"Oh," said Strether, "what I want is a thing I've ceased to measure or even to understand."
But his friend none the less went on. "Do you want Mrs. Newsome — after such a way of treating you?"
It was a straighter mode of dealing with this lady than they had as yet — such was their high form — permitted themselves; but it seemed not wholly for this that he delayed a moment. "I dare say it has been, after all, the only way she could have imagined."
"And does that make you want her any more?"
"I've tremendously disappointed her," Strether thought it worth while to mention.
"Of course you have. That's rudimentary; that was plain to us long ago. But isn't it almost as plain," Maria went on, "that you've even yet your straight remedy? Really drag him away, as I believe you still can, and you'd cease to have to count with her disappointment."
"Ah then," he laughed, "I should have to count with yours!"
But this barely struck her now. "What, in that case, should you call counting? You haven't come out where you are, I think, to please ME."
"Oh," he insisted, "that too, you know, has been part of it. I can't separate — it's all one; and that's perhaps why, as I say, I don't understand." But he was ready to declare again that this didn't in the least matter; all the more that, as he affirmed, he HADn't really as yet "come out." "She gives me after all, on its coming to the pinch, a last mercy, another chance. They don't sail, you see, for five or six weeks more, and they haven't — she admits that — expected Chad would take part in their tour. It's still open to him to join them, at the last, at Liverpool."
Miss Gostrey considered. "How in the world is it 'open' unless you open it? How can he join them at Liverpool if he but sinks deeper into his situation here?"
"He has given her — as I explained to you that she let me know yesterday — his word of honour to do as I say."
Maria stared. "But if you say nothing!"
Well, he as usual walked about on it. "I did say something this morning. I gave her my answer — the word I had promised her after hearing from himself what HE had promised. What she demanded of me yesterday, you'll remember, was the engagement then and there to make him take up this vow."
"Well then," Miss Gostrey enquired, "was the purpose of your visit to her only to decline?"
"No; it was to ask, odd as that may seem to you, for another delay."
"Ah that's weak!"
"Precisely!" She had spoken with impatience, but, so far as that at least, he knew where he was. "If I AM weak I want to find it out. If I don't find it out I shall have the comfort, the little glory, of thinking I'm strong."
"It's all the comfort, I judge," she returned, "that you WILL have!"
"At any rate," he said, "it will have been a month more. Paris may grow, from day to day, hot and dusty, as you say; but there are other things that are hotter and dustier. I'm not afraid to stay on; the summer here must be amusing in a wild — if it isn't a tame — way of its own; the place at no time more picturesque. I think I shall like it. And then," he benevolently smiled for her, "there will be always you."
"Oh," she objected, "it won't be as a part of the picturesqueness that I shall stay, for I shall be the plainest thing about you. You may, you see, at any rate," she pursued, "have nobody else. Madame de Vionnet may very well be going off, mayn't she? — and Mr. Newsome by the same stroke: unless indeed you've had an assurance from them to the contrary. So that if your idea's to stay for them" — it was her duty to suggest it — "you may be left in the lurch. Of course if they do stay" — she kept it up — "they would be part of the picturesqueness. Or else indeed you might join them somewhere."
Strether seemed to face it as if it were a happy thought; but the next moment he spoke more critically. "Do you mean that they'll probably go off together?"
She just considered. "I think it will be treating you quite without ceremony if they do; though after all," she added, "it would be difficult to see now quite what degree of ceremony properly meets your case."
"Of course," Strether conceded, "my attitude toward them is extraordinary."
"Just so; so that one may ask one's self what style of proceeding on their own part can altogether match it. The attitude of their own that won't pale in its light they've doubtless still to work out. The really handsome thing perhaps," she presently threw off, "WOULD be for them to withdraw into more secluded conditions, offering at the same time to share them with you." He looked at her, on this, as if some generous irritation — all in his interest — had suddenly again flickered in her; and what she next said indeed half-explained it. "Don't really be afraid to tell me if what now holds you IS the pleasant prospect of the empty town, with plenty of seats in the shade, cool drinks, deserted museums, drives to the Bois in the evening, and our wonderful woman all to yourself." And she kept it up still more. "The handsomest thing of ALL, when one makes it out, would, I dare say, be that Mr. Chad should for a while go off by himself. It's a pity, from that point of view," she wound up, "that he doesn't pay his mother a visit. It would at least occupy your interval." The thought in fact held her a moment. "Why doesn't he pay his mother a visit? Even a week, at this good moment, would do."
"My dear lady," Strether replied — and he had it even to himself surprisingly ready — "my dear lady, his mother has paid HIM a visit. Mrs. Newsome has been with him, this month, with an intensity that I'm sure he has thoroughly felt; he has lavishly entertained her, and she has let him have her thanks. Do you suggest he shall go back for more of them?"