to do anything with her but be immensely kind and
nice--really tender of her. We watch over her, and you must help
us. You must see her again."
Strether felt awkward. "Ah with pleasure--she's so remarkably
The mother's eagerness with which Madame de Vionnet jumped at this
was to come back to him later as beautiful in its grace. "The dear
thing DID please you?" Then as he met it with the largest "Oh!" of
enthusiasm: "She's perfect. She's my joy."
"Well, I'm sure that--if one were near her and saw more of her--
she'd be mine."
"Then," said Madame de Vionnet, "tell Mrs. Newsome that!"
He wondered the more. "What good will that do you?" As she appeared
unable at once to say, however, he brought out something else. "Is
your daughter in love with our friend?"
"Ah," she rather startlingly answered, "I wish you'd find out!"
He showed his surprise. "I? A stranger?"
"Oh you won't be a stranger--presently. You shall see her quite, I
assure you, as if you weren't."
It remained for him none the less an extraordinary notion. "It
seems to me surely that if her mother can't--"
"Ah little girls and their mothers to-day!" she rather inconsequently
broke in. But she checked herself with something she seemed to give
out as after all more to the point. "Tell her I've been good for
him. Don't you think I have?"
It had its effect on him--more than at the moment he quite measured.
Yet he was consciously enough touched. "Oh if it's all you--!"
"Well, it may not be 'all,'" she interrupted, "but it's to a great
extent. Really and truly," she added in a tone that was to take its
place with him among things remembered.
"Then it's very wonderful." He smiled at her from a face that he
felt as strained, and her own face for a moment kept him so. At
last she also got up. "Well, don't you think that for that--"
"I ought to save you?" So it was that the way to meet her--and the
way, as well, in a manner, to get off--came over him. He heard
himself use the exorbitant word, the very sound of which helped to
determine his flight. "I'll save you if I can."
In Chad's lovely home, however, one evening ten days later, he felt
himself present at the collapse of the question of Jeanne de Vionnet's
shy secret. He had been dining there in the company of that young
lady and her mother, as well as of other persons, and he had gone
into the petit salon, at Chad's request, on purpose to talk with her.
The young man had put this to him as a favour--"I should like so
awfully to know what you think of her. It will really be a chance
for you," he had said, "to see the jeune fille--I mean the type--as she
actually is, and I don't think that, as an observer of manners,
it's a thing you ought to miss. It will be an impression that--
whatever else you take--you can carry home with you, where you'll
find again so much to compare it with."
Strether knew well enough with what Chad wished him to compare it,
and though he entirely assented he hadn't yet somehow been so
deeply reminded that he was being, as he constantly though mutely
expressed it, used. He was as far as ever from making out exactly
to what end; but he was none the less constantly accompanied by a
sense of the service he rendered. He conceived only that this
service was highly agreeable to those who profited by it; and he
was indeed still waiting for the moment at which he should catch it
in the act of proving disagreeable, proving in some degree
intolerable, to himself. He failed quite to see how his situation
could clear up at all logically except by some turn of events that
would give him the pretext of disgust. He was building from day to
day on the possibility of disgust, but each day brought forth
meanwhile a new and more engaging bend of the road. That
possibility was now ever so much further from sight than on the eve
of his arrival, and he perfectly felt that, should it come at all,
it would have to be at best inconsequent and violent. He struck
himself as a little nearer to it only when he asked himself what
service, in such a life of utility, he was after all rendering
Mrs. Newsome. When he wished to help himself to believe that he was
still all right he reflected--and in fact with wonder--on the
unimpaired frequency of their correspondence; in relation to which
what was after all more natural than that it should become more
frequent just in proportion as their problem became more complicated?
