One of the features of the restless afternoon passed by him after Mrs. Pocock's visit was an hour spent, shortly before dinner, with Maria Gostrey, whom of late, in spite of so sustained a call on his attention from other quarters, he had by no means neglected. And that he was still not neglecting her will appear from the fact that he was with her again at the same hour on the very morrow — with no less fine a consciousness moreover of being able to hold her ear. It continued inveterately to occur, for that matter, that whenever he had taken one of his greater turns he came back to where she so faithfully awaited him. None of these excursions had on the whole been livelier than the pair of incidents — the fruit of the short interval since his previous visit — on which he had now to report to her. He had seen Chad Newsome late the night before, and he had had that morning, as a sequel to this conversation, a second interview with Sarah. "But they're all off," he said, "at last."
It puzzled her a moment. "All? — Mr. Newsome with them?"
"Ah not yet! Sarah and Jim and Mamie. But Waymarsh with them — for Sarah. It's too beautiful," Strether continued; "I find I don't get over that — it's always a fresh joy. But it's a fresh joy too," he added, "that — well, what do you think? Little Bilham also goes. But he of course goes for Mamie."
Miss Gostrey wondered. "'For' her? Do you mean they're already engaged?"
"Well," said Strether, "say then for ME. He'll do anything for me; just as I will, for that matter — anything I can — for him. Or for Mamie either. SHE'LL do anything for me."
Miss Gostrey gave a comprehensive sigh. "The way you reduce people to subjection!"
"It's certainly, on one side, wonderful. But it's quite equalled, on another, by the way I don't. I haven't reduced Sarah, since yesterday; though I've succeeded in seeing her again, as I'll presently tell you. The others however are really all right. Mamie, by that blessed law of ours, absolutely must have a young man."
"But what must poor Mr. Bilham have? Do you mean they'll MARRY for you?"
"I mean that, by the same blessed law, it won't matter a grain if they don't — I shan't have in the least to worry."
She saw as usual what he meant. "And Mr. Jim? — who goes for him?"
"Oh," Strether had to admit, "I couldn't manage THAT. He's thrown, as usual, on the world; the world which, after all, by his account — for he has prodigious adventures — seems very good to him. He fortunately — 'over here,' as he says — finds the world everywhere; and his most prodigious adventure of all," he went on, "has been of course of the last few days."
Miss Gostrey, already knowing, instantly made the connexion. "He has seen Marie de Vionnet again?"
"He went, all by himself, the day after Chad's party — didn't I tell you? — to tea with her. By her invitation — all alone."
"Quite like yourself!" Maria smiled.
"Oh but he's more wonderful about her than I am!" And then as his friend showed how she could believe it, filling it out, fitting it on to old memories of the wonderful woman: "What I should have liked to manage would have been HER going."
"To Switzerland with the party?"
"For Jim — and for symmetry. If it had been workable moreover for a fortnight she'd have gone. She's ready" — he followed up his renewed vision of her — "for anything."
Miss Gostrey went with him a minute. "She's too perfect!"
"She WILL, I think," he pursued, "go to-night to the station."
"To see him off?"
"With Chad — marvellously — as part of their general attention. And she does it" — it kept before him — "with a light, light grace, a free, free gaiety, that may well softly bewilder Mr. Pocock."
It kept her so before him that his companion had after an instant a friendly comment. "As in short it has softly bewildered a saner man. Are you really in love with her?" Maria threw off.
"It's of no importance I should know," he replied. "It matters so little — has nothing to do, practically, with either of us."
"All the same" — Maria continued to smile — "they go, the five, as I understand you, and you and Madame de Vionnet stay."
"Oh and Chad." To which Strether added: "And you."
"Ah 'me'!" — she gave a small impatient wail again, in which something of the unreconciled seemed suddenly to break out. "I don't stay, it somehow seems to me, much to my advantage. In the presence of all you cause to pass before me I've a tremendous sense of privation."
Strether hesitated. "But your privation, your keeping out of everything, has been — hasn't it? — by your own choice."
"Oh yes; it has been necessary — that is it has been better for you. What I mean is only that I seem to have ceased to serve you."
"How can you tell that?" he asked. "You don't know how you serve me. When you cease — "
"Well?" she said as he dropped.
"Well, I'll LET you know. Be quiet till then."
She thought a moment. "Then you positively like me to stay?"
"Don't I treat you as if I did?"
"You're certainly very kind to me. But that," said Maria, "is for myself. It's getting late, as you see, and Paris turning rather hot and dusty. People are scattering, and some of them, in other places want me. But if you want me here — !"