Maria wondered, seemed a little to doubt. "Are you so sure for her?"
"Oh yes — sure now. Too much has happened. I'm different for her."
She took it in then, drawing a deeper breath. "I see. So that as she's different for YOU — "
"Ah but," he interrupted, "she's not." And as Miss Gostrey wondered again: "She's the same. She's more than ever the same. But I do what I didn't before — I SEE her."
He spoke gravely and as if responsibly — since he had to pronounce; and the effect of it was slightly solemn, so that she simply exclaimed "Oh!" Satisfied and grateful, however, she showed in her own next words an acceptance of his statement. "What then do you go home to?"
He had pushed his plate a little away, occupied with another side of the matter; taking refuge verily in that side and feeling so moved that he soon found himself on his feet. He was affected in advance by what he believed might come from her, and he would have liked to forestall it and deal with it tenderly; yet in the presence of it he wished still more to be — though as smoothly as possible — deterrent and conclusive. He put her question by for the moment; he told her more about Chad. "It would have been impossible to meet me more than he did last night on the question of the infamy of not sticking to her."
"Is that what you called it for him — 'infamy'?"
"Oh rather! I described to him in detail the base creature he'd be, and he quite agrees with me about it."
"So that it's really as if you had nailed him?"
"Quite really as if — ! I told him I should curse him."
"Oh," she smiled, "you HAVE done it." And then having thought again: "You CAN'T after that propose — !" Yet she scanned his face.
"Propose again to Mrs. Newsome?"
She hesitated afresh, but she brought it out. "I've never believed, you know, that you did propose. I always believed it was really she — and, so far as that goes, I can understand it. What I mean is," she explained, "that with such a spirit — the spirit of curses! — your breach is past mending. She has only to know what you've done to him never again to raise a finger."
"I've done," said Strether, "what I could — one can't do more. He protests his devotion and his horror. But I'm not sure I've saved him. He protests too much. He asks how one can dream of his being tired. But he has all life before him."
Maria saw what he meant. "He's formed to please."
"And it's our friend who has formed him." Strether felt in it the strange irony.
"So it's scarcely his fault!"
"It's at any rate his danger. I mean," said Strether, "it's hers. But she knows it."
"Yes, she knows it. And is your idea," Miss Gostrey asked, "that there was some other woman in London?"
"Yes. No. That is I HAVE no ideas. I'm afraid of them. I've done with them." And he put out his hand to her. "Good-bye."
It brought her back to her unanswered question. "To what do you go home?"
"I don't know. There will always be something."
"To a great difference," she said as she kept his hand.
"A great difference — no doubt. Yet I shall see what I can make of it."
"Shall you make anything so good — ?" But, as if remembering what Mrs. Newsome had done, it was as far as she went.
He had sufficiently understood. "So good as this place at this moment? So good as what YOU make of everything you touch?" He took a moment to say, for, really and truly, what stood about him there in her offer — which was as the offer of exquisite service, of lightened care, for the rest of his days — might well have tempted. It built him softly round, it roofed him warmly over, it rested, all so firm, on selection. And what ruled selection was beauty and knowledge. It was awkward, it was almost stupid, not to seem to prize such things; yet, none the less, so far as they made his opportunity they made it only for a moment. She'd moreover understand — she always understood.
That indeed might be, but meanwhile she was going on. "There's nothing, you know, I wouldn't do for you."
"Oh yes — I know."
"There's nothing," she repeated, "in all the world."
"I know. I know. But all the same I must go." He had got it at last. "To be right."
"To be right?"
She had echoed it in vague deprecation, but he felt it already clear for her. "That, you see, is my only logic. Not, out of the whole affair, to have got anything for myself."
She thought. "But with your wonderful impressions you'll have got a great deal."
"A great deal" — he agreed. "But nothing like YOU. It's you who would make me wrong!"
Honest and fine, she couldn't greatly pretend she didn't see it. Still she could pretend just a little. "But why should you be so dreadfully right?"
"That's the way that — if I must go — you yourself would be the first to want me. And I can't do anything else."
So then she had to take it, though still with her defeated protest. "It isn't so much your BEING 'right' — it's your horrible sharp eye for what makes you so."
"Oh but you're just as bad yourself. You can't resist me when I point that out."
She sighed it at last all comically, all tragically, away. "I can't indeed resist you."
"Then there we are!" said Strether.