Certain it is at any rate that he now often brought himself balm by
the question, with the rich consciousness of yesterday's letter,
"Well, what can I do more than that--what can I do more than tell
her everything?" To persuade himself that he did tell her, had told
her, everything, he used to try to think of particular things he
hadn't told her. When at rare moments and in the watches of the
night he pounced on one it generally showed itself to be--to a
deeper scrutiny--not quite truly of the essence. When anything new
struck him as coming up, or anything already noted as reappearing,
he always immediately wrote, as if for fear that if he didn't he
would miss something; and also that he might be able to say to
himself from time to time "She knows it NOW--even while I worry."
It was a great comfort to him in general not to have left past
things to be dragged to light and explained; not to have to produce
at so late a stage anything not produced, or anything even veiled
and attenuated, at the moment. She knew it now: that was what he
said to himself to-night in relation to the fresh fact of Chad's
acquaintance with the two ladies--not to speak of the fresher one
of his own. Mrs. Newsome knew in other words that very night at
Woollett that he himself knew Madame de Vionnet and that he had
conscientiously been to see her; also that he had found her
remarkably attractive and that there would probably be a good deal
more to tell. But she further knew, or would know very soon, that,
again conscientiously, he hadn't repeated his visit; and that when
Chad had asked him on the Countess's behalf--Strether made her out
vividly, with a thought at the back of his head, a Countess--if he
wouldn't name a day for dining with her, he had replied lucidly:
"Thank you very much--impossible." He had begged the young man
would present his excuses and had trusted him to understand that it
couldn't really strike one as quite the straight thing. He hadn't
reported to Mrs. Newsome that he had promised to "save" Madame de
Vionnet; but, so far as he was concerned with that reminiscence, he
hadn't at any rate promised to haunt her house. What Chad had
understood could only, in truth, be inferred from Chad's behaviour,
which had been in this connexion as easy as in every other. He was
easy, always, when he understood; he was easier still, if possible,
when he didn't; he had replied that he would make it all right; and
he had proceeded to do this by substituting the present occasion--
as he was ready to substitute others--for any, for every occasion
as to which his old friend should have a funny scruple.
"Oh but I'm not a little foreign girl; I'm just as English as I can be,"
Jeanne de Vionnet had said to him as soon as, in the petit salon,
he sank, shyly enough on his own side, into the place near her
vacated by Madame Gloriani at his approach. Madame Gloriani,
who was in black velvet, with white lace and powdered hair, and
whose somewhat massive majesty melted, at any contact, into the
graciousness of some incomprehensible tongue, moved away to make
room for the vague gentleman, after benevolent greetings to him
which embodied, as he believed, in baffling accents, some
recognition of his face from a couple of Sundays before. Then he
had remarked--making the most of the advantage of his years--that
it frightened him quite enough to find himself dedicated to the
entertainment of a little foreign girl. There were girls he wasn't
afraid of--he was quite bold with little Americans. Thus it was
that she had defended herself to the end--"Oh but I'm almost
American too. That's what mamma has wanted me to be--I mean LIKE
that; for she has wanted me to have lots of freedom. She has known
such good results from it."
She was fairly beautiful to him--a faint pastel in an oval frame:
he thought of her already as of some lurking image in a long
gallery, the portrait of a small old-time princess of whom nothing
was known but that she had died young. Little Jeanne wasn't,
doubtless, to die young, but one couldn't, all the same, bear on
her lightly enough. It was bearing hard, it was bearing as HE, in
any case, wouldn't bear, to concern himself, in relation to her,
with the question of a young man. Odious really the question of a
young man; one didn't treat such a person as a maid-servant
suspected of a "follower." And then young men, young men--well, the
thing was their business simply, or was at all events hers. She was
fluttered, fairly fevered--to the point of a little glitter that
came and went in her eyes and a pair of pink spots that stayed in
her cheeks--with the great adventure of dining out and with the
greater one still, possibly, of finding a gentleman whom she must
think of as very, very old, a gentleman with eye-glasses, wrinkles,
a long grizzled moustache. She spoke the prettiest English, our
friend thought, that he had ever heard spoken, just as he had
believed her a few minutes before to be speaking the prettiest
French. He wondered almost wistfully if such a sweep of the lyre
didn't react on the spirit itself; and his fancy had in fact,
before he knew it, begun so to stray and embroider that he finally
found himself, absent and extravagant, sitting with the child in a
friendly silence. Only by this time he felt her flutter to have
fortunately dropped and that she was more at her ease. She trusted
him, liked him, and it was to come back to him afterwards that she
had told him things. She had dipped into the waiting medium at last
and found neither surge nor chill--nothing but the small splash she
could herself make in the pleasant warmth, nothing but the safety
of dipping and dipping again. At the end of the ten minutes he was
to spend with her his impression--with all it had thrown off and
all it had taken in--was complete. She had been free, as she knew
freedom, partly to show him that, unlike other little persons she
knew, she had imbibed that ideal. She was delightfully quaint about
herself, but the vision of what she had imbibed was what most held
him. It really consisted, he was soon enough to feel, in just one
great little matter, the fact that, whatever her nature, she was
thoroughly--he had to cast about for the word, but it came--bred.
