She had spoken as resigned to his word, but he had of a sudden a still sharper sense than he would have expected of desiring not to lose her. "I want you here."
She took it as if the words were all she had wished; as if they brought her, gave her something that was the compensation of her case. "Thank you," she simply answered. And then as he looked at her a little harder, "Thank you very much," she repeated.
It had broken as with a slight arrest into the current of their talk, and it held him a moment longer. "Why, two months, or whatever the time was, ago, did you so suddenly dash off? The reason you afterwards gave me for having kept away three weeks wasn't the real one."
She recalled. "I never supposed you believed it was. Yet," she continued, "if you didn't guess it that was just what helped you."
He looked away from her on this; he indulged, so far as space permitted, in one of his slow absences. "I've often thought of it, but never to feel that I could guess it. And you see the consideration with which I've treated you in never asking till now."
"Now then why DO you ask?"
"To show you how I miss you when you're not here, and what it does for me."
"It doesn't seem to have done," she laughed, "all it might! However," she added, "if you've really never guessed the truth I'll tell it you."
"I've never guessed it," Strether declared.
"Well then I dashed off, as you say, so as not to have the confusion of being there if Marie de Vionnet should tell you anything to my detriment."
He looked as if he considerably doubted. "You even then would have had to face it on your return."
"Oh if I had found reason to believe it something very bad I'd have left you altogether."
"So then," he continued, "it was only on guessing she had been on the whole merciful that you ventured back?"
Maria kept it together. "I owe her thanks. Whatever her temptation she didn't separate us. That's one of my reasons," she went on "for admiring her so."
"Let it pass then," said Strether, "for one of mine as well. But what would have been her temptation?"
"What are ever the temptations of women?"
He thought — but hadn't, naturally, to think too long. "Men?"
"She would have had you, with it, more for herself. But she saw she could have you without it."
"Oh 'have' me!" Strether a trifle ambiguously sighed. "YOU," he handsomely declared, "would have had me at any rate WITH it."
"Oh 'have' you!" — she echoed it as he had done. "I do have you, however," she less ironically said, "from the moment you express a wish."
He stopped before her, full of the disposition. "I'll express fifty."
Which indeed begot in her, with a certain inconsequence, a return of her small wail. "Ah there you are!"
There, if it were so, he continued for the rest of the time to be, and it was as if to show her how she could still serve him that, coming back to the departure of the Pococks, he gave her the view, vivid with a hundred more touches than we can reproduce, of what had happened for him that morning. He had had ten minutes with Sarah at her hotel, ten minutes reconquered, by irresistible pressure, from the time over which he had already described her to Miss Gostrey as having, at the end of their interview on his own premises, passed the great sponge of the future. He had caught her by not announcing himself, had found her in her sitting-room with a dressmaker and a lingere whose accounts she appeared to have been more or less ingenuously settling and who soon withdrew. Then he had explained to her how he had succeeded, late the night before, in keeping his promise of seeing Chad. "I told her I'd take it all."
"You'd 'take' it?"
"Why if he doesn't go."
Maria waited. "And who takes it if he does?" she enquired with a certain grimness of gaiety.
"Well," said Strether, "I think I take, in any event, everything."
"By which I suppose you mean," his companion brought out after a moment, "that you definitely understand you now lose everything."
He stood before her again. "It does come perhaps to the same thing. But Chad, now that he has seen, doesn't really want it."
She could believe that, but she made, as always, for clearness. "Still, what, after all, HAS he seen?"
"What they want of him. And it's enough."
"It contrasts so unfavourably with what Madame de Vionnet wants?"
"It contrasts — just so; all round, and tremendously."
"Therefore, perhaps, most of all with what YOU want?"