Well, she succeeded after a little in shaking it off. "I see. It's what you don't suggest — what you haven't suggested. And you know."
"So would you, my dear," he kindly said, "if you had so much as seen her."
"As seen Mrs. Newsome?"
"No, Sarah — which, both for Chad and for myself, has served all the purpose."
"And served it in a manner," she responsively mused, "so extraordinary!"
"Well, you see," he partly explained, "what it comes to is that she's all cold thought — which Sarah could serve to us cold without its really losing anything. So it is that we know what she thinks of us."
Maria had followed, but she had an arrest. "What I've never made out, if you come to that, is what you think — I mean you personally — of HER. Don't you so much, when all's said, as care a little?"
"That," he answered with no loss of promptness, "is what even Chad himself asked me last night. He asked me if I don't mind the loss — well, the loss of an opulent future. Which moreover," he hastened to add, "was a perfectly natural question."
"I call your attention, all the same," said Miss Gostrey, "to the fact that I don't ask it. What I venture to ask is whether it's to Mrs. Newsome herself that you're indifferent."
"I haven't been so" — he spoke with all assurance. "I've been the very opposite. I've been, from the first moment, preoccupied with the impression everything might be making on her — quite oppressed, haunted, tormented by it. I've been interested ONLY in her seeing what I've seen. And I've been as disappointed in her refusal to see it as she has been in what has appeared to her the perversity of my insistence."
"Do you mean that she has shocked you as you've shocked her?"
Strether weighed it. "I'm probably not so shockable. But on the other hand I've gone much further to meet her. She, on her side, hasn't budged an inch."
"So that you're now at last" — Maria pointed the moral — "in the sad stage of recriminations."
"No — it's only to you I speak. I've been like a lamb to Sarah. I've only put my back to the wall. It's to THAT one naturally staggers when one has been violently pushed there."
She watched him a moment. "Thrown over?"
"Well, as I feel I've landed somewhere I think I must have been thrown."
She turned it over, but as hoping to clarify much rather than to harmonise. "The thing is that I suppose you've been disappointing — "
"Quite from the very first of my arrival? I dare say. I admit I was surprising even to myself."
"And then of course," Maria went on, "I had much to do with it."
"With my being surprising — ?"
"That will do," she laughed, "if you're too delicate to call it MY being! Naturally," she added, "you came over more or less for surprises."
"Naturally!" — he valued the reminder.
"But they were to have been all for you" — she continued to piece it out — "and none of them for HER."
Once more he stopped before her as if she had touched the point. "That's just her difficulty — that she doesn't admit surprises. It's a fact that, I think, describes and represents her; and it falls in with what I tell you — that she's all, as I've called it, fine cold thought. She had, to her own mind, worked the whole thing out in advance, and worked it out for me as well as for herself. Whenever she has done that, you see, there's no room left; no margin, as it were, for any alteration. She's filled as full, packed as tight, as she'll hold and if you wish to get anything more or different either out or in — "
"You've got to make over altogether the woman herself?"
"What it comes to," said Strether, "is that you've got morally and intellectually to get rid of her."
"Which would appear," Maria returned, "to be practically what you've done."
But her friend threw back his head. "I haven't touched her. She won't BE touched. I see it now as I've never done; and she hangs together with a perfection of her own," he went on, "that does suggest a kind of wrong in ANY change of her composition. It was at any rate," he wound up, "the woman herself, as you call her the whole moral and intellectual being or block, that Sarah brought me over to take or to leave."
It turned Miss Gostrey to deeper thought. "Fancy having to take at the point of the bayonet a whole moral and intellectual being or block!"
"It was in fact," said Strether, "what, at home, I HAD done. But somehow over there I didn't quite know it."
"One never does, I suppose," Miss Gostrey concurred, "realise in advance, in such a case, the size, as you may say, of the block. Little by little it looms up. It has been looming for you more and more till at last you see it all."
"I see it all," he absently echoed, while his eyes might have been fixing some particularly large iceberg in a cool blue northern sea. "It's magnificent!" he then rather oddly exclaimed.
But his friend, who was used to this kind of inconsequence in him, kept the thread. "There's nothing so magnificent — for making others feel you — as to have no imagination."
It brought him straight round. "Ah there you are! It's what I said last night to Chad. That he himself, I mean, has none."