He couldn't of course on so short an acquaintance speak for her
nature, but the idea of breeding was what she had meanwhile dropped
into his mind. He had never yet known it so sharply presented. Her
mother gave it, no doubt; but her mother, to make that less sensible,
gave so much else besides, and on neither of the two previous occasions,
extraordinary woman, Strether felt, anything like what she was giving
tonight. Little Jeanne was a case, an exquisite case of education;
whereas the Countess, whom it so amused him to think of by that
denomination, was a case, also exquisite, of--well, he didn't know what.
"He has wonderful taste, notre jeune homme": this was what Gloriani
said to him on turning away from the inspection of a small picture
suspended near the door of the room. The high celebrity in question
had just come in, apparently in search of Mademoiselle de Vionnet,
but while Strether had got up from beside her their fellow guest,
with his eye sharply caught, had paused for a long look. The thing
was a landscape, of no size, but of the French school, as our
friend was glad to feel he knew, and also of a quality--which he
liked to think he should also have guessed; its frame was large out
of proportion to the canvas, and he had never seen a person look at
anything, he thought, just as Gloriani, with his nose very near and
quick movements of the head from side to side and bottom to top,
examined this feature of Chad's collection. The artist used that
word the next moment smiling courteously, wiping his nippers and
looking round him further--paying the place in short by the very
manner of his presence and by something Strether fancied he could
make out in this particular glance, such a tribute as, to the
latter's sense, settled many things once for all. Strether was
conscious at this instant, for that matter, as he hadn't yet been,
of how, round about him, quite without him, they WERE consistently
settled. Gloriani's smile, deeply Italian, he considered, and
finely inscrutable, had had for him, during dinner, at which they
were not neighbours, an indefinite greeting; but the quality in it
was gone that had appeared on the other occasion to turn him inside
out; it was as if even the momentary link supplied by the doubt
between them had snapped. He was conscious now of the final
reality, which was that there wasn't so much a doubt as a
difference altogether; all the more that over the difference the
famous sculptor seemed to signal almost condolingly, yet oh how
vacantly! as across some great flat sheet of water. He threw out
the bridge of a charming hollow civility on which Strether wouldn't
have trusted his own full weight a moment. That idea, even though
but transient and perhaps belated, had performed the office of
putting Strether more at his ease, and the blurred picture had
already dropped--dropped with the sound of something else said and
with his becoming aware, by another quick turn, that Gloriani was
now on the sofa talking with Jeanne, while he himself had in his
ears again the familiar friendliness and the elusive meaning of the
"Oh, oh, oh!" that had made him, a fortnight before, challenge Miss
Barrace in vain. She had always the air, this picturesque and
original lady, who struck him, so oddly, as both antique and
modern--she had always the air of taking up some joke that one had
already had out with her. The point itself, no doubt, was what was
antique, and the use she made of it what was modern. He felt just
now that her good-natured irony did bear on something, and it
troubled him a little that she wouldn't be more explicit only
assuring him, with the pleasure of observation so visible in her,
that she wouldn't tell him more for the world. He could take refuge
but in asking her what she had done with Waymarsh, though it must
be added that he felt himself a little on the way to a clue after
she had answered that this personage was, in the other room,
engaged in conversation with Madame de Vionnet. He stared a moment
at the image of such a conjunction; then, for Miss Barrace's
benefit, he wondered. "Is she too then under the charm--?"
"No, not a bit"--Miss Barrace was prompt. "She makes nothing of him.
She's bored. She won't help you with him."
"Oh," Strether laughed, "she can't do everything.
"Of course not--wonderful as she is. Besides, he makes nothing of
HER. She won't take him from me--though she wouldn't, no doubt,
having other affairs in hand, even if she could. I've never," said
Miss Barrace, "seen her fail with any one before. And to-night,
when she's so magnificent, it would seem to her strange--if she
minded. So at any rate I have him all. Je suis tranquille!''
Strether understood, so far as that went; but he was feeling for
his clue. "She strikes you to-night as particularly magnificent?"
"Surely. Almost as I've never seen her. Doesn't she you?
Why it's FOR you."
He persisted in his candour. "'For' me--?"
"Oh, oh, oh!" cried Miss Barrace, who persisted in the opposite of
"Well," he acutely admitted, "she IS different. She's gay. "
"She's gay!" Miss Barrace laughed. "And she has beautiful
shoulders--though there's nothing different in that."
"No," said Strether, "one was sure of her shoulders.
It isn't her shoulders."
His companion, with renewed mirth and the finest sense, between
the puffs of her cigarette, of the drollery of things, appeared to
find their conversation highly delightful. "Yes, it isn't
her shoulders ."
"What then is it?" Strether earnestly enquired.
"Why, it's SHE--simply. It's her mood. It's her charm."
"Of course it's her charm, but we're speaking of the difference."
"Well," Miss Barrace explained, "she's just brilliant, as we used
to say. That's all. She's various. She's fifty women."
"Ah but only one"--Strether kept it clear--"at a time."
"Perhaps. But in fifty times--!"
"Oh we shan't come to that," our friend declared; and the next
moment he had moved in another direction. "Will you answer me a
plain question? Will she ever divorce?"
Miss Barrace looked at him through all her tortoise-shell. "Why
It wasn't what he had asked for, he signified; but he met it well
enough. "To marry Chad."
"Why should she marry Chad?"
"Because I'm convinced she's very fond of him. She has done wonders
"Well then, how could she do more? Marrying a man, or woman
either," Miss Barrace sagely went on, "is never the wonder for any
Jack and Jill can bring THAT off. The wonder is their doing such
things without marrying."
Strether considered a moment this proposition. "You mean it's so
beautiful for our friends simply to go on so?"
But whatever he said made her laugh. "Beautiful."
He nevertheless insisted. "And THAT because it's disinterested?"
She was now, however, suddenly tired of the question. "Yes then--
call it that. Besides, she'll never divorce. Don't, moreover," she
added, "believe everything you hear about her husband."
He's not then," Strether asked, "a wretch?"
"Oh yes. But charming."
"Do you know him?"
"I've met him. He's bien aimable."
"To every one but his wife?"
"Oh for all I know, to her too--to any, to every woman. I hope you
at any rate," she pursued with a quick change, "appreciate the care
I take of Mr. Waymarsh."
"Oh immensely." But Strether was not yet in line. "At all events,"
he roundly brought out, "the attachment's an innocent one."
"Mine and his? Ah," she laughed, "don't rob it of ALL interest!"
"I mean our friend's here--to the lady we've been speaking of."
That was what he had settled to as an indirect but none the less
closely involved consequence of his impression of Jeanne. That was
where he meant to stay. "It's innocent," he repeated--"I see the
Mystified by his abrupt declaration, she had glanced over at
Gloriani as at the unnamed subject of his allusion, but the next